During the First World War, the British passenger liner, R.M.S. Lusitania, was on its return trip from the United States, when it was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7 May, 1915. Of the 1,951 passengers and crew, 1,198 perished in the sinking.
In August 1915, the Munich medallist and sculptor Karl Goetz, produced a medal with a limited run of 500 medals as a satirical attack on the Cunard Line for continuing to do business as usual during wartime. The medal carried an incorrect date of 5 May instead of 7 May as the day of the sinking.
The Goetz medal attracted so much attention that the British produced this exact replica with a propaganda leaflet in 1916. The leaflet is pictured above. The British medal was reproduced in die cast iron and sold for a shilling to raise money for the Red Cross and St. Dunstan’s Blinded Soldiers and Sailors Hostel. An estimated 250,000 of the replicas were sold. The leaflet described the German medal as being issued “with the object of keeping alive in German hearts the recollection of the glorious achievements of the German Navy in deliberately destroying an unarmed passenger ship, together with 1,198 non-combatants, men, women and children”.
The cargo manifest of the Lusitania did include over 4 million rounds of rifle ammunition, 1,250 cases of empty artillery shell casing and 18 cases of non-explosive fuses. It was, however, alleged that the Lusitania was also carrying more controversial war material but that theory has not been proven.
On the obverse of the medal, under the legend “Keine Bannware” (No contraband) there is a representation of the Lusitania sinking. According to the leaflet, “the designer has put in guns and aeroplanes”, which the Lusitania was not carrying.
On the reverse of the medal, under the legend “Geschäft über alles” (Business above all) is the figure of Death sitting at the booking office of Cunard Lines giving out tickets to passengers, who refuse to heed a warning about submarines by a German.
The last known survivor of the Lusitania was passenger Audrey Warren Lawson-Johnston (nee Pearl), who was born in New York City on 15 February 1915 and was three months old at the time of the sinking. She passed away on 11 January 2011.
Scans of the medal and propaganda leaflet are courtesy of a club member who owns the medal.
Description of the Lusitania sinking and the history of the medal is courtesy of the Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinking_of_the_RMS_Lusitania)