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Dyddiad: 1 Ebrill 1915


Ambassador Page Begins Inquiry Into Drowning of American
Aboard the Falaba.
Relatives of Submarine Victim Leading Residents of Hardwich, Mass., Where He Was Well Known.

Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES.

LONDON, March 31.—The American Embassy bestirred itself today to investigate the drowning of Leon C. Thrasher, who was a passenger aboard the steamship Falaba, and expects to make a full report to Washington. The Embassy is not only investigating the torpedoing of the ship, but is trying to ascertain something about Thrasher’s antecedents.

Thrasher came to London from New York five weeks ago. He had worked as a mechanical engineer for the Panama Railroad at Colon. In New York he had a bank account with the Eastman-Dillon Company.

When the Broomassie Mining Company here engaged him to work in the West Africa mines he took out an insurance policy on his life, but according to one report he said he had no relatives, and the policy was made payable to the company. While he gave the United States as his native country the Embassy has been unable thus far to ascertain where he was born.

The fact that Thrasher was an American citizen seems to have been officially established, however, by his declaration to the steamship authorities here who wrote "United Sthtes " on the back of his ticket and in their books.

Officials here are certain that Thrasher was drowned. Horace Secombe of the Broomassie Company, who sailed on the Falaba and was rescued, says he is sure the American lost his life. At the hotel where Thrasher lived here nothing has been heard of him since the sinking of the ship.

The Foreign Office is aiding the American Embassy in the investigation.

Thrasher’s Death May Cause Action Under Bryan Note of Feb. 10.

Special to The New York Times.

WASHINGTON, March 31.—According to what was said by officials of the State Department today, the Government has not taken any action with reference to the case of Leon Chester Thrasher, an American citizen, who lost his life on the British steamer Falaba, when she was sunk by a German submarine last Sunday. It was gathered that it was the intention of the State Department not to move in the case until it was called officially to the Department’s attention.

The records of the State Department’s passport bureau show that a passport was issued on June 1, 1911, to Leon Chester Thrasher. The passport was indorsed by Charles Barnes of Hardwick, Mass., where Thrasher’s relatives live. This passport expired on June 1, 1912, and was not renewed. Congressman Gillette of Massachusetts is said to have been asked by relatives of Thrasher to make an inquiry into circumstances of Thrasher’s death and to have promised to communicate directly with the Ambassador in London. Secretary Bryan said tonight that he had not had his attention called to the matter.

The case of Thrasher assumes considerable importance in View of the attitude taken by the United States Government with reference to the German zone order. On Feb. 10 Secretary Bryan sent instructions to James W. Gerard, Ambassador at Berlin, to present to the German Government a note in which, after summarizing the war zone order, the following language was used:

"The Government of the United States views these possibilities with such grave concern that it feels it to be its privilege, and, indeed, its duty in the circumstances, to request the Imperial German Government to consider before action the critical situation in respect to the relation between this country and Germany which might arise were the German naval forces, in carrying out the policy foreshadowed in the Admiralty’s proclamation, to destroy any merchant vessel of the United States or cause the deaths of American citizens."

It is this phase of the American warning that seems to apply directly to the death of Thrasher. Opinion is strong here that the United States will be obliged to call the attention of the German Government to the fact that an American citizen was killed as the result of the action of a German submarine in the face of this warning.

But it is not expected that, the United States will go to extremes, such as was suggested at the time by the interpretation placed on the statement in the American note of Feb. 10 that if American vessels or American lives were destroyed by German warships, "the Government would be constrained to hold the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability for such acts, and to take such steps as might be necessary to safeguard American lives and property and to secure to American citizens the full enjoyment of their acknowledged rights on the high seas."

The refusal of the State Department to show its hand in the Thrasher case is not taken here, however, as an indication that the department is not alive to the importance which the death of Thrasher may assume as a diplomatic incident. It is the custom of the department to obtain adequate reports from official sources in such matters and not to move until it has all the evidence at hand. First of all, it must be established that Thrasher had retained his American citizenship.


Sinking of the Falaba Justified in View of England’s Blockade, He Asserts.
Thinks the Attempt to Starve Out Germany Fully Warrants Any Retaliation She May Undertake.

In the opinion of Dr. Bernhard Dernberg, ex-Colonial Minister of Germany, the sinking of the Falaba and the Aguila was "perfectly justifiable." The loss of the lives of civilians and innocent travelers was "regrettable"; the fact that there were women among those who went down was "unfortunate"; the loss of an American citizen he puts in the same category.

This is what Dr. Dernburg in an interview with a Times reporter yesterday on the sinking of the two vessels said:

"I am entirely without official news regarding the sinking of the Falaba and the Aguila, and my information on the subject comes entirely from the partial English sources from which the news has come to the American newspapers.

"But I should say that if a vessel is hailed by a submarine in war time it has got to stop; if it does not stop, then it must be torpedoed. If it is hailed by a submarine, it must not work its wireless apparatus, with which, perhaps, assistance might be readily summoned.

"A submarine is a very weak craft, its strength lying almost entirely in the suddenness with which it makes its appearance. If the vessel which has been ordered to halt is able to call for help, the value of the submarine may be nullified.

"I feel that the sinking of the Falaba probably occurred in that way. It is certain that the vessel got ample warning, that eventually she tried to slow down, and probably came to a stop. Some of her boats were lowered. But while this was being done she was working her wireless apparatus and called for help. This it probably was that caused the submarine to fire the torpedo that sank her.

Warned in War Zone Decree.

"Much as I regret personally the loss of civilian and innocent lives, all the passengers had ample warning that by taking passage in the steamship they would expose themselves to danger. The warning that was issued for Feb. 18 applied to the Falaba as well as to every other vessel flying the British flag.

"Moreover, I am unable to understand the outcry of a nation that purposes to kill by hundreds 70,000,000 of people if in retaliation she loses a few hundreds of people herself of the same class; that is to say, non-combatants and civilians.

"We have now on record Lord Haldane, who explains the English Order in Council on the basis of the law of self-defense; Mr. Balfour, who admits that the Older in Council is against international law, and also we have Mr. Asquith, who will not stop at 'judicial niceties' in order to starve all the German and Austrian people into submission. It is ridiculous to expect that, in view of these avowed breaches of all law, and the gruesome intentions of the Allies, Germany should not strike back in any possible way.

"Do not forget that because of the holding up by England of all food supplies, and by reason of the stopping of the Wilhelmina, against which act the United States has protested in vain—now some two months past—Germany was forced to retaliate by declaring English waters a war zone. Furthermore, that Germany, in reply to the note of President Wilson, signified an entire willingness to stop that warfare, if the English would return to the laws of nations, against their breach of which the United States has again protested. Finally, that the English declaration of the North Sea as a war zone dates back as far as November, although it has never aroused any protest in this country. A study of the historical sequence of all these events has shown that Germany has done nothing except under provocation, and only after previous violations of international law by the Allies."

"How is the loss of the lives of the women on the Falaba justifiable?" Dr. Dernburg was asked:

"If you starve 70,000,000 people, you starve 35,000,000 women," he replied. "If women were lost in the sinking of the Falaba it was most unfortunate, but then nobody is forced to travel in times like these. One should stay at home. Those on the Falaba had every warning.

"We had declared that every English ship was likely to be torpedoed, and that even neutral ships were to some extent jeopardized ever since the English Admiralty advised the use of neutral flags, especially the American flag, as a cowardly sort of protection."

Regrets American's Death.

"Especial stress is laid in the newspapers on the death of an American citizen being among those lost by the sinking of the Falaba. How would you regard this?" Dr. Dernburg was asked.

"That is very regrettable. At the same time, any number of Americans have very unprovokedly enlisted with the Allies. These have had, of course, to take their chances of being killed in the trenches, just as they have tried to kill Germans. No protest has come from this country in regard to them. If a citizen or subject of a neutral country engaged in war, or unnecessarily sojourns in the zone of war, he takes the consequences."

"But," was suggested, "there are Americans fighting on the German side, too."

"I grant you that. On the German side it is the same thing as on that of the Allies; if an American gets killed while fighting on the German side—why, he gets killed.

"We gave ample warning that every English vessel plying to or from a British port after Feb. 18 was going to, be torpedoed, with only such warning, as the necessities of the case permitted. To venture into the English war zone is like going into a house that is burning. Americans who wish to keep out of harm’s way might patronize the American flag."

"Then you do not think an American vessel bound for an English port will be in danger?"

"Certainly not; nor has any American steamship on its way to England ever been in danger of being torpedoed by a German submarine. The statement that was made with reference to such was willfully distorted or perverted. The statement made by the German Government was simply that American vessels might come into danger through the use by the English of neutral flags, especially American flag's, as a ruse of war. This practice, advised and sanctioned by the British Admiralty, was detrimental to the rights of neutral nations, and your President has protested against it.

"I notice that some of the newspapers refer to the sinking of the Falaba and the consequent loss of life as 'murder,'" said Dr. Dernburg. "It is ridiculous to call 'murder' or 'piracy' the death of people who unnecessarily get in between the fighting lines in a war, and it is hypocrisy on the part of the Allies to raise such cries, in view of the 'nice' business they are engaged in, of endeavoring to kill off German women and children by starvng [sic] them, a process against all the rules of warfare. How it should be necessary to emphasize that fact, in view of the protest of this Government, I am unable to see."

"Then there is truth in the supposition that Germany could be starved out?"

"If the Allies did not reason that there was a, possibility of it, they would have no possible way of justifying themselves for holding up neutral trade," Dr. Dernburg replied. "They start on
that supposition, and Germany must accept their supposition and fight it."

"But travelers coming from Germany assert there is not the slightest danger of Germany’s being starved out," was suggested.

"I am not making a statement as to the truth or falsity of that replied Dr. Dernburg. "There is perhaps not starvation at the present time, or immediate danger of it; but a poor harvest might make it a grave danger."

World War history: daily records and comments as appeared in American and foreign newspapers, -1926. (New York, NY) 29 Mar. 1915, p. 151. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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