“How I wish I had never left Merritt.”
That’s what Chrissie Aitken, known as ‘the popular Merritt girl’ back in 1915, wrote to her friend Bessie Busk after she was the only person in her family to survive in the Lusitania sinking.
Her story now is the centerpiece of a display at the Nicola Valley Museum, which offers visitors a unique insight into the harrowing experience Aitken and her family had gone through during the First World War.
In the display, visitors will be able to read her testimony of the sinking and fragments of the letters she wrote to her family back in Merritt.
Aitken and her family arrived in Merritt in 1912 from Edinburgh, Scotland. After a few years, one of her brother’s, James Jarvie, decided to return to Scotland after his wife passed away in 1914. He decided to take Chrissie, their father and his child back to their home country.
The Aitkens bought tickets for the Cameronia, a ship that would depart from Chicago, Illinois, towards Scotland. However, shortly before the trip, the family was informed that they were being transferred to the Lusitania upon arriving in New York City.
In a letter to her two brothers, who still lived in Merritt, Aitken detailed the moment previous to the explosion. She was spending time with a girl who slept above her in the ship, as they became close.
“We were standing laughing at something when the crash came. Instinct seems to tell us what it was,” she wrote in the letter.
On May 7, 1915, six days after leaving New York, Lusitania was attacked and struck by a torpedo fired by a German submarine U-20. In total, 1,193 of the 1,960 people who were on board the Lusitania died that day.
The exhibit is open to the public and those who wish to learn more about Aitken and her story are welcomed to stop by the museum Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The following is an excerpt of Chrissie Aitken’s letter, from an article in the Merritt Herald, dated June 11, 1915.