A heads up that I will be giving a talk via Zoom at 7.30 p.m. on 10 May 2022 about the Lusitania sinking of 7 May 1915.
Huddersfield and District Family History Society are hosting the talk and more details are in the advert below. Essentially it is free for Society members, and a minimum £2 donation for non-members. Registering is by sending an email with ‘Local Lusitania Links’ in the subject box to firstname.lastname@example.org
As well as background details, I will be exploring some of the local links from around the family history society area to illustrate why the sinking had such a huge impact on our community.
It should be a fascinating talk packed with information and some amazing tales of loss and survival.
On the afternoon of Friday 7 May 1915, the Cunard liner the Lusitania was on the final leg of her crossing from New York to Liverpool. The morning fog had lifted, and it was now a fine, clear, calm day. At 2.10pm, around 14 miles off the Irish coast and the Old Head of Kinsale, she was struck by a torpedo fired by the German submarine U20. It took about 18 minutes for the ship to sink. Of the almost 2,000 on board, 1,198 men, women and children perished.1
It was a momentous international event, leading to anti-German riots across British cities and handing a huge wartime propaganda tool to the authorities. It was, in the initial aftermath, hoped by some that the USA would be drawn into the war. The circumstances surrounding the sinking is a huge topic in its own right which has merited many books, and one I am not covering in this post. Instead I am focussing on the local angle.
As a child I remember my grandma telling me about the Lusitania. She was only six years old when the ship went down. For her to recount her childhood memories around sixty years later shows the impact the sinking had on her.
What I failed to realise from my vague recollection of her tale of the ship was this event was not something that affected only the rich, famous and wealthy – the likes of American millionaire sportsman Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, American theatre producer Charles Frohman, world-famous Welsh tenor Gwynn Parry Jones, French-American stage and screen star Rita Jolivet, English-born playwright Charles Klein, and American artist and philanthropist Theodate Pope Riddle. Or even ‘ordinary’ crew and passengers from other areas of Britain.
It also had a massive local impact, with several of those on board having connections with the Batley, Dewsbury, Heckmondwike and Mirfield areas. Locally people would have known personally some of those on board, or at least known of them, making it an even bigger talking point in streets and homes across the area. That children were also involved would bring it to the attention of a younger audience. This, more so than anything, is why the sinking would have made a lasting imprint on my grandma’s mind.
This post covers a selection of local men, women and children caught up in the tragedy, people often overshadowed by the more famous on board.2 Some survived, one in particularly miraculous circumstances. Others though never made it home, including an entire family. Then there is the mystery man. Researchers to date have failed to uncover his origins. I believe he was a local man, and I include the progress I have made in identifying him.
Miss Olive North
Olive and her twin brother Roy Henderson North were born on 11 April 1889 in the Yorkshire village of Melbourne, near Pocklington.3 Their parents, James and Marion (née Barber) were schoolteachers whose work had taken them to Norfolk and Lincolnshire, as well as North Yorkshire.
By 1891 Marion, born in the Barnsley area, was living in Heckmondwike with her children Alice Lilian, George Garnett, Bernard Baines, Joseph Lambert, May and the twins. Another son, Frank Gordon, was with his maternal grandparents, also living in Heckmondwike. Even with this brood of seven youngsters at home in 1891, aged nine and under, Marion continued working as a teacher. It was no mean feat. James, who hailed from Heckmondwike, taught and lived elsewhere, in Skelton, North Yorkshire. This remained the arrangement up to and including the 1911 census, although at census-time in 1901 and 1911 some of the children are staying with him.
It was therefore not one of the town’s typical working class families that Olive grew up in.
At the time of the Lusitania sinking Marion North lived at Cambridge Street, off Cawley Lane, in Heckmondwike and taught at Battye Street Council School. Olive though had been away from the family home for some time, clearly having an adventuring spirit.
In the summer of 1913 the young milliner left her job. On 10 June, accompanied by her brother Frank, she departed from Liverpool on board the Megantic. The siblings sailed to Montreal, to visit their elder married sister, Alice, in Western Canada.4 Frank, a former soldier, was recalled on the outbreak of war. Olive, though, stayed on far longer than originally intended, finally leaving for New York in late April 1915 to sail back home 2nd class on the Lusitania. The ability to afford this standard of travel also serves to illustrate the social status of the North family.
Olive was aware of rumours that some disaster was going to befall the ship, writing home to that effect. But she added “if anything does happen to the boat I shall not be afraid to go into the unknown.”5 She also subsequently wrote:
When embarking on the “LUSITANIA” on May 1st 1915, some excitement was apparent, because of the rumour going around that the “LUSITANIA” would be sunk – and that this was to be her last voyage.6
Indeed, an Imperial German Embassy-placed advert had appeared in the New York Tribune on the morning of sailing, next to Cunard’s advertisement for the Lusitania’s departure, warning about the dangers of Atlantic voyages.
The rumours did prompt Olive to plan what action she would take in case of any incident, scoping out the best place to make for. She later attributed this foresight as the means of saving her life. Nevertheless, until the fateful day, she described the voyage as “pleasant and un-eventful” with “the wartime regulations of “Darkened ship” at night being the only different feature from a normal sailing.”7
On that 7 May afternoon, when the torpedo tore into the Lusitania, Olive and her party were just finishing lunch in the second class dining room. She described the impact as a terrible thud which seemed to be almost underneath their table. She also referred to a second explosion. One of the females in the party entreated Olive to stay with her in the state room so they could die together. But Olive told her “No, I am going to fight for my life”.8 This response must have given the woman renewed courage for she too was saved. In fact, one report states that all but two young men from the 11 passengers seated at Olive’s dining table survived.9
Olive described how the ship listed so badly it was difficult to climb the stair-ways. Furniture and crockery crashed to the floor in the dining room. Olive then realised she did not have her life-belt with her, so began to make her way to her cabin to collect it. On her way she met a ship’s steward who gallantly gave her his own life-belt, fixing it securely around her. It is not known if this selfless act cost the man his life.
Terrible scenes met Olive’s eyes when she finally reached the boat-deck, including the ghastly sight of a lifeboat full of people tipping into the sea as it could not be lowered properly. This prompted Olive to get out of the lifeboat she was in. People were swimming and floating in the sea below. Others were crushed to death on the boat deck. Some passengers jumped into the ocean clinging to chairs.
Olive remained standing there, and she remembered going down with the ship before finally losing consciousness on hitting the water. The next thing she recalled was fighting for breath as she surfaced, fortuitously finding herself near an upturned lifeboat to which she managed to cling. Hundreds of people were floating amongst the wreckage, clamouring for help. Many were jammed between pieces of wood. Olive’s heavy clothes kept her down in the water, which at first seemed warm.
After what seemed like ages she noticed a young red-haired man, possessing great strength, swimming in the water and dragging people towards a life raft for them to be hauled aboard by others. Some though were beyond his help, the ones wedged in the wreckage. But he managed to save Olive, along with over 20 others. At this point Olive began to feel the intense cold.
Another upturned nearby raft capsized totally, tossing its human cargo into the water. But the raft Olive was on was full, and could take on no more. They could only watch in horror as their former ship’s passengers disappeared beneath the waves.
Olive kept going and helped to row the raft she was on. It drifted for hours before they were finally picked up by the Steam Trawler, Brock. Here she was provided with dry men’s clothing (all that was available) and a cup of tea. One man climbing aboard became temporarily insane, believing the trawler was the Lusitania. The Brock finally reached Queenstown at about 10.30pm that night.
Olive’s mother heard about the fate of the Lusitania on Friday night. It was on Saturday morning that the North family received a telegram from Queenstown (today known as Cobh) with the terse, but emotive, words “Olive safe.” She arrived home in Heckmondwike on Monday night, haunted by her experience and thoughts of “the beautiful babies and the beautiful people” lost. She mournfully recalled that “the band was playing and the children were playing just before, and they are lost.”10
But Olive was amongst the fortunate ones. Other than the loss of all her onboard possessions, the emotional trauma, and bruising, she had survived.
In fact, she was well enough to travel down to Aldershot for the marriage of her twin brother Staff Sergeant Roy Henderson North ASC, which took place in the parish church on 12 May 1915. Olive was bridesmaid and witness to the marriage.11
In mid-August 1918 Olive married a man from her Heckmondwike home town, Percy Hanson. The marriage took place at Heckmondwike’s George Street Chapel. Percy was a Royal Naval Reserve wireless operator.12 Some accounts state that Olive met him whilst being rescued from the Lusitania by the Royal Navy cruiser the Juno, or have implied that Percy was on the Juno at the time. This is not true. The Juno did not take part in the rescue, being essentially ordered to remain in Queenstown for fear that the U-boat was still lurking and awaiting an opportunity to sink any RN rescue vessel that ventured out to help.13 Also, although Percy did serve on the Juno in 1914, at the time of the Lusitania sinking he was serving aboard the armed merchant cruiser Marmora.14 By a strange quirk of fate, and good fortune, he left the Marmora on 17 July 1918, weeks before his marriage. Days after his transfer, on 23 July 1918, the ship was sunk by a U-boat off the south coast of Ireland. Thus both Olive and her husband-to-be had cheated death at the hands of marauding German U-boats off Ireland.
Olive and Percy settled in Heckmondwike and were still living at Cawley Lane in 1939, with Percy working as a postmaster. The couple subsequently moved to Blackpool, and this was their residence at the time of Olive’s death on 4 July 1976.15
Mrs Florence Lockwood (née Robshaw) and children Clifford and Lily
Florence Robshaw (also known by the diminutive name of Florrie) was born on 13 June 1879 and baptised at St Philip’s parish church in Dewsbury in October 1880. Her parents were shoemaker William Robshaw and wife Mary Ann (née Auty).16 The family are recorded on the 1881 and 1891 censuses at Leeds Road, in the Soothill Upper area of Hanging Heaton, Dewsbury. As a child Florence attended the Eastborough Board School.
Florence, a weaver, married cloth finisher Dick Lockwood at Batley parish church on 15 September 1900.17 The parish register entry incorrectly notes Dick’s father as Charles. Dick was in fact born in Batley on 8 September 1875, the son of cloth finisher George and Sarah Lockwood (née Illingworth).18
In 1901 the newly married couple lived at Warwick Cottages in the Warwick Road area of Batley. Florence still worked as a woollen weaver and Dick as a woollen cloth finisher. Dick’s employers included Messrs. Wormald and Walker’s Dewsbury mills.
By the time son Clifford was born on 6 March 1904, and baptised at Dewsbury Wesleyan Chapel on 28 March 1904, the couple had moved to Armitage Street in Ravensthorpe.19
In 1906 the Lockwood family took the huge decision to relocate to the USA. Florence’s uncle George Robshaw had emigrated there in the early 1880s, married, settled and raised a family, so it was not unchartered territory for them. Dick sailed on ahead of his wife and son. He is recorded departing Liverpool on 18 April 1906 on board the SS Friesland bound for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.20 On the US immigration manifest Dick gave his occupation as a miner, and stated his destination was Alto[o]na, Pennsylvania.
The move was a success. Weeks later Florence and Clifford followed Dick out, sailing from Liverpool on board the White Star Line ship Teutonic on 11 July 1906. They arrived at Ellis New York on 18 July 1906. Florence gave her final destination as Frugality, Pennsylvania (around 14 miles away from Altoona), joining her husband. Perhaps Florence was displaying a little of that famous Yorkshire thrift and frugality of her own to get a cheaper infant fare. Clifford’s age on the passenger manifest is stated to be 11 months, rather than his correct age of over two years.21
By the time of the 1910 US Federal Census the Lockwoods were settled at Kearny Avenue, Kearny, in the Hudson District of New Jersey. Dick worked as a mill labourer. And the family had a new addition, two-year-old daughter Lily.
Florence, who had been socially active in Dewsbury as an enthusiastic worker for the Dewsbury Temperance Society, continued her community involvement in the USA. Some sources state she was the president of the New Jersey chapter of the Daughters of St. George, an organisation for women immigrants of British descent.22 She was certainly involved with the Kearny Star of Hope Lodge part of the organisation, holding the role of Financial Secretary for them in July 1912.23
In May 1911 Florence and her children made a summer visit home to family in England, sailing on the Arabic from New York to Liverpool. The catalyst for this homecoming appears to have been her mother’s possible ill-health and death.24 Her return journey to America was made on board the Campania, which docked at New York on 12 August 1911. She was accompanied on this return leg by her husband’s niece Beatrice Goodall (née Lockwood), Beatrice’s husband Willie, and their young son Leonard.25 The Goodall family had decided to make the move to the USA, with their destination being Kearny and their kinsfolk. I will return to the Goodalls later.
One poignant set of details we get from these sailing records are physical descriptions of the family. Florence was a tiny woman, standing a mere five foot tall. She had a dark complexion, black hair and brown eyes. The children took after her in colouring. Lily was too tiny to merit a height measurement. Clifford was three feet tall.
Two reasons were put forward for the fateful decision for Florence to make the 1915 wartime crossing to England with her children. US-based Robshaw relatives, with whom she spent the previous summer in Middletown, stated that her widowed father wanted her back home. These American Robshaws unsuccessfully tried to dissuade her from making the journey.26
However, this version of events was contradicted by her father, William. He believed the reason for her return was more to do with a shortage of work in America. As such Florence had decided to make the permanent journey back to England, with her husband due to follow a couple of months later once family affairs had been tied up overseas.
William wrote to Florence asking her to delay her journey because of the submarine threat, but she wrote back the week before the crossing to tell him she had booked her 3rd class passage, along with Clifford and Lily, on the Lusitania. Also returning would be her cousin Edith Robshaw, along with Dick’s niece Beatrice Goodall and her children.
Rather than having her frail, elderly father meet her at Liverpool, Florence informed him she would make her own way by train to Dewsbury, and would telegraph him details so he could meet her at Dewsbury railway station.
Florence never made it home. She, along with her two young children, and cousin Edith all perished. Her father learned of the ship’s fate from the calls of newspaper sellers, whilst waiting at home for the telegram from his daughter notifying him of her return train time.
One of the most disturbing set of images from the Lusitania tragedy are the photos of corpses recovered. These were used to try to identify the deceased. Body 69 is that of Lily Lockwood. Of all the local victims in this post she is the only one to be formally identified. She is buried in Common Grave B, at the Old Church Cemetery, Cobh, County Cork.
Dick Lockwood remained in America after his family’s deaths. In the 1915 New Jersey State Census he is living in Kearny, New Jersey, in the household of Florence’s uncle George Robshaw, working as a machinist. The 1920 US Federal Census expands on this, stating he was employed as a machinist in a steel works. He married Louise Ernestine Meyer in 1916 and went on to have a daughter, Ruth Victoria. He was widowed for a second time in February 1926.
One final postscript to the Lockwood story. Florence’s uncle,27 George Robshaw, submitted a compensation claim to the U.S.–German Mixed Claims Commission for the loss of Florence, Clifford and Lily. This commission adjudicated on losses arising from the sinking of the Lusitania. George made the claim rather than Dick, because he was an American citizen. His intention was to give any award to Dick. The claim was rejected because George personally suffered no damage which could be measured by pecuniary standards.28
The Goodall family – Willie and Beatrice (née Lockwood), and children Leonard and Jack
When names were being sought for inclusion on Batley’s town War Memorial in 1923, Willie Goodall’s mother put her son’s name forward. She explained he was Batley-born and went to America prior to the war. On his journey home with his wife and children he drowned in the Lusitania. The Borough Council rejected the claim. He is not on Batley War Memorial. However, his name does appear on Staincliffe Church of England School’s Roll of Honour.
In fact Willie Goodall was not even supposed to be sailing on the Lusitania that day. Only his wife, Beatrice, and children, Leonard and Jack, had initially booked passages. They were travelling back to England along with Beatrice’s Lockwood family relatives (see the section above).
Willie Goodall was born in Batley on 26 October 1881 and baptised at Staincliffe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 20 December that year.29 He was the second son of Staincliffe couple Fairfax and Emma Goodall (née Broadhead). In both the 1891 and 1901 censuses Willie, and his elder brother George Arthur, are not in the home of their parents and younger siblings at Tichbourne Street (1891) and Halifax Road (1901). They are recorded as living with their maternal grandparents, George and Elizabeth Broadhead, in the Staincliffe area of Batley, first at Bunkers Lane (1891), then (after George’s death) at Yard 5, 3 Halifax Road (1901). In the latter census Willie worked in the woollen textile industry as a woollen piecer.
By the time of his Batley All Saints marriage on 16 February 1907 he had progressed to follow his father’s textile career path, employed as a rag grinder. Companies he worked for included John Brooke and the Co-op’s Livingstone Mill, both based in Batley Carr. His wife, Beatrice, worked in the textile industry as a weaver, at the time of her marriage, also at the Co-operative Mills.30 Although some passenger sources record her as older than Willie, she was in fact his junior, her birth being registered in the September quarter of 1882.31 This is supported by census documents and the parish register marriage entry.
Willie’s bride, Batley-born Beatrice Lockwood, was the daughter of cloth finisher William Lockwood and his wife Adeline (née Haigh). William was the younger brother of Dick Lockwood, husband of Florence Robshaw. In fact, in the 1891 census the eight-year-old Beatrice Lockwood is living with her uncle Dick and her Lockwood grandparents at Cross Mount Street in Batley.
Later in 1907 the newly-wed Goodalls welcomed their first child into the world, a son named Leonard. Of a non-conformist religious persuasion, the family had their son duly baptised at Batley’s Taylor Street Chapel on 26 September that year.32
In April 1911 the young family are recorded living in the Staincliffe area of Batley, at 93, Halifax Road. Willie was still employed as a rag grinder, and Beatrice as a weaver. It was that year they took the plunge and moved to Kearny, New Jersey. As mentioned earlier, the family sailed from Liverpool to New York with Florence Lockwood and her children on board the Campania in August that year.
Once more the list of passengers for this voyage provides a physical description of the family. Willie stood at five feet two inches tall, with a dark complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. His wife was two inches taller with a fair complexion, blond hair and grey eyes. Leonard is incorrectly described as an infant, aged one year eleven months. No further details are provided for him.33 But once again is a Yorkshire family playing it crafty to sneak a cheaper fare for their child by knocking years off his age? Leonard was actually nearer to four years old.
The family settled in Kearny, New Jersey and this was where son Jack was born in 1914. However, life was tough, with Willie finding work hard to obtain. He switched jobs regularly, and the difficulty he had in securing satisfactory, lasting work is demonstrated by the range of unconnected industries these involved – from work in a cotton mill, to employment at a motor works and in a linoleum shop.
The employment situation further deteriorated after the outbreak of war, and this prompted the family decision to return home. However, only a week or so before the family planned to travel, Willie obtained what looked like a promising new post. He decided to stay on for two to three months longer to see how it went, leaving his wife and children to return to England on the Lusitania, in third class accommodation with her relatives.
This remained the belief of Willie’s family back home in England, even in the initial aftermath of the sinking. They did not realise Willie had changed his mind the day before the sailing, as the new job did not fulfil expectations. He made a last-minute decision to come home to England and surprise his parents. Grieving for the feared loss of Beatrice and the children, they now learned the crushing news of Willie’s fate in a remarkable way.
Early on in the voyage home, the Goodalls made friends with the Eddie and Annie Riley from Great Horton, Bradford. They were amongst the lucky ones, being saved along with their four-year-old twins Sutcliffe and Edith. Almost as remarkably, photos of the Riley family, taken in Queenstown in the days after their rescue, survive.
Once the Rileys got back to England, they voraciously read the newspaper accounts for any updates. These updates included one from the parents of Willie, stating he had remained in America whilst his family sailed home. Knowing this not to be true, the Rileys travelled to Staincliffe on the 15 September to break the news of Willie’s death to his parents in person.
When the Lusitania was torpedoed Willie was in the smoke-room and Leonard was running about playing on deck. Beatrice was also on deck, with baby Jack, talking to the Riley family. When the explosion occurred Beatrice ran off to seek her husband and eldest child, whilst the Rileys made for the lifeboats. They did not see the Goodalls again.
The Riley family, before returning to England, did make the grisly visit to the mortuary in Queenstown to see if they could recognise any members of the Staincliffe family, but failed to do so. Subsequently Cunard wrote to Willie’s parents stating, in what today seems like a remarkably insensitive manner:
We have now received some photographs of the unidentified bodies recovered and other photographs will be taken as the bodies are brought in, and will be sent here (Liverpool), and displayed for identification. We shall be very pleased to show you these photos, should you care to come to Liverpool….34
These are the sets of photos from which the body of Lily Lockwoood were identified. Unfortunately none of the Goodall family were recognised from them. They have no known graves.
Rev Herbert Linford Gwyer and wife Margaret Inglis Adams (née Cairns)
One of the most iconic incidents in the sinking involved newly-wed Margaret Inglis Adams Gwyer, and her husband the Rev. Herbert Linford Gwyer. The couple were on their way from Canada to Mirfield, for the Rev. Gwyer to resume his association with Yorkshire, taking up his appointment as curate at the parish church of the ancient Mirfield church of St Mary the Virgin.
Herbert Gwyer was born in London on 19 March 1883,35 the son of stockbroker36 John Edward Gwyer and wife Edith, née Linford. The family lived at Dorchester Place, Regents Park at the time of Herbert’s birth, and this was where his mother died the same day.37 Herbert’s baptism was swiftly arranged at St Paul’s, Lisson Grove on 20 March 1883.38
Educated at Uppingham public school, and Magdalene College Cambridge, Herbert was ordained a Deacon by the Bishop of Wakefield on 23 September 1906.39 His first appointment, as curate at All Hallows parish church, Kirkburton, lasted from 1906 to 1911.
Early in 1911 he left Yorkshire, to take up his new appointment as a missioner to the Railway Mission in Western Canada. In July 1914 he also took charge of the Empress Parish, on the west side of the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Described as “indefatigable in his efforts for the betterment of the local society”40 it was through his endeavours that in the autumn of 1914 a new church edifice was erected.
Margaret Inglis Adams Cairns was born in Dunbar, Scotland on 1 July 1888.41 She was the daughter of local potato merchant William Cairns and his wife Alice. Latterly the family lived in the Warrender Park area of Edinburgh.
The Cairns family, comprising of William, and offspring Thomas, Margaret and Alice, left Glasgow on 2 April 1910 to settle in Canada. Son Norman followed them out later that year. The Cairns family became wealthy farmers with ranches in the Cochrane district, south of Calgary. Meanwhile Margaret made her home in the southern Saskatchewan town of Fort Qu’Appelle.42
It was whilst working in Canada the couple met. Herbert preached for the last time at St Mary’s Anglican Church, Empress, on 11 April 1915 and his resignation from the Railway Mission Society took effect from 12 April 1915. Three days later, in the Empress Church, he and Margaret married.43 They were to sail for England, and to Herbert’s new appointment in Mirfield, on 1 May 1915.
Like Olive North, the Gwyers travelled second class and were in the dining room when the torpedo struck. Writing to an Empress barrister later in May 1915, Herbert recounted the events of that day.
Unlike Olive, the Gwyers opted not to return to their cabin for lifebelts. But, in similarities to Olive’s account, Herbert told of the boat listing badly which prevented any safe lowering of the port side lifeboats – the one attempt he saw resulted in the craft being smashed against the liner’s side killing many. His other recollections were of crockery crashing; people rushing about on deck; and some jumping off the deck to the water below, which by now was full of wreckage and bodies.
Herbert and Margaret moved to the first class deck where the final lifeboat was being loaded. Margaret got one of the last places in it. Herbert remained a solitary figure on deck, many passengers having gone down to their cabins to retrieve valuables.
For a while Herbert stood quite alone waving and calling messages to his wife as the Lusitania went down. Then he made his bid for survival:
I shut my eyes and jumped, and by a merciful providence landed right into a boat in the water. Just then the Lusitania sank and her funnel came right over us. How we were not sucked down I cannot imagine. We all thought the end had come, and when I looked around Margaret was no longer in the boat.44 [From this written account by the clergyman it appears that, by some miracle, the Rev. Gwyer may have landed in the same boat as his wife.]
Herbert would never forget that awful moment. He went on to write:
It had been bad enough seeing her into the boat, but the sea was calm and I thought that with wreckage, etc., even if I wasn’t picked up I should be able to get on something till rescue came. The idea of being drowned never seemed near at all, but when she was washed overboard, I never thought I should see her again.45
Margaret’s ordeal now took on a whole new level of terror. As she was washed overboard, the rush of water sucked her down one of the Lusitania’s great funnels. As the tons of sea water poured on the furnaces below, enormous quantities of steam were generated. This forced a reaction, with jets of water, clouds of steam, oily black water and soot shooting forcefully back out of the funnel and into the sea. And in the midst of all this was an unrecognisable Margaret Gwyer, severely bruised, with injured ribs, clothes stripped away from her, and blackened with layers of soot and oil.
But, unbeknownst to her husband, she was alive, fished out of the water and saved. It was an extraordinary escape from death. And she was described as thoroughly cheerful despite her ordeal.
Herbert Gwyer met his wife again on a fishing boat. Initially, due to a combination of her dramatically changed appearance and his shock, he did not recognise her. But when he did, he could not begin to describe his sheer relief.
The Gwyers left Ireland and landed at Fishguard on Sunday morning, 9 May, with the waiting press eager to hear Margaret’s amazing escape – although many early newspaper reports described her as Herbert’s sister-in-law. They then travelled to Oxfordshire to recuperate with relatives before Herbert took up his appointment at Mirfield St Mary’s in July 1915. He remained in that post until late 1916. His last funeral is noted in the parish register in November of that year.
Between late 1916 and early 1919 Herbert served as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces at the Royds Hall Huddersfield War Hospital. Margaret undertook V.A.D. work there. And then, with another of those strange coincidences life often throws, in March 1919 he was appointed Vicar of Christ Church, Staincliffe – the school of which houses the War Memorial inscribed with the name of Lusitania victim Willie Goodall.
His subsequent religious appointments included Bishop of George in South Africa from February 1937. In 1952 he returned to England, becoming the Vicar of Amberley, in Sussex, serving there for five years before his retirement to Chichester in January 1957.
The experiences of Herbert Gwyer and his wife did not deter them from sailing. They appear on numerous passenger lists over the years. On 17 November 1960 the retired clergyman embarked on his final sea crossing. It was a last ironic twist of fate. Two days into the voyage from Southampton to South Africa, on board the Athlone Castle, his life ended, the primary cause being a cardiac arrest.46 45 years after the sinking of the Lusitania he did ultimately die at sea. Margaret survived him by almost 15 years, her death occurring on 16 April 1975.47
The final Lusitania victim in this tale is mystery man Arthur Taylor. Numerous theories as to his identity have been put forward by researchers, but none are conclusive. And, so far, I have come across none who have reached my interpretation.
I believe the mysterious Arthur Taylor was a Thornhill Lees resident.
Official information about him is sparse. Other than his name, nationality (English), that he was travelling 3rd class, his occupation as a sand polisher and his last place of abode being Canada, there is little to go on. One newspaper lists him amongst those from Toronto feared lost, giving his address as Amsterdam Avenue.48
My lead came in the form of a newspaper snippet which reads:
There is unfortunately only too good a reason to believe that a Thornhill Lees young man, Arthur Taylor (30), of 17, Beatson Street, is one of the lost. Up till about three years ago, Taylor was a bottle-hand at the local works, but he then went out to Canada, and he has recently worked for a silver-plate company in Toronto. He is the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. John Taylor, of Brewery Lane, and it was not known at the time of the disaster that he was coming home, though he had recently written to the effect that he would return shortly. On Monday his friends received a telegram from Toronto (but from whom is not known, presumably a friend of the young man), saying that he had sailed on the “Lusitania.” Inquiries were at once set afoot, and his name was found on a passenger list, but not in that of the survivors. On Thursday morning a letter was received from an official source at Liverpool that he was a survivor, but telegraphic communication with Queenstown, the same day, elicited the fact that this was incorrect. Mr. Arthur Taylor was amongst the third-class passengers. He has a wife and a little boy.49
Disentangling this mystery has not proved straightforward because of anomalies with the information provided in the report and with corroborating records.
However, based on my research, it appears the most likely candidate for the Lusitania’s victim is Arthur Taylor, son of Thornhill Lees-born glass bottle maker John Sykes Taylor and his wife Ann Elizabeth Kershaw.
The couple married at Thornhill Lees Holy Innocents church in 1876, but they did not stay local, eventually ending up in Shirehampton, which is located in the Bristol area of Gloucestershire. It was here their younger children were born, with Arthur being the youngest son. According to the baptism register of Shirehampton parish church, he was born on 27 November 1884.50
The move to the south west did not prove permanent, and the 1891 census found the family back in the Thornhill area. Their address in 1901 and 1911 was Chestnut Terrace, Thornhill Lees, and by this latter census John Sykes Taylor had switched from glass bottle making work to become a greengrocer and fruiterer.
Arthur though, followed his father’s old trade. In 1901 the 16-year-old worked as a glass bottle maker. This was almost inevitable given the area in which they lived, with the glass bottle works providing major local employment. The Kilner glassworks, producing bottles, jars and apothecary items, began at Thornhill Lees in 1842. By 1894 the firm employed as many as 400 hands (men, women and boys), and were making up to 300,000 bottles of all types per week.
20-year-old Arthur married Amy Booth on 28 October 1905 at the Thornhill church of St Michael and All Angels. She was the 21-year-old daughter of Sam and Clara Brook.51 Arthur and Amy’s son, John, was born on 19 April 1907, and baptised at the Thornhill Lees Holy Innocents church the following month.52
In the 1911 census the family abode was Thomas Street, Thornhill Lees, with Arthur (26) working as a glass blower and Amy as a cloth weaver in a woollen mill.
It was later that year when Arthur left home, unaccompanied by his wife and child, bound for America. He sailed from Liverpool on the RMS Baltic, and arrived at New York on 9 December 1911. The final destination given for the 27-year old bottle hand, whose last residence was Dewsbury, was Wallingford, Connecticut. This was to the farm of his uncle George Kershaw, the elder brother of Arthur’s mother.53
From the records we have a physical description of Arthur. Standing at five feet nine inches tall, with a medium complexion, brown hair and eyes, he was said to be in good health.54
The first anomaly in this record is place of birth, given as Newport, England – not Shirehampton. There is a village called Newport in Gloucestershire, which is around 19 miles north from Shirehampton – but it is a point to note.
Also, curiously, though married, he names his nearest relative in England as his father John, rather than his wife, Amy. The address given for John though is not Chestnut Terrace, but Brewery Lane, Thornhill Lees. This is the second anomaly. However the map below shows the proximity of the two locations.
There is a further travel record for the now 29-year-old Arthur Taylor which adds more complications to the mix. This is in the form of a US Border Crossing card, when he left his new home in Toronto, Canada to travel to Buffalo, New York on 14 June 1913. By now he is working as a silver polisher, and again this record gives his birth place as Newport, England – not Shirehampton.55
The first discrepancy on the Border Crossing card was quickly resolved. He declared he had arrived in New York on the Baltic in December 1910, and had lived in Connecticut between 1910 and 1912. This would have meant he could not have been in England for the 1911 census. From migration records it was easy to show he simply got his dates mixed up by one year – his arrival was December 1911 as the passenger and crew lists I mentioned earlier show.
The next point of note is this record names his nearest relative as wife Emma, of 17 Beatson Street, Dewsbury. Whilst the address is a match for the 1915 newspaper report naming Arthur as a Lusitania victim, the name of his wife is incorrect – it should be Amy. However I have seen such name confusion between Amy and Emma in other genealogical records. And the 17 Beatson Street address does indeed link with Amy’s family. This is where her widowed mother Clara lived in 1911.
The final anomaly with the details on this card relate to physical description. There is a height discrepancy of a little over one inch. But, more glaringly, in this record his eyes are said to be blue, not brown. But once again this is not a unique error. For more details on an identical case see my post Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.
I have found no newspaper follow-up piece confirming Arthur’s fate. But, despite the anomalies, I believe the weight of evidence to date overwhelmingly points to Arthur Taylor of Thornhill Lees being a Lusitania casualty for the following reasons:
The newspaper report as a whole;
The occupational correlation – he worked in the silver plate industry according to the newspaper report, and is variously described as a silver polisher and sand polisher in other records from the period;
The Toronto abode;
The links between the man who emigrated in 1911 and the Thornhill Lees family; and
Crucially, despite exhaustive searches, there is no other candidate from the Thornhill/Thornhill Lees/Dewsbury area who would fit.
I may return to Arthur at a later date, if more evidence comes to light – including what became of his wife and child.
This small sample of 11 local Heavy Woollen District Lusitania connections give some idea of the impact of the ship’s sinking on communities up and down the country. It illustrates how the First World War touched the lives of people beyond those serving in the military. These people, too, became casualties as a direct result of the conflict. It seems fitting, therefore, that Staincliffe school remembered Willie Goodall as such.
Appeal for Help with Photographs: Sourcing copyright free photos of images for posts such as these is always problematic. I located several brilliant online images of those involved in this local history piece which I simply could not use. In the past I have been fortunate that, as a result of my research, families have subsequently shared photos and allowed me to publish them. If anyone does have any such photos I could add to this piece, I would be most grateful.
The searching, sourcing and referencing, including those equally important negative searches, for this post was huge. These references won’t be of interest to many readers. As such I’ve only included an abbreviated form below (and that is lengthy enough). If anyone does want more detailed references please contact me direct.
Notes: 1. Numbers range from 1,191 to 1,201. 1,198 was the number from the Cunard official lists; 2. I have not covered all of those with a local connection as the piece would be too long. Depending on interest I may do it at a later date; 3. 1939 Register and GRO Death Registration. As an aside, Roy is registered as Thomas in the GRO birth indexes; 4. UK Outwards Passenger Lists, The National Archives (TNA), Reference BT27 and the Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915. Note the 1914 date given in the National Maritime Museum papers referred to at  is incorrect; 5. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915; 6. Various accounts of Olive North’s survival and rescue from the sinking or the RMS LUSITANIA, National Maritime Museum, Reference NRT/1; 7. Ibid; 8. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915; 9. Batley News, 15 May 1915; 10. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915; 11. Marriage Register of St Michael the Archangel parish church, Aldershot, Surrey History Centre, Reference 6927/1/21; 12. Leeds Mercury, 14 August 1918; 13. The catalogue description of the Olive North National Maritime Museum papers state she was returning to England aboard the Lusitania ostensibly to marry her fiancé Percy Hanson. The wedding was postponed until August 1918; 14. Percy Hanson, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Royal Naval Reserve Ratings’ Records of Service, TNA, Reference BT 377/7/127199; 15. Olive North, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 8 September 1976 16. Baptism Register, St Philip’s, Dewsbury, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP9/439; 17. Marriage Register, Batley All Saints parish church, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP37/34; 18. GRO birth registration December Quarter 1875, Dewsbury, 9b, Vol 618, mother’s maiden name Illingworth. Date of birth from U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, New Jersey, Hudson County; 19. Dewsbury Wesleyan Chapel Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WC21; 20. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, TNA, Washington D.C., Record Group Number 85, Series T840; 21. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 7; Page Number: 28; 22. Gare Maritime website, https://www.garemaritime.com/lusitania-part-12-gone-forever-dead-missing/; 23. The Paterson Morning Call, 1 July 1912; 24. Mary A Robshaw, GRO death indexes, Reference September Quarter 1911, Dewsbury, volume 9b, page 899; 25. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 18-23; Page Number: 167; 26. Middletown Daily Argus, 17 May 1915; 27. The Commission incorrectly states he was the brother of Florence; 28. Claim by the USA on behalf of George Robshaw, Docket No 2202, 7 January 1925, taken from Opinions in Individual Lusitania Claims and Other Cases: To May 27, 1925. Washington: G.P.O., 1925; 29. Staincliffe Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference C10/21/1; 30. Batley All Saints parish church Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP37/36; and Batley News, 22 May 1915; 31. GRO birth registration September Quarter 1882, Dewsbury, 9b, Vol 586, mother’s maiden name Haigh; 32. England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, FamilySearch, FHL Film Number 1657189; 33. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 21-23; Page Number: 167; 34. Dewsbury Reporter, 22 May 1915; 35. South African Biographical Index 1825-2005 (various dates); UK and Ireland Incoming Passenger List, arrival 2 April 1955, TNA, Reference BT26/1330; Sea Departure Card for his trip to the Cape in November 1960, TNA Reference BT27/1906Pt1/1/294 36. Subsequently he was secretary of the Provident Clerks Mutual Life Insurance Association, based at Moorgate, London; 37. Edith Gwyer, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 10 October 1884 38. Baptism Register of St Paul’s, Lisson Grove, Westminster, accessed via Ancestry, misindexed as Groger, London Metropolitan Archives, no reference supplied 39. Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 24 September 1906 40. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 31 March 1915 41. Her GRO Death Registration gives 1 July 1888 as her date of birth, but some passenger lists state 5 July 1888. I have not obtained her birth certificate to confirm. However her Sea Departure Card for her trip to the Cape in November 1960 has the 1 July 1888 date, so this is likely to be the accurate one. TNA, Reference BT27/1906Pt1/1/565 42. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 31 March 1915; 43. Ibid; 44. The Saskatoon Phoenix, 14 June 1915; 45. Ibid; 46. Deaths at Sea, TNA Reference BT334/0114; 47. Margaret Inglis Adams Gwyer, England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), Probate date 15 January 1976; 48. Toronto World, 10 May 1915; 49. Dewsbury Reporter, 15 May 1915; 50. Shirehampton parish church Baptism Register, Bristol Archives, Reference P/St MS/R/2/c; 51. St Michael and All Angels Thornhill Marriage Register, West Yorkshire Archives, ReferenceWDP14/1/3/12; 52. Holy Innocents Church, Thornhill Lees, Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archives, Reference WDP169/1/1/2; 53. Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, TNA, Washington D.C., Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 1; Page Number: 102; 54. Ibid; 55. Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954; TNA Washington DC, Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1480; Roll Number: 146
Other Sources (not the complete list): • 1861 to 1911 Censuses, England and Wales (various references); • 1891 and 1901 Censuses, Scotland; • 1910, 1920 and 1930 US Federal Census (various references); • 1915 New Jersey State Census; • 1939 Register (various references); • Amory, P. The Death of the Lusitania. Toronto?, 1917; • Batley News, 15 May 1915; • Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1932; • Deaths at Sea Lists, (various); • Dewsbury Reporter, 15 and 22 May 1915; • England and Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), (various); • Hoehling, A. A., and Mary Duprey Hoehling. The Last Voyage of the Lusitania. Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1996; • Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 10 May 1915; • Imperial War Museum; • King, Greg, and Penny Wilson. Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016; • Labour, Ministry of. Dictionary of Occupational Terms: Based on the Classification of Occupations Used in the Census of Population, 1921; London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1927; • Larson, Erik. Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group, 2015; • Lusitania Online Website: http://www.lusitania.net/ • New Jersey, U.S., Death Index, New Jersey State Archives; • New Jersey Marriage Index, New Jersey State Archives; • Passenger Lists, (various); • Peeke, Mitch, Steven Jones, and Kevin Walsh-Johnson. The Lusitania Story: the Atrocity That Shocked the World. Barnsley, England: Pen & Sword, 2015; • Preston, Diana. Wilful Murder: the Sinking of the Lusitania. London: Doubleday, 2015; • The Berwick Advertiser, 14 May 1915; • The Berwickshire News, 18 May 1915; • The Daily Mirror, 10 May 1915; • The National Library of Scotland Maps; • Wikimedia Commons.
I can immerse myself for hours in Parish Registers, tracking my ancestors and their communities. They can often lead to research breakthroughs. Conversely they can result in further knotty puzzles. Other than the normal but frustrating non-appearance in a register, or the ones containing multiple difficult to untangle options, here is a brief selection from my family tree.
Brick Wall Breakers 1) The baptism on 7 March 1779 at All Saints, Batley for Benjamin Rynder. This is the brother of my 5x great grandmother, Sarah, and his entry is in a Dade style register. So not only does it provide his birth date, his parent’s names and residence and father’s occupation, it also provides his grandparent’s names. It makes tracing the family back a whole lot easier. It also helps with linking to similarly Dade-style recorded siblings and cousins. Sarah’s baptism in 1777 does not contain this level of detail. Maternal Line
2) All Hallows Kirkburton Burial Register gave a cause of death for my 4x great grandfather George’s sister, Esther Hallas. The entry on 13 July 1817 states a cause of death: “Killed by Lightning”. This entry led to further research breakthroughs feeding into Esther’s story, my first blog post.Maternal Line
3) Robert Hudson, the brother of my 4x great grandfather David. His St Michael’s East Ardsley burial entry of 1 November 1831 gives a cause of death “Hung himself in the Coal Pit Cabin”. In following this up I unearthed a rather unsavoury tale which I will return to in the autumn. Maternal Line
4) The burial of George Hallas, my 4x great grandfather, solved the mystery of his father. I had, until this point, a number of possible options. George died aged 69. Nevertheless his burial entry on 12 May 1864 in the Mirfield St Mary’s burial register provided his father’s name, Amos. This information enabled me to go back two further generations. Maternal Line
5) This could easily have fallen into the “Mystery Creator” category. According to his birth certificate John Callaghan, my grandfather, was born on 16 June 1895. However, the transcript of the County Mayo Kilmovee baptism register states his baptism took place on 30 May 1895 in Glan Chapel. One possible explanation is the family could not get to Castlebar to register the birth within the prescribed time-limits, so were creative with his date of birth to avoid a fine. He used to claim he had two birthdays – so this corroborates the tale. Maternal Line
Mystery Creators 6) My great grandmother’s first daughter was born in 1893 out of wedlock. The Parish Register of St Mary of the Angels, Batley has a bizarre entry which indicates otherwise. According to this daughter’s baptismal entry my great grandmother was married to Charles Regan. I have traced no record of this “phantom” marriage, or of Charles Regan. My great grandmother’s eventual Registry Office 1897 marriage certificate indicates she was a spinster. So was Charles her daughter’s real father? Paternal Line (I have anonymised this as it is comparatively recent).
7) The mystifying John Loftus. Another one from Ireland, this time from the County Mayo Kilbeagh Parish baptisms. The entry clearly indicates the baptism on 3 October 1869 of a son, John (Joannes), to John Loftus and Ann Barrett. John and Ann are my 2x great grandparents. I have been unable to trace a birth certificate for their son John. What I have discovered is the birth certificate for a daughter, Ellen, born on 30 September 1869. So have I a missing child of John Loftus and Ann Barrett, or is entry a red herring? Paternal Line
8) Sushanna Hill, my 4x great grandfather’s sister has a perplexing baptism entry in the wonderful Dade-style Sherburn in Elmet Parish Register. Usually Dade Registers are an absolute genealogical god-send. This one has led to a brick wall. Sushanna is the first-born child of Francis and Sarah Hill, so the Dade entry provides a wealth of family history information. The entry for Sushanna reads:
“1st Daughter of Francis of Sherburn, taylor. Son of Francis of Sherburn, wheel carpenter by Esther his wife, daughter of John Simpson of Brayton, yeoman. Mother – Sarah, daughter of Philip Gibson of Little Fenton, farmer, by Sushanna his wife daughter of [blank]. Born Monday 29th August 1785 and baptised the same day”.
I cannot find concrete evidence to support Francis’ parentage as recorded in the entry. As a result I have been unable to trace this line any further back. I have a suspicion that it is a false lead. I think I do know Francis’ parentage. This is one of the nuts I am hoping genealogical DNA tests will ultimately crack. Paternal Line
9) William Hill’s baptism at St Mary’s, Whitkirk on 14 July 1816 is another strange one. William is the brother of my 3x great grandfather. Joseph. According to the Parish Register he is the illegitimate son of Grace Pennington. No mention of “Hill” in the entry whatsoever. In fact Grace Pennington married Francis Hill by licence in that Parish in September 1811. There is however a footnote at the bottom of the page as follows:
“It was discovered when this child was brought to church September 1st having been privately baptized July 14th that this was an erroneous entry, Grace Pennington being lawfully married, and that the entry should have been William son of Francis & Grace Hill, Halton, Butcher. Signed this second of September 1816”
Signatories were the vicar and “Francis Hill, the father of the said child”. I would love to know the story behind this error and its subsequent discovery.Paternal Line
10) My 4x great grandmother Zilla(h) Rhodes, baptised at All Saints, Batley on 29 September 1780. The Dade Register does not help as she is described as a bastard. Neither are there any details provided of her mother Sarah’s parentage. From further entries in the register it appears Sarah went onto have another illegitimate daughter, Mary, in 1784. There are also possibly a further two illegitimate daughters in the 1790s. In turn Zillah had three, possibly four, illegitimate children. So far I have been unable to trace any further details, including through using Poor Law or Bastardy records, because of the paucity of surviving material. But to have so many illegitimate children does seem a tad unusual. Maternal line
Image from Pixabay.com
There are many other examples, but this is my starter for ten.
All Hallows, Kirkburton – Burials
All Saints, Batley – Baptisms
All Saints, Sherburn in Elmet – Baptisms
National Library of Ireland Catholic Parish Registers – Kilbeagh Parish baptisms, Microfilm 04224 / 17 http://registers.nli.ie/
Transcript of the Kilmovee Baptisms from the former East Mayo.org website
 See my first blog post, “Death by Lightning”  This is too late a date for the National Library of Ireland Parish Registers website. Some time ago there was a fantastic East Mayo website which had transcripts of the parish registers. Sadly this has long since gone. But it can be found using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine  William and Francis feature in my blog post entitled “Attempted Murder in Halton? The Perverse Joy of Old Newspapers”  Syllah in the baptism entry