Dad survived sinking of Lusitania 100 years ago

Margaret Baldwin with a photo of her father William Rose, survivor of the Lusitania disaster in 1915
Margaret Baldwin with a photo of her father William Rose, survivor of the Lusitania disaster in 1915
  • Lancaster man was one of 2,000 on ship when it sank
  • Daughter tells miraculous story of how her father survived
  • Ocean liner sunk by German U-boat torpedo

It was 100 years ago on May 7 when William Rose went through the most harrowing day of his life.

William, from Lancaster, was one of 2,000 people on the Lusitania ocean liner when it was sunk by a German U-boat torpedo at the height of World War One.

William Rose as a young man.

William Rose as a young man.

Around 1,200 people were killed, including 94 children.

On the centenary of the tragedy, William’s daughter Margaret Baldwin has revealed the miraculous tale of how her father survived.

He floated for more than three hours in freezing water until he was rescued, with dead bodies all around him.

Only his quick thinking to grab a lifebelt from under his pillow as the ship went down saved his life.

Margaret, 99, said: “It was terrible, He was nearly a goner.”

Margaret says her dad never spoke much about that fateful day. But he did write an account of what happened, which she keeps in her house in Caton where she has lived since 1958.

William, steward at the Lancaster County Club on Church Street, joined the Cunard Ship Company in Liverpool in 1904.

He served on the Carpathia which helped rescue survivors from the Titanic in 1912.

William then joined the Lusitania, then the largest, fastest and most luxurious ocean liner in the world, and signed up as a second class waiter in the stewards’ department for its journey from Liverpool to New York.

After an uneventful crossing, the ship began its homeward voyage. As Friday, May 7 1915 dawned, it was a glorious spring morning without a cloud in the sky.

Then, just after 2pm as William was serving lunch, the torpedo struck without warning off the coast of I
reland. The ship shuddered and began to keel over.

“The passengers, in great alarm, jumped from their seats and rushed to the deck,” wrote William.

“I had, at that moment, my arm full of dirty plates which I had just removed from my table. I dropped them quickly and rushed to help pacify the terror stricken people.

“When the call came ‘everyone for himself’, I went down to the stewards’ sleeping quarters. It was pitch dark down there, but I managed to scramble to my bunk and found my life belt under the pillow. I made a mad rush back onto the deck only just in time. I put the belt on quickly. I got to the rail of the ship where I sat until she made her final plunge. During that anxious time of waiting, I could see those poor people, locked in one another’s arms, some jumping to their doom striking floating debris, others stuck to the ship to go down with her to the bottom.

“At last my turn came. I went down with her, far down into the deep. Thank God I had the life belt on. It brought me back to the surface. I got my breath and struggled hard for my life. All around were dead bodies, floating in their life belts. It was a ghastly sight.

“I kept up for about three hours and then I suddenly went under. When I came round, thank God, I found that I was in a collapsible boat. I had been rescued unconscious.”

Seven hours later, the armed British cruiser the Indian Empire rescued William’s boat and took the survivors and dead bodies aboard back to Ireland.

But the sorrow was not over for William. He soon realised his best friend and fellow waiter, Leslie Stansfield, had perished in the deep. They’d served together on ships for 11 years.

A few years earlier, Leslie had met his fiancee while out walking with William on Morecambe promenade. Leslie’s sweetheart was accompaniedby her friend, Lily.

William and Lily also got talking and were later married. Margaret was born in 1916, a year after the Lusitania went down.

Margaret says William was devastated by Leslie’s death.

“My father used to say he must have hit his head when the ship dived down. Leslie was about to get married, and dad would have been his best man.”