William Turner (23rd October 1856 to 23rd June 1933)


On the way home from a weekend in Llandudno I decided to go onto The Wirral and then under the Mersey Tunnel. The Wirral is a bit of a secret: vast beaches, expansive fields and bonny lanes.


I made my way to Wallasey, to Rake Lane Cemetery as I wanted to stand over the bones of William Turned who was the Captain of RMS Lusitania, a huge ocean liner and briefly the world’s largest passenger ship (it’s near as famous as the Titanic.) Its maiden voyage was on 7th September 1907 and it made 202 crossing across the Atlantic Ocean. However on Friday 7th May 2015 it was returning to Liverpool from New York and was passing County Cork in Ireland when a German U-boat fired a torpedo at it. On board were 1266 people and 1962 died. As in the sinking of Titanic most died from drowning or hypothermia. William survived. I went to look for William.


The cemetery was sprawling and I only found the headstone by matching up the shape of trees in photo with the trees presently in bloom. William was born not that far from this grave - across the River Mersey in Liverpool. He probably went onto the ships as his dad was a seaman. He started early and first set sail aboard Grasmere between the ages of 8 and 13. Now he’s famous for his role in the Lusitania disaster but for years before he was well-known in sailing circles as an excellent navigator and covered long distances in short times saving thousands of pounds worth of fuel. In 1920 it took just 12 days to sail from Liverpool to New York - pretty fast for the time.


Aged 22 he followed his dad’s footsteps joined the Cunard Line. Aged 30 he’d got his Captain's license.  Personally he was gruff, a poor mixer and referred to passengers as "a load of bloody monkeys who are constantly chattering". However his skills were in demand. The passengers found his avoidance of passengers and general elusiveness intriguing. His nickname was “Bowler Bill” as he bought a new bowler hat upon taking command of a ship and wearing this hat on ship's business.


He must have liked folk though as saved a few lives: he saved two passengers rescuing them after they fell in the water after a collision, was awarded a medal for rescuing a 14-year-old boy who had fallen off the Alexandra Dock. Aged 41 he rescued the crew of Vagne and aged 54 rescued crew of West Point.


Aged 59 William was the captain of the Lusitania when it was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat. Only six of the forty-eight lifeboats were launched successfully as most overturned or broke apart. It soon went under. With eighteen minutes of being struck the bow was on the seabed while the stern was still above the surface - before finally sliding beneath the waves. William survived but an Admiralty inquiry brought serious charges against him and Winston Churchill was directly involved with the case. Though he was found innocent (he stayed at his post throughout the sinking) the charges haunted him for the rest of his life and he lived in semi-seclusion.


He survived another sinking: the following year (1916) William was the relieving master of the Cunard Line vessel SS Ivernia which was carrying 2,400 army troops. On New Year’s Day 1917 the vessel was sailing by the Greek coast when it was by a torpedo fired by a German U-boat. The ship went down quickly causing 36 crew members and 84 troops to die. William had remained on the bridge until all aboard had departed in lifeboats and rafts. He struck out to swim as the liner disappeared under his feet.


Away from sailing William married his cousin when aged 27 and they lived and brought up two sons in Manchester. Twenty years later they separated and William lived with his housekeeper (his wife and children emigrated to Australia and then Canada.)


When William was diagnosed with intestinal cancer he tried to trace his sons not knowing they were in Canada (ironically oddly one seaman son died age 55 when it was sunk by the German submarine.) He died of testicular cancer aged 76. I gave this man a heart salute – all those lives he saved. I’ve only saved the off fly, wasp, mouse or cat.


In the graveyard I passed a headstone of some “Splatts”.



Looking looking….think it’s over there somewhere…



The burial of some of the bodies pulled from the sea…


Back the car for a coffee…


On the way back to the car I passed the Splatts!...