James Battle was born in County Sligo, Ireland in 1866. He lived at 59 Richmond Row, in the city centre of Liverpool.
He was a professional merchant seaman and signed on at Liverpool on the Lusitania, on 12 April 1915 as an able seaman in the Deck Department at a monthly wage of £5.10s.0d, (£5.50). He took £1.10s.0d of this (£1.50), as an advance. His previous ship had been the Corsican.
He reported for duty on board the Cunarder at 7am on 17 April 1915, the day she sailed from the River Mersey for the last time. The crew muster ledger which is now held at the Public Record Office shows that he did not actually sign on for the voyage, but merely made the sign of a cross against his name, which presumably indicated that he could not write.
On 10 May 1915, the Monday following the sinking, an interview with James Battle appeared in the 'Irish Independent' newspaper. He stated:-
"At the moment we were hit I was in my bunk below, smoking. The force of the first explosion threw me out on the floor, and I said to a chum: “That’s a torpedo”. We ran on deck, as the ship was heeling over heavily.
The port boats were flung in on our decks, and the starboard boats were swinging away some feet beyond the vessel’s side.
We got some of them away, and after an hour in the water myself and three or four other men got on to three upturned boats. We lashed them together and made a raft. There were boats enough on board to save twice as many people as we had if we had time to launch them, but the submarine didn’t give us a second’s warning and after sinking us slinked away and left us to drown. It was wholesale wilful murder."
Second-class survivor, and fellow Irishman, John Sweeney, also mentioned the lashing of the three lifeboats together.
"We picked up 69 people. Nobody could know the horror of that time. I was on the end of the keel, helping to keep a woman and some others afloat. A man was clinging to my legs with one hand. His other hand and arm from above the elbow was hanging off.
We pulled him on top of the boat. His arm was only hanging by a thin strip of muscle, and an Italian doctor who was on the craft cut off the arm and bandaged the stump with a piece of another passenger’s shirt."
A number of survivors mentioned this incident. The Italian doctor was Silvio di Vesconi, a second-class passenger.
"We were on the raft, drifting about, 69 of us, each helping the other as well as we could to keep a grip. We were that way from 2.30 until 6.30, when the trawler, Caterina
(sic) picked us up and brought us to Queenstown."
The Caterina was actually the Katerina.
He survived the sinking, despite suffering injuries to his left leg and foot, and having been landed at Queenstown, he made his way back to Liverpool. In keeping with all the other crew survivors, he was paid off for the voyage, up until 8 May 1915, the balance owing to him being £3.8s.8d, (£3.43).
1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Irish Independent, PRO BT 100/345.