Albert Arthur Bestic was born in Dublin, Ireland on 26 August 1890. He lived at 40 Parkbridge Road, Prenton, Birkenhead, Cheshire. At the age of 18 years he commenced his apprenticeship ‘before the mast’ in sailing ships in the process of becoming a professional deck officer in the Mercantile Marine. On one occasion, whilst serving on the three-master
Denbigh Castle in the Atlantic, he saw the Lusitania under full steam and thrilled at the possibility of joining her one day as a member of her crew.
His chance came with the outbreak of the Great War when vacancies for deck officers with The Cunard Steam Ship Company became available as some of the regular ones were called up for service with the Royal Navy.
Having applied to join ship, he was given an immediate appointment as Junior Third Officer on the morning of 17 April 1915 as a replacement for Junior Third Officer RJ Allen, who would be transferred to another Cunard ship in New York. Bestic therefore joined the Lusitania just before she left Liverpool for the last time. His previous ship had been the Leyland, Frederick and Co Ltd. vessel
Californian, which had played a part in the Titanic tragedy of April three years earlier. As junior third officer, on the
Lusitania, Albert Bestic’s monthly rate of pay was £10-0s-0d.
Having arrived safely in New York, the Lusitania left on her return leg to Liverpool on the early afternoon of 1 May 1915 and just six days later she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the coast of southern Ireland, only hours away from her home port.
Alfred Bestic survived the sinking and having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, eventually made it back to Liverpool, where, like all
Lusitania crew survivors, he was required to give a deposition on oath to a Board of Trade official, concerning his experiences of the sinking. Most of these depositions have long since been lost or destroyed. but a few, including that of Bestic, have survived in the Public Record Office in Richmond, Surrey, England in ‘facsimile’ form - copied out by hand, probably at the time. That of Junior Third Officer Bestic given on 12 May 1915 states:
"At the time of sailing the ship was in good condition and well found. She was unarmed having no weapons of offence or defence against an enemy.
Boat drill was carried out before the vessel left New York, the boats being swung out but not put into the water.
On Thursday 6th May at 5.30 to 6.30 a.m., the boats were all swung out. On 7th May Deponent went off watch at noon and returned to relieve the Intermediate Third Officer for lunch. Deponent left the bridge at about 2 p.m.. The Old Head of Kinsale was about 5 points on the port bow, distant about ten miles. The vessel was going full speed by the telegraph and making about 18 knots..."
Just after he had returned to his cabin, he got the call from Baggage Master John Crank to supervise bringing up luggage from the baggage hold. This was always a dirty job which had to be supervised by an officer. Bestic realised that he was wearing a new uniform which he had only just purchased in New York and told Crank that he would follow him down when he had changed.
There are two possible reasons why Crank had been ordered to bring up luggage from below. The first is that as the weather was fairly good at the time, luggage brought up on the Friday afternoon could safely remain on the deck and make the unloading of the vessel in the early hours of the following morning at Liverpool, much quicker. The other is that the Admiralty had finally realised the danger to the ship from submarine attack and had ordered her to put into nearby Queenstown. After such a passage of time and the need to keep certain movements secret during the war, it is impossible to know which was the correct one. Whatever the reason was, Bestic’s decision to change his uniform certainly saved his life. His deposition continued:
Deponent was in the Officers’ smoke room on the Bridge Deck. He heard a violent explosion. The vessel commenced to list to starboard and the lights went out on the instant. Deponent ran out to the starboard side of the bridge and saw debris falling from a height above the funnels and the wake of a torpedo. As far as he could make out the torpedo struck the vessel between the second and third funnels.
Deponent heard the captain on the bridge ordering the boats to be lowered to the rail. Passengers were rushing up onto the boat deck. There was no panic but some women were crying. The crowd impeded the movements of those getting out the boats.
Deponent’s station was Boats 2 to 10, personal boat No. 10. Deponent went to No. 10 first. A sailor took the after fall and deponent the forward fall and commenced to lower. The list being so great to starboard, the boat came in on top of the collapsible boats underneath.
Under orders from staff captain Anderson Deponent went to the bridge and requested the 2nd Officer to trim the vessel with port tanks. Shortly afterwards the vessel commenced to recover a little but not sufficient to allow of the port side boat being thrown clear of the rail. The ship now was sinking by the head. None of the boats 2 to 10 got away. Some persons, presumably passengers let go gugs with the result that some of the boats swung inboard.
Deponent continued his efforts until the water reached abaft of the bridge. He then stepped over the side, (a drop of 2 or 3 feet) into the water. Deponent was dragged down with the ship, came to the surface and eventually took refuge on a stove-in collapsible boat. He picked another man up from the water got the side of the boat raised a little and took in several persons from the water on an upturned sinking boat.
After several hours, Bestic and the others came across some more people clinging to a bread safe and coming across another upturned boat, he kept everyone together until they were finally picked up by the Royal Naval patrol boat HMS Bluebell and eventually landed at Queenstown.
All the handlers in the baggage hold, including Baggage Master John Crank, were killed as a result of the torpedo explosion or were trapped between decks in the loading cages and were subsequently drowned. Only Bestic’s decision to change his uniform prevented his being there with them.
Whilst in Liverpool, Albert Bestic was officially discharged from his service on the
Lusitania and paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of his service on board. This amounted to £8-6s-8d, (£8.33).
At the end of June 1915 he was called to give evidence at the official enquiry conducted into the sinking, chaired by Lord Mersey, and held at Caxton Hall in London. The questions he was asked, however, like most of those put to crew members, only elicited a response which was convenient to the finding which was required.
Having survived the war at sea, Albert Bestic continued to be haunted by the
Lusitania story and in the 1930s was involved in several schemes to recover goods and artefacts from the wreck. Although none of them ever amounted to anything, in the autumn of 1932 he visited Captain Turner at his home in Great Crosby, near Liverpool. At that time, Turner was in failing health and would only have just over six months to live. When Albert Bestic announced himself to the Captain’s house keeper Mabel Avery, Turner did not remember him until Bestic recalled that Turner had always called him "Bisset".
Once they had established their relationship again, like most former shipmates, the pair reminisced about their times at sea and their last voyage together. When Bestic told him of his intention to discover the wreck with a salvage company, his former commander gave him the chart which he had taken from the chart table just before he had been washed off the bridge. On this he had marked, fairly accurately as it later turned out, the position of the liner when she was first struck. He also asked the former Junior Third Engineer if he could recover his sextant that he had left in his day cabin.
Albert Bestic was, unlike many Lusitania survivors, quite happy to talk about his experiences in later life, slightly different versions of which appeared in different books from the 1950s to the 1970s. His deposition, however, given on oath a mere five days after the sinking, is likely to be the most accurate. He died in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland on 20 December 1962, aged 78 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Cunard Records, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, Lusitania, Lusitania and Beyond, Merchant Fleet At War, PRO BT 100/345, Seven Days to Disaster.