Herbert Fleming was born in Manchester, Lancashire, England in 1896, the son of John Thomas and Hannah Fleming. When he was only 4 years old his mother died.
He began his apprenticeship as a seaman while in his early teenage years, serving on the training ship Indefatigable. In 1915 he lived at 36 Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, Cheshire, not far from Woodside Ferry which crosses the River Mersey to Liverpool.
On 12 April 1915 he engaged as an able seaman in the Deck Department on the
Lusitania at Liverpool, his monthly rate of pay was £5-10s-0d (£5.50). He reported for duty on board the liner at 7am on 17 April, before she left the River Mersey for the last ever time. His previous ship had been the Harrison Liner the SS Collegian.
The Lusitania crossed the Atlantic without incident and left New York in the early afternoon of 1 May for her return to Liverpool. Six days later, on the afternoon of 7 May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. At that time she was only about 250 miles away from the safety of her home port. Herbert Fleming lost his life as a result of this action. He was aged 19 years.
A shipmate, Seaman Thomas O’ Mahoney, later told something of his fate in an article published in the 'Liverpool Echo', on 29 March 1957:
"On the morning of May 7 all baggage and mail had to be lifted, ready for disembarkation. Lusitania carried about 10,000 bags of mail, and it had to be brought from the very depths of the ship to the deck. O'Mahoney’s name was fourth on the watch roster, and while he was not on look-out, he was for’ard helping the bosun on lifting work.
Misty weather ran up, and because of the ship’s high speed, it was decided to double the lookouts, and the Master-at-Arms told O’Mahoney to leave his work and go on watch. But because he had a long reach, and could grab the swinging bundles better as they were hoisted from the hold, the bosun overruled the Master-at-Arms. Another seaman named Fleming, next on the list was detailed.
“We were having breakfast when Fleming pointed out the lookout system was not now in strict rotation and we agreed I should do his next lookout“, Mr. O’Mahoney told me. “I was called at 11.20 for dinner and afterwards, at 11.45, I got dressed in all the clothes I could find and went on watch, while Fleming went to the baggage room aft, which was now being worked.”
At four bells, (2 pm), O’Mahoney and his watch colleague were relieved, and they went to drink the customary tea that the oncoming watch had brewed, half drunk and left. “I was telling the other fellow we ought to be getting below, (we only had ten minutes and five were needed for the descent into the ship), when, like everyone does, we decided we could manage just one more drink of tea. I had just put my cup down when we were hit. We were stunned. The fo’c’sle was filled with steam and we groped up the two ladders to the decks.
Far below, my shift, waiting for us to come, were trapped, with Fleming among them, They probably did not die until the ship went down 18 minutes later, though they could have been killed by the tons of baggage falling as she listed drunkenly"."
Able Seaman Fleming’s body was not recovered and identified afterwards and as a result, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
On the Australian Merchant Seamen’s Memorial in the garden of The Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Capital State, Australia, under the section for the First World War, is the name "FLEMING WR, SS LUSITANIA". This actually refers to First Engineer William Robert Fleming who was lost on board the Capper, Alexander & Company Limited vessel the SS Lorle
of West Hartlepool, which was sunk by the German submarine UB-103 on 11 June 1918, and does not seem to have any connection at all with the
In August 1915 Able Seaman Herbert Fleming’s parents were paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage, which was reckoned to be from 17 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the vessel had gone down.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Australian War Memorial, British Ships Sunk By U-Boats, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Liverpool Echo, PRO BT 334.