Percy Hefford was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, England in 1881, the son of David and Maria Hefford. His father died when Percy was an infant and his mother then married a Mr William F Wood who was a hatter and hosier and who lived in Sheep Street, in Rugby.
From being a small boy it had always been Percy Hefford’s ambition to serve at sea, especially on the great transatlantic liners, and after basic education he trained for a career as a deck officer in the Mercantile Marine.
In early 1915 he married Elsie Maude Nevanas and they lived at 12 Aylesbury Road, New Brighton, Wallasey, Cheshire. This was across the River Mersey from Liverpool and allowed him easy access to Liverpool docks and the Cunard liners, on which he was now serving.
According to a small article in 'The Northampton Mercury' for 14 May 1915:
"A few weeks ago, he was married to a New Brighton lady."
so it is possible that he was only recently married.
On 12 April 1915 he engaged at Liverpool as Second Officer in the Deck Department for what would be the
Lusitania’s final voyage, at a monthly rate of pay of £16-0s-0d. He joined the liner five days later on the morning that she sailed out of the River Mersey for the last time.
The liner crossed the Atlantic without incident and having docked in New York on 24 April 1915, left there on 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. Percy Hefford lost his life as a result of this action. He was aged 34 years.
In a deposition given to an officer of the Board of Trade on 12 May 1915, survivor Able Seaman HR Johnston remembered Second Officer Hefford being on the bridge before the liner went down:
"I was at the wheel and heard a very loud explosion and felt the ship quivering. Just before the explosion I heard Mr. Hefford, Second Officer sing out from the bridge “Here is a torpedo” and immediately afterwards the Captain gave me the order “hard a starboard”, and I put the wheel to 35 degrees and I reported to the Captain “helm is hard a starboard” and he replied “all right boy” ...
After the Captain gave the order “Hard a starboard” when the vessel was head on to Kinsale, I heard him say to the Second Officer W. Hefford, “Have a look what list she has got”, and Mr. Hefford answered “She is listing 15 degrees to starboard, Sir.”. Then I heard the Captain sing out “Watch if she goes any further” and the Second Officer watched the indicator on the compass until he got some other order which I did not hear from the Captain and Mr. Hefford told me to watch the indicator and sing out if she went any further."
'The Northampton Mercury' article also reported:
"Mr W.F. Wood of Sheep Street, Rugby, has received from an officer friend of Mr. Hefford a message to the effect that Mr Hefford was last seen standing on the bridge of the liner and wearing a lifebelt."
However, in 'The Tragedy of the Lusitania' privately published in 1915, second cabin passenger Frederick S Judson described reaching a lifeboat, in which he found Second Officer Percy Hefford and Able Seaman Francis Hennessy. He said:
"Between them these two men saved at least a dozen lives. Hennessy dived repeatedly and brought women up."
If Mr Judson was correct then Percy Hefford must have died some time after this. As Judson did not name Hefford, however, but merely called him "the second officer", it could be that he was referring to another officer and mistook his rank.
Either way, Hefford’s body was not recovered and identified after the disaster, and consequently he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
In an account of her experiences of the sinking, second cabin passenger Annie Richardson also later stated:
"With my friend’s help we went to the Cunard office, where numbers were laid out in rows for identification. One lady lay with her baby tightly clasped to her, the second officer was also among them, what a gruesome sight..."
She must have been mistaken, however and probably saw the body of Staff Captain James Clarke Anderson, and confused the rank.
When Percy Hefford’s will was proven on 20 July 1915, his effects amounted to £433-1s-6d (£433.07). In August the balance of wages owing to him, paid up to 8 May, 24 hours after the sinking, was forwarded to his widow Elsie. Some time after her husband's death, she moved to 34 King's Gap, Hoylake, Cheshire. In addition the Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited also granted a yearly pension to Elsie Hefford to compensate her for the loss of her husband which amounted to £55-4s-6d (£55.22) payable at the rate of £4-13s-9d (£4.68½) per month.
In an article about the sinking published in 'The Wallasey News' on 15 May 1915, Second Officer Hefford's address is shown as Molyneaux Drive, New Brighton, but this must be a mistake.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, Northampton Mercury, Probate Records, PRO ADM 137/1058, Tragedy of the Lusitania, Wallasey News, The Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.