Joseph Parry was born on 21st August 1888 in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, the son of William and Ann Parry. He had decided on a career at sea at an early age and as a result was educated on board the Training Ship
Indefatigable which was berthed in the River Mersey, after which he first went to sea in 1904. The family home was at 3, Dewey Avenue, Aintree, Liverpool.
On 12th April 1915 he engaged at Liverpool, as an able seaman in the Deck Department on board the
Lusitania at a monthly rate of pay of £5-10s-d., (£5.50p.), and was appointed carpenter’s assistant. He reported for duty at 7 a.m. on the morning of 17th April for the Cunarders last ever voyage out of Liverpool. His previous ship had been the White Star Line steamship Megantic.
Exactly three weeks later, when the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, she was within sight of the coast of southern Ireland on her return voyage to Liverpool and only about fourteen hours from home. Joseph Parry, along with Able Seaman Leslie Morton, was instrumental in saving the lives of many passengers.
On the afternoon of 7th May, he was on watch on the port side of the crow’s nest until relieved by Able Seaman Frank Hennessy at 2.00 p.m., - just minutes before the ship was torpedoed. He had to jump into the sea as the stricken liner foundered and he and Leslie Morton managed to get on board one of the Lusitania’s collapsible boats, which had floated off. Adolf and Mary and Mary Hoehling in their book
The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, tell the story: -
..... Leslie Morton and another seaman William (sic) Parry, were rapidly hauling people on to their collapsible. When they had saved about fifty persons, they rowed off towards what looked like a fishing ketch, about five miles distant.
Another, more fulsome account was published in the book A Merchant Fleet at War, by Archibald Hurd which tells the story of The Cunard Steam Ship Company during the Great War: -
Morton ..... succeeded in reaching an empty collapsible boat, into which he climbed, succeeding with the help of another young sailor, Joseph Parry, in ripping off the cover and rescuing from the water some 50 people. He then made for a fishing kedge about five miles away, and having reached it, transferred his passengers to it, and returned for some more, subsequently rescuing about 30 people from a sinking lifeboat - the little collapsible boat being subsequently rescued by a mine-sweeper.
These two boys were thus instrumental in saving nearly 100 lives; and in recognition of their bravery they were awarded decorations by the Board of Trade, Morton receiving the Silver Medal for Gallantry, and Parry the Bronze Medal for Gallantry.
Not all those rescued were totally grateful for their rescue, however. Joseph Parry's daughter, Lilian Knowles, in an interview with the author in 1998 related: -
My father used to tell the story of one lady that they pulled out of the sea by her hair and far from being grateful, she was very angry and complained because of the way she had been rescued!
The occupants of the collapsible boat were eventually picked up by the Royal Naval tug H.M.S.
Stormcock and having been landed at Queenstown, Joseph Parry eventually made his way back to Liverpool, where he was officially discharged from the Lusitania and paid £4-18s-8d., (£4.93p), the balance of wages owing to him. In keeping with all the liner's crew, survived or killed, he was paid until 8th May, 24 hours after the sinking.
In 1957, he recounted his experiences of the sinking to Ian Severns, a feature writer for local newspaper
The Liverpool Echo, and these were published in the edition of 1st April of that year. They stated: -
Sailors, like office clerks are ardent tea-mashers. Able-seaman Parry had just come from a fruitless spell of lookout duty at 2 p.m. on May 7, 1915, when he searched for his packet of "Joy of Home." The title of his favourite tea was apt in more ways than one. "I always carried a pound of it with me," he explains, "because the tea was terrible in those days." He duly mashed. Parry was thoughtfully stirring his "Joy of Home" ..... when Lusitania rocked.
He called to the sleeping watch below; "Come up lads, we've run aground." As he scampered to the deck of the heavily listing liner, he began to wonder, however, for the "ground" came back and hit the ship again.
Thinking back, he remembered the Chief Officer asking the lookout; " Do you know what a submarine is?" and the lads scratching their heads and giving what answers they could. Submarine warfare was comparatively new. They had then been told to watch for anything remotely resembling submarine activity, and through the daze of the event, the realisation crept through to Parry.
His boat was lowered and like many others, overturned when the davits caught it. He went under the water, but managed, by unknown means to scramble onto an upturned boat when he surfaced. A woman floated past, Parry grabbed her fashionable long hair and hauled her up, “You cruel wretch,” she gasped. “She thought I was a German and she was telling me off for torpedoing us.”
If long hair saved that woman’s life, it probably helped to save another 20-years-old girl’s reason. In the 15 minutes they stood by the boats waiting for the captain’s order to leave, Parry plaited the hair of a girl to keep her cheerful, and all the time he talked reassuringly to other passengers. he had been going to sea since 1904, but this was his first shipwreck.
When there were four people on Parry’s upturned boat they drifted towards a closed up collapsible lifeboat. They began to pull up the sides and began taking in more survivors.
Parry was now joined by Able-seaman Leslie Morton ..... and they began hauling people in as fast as they could. Dazed, frightened, exhausted passengers littered the sea until it seemed the very waters were alive. Many of those rescued were dumped out again as soon as they were pulled in. They were dead. There was only room for the living.
Soon the boat was full; another was spotted. Parry jumped on to it and started the whole thing again. Although many of the people they rescued died before they reached harbour, it is estimated that he and Morton picked up 100 people from the water.
On Saturday July 17, 1915, the Football Echo banished sport from its front page and printed Lord Mersey’s judgement at the end of the Lusitania enquiry. In this report the doings of Able-seaman Parry and Morton came to light. “Why didn’t you tell us about all this?” asked relatives at Aintree, “I was just doing what I had been taught to do,” answered Parry. He was not looking for medals, but he got one.
On August 9, a letter arrived from the Board of Trade stating that the King, on the recommendation of the President of the Board of Trade was to award Parry the Bronze Medal for gallantry. “The King asked us many questions; we told him what we could and he said that he was very well pleased with his Merchant Service,” he adds.
The official citation for Parry’s Board of Trade Bronze Medal stated: -
On 7th May 1915, the steamship Lusitania, of Liverpool, was torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale and foundered. Morton was the first to observe the approach of the torpedoes and he reported them to the bridge. When the torpedoes struck the ship he was knocked off his feet but he recovered himself quickly, and at once assisted in filling and lowering several boats. Having done all he could on board, he jumped overboard.
While in the water he managed to get hold of a floating collapsible lifeboat and with the assistance of Parry, he ripped the canvas cover off it and succeeded in drawing into it 50 or 60 passengers. Morton and Parry then rowed the boat some miles to a fishing smack. Having put the rescued passengers on board the smack they returned to the scene of the wreck and succeeded in rescuing 20 to 30 more people.
Joseph Parry's medal - officially titled The Board of Trade Sea Gallantry Medal in Bronze, - is still in the family's possession and suspended from a white and red ribbon, it shows the coinage head of George V on the obverse, surrounded by the legend
FOR GALLANTRY IN SAVING LIFE AT SEA and a life saving scene on the reverse. Around the rim is impressed
JOSEPH PARRY 'LUSITANIA' 7TH MAY 1915.
Also in the family's possession is a well made kid leather baby's shoe which Joseph Parry was given by a grateful mother. He had hauled the mother and her baby into the collapsible boat alive, but both had subsequently died. On this little shoe, Parry had written the name of the ship, the date of the sinking and the words 'Lest We Forget'!
As a result of all his experiences, Able Seaman Parry lost his voice completely and it was two months before it fully returned and even then he was left with a nervous stammer which remained with him for the rest of his life.
When he had recovered sufficiently from his Lusitania ordeal, he took a job as a dock gateman, but found it too quiet and lacking excitement and as a result, he returned to sea - naturally to The Cunard Steam Ship Company - and then served on the
Caronia and the Carpathia. He was on board this latter vessel, (which in April 1912 had played a part in rescuing survivors from the
Titanic disaster), on 17th July1917, when she was shelled, torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-55, in the Atlantic Ocean, 170 miles west by north of the Bishop Rock. She was outward bound from Liverpool for Boston, Massachusetts and five lives were lost in the sinking.
In 1919, Joseph Parry married Mary Ann Hutchinson and they had two children, Gladys Lilian and Marjorie Zoea.
Because of his bravery following the sinking and the award of his medal, he was often recognised after the war and in September 1920, whilst serving on board the Cunarder
Caronia, he was presented with a specially inscribed copy of A Merchant Fleet at War, by some of the passengers.
The sea remained his profession for many years afterwards, all the time serving with the Cunard Company. Because of his speech difficulties, however, he was not able to progress as far as he would have wished! In 1940, however, during the Second World War, having been paid off from the troopship Lancastria he was awaiting another ship when it was reported that the troopship had been sunk with heavy loss of life. No doubt recalling his experiences in the First World War, he decided to ‘swallow the anchor’ and took a job ashore as a carpenter which continued to be his calling, until he retired.
He died in Southport Infirmary on 2nd December 1961 and was buried at Kirkdale Cemetery, Longmoor Lane, Liverpool. He was aged 73 years. Before his death, he lived at 936, Merepark Drive, Southport, Lancashire.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Frank Davies, Lawrence Evans, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, John Hayward, Lilian Knowles, The Long Wake, A Merchant Fleet at War, PRO ADM 137/1058, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv D92/2/541, PRO BT 350.