William Edward Quirk was born on 26 June 1881 in Douglas on the Isle of Man, the son of John James and Maria Quirk. He had been an Able Seaman in the Royal Navy before enlisting in the British Mercantile Marine. In 1915 he lived at 33 Mill Road, Great Crosby, Liverpool, Lancashire, England.
He engaged as an able seaman the Deck Department on board the Lusitania on 12 April 1915 at Liverpool at a monthly wage of £5-10s-0d (£5.50), £1-10s-0d (£1.50) of which was advanced to him at the time. He reported for duty five days later at 7am before the Lusitania left the River Mersey for the last time. It was not the first time that he had served on her in this capacity.
The liner completed her voyage to New York without mishap and left there just after midday on 1 May 1915 on her return to Liverpool. Six days out, on the afternoon of 7 May, she was torpedoed and sunk within sight of the Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland, by the German submarine U-20. At this stage of her voyage she was a mere 250 miles away from the safety of her home port.
William Quirk was killed as a result of this enemy action, one of 19 seamen from the Deck Department to perish out of the 47 who were on board when the vessel left the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York. He was aged 34 years, although he gave his age on signing up for the voyage as 32.
His body was recovered from the sea some time in the middle of May and before it was formally identified it was given the reference number 233 in one of Queenstown's makeshift mortuaries. At first misidentified as McQuirk, it was described as: -
"Male (Believed to be McQuirk, seaman) 45 years, stout chubby face, cross arms and heart tattooed on right forearm, wreath tattooed over heart, bald on top of head, dark hair turning grey, light brown moustache, short nose wide at top, thick stout short neck, stout build, well built man, 5’ 7 ins. high, wore seaman's blue trousers, clog boots."
On 22 May William Quirk was buried in the Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown in Mass Grave B, 4th Row, Lower Tier. He was the last person to be buried in this grave and it was sealed after his interment. There was no property found on his body.
In August 1915 his relatives were given the balance of wages owed to him in respect of the Lusitania’s last voyage, which was reckoned to be from 17 April to 8 May 1915, 24 hours after the liner had been sunk.
As the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware that Able Seaman Quirk has an identifiable burial site, after the First World War they commemorated him on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London. However once the author had established beyond doubt that he was buried in the Old Church Cemetery, the Commission erected a permanent memorial to him there in November 1998.
It takes the form of a monument of Irish limestone, sited at the head of Mass Grave B, the centre one of the three. The names of crew members buried in the three mass graves are incised on two black granite panels on the memorial, with a legend in between them:
"1914 - 1918
IN HONOURED MEMORY
OF THOSE NAMED WHO,
SERVING ON THE
DIED WHEN THE SHIP WAS
SUNK BY ENEMY ACTION
ON 7 MAY 1915
AND ARE BURIED NEARBY"
The name "ABLE SEAMAN WE QUIRK" is incised on the right hand panel.
The Commission has also stated that should it ever be necessary to renew the panel bearing his name on the Tower Hill Memorial, then his name would be omitted from its replacement.
There is a "FRMN. QUIRK, WILLIAM" commemorated on the Douglas war memorial, on the sea front on Douglas Bay, Isle of Man. Although the rank is different and the forename Edward is not shown, it is almost certainly the same man. His and the names of many others are inscribed in white lettering on a slate tablet under the words:
"DOUGLAS COMMEMORATES THE
LOYALTY COURAGE AND SELF SACRIFICE
OF THOSE WHO FELL IN THE GREAT WARS
1914 - 1918
1939 - 1945."
The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission state the spelling of his middle name as Edouard, but his birth and christening records state that it was Edward.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Brian R. Meister, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, PRO BT 334.