John Thomson was born in Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, in 1900, the son of John and Mary Jane Thomson. The family home was at 59 Russell Road, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, Cheshire and it was from this address that John joined the Cunard Line as an ordinary seaman in the Deck Department.
It was in this capacity that he was serving on the Lusitania when he was killed, having signed on at Liverpool on 14th April 1915 at a monthly rate of pay of £1-0s-0d. Having completed the liner’s voyage to New York, he was one of many lost on the afternoon of the 7th May when she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from the safety of home.
His body was recovered from the sea, however, and having been landed, it was taken to one of the makeshift mortuaries set up in Queenstown, given the reference number 196 and described as: -
Thomson O/S 20 years age, 5’ 6” - 7” good looking, fresh face, dark hair, slight build, wore seaman’s trousers, striped cotton shirt, brown socks, laced boots worn, with toe caps.
Property. 1 Passport to England. 1 bunch of keys. 1 Handkerchief.
Then, on May 16th 1915 it was buried in Mass Grave B, 5th Row, Upper Tier in The Old Cemetery, Queenstown. The date of his burial and the reference number given to his corpse, would suggest that his body was not recovered immediately after the disaster. His remains lie there today.
He was only fifteen years old at the time he died and as such, was one of the
Lusitania's youngest crew victims.
Despite the fact that he has an identifiable burial site, however, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware of the fact and after the Great War, 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 agreed to erect a permanent memorial to him where he is buried and this was completed in November 1998.
It takes the form of a monument of Irish limestone, sited at the head of Mass Grave B, where he is actually buried and 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, which reads: -
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 of Ordinary Seaman Thomson was, by mistake, omitted from the memorial, however, and the Commission has stated that it will rectify this omission as soon as possible.
It has also stated that should it ever be necessary to renew the panel bearing his name on the Tower Hill Memorial, his name would not be cast onto its replacement.
John Thomson is also commemorated on the family grave in Bebington Cemetery, Birkenhead, Merseyside. The inscription on his headstone states: -
LOST ON R.M.S. LUSITANIA
MAY 7TH 1915
AGED 15 YEARS
In August 1915, the balance of wages owing to him was paid to his family in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s final voyage. This was reckoned from 17th April until 8th May, 24 hours after the liner had foundered.
A list of the crew published by The Cunard Steam Ship Company in March 1916 shows his name to be spelled 'Thompson', but census and other records give the family name as being Thomson!
The year of 1915 was to be one of terrible tragedy for the Thomson family. On 27th November, their daughter Irene also died, aged only thirteen years!
1901 Census of Scotland, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 334.