James Breen was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England in 1866 the son of John and Isobel Breen. He was married to Mary Breen (née O'Hare) and in 1915; they lived at 23 Bond Street, Liverpool, Lancashire.
He was a professional fireman in the British Mercantile Marine and on 12 April 1915 at Liverpool he engaged as a leading fireman in the Engineering Department, on board the
Lusitania at a monthly rate of pay of £7-10s-0d, (£7.50). He was thus on board when the liner left the River Mersey for the last time, on 17 April.
Having completed the liner’s crossing to New York without mishap, James Breen was still serving on board on the early afternoon of 1 May, as the
Lusitania left New York on the start of her return voyage to Liverpool. Then, six days into the voyage, 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 14 hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port. Fireman Breen lost his life as a result of this action. He was aged 49 years.
As his body was never found and identified afterwards, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine War Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
In keeping with all the Lusitania’s crew, survived and killed, he was paid until 8 May, 24 hours after the sinking. The balance of wages owed to him was paid to his widow Mary at Liverpool, in August 1915. The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted a yearly pension to Mary Breen to compensate her for the loss of her husband which amounted to £48-7s-10d (£48.39) payable at the rate of £4-0s-8d (£4.04) per month.
1881 Census of England and Wales, Dave Byrne, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Lawrence Evans, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 334, UniLiv. PR 13/24.