Peter Burns was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 3 September 1880, the son of John and Mary Burns. His father was a bricklayer. Peter Burns was married to Sarah Burns (née Collins) and they lived at 40 Westmoreland Place, off Scotland Road, Liverpool with their three children; Mary Ann, born in 1905, Frederick John, born in 1907 and Edward, born in 1911. He was reported to have been a handsome man with jet black hair and a moustache and was a most attentive family man.
When the First World War broke out, wanting to serve his country, Peter Burns tried to enlist in the Royal Navy and the Army but was rejected for both because he was beneath the minimum height requirements. He was however, accepted by the Cunard Steam Ship Company to serve in the Mercantile Marine and signed on as a trimmer in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool, on 12 April 1915, for what would be the liner’s last ever voyage to America. His monthly rate of pay was £6-0s-0d, £1-0s-0d. of which was granted to him on engagement. He reported for duty at 8am on 17 April, the day the liner left the River Mersey for the last time.
He did not survive the sinking three weeks later however, nor was his body ever recovered and identified afterwards. Consequently his name is embossed on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London. He was aged 34 years.
Having received no information about her husband immediately after the sinking, Sarah Burns sat in Lime Street Station, Liverpool, for five days, hoping for news of him that never came. Family folklore states that during her abortive ordeal, her hair turned grey. She was heavily pregnant with their fourth child at the time and the baby, a girl, who would also be named Sarah, was born on 13 July 1915, just over two months later.
In 1919 she applied for £1,000 compensation from the German government via the Foreign Claims Office of the Foreign Office. It is not known if her claim was successful. She did however, receive £250-3s.5d (£250.17) compensation from The Cunard Steamship Company, under the Workmen's Compensation Act of 1906 and a pension for herself and her children from The Liverpool & London War Risks' Insurance Association Limited which amounted to £62-7s-10d (£62.39) per annum. She never re-married and died at the age of 83.
1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, UniLiv. PR 13/24, Imelda Gordon.