Jacob Chadwick was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, England in 1891, the son of Ovid and Mary Chadwick. After completing his education Jacob became a horse driver, dealing in hay and straw. At some stage damaged his right hand, resulting in the loss of his middle finger and the partial loss of two others.
Following the outbreak of the First World War Jacob enlisted in the 18th Hussars in Scarborough in September 1914, and although being declared fit for service on his enlistment, he was discharged eight days later, deemed medically unfit due to the injury to his hand.
At Christmas 1914 he married Elsie Henson and their home in 1915 was at Wordsworth Street, Kirstall Road, Leeds, Yorkshire.
Perhaps, because of his inability to serve in the army and wanting to “do his bit” for the war effort, he turned to the mercantile marine as a ship’s fireman and he engaged on the
Lusitania at Liverpool on the morning of 17 April 1915 before the Cunarder left the River Mersey for the very last time. It was not his first voyage on the liner. As a fireman in the Engineering Department, he was paid a monthly wage of £6-10s-0d (£6.50).
He survived the sinking on 7 May 1915 and although his wife was naturally worried when news of the disaster reached Leeds, her fears were allayed when a letter from him arrived on Monday 10 May, announcing his rescue and safety. It was written from Liverpool and reported in 'The Yorkshire Post' on 11 May:
"By the grace of God we have landed safely. I shall never forget this as long as I live. We were struck at 2.15, and the liner sank in fifteen minutes. Men, women and children went mad. I swam about 250 yards to a boat that was upside down. I stayed there in my bare skin for four and a half hours until help came. Then we were taken to Queenstown for the night. The sight of the dead was awful. Children in their mother's arms were linked together in death. Wives were lost from husbands, and many of the survivors were terribly disabled.
I think that the most terrible sight of all that I saw was a man whose arm was partly crushed off. The doctor just cut it off with his penknife where he stood. We were told in New York that we should never land safely here. I lost everything I had, but I do not mind that, when I am safe."
Fireman Chadwick returned to Leeds on the evening of 10 May and gave a personal description of the sinking to a reporter of the newspaper:
"It had been foggy until day-break and we were going at half speed, - about 15 knots. Having just finished my duties, I was about to have a bath when a torpedo entered between No 1 and 2 stokehole on the starboard side. Just as I was, I rushed on deck, but there was so much list that it was impossible to stand up.
The captain gave the orders for us to lower the boats, but this could not be done, although the effort was made, three boats being smashed to pieces this way. Twelve persons in the first boat thus probably lost their lives for they were thrown into the sea. About two minutes after the first shock, the engines stopped, and a second torpedo which struck us aft, reached the engine room, with the consequence that all lights were extinguished."
Fireman Chadwick, like many others, was clearly mistaken about there being a second torpedo and the position where the first explosion occurred. The log of the
U-20 confirmed that only one torpedo was fired. Chadwick's account continued:
"The man at the wheel who was rescued along with me said he saw what appeared to be a barrel about 200 yards on the starboard side. After the ship had been struck, use was made of the boats on the port side, but the captain, thinking that all could be saved, ordered the people back from the boats. Then 'Tipperary' was sung, but hardly before the captain had finished speaking, the second shot struck the engine room. People fought like madmen to get back into the boats, and as the ship began to sink by the stern, the order was given 'Every one for himself'."
Obviously, the Lusitania did not sink by the stern and Fireman Chadwick's recollections can not be relied upon as an accurate record of the sinking. He continued:
"I saw two funnels disappear, and I jumped clear. Fortunately, I am a good swimmer - I was taught to swim as a boy at Kirkstall Road Baths - and I got first to one collapsible boat, which, however, overturned, and then to another one, where Staff Captain Anderson and I were able to rest on the canvas. This boat could not be opened properly, and it began to sink, so the Captain asked those who could swim to leave it.
I dived off, and getting a lifebuoy from a dead man, managed to reach, in a very exhausted condition, some cupboards that were floating fifty yards away. I had then been in the water nearly two hours and for another two hours or so I remained with others on the keel of an upturned boat. Then we were rescued and taken to Queenstown."
Staff Captain James Anderson did not survive the sinking, although his body was recovered from the sea, so Fireman Chadwick may have been one of the last to see him alive.
On his return to Liverpool, Fireman Chadwick was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s final voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £4-14s-0d (£4.70). In keeping with all the other members of the crew, this sum was in respect of service from 17 April until 8 May, the day after the liner was sunk.
Jacob Chadwick died in Leeds, Yorkshire, in mid 1973, aged 82 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, Yorkshire Post.