William Henry Cole was born in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 1886, the second son of Henry Edwin and Ellen Julia Cole of ‘Cancourt‘, Ampney St Mary, near Cirencester. His father was a farmer.
He was educated at Wellingborough Grammar School after which he took up an engineering apprenticeship at the Wantage Engineering Works and then joined the Cunard Steam Ship Company in 1906.
Sailing out of Liverpool, he made his home at 105 Belgrave Road, Aigburth, Liverpool and served on the
Lusitania and the Mauretania as well as smaller liners. While serving on one of these, the
Slavonia, in 1909 he was shipwrecked, and being a keen amateur photographer he was able to take pictures of the experience. He passed his chief engineer’s certificate in 1912.
On 12 April 1915 he engaged as Second Intermediate Third Engineer in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania and reported for duty on the morning of 17 April, before the liner left Liverpool Landing Stage for the very last time. His monthly rate of pay in this rank was £14-10s-0d (£14.50).
Having completed his voyage to New York he was killed when the steamer was sunk on her return journey on the afternoon of 7 May 1915, by the German submarine
U-20. At that time she was only 12 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland and only hours away from her home port. Engineer Cole was aged 28 years.
His body was not amongst those recovered and identified afterwards, so he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine War Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
His name was also engraved on a brass plaque belonging to The Liverpool Branch of The Marine Engineers’ Association which used to be in the Britannia Rooms in the Cunard Building in Liverpool. Underneath the badge of the association was engraved:
"ROLL OF HONOUR
A TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY OF
THE MEMBERS, WHO LOST THEIR LIVES
THROUGH ENEMY ACTION IN THE
GREAT WAR. 1914 - 1919"
followed by names of the 226 former members.
The memorial is not in the building today however and its present whereabouts, if it has survived, are not known.
In a tribute to him published in 'The Journal of the Marine Engineers’ Association'
in June 1915, it was said:
"He was highly esteemed by all with whom he came into contact."
Administration of his estate was granted to his father on 19 July 1915 and his effects amounted to £732-17s-0d, (£732.85). In August of the same year the balance of wages owed to him for his service on the
Lusitania from 17 April until 8 May (24 hours after the liner had gone down) was also paid out to his relatives by Cunard.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Joe Devereux, George Donnison, Cunard Records, David Irving, Gloucestershire Graphic, Marine Engineers’ Journal, Robert O'Brien, Probate Records, PRO BT 334.