William James Colwell was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on the 29th August 1889, the son of Samuel Philip and Mary Ellen Colwell (née Fleetwood). His father was a labourer and in 1915, the family lived at 17, Haylock Street, Liverpool.
He engaged as a trimmer in the Engineering Department on board the Lusitania on 12th April 1915 at Liverpool, at a monthly wage of £6-0s-0d., and joined the vessel at Liverpool landing stage, five days later, in time for her last ever voyage out of the River Mersey.
He survived the disaster, three weeks later, with the liner within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her home port and was able to get away from the sinking ship in Lifeboat No. 13. His survival was described in part by Trimmer John Davies from Blundellsands, near Liverpool in a report published in southern Irish newspaper
The Cork Examiner, not long after the sinking :-
Davis said he got into a boat which would hold 50, and he and Wm. Colwell, a day man, helped to pick up several from the sea. To his knowledge, five boats were lowered, and they should hold about 50 each, but the one in which he was, when a census was taken, had 64 survivors in it, 14 of them being children.
This was almost certainly Lifeboat No. 13 and the occupants of this boat were taken from the sea by the Queenstown harbour tender
Flying Fish and landed at Queenstown itself.
When William Colwell eventually got back to Liverpool, he was officially discharged from the liner’s final voyage and paid the balance of wages still owing to him. This amounted to £7-12s-3d., (£7.61p.) and represented payment for his sea service, which was reckoned to be from 17th April 1915 until 8th May, 24 hours after the liner had foundered.
According to marriage records, William married the same woman twice! On the 12th August 1917, he married Ann Power, who was described as being single, yet on the 13th June 1918, he married Ann Thorne, who was described as being a widow. Moses Power is listed as being the bride’s father on both occasions, and the witnesses to the marriages are the same, therefore it would appear that Ann Power and Ann Thorne were one and the same person. The reason for the two marriage records is unknown; however, it is known that Ann Power married James Andrew Thorne, a dock labourer, at Liverpool in October 1903. The couple had a daughter, named May, in October 1904. Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, James Thorne enlisted in the British Army and was assigned to the 7th Bn. South Lancashire Regiment. As 14128 Pte. James Thorne, he served on the Western Front and suffered bullet wounds to his chest and arm in August 1916, which necessitated him recuperating in England until March 1917. He returned to the battle front in the Ypres area of Belgium in April 1917 and was listed as missing and presumed killed in action on the 19th May 1917. If his body was ever recovered from the battlefield, it was never identified, and consequently his name is inscribed on panel 37 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
On the 29th April 1937, William Colwell died in Liverpool, aged 47 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, PRO BT 100/345, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Lawrence Evans, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly