Charles Ernest Gunther was born in London in 1891, the son of Adolph and Mary Gunther. His father was born in Germany and his mother in France, of German parents. While Charles was still an infant his father died and sometime later his mother married another German, Frederick John Diebilius.
In 1911 Charles married Julia Hannah Geary in London. Julia was born in Clifden, County Galway, Ireland. The couple had three children. At the time of his marriage Charles was a cabinet maker, but he later became a fireman in the mercantile marine. His wife’s brother was also a fireman and perhaps he influenced Charle's decision to become one.
He served as a fireman in the Engineering Department on board the Lusitania, signing on at New York on 30 April 1915, just in time for her fateful final voyage. His monthly rate of pay was £6-10s-0d.
On the afternoon of 7 May the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the Old Head of Kinsale, only about 12 to 14 hours away from the safety of her home port
Charles Gunther survived this action and having been rescued from the sea he was landed at Queenstown, from where he travelled to Liverpool. At the offices of Cunard in Water Street, Liverpool he was paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of his service on board the liner, which was reckoned from 30 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the great ship had foundered.
Charles Gunther returned to the sea, continuing his service in the mercantile marine. Having survived the dangers of the First World War, he was still serving when war broke out again in 1939.
On 15 January 1941 he was serving as a storekeeper on board the Blue Star Line ship SS Almeda Star when she departed from Liverpool, bound for Buenos Aires in Argentina on her regular route. As well as her cargo, she had 166 crew and 194 passengers, 142 of who were officers and ratings of the Fleet Air Arm, bound for Trinidad where they were to join their squadrons at the Royal Naval Air Station at Piarco.
At approximately 7.45am on 17 January, when the vessel was positioned about 32 miles north west of Rockall, a little island off the north west coast of Ireland, she was attacked by the German submarine,
U-96. She was struck by four torpedoes and also fifteen incendiary shells from the 88mm deck gun of the submarine before she sank at approximately 10am. Seven Royal Navy destroyers responded to her calls for assistance, however on reaching her last known location no wreckage or survivors were found. All 360 people on board, including Charles Gunther, were lost and declared presumed drowned. As his remains were never recovered, his name is inscribed on the Merchant Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London. He was aged 51 years.
Charles’ wife Julia, outlived him by less than 2 years, dying in London in late 1942.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, UniLiv. D92/6/1, PRO BT 349, PRO BT 334.