William Ewart Gladstone Jones was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England in on the 6th February 1886, the son of William Alfred and Annie Jones. His parents later moved to West Kirby, on the Wirral Peninsula, Cheshire where his father became well known and was given the nickname ‘Sand Lea Jones’. William Jones junior was married Olwyn D. Jones (his wife’s maiden name also being Jones), with twin sons born in May 1913. The family home was at Brookfield Cottage, Carpenters Lane, West Kirby.
He was a sea-going electrician and on 12th April 1915, he engaged at Liverpool as Third Electrician in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania, at a monthly rate of pay of £10. It was not his first engagement on the liner and he reported for duty at 8 a.m. on 17th April, as she left the River Mersey for the last time.
Three weeks later, he survived the sinking and after being landed at Queenstown, he managed to make his way back home. In an interview given to a reporter of
The Birkenhead News and Advertiser on 9th May, he gave his account of the sinking, which was published in the edition of 12th May: -
He said that he went down with the ship. He felt the shock but was told of what had actually happened by another young fellow with whom he swam about for some time but of whom he lost sight having been several minutes in the water.
He was keeping afloat with the utmost difficulty, when he felt something tugging at one of his legs. He looked round and saw that a woman was clinging to him. She appeared to be unconscious but was holding him in a death-like grip. He struggled hard to free himself and whether intentionally or not, he cannot say, but a moment later, she hit him across the bridge of the nose with a piece of wood to which she was clinging.
Half exhausted, it took him some time to recover from the blow, and so far as he can recollect he was picked up about half an hour later, by a boat in which several survivors were huddled together the majority of them dead-beat or half-unconscious.
Being one of the first to recover, he was put in charge of one of the boats with which they came up and after having rowed about for some hours, he put into Queenstown with a boatful of passengers. Some hours later he joined his wife and father in West Kirby, tired and badly bruised, but still a husband and father living.
When his wife first heard the news of the sinking, she was naturally frantic with worry until she received a telegram on the morning of Saturday 8th May, sent by her husband from Queenstown, which simply stated: - Coming Home.
A different version of Third Electrician Jones’ survival was given in The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, by
A.A. and M. Hoehling, published in 1956. In their book, they wrote: -
W.E.G. Jones, third electrician of the lost Cunarder, a man who never swum in his life, had clung to wooden debris until he saw a large box floating towards him. It turned out to be one of the sturdy wooden lockers kept on deck for storage of lifebelts. He struggled aboard it, was surprised to find a lady already inside, sitting rather placidly, with water sloshing up to her waist.
“Is there room for one more?” he recalled asking. The two sat there, side by side, cold and wet, until they bobbed alongside of the Stormcock.
The Stormcock was H.M.S. Stormcock, a Royal Naval tug, which was reputed to have rescued over 160 people from the sea. This version of Jones’ story conflicts somewhat with the account published in
The Birkenhead News and Advertiser, just after the sinking.
Eventually, Third Electrician Jones was officially discharged from the Lusitania’s final voyage and given £8-1s-6d., (£8.7½p.), which was the balance of wages owing to him in respect of his sea service from 17th April until 8th May, 24 hours after the ship foundered.
William Jones continued to serve as an electrician in the mercantile marine for many years after his ordeal. He died in Cheshire on the 21st September 1956, aged 70 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Birkenhead News, (photo 12/05/1915, p.2 c.4 ), Cunard Records, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 350.