John Joseph Kennedy was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on the 8th October 1897, the son of John and Margaret (née Dixon) Kennedy. He lived at 106, Salisbury Street, Liverpool.
He engaged as a trimmer in the Engineering Department on board the Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915, at a monthly wage of £6-0s-0d. and joined the vessel at 8 a.m., on the morning of 17th April, before she left Prince’s Landing Stage for the last time. It was his first voyage with the Mercantile Marine.
He survived the sinking, just three weeks later and having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he eventually made it back to Liverpool where he was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s final voyage. He was also given the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £4-6s-4d., (£4.32p.), in respect of his sea service from 17th April 1915 to 8th May; 24 hours after the liner had foundered.
In April 1957, he told his recollections of the sinking to Ian Severns, a feature writer for the local newspaper
The Liverpool Echo. This was published in the edition of 10th April and stated: -
An engine room trimmer, Mr. Kennedy was ..... in his bunk when the ship was hit. He made his way to the deck on the "high" side as the liner listed - just in time to go with her in her fatal nose dive.
He surfaced with an upturned lifeboat beneath him and held on to this bit of luck, gradually sharing it with others. until they were all picked up. Because of his youth, Mr. Kennedy was only offered deck jobs on ships he tried to join afterwards and so he went into the Army, serving with The King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment until the end of the war. Then he went back to sea with the Cunard and Canadian Pacific Lines but only for two years.
On the 20th July 1915, John Kennedy enlisted in the 16th Bn. Cheshire Regiment, which was one of the first ‘Bantam’ regiments in the British Army. These regiments were made up of men who, because they were under the regulation height of 160cm, were ineligible to serve in the British Army at the outbreak of World War 1. However, following petitions to the War Office by Alfred Bigland, the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, for permission to recruit under sized men to establish a fighting unit, sanction was given to Bigland to recruit men between 147cm and 160cm in height. Word of this spread throughout Great Britain and under sized men flocked to Birkenhead to enlist. This resulted in 3,000 of them being accepted, and the 1st & 2nd Birkenhead Battalions were established in November 1914. These regiments were later renamed the 15th & 16th Battalions, Cheshire Regiment. Other ‘Bantam’ battalions were soon formed in other parts of Great Britain.
As 16/22080 Private John Kennedy, he joined his regiment to undergo basic training at Bebington on the 22nd July 1915. He transferred to the 8th Bn. Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment in June 1915, and was promoted to acting Lance Corporal within days, and posted to France on the 20th December. From then, until he returned permanently to England in February 1919, he only returned to England twice, for a total of four months. His promotion to Lance Corporal was confirmed on the 27th December 1916; however this proved to be short-lived as he was reverted back to the rank of private in February 1917 for misconduct. He found himself in further trouble with his authorities when he went absent without leave on Christmas Day 1917, while he was confined to barracks. At this time, he was back on only one of his two period of leave in England. Arrested by the military police in London on the following day, he was court-martialled, found guilty, and sentenced to 28 days detention. On completion of his sentence, he returned to France.
Although fortunate to survive the war, he was wounded in the wrist on one occasion, suffered a badly sprained action on another, and also contracted scabies. He was hospitalised on all three occasions, but returned to the front after each brief stay.
After being demobilised from the army after the war, John returned to the mercantile marine but only stayed for about two years. He took a number of shore based jobs and eventually settled down in a job in Warrington.
On the 20th April 1919, John married Mary McHale in Liverpool, and the couple had two sons, Michael, born in 1920, and James, born in 1922. Mary Kennedy died in the Workhouse Infirmary at 144a. Brownlow Hill, Liverpool, in May 1925 and was buried at Ford Cemetery. Following Mary’s death, the two boys were brought up by her family.
On the 6th July 1929, John Kennedy Mary Ellen Mayers in Liverpool. The couple had four children – John, Marguerita, Maria, and Anthony. Mary Ellen had a son, Thomas, from a previous relationship who also resided with the family.
John Kennedy died of heart failure at the Royal Infirmary, Liverpool, on the 4th December 1978, aged 81 years. He was buried in Ford Cemetery, Litherland, Liverpool. His address at the time of his death was 12. Radcliffe Walk, Liverpool.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Lawrence Evans, Liverpool Echo, PRO BT 100/345, Sue Nutt, James Kennedy, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer.
Copyright © Peter Kelly