James Lea was born in Runcorn, Cheshire in 1887 the son of James and Julia Lea of Greenway Road, Runcorn. He was married to Maud Lea (née Deakin) and they lived at 54 Egerton Road, Runcorn.
He served his time as a marine engineer and afterwards worked for a local firm, Castner-Kelners, on land. However, according to an article in the
Widnes Weekly News for 14th May 1915, when the Cunarder Aquitania was taken from trade by the Admiralty to serve as an armed merchant cruiser, he
"secured a commission as sub-lieutenant".
This happened in August 1914 and she was only retained for a month in the armed merchant cruiser rôle, before being docked, at the end of September 1914, to be converted to a hospital ship. When this happened, James Lea transferred to the
Lusitania and was appointed her Senior Seventh Engineer.
He engaged for service once more on what became the Lusitania’s
last voyage on 12th April 1915 at Liverpool, once more as Senior Seventh Engineer at a monthly rate of pay of £10-0s-0d.. He reported for duty in time for her last ever voyage out of the River Mersey on 17th April 1915 and having made the crossing to New York, he was still serving on board when she was sunk by the German submarine U-20, on the afternoon of 7th May.
At that time, she was within sight of the southern Irish coast and only about fourteen hours away from the safety of her home port. James Lea was killed as a result of this action and as no identifiable trace of his body was ever recovered afterwards, he has no known grave. As a consequence, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine War Memorial at Tower Hill in London. He was aged 27 years.
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
THE MEMBERS, WHO LOST
THROUGH ENEMY ACTION IN THE
GREAT WAR. 1914 - 1919
and then followed the 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.
Although the Widnes Weekly News states that he served on the Aquitania as a sub-lieutenant, which supposes service in the Royal Naval Reserve or the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, he does not appear in casualty records for either of these branches of the Royal Navy.
When his will was proven on 29th June 1915, administration was granted to his widow and his effects amounted to £264-5s-10d, (£264. 29p). In August of the same year, she was also paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of the
Lusitania’s last voyage, which was reckoned to be from 17th April until 8th May 1915, 24 hours after the great liner had gone down.
The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted her an annual pension to compensate her for the loss of her husband. This amounted to £44-11s-8d. (£44.58½p.) which was payable at the rate of £3-14s-4d. (£3.71½p.) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, George Donnison, David Irving, Robert O'Brien, Probate Records, Ships of the Royal Navy Volume 2, Widnes Weekly News, 14/05/1915 (Photo), UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.