George Little was born in Broughton, Peeblesshire, in Scotland on the 27th October 1874, the son of William and Jennet Little. He was a professional mercantile marine engineer, having being at sea since he was young. As he mainly sailed out of Liverpool, Lancashire, he lodged at the home of a fellow marine engineer, Andrew McCallum, at 167. Hornby Road, Bootle.
In 1914, George married Andrew McCallum’s daughter, Christina Thompson McCallum, and they set up home at 4, Glendower Road, Waterloo, Liverpool.
On 12th April 1915, he engaged as Second Senior Third Engineer in the Engineering Branch on board the
Lusitania for her voyage to New York and back, at a monthly rate of pay of £15-10s-0d., (£15.50p.). He reported for duty on the early morning of 17th April, in time for the liner’s final departure from her Liverpool home port.
Three weeks later, he survived her sinking off The Old head of Kinsale, only about 250 miles away from Liverpool, by the German submarine
U-20. Having been in the sea for some hours after the liner had foundered, he was eventually picked up and landed at Queenstown, from where he was able to cable his sister in Hawick, in Roxburghshire, Scotland, on the afternoon of Saturday 8th May, to tell her that he was safe.
Like all the surviving crew members, on his return to Liverpool after the sinking, he was asked to give a deposition, on oath, concerning his part the events of the sinking. Of all the depositions given, very few survive today, but that of George Little, re-written in facsimile form, does, in the Public Record Office in Richmond, Surrey, England. Although parts of it, after all this time, are indistinct, the main part of Engineer Little’s evidence, given on 11th May 1915, is as follows: -
The said ship, immediately after she was struck took a very heavy list to starboard. The main steam had dropped to 50 lbs in a few seconds. The machinery was still moving, (all four turbines). The port Low Pressure telegraph rang full speed astern. This was understood to be a signal in accordance with a note received from the Chief Engineer some time before the explosion, saying that in the event of the telegraph being rung the greatest speed ahead possible was to be got out of the ship and for that purpose a good head of steam was being carried.
According to Colin Simpson’s Lusitania, first published in 1972, after Engineer Little received the telegraph signal to turn the engines to full speed astern, he complied with the instruction and there was a blowback and one of the two main steam pipes fractured. Little then returned the engines to full ahead. This conflicts with what he stated in his deposition of 11th May, which continues: -
Deponent jumped to the stroke valves and opened them up more. The lights became very dim and deponent went to try and get lamps from the store. Deponent was unsuccessful as he was impeded by fireman going up to the boat deck and could not go too far from the platform out of range of the telegraph. Deponent returned to the platform and went down to the lower plates to be sure the watertight doors were closed.
..... A violent explosion took place. Deponent took a hurried glance around but there was no apparent damage in the H P Engine room. Deponent went into the Low Pressure compartment on to the platform. Mr. Smith Senior Second Engineer was there. He called Deponent's attention to the main steam pressure gauge which stood at 50 lbs. (about).
Although this was well below the pressure needed under normal circumstances, it was still sufficient to move the liner forward at a speed which was too great to allow the safe launching of the lifeboats. This is why Captain Turner ordered Staff Captain Anderson to empty the lifeboats, which caused such controversy at a later stage. Little’s deposition continued: -
The lights periodically went out then. The pumps were stopped and the turbines were running. Deponent could not hear them. He returned to the platform
by the store and from there to the platform on the level of “C” deck. Mr. Cockburn was on the other side of the lattice and broke it open. Deponent was supplied with a lifebelt and then went to the platform by the store and into the alleyway. He there met several engineers. Mr. Smith said the pan flat doors were closed but the water was coming over No. 3 Bulk Head. It was decided that nothing could be done and to go up to “C” deck. After assisting ladies on to “B” deck for some minutes word was sent not to send up any more. The list was now so heavy that Deponent could not stand on the deck and with others climbed over the rail walked down the side and jumped into the water. The vessel disappeared almost immediately. About 5 to 5.45 p.m., Deponent was picked up by a partly waterlogged collapsible boat and at 6 p.m. taken from that boat on to patrol boat.
Eventually, on 30th September 1915, George Little was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s final voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him from it. This amounted to £12-11s-10d., (£12.59.), and was in respect of his service from 17th April 1915 until 8th May 1915, 24 hours after the giant liner had foundered.
Following his ordeal, George continued to serve as a marine engineer until he died in Greenwich, Kent, on the 2nd June 1929, aged 54 years. Probate of his estate was granted to his widow Christina on 13th August 1929, at Liverpool, and his effects amounted to £1,333-17s-11d, (£1,333.89½p). At the time of his death, the family home was at 42. Ashdale Road, Waterloo, Liverpool.
Christina Little remained a widow for 61 years until her death in Liverpool in 1980, aged 94 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Dundee Advertiser, Liverpool Echo, Lusitania, PRO ADM 137/1058, PRO BT 350, Probate Records.