Donald McGugan was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on 19th May 1892, the son of Hugh and Annie McGugan. He lived at 37, Ashfield Street Cottages, off Scotland Road, Liverpool.
He was a professional seaman and signed on for a voyage on the Lusitania at Liverpool, on 13th April 1915 as a trimmer in the Engineering Department at a monthly rate of pay of £6-0s-0d. He left the River Mersey for the last time on 17th April 1915, when the liner sailed. His previous ship was the S.S. Orduña.
On the afternoon of 7th May, he had just come off watch in the engine room when the ship was struck and he and a fellow trimmer had to dive to get through the watertight doors before they were shut. He then had to jump into the sea before the ship sank and despite being surrounded by bodies, he was able to cling onto a plank of wood for many hours before being rescued. The shock of this was later to turn his hair white!
After surviving the sinking of the Lusitania, he returned to the sea and at some stage served on board the armed merchant cruiser H.M.S.
Family lore states that after this, he joined the Canadian Army and served on the Western Front, where he was wounded by poison gas, but the National Archives of Canada do not have any information which supports this information.
In late 1928, he married Mary Westerside in Liverpool and they had seven children! Coincidentally, Donald’s sister, Mary McGugan, had married Mary’s brother, Harold Westerside, in Liverpool on the 26th December 1919!
He died prematurely, aged 54, on the 23rd December 1946, and the family maintained that it was as the result of the gassing he had received during his army service. He apparently also received a state pension by the Canadian government, which supports the family view that he served in the Canadian Army!
He is buried in Anfield Cemetery, Liverpool, Merseyside.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 English Census, 1901 English Census, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, Martha Woosey, National Archives of Canada, PRO BT 349.