Peter Ratcliffe was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, on the 8th January 1878, the son of William and Mary Anne Ratcliffe (née Kelly). On completion of his education he became a labourer, working as a labourer. While a child, he suffered a scald which left a noticeable mark on his right arm, and he also had a scar at the back of his head.
In 1895, Peter enlisted as 3305 Private Peter Ratcliffe in the 4th Bn., (The Kings) Liverpool Regiment. This was a local militia regiment and the members were only part-time soldiers, but in 1896, he enlisted in the regular army and although he remained in the same regiment, his service number changed to 5412.
On the 25th November 1897, Peter went to South Africa to play his part in the Boer War. Nothing is known of his service in South Africa except that he spent the last few days of 1898 and the beginning of 1899 in prison, having been found guilty of riotous behaviour in a civilian Court and failing to pay the £1 fine imposed on him! He returned from South Africa, unscathed, on the 21st March 1900, and was discharged from the army in June 1901, whilst based at the Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare, Ireland, for being
‘financially unfit for service’!
On the 21st April 1902, he married Margaret Ratcliffe (née Melia) in Liverpool, and they lived at 1, Court, 8, House, Back Grafton Street, Liverpool, with their four children – Mary Jane, William, David, and Sarah. There had been at least two other children who had died in infancy.
On the outbreak of World War 1, Peter again enlisted in the army, as 3/12237 Private Ratcliffe, again in the Liverpool Regiment. He enlisted on the 22nd September 1914 and was deemed to be medically unfit to serve on the 11th December. The reasons for this decision are unknown.
He then joined the mercantile marine, and he engaged as a fireman in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania, at Liverpool, on the 14th April 1915, at a monthly rate of pay of £6-10s-0d, (£6.50p.), £1-0s-0d of which he was advanced at the time. His previous ship had been the S.S.
He reported for duty on board at 8 a.m. on 17th April before the liner left the River Mersey for the last ever time and having crossed the Atlantic Ocean without incident the
Lusitania docked in New York on 24th April 1915. She then left there on the early afternoon of 1st May, for her return to Liverpool and six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. At that time, she was only about fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port.
Peter Ratcliffe was killed as a result of this action - one of 96 out of 158 firemen on board who shared this fate. He was aged 37 years at the time although when he engaged, he had stated that he was 30!
As his body was not amongst those taken from the sea and identified afterwards, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing of the Great War, at Tower Hill, London. The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erroneously state his age to have been 47 years!
In August 1915, his widow Margaret was paid the balance of wages owed to him, in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage, which was reckoned to be from 17th April 1915, until 8th May, 24 hours after the vessel had gone down! In addition, The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted her an annual pension which amounted to £61-12s-1d. (£61.60½p.), payable at the rate of £5-2s-9d. (£5.13½p.) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Jean Pitchforth, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.