Charles Scannell was born in Roberts' Cove, Minane Bridge, Tracton, County Cork, Ireland on 18 September 1889, where the family home was situated. When he grew up he became a fine athlete much respected in the area.
He also became a professional seaman in the Mercantile Marine and made his home in Liverpool, Lancashire, so that he could serve on the transatlantic liners of the Cunard Steam Ship Company. He lodged at 4 Middle Street, Liverpool.
He engaged as a fireman in the Engineering Department on board the Lusitania at Liverpool on 14 April 1915, at a monthly rate of pay of £6-10s-0d (£6.50) and reported for duty on the morning of 17 April 1915, before the vessel made her last ever voyage out of Liverpool. It was the second time that he had served on the Cunarder.
He survived her sinking just three weeks later and having been rescued from the sea, he was taken to Queenstown where he was interviewed by the local press, being virtually a local man. In an article with headline "Corkman's Thrilling Story" published in 'The Cork Examiner' on 13 May 1915, he told of his experiences during and after the sinking. With one hand entirely bandaged and the other partially, he recounted:
"This was my second trip on the Lusitania and we did our ordinary round of duty until we were torpedoed. I was in the stokehold on the 8 a.m. to 12 noon watch that day, and on being relieved at the latter hour, washed, had a meal, and retired to my bunk in a room occupied by 16 others and myself.
I don't know exactly how to put it, but I had before felt a strange foreboding of disaster, so much so that when I retired from my previous watch I could not go to sleep - I had a feeling that something was going to happen and was unable to rest.
Anyway, I got into my bunk about 12.30, and I must have been nearly a couple of hours there sleeping lightly when I heard a terrific noise, which brought me to my feet in an instant. The others in the room were all awake and as I opened my eyes I saw them making for the door. 'What's up' I asked one of my mates and his answer was 'She' torpedoed.' I seized my trousers, and was drawing it on when a man rushed in shouting 'Stanley, Stanley' - he was one of my mates - 'we're torpedoed.' At this time I had only a shirt and under pants on, and it was in this attire, I may say here now, that I eventually came ashore at Queenstown.
But to resume : I ran from the room and as I did so the vessel. listed heavily and I was flung against the side. I had hardly recovered myself when there was an inrush of water from both sides which nearly swept me off my feet. With difficulty, I made my way to the top deck, and there I saw people crowding to the boats. It was all confusion. I managed, however, to get into one boat, but it was too crowded, and I got out again. The I got into another, but that also was full up, and I left it. It struck me that I had better hunt round fro a lifebelt, and I did so, but almost immediately met a man with two cork jackets in his hands. I asked him for one but he said 'One is for my poor wife, and I can't find her.'
After a bit, I succeeded in getting a lifebelt from a passenger who had two. He tried to fasten it on to me, but the tapes gave way - it was apparently an old one - but between us, we fixed it somehow. Seeing the way the ship had now listed and the difficulty of getting at the boats I made for the stern and slid down the log line, tearing the flesh badly off my hands.
Just as I was tipping into the water a man coming down the line after me bounced into me, and my lifebelt came off. It fell into the sea. I went after it, got it, and placed it round me as well as I could, and in that way it proved useful. I saw a boat some distance from me and made for it, but I suppose those in it didn't see me, for it pulled away from me, and I was unable to overtake it. I saw another a little later, but failed to reach that also. Swimming near me was the chap who knocked off my lifebelt coming down the rope, and he said 'Never mind, we'll get into the track of some of them.'
Then hearing a tremendous noise I turned and saw fire and smoke bursting out, and with that burst the ship went down. Around me there were scores of people shouting and screaming and all struggling - it was simply fearful. I still swam on, and suddenly found myself in a current that was dragging me back in the direction of where the vessel disappeared. After an effort, I got out of this, and soon after saw an upturned boat with about 20 people on it, amongst them being the Second Engineer Duncan and a fireman. I reached it all right, and they pulled me up, and there with the others I saw my friend again who slid down the rope behind me. He had got on to the boat only a few minutes before I did.
To the best of my belief, I was about an hour in the water before I found this place of safety, and while drifting about on it, I saw any number of people carried past, some actually drowning - no sound from them ; others still crying feebly, while more were yelling. I heard several curses on Germany, and that sort of thing. It was a dreadful sight.
We were four hours on the boat, and the scenes that I saw during the greater part of the time, I shall never forget. Eventually a trawler came along, took us on board, and brought us into Queenstown, where I was provided with a suit of clothes.
As far as I can learn since, only two of the seventeen room mates of mine were saved, in addition to myself, namely Hugh Stanley and Patrick McMahon. There were in all about 200 firemen and trimmers in the ship - the "Black Gang," as they are called, and the majority of these were drowned, and I have no doubt that all the men in stoke holds on the 12 to 4 watch went down too."
Asked if he had any idea as to the rate of speed at which the Lusitania was travelling at the time she was struck, he said he could not say what it was at that particular moment. All he could say with any degree of certainty was that when he left the stokehold at 12 and went to his bunk, she was doing about 15 knots, or a little more than half her normal speed.
Mr. Scannell, who was sent on to Liverpool on Saturday, and returned yesterday, left for his home at Robert's Cove, last evening."
On his return to Liverpool, Scannell was officially discharged from the liner’s last voyage and paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of his sea service from 17 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the ship had gone down. This amounted to £5-14s-0d (£5.70).
"Second Engineer Duncan" mentioned in his account was Junior Second Engineer Alexander Duncan, who came from Renfrewshire in Scotland. Firemen Hugh Stanley and Patrick McMahon were, like Charles Scannell, both Irish, Stanley from County Armagh and McMahon from County Monaghan. Duncan and Stanley survived the sinking, but Patrick McMahon was killed, so Fireman Scannell was obviously mistaken about his being saved.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of Ireland, 1911 Census of Ireland, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 350.