William Thomas Smith was born in Everton, Liverpool, Lancashire, on 28th October 1867, the son of Thomas and Mary Ellen Smith. He was married to Eliza McTaggart Smith (née McIntyre) in Liverpool in 1895, and in 1915, they lived at 57, Hornby Road, Bootle, Liverpool, with their five children. In 1915, their eldest son, aged 19 years, was an apprentice engineer with Cunard. The eldest girl, aged 17½ years, was a typist, but was unemployed and not very strong due to illness, while their 15 year old son had just started with the Prudential Insurance Company. The two youngest children, girls, aged 7 and 9, were school-goers.
He trained as a marine engineer and was appointed as Intermediate Second Engineer in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915 and reported for duty on the morning of 17th April in time for the liner’s last ever voyage out of the River Mersey. His Board of Trade engineer’s certificate was numbered 28355. In his rank, his monthly pay amounted to £18-0s-0d.
He had served on the Lusitania before and on a voyage in March 1915, some of the engineers had submitted a note to the ship’s captain seeking extra pay because of the risks involved in travelling through a war zone. As Chief Engineer Archibald Bryce and Senior Second Engineer Andrew Cockburn refused to sign it, William Smiths' name appeared on the top. In a letter written to his wife about the incident on 26th March 1915, from New York, he said that he was sorry he had signed it, in case Cunard thought he was the ring leader whereas he actually thought it was wrong to harass the Company for a rise at such a time.
The liner left the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York on the early afternoon of 1st May, after a delayed start caused by her having to transfer the passengers, some of the crew and the cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel
Cameronia which the British Admiralty requisitioned for use as a troop ship. When the
Lusitania was sunk, off The Old Head of Kinsale on the afternoon of 7th May 1915, by the
U-20, Andrew Cockburn survived, but Archie Bryce was killed.
Engineer Smith was also killed, and his widow afterwards related the story that she was visited just after the sinking by the Chief Engineer who had told her that he had met and shaken hands with her husband on deck just before the ship sank and had told him that because of the obviously desperate situation, it was every man for himself. As Bryce also perished in the sinking, however, Mrs. Smith must have been mistaken as to the identity of her visitor.
William Smith's body was never recovered and identified after the sinking and as a consequence, he is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing of the Mercantile Marine at Tower Hill, London. He was aged 47 years.
On 7th September 1915, administration of his estate was granted to his widow and his effects amounted to £217-18s-07d, (£217.94p). By this time, she had already been paid the balance of wages owed to him by Cunard for what was the last voyage of the
Lusitania. This was in respect of his service from 17th April 1915, until 8th May, 24 hours after the great ship had foundered. In addition, The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited also granted her an annual pension which amounted to £118-16s-8d. (£118.83½p.), payable at the rate of £9-18s-1d. (£9.90½p.) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, David Irving, Irene Joynson, Robert O'Brien, Probate Records, UniLiv D92/11, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.