Mystery surrounds the identity of Francis ‘Frank’ Toner. It is stated that he was born in County Dublin, Ireland, in 1873, and he gave an address of 23, Creighton Street, off Wareham Street, Liverpool, Lancashire, when signing on for what turned out to be the final voyage of the Lusitania, however; there is no record of a person of that name having their birth registered in Dublin around the stated time of his birth, nor did Creighton Street or Wareham Street exist in Liverpool then, or now!
There is no doubt that a man identifying himself as being Francis “Frank” Toner, engaged as a fireman in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania, at Liverpool, on the 12th April 1915, at a monthly rate of pay of £6-10s-0d, (£6.50p.), £1-0s-0d of which was advanced to him at the time, and it was not the first time that he had served on the vessel.
He survived the sinking three weeks later, when the liner was nearly back in her home port and having been able to gain temporary refuge on an upturned lifeboat, he was picked up with eight other survivors and five corpses, by the Royal Naval patrol boat H.M.S. Heron and landed at Kinsale, on the same evening.
Whilst still there, he was interviewed by a representative from local newspaper
The Cork Examiner which reported the following: -
In an interview with our representative on Saturday, he said he was below at the time of the explosion. The torpedo hit the vessel at the bow end of the bridge and tore a great hole in her side. Immediately he called out to his mates “Come on, get up to the top. This torpedo has done us in all right!”
They climbed on top and found that the vessel was already sinking fast. “We made a jump for it,” he said, “and I was pulled on to an upturned lifeboat and remained there with nine others.” He further explained that six of these were women, but before they were met by any other boat, two of these had died.
Frank Toner’s mathematics and memory of the upturned lifeboat was somewhat awry. Fourteen people, including Toner, were picked up by the
Heron and delivered to Kinsale - nine were alive, and five were dead. Presumably they had all been on the upturned lifeboat, unless some had been recovered from the sea. Those people, who survived with the fireman, were second cabin passengers John Preston Smith and Julia Sullivan, third class passengers Fred Bottomley and Michael Doyle, Steward's Boy Cornelius Horrigan, First Class Waiters Charles Hotchkiss, and Vernon Livermore and Second Class Waiter Harold Rowbotham. Corpses recovered at the time were of saloon passenger Ida Campbell-Johnson, second cabin passengers Lieutenant Robert Matthews and Margaret Shineman and Night Watchmen Richard Chamberlain and George Cranston.
Questioned as to the speed, etc., of the Lusitania at the time, he said she was doing about 15 knots. The weather was beautifully fine and clear, the sea was calm and under the instructions of the captain everything had been got ready for an attack, but he could not say why she was going so slowly at the time.
The saloon passengers at the time he jumped, were, he said, on the saloon deck and nearly all of them must have drowned because they did not seem to make any attempt to escape, perhaps with the idea that the Lusitania would not sink so quickly, or perhaps with the idea that rescue was at hand.
He was perfectly satisfied the ship sank within twenty minutes, as from the first moment she was struck, she began to do down - just like a flat stone thrown into a pond, the fore part being immediately submerged
In a later follow up article, in the same newspaper, a photograph of Fireman Toner (identified by his
"walrus moustache") was captioned to the effect that he had also survived the sinking of the
Titanic in 1912 and the Empress of Ireland in 1914. Research has concluded that there was no crew member of that name on either vessel, however, so perhaps Fireman Toner was indulging in a little fantasy or perhaps having a joke at the expense of the staff of The Cork Examiner! It might be worthy of note, however, that another of the crew survivors, who was landed at Kinsale, First Class Waiter Vernon Livermore was also reputed to have been a survivor of the
Titanic and this also, was not true!
The "ultimate survivor" story proved to be persistent, however, for in the book
The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, published in 1956, the authors Adolf and Mary Hoehling repeated it, but this time the seaman they named was called
Tower, with the rank of oiler. In 1995 Robert Ballard in his book
Exploring the Lusitania also made reference to a seaman named Tower but was able to prove that there was no-one of that name on any of the three vessels. Nevertheless, the stories and names are too similar to have originated separately and almost certainly began on the upturned lifeboat off the Irish coast near Kinsale!
On his eventual return to Liverpool, Fireman Toner was officially discharged from the
Lusitania’s last voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £4-14s-0d., (£14.70p.). This was in respect of his total sea service which was reckoned to be from 17th April 1915 until 8th May, 24 hours after the liner had gone down.
Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, Exploring the Lusitania, The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, White Star Journal.