John Toale was born in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland in 1879, the son of Patrick and Anne Toale. He married Bridget Geeney in Liverpool in 1902, and in 1915, they lived at 12, Blackstone Street, Kirkdale, Liverpool, Lancashire.
John Toale was a professional seaman in the British mercantile Marine, and 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 he was advanced at the time. He joined the vessel on the morning of 17th April, in time for the liner’s last ever sailing out of her home port. It was not the first time that he had served on board.
Having completed her voyage to New York, John Toale was serving on her return journey, only hours away from her Liverpool destination, on the afternoon of 7th May 1915, when she was struck and sunk by a single torpedo fired by the German submarine
U-20, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger, off the coast of southern Ireland. He did not survive the action. He was aged 35 years, although he gave his age as being 38 years on joining the ship’s crew!
However, his body was recovered from the sea twelve days later, on the evening of Wednesday 19th May 1915, at Firkall, off the coast of County Kerry about 80 miles from where the
Lusitania had gone down. Also recovered at the same time was the body of fellow crew member Chief Officer John Piper.
The southern Irish newspaper The Cork Examiner of Thursday 20th May reported the finding of the bodies: -
One was that of a ship's officer dressed in black uniform with three gold bands on each sleeve; ..... The other body was that of a fireman, and from insurance cards and other papers on him he is believed to be James Toole, 12 Blackstone Street, Liverpool.
The body was, in fact, that of John Toale - the initial mistake in wrongly naming him was made by Cunard when he first engaged and was then perpetuated thereafter. The description continued: -
A man of sturdy build, swarthy complexion, strong face, and about 5ft 8 in height. He was, when recovered, in a good state of preservation, as was the body of the officer. It was late in the afternoon when the second body of the fireman was picked up. Both were conveyed to Garnish where they where they now lie, with the three found yesterday, awaiting the arrival of the Cunard searching boat for removal.
It was then transported to Queenstown by the harbour tender Flying Fish
and on Saturday 22nd May, was landed at the Cunard wharf, where it was placed in a coffin in the temporary mortuary situated there. It was also given the reference number 232 although its identity had been established by then, probably from the property and documents already mentioned. At the time, Cunard described him as: -
J. Toole (sic) (Fireman) 45 years, 6ft. in height.
Property 1 purse with beads, Insurance cards and stamps.
John Toale’s body was then buried on 22nd May 1915 in The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, in Mass Grave A, Fifth Row, where it lies today.
Despite his body being recovered, Fireman Toale was still listed as being missing by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and as a consequence, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London. However, because of Cunard’s initial naming error, both the bronze panel bearing his name and the memorial register both erroneously record him as Toole.
Once the author had established beyond doubt that he was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, the Commission agreed to erect a permanent memorial to him where he is buried and this was done in November 1998.
It takes the form of a monument of Irish limestone, sited at the head of Mass Grave B, the centre one of the three. The names of crew members buried in the three mass graves are incised on two black granite panels on the memorial, with a legend in between them, which reads: -
1914 - 1918
IN HONOURED MEMORY
OF THOSE NAMED WHO,
SERVING ON THE
DIED WHEN THE SHIP WAS
SUNK BY ENEMY ACTION
ON 7 MAY 1915
AND ARE BURIED NEARBY
The name of John Toale is incised on the right hand panel, but it was still erroneously inscribed as John
However, following representations to the Commission by the author, it was eventually accepted that the fireman’s surname was in fact spelled Toale and the Commission promised to amend all its paper records accordingly. However, its works department stated that as the screen wall was made of granite, a stone insert in the panel would look unsightly, but agreed that should it ever be necessary to renew the whole panel, the correct spelling of John Toale’s name would be inscribed instead.
Property recovered from his body, which helped to identify him at the time, was handed to his widow Bridget at the Kirkdale address, on 5th June 1915.
In August 1915, he was finally officially discharged from the Lusitania’s
last voyage and his widow Bridget was paid the balance of wages owing to him in respect of his sea service, which was reckoned to be from 17th April 1915, until 8th May 1915, 24 hours after the liner had gone down. In addition, The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted a yearly pension to Bridget Toale which amounted to £62-0s-6d. (£62.02½p.) which was payable at the rate of £5-3s-5d. (£5.17p.) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cork Examiner, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, John Toale, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, UniLiv. PR. 13/24, PRO BT 334.