Alfred Faulkner Wheelhouse was born in Hulme, Lancashire, England, in late 1891, the only surviving son of Frederick William Faulkner and Matilda Wheelhouse. In all, the couple had six children; however, only two survived childhood – Alfred, and his sister, Sarah Elizabeth. She was three years older than Alfred, and worked in the Post Office in Bridlington. In 1915, the family home was at 194, Bedford Road, Bootle, Liverpool, Lancashire, where Alfred lived with his mother. By 1915, his father had died.
He was a career marine engineer, and on 12th April 1915 at Liverpool, he engaged as Junior Seventh Engineer in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania, and reported for duty at 8 a.m., on 17th April, before the vessel sailed out of the River Mersey for the last time. His monthly rate of pay in that position was £10-0s-0d. It was not the first time that he had sailed on the vessel.
Three weeks later, he was killed when the ship was sunk. He was aged 24 years.
Although his body was not amongst the first to be recovered from the sea, it was eventually washed up at Ballyduff, County Kerry, on the west coast of Ireland on 24th July 1915, and buried later that evening in Kilmore Graveyard, Ballyduff. A telegram was sent by the local police to the Cunard Steamship Company at Queenstown, which stated: -
“Body of a man washed ashore at Kilmore. Head, arms, portion of body, feet and one leg missing. No clothes except trousers, black serge, in pockets, gold watch No. 71649 words English make, this case guaranteed to wear 10 years, Lancashire Watch Company Ltd., Prescot, England on dial, double breast gold chain curb pattern around seal suspended in centre, silver match box attached to chain with name A. WHEELHOUSE engraved on it. Sixpence in silver and one cent.”
The property found on the body was handed over to his mother, Matilda, at the Bootle address, on 28th July 1915. In August 1915, also, the balance of wages owing to him in respect of his sea service from 17th April until 8th May 1915, 24 hours after the ship went down, was paid to his relatives. The condition of the remains, when found, was concealed from Mrs. Wheelhouse to spare her more distress, by agreement between Cunard and the local police.
Obviously distraught at the loss of her son, Mrs. Wheelhouse expressed a desire to visit her son’s grave and this was arranged by the Cunard Steamship Company, who not only made her travel arrangements, but also paid the full expenses. On her return home, she wrote this letter to the Cunard Steamship Company: -
194. Bedford Rd
August 9th 1915.
Dear Sir or Sirs,
I have returned from my long journey. I have found the guide you so kindly sent me excellent. I do no know what I should have done without it.
Your very kind arrangements for my comfort in travelling was far more than I could have expected and I cannot thank you enough.
I met with much kindness on my journey.
Sergeant Best was very kind, if it had not been for him I never could have found the grave – as it is a wild place.
I naturally was looking for a Church but there is no Church anywhere near, it is just a piece of ground walled off. At the time I felt disappointed. Anyone always living in England would do, but the people think it quite nice. But I have never seen a place like it before for a Church yard. The Sergeant said I could have some wooden railings put round. He is seeing about it for me so that we should know the place where he is laid. I know well that it is only the body there but I am very glad I have been and I have thought it well over. There are many that do not know where their dear ones are laid, but I know I can think of the place where my dear Boy’s body is laid. I am sorry I cannot ever repay you for your kindness to me, but I sincerely thank you with all my heart.
I am sorry to have intruded so much on your time, I could have told you better.
Believe me to remain,
Mrs. Matilda Wheelhouse.
P.S. I hope I have expressed myself fully in this letter. I have tried to. M.W.
It would appear that the visit to her son’s grave brought a good deal of solace to Mrs. Wheelhouse, but if the wooden railings were erected, no trace of them exists today.
Despite his having an identifiable grave site, this was not originally known by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and as a consequence he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
After the information concerning his burial was given to the Commission by the author, the site was inspected with a view to commemorating Engineer Wheelhouse where his remains lie. However, the officer sent to inspect the site found that the burial ground, (which was most difficult to find), was abandoned by the appropriate authorities, contained no headstones at all and had grass in it which was over two foot high! As a result the Commission decided that it was not possible to maintain his grave site there. However, the Tower Hill register was altered to state where he is actually buried.
His name was also engraved on a brass plaque belonging to The Liverpool Branch of The Marine Engineers’ Association which used to be in The Britannia Rooms in The Cunard Building in Liverpool. Underneath the badge of the association was engraved: -
Roll of Honour
A TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY
THE MEMBERS, WHO LOST
THROUGH ENEMY ACTION IN THE
GREAT WAR. 1914 - 1919
and then followed the names of the 226 former members.
The memorial is not in the building today, however and its present whereabouts, if it has survived, are not known.
Junior Seventh Engineer Wheelhouse’s name was also engraved on a brass plaque belonging to The Liverpool Branch of The Marine Engineers’ Association which used to be Cunard Building in Liverpool. The memorial and all its names can not be located today, however.
The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted a yearly pension to Matilda Wheelhouse, who was obviously some way dependant on her son’s earnings, that amounted to £15-0s-8d. (£15.03½p.) per year, payable at the rate of £1-5s-1d. (£1.25½p.) per month.
This author later learned that the corner of the graveyard where the remains of young Wheelhouse were interred suffered from erosion over a number of years and was washed away in a heavy storm some years ago, so it therefore looks likely that the sea returned to claim him.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, George Donnison, Liverpool Echo, UniLiv D92/2/276, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.