Johann Heinrich Paul Wiencke was born in Herrburg, Mecklenburg, on 3rd April 1869, the son of Peter Heinrich and Catharina Maria Sophia Wiencke, (née Reppenhagen). He had a younger sister, named Maria Else Alwine Wiencke, who was born in Lübeck in 1873 to where the family had moved some time after her brother‘s birth and a brother, Paul Johannes Rudolph Wiencke, born in 1881.
When he left school, Johann Wiencke trained as a locksmith’s engineer but some time after this, he moved to England, to avoid the inflexibility of society in Imperial Germany. He then settled in Liverpool, Lancashire, where he anglicised his name by dropping the Johann Heinrich and was thereafter known simply as Paul Wiencke.
On the 24th January 1897, he married Catherine Ann Dunn who was born in 1870, and they had eight children, four boys and four girls. They were Paul Frederick, born in 1899, Mary, born in 1900, Charles, born in 1902, Catherine, born in 1904, Harry, born in 1906, Winifred, born in 1907, Francis, ‘Frank‘, born in 1910 and Josephine Alvina, born in 1912.
From 1896, Paul Wiencke had served on merchant ships, including the Avalon, the
Montcalm, the Montenegro, the Inca, the Sicily, the
Huasord the Powerful and the Talbot. When the Lusitania first entered service in 1907, however, he transferred to her and sailed on her thereafter.
For what became her final voyage, he engaged as a greaser in the Engineering Department at Liverpool, on 12th April 1915, at a monthly rate of pay of £7-0s-0d. He was granted £1-0s-0d of this, as an advance, on his wages at the time he engaged. The family home was at that time, at 291, Beaufort Street, Toxteth Park, Liverpool.
He also managed to secure a position on board for his son, Paul Frederick aged sixteen years, as a trimmer, as he was having difficulty obtaining a suitable job on land.
When the Lusitania was sunk, three weeks later and only hours from her Liverpool base, Paul Wiencke senior was killed and as his body was not recovered and identified afterwards he has no known grave. As a consequence, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
When he engaged, he gave his place of birth as Liverpool, perhaps because he wanted to conceal his Germanic origins, just nine months after the outbreak of the war. If this is the case, it is even more ironic that he should have been killed by his native countrymen! Although he was, in fact, aged 46 years, he also gave his age at the time as 26, and it must have been obvious that this was not true, especially as he had a 16 year old son serving on board!
He too, was killed in the sinking and one can only imagine the effect on Catherine Wiencke of losing a husband and a son in the same afternoon!
Family lore tells the story that Paul Wiencke senior was off duty and on the upper decks, when the torpedo struck, but his son was down below performing his duty as a trimmer. Despite the fact that the ship was rapidly filling up with water and ignoring the advice of his fellow seamen, Paul senior insisted on going below to seek his son, on the grounds that he had promised his wife that he would look after him. In the event, both of them perished!
There was also one other father and son tragedy in the same disaster. Father and son both named Michael Cooney and both firemen, were also lost that day.
In August 1915, Catherine Wiencke was given the balance of wages due to her husband and son in respect of their sea service on the
Lusitania’s final voyage. This was reckoned to be from 17th April to 8th May 1915, 24 hours after the steamer had gone down. In addition, The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted her a yearly pension that amounted to £64-17s-8d. (£64.88½p.) per year, payable at the rate of £5-8s-2d. (£5.41p.) per month.
It is also known that Catherine Wiencke was awarded a weekly sum of £1-0s-0d. compensation for her son’s loss under The Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1906, as papers relating to this still survive in the family archive.
Also, following the death of her husband and son, she was given a job as a cleaner in Cunard’s main buildings in Liverpool and when her daughter Catherine left school, she was given a job in Cunard’s main linen room in Seaforth, not far from Liverpool.
Paul Wiencke’s father died in Lübeck in July 1916 and his mother died in the same city in May the following year. It is not known if they ever knew that they had lost a son and a grandson killed by their own countrymen!
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Agnes Deane, Pauline Deane, PRO BT/100/345, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.