Gwendolyn Evelyn Allan was born in Canada on 8th November 1898, the second daughter of Sir Hugh Montagu and Lady Marguerite Allan. She had an older brother named Hugh, born in 1896 an older sister named Marguerite Martha - always known as Martha- who was born in 1894 and a younger sister named Anna Marjory, who was born in 1900. Her father was the vice chairman of The Allan Steamship Line president of The Merchants’ Bank of Canada and vice president of The Montreal Telegraph Company. The family home was ‘Ravenscrag’ in Montreal, Quebec.
On the outbreak of war, in 1914, Sir Montagu Allan, who was an honorary lieutenant in The Black Watch of Canada and an enthusiastic member of the militia, tried in vain to lead an overseas battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force into battle, but, at the age of 53 years, he was deemed to be too old. However, Martha Allan decided to gain a nursing qualification having bought an ambulance with her own money she left for England and then France to do her best for the war effort. Lady Allan was suitably inspired by this gesture and decided to follow her to England with her two younger daughters, and set up a hospital there for wounded Canadian soldiers. She naturally also took along two of the family maids, Emily Davis and Annie Walker. Annie Walker was maid to the two teenage girls and Emily Davis was Lady Allan’s personal maid.
As a consequence, the family booked a saloon ticket (No. 12933) through agents Robert Reford & Co, of Montreal from New York to Liverpool on the
Lusitania and then, at the end of April, they left home to meet the ship, joining her in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May. Gwendolyn and Anna Allan were allocated room B49, which was under the personal supervision of First Class Bedroom Steward Walter Wood, who came from Seaforth, along the banks of the River Mersey from Liverpool. Lady Allan was allocated room B47, and the two maids were put in room B79. Also travelling on the same sailing, was Sir Frederick Orr-Lewis an old family friend and his valet George Slingsby, who was a great favourite with both the Allan girls. After a delayed start because the vessel had to embark passengers, some crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel
Cameronia, which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for use as a troop ship, the
Lusitania finally got under way just before 12.30 p.m.
From the time that the liner set sail from New York for the last time, Sir Frederick Orr-Lewis’ valet, George Slingsby helped to entertain the girls and after the liner had been struck, he came across Lady Allan and Anna and Gwendolyn, as he described in an account printed in the 11th June 1915 edition of the Retford, Gainsborough and Worksop Times, Newark and Mansfield Daily News: -
“We had a smooth crossing until this took place, which was at 2.10p.m. by my watch. I was having lunch in the top saloon when I noticed a long white streak coming towards the ship in the water, and it suddenly struck me as from a submarine, and I dashed out of the saloon, and then came the crash, which struck the port-holes and caused a terrible sensation.
I at once made for my lifebelt and fixed it on ready for what was to take place. When I got to the boat deck I saw my master and Lady Allan and two daughters and two maids without lifebelts. I at once pulled my belt off and gave it to the ladies. I then rushed in the ship and got two more, which I also gave to the ladies, and by that time the ship had got too much of a list on, and it took me all my time to get back on deck, as the fore part of the ship was almost level with the captain’s bridge.”
Lady Allan’s own account, and that of her two maids, which was published in the newspaper,
The Cork Examiner, stated: -
They were all on ‘B’ deck at the time that the Lusitania was struck. Along with them was a friend Mr. Lewis
(sic). They were unable to get into any boat in the time that elapsed before the deck was awash. When they saw that the vessel was going down, they all joined hands and went down with her. When they rose again they were separated.
On his return to England, Frederick Orr-Lewis wrote a letter to his family in Canada, in which he mentions Lady Allan and her family: -
All the way over I slept every morning until about eleven, but on the Friday morning I found it impossible to sleep and was up on deck early. I met Lady Allan and the children and we sat around and chatted and walked etc, until lunch time. We had a table by ourselves, composed of Lady Allan, Mrs. G.W. Stephens Senr, Miss Dorothy Braithwaite, Gwen, Herbert Holt’s son, Anna and myself. The foregoing are the seats they occupied all the way over.
He described the moment the liner slipped under the waves: -
Our cabin steward then came up and stated that the water tight compartments had all been closed and that the boat was all right, but she began to lurch so much to the starboard side that the boats on the port side could not be launched and this had the effect of placing the boats on the starboard side so far away that it was impossible to get into them, so there was nothing to do but wait, when in the twinkling of an eye, she took the most awful dive and we all went down with her. I had Gwen by the hand and Lady Allan had Anna and the two maids were next and Mrs. Stephens with Chatham’s baby. Miss Braithwaite somehow became separated from us. How far we went down or what happened nobody will ever tell. Only those apparently were saved who were not killed in the water as the ship went down and the only reason, I should judge, why anyone is here to tell the tale, is an account of the explosion of the boilers which sent us up to the surface, and I came up alone near an upturned boat, which I got on to and as far as I can remember I was the first on it.
This would appear to be the best eye-witness account of what happened to Gwendolyn Allan and her family.
Lady Allan, her two maids, Emily Davies and Annie Walker, Sir Frederick Orr-Lewis, his valet George Slingsby and Bedroom Steward Wood all survived the sinking, but unfortunately both Anna Allan and her sister Gwendolyn perished. Gwendolyn Allan was aged 16 years.
Although, George Slingsby later recounted seeing both their bloated and mottled
corpses in one of the temporary mortuaries set up in Queenstown, he must have been mistaken, - an easy mistake to make under the circumstances, - for Anna’s body was never recovered and that of Gwendolyn was only recovered from the sea some two months later.
Her body was firstly given the reference number 218, which proves that it was one of the last from the sinking to be taken ashore and it was probably only identified from property recovered on it, after two months immersion in the sea. On the instructions of her father, it was then conveyed to England, firstly to The London Necropolis, where it arrived on 7th July 1915, exactly two months after the
Lusitania had been sunk! From there, it was transported to Montreal, Canada, for burial in the family plot in Mount Royal Cemetery, E-198, where it lies today.
Her headstone takes the form of a simple piece of carved granite, next to a memorial stone dedicated to her sister Anna, and the inscription on it states: -
GWENDOLYN EVELYN ALLAN
BORN NOVEMBER 8TH 1898
DROWNED WHEN S.S. LUSITANIA SANK
AFTER BEING TORPEDOED BY GERMAN
SUBMARINE MAY 7TH 1915 AGED 16 YEARS.
YOU MAKE THY CROSS BOTH SWEET AND .....
The last part of the inscription is, unfortunately indecipherable.
Her brother, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Hugh Allan, must have gone to Queenstown once the body was recovered, maybe to help in its identification, as the property taken from it was handed over to him there. He, himself was also to become a victim of the Imperial German war machine, less than two years’ later, however, for on 6th July 1917, he was shot down and killed whilst flying over the German trenches on the Western Front in Belgium, whilst serving with No. 3 Squadron of The Royal Naval Air Service. His body was recovered later, however, and was buried at Coxyde Military Cemetery, in West Flanders, where it lies today! Thus three of the four children of Sir Hugh and Lady Allan died violent deaths at the hand of the Germans!
In November 1915, Cunard at Queenstown received payment from Horne and Company, who were agents for the steamer
Anglo-Californian, in respect of a coffin and rail charges for the late Miss Allan. Apparently the coffin was the best choice out of 70. Perhaps it was the
Anglo-Californian a Nitrate Producers Steamship Company vessel, which took the body of Gwendolyn Allan across the Atlantic, although this is unlikely, since the ship itself was badly damaged by gunfire from the German submarine
U-39, on 4th July 1915, an action which was to earn a posthumous Victoria Cross for its master Frederick Parslow.
In November 1915, a Mr. Daniel Connolly, a Cape Clear fisherman wrote to Cunard stating that on 14th May 1915, he had recovered the body of Gwendolyn Allan south of Mizen, which he put on board the Royal Naval patrol vessel H.M.S.
Scadaun, which later landed it at Queenstown. The purpose of his letter was to make a claim for £100-0s-0d., which he had been told was offered for the bodies of either of the Allan children. Although this supposed reward was probably spurious, Cunard advised him to write to the Allan Line with any claim. In any case, the body he recovered could not have been that of Gwendolyn Allan, as that was not discovered until July!
Quebec Vital & Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621 – 1967, 1901 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of Canada, Myriam Cloutier, Retford, Gainsborough and Worksop Times, Newark and Mansfield Daily News, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, Find a Grave, Memoirs of a Gentleman’s Gentleman, Mount Royal Cemetery, Naval VCs, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, The Square Mile, Times, UniLiv.D92/1/1, USB, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly