Lady Marguerite Ethel Allan was born Marguerite Ethel MacKenzie in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on 1st July 1873, the daughter of Hector and Martha Augusta Hinckley MacKenzie (née Alger). Her father was a successful merchant.
On the 18th October 1893, she married Sir Hugh Montagu Allan, vice chairman of The Allan Steamship Line and president of The Merchants’ Bank of Canada and The Montreal Telegraph Company and through her marriage; she was able to use the title Lady Allan. The family home was at ‘Ravenscrag’, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where Sir Montagu and Lady Marguerite lived with their son Hugh, born in 1896 and their three daughters, Marguerite Martha, always known as Martha, born in 1894, Gwendolyn Evelyn, born in 1898 and Anna Marjory, born in 1900.
When the Great War broke out in the summer of 1914, her husband Sir Montagu, tried to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force to command a battalion overseas. He was refused permission for this because of his age, which at that time, was 53 years, despite the fact that he was an honorary lieutenant colonel in The Black Watch of Canada and a lifelong supporter of the militia. However, Martha Allan, undeterred, gained a nursing qualification and then bought, at her own expense an ambulance, and took it to France to help the war effort. Not to be outdone by this gesture, Lady Allan then decided to go to England and set up a hospital for wounded Canadian soldiers. As her husband was about to leave for England to take charge of The Canadian Overseas Pension Board, Lady Allan decided to take her two younger daughters and two of the family maids, Emily Davis and Annie Walker with her to England. Emily Davis was Lady Allan’s personal maid and Annie Walker was maid to the two teenage girls.
Having booked a ticket (No. 12933) through agents Robert Reford & Co, of Montreal, the party travelled to New York at the end of April 1915 and joined the
Lusitania as saloon passengers on the morning of 1st May. Lady Allan was allocated room B47, 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. Anna and Gwendolyn Allan were allocated room B49 and maids Emily Davis and Annie Walker were in room B79. Also travelling on the same sailing of the
Lusitania was Sir Frederick Orr-Lewis - an old family friend, and his valet George Slingsby, who was a great favourite with the Allan girls.
The great liner left New York for the last time just after mid-day on 1st May, having had her scheduled 10.00 a.m. departure postponed, so that she could embark passengers, crew and cargo from the requisitioned Anchor Lines ship
Cameronia, which had been taken for war use as a troop ship, at the end of April, by the British Admiralty.
The journey across the Atlantic was fairly uneventful and Lady Allan enjoyed the usual opulence experienced by all saloon cabin passengers. She spent much of the voyage in the company of Mrs. Angela Pappadopoulo, Sir Hugh Lane, and others, socialising and playing cards with them.
Then, on the afternoon of 7th May, 1915, the liner was torpedoed and sunk, by the German submarine
U-20, just hours away from her Liverpool destination; the family was split asunder for ever, for although Lady Allan and her maids survived, her two daughters were killed. Lady Allan was eventually rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, where she told her experiences to a representative of local newspaper The Cork Examiner. The account 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.
Lady Allen, (sic) while in the water was struck by the keel of a passing boat and her collar bone was fractured. There were a number of persons in the water all looking for some means of securing their lives. Some men placed the injured lady on the bottom of an upturned boat, where several others had also got. In this position she remained for about three hours, when she was rescued by one of the boats that went out from Queenstown. The two ladies maids were rescued but no tidings have since been obtained of the Misses Allen.
As well as fracturing her collar bone, Lady Allan also suffered a fracture of her left hip and wounds to her right leg and knee. As a result of the fracture to her hip, for the remainder of her life, her left leg was shorter than her right!
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.
After looking around I saw Herbert Holt’s boy and I had him swim over and get on the boat. Lady Allan had already been put on the forward part of the boat. We gradually took on the people as they came to the surface until we had 59 people on the boat. Some were seated in water up to their waists, - others were standing up and I was one of the latter and holding on to people. The water was up to my knees and every minute we thought we would all go down again.
Second cabin passenger survivor David Dalrymple of Invergowrie, Scotland, was interviewed by a reporter from local newspaper
The Evening Telegram and Post, on his return home and he mentioned coming across Lady Allan in an article which was published in the edition of the newspaper for Tuesday 11th May 1915. It stated: -
Mr. Dalrymple had secured a lifebelt, and he swam about for half an hour when he saw an upturned boat. He made for it and scrambled aboard.
The upturned boat was a sanctuary for many souls. Over forty, including seven women were huddled together on the boat, one of the last to be picked up being Lady Allan. Mr. Dalrymple assisted in pulling her on the craft.
Third class passenger Thomas Snowden travelling from Lynn, Massachusetts also mentioned picking up Lady Allan, in
The Leicester Daily Mercury on 11th May 1915, but in a slightly different context: -
Far out was an overturned boat. I jumped off and swam to it. Others were doing the same. I reached it and with help got it righted. Those who were with me then began to pick up others. Among those I helped to pull in was Lady Allan.
The boat that rescued Snowden and the people clinging onto the upturned lifeboat was technically the Greek steamer
Katerina. She had not come out from Queenstown, but was outward bound from the Caribbean, with a cargo of sugar and had diverted specially to pick up survivors. In reality however, she was the Hopkins and Jones vessel
Westborough, under the command of Captain E.L. Taylor. He had deliberately disguised her as a neutral ship in the hope of avoiding attack from a German U-Boat.
Furthermore, in an article published in The Hull Times, on 22nd May 1915, taken from a letter written home to his parents by Second Officer George Swales of the S.S.
Westborough, Swales stated that it was his vessel that had rescued Lady Allan from an upturned lifeboat: -
It was a terrible sight to see those poor people clinging to all kinds of wreckage. We lowered two lifeboats and got to work at once, and we made for an upturned boat on which there were exactly 49 people, and said that the thing would stay afloat for ten minutes. By this time the trawlers had picked a good many of them up. We took a pull round to see if there happened to be any more floating around but within half an hour or less, every body with life in them had been picked up. ..... We picked up Lady Allan, the wife of one of the directors of the Allan Line, but she lost two of four children.
It is possible that Second Officer Swales may have known that Lady Allan had four children and assumed that they had all sailed on the last voyage of the
Lusitania and had been lost!
According to Seven Days to Disaster, by Des Hickey and Gus Smith, Lady Allan was helped on board the steamer by Fireman John O’Connell, still in great pain from her fractured collar bone. Another account in the same book states that she broke her arm when the explosion of the torpedo threw her against a bulkhead. When on board, she discovered her maids Emily Davis and Annie Walker, who had previously been rescued from the sea. All three were landed at Queenstown for hospital treatment, but none was detained for very long. Lady Allan, on being discharged from the hospital, went to stay at Admiralty House in Queenstown to further recover from her ordeal. Another account states that she had broken both of her legs!
Both Anna and Gwendolyn were killed, however as a result of the torpedoing and although Anna’s body was never recovered, that of Gwendolyn‘s was, nearly two months after the sinking. It was later sent to England, to the London Necropolis, in July 1915, for eventual shipment and burial in the family plot in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.
Both Sir Frederick Orr-Lewis and his valet George Slingsby did survive, although both were badly affected by the sinking. Bedroom Steward Walter Wood, who looked after the Allan family on board, also survived the sinking and eventually made it back to his Seaforth home.
The Allan family was to suffer a further blow at the hands of Imperial Germany, for two years later, on Friday 6th July 1917, their son Flight Sub-Lieutenant Hugh Allan was shot down and killed, whilst flying a patrol over the German trenches on the Western Front in Belgium. At that time, he was 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!
Lady Allan lodged a claim in Canada, which was settled in December 1926. She was awarded $48,573.20 for personal injuries and loss of possessions in the sinking.
Despite her own tragic losses, Lady Allan did set up her hospital in England and was later joined there by her surviving daughter, Martha and Sir Montagu.
After the war, the three of them returned to Montreal, where Martha became a leading light in the theatrical scene in Canada, founding the Montreal Repertory Theatre Company and The Montreal Theatrical Guild. Like her father and her brother and two sisters, however, she predeceased her mother on 4th April 1942, who herself died in Montreal on 6th September 1957. Sir Hugh had died on 26th September 1951. They are all buried in the family plot in Mount Royal Cemetery, alongside the body of Gwendolyn.
By the time of her death, Lady Allan was living at Apartment F111, 1321, Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal.
Quebec Vital & Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621 – 1967, 1881 Census of Canada, 1891 Census of Canada, 1901 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of England & Wales, 1930 U.S. Federal Census, Myriam Cloutier, Retford, Gainsborough and Worksop Times, Newark and Mansfield Daily News, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, Leicester Daily Mercury, Memoirs of a Gentleman’s Gentleman, Mount Royal Cemetery, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, Canadian Claims Case No. 839, Seven Days to Disaster, Square Mile, Times, USB, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly