Julian de Ayala was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba in 1870, the son of Julian de Ayala y Orono and his wife, Marie Anna de la Cruz Prieto y Pichardo. On the 14th February 1902, he married Marie Julia Saaviero, and they had three children – Olga, Hector, and Rene.
He was a career diplomat and had held the appointment of Cuban Consul General in Liverpool for some time. His brother was the Minister for Public Constructions in Havana. In January 1915, by which time his wife had died, he had returned to Cuba, leaving his children in a convent in Liverpool.
Having first booked his return ticket (number. 46077), from Liverpool as a saloon passenger, he departed from Liverpool on 16th January on board the
Lusitania on route to Cuba, and was to return by the same route. He joined the
Lusitania at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May 1915. Once on board, he was escorted to room A21, which was under the personal supervision of First Class Bedroom Steward Charles Randall, who came from Gateacre, on the outskirts of Liverpool. The steamer eventually left the harbour after a delay in the early afternoon.
Six days later, when the liner was torpedoed and sunk, within sight of the southern Irish coast and only hours away from her Liverpool destination, Julian de Ayala was fortunate enough to be counted amongst the survivors. Having been rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown, and photographs taken of him at the time show him wearing a Royal Navy style light brown duffle coat, as presumably, he had lost all his own clothes.
Once there, he related his experiences which were published in a book The Tragedy of the Lusitania, written by Captain Frederick D. Ellis, not long after the sinking: -
Julian de Ayala, Consul General for Cuba; at Liverpool came ashore with a blanket and no trousers. He went down three times and was picked up by three different boats before being landed. While being interviewed he recognised a man named Currie who waited at his table. Sitting beside him was a Greek lady dressed in a sweater and sailor's trousers. She was afraid her husband, who was unable to swim, had drowned. The woman referred to was Mrs. M.N. Pappadopoulo, wife of a wealthy Athenian. She saved herself by swimming a long distance.
The man named Currie who waited at his table was First Class Waiter George Currie, who came from Liverpool. Michael N. Pappadopoulo, an Athens banker was in fact killed as a result of the sinking and his body was later recovered from the sea.
The Consul-General said he was ill in his berth when the Lusitania was torpedoed. He was thrown against the partition of his berth by the explosion, and suffered an injury to his head and had flesh torn off one of his legs.
The Lusitania, Mr. Ayala said, had a heavy list to port before she sank, and great difficulty was expected in getting out the lifeboats. Captain Turner thought he could bring the crippled vessel to Queenstown, but she rapidly commenced to sink by the head. “Her stern went up so high,” Mr. de Ayala added, "that we could see her propellers, and she went down with a headlong plunge, volumes of steam hissing from her funnels.
I boarded three boats before I finally got off in safety," he said. "The only reason that I was saved was that I remained quiet and trusted in the Lord. I prayed that I might be spared for the sake of my three children, who are in the convent in Liverpool. I believe there were many on board who made no effort to get into the boats, believing that the steamship could not sink."
Julian de Ayala must also have spoken to a reporter of the local newspaper
The Cork Examiner, for this, too, reported his experiences: -
I was in bed at the time we were torpedoed and don't know how I managed to get on deck. These English people are so wonderful - so cool, no excitement. You would think nothing unusual had happened. I am so long in England I am very cool too and I brought my children there too. I like the English as well. Great people they are.
Everyone followed the orders. When I was in the water a row boat came along in five or ten minutes and I was taken in. It turned over and we were pitched out. Another boat came near us and took us in and then a steamer came along. The Almighty saved me and it was a terrible disaster.
Perhaps The Cork Examiner should have split Mr. de Ayala's final sentence into two parts to give the actual import of its meaning!
Bedroom Steward Randall also survived the sinking and eventually made it back to his Gateacre home.
Julian de Ayala continued to work as a diplomat in the service of his country for many years after surviving the sinking of the Lusitania, and eventually retired to his native Cuba. On the 16th October 1953 he died in Havana, Cuba, aged 83 years.
Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Florida Passenger Lists 1898 – 1964, , PRO 22/71, PRO BT 100/345, Tragedy of the Lusitania, Geoff Whitfield, Stuart Williamson, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Stuart Williamson, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly