Allen Byron Barnes was born in Cohoes, Albany County, New York, U.S.A. on the 3rd December 1871, the son of John Allen and Eleanor (née Fort) Barnes. On the 25th November 1871, two weeks before Allen was born, his father died, aged 27 years. John Allen Barnes was a carpenter, and had served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He enlisted as a private shortly after the commencement of the war, rising to the rank of corporal by its conclusion. He had remained in the army for a period after hostilities ended, attaining the rank of sergeant.
Following his birth, Allen’s mother went to live with her parents in the nearby city of Watervliet. Allen grew up in his grandparents home, and on completion of his education, he became a clerk.
Around 1891, Allen immigrated to Canada, settling in Montreal, Quebec. He married Mary Agnes Smith on the 26th December 1894 at Saint-John Evangelist Anglican Church in Montreal, and although he was a Methodist, his wife was a Roman Catholic. It is believed that he became a naturalised Canadian citizen in 1896.
By 1915, the Barnes family lived in Berlin, (now named Kitchener), Ontario, Canada, where Allen was superintendent of The Star Whitewear Limited, a company that manufactured an extensive range of ladies clothing. By this time, Allen and his wife had eight children – Marion Agnes, Eleanor Anna, John Allen, William Dennis, Alice Lauretta, Grace Evelyn, Arthur Byron, and Ruth Eileen Frances, although Eleanor Anna had died in 1913, aged 15 years.
In the spring of 1915, Allen Barnes decided to travel to England on behalf of his company to try and secure additional orders and as a consequence, booked saloon passage through travel agents Robert Reford and Co. of Toronto, Ontario, on the May sailing of the Lusitania from New York to Liverpool. Having left Ontario at the end of April, he arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May 1915 in time for the liner’s scheduled 10.00 a.m. sailing.
Having boarded - with ticket number 6926, he was allocated room B1, which came under the personal supervision of First Class Bedroom Steward Robert Morse, who came from Rock Ferry, a suburb of Birkenhead, in Cheshire, on the opposite bank of the River Mersey from Liverpool.
The liner’s sailing was delayed until the afternoon as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war work as a troop ship, at the end of April. The
Lusitania finally left port just after mid-day and just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her destination.
Allan Barnes was one of 112 saloon passengers, who survived the sinking, but he was either injured or made unwell as a result of it and having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he was taken to hospital there. He can not have been too seriously affected, however, as he was discharged within three days.
Bedroom Steward Morse, who had looked after him in room B1, also survived the sinking and eventually returned to his native Rock Ferry.
Allen Barnes travelled on to London and conducted his business, and then, on the 19th June 1915, he boarded the
S.S. Philadelphia at Liverpool to return home. He disembarked at New York on the 27th June and continued on his journey back to his family.
Having returned safely he was interviewed for a local newspaper. He described his experience in graphic detail: -
...“I was in the dining room at lunch when the torpedo struck. The room was over half full, including a number of ladies. Immediately we felt the concussion of the side of the boat. Everybody realized we had either struck a mine or had been torpedoed, as there was almost an immediate list to the starboard bow, and there was a general rush for the stairs to the deck.
Dining Room Four Deck Down
“The dining room was situated four decks down from the boat deck for which place the people were making; gentlemen were helping ladies and children who were excited and frightened.
“When I arrived on the boat deck all was confusion. The boats on the port side, which was the high side, were filled with people and men were attempting to lower some of the boats.
He described what happened when attempts were made to lower the lifeboats, and clearly identified the fact that none of those attempting to launch the lifeboats had any real knowledge or experience, and probably contributed to the deaths of many of the passengers: -
“As there was no discipline and nobody seemed to know anything about it, the attempt proved futile. The first boat they tried to lower on this side capsized. Through inexperience, the bow was lowered faster than the stern and the whole load, consisting of seventy people, was emptied into the ocean.
“The next boat was smashed to pieces against the side of the ship; the same thing happened to the third and the fourth capsized.
Allen Barnes stated that after a short period, one of the ship’s officers ordered that no further lifeboats were to be launched and that the
Lusitania was in no immediate danger of sinking, and that rescue vessels were on their way from Queenstown. He then described what preparations he made in anticipation of having to leave the vessel: -
Went After Life Belt
“On the strength of this information I went down to my stateroom to get my lifebelt. As it was some distance and down two decks, this took at least five minutes. I had, in the meantime, decided that I would not trust myself in the boats, partially because of the former unsuccessful attempts to launch them, and then because they were fastened to the davits by a short length of chain and, if not launched before the ship sank, would be drawn down with her. I might say here that five boats were successfully launched from the starboard side. This was achieved by the pluck and experience of the Boatswain.
The Boatswain was John Davies, and Allen Barnes was one of the many survivors who heaped praise on this quiet and unassuming man who received no official reward or recognition for his bravery. Many other accounts also state that Davies was responsible for the successful launch of five lifeboats, and stuck with his task until the Lusitania sank. John Davies was also fortunate to be counted amongst the survivors. Allen Barnes continued by describing how he made preparations to leave the
Lusitania as she sank: -
“When I returned from my stateroom I took up my position beside a fall of one of the boats they had attempted to launch, with the intention of remaining there until the last minute; then to go down this rope and jump into the ocean.
He also mentioned the second explosion, although unlike many other survivors, he offered no opinion as to the cause: -
A Second Explosion
“I had hardly arrived on the spot when there was another heavy explosion and it seemed to me she was going to make her final dive.
“I went down the rope, jumped in and started to swim as quickly as possible from the ship. When I was no more than ten or twelve feet away, I looked over my shoulder and saw that the railing of the top deck was almost level with the water. This railing when I had started to come down the rope was sixty to sixty-five feet out of the water. I then turned and faced the ship, remaining this way until I felt the suction drawing me down.
Describing his experiences in the water, he continued: -
Caught by Drowning Men
“I did not fight against this until I felt it getting weaker, and then I started to rise to the surface again. On my way up some other poor fellow who was going down caught my coat in a death grip. I had to fight away from him to get clear and again started to rise but was once more caught by another man going down and was pulled in with him. I had a harder time getting away from this one but finally succeeded in doing soon and at last got up to the surface of the water.
Scene Never to Be Forgotten
“The cries for help, the screams and groans of the people around were terrible. In fact, it was a scene which, when once seen, would never be forgotten.
“I think I swam around for half an hour before taking hold of one of the many collapsible boats which had floated loose from the deck of the “Lusitania” as she went down.
“This boat had been stowed (sic.) by hitting against something and was probably most full of water under the canvas top, which we could not get off.
“I think there were from twenty to twenty-three people clinging to this boat. There is a difference of opinion as to the exact number, but I did not count them. Because of the water in this boat every time a wave struck her it rolled in the water to one side and she turned completely over.
“When this happened all were obliged to let go and would have from fifteen to twenty-five feet to swim back again.
“This occurred every ten or fifteen minutes during the time we waited for help to arrive. When finally were picked up there were but six left and all in an exhausted condition.
Due to the length of time it took for rescue vessels to arrive at the scene, many of those who survived the explosions and the sinking succumbed to hypothermia and exhaustion while immersed in the water and there are many similar accounts of people letting go of lifeboats and wreckage and dying. His account continues: -
Nearly Ready to Give Up
“For myself, as I had swallowed a lot of salt water, I was nearly ready to give up.
“Twenty-two boats of different kinds had been sent from Queenstown to our rescue. The one which came in our direction was “050 Torpedo Boat Destroyer”. It stopped about two hundred and fifty feet from where we were and lowered two boats, one coming our way and the other going in the opposite direction.
Although there were no “Torpedo Boat Destroyers” based in Queenstown, or anywhere in the vicinity of the Lusitania when she sank, it would appear likely that Allen Barnes was taken on board on of the several naval vessels that arrived at the scene: -
The Rescue Boat from Queenstown
“There were two lots of people between this boat and us. I remember seeing them pick up the first lot, then coming along to the second and stopping there, but after that I became unconscious and remember nothing more until I was being helped down into the pantry of the Destroyer, where I remained until we reached land.
Taken to Naval Hospital
“It took us three hours to make the trip, during which time I was in great pain. When we arrived I was unable to walk and was taken to the Naval Hospital on a stretcher, arriving there about 10p.m.
“I remained until 4p.m. Saturday, when I was able to leave. I crossed the ferry to Queenstown; the naval Hospital being on an island out in the harbour (sic.).
The Naval Hospital was at Haulbowline, where the Irish Naval Service is based today. Allen Barnes then described what he saw in Queenstown: -
Terrible Sight in Queenstown
“As terrible as the scenes were in the water at the time the “Lusitania” sank I think, from a survivor’s point of view, they were equally so in Queenstown.
“During the time I was there, which was until Monday night, I could not go into the street for five minutes without seeing some empty coffins on open trucks being drawn to the morgue, or single coffins containing bodies being taken away. It certainly was the most distressing sight that can be imagined.
Like many of the survivors, and dependants of those who lost their lives, Allen Barnes lodged a claim for the loss of his possessions. In 1924, he was awarded $510.25, with interest of 5% per annum from May 1915, by the Mixed Claims Commission for the loss of his property in the sinking of the Lusitania.
Sometime after 1915, the Barnes family moved to Toronto, Ontario, and it was here that Allen Barnes spent the remainder of his life. He died on the 9th June 1952 at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, aged 81 years. At the time of his death, his residence was at 71. Welland Avenue, Toronto. He was interred at Mount Hope Cemetery, in Section 17, Lot 233.
1875 New York State Census, 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Montreal, Canada non-Catholic Marriage Index 1766 – 1899, 1901 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of Canada, 1921 Census of Canada, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Cunard Records, Edmonton Journal, The Gettysburg Times, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Geoff Whitfield, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly