Although no record of George Walter Bowers birth can be found, it is likely that he was born in Hingham, Norfolk, England, between 1872 and 1874. His mother, Susanna (née Middleton), was married to Charles Bowers, an agricultural labourer in Hingham, Norfolk; who died in June 1862, and as she did nor remarry until 1879, makes it certain that George was an illegitimate child. Susanna’s second husband was Samuel Huggins.
On completing his education, George went to London and became a commission agent. At some point, he changed his name to George Walter Bartlett, but the reason for this is unknown.
In 1909, he married Irma Florine Rothschild in London, England. Irma came from Chicago, Illinois, in the United States of America. The couple established their home at 137, Bedford Court Mansions, Bedford Square, London, W.C., England. There were no children born as a result of the marriage. Sometime after their marriage, George changed his and Irma’s family name to Bowers-Bartlett, again for reasons unknown, and this was their family name for the remainder of their lives.
In December 1914, the couple left London to spend the winter in Florida in the United States of America and in the spring of 1915, they began their return home via Chicago, where they visited Irma Bowers-Bartlett’s sister and brother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred S. Austrian. Alfred Austrian was a well known Chicago attorney, with the firm Mayer, Meyer, Austrian and Platt.
Whilst there they stayed at The Blackstone Hotel, before setting out for New York. For their return voyage to Britain, George Bowers-Bartlett had booked saloon passage for himself and his wife on the
Lusitania, which was scheduled to leave New York port on the morning of 1st May 1915.
Having stayed in New York at The St. Regis Hotel, the couple joined the vessel on that morning, with ticket number 46104, and once they had boarded, they were escorted to room D27, which was under the personal control of First Class Bedroom Steward William McLeod, who came from Birkenhead in Cheshire, on the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool. McLeod was normally a Chief Bedroom Steward, but on what was to become the liner’s final voyage, he was serving as a simple bedroom steward.
The vessel’s sailing was delayed until just after mid-day because she had to wait to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel
Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service as a troop ship at the end of April. Then, almost exactly six days later, when the
Lusitania was passing the southern coast of Ireland, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
Both of the Bowers-Bartlett’s survived the sinking, however, perhaps because the saloon rooms were nearer to the lifeboats slung on the boat deck. Having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, they were able to send telegrams announcing their survival to relatives on both sides of the family, before making their way back to their London home.
Not long after his return to London, George Bowers-Bartlett wrote an account of their experiences to his niece, Mrs. A. Young of White Farm, Winburgh, near Dereham Green, Norfolk. She then sent it to local newspaper
The Norwich Mercury, and they published it in their edition of 15th May 1915. It stated: -
Irma and I certainly had a ‘close call’. We were in our state room at the time, as we had just finished our lunch. I was smoking and reading a book, and Irma was knitting, when we heard a terrible crash and people shouting and running.
We at once ran into the passage to go up on deck. A great crowd of other passengers were also making for the decks. We finally arrived at the top deck, and after having life-belts put on us, we waited for about five minutes, as we thought the boat would not sink altogether, when all of a sudden, she heaved over practically on her side. We then determined to make for a boat, as we felt sure she would sink.
Well, Irma was awfully brave, and absolutely refused to go without I went with her. This boat in particular, (for which we had made) had only a few people in her, as other people seemed to be on the other decks. Well, eventually, we both jumped into the boat, and at that moment, a lot of people appeared from somewhere and also jumped in the boat. It was quite useless, as the boat was jammed amongst the blocks and ropes, owing to the Lusitania being practically on her side.
I immediately saw that we were in a very bad position, so Irma and I decided quickly to jump into the sea, clear of the boat, if possible. We jumped and at that moment the ship slowly turned right over and sank, carrying Irma and me down with her. The life-belt brought me to the surface and I looked for Irma. A second later she bobbed up right alongside me. It was absolutely wonderful, as all the other people in the boat that we jumped out of must have been drowned, with the exception of two or three.
Irma and I floated about for a few moments, caught hold of an oar that floated near us, held on to that for some time, and were eventually picked up by a boat. Irma refused to go into the boat without they consented to take me. We had some trouble getting into the boat, but eventually we were both pulled in.
After some hours of frightful experiences, hearing and seeing awful things, we arrived at a fishing smack, which we boarded, and for the first time, felt that we were at least safe.
We arrived at Queenstown at 10 p.m., drank some raw whiskey and went to bed. We have not felt any the worse for our terrible experience. Irma is the pluckiest girl breathing, as never once was she frightened or excited. If she had been, we certainly should have both drowned.
Bedroom Steward McLeod, who had looked after them both in room D27, was killed as a result of the sinking and never saw his Birkenhead home again.
Cunard records record the surname of the pair as simply Bartlett, but contemporary newspaper accounts and a record of saloon class passengers known to have been on board the liner’s last voyage and now preserved in the archives of the Public Record office in Richmond, Surrey, England, names the couple as Mr. and Mrs. Bowers-Bartlett.
George Bowers-Bartlett died in London on the 19th May 1937, aged about 65 years. He left his estate, which amounted to £1,438-9s.-11d. (£1,438.49½p.) to his wife, Irma.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1861 Census of England & Wales, 1871 Census of England & Wales, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Cunard Records, Probate Records, Nyle Monday, Norwich Mercury, New York Times, PRO 22/71, Dick Rayner, San Francisco Chronicle, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly