James ‘Jim’ Johnson Battersby was born in Stockport, Cheshire, England, on 27th April 1875, one of the seven sons and two daughters, of William John and Mary Battersby, (née Oldham). He was registered at birth as Robert Johnson Battersby, but when baptised on the 9th July 1875 at St. Thomas’ Church, Stockport, his parents had changed his name to James Johnson Battersby.
His parents had founded the famous Battersby hat making concern of Stockport, Cheshire, in 1865. Having started from fairly humble beginnings the firm eventually built a large factory in Hempshaw Lane, Offerton, Stockport, and in an age when hats were almost universally worn, Battersby’s became one of the largest employers in Stockport. Jim Battersby’s second forename ‘Johnson’ was given to him in honour of a respected business associate.
After schooling, Jim Battersby joined the firm and worked at the sides of workmen and staff alike until he knew the trade well enough to become a director, principally in charge of overseas sales. From an early age he was keen on sports, playing lacrosse and tennis and being particularly good at swimming. He also had an interest in chemistry which he was able to apply in the firm’s dyeing process. Combining business acumen with salesmanship he travelled regularly all over the world, chiefly to the Dominions and the United States of America. He was always known affectionately by the workforce as ‘Mr. Jim’.
He eventually married a Miss Annie Larratt Nidd, known as ‘Nancy’, and they had two children, James Larratt, born in 1907, and Edith Mary, born in 1910. Edith Mary Battersby was always known as ‘Molly’, and she later married a Mr. Frederick Bruce Walker. In 1915, the family home was at ‘Beechfield’, Davenport Park, Stockport, Cheshire.
Almost from the earliest days, the firm’s policy was to export, Germany being the most important market and eventually, 85% of the company’s output was sold abroad. In 1906, however, a factory was established in France, at Conty near Amiens, but this was temporarily closed when the Great War broke out.
On the 26th March 1915, Jim Battersby arrived in New York, on board the Lusitania, on a selling trip. Before his return home, he stayed at The Prince George Hotel, in New York and on 25th April he sent a cablegram from the city to one of his sisters at her home, ‘Strathclyde’ in Stockport, informing her (and the rest of the family) that he intended to return to England on the
Lusitania, on 1st May 1915.
As planned, with ticket number 46084, he joined the vessel as a saloon passenger, for the voyage to Liverpool on the morning of that date. Once on board, he was allocated Room A6, which was the personal responsibility of First Class Bedroom Steward Edward Bond, who came from Anfield, a district of Liverpool, and he survived her sinking, six days later on the afternoon of 7th May, by the German submarine
U-20. At that time, she was only hours away from her home port and only twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland.
In the edition of The Cheshire Daily Echo of 14th May 1915, Jim Battersby's experiences in the sinking were related. The newspaper stated that after his return home to 'Beechfield' on Tuesday May 10th, he had been confined to his bedroom, suffering from the effects of his immersion and that he had given the newspaper's representative an account of his
providential escape. It went on: -
The passengers on the Lusitania were warned by advertisement before they sailed that they did so at their own risk, but they never anticipated that the Germans would be so inhuman as to carry out their dastardly threat. They had a very pleasant voyage, and were looking forward to their safe arrival when the terrible tragedy happened.
Mr. Battersby and two gentlemen were returning to one of the decks after lunch when there was a dull thud against the side of the boat. The passengers were given to understand that although the ship had been torpedoed, she would not sink. Mr Battersby went to his cabin and got his lifebelt and at the time there was not the slightest panic; in fact a lady helped him to fasten on the lifebelt for it was believed that the Lusitania would be able to reach a place of safety or at least float long enough to enable all the passengers to leave in the boats.
Very quickly, however, she began to sink. All the passengers fell out of one of the lifeboats as she was being lowered, and Mr. Battersby had a very narrow escape, as one of the boats swung in on the port side, several people standing near him were knocked down and he believes some of them must have been killed.
He was going along the deck when he was swept off his feet by the water. He was whirled against two staircases, and then he felt himself drawn through the water at a tremendous rate. He went down and down, and it seemed a lifetime before he came up again. He had the presence of mind to hold his breath, but he felt almost done for when he came to the surface. The Lusitania had then disappeared and he was only semi-conscious.
How long he was actually in the water he does not know, but he heard someone in a boat say “Leave that man, he’s done for.” This was a collapsible boat with Mr. A. Quinn, the head bedroom steward of the second class, in charge. Mr. Battersby heard Mr. Quinn say, “No, we will pick him up.” and he was then drawn into the boat. Mr Battersby owes his life to Mr. Quinn who when the Lusitania was sinking dived into the sea and clung with a few others to an overturned boat.
They afterwards got hold of a collapsible boat which came floating by, and in this picked up thirty or forty including Mr. Battersby. Sometime later they were taken on board the mine trawler Brock, but it was not until nearly 11 o’clock at night that they got into Queenstown. The men on board the trawler treated the saved with the utmost kindness. One of them provided Mr. Battersby with some clothing and gave him his own shirt.
At Queenstown everything possible was done for them. In addition to the shock, Mr. Battersby sustained a severe bruise on one of his legs. He returned home by way of Dublin on Tuesday and was accompanied by Mr. Quinn who came to Stockport with him.
Many of the passengers whose acquaintance Mr. Battersby made on board are lost, and it was a painful experience to meet some of the relatives and tell them in what circumstances he had last seen them.
Jim Battersby did not actually revive until after the occupants of the collapsible boat were eventually picked up by a trawler.
Mr. A. Quinn, the head bedroom steward of the second class was in fact Second Class Waiter Alfred Quinn from Liverpool, who accompanied Mr. Battersby back to his home in Stockport, via Dublin, presumably because the latter was still suffering from the effects of his experience. He eventually made a full recovery except that he was to claim later that the incident destroyed his sense of taste, for the rest of his life!
Bedroom Steward Bond, (who was sucked down one of the Lusitania’s funnels and then blown out again, before he was picked up), also survived to return to his Anfield home.
One of the second cabin passengers who was killed and whose body was never recovered from the sea and identified afterwards was Richard Preston Pritchard, who originally came from Ramsgate in Kent. In an attempt to learn more of his fate, the Pritchard family first went to Queenstown and scoured the mortuaries there and his brother Mostyn printed and published posters seeking information about him. Mrs. Pritchard then wrote to many surviving passengers and crew members seeking information. One of these was Jim Battersby, who, unfortunately, was unable to help the Pritchard family, except that he provided some extra addresses.
The Great War did have a more tragic turn of fate for the Battersby family, however, as one of Jim Battersby’s younger brothers, Edgar, was killed in action in northern France serving in the British Army. Aged 34 years old when the war broke out, he volunteered for the Army but was rejected because he had varicose veins. Undaunted, he paid for an operation to cure them and was then accepted for the infantry section of the 1st Battalion, The Honourable Artillery Corps. As 7409 Private E. Battersby and awaiting a call to return to England for officer training, he was wounded in action at Gavrelle on 29th April 1917, during the Battle of Arras. He was last seen making for a dressing station in the rear, and was presumably killed by a shell, as he never reached it! His body was never recovered and identified after the war and as a consequence, he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing at the Fauborg d’Amiens Cemetery there.
Jim Battersby’s ordeal on the Lusitania never put him off travelling, however, and he continued to pursue family business all over the world for the rest of his working life. He was three times president of The British Felt Hat Manufacturers Federation and was his firm’s representative on the executive committee for over 20 years. In later life, he also took up golf, snooker and poultry keeping.
He died, on 14th April 1949, just thirteen days short of his 74th birthday, at his home which was, by that time ‘Dinglewood’ in Bramhall Park, Stockport. He left an estate of £61,731-1s.-1d. (£61.731.05½p). His body was cremated at Stockport Crematorium on 18th April 1949, after a funeral service at St. George’s Church, Stockport, which was conducted by The Reverend W. Garlick. Many members of his family, friends and the local business fraternity were present.
In a tribute to him, published in the local newspaper The Advertiser at the time of his death, the Member of Parliament for Stockport, Wing Commander N.J. Hulbert, summed up local feeling on his loss: -
He could well have been described as one of the leaders of the business community in Stockport and the industry with which he was associated regarded him as a wise counsellor and a trusted colleague. By his passing, Stockport loses one of its most distinguished sons and to his family will extend the sympathy of countless friends and associates while the workpeople of his own firm will mourn the loss of a much respected employer.
The cablegram that Jim Battersby sent from New York to Stockport is still in the family’s possession.
In a curious postscript to the sinking, on 16th May 1919, it was reported in the newspaper
The Eastern Daily Press that: -
Mr. F. Fattersby (sic) some time ago presented to the Old Fold Manor Golf Club a trophy for competition in commemoration of the rescue of his brother from the Lusitania, and the trophy was named the “Lusitania Cup”.
By an extraordinary coincidence the cup has just been won by Mr. Frank Partridge, also a survivor from the ill-fated liner, who was immersed in the water for two hours before being rescued.
The Old Fold Manor Golf Club was situated in Hadley Wood, Barnet, Hertfordshire and
Mr. F. Fattersby was in fact Frank Battersby, one of Jim Battersby’s brothers, who ran a section of the family business in London and lived in Hadley Wood. He must have been so moved by his brother’s survival that he presented the golfing trophy. Frank Partridge was, like Jim Battersby, a saloon passenger and may well have met the hatter on their truncated journey across the Atlantic!
Amazingly, The Lusitania Cup is still in existence today and is still played for in annual competition at the golf club, which is still situated in the same place! Each year, to this day, a proportion of the players’ entry fees are donated to The Shipwrecked Mariners’ Society.
The inscription on the trophy reads: -
The Lusitania Cup
Presented by Frank Battersby
Old Fold Manor Golf Club,
To Commemorate the Rescue of His Brother,
J.J. Battersby, from the Wreck,
May 7th 1915
Its first winner in 1915, was golf club member S.H. Gammage, Frank Partridge was its fourth.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Cheshire Daily Echo, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, IWM GB62, Iris Klein, Old Fold Manor Golf Club, PRO 22/71, Soldiers Died in the Great War, Stockport Advertiser, The Wideawake, Probate Records, Brian R. Battersby, Alan Dickens, Mary M. Heaword, Tessa Wiley, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly