Leonidas M. Bistis was a Greek national, born in Greece in 1882, and came from an old and established family in Athens, that was involved in shipping, and therefore it is likely that he had a comprehensive knowledge of maritime matters, and might even have been a qualified mariner.
In the spring of 1915, he had been in Savannah, Georgia, in the United States of America, conducting business on behalf of his family firm – M. A. Bistis & Company – of Athens, Greece, having arrived on one of his company cargo ships, the
For his return to Europe, he booked saloon passage on the May sailing of the
Lusitania from New York to Liverpool. His ticket, (number 46124) was booked through the firm of A. Flehinghill, of Atlanta, Georgia, so it is likely that his business was in that city.
He arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour on the 1st May in time for the liner’s scheduled 10.00 a.m. departure and was escorted to his accommodation in room E57, which the personal responsibility of First Class Bedroom Steward Alfred Wood who came from West Derby, a suburb of Liverpool.
The sailing was delayed until the afternoon as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel Anchor Lines vessel the S.S.
Cameronia. This vessel had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for service as a troop ship at the end of April. The
Lusitania finally left the 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, twelve miles off the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her destination. One of those killed was Leonidas Bistis. He was aged 33 years, although at the time of the sinking it was stated that he was aged 24 years.
Adolph and Mary Hoehling, in their book The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, describe the experiences of fellow saloon passenger Robert Timmis during the sinking in which they state: -
Robert J. Timmins (sic) and his cabin mate Ralph Moodie, British cotton dealers who made their headquarters in Gainesville, Texas, were still eating heartily. They had worked up a sweat playing medicine ball, then cooled off with a round of drinks. Now, as the orchestra played the "Blue Danube", they were relaxed and content.
They laughed as they remembered the Greek sea captain who had strapped on his lifebelt the evening before, clambered into one of the gently swinging lifeboats, and slept there all night. No amount of persuasion could make the adamant Greek move. Timmins thought it was the funniest sight he had ever seen.
The Greek sea captain was possibly Leonidas Bistis, one of only two Greek males known to have been on board. The other, Michael N. Pappadopoulo was known to have been a banker, travelling with his wife.
No trace of Mr. Bistis’ body was found at first and then in mid-July, it was washed up at Killury near Tralee about 150 miles around the coast from where the liner had gone down. After such a time immersed in the sea, it was probably identified by documents found on it and on 16th July 1915, it was buried in Killury Churchyard.
On 26th July the property recovered from it was handed over to his brother Mr. Aristides M. Bistis, at 4, St. Mary Avenue, London, E.C., having been sent to Cunard’s London office.
Bedroom Steward Wood who had looked after Leonidas Bistis in room E57 survived the sinking and eventually made it back to his Liverpool home although Michael Pappadopoulo also perished in the sinking. His wife did survive, however.
In December 1924, the remains of Leonidas Bistis were removed from their grave and sent to London where they were interred in the Greek Section of West Norwood Cemetery, in Plot 36496. He lies there today!
New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, The Atlanta Constitution, Cunard Records, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO 22/71, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, Friends of West Norwood Cemetery, Colin Fenn, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly