Dorothy Douglas Braithwaite was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on 5th May 1891, the daughter of Arthur Douglas and Marjorie Margaret Walker Braithwaite (née Hendrie). Her father was Assistant General Manager of the Bank of Montreal, in Quebec, Canada. She had two sisters - Marjory Laura, and Mary Hendrie.
In the spring of 1915, she had booked a saloon passage from Montreal to Liverpool through Robert Redford and Company of Toronto on the May sailing of the
Lusitania. Having left Montreal some time in April, she arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York port on the morning of 1st May 1915, in time for the liner’s scheduled 10 o’clock sailing. Once on board, she was allocated room D63, (with ticket number 12934), which was the personal responsibility of First Class Bedroom Steward Edwin Huther, who came from Liverpool.
The liner’s sailing was then 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 service as a troop ship, at the end of April. The
Lusitania finally left port at 12.27 p.m., and just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20. At that point, she was off The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland and only 250 miles hours away from her Liverpool home port destination.
Dorothy Braithwaite enjoyed the company of fellow Canadians, Lady Allan and her two daughters, Mrs. Frances Stephens, and Frederick Orr-Lewis, who were all well-known to one another from the Montreal social scene. In a letter to his family shortly after surviving his ordeal, Frederick Orr-Lewis related his account of the day the liner sank: -
All the way over I slept every morning until about eleven, but on the Friday morning I found it impossible to sleep and was up on deck early. I met Lady Allan and the children and we sat around and chatted and walked etc, until lunch time. We had a table by ourselves, composed of Lady Allan, Mrs. G.W. Stephens Senr, Miss Dorothy Braithwaite, Gwen (sic,), Herbert Holt’s son, Anna and myself. The foregoing are the seats they occupied all the way over.
I cannot say that any of the people on the ship were feeling very bright on Friday. We finished our luncheon and went upstairs to the Lounge, had our coffee and were smoking our cigarettes when like a bolt from the blue, a torpedo struck the ship and my servant, George and Lady Allan’s and the children’s maids, who were taking their luncheon at the time, saw the torpedo coming towards the ship and did not know what it was. There was no cry, no noise and no one, outside of the above that I met, saw the torpedo.
We rushed out on deck at once and I got them all together, put life-belts on them and went over to the starboard side to see what was being done with the boats, but she gave such a terrible lurch that I came back and started about getting them in a boat on the port side. Two were launched but the man in charge of the rope at the stern of the first one let go when she was full of people, with the result that they all tumbled out into the water and I think the great majority of them were killed.
The next boat fared almost the same fate, with the exception that the man in the bow let go. It all happened within probably two minutes, when the staff captain appeared on the top deck of all and called out forbidding the launching of further boats and stated that the ship was alright. It is quite true she did straighten herself on a more even keel and we all began to hope that she would not sink.
Our cabin steward then came up and stated that the water tight compartments had all been closed and that the boat was all right, but she began to lurch so much to the starboard side that the boats on the port side could not be launched and this had the effect of placing the boats on the starboard side so far away that it was impossible to get into them, so there was nothing to do but wait, when in the twinkling of an eye, she took the most awful dive and we all went down with her. I had Gwen by the hand and Lady Allan had Anna and the two maids were next and Mrs. Stephens with Chatham’s baby. Miss Braithwaite somehow became separated from us. How far we went down or what happened nobody will ever tell. Only those apparently were saved who were not killed in the water as the ship went down and the only reason, I should judge, why anyone is here to tell the tale, is an account of the explosion of the boilers which sent us up to the surface, and I came up alone near an upturned boat, which I got on to and as far as I can remember I was the first on it.
Dorothy Braithwaite was killed as a result of this action. She was aged 24 years and as no trace of her body was ever discovered afterwards, she has no known grave.
A half paragraph in the national newspaper The Times, on Monday 10th May 1915, stated: -
Miss Braithwaite, from Toronto, who was coming to England to fix up the affairs of three brothers who were killed in action, hung on to a case for two hours, but fell off from exhaustion, having sent messages to relations in Toronto.
The case was in fact a flag case, which successfully supported fellow saloon passengers Mrs. H.B. Lassetter and her son Frederick until rescued. The identity of Dorothy Braithwaite’s
three brothers who were killed in action, is not known, as Dorothy didn’t have any male siblings!
Another account states that she had lost two brothers-in-law in action on the same day, and there is some truth in this as her older sister, Marjory, had married Trumbull Warren in Toronto in 1911, and he had ‘joined up’ on the outbreak of the War, and while serving as a Captain with the 15th Infantry Division of the Canadian Army in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front, he was killed in action on the 20th April 1915. Her younger sister, Mary, was unmarried at this time.
Not long before she set sail, she had been visiting Morristown, New Jersey, U.S.A., and after the sinking it was erroneously announced that she was a native of that town and that she had survived. In the event, neither of these facts proved to be true!
A Cunard list of saloon passengers lost in the disaster now held by the Public Record Office states that her profession was that of maidservant and that her last place of abode was Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In fact she was a medical nurse!
Bedroom Steward Huther, Mrs. Frances Stephens and her grandson, and Anna and Gwendolyn Allan also lost their lives in the sinking.
1901 Census of Canada, 1911 Census of Canada, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Newark Evening News, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO 22/71, PRO BT 100/345, The Times, UNB, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly