Mrs. Gertrude Adams was born Gertrude Pollett in Bath, Somerset, England, in 1890, the daughter of Alfred and Ada Elizabeth Pollett (née Sydenham), who resided at 29. Bathwick Street, Bath. Her father was described as a carriage proprietor and wheelwright. The family later moved to 28 Bishop Street, Portland Square, St. Paul‘s, Bristol.
After completing her education, Gertrude found a position at the Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum in Horrington Wells as an Asylum Nurse!
In early 1912, she married Albert Edwin Adams in Bristol, and they had one daughter named Joan Mary, who was born in 1913 in Chertsey, Surrey, which may have been where her husband originally came from.
In May 1913, Albert Adams embarked on the Corinthian, bound for Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His intention was to find employment as a dairy farmer. Gertrude and Joan followed him in April 1914 when they boarded the
Royal Edward at Bristol, arriving in St. John, Newfoundland on the 20th April 1914.
They established their home at 10223. Vermillion Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where Albert found employment as a carpenter.
In September 1914, Albert Adams enlisted in the Canadian Army, and was serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force which had already left Canada for England.
As a result, Gertrude Adams decided to return to her parents in Bristol, to be as close to him as she could and consequently booked second cabin passage for herself and daughter Joan on the
Lusitania. The pair left Edmonton at the end of April 1915 and joined the liner before she left New York harbour for the last ever time, just after mid-day on 1st May 1915.
Six days later, the liner was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, within hours of her Liverpool destination, and within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. Although Mrs. Adams was counted amongst the survivors, after this action, her daughter Joan perished!
Having been rescued from the sea, and landed at Queenstown, Mrs. Adams eventually got to Bristol and her parents home, in Bishop Street, where after she had recovered somewhat from her ordeal, she eventually gave an interview concerning her experiences of the sinking, to a reporter of local newspaper The Western Daily Press. This was published in the edition of 17th May 1915 and stated: -
It was 2.15 on the day of the disaster, she was having luncheon with the second sitting of passengers, her baby girl being with her. There was a dull boom and the ship seemed to tremble slightly, and everyone started for the doors of the saloon. Mrs. Adams grabbed her little girl, but the stewards said there was nothing to be scared about. “I think we have run aground or something,” said one of them. Then the things on the table commenced falling onto the floor and Mrs. Adams went upstairs to the deck above.
The ship was listing more as she proceeded. A steward assisted her on top of a boat which was still covered with canvas. In a minute or two came the order, “Women and children this way,” and the pair, mother and baby, went below again, and here a gentleman gave Mrs. Adams a lifebelt which he adjusted for her. She was told to keep quiet as the ship was virtually unsinkable.
As Mrs. Adams stood clutching her child to her the ship gave an awful lurch and water poured over the end. Another lady and her baby slid down the sloping deck, and were hurled against some steps. Then the great liner listed further and sank and Mrs. Adams and her baby were dragged down with her. When the mother and child came to the surface, the former made for a piece of wreckage and rested the baby upon it. “But I could not help her,” said Mrs. Adams,” more than hold her there. Then I had to watch her die. A young fellow near, offered to take her while I tried to reach a tank that was floating a little way off but my baby had passed away then, and I felt I must kiss her good-bye.
That young fellow helped me towards the tank on which were several people. It seemed as if we must have been drifting for hours, clinging to that tank, and there were many others about in the water in similar straits. One of them later capsized the tank and I and others were again in the water. It was 25 minutes past two when I first entered the water and I was picked up at ten minutes to six. A boat took us to a trawler and by this time I was delirious, awaking to find myself in a bunk of the trawler with the recollection of what seemed a horrible dream in my mind.
Those fine brave fellows on the trawler were splendid, they did everything it was humanly possible to comfort and cheer us. The ‘Bluebell’ was the name of the boat. We got to Queenstown at 11.30 pm. There were 48 men and women on the trawler alive and about eleven dead bodies of women and children. Captain Turner and Lady Mackworth were with us.”
The ‘Bluebell’ was H.M.S. Bluebell, a Royal Naval trawler which picked up many survivors from the sea.
Mrs. Adams went on to tell of their reception at Queenstown, where the survivors obtained refreshments and articles of clothing. She had a military cloak over her wet things. During the night she was delighted to hear that her two lady friends on the ship had been saved. An Irish lady at Cork drove them to her own house and warmed, fed and rested them, and then drove them to the station, whilst they were waiting for the connection to Rosslare.
The s.s. Great Southern was in waiting to take them across the Channel to Fishguard, and it was a terrifying experience, as may be imagined, to many to be told that that very ship had recently been chased by a submarine. Mrs. Adams stayed up during the crossing with the crowd. “When the lighthouse came in sight we all gazed with thanksgiving that the worst was over. The soldiers and sailors at Fishguard did all they could for us. I entrained for Bristol later.
In 1918, Gertrude gave birth to her second child, a son named Robert Harry Stephen Adams, in Bristol, and on the 16th September 1919, both Gertrude and Robert disembarked from the
S.S. Philadelphia in Montreal, and returned to Edmonton.
The family didn’t stay long in Edmonton, for by the middle of 1920, they had landed in New South Wales, Australia, and they eventually settled 54. Hurstville Road, Oatley, New South Wales, which is a suburb south west of Sydney. Albert found employment as a joiner, and he and Gertrude had at least two more children. Albert died in 1964, aged 75 years.
Gertrude Adams died on the 20th November 1981, aged 91 years. Both Albert and Gertrude’s remains were cremated, and they are commemorated together on Panel 8 of the Wall of Memory at the Floral Court section of Woronora Cemetery, Sutherland, New South Wales.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Canadian Infantry Badges, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Edmonton Journal, IWM GB62, National Archives of Canada, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, Western Daily Press, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly