People's Stories

Everyone on the Lusitania's last voyage, including passengers and crew.

About Joseph

Joseph 'Joe' Aiston was born in Blaydon-on-Tyne, County Durham, England on the 11th September 1895, the son of John and Magdalene Aiston.  He was the ninth of twelve children.  The family home was at 18, John Street, Blaydon-on-Tyne, County Durham.

In 1912 he sailed to the United States of America on board the Lusitania, arriving at Ellis Island on the 19th June.  He must have had a medical problem when he arrived as he was detained in the hospital on Ellis Island until his brother, William, secured his release.

He settled with his brother in Brooklyn, New York City, where he found work in a shipyard, although on entering the United States of America, he gave his occupation as being a bricklayer.

On the outbreak of War in Europe, Joe was anxious to return home to enlist in the army; however he had to wait for payment of compensation for a work-related accident which resulted in him losing part of a finger

In April 1915, he booked as a second cabin passenger on the Lusitania.  Having joined her at her berth at  Pier 54 in New York harbour on the morning of 1st May 1915, in time for her scheduled 10.00 a.m. sailing, like all the other passengers and crew, he had to wait until 12.27 p.m. until she actually left port.  This was because she had to wait to embark passengers, some crew and some cargo from the Anchor Lines ship the Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service as a troop ship.

Then, six days out of New York and only hours away from her Liverpool destination, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk on the afternoon of 7th May, by the German submarine U-20.  Joseph Aiston survived this sinking, however and after being rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown on the evening of 7th May, from where he was able to send a telegram to his parents in Blaydon, the day after, to tell them that he was safe.

He returned home there on 12th May 1915 and related his story to a reporter of The Newcastle Daily Chronicle in an article which was published the following day.  He said that he was sitting on the second class deck when the torpedo struck and he was knocked off his seat and almost drowned, by the force of the water that was thrown onto the deck by the explosion.  He continued: -

Most of the people made for the lounge, and there was not so much excitement onboard as might have been expected under the trying circumstances.  The people were quite calm and well behaved.  Shortly after I had been knocked off my seat there was a rush for the lifeboats and lifebelts because the ship appeared to be sinking fast.  She remained afloat for about eight minutes.

Someone had shouted out "All out of the lifeboats; the ship is all right, she won't sink."  Just at that time I was on the edge of a lifeboat, and in the act of shoving it off.  I came back on deck, and a few minutes afterwards there was another awful explosion and the decks from above began to fall upon the passengers, and the boat began to sink rapidly.  It sank four minutes water.

I got a lifebelt and remained on deck until the boat went under the water.  I was carried down by the suction of the vessel, and was under the water for what seemed to me to be a long time.  On coming to the surface, I got hold of a log, and clung on to it for fully a quarter of an hour before I was picked up by one of the lifeboats and afterwards taken to a fishing vessel.

There was a number of people struggling and moaning in the water and mothers crying for their children.  I saw one of the lifeboats fall from the derricks a distance of some 60 feet.  It was full of woman and children and capsized.  Most of the occupants were drowned.  I saw two babies about three years of age floating on the water dead.

Mr. Aiston also said that after the ship was struck, someone shouted “Here's a ship coming to our assistance”, and the passengers commenced to clap their hands with joy.  Unfortunately there was no ship there.

He was full of praise for the treatment and kindness given to all the survivors after being landed at Queenstown, but had lost all his belongings except for £2 in money and some papers.  He also stated that although some people had spoken of suffocating fumes having been emitted from the torpedo, he himself had not detected any.

In the summer of 1915, he applied for financial assistance to The Lusitania Relief Fund, which had been set up after the disaster by The Lord Mayor of Liverpool and other worthy dignitaries, to help those survivors and relatives of the dead, who found themselves in difficulties as a result of the sinking.  The committee administering the fund declined to make any payment to him, finding that he was in full-time employment with Armstrong’s, and therefore not in need of assistance.

Joe later enlisted in the British Army, joining the Essex Regiment, and served in Palestine.

Joseph married Susan Dinah Maund in Worcester in 1923; who was his sister-in-law!  Joseph’s brother William was married to Susan’s sister Emma!  He settled with his wife and daughter, named Marjorie, in Worcestershire, England.

Joe Aiston died on 3rd March 1974 at Pershore, Worcestershire.  He was aged 88 years.  He was buried in St. Edmunds Churchyard, Stoulton, Worcestershire.  His wife died in 1992, and is interred with him.

Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 - 1957, Liverpool Records Office, Cunard Records, Gateshead Evening Mail, Illustrated Chronicle, Newcastle Daily Chronicle, Graham Maddocks, Sue Hancock, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.

Copyright © Peter Kelly

Joseph Aiston



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