James, known as ‘Jarvie’ or ‘Jarrie’ Aitken, was born in Merritt, British Columbia, Canada, in late 1912 or early 1913, the son of Mr. and Mrs. James Aitken. His father was also known as ‘Jarvie’. The family had originally come from Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland.
In 1912, before he was born, his grandfather Jim Aitken and his aunt Chrissie had joined his parents in Merritt. However, in 1914, young Jarvie’s mother had died and as his grandfather had developed a heart condition, in the spring of 1915, it was decided that the family would return home to Edinburgh and to Davidson’s Mains, where Jarvie junior’s great aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. William M. Marshall still lived.
As a result, second cabin passage was booked for the family party, which consisted of Jarvie junior, his grandfather, his father, and his aunt, on the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, to sail from New York to Glasgow, Lanarkshire, in Scotland. However, at about the same time as the family were setting out from Merritt for the last time, the Admiralty requisitioned the Cameronia for use as a troop ship and the family was transferred instead to the much more luxurious Lusitania which was scheduled to sail to Liverpool. They all joined her at the Cunard berth, at Pier 54, in time for her sailing, which commenced just after mid-day on 1st May 1915.
It must have seemed to the family that they had got a much better deal out of their transfer to the
Lusitania, but it proved not to be, as six days later, with the vessel only hours away from her Liverpool destination, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20. Only Chrissie Aitkin survived the sinking, the others, including Jarvie junior, were killed.
He was aged only two or three years and as his body was never recovered and identified afterwards, he has no known grave. From the family party, only the body of his grandfather, Jim Aitken was taken from the sea and later buried in Queenstown.
Cunard Records, Chris Doncaster, Edinburgh Evening News, Liverpool Record Office, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, Sunday Express, Surrey Comet, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly