Barbara Winnifred Anderson was born in Derby, Connecticut, in the United States of America, on 15th June 1912, the daughter of Rowland and Emily Anderson (née Pybus).
In 1915, the family resided in New Haven, Connecticut, where her father was employed as a draughtsman with the Winchester Repeating Arms Co.
In the spring of 1915, Emily Anderson decided to return to England with Barbara to Darlington, to visit Barbara’s grandparents, who lived there at 2, High Terrace, High Nergate. The primary reason for her return to Darlington was because she was expecting her second child, and she wanted to have the support of her family towards the end of her pregnancy. Emily was also believed to have been suffering from tuberculosis. As a consequence, she booked second cabin passage for both herself and Barbara on the
Lusitania, which left New York for the final time just after mid-day on 1st May1915.
In a telephone interview with this author in 2005, Barbara recalled her memories of her time on board the
Lusitania. She recalled: -
I remember standing at a railing looking down at all the people, trying to see my father. I am sure he waved up to me. I also remember that my mother and I were in a room where one bed was above the other, and sitting at a table for two, opposite my mother, for our meals. I think it was on a balcony as I could see other people sitting at tables below us.
Due to her obviously young age at that time, Barbara stated that she had only brief images of these events, and did not remember very much about her time on board.
There is nothing to suggest that she had anything but an enjoyable and uneventful voyage until shortly after 2pm on Friday, 7th May, when the Lusitania 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.
In July 1998, Barbara Anderson, gave an interview which was later broadcast on United States News Channel 8, in which she stated: -
We just went flying out away from the table and out on the deck and the next thing I knew the first mate picked me up and tossed me into a life boat. My mother jumped and missed and they fished her out of the water.
The first mate was in fact Assistant Purser William Harkness, who was mentioned in the book
The Tragedy of the Lusitania, published privately in America not long after the disaster. Its author Captain Frederick D. Ellis reported: -
Assistant Purser W. Harkless (sic) busied himself helping others until the Lusitania was about to settle beneath the water. Then, seeing a lifeboat striking the water, one that was not overcrowded, he made a rush for it. The only person he encountered was little Barbara Anderson standing alone and clinging to the rail. Gathering her up in his arms, he leaped over the rail into the boat and this without injuring the child.
Having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, Barbara Anderson and her mother took a packet boat to Liverpool from where they eventually made it to Darlington.
On the 30th September 1915, Emily Anderson gave birth to a son, Frank R., who unfortunately died six months later on the 16th March 1916. She was not to outlive him for long, however, as she was one of the victims of the influenza pandemic which swept the world in 1917.
Following her mother’s death, Barbara, feeling very much alone, continued to live with her grandparents until after the war was over, after which she returned to her father in Connecticut, crossing the Atlantic for the second time, on the
Lusitania’s sister ship, Mauretania, in 1919, arriving on Christmas Day. By this time Rowland Anderson had re-married and was living with his second wife in New Haven, Connecticut.
In 1925, Barbara’s father, as her guardian, was awarded $10,000.00 by the Mixed Claims Commission, on her behalf, for the loss of her mother, and injuries suffered by her in the sinking.
Barbara enjoyed a normal childhood, and on graduating from High School, she secured employment at the W.T. Grant department store. She met, and in 1937 subsequently married, Milton McDermott, a doorman at the Taft Hotel, and had two children, a son named George, and a daughter named Elizabeth. As was usual at that time, she left her position with W.T. Grant to rear her family, but later returned to the company and rose to the position of personnel manager.
In 1974, Barbara returned to England for the first time since 1919, and although many of her relatives had died, she found her favourite Aunt Annie was still alive. She visited many of the areas that she was familiar with as a child, including the former home of her grandparents, which although now owned by another family, they welcomed her to view the house.
When W.T. Grant closed down, Barbara found employment at the East Lawn Cemetery, close to her home. When her husband died in 1981, she shared her home with a friend, who was also widowed, before moving to Wallingford, Connecticut, to the home of her daughter, Liz, and her family. She lived with her daughter until Christmas 2007, when, following a number of falls and contracting pneumonia, she entered the Skyview Nursing Home in Wallingford.
In her later life, Barbara often thought of her experiences on the ship but as she grew older and wanted to talk about it to someone who understood, she lamented the fact that her mother was long since dead and her father never wanted her to bring up the subject.
Barbara Anderson McDermott died on the 12th April 2008. She was a few months short of her 86th birthday. She was survived by her two children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her funeral service was held at the Old Stone Church in New Haven, where she worshipped for many years, and her remains interred beside her late husband in East Lawn Cemetery, where she worked for many years.
Barbara McDermott Anderson was the last survivor with first hand memories of the Lusitania. With her passing, the Lusitania story passed from eye-witness history, to recorded history!
U.S. Passport Applications 1795 – 1925, 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Barbara Anderson McDermott, Cunard Records, New York Passenger Lists 1820 - 1957, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 622, News Channel 8, Northern Echo, Tragedy of the Lusitania, Barbara Anderson McDermott, Geoff Chadwick, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Stuart Williamson, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly