Florence Gertrude Burke was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on the 17th August 1884, the only child of John and Florence Burke (née Leftwich).
Shortly after her birth, her father went to the United States of America, presumably to find work and a suitable place for his wife and daughter to live, and in February 1885, Florence and her mother crossed the Atlantic ocean to join him; The family didn’t remain there for very long, as by 1901, they had returned London, from where her parents originally came from, and they took up residence for a time at 120. Clapham Road, Lambeth. In 1897, John Burke, who was a publican, and also an athlete in his day, died. The family were residing at 12. Clitheroe Road, Clapham, Surrey, at this time, and John Burke was reported to have died at the ‘Bellvue Hotel’ in Cheltenham, although it is not known if he was a guest at the hotel, or working there. He left an estate of £1,478-10s.-6d. (£1,478.52½p), a considerable sum of money for that time, to his widow. Later, Florence and her mother went to live in Brighton on the south coast of England, where her mother kept a boarding house at 29-30 Cannon Place.
On the 12th August 1903, Florence married Herbert Eli Armitage at St. George’s, the parish church of Bloomsbury in the London borough of Camden. Herbert’s family owned a large clothing manufacturing factory in Shepley, Yorkshire. Florence’s mother married again in 1905, her second husband being Alfred Martin, and Florence and her husband were the witnesses. The ceremony took place in the same church that Florence and Herbert Armitage had taken their wedding vows. Her mother’s happiness was short-lived; however, when Alfred Martin died in 1907.
Florence moved with her husband to Shepley, Yorkshire, where his family’s business was located, and her widowed mother went to live with them. Florence and Herbert did not have any children.
On 27th November 1914, she arrived in New York aboard the Lusitania to visit friends. Curiously, on the passenger manifest, she declared that she was widowed although it is known that her husband was alive at that time, and only died in 1940! It seems very likely they were estranged at this time. While in New York City, she stayed at the Knickerbocker Hotel with a Mrs. Bancroft.
In the spring of 1915 she decided to return to England, war and as a consequence, booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the
Lusitania, which was scheduled to leave New York at 10.00 a.m. on 1st May 1915. Travelling with her was William Bancroft, a son of her friend. It is possible that they were cousins.
Arriving at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 on that morning, she had to wait until the early afternoon before the liner sailed as she had to embark passengers crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner the S.S.
Cameronia which was taken up for war service at the end of April by the British Admiralty.
Six days later, Florence Armitage lost her life after the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the coast of southern Ireland and within hours of her Liverpool destination.
As her body was never recovered and identified afterwards, she has no known grave. She was aged 30 years when she lost her life, although she gave her age on boarding the
Lusitania as being 27 years! William Bancroft also lost his life in the sinking.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Probate Records, Cunard Records, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, PRO BT 100/345, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, UniLiv. D92/2/3, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly