William ‘Willie’ Baxter is believed to have been born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England in 1909, the son of William and Annie Baxter, (née Ripley).
His parents formerly ran a post office and then a greengrocery shop in Worksop, but in 1912, they immigrated to Welland, Ontario, Canada, arriving on the 28th June on board the
His maternal grandmother, Mrs. George Ripley died in early 1915 and because of this, and possibly also because of the war, his mother and father decided to return to England in the spring of 1915 to look after his grandfather, who was a stove grinder, and lived at 155, Kilton Road, Worksop. As a consequence they booked second cabin passage on what turned out to be the
Lusitania’s final voyage across the Atlantic and boarded her before she left New York shortly after mid-day, on 1st May 1915.
When the liner was sunk, six days later, both male members of the Baxter family were killed and only Annie Baxter survived after four hours immersion in the sea. On her eventual return to Worksop, she described to a representative of local newspaper
The Worksop Times, her involvement in the incident and the last time she had seen her young son. This was then printed on Friday 14th May 1915 and stated: -
Mrs. Baxter says that 1.40 p.m., she and her husband and little son, Willie, the latter six years of age, were in the dining room , when the huge vessel was struck, right under their feet. The crash was terrific and the noise like thunder. All three of them came up on deck and calmly awaited their doom, hand in hand. Mrs. Baxter had an opportunity of getting into the women's boat, and was urged to do so, but stoutly refused, preferring to stay with her husband and child. There was no panic whatsoever.
There was, says Mrs. Baxter, a man standing beside them wearing a lifebelt and her husband asked him if he would transfer it to his wife, which he very promptly did, and it is doubtless due to this chivalrous act on the part of the unknown, that Mrs. Baxter's life was saved. "I do hope that gentleman was saved," pathetically said Mrs. Baxter to our representative. Although there was no panic, there was a rush for the lifeboats by some of the men, and her husband remarked to a few, "Be brave, be brave. What do you want to run to the lifeboats for? Give the women and children a chance."
A few minutes later, the vessel listed and all three, husband, wife and son slided (sic) down as it were, into the water together. Almost immediately afterwards, the doomed ship disappeared, and she could feel the suction of the water as it went under. When she looked round, - being kept up by the lifebelt - she could see nothing of her husband and son, neither of them had lifebelts ..... .
The bodies of Willie Baxter and his father were never recovered and identified afterwards and consequently, neither has a known grave. Willie Baxter was aged only six years.
Register of Births, Marriages & Deaths, 1911 Census of England & Wales, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, Cunard Records, Liverpool Echo, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, Worksop Guardian, UniLiv D92/2/11, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Lawrence Evans, Winifred Hull, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly