Henry Birchall was born in Boothstown, a little village near Salford, Manchester, Lancashire, England, in 1890, the son of Peter and Martha Birchall (née Green). In 1897, his mother died and his father remarried the following year. His family home address in 1915 was at 1, Brindle Street, Tyldesley Road, Manchester, Lancashire, England.
In 1910, he immigrated to the United States of America and settled in Cle Elum, near Roslyn, Kittitas County, in Washington State, where he found work in the coal mines.
In the spring of 1915, he decided to return home, maybe for patriotic reasons connected with the Great War, although it is thought more likely in order to get married.
Consequently, he booked second cabin passage on the Lusitania's May sailing from New York to Liverpool and having left Roslyn at the end of April, he boarded the liner on the morning of 1st May 1915 at her berth at Pier 54 in New York in time for her scheduled 10.00 a.m. departure. Also travelling from Roslyn was Mrs. Mary Lambie and her two daughters. Henry Birchall must have been acquainted with the Lambie family as he was entrusted with escorting the family on their journey. Mrs. Lambie was suffering from ill-health at this time, which may have been a consideration.
They had to wait until just after mid-day for the liner to actually set sail, because she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Lines vessel Anchor Lines vessel the S.S.
Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war service as a troop ship at the end of April.
While on board, he made the acquaintance of Cyril Wallace from Northumberland, who was returning to England to enlist in the British Army, and they socialised together during the course of the journey.
Then, six days out of New York, on the afternoon of 7th May, the Lusitania
was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, off The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland, only hours away from her destination.
Henry Birchall was one of just over 225 second cabin passengers who managed to survive the sinking, possibly because he was able to get into one of the few lifeboats which were successfully launched from the ship before she foundered. Having been rescued from the sea, he was then landed at Queenstown, from where he eventually made it to his Manchester destination. However, Mrs. Lambie and her two daughters were lost in the sinking.
Cyril Wallace also survived the sinking, received a commission in the British Army, and later died while serving in France.
Henry married Mary Edmondson in late 1915 in Leigh, Lancashire. Their first three children – James A., Frank, and Mary, were born in Tyldesley, and then, in 1919, the entire family moved to Cle Elum, where two more children - Clara Elizabeth, and Peter, were born. Henry bought property in and around Cle Elum and continued to work in the coal mines.
Henry was killed when he was run over and crushed by a rail car in a coal mine he was working in on the 15th December 1926. He was aged 36 years. His remains were interred in Laurel Hill Memorial Park, and he left an estate of $1,440 to his widow and children.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1920 U.S. Federal Census, Cunard Records, IWM GB62, UniLiv D92/2/49, UniLiv D92/2/244, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly