Rosa “Rose” Holloway was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, in 1865, the daughter of John Holloway and his wife Rosa (née Jennings). She had two younger sisters – Alice Frances and Annie Adelaide. Her father was a publican and after completing her education, Rosa found work as a servant girl.
On the 19th August 1883, she married Thomas Gibbins in Birmingham, and the couple had two children – May and Thomas. Her husband was a general dealer and greengrocer at various times and was well known within his trade. Curiously, on the night that the 1901 Census of England was conducted, Rose was living with her married sister, Alice Nott, and her family, and was using her maiden name of Rosa Holloway, whereas on the same night, her husband and children were recorded as residing with her husband’s widowed father and brother. Perhaps she was estranged from her husband at this time, however, there is no evidence to suggest that they were permanently estranged.
In 1889, Rose’s mother died, and in 1892 her father married Mary Emma White. When he died on the 27th January 1905, he was the proprietor of the ‘Market Tap’, Lease Lane, Birmingham.
On the 28th January 1909, Thomas Gibbins died and Rose tried to continue her husband’s business for a while before she went to work as a waitress in the Queen’s Hotel. At this time she reverted to her maiden name of Rose Holloway.
Her sister, Annie, resided at The Flag Inn, Howe Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, where her husband, Arthur Walters, was the landlord, and she also had another sister married to a Mr. Lerner in New York City.
It is unknown when Rose first travelled to the United States of America, or when and how she came to meet with Lyndon Bird, who was a chef, and originally from Hednesford in Staffordshire, but who had moved to Birmingham with his family at a relatively young age. She may have encountered him either when she was working as a waitress, or when he was living in her locality, however; it is known that in 1909, Lyndon immigrated to New York City in the United States of America. He returned to England for a holiday in 1913, so perhaps it was then that they met, or made plans to get married.
On the 24th April 1914, Rose arrived in New York on board the Mauritania, having left Liverpool on the 18th April. She married Lyndon Bird, in Manhattan, New York, on the day following her arrival. Lyndon was aged 24 years, and although Rose stated her age as being 36 years at the time of their marriage, she was actually 49 years – over twice his age! Whether or not Lyndon was fully aware of her age is not known.
Rose Bird was always in indifferent health and returned to England in January 1915 to visit her family. Having spent almost three months in England, when it came time for her to return to her husband in New York, Rose travelled to Liverpool, boarded the
Lusitania on the 17th April and disembarked at New York on the 24th April where no doubt she was met by her husband.
According to a report in the Birmingham Daily Gazette newspaper on the 14th May 1915, it stated that while returning to New York, she was taken ill and advised to return to England, again on the
Lusitania, which was due to depart from New York on the 1st May. However; another explanation could be that her sister, Alice Nott, was found to be seriously ill and that Rose had decided to return to England immediately to be of assistance to her.
Whatever the reason, Rose’s husband asked his sister, Mrs. Mabel Surman, to accompany his wife on her journey home, agreeing to pay all her expenses, and to care for Mabel’s five children while she was away. It would appear that as soon as Mabel and Rose reached England, and made it to their destination, Mabel was to return to her family almost immediately, as she expected to be separated from her family for no more than three weeks.
Lyndon Bird secured second cabin passage for his wife and sister on the Cunard liner,
Lusitania, and the two women arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour in time for the vessel’s scheduled 10 o’clock departure for Liverpool on Saturday, 1st May. 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.
Six days later, the liner was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20. At that time, the steamer was within sight of the southern Irish coast and only hours away from her Liverpool destination. Neither of the ladies survived. Rose Bird was aged 49 years when she died, although her age was given as 39 years on the passenger manifest.
In a letter written by relatives to the Cunard offices on 21st May 1915, presumably hoping to identify Mrs. Rose, alive or dead, a description of her was given. It stated that she was: -
About 5 ft. 5 " tall, very thin, sallow complexion, black eyes and dark brown hair, wearing earrings - either brilliants or droopers of some dark stone. Probably wearing dress of dark blue serge with collars and cuffs of Scotch plaid, and waist of silk with embroidered small flower. On last two trips across was very weak and always took her meals in her cabin. Miss Morrow the Stewardess, could identify her if latter has survived. Shoes (low) of grey leather at ankles. A broad wedding ring, and probably two others, one opal ring.
Despite this very full description, no body matching it was ever recovered and identified and Mrs. Bird has no known grave. Stewardess Isabel Morrow did not survive either and was thus not able to help with any possible identification.
When Rose Bird’s will was proven at Birmingham on 13th September 1915, administration was granted to her son, Thomas Gibbins, described as a fruiterer, and her effects amounted to £165-13s-9d, (£165.68p).
Because she had been resident in America, her dependants were eligible to apply for financial recompense from The Mayor of New York’s Fund for The Relief of Lusitania Sufferers. In fact no application for assistance was made and the Mayor’s Committee stated: -
We heard of her in connection with her sister-in-law, Mrs. Mabel Surman.
It further stated that: -
her husband has a good position here ....
so he might not have been eligible for financial help anyway.
Rose’s sister, Mrs. Alice Nott, died in the latter end of 1915.
In relation to Lyndon Bird, he enlisted in the U.S. Army on the 8th December 1917, and served overseas in Europe with the American Expeditionary Force from 28th March 1918 until the 19th July 1919, gaining promotion to the rank of corporal along the way. He returned to the New York City, where he was demobilised on the 25th July 1919.
He went back to his trade of being a chef, working in various establishments and for private families, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1921. He never remarried, and made frequent visits back to England to visit family and friends, and also visited a number of other European countries. On the 21st November 1981, Lyndon Bird died in a retirement home in Cleveland, Ohio, at the age of 91 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England & Wales, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, New York Marriage Index 1877 – 1935, Cunard Records, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 2501, Liverpool Record Office, Probate Records, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv D92/2/358, UniLiv. PR13/6, New York Abstracts of World War I Military Service 1917 -1919, U.S. Social Security Death Index 1935 – 2010, Birmingham Daily Gazette, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly