John Percival Booth-Jones, always known as ‘Percival’, was born in Bowden, Cheshire, England, 1909, the son of Edward and Millichamp Booth-Jones (née Percival), initially of The Old Cottage, Richmond Road, Bowden, and later of Old Palace Terrace, The Green, Richmond, Surrey. His mother's maiden name was Percival, so he was presumably named after this. He had a sister Ailsa, born in late 1906.
Percival’s father was a dealer in antiques and in October 1914, the family had accompanied him on business to the United States of America. They stayed at the home of Dr. and Mrs. P.A. McCarthy of 136, Price Street, Germanstown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and for their return home to England in the spring of 1915, Percival’s father had booked second cabin passage for them all on the May sailing of the
Lusitania, which was scheduled to leave her berth at Pier 54 in New York, at 10.00 a.m., on 1st May 1915. Having arrived at the berth in good time for this sailing, the family had to wait with all the other passengers and crew until just after mid-day, before the liner actually sailed. This was because she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war service as a troop ship, at the end of April.
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, about 250 miles away from her destination. The Booth-Jones family was wiped out as a result of this action. Percival Booth-Jones was aged only 4 years at the time of his death.
After news of the disaster reached North Wales, his uncle, Mr. Griffiths Jones of Rhos-on-Sea went to Queenstown to search for the children, who were at first believed to have survived. Pathetically, he inserted the following advertisement in the
Cork Examiner of Tuesday 11th May: -
SURVIVORS OF THE LUSITANIA
Wanted, any information regarding a girl eight years of age, light golden hair, blue eyes, nice complexion, very pretty, believed to be wearing blue dress, named Ailsa Booth Jones. Also a boy aged five, short black hair, short stature, rather thin face, named Percival Booth Jones. Believed to have been rescued from the 'Lusitania'. Any information that will lead to their recovery will be gratefully received.
Imperial Hotel, Queenstown.
It was thought at one point that one of the children had been saved but this survivor turned out to be a baby named Nigel Frederick Booth, who was not related to the family at all.
Only the bodies of his mother and sister were recovered from the sea and later buried. That of Percival and his father were never recovered and identified. They were nevertheless commemorated on the grave of Percival's mother and sister in The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown. The inscription on the headstone, which is very weathered and indistinct, reads: -
"TOGETHER IN LIFE, IN DEATH
THEY ARE NOT DIVIDED"
IN LOVING MEMORY
MILLICHAMP LETTON BOOTH JONES
AND HER DAUGHTER
WHO TOGETHER WITH HER HUSBAND
EDWARD BOOTH JONES
AND SON PERCIVAL
LOST THEIR LIVES ON THE
S.S. "LUSITANIA" MAY 7TH 1915.
The Scarborough Mercury for 11th June 1915 told a story which might have explained what happened to Percival Booth-Jones and his father, however. It stated: -
As reported some time previously the bodies of Mrs. Booth Jones and her little daughter, victims of the Lusitania crime were found and interred, and it was stated that the body of Mr. Booth Jones ..... had also been found, but this, it was discovered later, was a mistake.
Hence his body and that of the little boy have not been recovered but a pathetic incident of the child is told by one of the stewards. He states that shortly after he came to the surface he saw “a dear little fellow” in the water close to him. He got hold of him and lifted him on to a plank which (the steward) was holding on to. He was a bright little fellow, but the little chap kept crying. The steward tried to pacify him, and “to this I think I owe my own life as talking to him and trying to comfort him made me forget my own trouble.”
A gentleman drifted by, and with a smile said the child was his boy. The steward said the boy was all right, and asked the man if he could take him. “I’m afraid not,” was the reply, “but do your best to get him ashore, and good luck to you.” The steward continued to talk to the boy, “and the father, for about ten minutes longer, hung on close to me, and then all at once he seemed to go to sleep, and up went his arms and he died. He continued to float close to me all the afternoon. I kept the boy for two hours after that but I could not keep life in him. He gradually faded away in my arms and the sea was washing over the pair of us.”
When there was no hope of life, he kissed the child and the latter sank. The steward recognised from photographs, the man and boy as being Mr. Booth Jones and his son.
The family is also commemorated on a large memorial on the family grave in St. Asaph's, The Parish Church of Rhos-on-Sea, Clwyd. The monument itself is in white stone, with cast bronze figures forming the centre piece, with family details inscribed on bronze panels on its base. The details relevant to those lost on the ship state: -
ALSO IN MEMORY OF EDWARD BOOTH
......... WHO WITH HIS WIFE AND TWO
CHILDREN WERE DROWNED IN THE
LUSITANIA MAY 15 1915
The date of the sinking is obviously wrong and should read MAY 7th 1915.
The Imperial Hotel, where Percival Booth-Jones' uncle Griffiths stayed during his tragic visit, is still in existence today, but is now called The Atlantic Inn.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, The Cork Examiner, Cunard Lists, Ellis Island Records, Newcastle Daily Chronicle, North Wales Weekly, Philadelphia Public Ledger, Scarborough Mercury, Surrey Comet, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, UniLiv D92/2/390, UniLiv. PR13/6, Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News, The Welsh Coast Pioneer, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly