Mary Buchanan was born in Slamannan, Stirlingshire, Scotland, in 1889, the second daughter of Robert and Allison Buchanan (née Young), and the fourth eldest of six children. Her father was a coal miner who died when Mary was quite young. The family home in 1915 was at ‘Stratton House‘.
In 1913, Mary’s older sister, Allison, travelled to the United States of America and found work in The Merchant Hotel, Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Mary, who was a trained nurse, joined her in 1914 and found employment as a private nurse for Herman Van Loan Meigs, at Hillside, near Laurel Locks in North Coventry Township, Chester County. She lived in the Meigs home.
Then, in April 1915, Mary decided to permanently return home and volunteer as a nurse to assist in the war effort, and as a consequence, she booked passage back to Scotland on the Anchor Liner
Cameronia. This vessel was then requisitioned by the British Admiralty for use as a troop ship and she was transferred instead to the
Lusitania, waiting at the Cunard berth at Pier 54, and allocated second cabin passage. Mary Buchanan must have probably thought that her upgrade to a much better ship was a stroke of good fortune.
However, her luck ran out, when six days out of New York, on the afternoon of 7th May, and within sight of the coast of southern Ireland, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20. At that time, she was only about 250 miles away from her Liverpool destination. Mary Buchanan was killed as a result of this action. She was aged 26 years.
Her body was recovered from the sea, however and landed at Queenstown, and taken to the temporary mortuary set up in the yard of the Cunard office at Lynch’s Quay. on the waterfront. Once there, it was given the reference number 3, which shows that it was amongst the first to be recovered.
Once it had been positively identified, it was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, just outside the town, in Mass Grave A, Second Row, Lower Tier. It was on this day that most of the recovered bodies of the victims of the sinking were buried, after a long funeral procession which began at Lynch’s Quay.
After the sinking, her mother, and her brother, Robert, and one of her sisters travelled to Queenstown and may have been present at her funeral. Whilst there, her brother took charge of property recovered from the body, which may have aided its identification.
On board the Lusitania, Mary Buchanan shared a cabin with fellow Scottish women, Mrs. Arabella Bryce, and mother and daughter, Mrs. Mary and Miss Nina Tierney. Only Arabella Bryce survived!
Her brother, Robert, served as 4313 private Robert Buchanan with the 14th (County of London) Regiment (London Scottish) and died of wounds on the 2nd July 1916 while serving on the Western Front. His remains are interred in Couin British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.
1891 Census of Scotland, 1901 Census of Scotland, Cunard Records, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Falkirk Herald, New York Times, The Mercury, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv D92/2/182, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.