Albert Edward 'Bert' Veals was born in Clifton, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, on the 4th December 1883, the son of William and Ellen Veals (née Winnett). On the 14th October 1909, he married local girl, Agnes Maud Bailey, known as 'Aggie'.
In 1912, the couple decided to immigrate to the United States of America, and remarkably, had intended to sail on the maiden voyage of the White Star liner
Titanic. Only a business delay prevented them from joining the liner for what would be her only voyage and instead they later sailed on the
Cedric of the same shipping line. Thus they avoided taking part in two of Britain's greatest maritime disasters of the twentieth century.
When they got to America, Bert Veals worked as a draughtsman for The Great Central Railroad, before going to East Orange New Jersey, where he had a brother, named Nelson Veals. Bert and Aggie set up home at 37, Ward Street, where they were later joined by Aggie's half-brother Frederick W. ‘Fred’ Bailey. Bert Veals later obtained a job as a collector in the real estate department of The Ballantine Brewery.
He never took to the summer climate there, however and in early 1915, he decided to return to Bristol with his wife, and Fred Bailey decided to accompany them. They all booked as third class passengers on what would be the
Lusitania's final trans-Atlantic crossing without telling relatives in Bristol, as they wanted to surprise them. Despite suffering the consequences of the sinking, all three were lucky enough to survive.
Bert Veals related his story twenty four years later to a reporter of The Bath and Wilts Chronicle and Herald and the article was published on 5th May 1939. In it he said: -
"Up to the afternoon of 7th May, we had the most enjoyable trip it is possible to imagine. We had only a few minutes before coming up from dinner, and were looking to sea, laughing and chatting when one of the party said to my late wife, 'Look, Mrs. Veals, there's a porpoise.'. The minute I saw it I knew the 'porpoise' was the periscope of a submarine and the next second the torpedo was on its way towards us.
It left a little white trail behind it, and, in about four seconds, I should say, it struck the ship, six or eight feet to the left of where I was standing. The outline of the torpedo was clearly visible as I looked over the side, fascinated, my brain being unable to realise the truth of the thing.
What happened in the next few seconds I can hardly tell; there was a most awful explosion. I know I grabbed my wife and it seemed as if the whole ocean was being poured on us. We were drenched to the skin immediately and, as the spray cleared away, we scrambled up to the boat deck and, seeing a boat with only a few people in it, I threw my wife in, much against her will, for she did not want to part from me.
There was a now a big list on the ship, causing a gap of about four feet to the boat, but somehow or other, I managed to half sling and half throw women and children across the gap, where the boys in the boat caught them and dragged them in.
For some reason or other, there was no other fellow near to help me, and, as the last woman was got in and the ship began to sink more rapidly, I jumped in, and only just in time. The blocks were barely unhooked from the davits when the whole of the stern of the vessel lifted in the air and we were nearly crushed as one of the fellows caught the stays and pushed us out from under it.
The next second the boilers burst and, out through that very funnel came, it seemed, tons and tons of the most inky black water one can imagine. Although we were all blackened, we were still afloat amidst the most terrible din of screaming men, women and children.
Even now our troubles were not over, for we fouled the wireless aerial as the masts went under, and a man yelled out that we were making water fast and that he could not find the plug. I gave him my cap to stop it a little, and just after he found the plug and got it in all right.
We had about 83 people in the boat, and were down to the edge in the water, and afraid of being pulled under by those in the water, but we managed to get the oars out and pulled away to a boat that had broken away and transferred 25 from our boat. Then we went back and picked up a few more, but the despairing cries of men, women and children gradually ceased as the desperately cold water stilled them for ever. I was terrible and heart rending to have to pull away, but there was not room for another person in our already overloaded boat.
After two hours of rowing, a fishing boat picked us up but in the meantime, one poor fellow who we pulled out of the water died. After another hour and a half, a paddle steamer took us on board and we reached Queenstown at 9.45 p.m. (seven hours afterwards), so numbed with cold and wet that we could hardly move.
He had already related this story in May 1915 in a letter written to his relatives in East Orange, New Jersey, and parts of his letter were published in the local newspaper,
The Orange Advertiser. They told the end of his and Aggie's ordeal: -
"We were received with great kindness, everyone being met by a soldier or sailor and escorted to one hotel or another and given every attention it was possible to give under the circumstances. Soldiers lined the streets to keep the crowds back.
We were mighty glad to get a piece of solid ground under our feet once more, but our happiest moment was to come, for the very first fellow we set eyes on in the hotel to which the sailor who met us, took us, was Fred Bailey, (Mrs. Veale's brother); it seemed hardly credible. His adventures were less than ours but much harder, for he went down with the ship with hundreds of others, and was clinging to an overturned boat for some three hours before being picked up by a mine sweeper, reaching Queenstown about an hour before us.
Next morning we all had to get some new clothes; I had to take Aggie and a young lady friend in borrowed night gowns to the stores to get some clothes for which the Cunard Line I suppose will pay. Of course everything was lost but there are many worse off than ourselves and to help the fund for those survivors, the three of us are appearing at the Globe Theatre this week, and last night received the most rousing reception it is possible to imagine, and when we took the collection, the people were clambering over their seats to shake hands with us, especially Aggie, several ladies kissing her.
There was no panic on board, and the ladies were as good as the men and sang "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" in our boat until one poor fellow who we pulled out of the water died, and that sort of dampened everyone's spirits. I could tell you many tales of individual pluck by both men and women ..... but must say that the whole thing need never have happened. Why had we no protection? We were in a war zone. Why were we only going fifteen knots an hour on a beautiful clear calm afternoon? Why were there eight or ten torpedo boats and mine sweepers and at least two cruiser in Queenstown Harbour, three hours sail away, (or near there)? They know the submarine or submarines were out there waiting for us and had been for some day or so. Why did the Lusitania have all her port holes open? Why were the plugs out of all the boats? (Two sinking full of people) Why did we keep in the same course when the captain had been warned there were submarines about there and everyone in Queenstown knew it, and many other 'whys'?
Somebody is to blame, but who, and will they ever be punished?"
Because no-one in England realised that the Veals and Fred Bailey were on board the Cunarder, no-one worried about them at first, but when no news of their survival had reached East Orange, Bert Veals’ parents were cabled in England to expect the worse and to travel to Queenstown to identify any bodies that might be recovered. Fortunately, before this course of action needed to be taken, news of their survival was announced.
Official Cunard records published in March 1916 indicated that the spelling of Bert Veals surname to be
Veale; however, all other records clearly demonstrate that this was an error.
In December 1915, Bert Veals joined the British Army and served in England and Ireland before being finally discharged in 1919. He was promoted to the rank of lance corporal, and was a signalling instructor.
On his return to civilian life, he managed a cinema for thirteen years before taking over the licence of
The Beehive Inn at Carlingcott, near Bath, in Somerset. In 1935, he took over
The Wagon and Horses at Peasedown, in the same area.
On the 21st November 1924, his wife, Aggie, died in Bristol, aged 38 years, and it is known that Bert remarried, but no details of this second marriage are known.
Bert Veals died on the 16th October 1965 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, aged 81 years. At the time of his death, his address was given as ‘Heathdene’, 33. Westbrook Road, Weston-super-Mare. He left an estate of £3,496, but the beneficiaries are not known.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1911 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Bath and Wilts Chronicle and Herald, Cunard Records, Newark Evening Star, Joe Devereux, Orange Advertiser, Western Daily Press, Probate Records, Graham Maddocks, Stuart Williamson, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly