Agnes Maud 'Aggie' Veals was born Agnes Maud Bailey in Clifton, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, in 1888, the daughter of Charles James and Annie Bailey. She had three siblings, but by 1911, two had died. He father was an accountant, but by the 1890’s he was manufacturing bicycles and later became a dealer in bicycles and mail carts. She also had a least one half-brother, named Frederick Richard Bailey.
On the 14th October 1909, Aggie married Albert Edward ‘Bert’ Veals, who also lived in Clifton.
In 1912, they decided to immigrate to the United States of America and had initially intended to sail on the maiden voyage of the White Star liner
Titanic. A business delay prevented them from joining the liner, however, and they were able to escape being involved in two of the greatest maritime disasters of the century. Instead, they later sailed to America on the S.S. Cedric of the same shipping line.
When they got to America, Bert got a job as a draughtsman for The Great Central Railroad, before going to East Orange, New Jersey, where he had relatives. He 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 got a job as a collector in the real estate department of The Ballantine Brewery.
Bert never took to the summer climate there, however, and in early 1915, the couple decided to return to Bristol, and Fred Bailey decided to travel with them. They all booked as third class passengers on what turned out to be the
Lusitania's final voyage, without telling relatives in England, as they wanted to surprise them by their return.
When the liner was torpedoed, Fred was not with them and he survived by sliding down the side of the ship into the sea and hanging on to an upturned lifeboat, before he was eventually picked up.
Bert and Aggie Veals were on deck when the torpedo struck, and twenty four years later Bert related their story to a reporter of
The Bath and Wilts Chronicle and Herald which was published in the edition of 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 told this story in May 1915, in a letter written to his relatives back in East Orange, and parts of his letter were later published in the local newspaper,
The Orange Advertiser. They told of what happened to them after they had been landed at Queenstown.
"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 (sic.) 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.
Because no-one in England knew that the Veals or Fred Bailey were on board the
Lusitania, no-one worried about them until relatives in East Orange, cabled Bert Veals’ parents to tell them that the Veals were missing and suggested that they 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 Aggie Veals surname to be
Veale; however, all other records clearly demonstrate that this was an error.
After their arrival home, Bert joined the British Army but didn’t serve overseas and survived the War. Aggie Veals died on the 21st November 1924 in Bristol, aged 39 years. Her husband remarried, although details of his second marriage are unknown.
Bert Veals died on the 16th October 1965 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, aged 81 years.
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, Orange Advertiser, Western Daily Press, Graham Maddocks, Stuart Williamson, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly