Thomas Leonard Baldwin was born in Conderton, near Tewkesbury, Worcester, Worcestershire, England, on 2 April 1888, the eldest of nine children born to Charles and Emma Baldwin.
He was brought up in Bromborough, Cheshire, and although he maintained his links with the town, he lived at 12 Empire Street, Bootle, Lancashire with his wife Ethel (née Hunt), whom he married in 1912.
Before he went to sea, he worked at Bromborough Hall, the home of Sir William B Forwood, a director of the Cunard Steam Ship Company. Through this connection, Thomas Baldwin was found a berth on the RMS Carmania and after serving on her for five months he was transferred to the Lusitania. He then sailed on her for nearly 90 trips across the Atlantic as a first class waiter and assistant smoke room steward in the Stewards' Department.
He engaged for her final voyage at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 as a first class waiter in the Stewards’ Department at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d, (£4.25) and reported for duty at 7am on the morning of 17 April, before the vessel left Liverpool Landing Stage for the last time. Having served on the liner as she made her way across the Atlantic Ocean to New York he was on board when she left there on what would become her last ever voyage towards Liverpool, just after noon on 1 May 1915. Six days later, on the afternoon of 7 May, the liner was torpedoed and sunk off The Old Head of Kinsale, in southern Ireland, by the German submarine
Waiter Baldwin survived this sinking however and having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he eventually made it back to Liverpool. In an interview with a representative of the 'Birkenhead News and Advertiser', which was published in the edition of 22 May 1915, Waiter Baldwin described how on the Friday afternoon of the sinking, lunch had just finished and he was preparing to set the tables for dinner, when he felt a terrific bump, followed by a loud explosion. He continued:
I guessed immediately what had happened and ran out to see if it was serious. The boats were being filled with women and children right away and lowered. Before a great deal could be done we had a heavy list to starboard which made the launching of more boats most dangerous. The time rapidly came when it was everyone for himself, and when I made a dive for it there were hundreds struggling in the water.
I swam away as quickly as possible knowing quite well that when the ship made her final plunge her suction would be tremendous. I was about 40 yards away when I ventured to tread water and so view the last of our ship. But for the horrible sight of people struggling and the thunderous roar of bursting boilers, etc., the spectacle was really a magnificent one.
Whilst taking a last view of the 'Lucy' I saw a woman sucked down one of the funnels of the ship and then a terrible explosion occurred, and the woman was shot out a considerable distance as though she had been shot out of a cannon. She was picked up like a piece of coal but I believe she survived.
This woman was recently married second cabin passenger Mrs Margaret Gwyer, who was afterwards picked out of the sea and although blackened with soot from her ordeal, nevertheless survived to be landed at Queenstown and eventually reach England. Thomas Baldwin’s account continued:
Another grand sight was seen whilst the ship's nose was entering the water. I noticed a man standing on the topmost point of the ship's stern without clothes. Placing his hands above his head he gracefully dived into the water from a great height - truly a remarkable feat. The propellers were shining like gold, and one was still ticking slowly round. Apparently the engine had not altogether stopped.
I had been swimming about for a period of 20 minutes, and I might tell you it seemed like hours to me. Finally I managed to cling to a passing boat to which a pal of mine was hanging. We shouted out and were pulled into the boat, which had already 80 survivors. We were all transferred to a sailing boat but had not been on board for very long when an officer called out for a volunteer crew to take the lifeboat over. I readily volunteered, although feeling very much exhausted. We started to row back to the wreck, which was about three miles away, but were taken in tow by a steamship called the Indian Empire, and did rescue work until all were taken out, both dead and alive.
Apart from being shaken and sustaining a slight injury to his neck, Waiter Baldwin was none the worse for his experience.
Eventually he was officially paid off at Cunard’s Water Street offices in Liverpool from the
Lusitania’s final voyage - his period of service being reckoned from 17 April until 8 May, 24 hours after the liner was sunk. The balance of wages owing to him amounted to £4-9s-6d, (£4.47).
Thomas Baldwin continued to work on Cunard’s transatlantic liners until his retirement in 1952 or 1953. He served on the Aquitania, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth II, and eventually relocated with his family to Southampton, from where the liners operated out of, with the decline of Liverpool port.
Thomas Baldwin died in Southampton, England, in 1955, aged 67 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Birkenhead News, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 350.