Robert William Blythyn was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England in 1874, the son of William and Jane Blythyn. He was educated at St Mary’s School in Waverley Street, Bootle, after which he became a professional seaman in the Mercantile Marine, serving on the Cunarders, Lucania and Carmania, before serving on the
He was married to Mary Thompson Blythyn (née Fergusson) and they lived at 22 Bank Road, Bootle, Liverpool. They had two sons who also served at sea with the Cunard Steam Ship Company; Robert James Blythyn, born in 1902 and William Blythyn, born in 1905. They also had daughters named Mary and Hilda, and another son, named John.
Robert William Blythyn engaged as a Smokeroom steward in the Steward's Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 at a monthly rate of pay of £4-5s-0d (£4.25) and joined the vessel at 7am on 17 April, before she sailed out of the River Mersey for the last time. It was not the first time that he had served on the vessel.
Having successfully completed the liner’s voyage to New York, he was on board when she left the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour just after midday on 1 May Six days out of New York the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of southern Ireland, by the German submarine
U-20, only some 12 to 14 hours away from her home port. Robert Blythyn was killed as a result of this action. He was aged 40 years.
His body was not recovered from the sea and identified afterwards and as a consequence he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London. He is also commemorated on the municipal war memorial in Stanley Road, Bootle, Merseyside. His name is not on one of the bronze panels on the main memorial, but on a semi-circular wall around it, where later additions are displayed. He is also originally commemorated on a roll of honour in the main hall of St Mary’s School, Bootle. The memorial takes the form of a glazed brass plaque set in a wooden frame and the inscription on it states: -
TO THE MEMORY OF THE OLD
BOYS OF THIS SCHOOL WHO
LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES DURING
THE EUROPEAN WAR 1914-1919.
THEY FOUGHT THE GOOD FIGHT
DYING IN THE CAUSE OF HUMANITY
THAT HONOUR MIGHT LIVE
Beneath the names of 59 former pupils and one former assistant master is then written:
THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED
BY PAST AND PRESENT SCHOLARS
AND SYMPATHETIC FRIENDS
Since it was originally unveiled another eight names have been added, presumably of casualties who were overlooked at first. None of them is a victim of the
Administration of Robert William Blythyn’s estate was granted to his widow Mary on 26 June 1915 and his effects amounted to £237-0s-0d, a large amount for a ship’s steward, in 1915. In August she also received the balance of wages owed to him in respect of his service on the Lusitania from 17 April until 8 May 1915, 24 hours after the ship had gone down.
After the sinking his daughter Mary Blythyn met George Knill, who had been a 16 year old scullery man on board the
Lusitania’s final fateful voyage and they fell in love and eventually married. Knill had never actually met Mary Blythyn’s father whilst on board - hardly surprising considering that there were nearly 700 crew members on board on her final voyage and a scullery man would have little opportunity to socialise with a Smokeroom steward.
Older son Robert James Blythyn served as a first class waiter on the Lusitania’s
sister ship the Aquitania, the Carmania the second Mauritania and later the giant Cunarder
Queen Mary. Younger son William Blythyn served as a saloon steward on the
Ascania, the Britannic, the Parthia, the Carinthia
and the Media.
As late as August 1955, another world war later, a male member of the Blythyn family, a Mr H Blythyn, applied to the Public Trustee Office in Kingsway, London, to see if the family was entitled to any form of compensation from The National Distress Relief Fund, in respect of Robert William Blythyn’s death on the Lusitania, forty years earlier.
The reply of the public trustee was simple: -
I have to acknowledge your letter, received this morning, and in reply to inform you that assistance from the above Fund was confined to the dependents of passengers.
As far as I am aware, claims from the dependents of members of the crew (were) dealt with by compensatory grants.
In point of fact, Mary Thompson Blythyn would have been eligible for compensation under The Workmen’s Compensation Act and it is inconceivable that she would not have applied for this at the time of her husband’s death. Also, The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted her a yearly pension to compensate her for the loss of her husband which amounted to £69-17s-7d (£69.88½) payable at the rate of £5-16s-6d (£5.82½) per month.
Mary Thompson Blythyn died in Liverpool in 1967, aged 90 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, NGMM DX 1055/1/13, Probate Records, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 334, UniLiv. PR 13/24.