William Edward Christian was born in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1896, the son of John Robert and Catherine ‘Katie’ Christian, (née Wade). His father was formerly employed as a compositor on the
Isle of Man Times. By the time of the Great War, however, John Christian had died and Katie had moved to Liverpool and re-married - her second husband being Henry Edward Wood, of Liverpool. In 1915, the family home was at 14 Priest Street, Liverpool, Lancashire.
William Christian engaged as Third Baker in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915 at a monthly rate of pay of £5-0s-0d., and reported for duty at 7 a.m. on 17th April, before the vessel left Liverpool for the last time.
Baker Christian was making his fourth voyage on the liner and also on board at the same time was his step-father Henry Wood, who was serving as an assistant pantry steward.
Having completed her last ever westward crossing of the Atlantic, on 24th April, the
Lusitania left New York on the early afternoon of 1st May 1915, for her return voyage to Liverpool. She never got there; however, for on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off The Old Head of Kinsale, only about twelve to fourteen hours away from the safety of her home port. William Christian was not amongst the survivors of this action.
He was aged 18 years, although when he engaged, he stated that he was 20! Also, in the
Particulars of Engagement ledger for the Lusitania’s last voyage, still held in The Public Record Office in Richmond, Surrey, England, his address is shown as 14
Greece Street, which shows that the scribe filling in all the details of engagement did not hear what was said to him properly!
Although Henry Wood’s body was recovered from the sea and later buried, no sign of William Christian’s was ever found and identified. Consequently, he is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing of the Mercantile Marine at Tower Hill London.
According to an article in the Manx newspaper The Mona's Herald of 12th May 1915, which referred to Third Baker William Christian: -
His step father, Mr. W. Wood of Liverpool was also employed on the ship and no word has been received about him up to the present.
However, this should have read Mr. H.E. Wood, which is confirmed by an entry in the Births, Marriages and Deaths column in
The Liverpool Echo for Saturday 15th May 1915, which states: -
WOOD - Lost by the sinking of the Lusitania, Henry Edward Wood and William Edward Christian, dearly beloved husband and son of Katie Wood, 14, Priest Street, Liverpool. (In the midst of life we are in death).
Despite his being born in Douglas, Isle of Man, he is not remembered on the town's war memorial which is situated on the sea front on Douglas Bay. This is probably because his family had left the island before the war.
He is, however, commemorated on the family grave in St. Brendan’s churchyard at nearby Kirk Braddan. The headstone is made of sandstone and pointed at the top with a column either side, and a white marble tablet set against it. The whole memorial is very weathered and the inscription, which is barely readable, states: -
ALSO OF WILLIAM EDWARD
SON OF CATHERINE
AND THE LATE JOHN R. CHRISTIAN
WHO WAS LOST IN THE R.M.S. LUSITANIA
7TH MAY 1915, AGED 18 YEARS.
One can only imagine how Katie Wood must have been affected by losing her husband and son in the same incident. In August 1915, she received from Cunard, the balance of pay owed to her husband and son in respect of their service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage. This was reckoned to be from 17th April 1915 until 8th May - 24 hours after the liner had actually gone down. In addition, The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted her a yearly pension that amounted to £34-1s-0d. (£34.05p.) per year, payable at the rate of £2-16s-9d. (£2.84½p.) per month.
Catherine Wood died in March 1929, aged 49 years.
1901 Isle of Man Census, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Barry Bridson, Cunard Records, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Margery West, Liverpool Echo, Mona's Herald, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.