George Cranston was born in Annan, Dumfries, Scotland in 1852, the son of George Grierson. What his family circumstances were, or how he came about to gain the surname Cranston, is unknown. He married Harriett Cranston (née Hampson) in 1879 and in 1915 the family home was at 16 Merton Grove, Bootle, Lancashire, where he lived with his wife and daughter Elsie. In total the couple had eight children. He was a highly respected resident of the borough, where he and his family had a wide circle of friends.
He first joined the Cunard Steamship Company at the age of 18 in 1870 and served continually until his death at the age of 65 years, when the
Lusitania was sunk. He had engaged as a night watchman in the Stewards' Department at Liverpool on 12 April 1915, although 'The Bootle Times' stated after his death, that he was a chief steward. His monthly rate of pay was £4-5s-0d (£4.25).
Having reported for duty on the morning of 17 April, he served on the liner’s last east to west crossing of the Atlantic to New York. The
Lusitania left there on the early afternoon of 1 May, for her return voyage to Liverpool. Six days later, on the afternoon of 7 May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. At that time she was only about 250 miles away from the safety of her home port.
George Cranston was killed as a result of this action and his body was recovered from the sea the same afternoon, and landed at the fishing village of Kinsale by the Royal Naval patrol boat HMS Heron. It was then taken to the mortuary in the British Army barracks there, where it was given the reference number 4.
At the inquest held on the death of Lieutenant Robert Matthews, one of the
Lusitania’s passengers, on 8 May Sergeant Michael Power of the Royal Irish Constabulary at Kinsale also gave evidence of identification of Cranston’s body although he did not know his identity at the time:
"He was one of the ship’s hands. He seems to be about 50 years of age about five feet six inches in height. He was bald in the front of the head. Hair and moustache grey. He wore a white jacket and stamped on the jacket were the initials “G.C.” and “W. Davies”. This vest was ship’s uniform of a dark colour, striped shirt, bluish in colour. I think he was a waiter, because he had toothpicks in every pocket. He had sixpence and one cent and a cork opener in his pocket. There were no other marks of identification on clothes or body, except a gold filled tooth in the upper right front of his mouth."
The inquest was convened on the initiative of local Coroner John J Horgan in the Market House in Kinsale. One survivor, 15 year old Stewards’ Boy Cornelius Horrigan, stated in part of his deposition:
"The sea was calm, the sun was shining and the land was in sight. I saw the dead bodies of the two ladies on the HMS Heron. They are the same bodies in the military mortuary. I assisted to pull them into the capsized boat. I think the man's body with a light grey moustache is that of George Cranston a steward. He was a man of almost 45."
The verdict of the coroner’s jury, on all the bodies landed at Kinsale was that:
"We find that this appalling crime was contrary to international law and the conventions of all civilised nations and we therefore charge the officers of the said submarine and the Emperor and Government of Germany under whose orders they acted with the wilful and wholesale murder before the tribunal of the civilised world!"
Cranston’s body was buried in St Multose Churchyard in Kinsale on 10th May. The burial cortege was formed up at the Barrack Square and consisted of three coffins; that of Night Watchman Cranston, a fellow crew member, Night Watchman Richard Chamberlain, and that of an unknown female victim, who was later identified as second cabin passenger Mrs Margaret Shineman from New York, America.
The procession was led by a detachment of the Connaught Rangers and was followed by a few surviving crew members and members of the Kinsale Urban Council and Kinsale Harbour Board. Night Watchman Cranston was buried in Grave M2, next to Richard Chamberlain.
The inscription on the kerbstone of the grave states:
"GEORGE CRADUCK AND RICHARD CHAMBERLAIN
VICTIMS OF THE LUSITANIA OUTRAGE 7 MAY 1915"
Night Watchman Cranston is clearly buried under the wrong name. The author pointed out this error to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and in a letter received in January 1997, the Commission stated that it had no plans to rectify the fault unless the private memorial needed replacing. However, after the author challenged this decision, senior staff reviewed the situation and decided to commemorate Cranston under his own name after all.
Despite his having an actual grave location, the records of the Commission showed Richard Chamberlain to have been lost at sea and consequently, his name is also erroneously recorded on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London. However, if the bronze panels at Tower Hill ever have to be replaced in the future, Chamberlain's name will be erased from the one bearing his name.
Property found on George Cranston's body after his death was handed to his daughter Miss Elsie Cranston at the family home on 15 July 1915. It consisted of two keys, a stud, a pencil, two penknives, a corkscrew, a sixpenny piece and an American one cent piece. In August 1915 she also received from Cunard the balance of pay owed to him in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage. This was reckoned to be from 17 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the liner had been sunk. The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited also granted a yearly pension to a Harriett Cranston which amounted to £26-1s-5d (£26.07) payable at the rate of £2-3s-6d (£2.17½) per month.
The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission state that Night Watchman Cranston’s Mercantile Marine rank was
Watch, and it is also stated in records that he was aged 63 years, when he was actually two years older.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Bootle Times, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Denise Deighton, Imperial War Museum, Irish Titanic Historical Society, UniLiv.D92/1/6/2, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.