People's Stories

Everyone on the Lusitania's last voyage, including passengers and crew.

John Frederic Deiner

John Frederic Deiner

About John Frederic

John Frederic Deiner, always known as ‘Fred’, was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on the 21st January 1883, the son of John Neuman and Elizabeth Deiner, (née Grace). His father was born in Brody, Poland in 1853 and came to England having lived in Switzerland until 1868. His mother was the daughter of Inspector Grace of the Liverpool City Police. On 18 January 1909, he married Maria ‘Cissie’ White and they had two children, Ernest, born in 1910, who died in 1939 and Norman, who died as an infant.

Fred Deiner was a professional seaman and had served with the Cunard Steam Ship Company for many years before the war. Whilst on shore, he was involved with the R.M.S. Carmania Football Club as an official, as he served on this ship. He was also on board her when she fought her epic action with the German commerce raider Cap Trafalgar on 14 September 1914.

On 12 April 1915 at Liverpool, he engaged as a first class waiter in the Stewards' Department on board the Lusitania, at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d (£4.25) and he reported for duty at 7 am on 17 April, for what proved to be the Cunarders final voyage out of the River Mersey. At that time, his home address was at 139 Salisbury Street, Liverpool.

He survived the sinking three weeks later when the liner was on the return leg of her voyage to New York and later related his part in it to a reporter of The Liverpool Echo in an edition published on 8th April 1957. He said:

The liner's bright lights shone on countless faces trying to smile through tears as she drew away  from New York.  Yards of ribbon and streamers followed her into the river; then the lights were gone.  We backed out of the Hudson in darkness towards the darker Atlantic that was all ours.

After the passage of 42 years, Mr. Deiner must have confused the ship's final sailing from New York with another, as the Lusitania actually left the Cunard Quay just after midday on 1st May 1915. However, he continued:

Good speed, with nothing to report was maintained during the returning voyage and right through the night that led to the fateful day. The ship's concert was held as usual on that night followed by an exodus to cabins to tackle the packing problem.

Early on the 7th, all hands were called and the lifeboats were swung out.  In the dining room at five bells (10.30) passengers leaving late breakfast saw the clocks advanced by 90 minutes - and promptly headed the rush for early lunch at one.

The band played cheerfully to a crowded dining room as 2 pm approached and many people began to leave for the public rooms on deck. Four bells was struck. Before the noise had died away, the torpedo hit.

There was a great jar and a clatter on the starboard bow. I stood still advising passengers to get their lifebelts and make for the boats. I knew there were only minutes to spare, so I climbed the main companionway, hanging to the high side of the rail, and came out through a door near the bridge.

Staff Captain Anderson was trying to get No.4 boat clear of the rail. It was packed. He asked for my boat number. It was No. 4. “Try to make it”, Captain Anderson said.  And just as I did make it, the boat crashed into the sea.

I went deep below the surface, and when I came up again I tried to cling to a rope, but I could not hold it, so made for a broken deck-chair and was washed among a lot of wreckage.

There I watched while Lusitania - with many people still on the top deck - stood on end and with a great clatter and welter of cries, disappeared. Sepulchral quiet followed, and I seemed to be alone in the sea.

Then a faint voice identified itself to me as that of the ship's barber. He appeared to be losing out. 'Hold on,' I said. 'I can see something and a raft moved nearer to us and voices could be heard. We were eventually picked up by a fishing trawler and taken to Queenstown.

There were, in fact, three barbers on board ship, Jonathan Denton, Lott Gadd and Reginald Nice. Nice did not survive, so Fred Deiner must have been referring to one of the other two.

After his ordeal, he returned to Liverpool where he was paid the balance of wages due to him, which amounted to £4-9s-6d (£4.47½). This was in respect of his service from 17 April 1915 until 8 May - 24 hours after the liner had foundered.

Not surprisingly, he did not return to the sea immediately after the sinking, but eventually went back and served for another 25 years, with Cunard and The Cunard White Star Line, after the two companies were merged, finally retiring at the age of 57, in 1940. By this time, he had lived in Liverpool, at 166 Utting Avenue, in the United States of America for a while, and in Formby, Lancashire, where he ended his days. His home there was at 29 Marina Road.

He reflected on his long time at sea by saying:

I am sure today - with my experience of sailing more than a million miles  in forty years - that one is safer at sea than on land.  And although I still can not swim, I would sail under the old red funnels again at any time.

I have pleasure in saying that the Cunard Company and Captain Turner were in no way to blame for the loss of that ship.  All was done that was ever possible.  More than a day's work was crammed into twenty minutes, and done well by all ratings.

If people must parallel with Lusitania the case of the Titanic - she kept an even keel for a long time, allowing many boats to clear the ship. What is more, Titanic's passengers as a body didn't know the ship was going to sink. That was a help.

With Lusitania, everyone knew she was going down - and go down in a few short, sweet minutes into the bargain.

Fred Deiner died in Liverpool in 1967 aged 84 years and his body was cremated at Anfield Crematorium, within the city.


Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, John Deiner, Liverpool Echo, PRO BT 100/.345, PRO BT 350.

John Frederic Deiner



Age at time of sailing:

Address at time of sailing:
139 Salisbury Street, Liverpool
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