William Henry ‘Bill’ Edgar was born in Liverpool, England on 17 September 1893, the son of Jesse and Dinah Edgar (née Bushell). In 1915 the family home was at 27 Virginia Street, Southport, Lancashire.
He engaged as a second class waiter in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d (£4.25). He reported for duty on board the ship in the early morning of 17 April, in time for the vessel’s last ever departure from the River Mersey on her way to New York.
Three weeks later, on the afternoon of 7 May, when she was on her return leg to Liverpool, the
Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her home port Bill Edgar was killed as a result of the sinking and as his body was never recovered and identified afterwards he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London. He was aged 21 years.
Also on board the liner when she foundered was Edgar’s friend and fellow waiter T Adamson, who lodged with Edgar’s parents in Virginia Street. He survived the sinking and having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, slightly injured, he was able to cable Mr and Mrs Edgar with the sad news:
"LIST OF SURVIVORS INCOMPLETE, BUT HAVE NOT YET SEEN BILL."
After the sinking, it was reported in local newspaper 'The Southport Visitor':
"The sad event was more keenly felt by Mr. and Mrs. Edgar and family in view of the fact that a farewell party was to have been held on Sunday evening in connection with the departure of Corporal Edgar, of the Scots Guards, at which it was hoped the two men on the Lusitania would have been present. Strange to relate, Corporal Edgar, prior to joining the forces was also employed on the ill-fated vessel.
The corporal returned to London yesterday after a few day’s furlough, having been previously in hospital at Netley with seven wounds received at La Bassée. Two other members of the Edgar family are also in H.M. forces - Thomas, who is a sergeant in the King’s Royal Rifles and Robert, who is a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps."
As far as can be ascertained, all three of the Edgar brothers who served in the Army, survived the war.
As it was necessary to bury all the recovered bodies as soon as possible, because they could not be hygienically stored in the increasing heat of May, they were all photographed in the temporary mortuaries in Queenstown before being buried. Anxious relatives of those missing were then invited to identify their loved ones through these photographs. This was difficult in certain cases because of injuries they had received as a consequence of the sinking or because immersion in sea water had disfigured their features.
Soon after the sinking, copies of all the photographs were posted in St George's Hall in Liverpool. Dinah Edgar must have seen them there, for she was convinced that the photograph of body number 126 was that of her son and sent Cunard further details of him as further proof. These stated:
"Wounded middle finger. Age 22, Hair very dark brown, Even teeth, Large hands and wrists. Height 5’ 9”. Carries silver watch."
However, despite her certainty, body number 126 turned out to be that of saloon passenger Arthur Wood, which identification had already been made by the time that Cunard received Mrs. Edgar’s letter.
When it was finally accepted that William Edgar had no known grave, he was officially commemorated on The Tower Hill Memorial to the Missing of the Mercantile Marine in London. He is also commemorated on the Southport municipal memorial, on a war memorial in Emmanuel Parish Church in Southport and on a bronze plaque in Christ Church in Lord Street, Southport. This memorial was originally sited in St Andrew’s Parish Church, Southport but was moved when the church became disused.
In August 1915 Bill Edgar’s family were given the balance of wages owing to him in respect of his service on board the
Lusitania from 17 April until 8 May - 24 hours after he had been killed.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Denise Deighton, Lancashire Daily Post, PRO BT 100/345, Southport’s Splendid Hearts, Southport Visitor, UniLiv..D92/1/6-2, PRO BT 334.