William George Gardner (known as George) is believed to have been born in Herefordshire, between 1857 and 1861, the son of Benjamin and Anna Gardner. He was married to Hannah Gardner (née Bebington) in Liverpool in 1882 and they lived at 17 Ferndale Park, Waterloo, Liverpool, Lancashire. They had four children.
He was a professional steward serving in the Mercantile Marine and 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 joined the liner at Liverpool Pier Head five days later in time for the vessel’s last ever sailing out of the River Mersey. His previous ship had been the
Lusitania’s sister ship the RMS Mauretania.
Having arrived without mishap in New York, he was on board serving in the same capacity on the early afternoon of 1 May, as the
Lusitania left on 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 14 hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port. George Gardner lost his life as a result of this action. He gave his age as being 46 years when signing on for the voyage, but was clearly much older than this.
His body was recovered from the sea and given the reference number 20 in one of the temporary mortuaries set up in Queenstown - probably the one in the yard of Cunard’s offices at Lynch’s Quay. It was described there as:
"Male, 50 years, Crew, serge clothes with buttons."
He was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, in Mass Grave C, Row 6, Lower Tier on 10 May 1915. This was the date upon which most of the burials of
Lusitania victims took place, following a long funeral procession which began outside the Cunard office on the waterfront.
Despite the fact that he has an identifiable burial site, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware of the fact and commemorated him on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London.
However, once the author had established beyond doubt that he was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, the Commission agreed to erect a permanent memorial to him where he is buried and this was done in November 1998. It takes the form of a monument of Irish limestone, sited at the head of Mass Grave B, the centre one of the three. The names of crew members buried in the three mass graves are incised on two black granite panels on the memorial, with a legend in between them:
"1914 - 1918
IN HONOURED MEMORY
OF THOSE NAMED WHO,
SERVING ON THE
DIED WHEN THE SHIP WAS
SUNK BY ENEMY ACTION
ON 7 MAY 1915
AND ARE BURIED NEARBY"
The name of Waiter Gardner is incised on the left hand panel.
The Commission has also stated that should it ever be necessary to renew the panel bearing his name on the Tower Hill Memorial, his name would be omitted from its replacement.
Cunard handed over what remained of his property to his son Mr HL Gardner at the Waterloo address on 6 June 1915. It consisted of a 5 dollar bill, almost 18/- (£0.90) in British coinage, some keys, a watch, a chain with pencil case attached, two purses and a gold ring inscribed with the initials HG.
In August of the same year he was officially discharged from the last voyage of the
Lusitania and his widow Hanna was paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of his service on board the
Lusitania from 17 April to May, 24 hours after the vessel had gone down. The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted a yearly pension to Hannah Gardner to compensate her for the loss of her husband which amounted to £26-18s-9d (£26.93½) payable at the rate of £2-4s-11d (£2.24½) per month.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.