John Humphreys Griffiths was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 21 July 1877, the son of Edward and Martha Griffiths. His father was a tailor, and John became an umbrella maker on the completion of his education. He was following this trade when he married Emily Thomasene Hessom in Liverpool on 8 May 1900.
The family took up residence in Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire, close to where Emily was born, and sometime after their marriage John joined the mercantile marine as a steward on transatlantic liners. Thus, he was employed as Chief Third Class Steward in the Stewards' Department on board the Lusitania when the great liner left Liverpool on her final voyage to New York.
Having successfully completed the liner’s outward journey to New York, he was serving in the same capacity when she left New York in the early afternoon of 1 May 1915.
Six days later, on the afternoon of 7 May, the Lusitania was torpedoed by the German submarine
U-20 12 miles off The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland and sank only 18 minutes later. At that stage of her voyage she was a mere 12 or 14 hours away from her Liverpool destination.
John Griffiths survived this action and having been rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown. On his return to Liverpool he was paid the balance of wages owed to him in respect of his service on board the liner at the offices of Cunard in Water Street, which was reckoned from 17 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the great ship had foundered.
In 'The Yorkshire Observer' on 10 May 1915, third class passenger Walter Dawson described his experiences in the sea after the liner had gone down:
"I swam about for a time and got hold of a little kiddie but I lost him later in helping a boy about 7 years of age. At last I reached a water-logged boat, which was supporting a few more men including a couple of stewards, one of whom, named Griffiths, I believe was badly crushed. The little boy died in our arms before help came."
This must have been John Griffiths, whom Walter Dawson would have known in the third class area of the ship.
John Griffiths continued to serve in the Stewards Department of transatlantic liners until 26 February 1932. While serving as a bar keeper at sea on the
RMS Ausonia, another Cunard vessel which served the England to Canada route, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was aged 55 years. At the time of his death his residence was reported to have been at ‘Overton’, Leasowe Road, Wallasey, Cheshire.
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, Cunard Records, Wallasey News, Yorkshire Observer, PRO BT 349, PRO BT 350, PRO BT 334.