Harry Grisdale was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 3 May 1888, the son of Joseph and Annie Grisdale. On 12 November 1912 he married Elizabeth Valerina Powell in Liverpool. In 1915 the family lived at 12 Gladstone Road, Seaforth, near Liverpool. Harry was an active freemason and a member of Liverpool Derby Lodge number 724.
He was employed as Library Steward in the Steward's Department on board the
Lusitania and engaged at Liverpool on 12 April 1915. His monthly rate of pay was £4-5s-0d (£4.25). He joined the ship at 7am on 17 April, before she left the River Mersey for the last time. He had served on her before in the same capacity.
Having completed her last ever east to west crossing of the Atlantic, the
Lusitania left New York on the early afternoon of 1 May 1915 for her return voyage to Liverpool. However on the afternoon of 7 May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20 off the Old Head of Kinsale, only about 12 to 14 hours away from the safety of her home port.
As the ship began to sink, Henry Grisdale stayed on board almost to the last and shortly before she went down he gave his lifebelt to one of the stewardesses. The list to starboard then caused him to slide overboard and he was lucky enough to fall into a boat full of survivors. The occupants of this boat then began to row towards the shore and after four hours they were picked up by the tug Stormcock and landed at Queenstown. Along with other survivors, he was interviewed by correspondents of 'The Manchester Guardian' and 'The Daily Telegraph'. A copy of his interview was syndicated and appeared in 'The Cheshire Daily Echo' on 8 May 1915. It was reported:
"The library steward of the Lusitania during an interview, in relating his sad story, said the Cunarder had between 1,300 and 1,400 passengers and a crew of 750 men on board. Amongst them were crowds of Americans including Mr. Vanderbilt and a host of prominent people belonging to the United States.
"Today", he continued, "when ten miles south-west of Kinsale, the passengers were at luncheon and were in the best of spirits, chattering merrily, when an awful explosion rudely shocked them. They did not know what had happened, and quickly rushed from their seats.
They soon learned, however, that a German submarine had sent two torpedoes into them. One of them had entered the stokehold and the other had burst into the hull in the forward part of the vessel.
Captain Turner and the other officers tried to pacify the frightened passengers but their efforts failed, and water pushed into the Cunarder and she sank within fifteen minutes. There were five babies in their mothers' arms - a pitiful sight. The torpedo struck the Lusitania on the starboard side, over to which she listed.
The passengers were frantic to save their lives. The order to launch the boats was given, but in lowering them the ropes of some caught and the fastenings of others broke. One of the boats fell into the water. Many of the passengers had got into the boats but others had placed lifebelts around their waists and fell into the sea and were subsequently picked up by the floating boats. Upwards of 100 of the passengers were floating in the water, kept afloat by life-preservers. The ten boats saved about 500 altogether.”
The steward added that the Stormcock approached several of the boats and picked off them 100 passengers after being on the water six hours which were spent in anguish and great misery. There was an awful loss of life but how many, he as unable to say."
He arrived back home in Seaforth on the morning of Sunday 9 May and was officially discharged from the
Lusitania, and given the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £4-9s-6d (£4.47½). In keeping with all the members of the crew, Library Steward Grisdale was paid up until 8 May, 24 hours after the ship had sunk.
Harry Grisdale continued to serve as a steward on transatlantic liners for many years after surviving the sinking of the Lusitania. He died at Crosby, Liverpool on 13 September 1945, aged 57 years. His address at the time of his death was 92 Hatton Hill Road, Litherland, Liverpool. On 7 November 1945 administration of his estate was granted to his widow Elizabeth Valerina Grisdale, and his effects amounted to £862-11s-6d.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Bootle Times, Cunard Records, Geoff Cuthill, PRO BT 100/345, Probate Records.