John Frederick Valentine Jones, always known as ‘Fred’ Jones, was born in Liverpool, Lancashire in 1861, the son of John and Eliza Jones. On the 21st June 1886, he married Edith Unwin in Liverpool. The couple had no children, and in 1915, resided at Queens Street, Liverpool.
He was a professional seafarer and engaged as Chief Steward in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915 and reported for duty at 7 a.m., on the 17th, the morning that the liner sailed out of the River Mersey for the very last time. As Chief Steward, his monthly rate of pay was £15-0s-0d and it was not the first time that he had served in this capacity on the liner.
He survived the sinking three weeks later on the afternoon of 7th May, by the German submarine
U-20, when the liner was on her return voyage to her home port from New York.
Before the liner was struck, he was on the promenade deck talking to saloon passenger Charles Hill when he noticed the wake of the torpedo making its way towards the liner. He pointed this out to Hill and both men then watched with horror as the projectile entered the side of the ship with a sound like the slamming of a door.
Before the ship sank, eighteen minutes later, he jumped into the sea and having been eventually rescued, he was landed at Queenstown, where he and Second Steward Robert Chisholm both worked tirelessly in the mortuaries there and in Kinsale, to try to identify the bodies of the victims brought in.
On his eventual return to Liverpool, he was officially discharged from the liner's final voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him in respect of it. This represented his service from 17th April 1915 until the 8th May, 24 hours after the
Lusitania had gone down.
He was then called to give evidence of the sinking, along with First Class Bedroom Steward James Grant, at an inquest held on 18th May, by the Liverpool City Coroner, to investigate the death of fellow Lusitania survivor Night Watchman Charles Knight. Knight had been injured by floating wreckage whilst in the water after the liner had sunk and had died ten days later, as a result of his injuries.
At the inquest, Fred Jones told of his own experiences, which were related in
The Liverpool Echo of 18th May: -
John Frederick Valentine Jones, the chief steward, said about 2.30 p.m. on the day of the torpedoing he was on 'B' deck when the second steward raised an alarm. Witness saw the torpedo fifty yards off before it struck the Lusitania.
In reply to the Coroner, witness said he instinctively looked about, but saw nothing of the submarine or a periscope. The torpedo struck with a hard, crashing sound and the vessel immediately listed heavily to starboard. Witness ran into the interior of the ship to instruct the passengers to put on lifebelts and to order the stewards and stewardesses to assist them.
Each passenger had a lifebelt in his or her bunk, and there were printed and illustrated instructions showing how a belt was to be worn, together with the life size figure of a man wearing a belt.
He helped several passengers to fix their belts and directed them to the boats, which were being lowered. Just as No. 15 boat was launched, the Lusitania gave a final lurch to starboard and dived forward. Witness leaped into the sea without a lifebelt, and in about twenty five minutes, succeeded in reaching one of the collapsible boats.
By the Coroner : "Everything practicable was done by the crew in the limited time available?"
As far as witness could see, the crew gave all the aid in their power to the passengers. There was natural excitement, but no panic.
"Do you think as large a number of the crew lost their own lives through being below in assisting the passengers?" -"Yes."
"There were ample lifebelts in all rooms?" - "Oh, yes."
"And a reserve of lifebelts on the top deck?" - "Yes."
"Did you see a number of the reserve belts floating about in the water after the Lusitania had sunk?" - "Yes, quite a number."
"And I think you can also say that a number of lives were saved by the passengers wearing these lifebelts?" - "I should say both passengers and crew."
"Boat No. 15 was in the charge of the first officer?" "Yes; Mr. Jones. She made three trips, and deposited three loads of saved, on a sailing smack, on the Indian Empire, and one on another boat, in all I should say about 120 people."
Witness did not see the deceased, but inferred that he received his injuries from floating wreckage.
The Coroner congratulated the Chief Steward on his escape and commended his courage.
The verdict of the inquest on the cause of death of Night Watchman Knight was: -
Injuries owing to the torpedoing of the Lusitania by a German submarine.
The second steward mentioned in Chief Steward Jones’ testimony was Robert Chisholm, who also survived the sinking.
In The Lancashire Daily Post for 14th May 1915, Second Class Waiter William Rose, a crew survivor stated at his parents’ home in Lancaster, Lancashire:-
I could not swim and the first thing I got hold of was a dog kennel. I got on it but it turned over and sent me down again. I struggled on, and after being in the water about three hours, I was picked up by Mr. Jones, our chief steward, and put on a collapsible raft.
Fred Jones died on the 9th June 1939 in Liverpool, aged 78 years. At the time of his passing, he resided at 309. Menlove Avenue, Woolton, Liverpool. Probate was granted at Liverpool on the 17th August 1939 to his widow, Edith Jones, Richard Duncan Horne, described as a retired insurance agent, and William Henry Unwin, who was described as a retired plumber and decorator. His estate amounted to £5,540-17s-5d., which was a considerable sum of money at that time.
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, Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Inquest Register 1915-1918, PRO BT 100/345, Seven Days to Disaster, Probate Records, UniLivS1/431ii.