Alfred Felix Christian Kupfernagel was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on the 29th March 1895, the son of William and Mary Louisa Kupfernagel. Alfred’s father was a ship’s steward who originally came from Germany. The family lived at 9 Rawlins Street, Fairfield, Liverpool.
He engaged as a first class waiter in the Steward's Department on the Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d., (£4.25p.) and joined her on the morning of 17th April 1915, before she left the River Mersey for the last time. It was not the first time that he had sailed on the Lusitania in that capacity.
He survived the sinking three weeks later and having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he eventually returned to Liverpool, where he was officially discharged from the liner’s last voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him which amounted to £4-9s-6d., £4.47½p.). This was in respect of his sea service from 17th April 1915 until 8th May, 24 hours after the great ship had foundered.
In 1916, he married Florence M. Leach in Liverpool. He continued to serve as a steward in the mercantile marine
In April 1957, he told his recollections of the sinking to Ian Severns, a feature writer for the local newspaper
The Liverpool Echo, but under the name of Alfred Kay. This was published in the edition of 10th April and stated: -
He did not think his fate could be worse, just before the liner was hit. A first class passenger steward, reaching the most remunerative part of the trip - and he was in bed with tonsillitis! However his tonsils and temperature were forgotten when, in his bunk, he felt the shock of the explosion.
Reaching the deck and noting the confusion with the boats, he did not attempt to jump overboard but waited until the water reached the top deck and let it float him away.
He grabbed hold of the ship's radio aerial and got into a mix up with two unfolded collapsible boats. Then he saw another boat, swam to it and pulled into it about 60 other people. "The sea was so unruffled that it might have been the floor of this hotel," he told me. "I had a motley crew in my boat, but as far as I can remember, not one child."
At Queenstown, people were waiting by the quay, saying "I’ll take him," "I’ll take her," or "I'll take those, as the survivors came ashore. Two women grabbed Mr. Kay and took him to a public house where he caused a sensation by asking for a bath. He didn't get one but he did get a tumbler of whisky and remembered nothing until he woke in bed with two other men.
There was a hot bath for him at home in Rawling Street, Fairfield, when he arrived the next evening and he slept for twelve hours after it. A young woman living 12 doors away heard about this 21 year old survivor and she took him some eggs to help restore him. Although they were accepted, she did not see him at the time but they became engaged shortly after. "I have been married to that girl now for forty years," Mr. Kay told me with a smile.
Conscription and the Army followed the tragedy. After 3½ years in France, he joined the Cunard line and stayed at sea for another twenty years. Then, he became a publican and has been in his present house for 18 years.
The young woman he mentioned in the article that took him some eggs was Florence M. Leach, whom Alfred married in Liverpool in 1916. Following their marriage, Alfred continued to serve in the mercantile marine, although he changed his surname to KAY, presumably as he was finding it difficult to live and work in England with such an obvious Germanic surname. He was known for the remainder of his life as Alf Kay.
The present house, mentioned by Tim Severns was The Salisbury Hotel, in Lawrence Road, Wavertree, which is a suburb of Liverpool, where Alfred Kay was the landlord.
Alfred Kay died in Cheshire on the 21st August 1967, aged 72 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Liverpool Echo, PRO BT/100/345, Peter Threlfall, PRO BT 350.