Charles Lapphane was born in Tranmere, Birkenhead, Cheshire, in 1896, the son of Albert and Alice Lapphane. His father was an Able Seaman serving in the mercantile marine. The family home was at 40 Livingstone Road, Lower Tranmere.
On 12th April 1915, he engaged as a third class waiter in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool at a monthly rate of pay of £4-5s-0d., (£4.25p.) and reported for duty four days later on the morning of 17th April, before the liner left her berth at Liverpool Pierhead for the last time, bound for New York. It was not his first voyage on the liner.
Having completed the first leg of her voyage to New York, he was on board on the early afternoon of 1st May when she left there to begin what became her last trans-Atlantic crossing. Six days later, however, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, off the coast of southern Ireland and only about fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her home base. Waiter Lapphane was lost as a result of this action. He was aged 19 years.
His body was recovered from the sea after the sinking; however, after which it was landed at Queenstown and taken to one of the temporary mortuaries set up there. Before it was identified, it was given the reference number 119.
Once a positive identification had been made, however, it was buried on 10th May 1915 in The Old Church Cemetery, Queenstown, in Mass Grave C, Third Row, Lower Tier. It was on this day that most of the dead from the sinking were buried after a long funeral procession which began outside the Cunard office at Lynch’s Quay, on the waterfront. It lies there today.
Despite the fact that he has an identifiable burial site, however, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware of the fact and after the Great War, 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, which reads: -
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 Charles Lapphane 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.
The residue of pay owed to him was paid to his family in August 1915 and property belonging to him was handed over to his mother Alice at the family home on 29th October 1915. This consisted of some British and American coinage, a bunch of keys, a hair comb and a brass Cunard Steam Ship Company uniform coat button.
A ledger in the Cunard archive listing burials, re-burials and enquiries gives Waiter Lapphane's forename as 'Steirara', but this name does not appear anywhere else.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. PR13/6, PRO BT 334.