People's Stories

Everyone on the Lusitania's last voyage, including passengers and crew.

Vernon Livermore

Vernon Livermore

About Vernon

Vernon Hyde St. Lawrence Livermore was born in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, England, on the 14th June 1880, the son of William L. and Catherine Livermore of ‘Kingston Brow’, Hyde, Cheshire.  He married Julia B. Cservenka in Liverpool in 1913, and in 1915, they lived at 29, Bishop Road, Anfield, Liverpool, Lancashire, with their daughter, Catherine, who was born in 1914.

Although his official rank on board the Lusitania was that of first class waiter, he was also the official ship's bugler.

He engaged as a first class waiter in the Stewards’ Department on board the Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915, at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d., (£4.25p.).  He reported for duty at 7 a.m. five days later before the liner left Princes Landing stage in Liverpool, for the last ever time.  It was not his first voyage on the liner, however, and he had previously also served on the Cunarders Laconia and the Carpathia.

Having survived the sinking of the liner, three weeks later, off the coast of southern Ireland by the German submarine U-20, he was rescued from the sea by Royal Naval patrol boat H.M.S. Heron and landed at Kinsale.  The next day, he was called as a witness at the inquest on the dead brought ashore at Kinsale, which was held at Kinsale, Courthouse and which began on the evening of the day.  It was presided over by Coroner John Horgan.  His deposition stated: -

I was at my station on ‘D’ Deck, by the entrance to the main dining saloon about 2:30 p.m. on Friday May 7th when I heard a loud dull report coming apparently from the bows of the ship.  It struck me immediately that we had been torpedoed by a submarine but I never thought the ship would sink.

She took a list to starboard at once.  I went on deck and the people did not appear to be panic stricken.  After about ten minutes the ship started sinking rapidly.  Meantime we tried to launch the boats and found it impossible on the port side where I was, owing to the heavy list to starboard.  She sank whilst I was standing on the boat deck.

I went down a good distance and then struck up to the surface.  All the crew stood to their stations and by the boats as far as possible.  I was in the water ten minutes before I got into a collapsible overturned boat.  We were rescued by H.M.S. Heron.  In the meantime we had collected five women and several men including Cornelius Horrigan.

We were handing out life belts to all the passengers after the explosion.  I had none myself.  There was no warship convoying us.  Three of the women in our boat were handed over to the boatswain's boat.  All of the officers were at their posts. The sea was very calm.

Cornelius Horrigan was Steward's Boy Cornelius Horrigan who later claimed that he owed his life to Vernon Livermore.  In an article in The Bootle Times, on 14th May 1915, it was stated: -

When he came to the surface he saw an upturned lifeboat which he made for.  He was assisted by the ship’s bugler, Livermore, who saved his life.

In The Hyde Reporter for 15th May 1915, Livermore's mother gave the following account of her son’s ordeal: -

Mrs. Livermore who had been over to Liverpool to see her son and his wife and little daughter at their home 29 Bishop-street (sic), said that despite what he had gone through, with the exception of a few bruises, he was quite well.

When asked what the sensation was like when the boat went down, he told her that he first thought what a fool he was not to have followed the advice of his Uncle James, (who is a professional swimmer) and taken his boots off.

He had no life belt, in fact if he had wanted one he could not have got to them through the wreckage on the liner.  As to how long he was in the water he could not tell, but when he first came to the surface he struck the bottom of a portion of wreckage.  Although shaken with the impact, he dived under the wood and eventually managed to mount what afterwards served as a useful raft.

After he had been on the raft a while, during which time he had come round a little, he heard a feeble voice calling out “Bugler! Bugler,” and on looking round he saw it was one of the bell boys whom he had charge of, on the boat.  He pulled him on to the raft, and seeing that he was on the point of collapse, rendered first aid and the lad rallied.

The bell boy, of course, was Steward's Boy Cornelius Horrigan, already mentioned.  The account continued: -

After the exciting adventure, the little craft was sighted by a stoker named Frank Turner who was evidently not born to be drowned, for he was in the Titanic and Empress of Ireland disasters.  Livermore succeeded in rescuing him.  The three of them afterwards rescued five other members of the crew, and three lady passengers whilst they also picked up five dead bodies.

They managed to get an oar, and that was the only thing they possessed to guide the raft.  Fortunately, there was a smooth sea, and it did not upset.  After over three hours in such a perilous position, they were picked up by a trawler which was minesweeping, and subsequently landed at Kinsale.

The trawler which was minesweeping was of course the Royal Naval patrol boat H.M.S. Heron, which had landed Livermore eight other survivors and five corpses at Kinsale on the early evening of the sinking, - not quite the numbers quoted by The Hyde Reporter.  The stoker named Frank Turner was in fact Fireman Frank Toner who was generally believed, in the popular press at the time and later, to have been a survivor from the Titanic and Empress of Ireland disasters.

Furthermore the story is compounded still further in the 1918 book Hyde At War, all about that town's contribution to the war effort.  It states that Vernon Livermore also survived the sinking of the White Star liner Titanic.

Mr. V. Livermore ..... was on the great White Star liner "Titanic" which sank in the Atlantic several years ago, after striking an iceberg.  On that occasion he assisted three women into a collapsible boat, and was himself in the water three hours after the ship had gone down, before being rescued.

However, there is no evidence amongst the crew lists of the Titanic, that Vernon Livermore or Frank Toner actually served on board that ship and it is most unlikely anyway, that anyone would have survived for three hours in the icy waters of the north Atlantic.

However, The Hyde Reporter for 15th May 1915, did state: -

Prior to being on the Lusitania, Mr. Livermore was for seven years librarian on the Carpathia which went to the rescue of the Titanic and he is the possessor of one of the bronze medals inscribed:

“To the captain officers and crew of R.M.S. Carpathia, in recognition of gallant and heroic service.  From the survivors of the s.s. Titanic April 15th, 1912.”

It is thus likely that Livermore’s service on the Carpathia became confused by the press given all the sensation of the Lusitania's sinking.  Moreover, it is also likely that the story first originated either on the upturned lifeboat or on H.M.S. Heron and was later embellished by the press, to include Frank Toner!

Another member of the Lusitania's crew, who helped rescue survivors from the Titanic, whilst serving on the Carpathia, was First Intermediate Third Engineer Wilfred Fairhurst.  He, unfortunately, did not survive the sinking of the Lusitania.

Apart from Livermore and Toner, those landed alive from the Heron at Kinsale, were second cabin passengers John Preston Smith, and Mrs. Julia Sullivan, third class passengers Fred Bottomley and Michael Doyle, Steward's Boy Cornelius Horrigan, First Class Waiter Charles Hotchkiss and Second Class Waiter Harold Rowbotham.  The five dead bodies mentioned, were those of saloon passenger Mrs. Ida Campbell-Johnson, second cabin passengers Lieutenant Robert Matthews and Margaret Shineman, Night Watchman Richard Chamberlain and Night Watchman George Cranston.

Livermore eventually got back to Liverpool in the early hours of Monday 10th May, having travelled by train to Dublin, by boat to Holyhead in Wales, by train to Birkenhead on the opposite side of the River Mersey from Liverpool and finally by Mersey ferry to Liverpool by Mersey ferry in the early hours of 10th May.

Once back, Waiter Livermore reported to the Cunard main office in Water Street, Liverpool, where he was officially discharged from the Lusitania’s last voyage and paid the balance of wages owed to him, which amounted to £4-9s-6d., (£4.45½p.).  Cunard paid all crew members until 8th May, 24 hours after the sinking, irrespective of whether they survived or not.

His brother-in-law Percy Penny was also a member of the crew, serving as a First Class Bedroom Steward.  Although he could not swim a stroke, he too, survived, with the aid of a lifebelt.

Vernon Livermore’s brother William Lawrence Livermore was, at the time of the Lusitania sinking, also serving in the Mercantile Marine, on board H.M. Troop Transport Pannonian.

Incidentally, Vernon’s wife, Julia, and her sister Ethel, who was married to Percy Penny, were stewardesses on board the RMS Carpathia when they were involved in rescuing survivors from the Titanic, and presumably this is where Vernon met Julia.  All three were presented with the Carpathia medal.

Vernon Livermore continued to serve in the mercantile marine following his survival.  He died in Liverpool on the 2nd August 1964, aged 84 years.

Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, Bootle Times, R. Branch, Cork Examiner, Cunard Records, Hyde At War, Hyde Reporter, Imperial War Museum, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/6, White Star Journal, PRO BT 349.

Vernon Livermore



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