George Andrew Mitchell was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 9th August 1883, the son of Henry and Eliza Mitchell. Before the turn of the century, the family moved to Bedford Road, Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, Cheshire, where they ran a shop selling fruit and flowers. In 1912, George married local girl Elizabeth Hannah Evans, and they set up home at 21, Southdale Road, Rock Ferry.
He was a printer, by profession, and in that capacity, decided to serve at sea in the Mercantile Marine. As a result, he joined The Cunard Steam Ship Company and was employed as one of the two compositors or printers on board the
Lusitania. The other one was Frederick Davies, who came from Newport, Monmouthshire. Printer Mitchell engaged at Liverpool, on 12th April 1915 for the steamer’s final voyage and joined her at 7 a.m. on the 17th April. before she left the River Mersey for the very last time. As a printer, his monthly rate of pay was £7-10s-0d., (£7.50p.).
Although Printer Davies was killed as a result of the sinking, George Mitchell survived and later picked up £6-11s-0d. (£6.55p), which was the balance of wages owing to him on his official discharge from the liner’s last voyage. The Cunard Steam Ship Company paid wages up to and including 8th May 1915, (24 hours after the sinking), to all crew members, whether they survived or perished.
On 11th May 1915, Printer Mitchell gave a graphic account of the sinking to a reporter of
The Birkenhead News and Advertiser, his local newspaper and this was published in the newspaper the following day. The account stated: -
I came off duty about ten o'clock on the Friday morning, and turned in, and knew nothing more until the crash came. Of course I immediately knew what it was, so I jumped out of bed, dressed myself, and got a lifebelt on. I then walked up the main companion on to the boat deck. A lady rushed up to me and asked me where she could get a lifebelt. I walked to where the lifebelts were kept, but could not find any. Finding that I could not get one there I went below again and secured one for her.
By this time, people had realised what had happened, and they hung round the deck in swarms. I had just come out of one of the state rooms again, having searched for lifebelts, when the water began to pour in. I then went up to the boat deck and looked over the side and saw a lifeline slide into the water. The next thing I knew I was underneath the ship.
When I came to the surface I saw a large number of bodies mutilated by the explosion, and also a number of dead bodies lying about amongst the wreckage. I remained in the water for about four hours having clung to five or six different pieces of wreckage, and I was eventually picked up in a bruised and exhausted condition by a torpedo boat destroyer. I was taken along with a number of others to a naval hospital near Cork.
Mr. Mitchell added that one of the firemen who was in the next bed to him had a remarkable escape. When the torpedo struck the Lusitania, this fireman had his arm blown off. Someone who was near, however, bound up the stumps with strips of bandage whilst the vessel was sinking. A lifebelt was then placed round the injured man. How the man escaped was a miracle, but he was picked up by one of the boats, and the next morning after the disaster, he was chatting in a cheerful manner in the hospital. In addition to the man having his arm blown off, he was cut very severely on the head.
A large number of people threw their lives away, declared Mr. Mitchell, as they stood lounging about the decks, thinking the huge vessel was unsinkable.
When the boats were being lowered, proceeded Mr. Mitchell, none of the crew went in them, excepting two men at the oars. The crew, he considered, owed their escape to their own initiative in taking to the water.
It was said by a number of passengers that they had actually seen one torpedo making for the vessel, but it missed its mark. Mr. Mitchell considered that it was a well-laid scheme, and that more than one submarine took part in the dastardly attack. One torpedo, he believed, struck the vessel in the engine room, and another near the bow. One of the engineers told him that there were some ghastly scenes in the engine room, and numbers of the men had their heads blown off.
These latter reports obviously do not equate with the facts, as there was only one torpedo fired by the
U-20 and similarly, the engine room was untouched by any initial explosion. Such speculation at the time, however, so soon after the sinking, was perfectly understandable, considering the horror and confusion of the events which had taken place.
Whilst the Lusitania was steaming towards Liverpool and her destiny, Elizabeth Mitchell was heavily pregnant and she gave birth to a daughter, to be called Elizabeth (Betty) Evelyn Mitchell, on 3rd May 1915, unknown at that time, to her husband, whose ordeal was yet to come. The couple already had a son, Alan, born to them on 16th July 1912. When the news of the sinking reached Rock Ferry, thoughtful neighbours stood at the end of Southdale Road to prevent Elizabeth Mitchell hearing the news of the sinking from the newspaper boys who used to shout the headlines in the street.
Living in Southdale Road, Rock Ferry, it was natural that George Mitchell was a friend of another regular
Lusitania crew member, Chief Steward William McLeod, who was killed after the liner was sunk and also came from the same area. In point of fact, like the Mitchells the McLeod family also ran a shop in Bedford Road, Rock Ferry and naturally, George Mitchell knew all the McLeod family very well. On his return to Birkenhead, after the sinking, he visited them at their home in Bedford Road.
He told them that he had last seen the Chief Steward on the ship’s main staircase, without a lifejacket, kneeling in prayer. Mitchell had said to him: -
There’s no time for you to be doing that, Will, get your lifejacket on!
Obviously McLeod did not heed his advice as his corpse was later picked up from the sea.
George Mitchell often visited the McLeod family in the years that followed and confessed to having nightmares about the sinking. He often admitted that drinking whisky helped him to forget the horrors that he had witnessed on that terrible day, though he never usually drank when he was at sea. The McLeod family was able to confirm his liking for the spirit!
He returned to the sea after the sinking, continuing to serve with the Cunard Line for the rest of his life and he was actually torpedoed at least twice more - once in each war.
On New Year’s Day 1917, he was serving on the Cunarder Ivernia, which was carrying troops to Alexandria, under the command of Captain William Turner who had been master of the
Lusitania when she had been lost. When the ship was 58 miles south east of Cape Matapan, Greece, she was struck by a torpedo fired from the German submarine
UB 47 and sunk and 85 troops and 36 of the crew were lost. Like George Mitchell, Captain Turner was also amongst the survivors, however, but after his second sinking in command, many seamen thought him to be a
‘Jonah’ and refused to sail under him anymore. Cunard obviously agreed, for he was retired early - but with honour.
During the Second World War, on 23rd November 1942, George Mitchell was on board the Cunarder
Scythia when she was torpedoed off Algiers by German torpedo bombers and although not sunk, the ship was severely damaged. It is possible that he was also torpedoed on another occasion, also, for family lore states that he was once picked up from icy waters when all others around him had perished and the family joke was that he had only survived because of the copious amounts of whisky that he had consumed before he went into the sea!
Eventually, however, this liking for Scotch whisky caught up with him and he died as a result of years of over-indulgence, at the home of his daughter Betty, on 9th July 1945. Another family story also relates that before his death, the visiting family doctor asked if he had passed any water, Only on the deck was his immediate and characteristic reply!
He was exactly one month short of his 62nd birthday when he died. Administration of his estate was granted to his daughter, Elizabeth Evelyn Mitchell at Liverpool, on 30th August 1945. His effects amounted to £649-2s-2d, (£649.11p).
He was buried in Bebington Cemetery, only yards from the grave of his former ship-mate William McLeod, whose body was buried there on 14th May 1915, having been recovered from the sea off The Old Head of Kinsale.
Also in the Mitchell grave, is buried the body of George Mitchell’s wife Elizabeth who had died in October 1932 aged 47 years and their daughter Betty who died in October 1987, aged 72 years.. There is nothing on the headstone to indicate George Mitchell’s involvement in the sinking of the Lusitania.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 English Census, 1901 English Census, 1891 English Census, Birkenhead News, (photo 12/05/1915, p.2 c.3), British Merchant Ships Sunk By U-Boats, Cunard Records, Kathleen Dodd, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, Mitchell Family Relatives, Probate Records, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 350.