Algernon Percy Penny, always known as ‘Percy’, was born in Godalming, Surrey, England, on the 8th February 1883. He was the son of John Edwin and Elizabeth Ann Penny. His father was a butler in domestic service, and when Percy completed his education, he followed in his father’s footsteps, but not in domestic service, rather as a steward in the mercantile marine.
On the 22nd July 1909, he married Ethel Elizabeth Cservenka and in 1915, the family home was at 83 Ashbourne Road, Aigburth, Liverpool, Lancashire. Ethel had been born in Hungary and along with her sister, Julia, had been a stewardess on board the
Carpathia when this vessel had gone to the rescue of the Titanic in 1912. Like her sister, and all other crew members on board the Carpathia on that historic occasion, she received a medal for her bravery in rescuing passengers and crew members from the Titanic.
Percy engaged as a first class bedroom steward in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12th April 1915, at a monthly rate of pay of £4-5s-0d. (£4.25p.). He joined the ship just five days later at 7 a.m., before she left England on her last ever crossing to New York. Also on board was First Class Waiter Vernon Livermore, who was married to Percy’s sister-in-law, Julia Cservenka!
The liner crossed the Atlantic without incident and having docked in New York, eventually left there on the early afternoon of 1st May, for her return to Liverpool. Then, six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. At that time, she was only about 250 miles away from the safety of her home port.
Bedroom Steward Penny survived the sinking, despite the fact that he could not swim and his experiences were later reported in the 10th May 1915 edition of
The Cheshire Daily Echo, who were interested because his wife and her family resided in Hyde in Cheshire: -
After the ship had been struck ..... he served out lifebelts to several passengers and fitted one on himself. Then he assisted to get the lifeboats out on the port side and helped some women and children into them. The last boat was got away when the liner’s boat deck was almost level with the water.
“When the Lusitania sank,” added Mr. Penny, “I tried to jump clear but of course I could not get very far away and was sucked down with frightful rapidity. It seemed from the time I was below the surface to go down from an enormous distance, but then a great upheaval of the water occurred and I found myself being swiftly borne back towards the surface. When I reached it I swam about among wreckage and dead bodies and fellow survivors until - an hour and a half afterwards - I had the good fortune to fall in with a lifeboat which already had about eighty souls.
This boat was under the charge of Mr. Jones, the first officer who conducted it to a fishing smack, and then returned with about ten men and succeeded in picking up about 35 more survivors. Eventually we were picked up by a patrol boat and taken to Queenstown. I met another man who had had a similar experience in being dragged down by the suction and then thrown up again. He was as black as ink and swore that he had been down the funnel.
Men known to have been sucked down a funnel and then blown out again were First Class Bedroom Steward Edward Bond, saloon passenger Inspector William John Pierpoint and third class passenger Harold W. Taylor. Perhaps Percy Penny had met one of these.
Mr. Jones the First Officer was First Officer Arthur Rowland Jones who also survived.
The New York Times of 10th May 1915 also reported that Percy Penny had stated: -
So fast did the water rise that before the last boat was launched the water was level with the boat deck and people simply stepped into the boat. I walked into the sea and was drawn down by the vortex of the sinking steamer but came up again.
Eventually, he made it back to Liverpool, where he was paid off from the Lusitania’s last voyage, the balance of wages owing to him being £4-9s-6d, (£4.47½p.). In common with all the liner’s crew, perished or survived, he was paid until 8th May, 24 hours after the vessel had gone down.
First Class Waiter Vernon Livermore, serving as a First Class Bedroom Steward, also survived the sinking, and when rescued from the sea was landed at Kinsale.
Percy Penny continued to serve as a steward in the mercantile marine for many years after the sinking of the Lusitania, and when the trans-Atlantic liners left Liverpool and instead made Southampton their base, Percy and his family relocated to Southampton with them.
Percy Penny died in Southampton on the 29th September 1954, aged 71 years. At the time of his death, he was residing at 70. Hillside Avenue, Bitterne Park, Southampton. On the 13th January 1955, limited administration of his estate was granted to his son, Frederick Percy Penny, and his daughter, Mrs. Ethel Elizabeth Curtis. His effects amounted to £2,399-6s.-0d. (£2,399.30p).
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cheshire Daily Echo, Cunard Records, Hyde Reporter, Lusitania Case, New York Times, PRO BT 100/345, Probate Records, PRO BT 350.