Mary, known as ‘Mattie’, and sometimes ‘Polly’, Phillips was born in Willenhall, Staffordshire, England, on the 14th June 1867, the daughter of Frederick Phillips and his wife, Emma (née Ash). Her father was a mortice lock maker. She had an older brother, Henry, who was known as ‘Harry’, and three sisters – Ann Elizabeth, Emma Ruth, and Fanny Bertha. Ann Elizabeth was the eldest child in the family.
She became a professional stewardess employed on passenger liners belonging to The Cunard Steam Ship Company, having joined the company some three years before the outbreak of the Great War, and resided in Glasgow, Scotland.
Her usual ship was the S.S. Cameronia, upon which she engaged at Glasgow, on 15th April 1915, but at the end of April 1915, the Admiralty requisitioned that ship for war use as a troop ship and on 1st May 1915, nine crew members not needed for her new rôle, (stewards, stewardesses and a matron) were transferred to the Lusitania.
These included Mary Phillips who transferred to the Lusitania for what would be the liner’s last ever voyage across the Atlantic. When the ship was sunk, six days into her voyage and only hours away from her Liverpool destination, out of nineteen stewardesses who had sailed from New York, only six survived. Mary Phillips was lucky enough to be amongst this six.
An account in the Swansea newspaper The Cambria Leader for Monday 10th May 1915 tells of her brother Harry‘s relief upon hearing that she was safe: -
He and his family were naturally greatly relieved at the receipt of the good news, which came while they were at church, for they had suffered much anxiety since receiving a message on Saturday that Miss Phillips was on the ill-fated liner.
Mary Phillips had a sister named Fanny, also unmarried, who lived with her in Glasgow. She too was a stewardess for the Cunard Company, and on a previous voyage, in June 1914, whilst employed by The Anchor Line, she had also suffered shipwreck when the S.S. Colombia on which she was serving, had run aground off the coast of Ireland!
In 1932, Mary went to New York City where she applied to become a naturalised U.S. citizen. Her application was granted in 1937. While in New York City, she resided at 1518. Pacific Street, Brooklyn.
In 1935, she moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she lived with her two unmarried sisters, Elizabeth and Fanny at 2555 38th Avenue North. She died in hospital on the 31st January 1952, aged 84 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England & Wales, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1940 U.S. Federal Census, 1945 Florida State Census, Cambria Leader, St. Petersburg Times, Cunard Records, UniLiv. D92/6/1, Western Mail, Michael Poirier.
Copyright © Peter Kelly