Mary known as ‘Mattie’ Phillips was born in Great Britain in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The family home was at 169, Bryn Road, Swansea, Glamorgan, where her brother Harry Phillips still lived.
She was 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.
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 Mattie 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. Mattie 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.
Mattie 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!
One contemporary account names Mattie Phillips as Polly Phillips.
Cambria Leader, Cunard Records, UniLiv. D92/6/1, Western Mail.