John Roberts was born on 16th September 1896, at 96 Brunswick Road, West Derby, Liverpool, Lancashire, the son of John and Margaret Roberts, (née Davison). He was the fourth child of ten, seven boys and three girls, although by the time of the
Lusitania sinking, only seven were surviving. Because his mother was a Roman Catholic and his father a Protestant, he was baptised twice, once at St. Francis Xavier's Roman Catholic Church and again at an Anglican Church, probably St. Jude's, in Liverpool.
His father was a former stoker in the Royal Navy and at the time of John's birth was engaged as a joiner's labourer on the construction of the famous tower at New Brighton. The family later moved to 19 Maitland Street, Toxteth, Liverpool and John was educated at a Church of England school there.
He first engaged as a bedroom steward in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania in October 1914 at the wage rate of £3-15s-0d per engagement and by the time of her final voyage, in April/May 1915, he had been promoted to Assistant Engineers' Mess Steward.
Having completed the liner’s crossing to New York without mishap, John Roberts was on board on the early afternoon of 1st May, as the
Lusitania left New York on the start of her return voyage home. Then, six days out of that port, 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 and only about fourteen hours steaming time away from her Liverpool home port. John Roberts lost his life as a result of this action.
News of the disaster first reached the family home at 5 o' clock in the afternoon of the 7th May 1915, when newspaper boys in the streets began to announce the tragedy. Mrs. Roberts immediately made her way to the Cunard offices, then in Water Street, Liverpool, and joined the throng of relatives of passengers and crew all hoping for news of their relatives.
As nothing was forthcoming concerning Steward Roberts' fate, with financial assistance from the government, Mrs. Roberts and her eldest surviving daughter Elizabeth Ann (known as Nancy) set out for southern Ireland. John Roberts senior was unable to make the journey as he was recovering from a bad leg injury caused after he had fallen beneath the wheels of a horse-drawn coal cart.
On arrival in Queenstown, Margaret and Nancy Roberts toured all the temporary mortuaries, checking the corpses to see if one of them was that of their loved one. During this ordeal, they underwent many harrowing experiences, including witnessing the horrific sight of mothers, totally out of their minds with grief, cradling the dead bodies of their children. No sign of John Roberts was ever found, however and it was eventually accepted that he was missing, presumed killed. He was aged 18 years.
His body never was recovered and identified and as such, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine War Memorial to the Missing of the Great War at Tower Hill, London.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Ken Roberts, PRO BT 334.