George Armstrong Ronnan was born in Kentish Town, London in 1899, the son of Joseph James and Martha Elizabeth Ronnan, and one of at least twelve children. His father was a hairdresser, and his mother a dressmaker. In 1915, the family home was at 62, Cambridge Road, Seaforth, Lancashire.
Having trained as a butcher, he engaged on board the Lusitania at Liverpool for his first ever voyage at sea with The Cunard Steam Ship Company on the morning of 17th April 1916 as an assistant butcher in the Steward’s Department. In that trade, his monthly rate of pay was £4-10s-0d., (£4.50p.). As the Lusitania left the River Mersey that morning, he began what became his only voyage out of Liverpool and her last one!
Having completed the liner’s crossing to New York without mishap, Assistant Butcher Ronnan was on board on the early afternoon of 1st May, three weeks after leaving Liverpool, as the
Lusitania left New York on the start of her return voyage to England. Then, six days out of that port, on the afternoon of 7th May, the liner 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 fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her own home port. George Ronnan lost his life as a result of this action. He was aged 16 years, although when he engaged, he erroneously gave his age as 17.
His body was recovered from the sea afterwards, however, and landed at Queenstown where it was placed in the temporary mortuary set up in the yard behind the Cunard office at Lynch’s Quay. Before it was formally identified it was given the reference number 54, before being buried on 10th May 1915, in Mass Grave C, Row 5, Lower Tier, in The Old Church Cemetery, just outside the town.
It was on this date that most of the recovered remains of the Lusitania dead were buried following a long funeral procession which began at the waterfront at Lynch’s Quay in Queenstown.
Despite the fact that he has an identifiable burial site, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was not aware of the fact and after the Great War, commemorated him on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London.
However, once the author had established beyond doubt that he was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, the Commission agreed to erect a permanent memorial to him where he is buried and this was done in November 1998.
It takes the form of a monument of Irish limestone, sited at the head of Mass Grave B, the centre one of the three. The names of crew members buried in the three mass graves are incised on two black granite panels on the memorial, with a legend in between them, which reads: -
1914 - 1918
IN HONOURED MEMORY
OF THOSE NAMED WHO,
SERVING ON THE
DIED WHEN THE SHIP WAS
SUNK BY ENEMY ACTION
ON 7 MAY 1915
AND ARE BURIED NEARBY
The name of Assistant Butcher George Ronnan is incised on the right hand panel.
The Commission has also stated that should it ever be necessary to renew the panel bearing his name on the Tower Hill Memorial, his name would be omitted from its replacement.
The only property belonging to George Ronnan that remained after the disaster was a silver cigarette case, taken from his body and this was forwarded to his mother in Seaforth, on 31st December 1915. She acknowledged receipt of this in a document dated 11th January 1916.
An article published in The Wallasey News just after the sinking erroneously stated that George Ronnan lived in Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire.
On Wednesday, 22nd December 1915, an advertisement appeared on the front page of the
Liverpool Echo newspaper whereby George’s mother, Martha, gave notice to his father, Joseph, that she was taking arbitration proceedings under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. The application was being made to determine who were the dependants of George in relation to the £74 which had been lodged into the County Court by the Cunard Steam Ship Co. Ltd., presumably a payment made under the Workmen’s Compensation Act, and to determine who should benefit from the sum, and to what amount. The hearing was scheduled for the 27th January 1916, and the decision of the Court is not known.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Liverpool Echo, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, Wallasey News, PRO BT 334.