William Rose was born in Astley Bridge, Bolton, Lancashire, England on 27 November 1878, one of two sons of Alfred and Harriet Rose. In total, it is thought that he was one of six children. Alfred Rose was the steward at the County Club, Lancaster, Lancashire, for most of his life. Harriet Rose died in 1885, and Alfred re-married in 1886, marrying Mary Jane Stamper in Penrith.
For many years William was employed as a steward at the County Club, then in 1904 he joined the Cunard Steam Ship Company in Liverpool, to serve on the transatlantic liners. His first ship was the
Carmania and then he served on the Carpathia and the Aquitania until he was chosen to serve on the
Lusitania, on her maiden voyage on 8 September 1907.
He lodged at 1 Wright Street, Egremont, Wallasey, Cheshire, the home of his friend Second Class Waiter Les Stanfield, and was engaged to be married to a young lady who lived in Burnley, Lancashire. She was a close friend of Les Stanfield’s fiancée, a Miss Haythornwaite who also lived in Burnley.
William signed on as a second class waiter in the Stewards' Department for the
Lusitania’s final voyage 12 April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d (£4.25) and reported for duty at 7am five days later, before the vessel left the River Mersey for the last time.
He survived the liner’s sinking by the German submarine U-20 on the afternoon of 7 May and was eventually rescued from the sea off the Old Head of Kinsale and landed at Queenstown. From there, he first of all went to his parents’ home in Lancaster, where he was interviewed by a reporter from 'The Lancashire Daily Post' about his experiences. His interview was published in the edition of Friday 14 May 1915 and stated:
"We were serving lunch to 250 people in the second class dining room when the torpedo struck the vessel. The people got up but the stewards pacified them and there was no panic. There was an impression that the vessel would right herself. We had 601 second cabin passengers and half would be women and children."
In fact there were 606 second cabin passengers on board the Lusitania on her fateful last voyage.
"The day before we got into port, it is usual to get the baggage up ready to transfer. When the vessel began to list, the baggage charged off and there can be no doubt that many were killed through striking the baggage by jumping off, or through its striking them in the water.
Discipline was perfect and the crew did everything that was possible for the passengers. The crew were (sic) very calm and considering the state of the ship and the quickness with which she went down, everything was done that was possible. More would undoubtedly have been done but for the interference of passengers."
'Is it true as one passenger has alleged that the men saved themselves regardless of the women and children?'
“It is not true,” replied Mr. Rose, “The gentlemen passengers gave way to the women all the time. I saw myself men give up their life-belts for women who had not got them, and themselves go into the water without. I helped several women and children to the upper deck. The boats had been swung out for any emergency at half past five in the morning.
After I had done what I could, I went down into the Glory Hole - where the stewards sleep - descending three flights of stairs, and picked up a derelict lifebelt without strings. I found an apron and tied the strings to the lifebelt, fixed it and sat on the rail until the final lurch. The rail caught the strings of my lifebelt. I went down but shot up again, and found myself amongst a mass of struggling shrieking humanity.
I could not swim and the first thing I got hold of was a dog kennel. I got on it but it turned over and sent me down again. I struggled on, and after being in the water about three hours, I was picked up by Mr. Jones, our chief steward, and put on a collapsible raft. I was unconscious when found but came round after artificial respiration.
After being two hours on the raft, we were picked up by the Indian Empire, a patrol boat. We had a splendid reception at Queenstown, whence I despatched a telegram to my father, which he never got. Just before the vessel was hit I had remarked to my friend Leslie Stansfield, (sic) ‘Well, Les, we shall be in Burnley by this time tomorrow,’ and he replied, ‘Yes, thank goodness.’”
Mr Rose explained that the list of the vessel was such that the boats on the port side came inboard and the boats on the starboard side swung out so that it was impossible to use them.
"Mr Jones, our chief steward", was Chief Steward John Frederick Valentine Jones, who also survived the sinking.
The Indian Empire, a patrol boat was HMS Indian Empire, a Royal Naval trawler which rescued many people from certain death. "My friend Leslie Stansfield"
was obviously Second Class Waiter Leslie Allan Stanfield and the significance of Waiter Rose’s reference to Burnley, was that they had both hoped to travel there once the ship had docked on Saturday 8 May, to see their respective fiancés. Leslie Stanfield did not survive to see his home, Burnley or his fiancée again.
Despite the care that his parents must have given him, on his eventual return to Egremont, William Rose had become ill as a result of his lengthy immersion in the water, and was confined to bed with shock until he recovered. Eventually, he was officially discharged from the Lusitania’s final voyage, and paid £4-9s-6d (£4.47½), which was the balance of wages owing to him for his sea service. In keeping with all the members of the crew, this was reckoned as being from 17 April, until 8 May 1915, 24 hours after the liner had been sunk.
Second Class Waiter Rose’s only brother served with ‘Q’ Battery of The Royal Horse Artillery during the Great War and survived the conflict.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1881 Census of England and Wales, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, Lancashire Daily Post, PRO BT 100/345, Wallasey News, Wallasey & Wirral Chronicle, Diane Westerman.