William Samuel Ruffels was born in Nowgong, Bengal, India, on the 14th January 1874, the son of William and Janet Ruffels. His father was a professional soldier, attaining the rank of Sergeant in the 63rd Regiment of foot.
He was married to Sarah Mooney in Winchester, Hampshire, on the 19th November 1896, and for the beginning of their married life, they lived in the Southampton area, where they raised four children. By 1915, the family lived at 8, Balmoral Road, Walton Vale, Liverpool, Lancashire. William was an active Freemason and a member of Toxteth Lodge No. 1356, in Liverpool.
He was a professional sailor in the British Mercantile Marine and he engaged as a first class bedroom steward in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania. at Liverpool on 13th April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-8s-0d., (£4.40p.) and reported for duty on board on the morning of 17th April, in time for the liner’s last ever departure from the River Mersey. It was not the first time that he had served in that capacity on the Lusitania.
The liner then crossed the Atlantic without incident and having docked in New York on 24th April 1915, eventually left there on the early afternoon of 1st May, for her return to Liverpool. Although he was serving in the capacity of first class bedroom steward, William Ruffels does not seem to have had any direct responsibility for any specific saloon rooms on the voyage home.
Six days out of New York, on the afternoon of 7th May, the Lusitania
was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only about 250 miles away from the safety of her home port. Bedroom Steward Ruffels was killed as a result of this action. He was aged 41 years.
As his body was never recovered and identified afterwards, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London. He is also commemorated on a bronze roll of honour dedicated to the Freemasons from the Liverpool district who were killed during the Great War, at the Masonic Hall in Hope Street, Liverpool.
Another Lusitania casualty, First Class Waiter William Rylands was also a member of the Toxteth Lodge of Freemasons and he also lost his life in the sinking.
In August 1915, Bedroom Steward Ruffels’ widow Sarah received from Cunard, the balance of pay owed to him in respect of his service on the
Lusitania’s last voyage. This was reckoned to be from 17th April 1915 until 8th May - 24 hours after the liner had gone down. In addition, The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited also granted her an annual pension which amounted to £53-2s-5d. (£53.11p.), payable at the rate of £4-8s-7d. (£4.43p.) per month.
When he engaged for the Lusitania’s last voyage, William Ruffels declared that his birth place was Liverpool, but birth records, and the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission show it to be India. The Commission would have sought this information from different sources after the war, including the family and are usually a very accurate source, so Bedroom Steward Ruffels may have used Liverpool as his birth place because it elicited less interest and fuss!
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, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Geoff Cuthill, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. PR. 13/24, PRO BT 334.