William Sandford Thomas was born in London in 1864, the son of William and Martha Thomas. In 1895 he married Nettie Maud Thomas, (also née Thomas), and in 1915, they lived at 10, Balmoral Road, Walton Vale, Liverpool, Lancashire.
He was a professional steward serving in the Mercantile Marine and on the 12th April 1915, at Liverpool, he engaged as a second cabin bedroom steward in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania, at Liverpool, at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d., (£4.25p.). It was not the first time that he had served on the
The liner left Liverpool Pierhead on 17th April 1915 and having completed her Atlantic crossing to New York, she set sail again from there, in the early afternoon of 7th May, to complete her voyage back to her home port. She never made it however, for on the afternoon of 7th May, six days out of New York, whilst steaming past The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
William Thomas lost his life as a result of this action, but his body was recovered from the sea afterwards and having been landed at Queenstown, it was taken to one of the temporary mortuaries set up there, where it was given the reference number 138. Once it had been positively identified, however, it was buried in The Old Church Cemetery, two miles north of the town, in Mass Grave C, 2nd Row, Lower Tier, where it lies today. It was on this day that most of the recovered bodies were buried there, after a long funeral procession which began outside the Cunard office at Lynch‘s Quay on the waterfront. He was aged 50 years at the time of his death, although when he signed on for the voyage he stated that he was 44 years!
His body was not recovered and identified afterwards and consequently, his name is embossed on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
Despite the fact that he has an identifiable burial site, however, 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 Second Cabin Bedroom Steward William Sandford Thomas 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.
Property recovered from his body, which probably aided its identification, was handed over to his widow at the Walton address on 29th October 1915 and consisted of a pendant, a handkerchief marked
A.R.M. £0-10s-0d., (£0.50p) in gold coinage, £1-13s-0d., (£1.65p.), in silver coinage, some copper coinage and four American $1 bills. In August of that year, his widow had also been sent the balance of wages owed to him, in respect of his service on the Lusitania’s last voyage, which was reckoned to be from 17th April 1915, until 8th May, 24 hours after the vessel had gone down!
The Liverpool and London War Risks Insurance Association Limited granted a yearly pension to Nettie Thomas which amounted to £43-9s-8d. (£43.48½p.) which was payable at the rate of £3-12s-6d. (£3.62½p.) per month.
Nettie Thomas married Herbert Charles Carden in Liverpool in 1919. Herbert was also a steward in the Mercantile Marine. Curiously, her daughter, Nettie Florence Thomas married Herbert’s son, Hubert Harry Carden, three years later, in 1922!
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv.D92/1/8-10, UniLiv. PR 13/24, PRO BT 334.