John Williams was born in Bootle, Lancashire in 1885, the son of Herbert Seymour and Grace Williams. His mother had previously married, and had children, and is thought to have been widowed when she married John’s father in 1879. He had one sister named Grace Anne, and at least one other sibling who is thought to have died in childhood. Both were older than John. In 1915, he lived at 40, Parkfield Road, Bootle.
John was a professional sailor in the British Mercantile marine and engaged as a third class waiter in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania, at Liverpool on 12th April 1915, at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d., (£4.25p.). He then reported for duty on board on the morning of 17th April before the liner left the River Mersey for the last time! It was not the first time that he had served on the liner.
The liner then crossed the Atlantic without incident and having docked in New York on 24th April 1915, eventually left there again on the early afternoon of 1st May, for her return voyage to Liverpool. Then, six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20, within sight of The Old Head of Kinsale in southern Ireland. At that time, she was only about 250 miles away from the safety of her home port. John Williams lost his life as a result of this action, however - he was aged 30 years, although he gave his age on engagement as 27!
As his body was not recovered and identified afterwards, his name is embossed on the Mercantile Marine Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London, and is also carved on the headstone of the family grave in Bootle Cemetery, not far from where he lived.
The stone, which takes the form of a cross raised on three square clocks of white granite, is in a poor state of repair and in much need of restoration. In the centre of the cross is a fouled anchor and inscriptions are carved on the base of the cross and on the front and sides of the three blocks. The pertinent inscription which refers to Waiter Williams states: -
..... JOHN THEIR BELOVED SON
WHO WAS LOST ON THE LUSITANIA,
7TH MAY 1915, AGED 30.
John Williams is also commemorated on the municipal war memorial in Stanley Road, Bootle. His name is not on a bronze panel on the main memorial, but on a semi-circular wall around it, where later additions are displayed.
In August 1915, his family - probably his sister Grace - was paid 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!
Grace Williams had married a Thomas Arthur Ashcroft, and eventually died in June 1963.
1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, PRO BT 334.