There is confusion as to who William (‘Bill’ or ‘Willie’) Walter Wilmin actually was! Although he claimed throughout his life to have been born in Kilnhurst, Yorkshire, England, on the 22nd October 1877, no record of the birth of anyone with the name of William Walter Wilmin, or any similar name, is recorded anywhere in England or Wales around that period.
According to his family, he was born on a canal boat, and four days after his birth, his father tied up at York. Unfortunately, by this time his mother had died and his father handed him over to a children’s society in York. For here, it would seem that he was given to William Walter Wilmin and his wife, Sarah Ann (née Wilson).
He first appeared in official records as a three-year-old ‘adopted infant’ named ‘Fred Gramwell’, born in Swinton, in the 1881 Census of England at the home of William Walter and Sarah A. Wilmin, at 11. Glass House Road, Swinton, Rotherham, Yorkshire. Ten years later, in the 1891 Census of England, he is still residing with the Wilmin’s, but now as ‘Willie Wilmin’! In 1891, the family had moved to 60. St. Paul’s Terrace, Micklegate, York.
It would therefore seem that sometime between 1881 and 1891 he was given the name William Walter Wilmin, the name of his adopted father, and the name by which he lived out his long life. His adopted parents had a daughter in 1892, whom they named Elizabeth. Nothing is known of William’s childhood, but at some stage he joined the British mercantile marine as a steward and spent his working life working at sea.
On the 24th June 1899, he married Sophia Grace Kopperman in Liverpool, and the couple went on to have four daughters. In 1915, they lived at 47. Parton Street, West Derby, Liverpool.
On 12th April 1915, at Liverpool, he engaged as a pantry steward in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania. He joined the vessel at Liverpool landing stage on the early morning of 17th April, in time for her last ever sailing out of the River Mersey. It was not his first voyage on the Cunarder.
Having completed the liner’s last ever east to west crossing of the Atlantic ocean, he was on board when she left New York for the last time in the early afternoon of 1st May 1915 - having delayed her departure because she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from fellow Cunarder Cameronia, which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for war work as a troop ship at the end of April.
Then, just six days later, 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 fourteen hours from the safety of her home port.
Cunard records show his surname to be spelled Wilmer, but this is an error.
William Wilmin survived this action, however and having been rescued from the sea, he was landed at Queenstown from where he eventually made it back home.
Shortly after returning to Liverpool, he enlisted in the Royal Navy, and served for some period of the war on
William returned to the mercantile marine after the war, and then, in 1939, his wife, Sophia died. In 1941, he remarried, his second wife being Florence Compston, and the wedding took place in Bolton, Lancashire.
Despite approaching the age of retirement, William continued to serve in the mercantile marine during the Second World War, predominantly on ‘Arctic Convoys’, and when he did eventually retire after the war, he retired to Wales with his wife.
William Wilmin died at his home at Crogan, Llandegfan, Menai Bridge, Anglesey, Wales, on the 20th November 1966, aged 89 years. In his will he left his estate of £271 to his wife, Florence.
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, Norman Gray, Boys Book of the Seas, UniLiv D92/2/91, Probate Records, PRO BT 350.