George Wynne was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on the 4th July 1898, the son of Joseph Dominic and Mary Ellen Jeanetta Wynne. He lived with his parents at 20, Oakes Street, in the centre of Liverpool, off London Road.
He engaged as an assistant cook in the Stewards' Department on board the Lusitania at Liverpool on 17th April 1915, just before she sailed on her last ever voyage from the River Mersey, as a substitute for someone who had failed to join. His monthly wage in this rank was £6. It was not his first voyage on the ship. His father also signed on at the same time as a sculleryman.
In 1975, George Wynne was at a party for the disabled in Ashton-in-Makerfield, Greater Manchester, when he was interviewed by radio presenter Monty Lister, from
Radio Merseyside, who asked him to recount his Lusitania experiences. What he said was later broadcast on air: -
She came out of a fog on the southern part of Ireland and she was pulling up the speed, seven miles off the Old Head of Kinsale, 25 miles from Queenstown and the submarine is waiting for her and she just put one in, at eight minutes past two.
It went down in twelve minutes, but there was an explosion about 20 minutes past two and she took a list and went down at the bow with her stern up.
My father said to me that he was going down - to hang on, on the deck, as she was going down very fast - to hang on as he was going down for a lifebelt, which was in “the glory hole” - the sleeping quarters. I never saw no more of him - he turned round three times and looked at me and I never saw no more of him. ...... I was 16, in the kitchen and my father was in the kitchen. We were both working there.
His father, Sculleryman Joseph Wynne was aged 37 years of age when he was killed and his body was never recovered and identified afterwards. George Wynne continued: -
I was in the water seven hours and a half, I was in a capsized boat and I was unconscious and one of the engineers tied me to wreckage - I couldn’t swim - and I got picked up by the Indian Empire and taken to Queenstown. I had nothing on, just a singlet, that’s all.
The Indian Empire was a Royal Naval trawler which came out of Queenstown, and helped to pick up survivors once news of the disaster had reached that port.
In the early 1960‘s, George Wynne was interviewed for an American television documentary called
In Search of the Lusitania, and in this he spoke of coming round on the
Indian Empire and the scene which greeted him once he had been landed at Queenstown: -
“I don't know how long I was in the water on the wreckage but when I came to, there was a crowd there around me and they were pumping water from me, and the next thing they gave me a cup of tea and put a blanket around me. ..... .
When I went along this dock road they were making mortuaries in each shop with the white sheets on, and bodies lying on the shop floors, and from there I went round thinking that I could see my father ..... .
Furthermore, in 1975, George Wynne wrote to Ian Severns, a reporter with The Liverpool Echo, about his experiences on board the
Lusitania and these were published in the edition of 4th April. Part of his report stated: -
“My father said that he was going below to get me a lifebelt and as he walked away, incongruously upward on the teetering deck, he looked round at me three times before disappearing into the after stairway. That was the last I saw of him.”
Young Wynne, in spite of not being able to swim, survived. He went down twice with capsized boats. The first time he came up near the boat he had left - he and four others remained out of 50 in that boat - the second time he lost himself in unconsciousness, until he was safe on board a trawler.
“Owing to the great loss of my father, who left me, the eldest of seven to support them and my mother, I picture the sinking over and over again.” he says.
One grim incident in particular returns to his mind. He remembers as he was leaving the galley, hearing much banging at the bottom of the lift-shaft that went from the galley deep down to the refrigerated meat store. He is sure that about half a dozen butchers were crammed in the lift down there, unable to move because there was no power to move the lift, leaving them doomed to die caged.”
Despite his ordeal, George Wynne was not put off going to sea or pursuing the war against the Germans, although he did suffer from bronchitis as a result of his immersion.
In fact, he signed on for another sea voyage on the S.S. Hesperian, of The Allan Line, but his mother, fearing a repetition of the
Lusitania tragedy, burned all his clothes, hid his kit bag and then did not wake him up in enough time to join the vessel. As a result, he missed being shipwrecked again!
On 4th September 1915, 85 miles south west of the Fastnet Rock, on a voyage from Liverpool to Montreal the
Hesperian was torpedoed and sunk. The submarine which sank her was none other than the
U 20, still under the command of Kapitanleutnant Walther Schwieger, who had sunk the
Lusitania only four months earlier!
Cunard paid all crew members until 8th May, 24 hours after the sinking, and George Wynne was eventually officially discharged in Liverpool, the balance of wages owing to him, amounting to £5-1s-0d., (£5.5p). Although he stated in his radio interview that he was 16 at the time of the disaster, he gave his age as 17 at the time of his engaging.
Although he was thwarted in his attempts to return to sea, he was determined to serve King and country further and in 1916, he joined the Army. As 63131 Private George Wynne, he served with the 8th (Irish) Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment), which was part of the Territorial Force. He was wounded so many times with this unit that his fitness category for active service was downgraded and he finished his Army service with The Labour Corps.
When he told his story to the media in 1975, George Wynne was living at 4, Aston Street, Garston, near Liverpool and at that time, Liverpool Corporation was in the process of pulling down a lot of old properties along Scotland Road, Liverpool, where many of the old seafarers had lived, before and after the Great War.
George Wynne suggested that one of the demolished sites would make an excellent location for a memorial to the
Lusitania, but this, unfortunately, never happened and even today, there is nothing within the city, to commemorate her, or the seafarers who served on board the Liverpool registered vessel!
On the 21st January 1920, George married Eleanor Verner in Liverpool, and they had five children – Mary, George, Francis, Eleanor, and Rita.
George Wynne died in Liverpool on the 4th December 1980, aged 82 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, British Ships Sunk By U-Boats, Cunard Records, In Search of the Lusitania, Joe Devereux, Liverpool Echo, PRO BT 100/345, Radio Merseyside, PRO BT 350.