John `Jack' Patrick Roper was born at 36. Page Street, Liverpool, Lancashire, England on 7th April 1888, the son of John and Anne Roper and the eldest of six children, three boys and three girls. He was educated at St. Francis Xavier's School, Liverpool and at sea.
He was married to Elsie Roper (née Jones) and they had three children, Margaret Frances, Joanna Patricia, who died tragically young, aged only 18 months and John Michael, also know as 'Jack'. The family home was at 4, Talbot Street, Anfield, Liverpool.
He left school at the age of thirteen in 1901, to go to sea in the Mercantile Marine and trained as a cook, serving in that capacity on many ships before and after the war. However, records of
Lusitania crew members published by The Cunard Steam Ship Company in March 1916, show his rank and trade to be that of an able seaman, in the Deck Department. Despite the fact that he never normally served on deck, it would appear that this was his job on the Cunarder's final voyage.
This is borne out in an account of the disaster by Fireman John McStay from Widnes, which was published in
The Widnes Weekly News, on 14th May 1915. McStay, who like Roper survived the sinking and knew Roper well, stated :-
"I saw some deeds of heroism. I didn't know the names until I saw them in the papers. I saw young Jack Roper, an A.B., go back to the vessel in his boat and pick up survivors. He is the lad who saved the captain. I did not see Captain Turner myself, but I believe he was one of the last survivors picked up."
As Jack Roper would have been 27 years of age at the time, he must have had a youthful appearance!
According to Margaret Lonsdale, Jack Roper's daughter, in a letter written to the author in 1998, her father had spotted Captain Turner in the sea because he saw the gold braid on his jacket and thereafter the two survivors kept in touch, meeting for a drink once a year.
As Captain Turner was eventually picked up by the tug Bluebell, if Fireman McStay's information is accurate, Roper and his lifeboat's occupants must also have been rescued by the same vessel.
Margaret Lonsdale wrote further of her father :-
"One tale he told me was how they were brought to Liverpool and left at the Landing Stage with only the clothes they stood up in and no money, and had to walk to their homes. A small group was verbally abused and even spat at by the people on the streets because they were young healthy men and were not away fighting the war!"
A photograph of Able Seaman Roper standing on the quayside at Queenstown next to another crew survivor, Able Seaman G. Clinton, appeared after the incident, in a weekly magazine called
The Illustrated War News.
After his experiences with the Lusitania, Jack Roper remained on shore until 22nd November 1916 when he signed on as a cook on the Cunarder Caronia, which was engaged in trooping. He remained on board her until after the Armistice, and was discharged on 25th November 1918. Thereafter, he served as a vegetable cook on the trooper Toloa of Glasgow, from February until June 1919 and the
Patricia of London. She, too, was a trooper, engaged in returning soldiers to Bombay and he served on her from 8th February until 18th October 1920.
This was his final voyage with the Mercantile Marine after which he "swallowed the anchor" and got a job on shore, as a Liverpool tram conductor, as he was used to an outdoor life. He later transferred to buses, however, and the passengers, particularly on works buses, used to love his outward-going personality as he would crack jokes and sing to them, - and flirt outrageously with the ladies!
He died, following a thrombosis brought on by a road accident, on May 14th 1952, and was buried in the family plot in Ford Cemetery, Liverpool. He was aged 64 years.
Both his brothers were killed during the Great War. K. 10921 (D) First Class Stoker Arthur Joseph Roper was killed at the Battle of Jutland serving on H.M.S.
Defence with the Royal Navy and 130477 Pioneer Frank Roper was killed serving with the Special Brigade, Royal Engineers on 20th June 1916, on the Western Front.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, The Illustrated War News, Margaret Lonsdale, PRO BT 100/345, Widnes Weekly News, PRO BT 350.