Eugene Augustine McDermott’s early life is unknown. He was probably born in Lancashire, England, in 1888 or 1889, and at various times his place of birth was recorded as being Blackburn, Patricroft (near Eccles), or Manchester. According to surviving records, he never knew his parents and was raised at St. Joseph’s Home, an orphanage in Patricroft. As far as can be ascertained, no birth certificate exists in relation to him, so it is possible that he was an abandoned baby.
When he left the orphanage, he settled in Liverpool, and became a house painter. In May 1908, he enlisted in the Territorial Army, specifically the 9th Bn. King’s Liverpool Regiment, as 493 Private Eugene McDermott. He enlisted for the standard four year term, which he extended for a further year, and was discharged in May 1912.
On the 31st August 1913, he married Martha Elizabeth Welsh in Liverpool, and lived at 99, Claudia Street, Walton, Liverpool, Lancashire, with his wife and two children – Eugenia May, born in 1913, and later, Eugene James, born in 1916. Living next door at 97. Claudia Street, were George James and Elizabeth Ann Hamel, and their family. Elizabeth Hamel and Martha McDermott were sisters!
From what is known, Eugene sometimes found employment as a trimmer on steam ships. When he first engaged as a trimmer, or how often he left his family to go to sea is unknown. His neighbour, George Hamel, who was a dock labourer, also went to sea as a trimmer occasionally, and it is possible that they were in the practise of signing on for voyages together.
On the 12th April 1915, at the Cunard offices at Liverpool, both Eugene McDermott and George Hamel engaged as trimmers in the Engineering Department on board the
Lusitania, at a monthly rate of pay of £6-0s-0d, £1-0s-d., of which was advanced to each of them at the time. It was not the first time that either had served on the vessel and they reported for duty on the early morning of 17th April 1915, before the liner left the River Mersey for the last time.
Having completed the liner’s crossing to New York without mishap, both men were still serving on board ship on the early afternoon of 1st May, as the
Lusitania left New York on the start of her return voyage to Liverpool. Then, six days into the voyage, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, within sight of the coast of southern Ireland. At that time, she was only about fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port.
Out of 100 trimmers on board when the liner had left New York, 69 perished and only 31 survived the sinking. Eugene McDermott was one of the fortunate 31, while George Hamel was numbered among the 69 lost. Having been being rescued from the sea, Eugene was landed at Queenstown, and no doubt actively searched for George Hamel amongst the survivors and recovered bodies, but found no trace of him. George Hamel’s remains were never recovered, or if they were, they were never identified and consequently, he is commemorated on the Mercantile Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London.
Eugene McDermott eventually got back to Liverpool, where no doubt he confirmed the loss of his next door neighbour, George Hamel, to family and friends. He was officially discharged from the last voyage of the
Lusitania and was paid the balance of wages owing to him, which amounted to £5-2s-4d., (£5.12p). This sum was in respect of his service on board from 17th April 1915, until 8th May, 24 hours after the vessel had gone down! He was aged 26 years at the time of his Lusitania ordeal.
He did not live too long to enjoy the fruits of his survival, however, for in the last week of October 1915, he enlisted in the British Army and less that a year later, on 25th September 1916, whilst serving as 4357 Private Eugene McDermott of the 1/9th Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment), he was killed in action, near Flers, on the Somme battlefront in northern France.
On that date, the 9th King’s, as part of the 165th Brigade of the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, made an attack on an enemy position near Flers, along a 1,000 yard front between two trenches known as Seven Dials and Factory Corner. It was the first time that the Battalion had advanced under a creeping barrage and the rear waves came under heavy German retaliatory fire and the Advanced Headquarters of the Battalion suffered a direct hit, killing many of the runners and signallers there. Despite the success of the attack, many casualties were sustained and one of these was unfortunately Private McDermott.
His body was not recovered and identified after the war and as a result, he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.
Martha McDermott remarried in 1920, and went on to have another four children with her second husband, Robert Owen Coleman. Martha died in Liverpool on the 24th August 1974, aged 82 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1911 English Census, 1901 English Census, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Joe Devereux, Sheila Gibbons, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, Soldiers Died, (Photo - Liverpool Courier 18/11/1916).