Ida Amelia McBride was born in on the 22nd November 1857, in York, Livingston County, New York State, in the United States of America, the daughter of Asa Davis and Marian Amelia McBride (née Lathrop). Her father was a travelling salesman.
On the 28th April 1896, she married Conway Seymour Godfrey Campbell-Johnston in Santa Barbara, California, and they lived on a ranch at San Rafael Heights, San Francisco, California. They had no children. Her husband, who had served as an officer in the Royal Navy before retiring and coming to the United States of America, came from a very wealthy English family
Despite being 55 years of age when the Great War broke out, her husband decided that it was his patriotic duty to return to Great Britain and offer his services to his country. As a result, in the spring of 1915, he put his California affairs in order and booked saloon passage on the Lusitania for both of them for the liner’s sailing of 1st May 1915.
They left from Los Angeles, California, in April 1915, and having arrived in New York at the end of that month, they stayed at The Belmont Hotel, before joining the Cunarder on the morning of 1st May, at the company’s berth in New York port. They then boarded (with ticket number 46147), and were taken to their room, B43, which was the personal responsibility of First Class Waiter James Holden who came from Liverpool and was acting as a first class bedroom steward on what was to become the liner’s last voyage!
She actually left port just after mid-day on the 1st May and just six day later, on the afternoon of 7th May 1915; she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine
U-20, when she was within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only hours away from her home port of Liverpool. Both Ida Campbell-Johnston and her husband were killed. She was aged 57 years, although when boarding the liner in New York, she stated her age to being 50 years!
Although Conway Campbell-Johnston’s body was never recovered from the sea and identified, hers was picked up near the fishing port of Kinsale not long after the liner had gone down and was taken to the mortuary at the British Army barracks there, where it was given the reference number 2, for bodies recovered from the Kinsale area and described as: -
Mrs. Ida Campbell Johnston, Saloon. Brown hair turning grey, about 5’ 7“ or 8” fairly elderly, wearing small check body and skirt, silk stockings and two small pearl chain earrings.
Meanwhile, a cable had been received at the Cunard Office at Queenstown from New York enquiring about Mrs. Campbell-Johnston's fate. It asked: -
HAVE YOU ANY TRACE FOLLOWING SALOON MRS. CAMPBELL-JOHNSTON. BLACK WHITE CHECK SUIT TRIMMED BLUE SATIN. GOLD BRACELET EXPANDING WRIST WATCH PATENT LEATHER SHOES.
Identification of the body had, by this time, been established anyway and the cable merely confirmed this. A personal identification had also been made by a crew member, Second Steward Robert Chisholm. At first, Steward Chisholm was not sure that the body
was that of Mrs. Campbell-Johnston, but later changed his mind and Cunard then sent a cable to the family to this effect, which stated: -
MR. CHISHOLM STATES BODY HE FAILED TO IDENTIFY AT KINSALE IS NOW POSITIVELY THAT OF MRS. IDA CAMPBELL-JOHNSTON, AND IS GOING FORWARD FOR LONDON.
As early as Saturday 8th May, an inquest had been convened on the bodies landed at Kinsale, by local lawyer and coroner Mr. John J. Horgan. It was held in The Market House in Kinsale itself and the verdict of the jury on all the bodies landed at Kinsale was eventually given that: -
We find that this appalling crime was contrary to international law and the conventions of all civilised nations and we therefore charge the officers of the said submarine and the Emperor and Government of Germany under whose orders they acted with the wilful and wholesale murder before the tribunal of the civilised world!
The body was indeed sent to Paddington, London, on 18th May 1915, but its whereabouts after that are not known. It must have been buried by her husband’s family in England, or maybe later shipped to her family in the United States of America.
Property found on her body was later handed to her brother-in-law, Mr. Louis Campbell-Johnston, of Woodcote Grove, Coulsdon, Surrey, England.
Waiter James Holden who had looked after both the Campbell-Johnston’s in room B43 also perished in the sinking and never returned to the River Mersey!
1860 U.S. Federal Census, 1870 U.S. Federal Census, 1875 New York State Census, 1900 U.S. Federal Census, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Cunard Records, Last Voyage of the Lusitania, PRO BT 100/345, San Francisco Chronicle, UniLiv. D92/1/8-10, UniLiv D92/2/370, UniLiv. PR13/6, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Nyle Monday, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.