Nigel Frederick Booth was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in September 1914, the son of Charles Henry and Emily Eliza Booth (née Hadfield), who had originally come from Leicestershire, in England.
In the spring of 1915, his mother decided to return home and take Nigel with her, as her mother had been taken seriously ill. Consequently, she booked second cabin passage for them both on the May sailing of the
Lusitania from New York to Liverpool.
Leaving Ottawa towards the end of April the pair arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York, on the morning of 1st May 1915 in time for the liner’s scheduled sailing at 10 o‘clock. This was then delayed until just after mid-day, as the liner had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for service as a troop ship at the end of April.
Six days out of New York, on the afternoon of 7th May, the Lusitania
was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20 off the southern coast of Ireland and only hours away from her home port.
Although Emily Booth lost her life as a result of the sinking, baby Nigel survived. In an edition of
The Coalville Times for 14th May 1915, - Coalville is a small town in Leicestershire - it was stated: -
The baby was saved by a fifteen year old girl who was occupying the same cabin as Mrs. Booth. She threw the baby into the arms of a boatman and was also taken off herself, but her parents are missing. She did not see Mrs. Booth who, it is surmised rushed to the cabin for the child and had not returned before the boat went down.
The fifteen year old girl was Molly Mainman, who was actually only aged thirteen years, and who was an occupant of the same second class cabin that Emily and Nigel Booth were in. Molly was travelling with her family from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Exeter, Devonshire, England. Molly was travelling with her parents and four siblings, and only Molly and her younger brother, Teddy, were counted amongst the survivors.
On the morning of Saturday 8th May, two of Nigel Booth’s aunts, Mrs. Cluley and Miss Louisa Mary Hadfield, travelled to Liverpool to seek any news of him and his mother, but had to return to Hugglescote the following night, having discovered nothing.
Mrs. Cluley then gave an interview to a reporter of The Coalville Times, which said:-
Mrs. Cluley stated that they arrived at Liverpool at 3-15 on Saturday afternoon. They went to the Cunard Company’s offices and stayed there all night until past midnight on Sunday. They met two trains bringing in survivors, but all their enquiries about their sister failed to obtain any information concerning her. Passengers she conversed with said it was too horrible to explain. The boat went down so quickly that the passengers had to do the best they could for themselves. A lot of them jumped clear of the vessel as it went down though many were sucked under.
“I was talking to one man,” added Mrs. Cluley “who was a third class passenger and told me that he had saved one lady. He had two brothers on board and did not know anything about them. He said there was no panic as everyone thought the vessel would float. Nobody thought it would sink so soon.” Mrs. Cluley also stated that some of the survivors had their heads and arms bandaged and had to be helped along.
At about one o’clock on Monday, afternoon a cablegram was received by Mr. and Mrs. Hadfield, baby Nigel’s grandparents, at their home at Hugglescote Post Office, in Leicestershire, from Nigel‘s father, then at Montreal, who had presumably been contacted by Cunard at Queenstown. The cable stated that Nigel was safe at 9. King’s Terrace, Queenstown, and asked if someone could go there and pick him up.
On the evening of the same day, Nigel’s uncle, George Hadfield, and his aunt, Louisa, had left Leicestershire for Queenstown to pick him up and returned with him, safe and well, on the following Wednesday afternoon. Whilst there, they searched in vain for any sign, dead or alive, of his mother, their sister. Mrs. Hadfield, Nigel Booth’s grandmother, eventually recovered from her serious illness, despite the loss of her daughter.
On their return to Hugglescote, Nigel’s aunt, Louisa, took charge of him and actually looked after him for the best part of the next year. Eventually his father arrived from Canada to take him home. This brought a happy event out of the tragedy, however, because Henry Booth, who had probably first met Louisa when he had lived in Leicester, fell in love with her and in August 1916, the two were married at Hugglescote Parish Church. Not long afterwards they sailed for Ottawa, taking Nigel with them.
Charles Booth filed a claim for compensation for the loss of Emily, her personal effects, and expenses incurred having their son, Nigel, cared for following his survival and rescue and his return to Canada. The Canadian Commission which dealt with his claim awarded him the sum of $5,775.00 with interest of 5% per annum from the 10th January 1920, and $1,142.80 as executor of his late wife’s will for the loss of her personal possessions, with interest of 5% per annum from the 7th May 1915 to the date the claim was settled.
On completion of his education, Nigel became a paymaster and timekeeper in various parts of British Columbia. He died in Alert Bay, British Columbia, on the 10th August 1966, aged 51 years.
1921 Census of Canada, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, British Columbia Canada Death Index 1872 – 1990, Canadian Claims Case No. 876, Cunard Records, Coalville Times, Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppington News, Leicester Mail, PRO BT 100/345, Graham Maddocks, Margery Bonney, D. Hale, Jess Jenkins, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.