Amy Elizabeth Oliver was born in Manchester, Lancashire, England, on the 15th February 1881, the daughter of Thomas and Charlotte Sarah Oliver (née Griffiths). The family home in 1915 was at 2, Seaton Street, Moss Side, Manchester, Lancashire, and Amy was the third youngest of ten children. Her father was a printer.
On completion of her education she became a dressmaker, and met William Campbell, a joiner, who had been born in Dundee, Angus, Scotland, but had moved to Manchester with his family as a child. The couple had become engaged to be married, and William travelled to Chicago, Illinois, in the United States of America, in search of work in June 1909, and having established himself, he returned to Manchester in late 1910 or early 1911 to marry Amy, and bring her back with him to Chicago.
Shortly after their wedding, on the 25th March 1911, the couple boarded the
Baltic at Liverpool, arriving in New York City on the 3rd April. The couple then made their way overland to Chicago.
In early 1915, William Campbell decided to return to England to join his father in business and they booked as second cabin passengers on what proved to be the
Lusitania's final voyage which was scheduled to leave New York for Liverpool on the morning of 1st May 1915. Having arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour in time to make her scheduled 10 o’clock sailing, the couple then had to wait until the early afternoon before the liner actually sailed. This was because she had to load cargo and embark crew and passengers from the Anchor Liner
Cameronia which the British Admiralty had requisitioned for use as a troop ship at the end of April
Then, six days out of New York, the liner was torpedoed and sunk within sight of the coast of southern Ireland by the German submarine
U-20. At that stage of her voyage, she was about fourteen hours steaming time away from the safety of her home port. William Campbell was killed as a result of this action and his body was never recovered and identified afterwards. Amy Campbell survived, however.
Having been plucked from the sea after the liner sank; she was landed at Queenstown and eventually arrived at her parents' home in Manchester on Sunday 9th May 1915. She related her ordeal to the press afterwards and her story was reported in the 15th May edition of The Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News. It stated: -
Mrs. Campbell is suffering from the after-effects of her experiences and from deep anxiety as to the fate of her husband, of whom nothing has been heard since the liner went down. Describing the awful circumstances of the disaster, Mrs. Campbell said that they were at lunch in the saloon when the liner was torpedoed. There was no time to get life-belts from their cabin but they got into one of the boats that were being lowered. The ropes gave way and they dropped a considerable distance into the water, throwing out all the occupants. It was then that Mrs. Campbell lost sight of her husband and she has not seen him since. For some time she was in the water and only learnt afterwards how she came to be saved.
One of the stewards, in diving to avoid a funnel of the sinking ship caught his hands in something which proved to be Mrs. Campbell's hair. Thus she was pulled to the surface and then placed upon a raft of some kind. Later she was rescued by a boat in which was the captain of the Lusitania. They then transferred to a vessel named Bluebell, probably a trawler and it was 11 o'clock before they were landed at Queenstown.
The boat that took her from the raft was probably the lifeboat commanded by Able Seaman Jack Roper, who took many people from the sea, including Captain Turner. The
Bluebell was a patrol boat.
Her experiences were also described, with more detail, in The Cheshire Daily Echo, of Monday 10th May 1915, which stated: -
A Manchester lady passenger Mrs. A.E. Campbell was rescued as she was about to sink, by a steward seeing her hair. Mrs. Campbell and her husband were amongst the second-class passengers who were at lunch when the explosion occurred. So heavily did the vessel list that they had to get out of the saloon by clinging onto the pillars. Mrs. Campbell saw no sign of panic. Now she fell, now her husband, but they helped each other onto the deck. They clambered onto one of the collapsible boats on the port side. As the lifeboat struck the water after a high fall, Mrs. Campbell was thrown out.
"All I remember is that I went down and down. I cannot swim and my head kept coming against pieces of wreckage. I was conscious the whole time yet how long I was in the water. I don't know. Wood a first cabin steward told me afterwards that as he was swimming about, his hands caught in my hair and he pulled my head above the water."
Wood a first cabin steward was First Class Bedroom Steward Alfred Wood from Bootle, Lancashire.
The Cheshire Daily Echo account continued: -
Eventually Mrs. Campbell was put on to a raft by her rescuer. Three other ladies including, she believed, Lady Mackworth were brought on to the raft and the little group of survivors were afterwards picked up by the trawler Blue Bell,
Saloon passenger Lady Margaret Mackworth was picked out of the sea, by the
Bluebell, unconscious and floating with her head back, in a wicker chair which had apparently miraculously appeared underneath her. Thus it is unlikely that she would have been picked up by Mrs. Campbell's raft. Mrs. Campbell probably heard the story whilst on the Bluebell. The account finished: -
Mrs. Campbell had lost all her belongings and one of the trawler hands generously gave her a £1 note. She has had no news of her husband Mr. William Campbell. They were returning after a four year's residence in Chicago to Manchester where he was to join his father in partnership. Mrs Campbell is at present staying with her father Mr. William Oliver at 2, Seaton Road, Moss Side.
One of Mrs. Campbell's sisters worked at the Llandudno Post Office in Caernarvonshire, North Wales and her sister's experience and the fate of her brother-in-law, William, were reported in
The North Wales Weekly News on 13th May 1915.
In the summer of 1915, she applied for financial assistance to The Lusitania Relief Fund, which had been set up after the disaster by The Lord Mayor of Liverpool and other worthy local dignitaries, to help those survivors and relatives of the dead, who found themselves in difficulties as a result of the sinking. The committee administering the fund awarded her the sum of £15-0s-0d. for the loss of her husband.
Amy Campbell never returned to the United States of America, nor did she remarry. She resided with her sister in Wales, and died on the 1st May 1956 in Llandudno, Caernarvonshire, North Wales, aged 75 years.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Manchester England Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813 – 1915, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Cheshire Daily Echo, Cunard Records, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, IWM GB62, Liverpool Record Office, North Wales Weekly News, Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.