People's Stories

Everyone on the Lusitania's last voyage, including passengers and crew.

Cyrus Crossley

Cyrus Crossley

About Cyrus

Cyrus Crossley was born in Swinton, Lancashire, England, on the 29th March 1877, the son of Cyrus and Lavinia Crossley (née Lister).  He was one of fourteen children, and his father was a master joiner and builder.  The family moved to Bradford, Yorkshire, while Cyrus was an infant.  On completion of his education, whilst in his early teenage years, Cyrus worked in the local textile trade, before following his father and becoming a joiner.

In 1901, Cyrus married Sylvia Ellen Milsom in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, and later the same year, the couple welcomed a son – Victor Cyrus Crossley.

On the 19th September 1903, the family arrived in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on board the Bavarian, and from there, they made their way to Toronto, Ontario, where Cyrus Crossley set himself up in business as a master joiner.  In December 1903, the family travelled to Ohio to visit an uncle of Sylvia Crossley.

Cyrus established a very successful joinery business in Toronto, however: tragedy struck the family when their son, Victor, died on the 2nd May 1907, aged 5 years.  In 1913, the couple returned to England for a three month holiday – their first visit home in ten years!

By the Spring of 1915, however; the effects of the Great War had so seriously affected his business, Cyrus and Sylvia Crossley decided to return once more to England and to travel to Shaw, near Oldham, Lancashire, England, to stay with Mrs. Crossley's sister and brother-in-law, Sergeant and Mrs. Jackson.  Sergeant Jackson was in charge of the police station at Shaw.

As they wanted a quick passage across the Atlantic, rather than travelling from a Canadian port, they went to New York by rail and booked as second cabin passengers on the Lusitania.  They sailed with her when she left New York just after mid-day on 1st May 1915.

They both survived the sinking and Cyrus Crossley later gave his account of the sinking to a reporter of The Oldham Standard at his brother-in-law's home at Shaw Police Station, on Sunday 9th May: -

We were in the dining room having lunch when suddenly I heard a noise as if someone was banging something into the side and then I heard a tear as if someone was tearing open a large bag with a pair of scissors.  That was the impression I got and I at once concluded it was a torpedo.  I pulled hold of my wife and I said “Come on she's sinking.” and we went out of the dining room, and then I said “she's going fast.”

Some of the passengers actually saw the torpedo coming, but were so mystified with it that they didn't know what it was; in fact one man shouted that a porpoise was coming.  But it was the torpedo.  We were not two minutes in getting from the dining room to the deck.  By this time the boat was at an angle of 45 degrees.  We went to the port side and they had the boats out there and were going to launch them but one of them got smashed so we didn't stop there.  We moved on to the starboard side.

One boat was filling and I noticed one empty.  I pulled some women into it - in fact I got 35 women in and then an officer came and later a steward.  We put more passengers into it and then I got in and we were lowered.  I saw two other boats lowering and ultimately we were lowered.  All this time the Lusitania was listing very badly and a man came rushing up and said: “The captain says no more boats to be lowered.”  Whether the captain said that or not I can't say but a man told us so.  She began to settle down, and water was rushing over her and carrying people with it.  One lady jumped out of the vessel or fell out, and was sucked into the funnel but she was ejected again and rescued.

This lady was undoubtedly Second Cabin Passenger Mrs. Margaret Gwyer travelling from Saskatoon, Canada with her husband, The Reverend H.L. Gwyer, who survived her ordeal and was later landed at Queenstown.  Mr. Crossley continued: -

A boat full of children next to the Lusitania went down with her.  One of her funnels blew out and we were full of mud and dirt, and ultimately the vessel went down in front of us.  We went over the spot where she had been.  We whirled round and round for about half an hour, but we kept our oars going and we managed to keep steady with it.  We had 82 passengers in our boat which was overloaded; but what could we do?  We wanted to save all we possibly could.  We knew we had too many in.  An officer with us told us that we had too many on and that it was dangerous.

We gradually pulled away and saw a man in a boat and we transferred 25 of our passengers to it.  We rowed about for a few hours then and saw a fishing smack and rowed to it.  Two other boats were ahead of us and we were transferred to the fishing smack and some of the passengers transferred to two other boats.  An officer went back later to try and pick more up.

This fishing smack was almost certainly The Peel 12.

Whilst in the fishing smack we were packed like herrings and we had, I guess, 100 passengers on.  When we got into the smack we saw many steamers going to the scene of the disaster.  There would be fully a dozen going when we saw them.  Whilst in the fishing smack two or three destroyers came along and the tug 'Flying Fish' also arrived and it was the latter which took us from the fishing smack, and we got into Queenstown between 10 and 10-30 at night.  We were put up at The Queens Hotel for the night.

It was a case of every man for himself, so quickly did the thing happen, but we did what we could for the women and children.  There was no panic, not the slightest.  One foreigner tried to take a lifebelt from a woman but he did not manage it, and he was thrown into the sea.  The weather was beautiful and the water as calm as could be  We lost everything we had, money, clothing and all belongings, in fact we lost over 1,000 dollars each.  Some of the passengers were absolutely destitute.

I saw the boat go down.  Some say she made a plunge but she didn't.  She reeled quietly over until the funnels touched the water.  We were expecting being caught with the funnels so near were we: in fact we pushed ourselves off from the funnels as they struck the water.  We were also afraid of being tangled with the wireless (aerial), but that broke and a good job too.  One chap was sent right through the hole which was made by the torpedo.  He was saved but his pal was killed.

A good impression of a torpedo on the boat was that of a crack of thunder and the tearing open of a huge bag with shears.  I do not think that there was more than one torpedo.  If there was they went straight through her.  It only took twenty minutes from the boat being struck to her going down.  There was practically no suction so quietly did she go down.  If there had been any amount of suction we should have gone down with her because we were the nearest and the last boat to get away.  There were plenty of rafts but they were not utilised until the boat went down and they left her and then you saw a most pitiable sight.

All around for a considerable distance we saw people about holding on to bits of wreckage.  As to the boat being armed, she was not.  It would have been a good job if they had been because she might have got the submarine.  But where were the British destroyers?  We were not guarded at all.  I think if we had had the speed up and been going at top speed we would never have been caught.  We were only moving slowly.  In the morning we had blown the fog horn a great deal because there was a fog about, but when the boat was torpedoed, it was clear as a bell.

The noise of the impact was not as terrific as might have been supposed.  But at the same time the destruction wrought by the explosion was terrible.  I should think the bottom was absolutely gone.  Hundreds of people including stokers, trimmers, and men and women who were in the foremost cabins were blown to atoms.  The wireless operator sent signals out until the very last and I think he must have gone down with the vessel.

In fact both Marconi Wireless operators, telegramist R. Leith and Assistant telegramist D.W. McCormick survived the sinking.  Mr. Crossley finished his account with: -

A large number of the men who should have manned the boats were trapped below.  They were serving dinner and I feel confident that a large number lost their lives that way.  I saw the captain on the bridge to the last, and saw him go down with her, and I also saw him picked up.

Captain Turner was picked out of the sea by a lifeboat and then taken on board the tug Bluebell, so it is unlikely that Cyrus Crossley would have seen him actually picked up, unless his lifeboat was near to the one that actually rescued Turner from the sea at the time.

Because of the experience suffered by Cyrus Crossley and his wife, they decided to stay in England until the war was over and on 12 June 1915, they were granted the sum of £5-0s-0d for Mr. Crossley to purchase new joinery tools by The Lusitania Relief Fund, which was administered by The Lord Mayor of Liverpool.  This did not satisfy him, however, and he applied for further compensation and eventually received another £2-0s-0d.  At that time, their address was given as 11, Eastcroft Road, Wallasey, Cheshire.  The couple also reside for a time at 28, Poulton Road, Seacombe, Wallasey, Cheshire.

In fact the Crossley’s never returned to Canada, and settled in Oldham, Lancashire, where Cyrus Crossley continued working as a master joiner.

Cyrus Crossley died in Oldham, Lancashire, on the 17th June 1954, aged 77 years.  His wife, Sylvia, died on the 16th March 1962.

Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Manchester England Church of England Births and Baptisms 1813 – 1915, Ontario Canada Deaths and Deaths Overseas 1869 – 1947, 1881 Census of England & Wales, 1891 Census of England & Wales, 1901 Census of England & Wales, 1939 Register, Canadian Passenger Lists 1865 – 1935, U.S. Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. 1895 – 1960, Cunard Records, Liverpool Record Office, Manchester Evening News, Oldham Evening Chronicle, Oldham Standard, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.

Copyright © Peter Kelly.

Cyrus Crossley



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