David Cowell Handlin was born in Manchester, Lancashire in 1867, the son of Edward and Mary Handlin. He married Hannah Emma Handlin (née Barker), always known as ‘Emma’, in 1893 and they lived at 16 Ferndale Road, Waterloo, Liverpool, Lancashire. He was an active freemason and a member of Kirkdale Lodge number 1756 in Liverpool.
He engaged as a second cabin bedroom steward in the Stewards' Department on board the
Lusitania at Liverpool on 12 April 1915 at a monthly wage of £6-1s-0d (£6.05). It was not his first voyage on the vessel. He reported for duty on the morning that the liner left the Liverpool Pier Head for the last time.
Having completed her voyage to New York on 24 April, the Lusitania left the Cunard berth at Pier 54 just after midday on 1 May 1915 on the return voyage to Liverpool. Six days later she was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of southern Ireland by the German submarine U-20, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger. At that time, she was only 12 to 14 hours away from the safety of her home port.
David Handlin was killed as a result of this action. He was aged 47 years. He was mentioned by one of the ship's barbers Jonathan Denton, in an interview published in 'The Birkenhead News and Advertiser' on 12 May 1915:
"Referring to the death of the chief (sic) second-cabin steward (Mr. Handlin), Mr. Denton said his life was sacrificed for others. Mr. Handlin had got into the boat, and being of the opinion that the Lusitania would not go down, went back. He was controlling the remaining few and assisting them in every possible way when the huge liner took her last plunge."
As his body was not recovered and identified afterwards, Bedroom Steward Handlin is commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Tower Hill, London. He is also commemorated on a bronze roll of honour dedicated to the freemasons from the Liverpool district who were killed in the First World War, at the Masonic Hall in Hope Street, Liverpool.
Wages owing to him from 17 April to 8 May, 24 hours after the Cunarder went down, were paid to his widow in August 1915. She had been granted administration of his estate on 6 July 1915, as he had died intestate. His effects amounted to £545-12s-6d, (£545. 63p), which was a considerable sum for a steward to leave in those days.
Two other crew members who were killed on board the Lusitania were also members of Kirkdale Lodge. They were Boilermaker Richard Gould from Bootle and Barkeeper Henry Ross from Aintree.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1871 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Cunard Records, Geoff Cuthill, David Irving, J. Kontzle, Probate Records, PRO BT 100/345.