Frank Bowden Holman was born in Dawlish, Devonshire, England, on 1st November 1884, the son of Thomas Mark and Mary Jane Holman. The family home was at Fernlea House, Dawlish. He was one of ten children, seven boys and three girls and one of his brothers, Fred Holman had won a gold medal for swimming the breast stroke at the 1908 Olympic Games! He was married to Amy Kernick, and they had one daughter named Barbara.
Frank Holman was a professional sailor in the Mercantile Marine and began his career with The Cunard Steam Ship Company out of Liverpool, in 1913 with trans-Atlantic voyages on the Mauretania, the Laconia and then the Lusitania. In 1914, he served on the Ivernia from March to October!
He engaged again on the Lusitania at Liverpool as a third class waiter in the Stewards' Department on 12th April 1915 at a monthly wage of £4-5s-0d., (£4.25p) and joined the liner at 7 a.m. five days later, before she left the port of Liverpool for the very last time.
When she was torpedoed and sunk, three weeks later, on the afternoon of 7th May, Frank Holman was counted amongst the survivors. Having been rescued from the sea and landed at Queenstown, he eventually made it back to Liverpool where he was officially discharged from the liner’s last voyage and paid the balance of wages owing to him in respect of it. This amounted to £4-9s-6d., (£4.47½p), and represented his service from 17th April 1915 until the 8th May, 24 hours after the Lusitania had gone down.
In July 2000, his daughter Mrs. Barbara ‘Bobbie’ Wiffen wrote to the author about the time her father’s spent in the sea and his eventual rescue: -
My father rarely spoke of his experiences, but these are details that I recall. He heard a single explosion, and the bridge was under water when he entered the sea. Many of his shipmates were calling for help and this was to cause him much distress during his remaining lifetime - with terrible dreams.
He found a little boy of 8 to 10 years and he swam with the little lad, hands clasped around his neck. It became obvious that due to the cold, he eventually died and although continuing to swim with him, he reluctantly had to release him, as his own strength was ebbing. This incident also caused him much distress in later years.
I have always understood that he was eventually picked up by a small boat and landed at Queenstown, after having spent 5 hours in the sea. This has puzzled me somewhat, bearing in mind that the ship sank within sight of land. I recall that there was a delay in getting a rescue underway. My father was a very strong swimmer, as indeed were all his family.
Following his return to Dawlish, on 6th December 1915, Frank Holman enlisted in the British Army and served as 202218 Lance Corporal F.B. Holman in the 1/4th Battalion, The Devonshire Regiment. This was the local Territorial Force battalion and after being stationed in nearby Hursley, he was posted to the unit in the Middle East and saw active service against the Turkish Army in Mesopotamia. He was eventually discharged from the Army on 22nd May 1919.
In 1923, he returned to sea once more, serving with Cunard on the Mauretania from July of that year until October 1934. He then served on the Berengaria from March 1935 until February 1936 and thereafter on the giant Queen Mary from May 1936 until August 1939. The following month, on the outbreak of the Second World War, he returned to England from New York on the Aquitania - the Lusitania’s sister ship! Suffering at the time from stomach ulcers, he worked in a local factory which made spitfire fighters for the war effort but after the war was over, the lure of the sea was too great and he went back, this time on the Queen Elizabeth, and served on her from August 1946 until he finally ‘swallowed the anchor’ for good, at the age of almost 70 years, in April 1954!
After a long and eventful life, he died in Southampton, Hampshire on 16th April 1963, in his 79th year! His body was later cremated in Southampton. His wife Amy had pre-deceased him in 1960.
Still a treasured possession of his daughter Bobbie after all these years, is a pocket watch that Third Class Waiter Holman carried with him when he survived the sinking of the Lusitania, with the hands dramatically frozen in time and history, at 2.28 p.m.!
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1891 Census of England and Wales, 1901 Census of England and Wales, 1911 Census of England and Wales, Cunard Records, PRO BT 100/345, Bobbie Wiffen, Stuart Williamson, PRO BT 350.