Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Lusitania Passenger Ian Holbourn


Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Ian Holbourn.


        On an expedition to Iceland in 1899, 27-year-old Ian Holbourn passed by the Isle of Foula in Scotland. He visited Foula the following year, and determined to buy the island. He succeeded in doing so, and thus became laird of Foula. When he took his future wife to visit Foula, she was surprised they were treated like royalty.
            Ian was a lecturer at Oxford, Cambridge, and London. His topics ranged from archaeology and architecture to Greek philosophy and medieval history to social and ethical problems. He was invited by the Lecturers’ Association of New York to tour the United States, and presented over one thousand lectures at universities across America.
            For twenty years, he had been working on a manuscript entitled The Fundamental Theory of Beauty.  He had taken it with him to the U.S., hoping to have it ready for publication in 1916.
Returning home on the Lusitania, he was outspoken in lobbying for passengers to learn proper evacuation and how to put on lifebelts, and was critical of the captain’s refusal to hold lifeboat drills for passengers. A group of men came to him and ordered him to stop talking of these things and upsetting the others. For their refusal to face the dangers of sailing into the war zone, he called them the Ostrich Club.
When the Lusitania sank, he jumped into the sea with a few of his most important manuscripts.  He swam to an overcrowded lifeboat, where he was refused to come aboard. He threw in his manuscripts so at least they would be saved. After nearly an hour in the water, he was pulled into another lifeboat, and survived.
In Roll Back the Clouds, Geoff Bonnard hears Professor Holbourn warn of the possible danger and derisively refer to the Ostrich Club.



Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Lusitania Passengers: the Pearl Family


Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet the Pearl family.




        Surgeon-Major Warren Pearl serviced with the Medical Corps in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. After he married Amy Lea Duncan in 1909, he retired from the military. While vacationing in Europe in 1914, their third child, Susan, was born, and the Pearls recruited Alice Lines to help with the children.
While they were in Denmark, Dr. Pearl went back to England, hoping to enroll Stuart, their eldest, at Eton. On his return to Denmark through Lübeck, Germany, he was arrested by the Germans on suspicion of spying for England. He was, after all, wearing English tweeds and carrying a copy of the London Times. He telegrammed his wife to come at once. While she was away, Alice Lines hired a Danish girl, Greta Lorenson, to assist with the children.
In the spring of 1915, Pearl was ordered to report to the American Embassy in London. The family traveled on the Lusitania. After the ship was torpedoed, Warren and Amy became separated from the children and their nurses on the crowded decks. When the ship sank, they were thrown into the sea. Both were pulled into lifeboats. They were reunited in Queenstown, and later found Alice Lines with 5-year-old Stuart and 3-month-old Audrey. No trace was ever found of Greta Lorenson, 3-year-old Amy (called Bunny), and 15-month-old Susan.
Survivors Audrey and Stuart Pearl

In Roll Back the Clouds, Rosaleen Bonnard is in the same lifeboat as Alice Lines with Stuart and baby Audrey.



Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Lusitania Passenger Nigel Booth

Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Nigel Booth.


        In the spring of 1915, 30-year-old Emily Hadfield Booth learned her mother in Leicester, England, was seriously ill. Emily, who had moved to Canada in 1913 to marry Henry Booth, booked passage on the Lusitania and took along her eight-month-old baby boy, Nigel, for a visit.
After the Lusitania was sunk on Friday, May 7, 1915, no trace was found of Emily, but Nigel was picked up out of the water.
On Saturday, two of Emily’s sisters traveled to the Cunard office in Liverpool, but could learn nothing of the Booths’ fate. On Monday, her parents received a cablegram from Henry Booth. He’d apparently been notified by Cunard that Nigel was safe; could someone go and get him. Emily’s sister Louisa immediately left for Queenstown.
Henry Booth traveled to Leicester to collect his son, and he fell in love with Louisa Hadfield. They married in August, 1916, and returned to Ottawa with Nigel.
In Roll Back the Clouds, Rosaleen Bonnard rescues Nigel while in a lifeboat.


Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Lusitania Passengers Herbert & Margaret Gwyer


Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Herbert and Margaret Gwyer.
      


The Gwyers were British citizens living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They married on April 15, 1915. Herbert was an ordained minister who had gone to Canada as a missionary. He spent most mornings and evenings aboard the Lusitania playing bridge with several male friends.
When the torpedo struck, they were at lunch in second class. Herbert and a bridge friend sought to calm the other passengers, saying everything would be alright, even though they didn’t believe that.
Herb got Margaret into a lifeboat, but she, thinking the funnels would fall on it, climbed out. Not noticing, Herb jumped into a lifeboat and rowed. When the deck of the Lusitania went under, Margaret swam away. She was sucked down one of the funnels with two men, then blown out when a boiler exploded. Two men who thought she was African because of her coating of soot helped her into a lifeboat. They made it to the rescue boat, Flying Fish, where Herb didn’t recognize his blackened bride.

Margaret's soot-stained camisole

In Roll Back the Clouds, Geoff Bonnard is also a victim of the funnel.



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Lusitania Passengers Norah & Betty Bretherton


Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Norah and Betty Bretherton.


        Norah Bretherton immigrated in 1910 to join her fiancé in Santa Monica, California. Five years later, she sailed on the Lusitania with her two young children because she wanted to introduce them to their grandparents. Norah was 32, her son Paul was 3, and daughter Betty was 15 months.
At the time the Lusitania was torpedoed, Norah had been on the stairs between B and C decks. She retrieved Betty from a nursery on B deck and took her up to A Deck, where the lifeboats hung. Paul was napping in their cabin on C deck. Norah failed to persuade anyone to fetch her son for her, and finally thrust Betty into the arms of a man and hastened downstairs. When she and Paul returned to the boat deck, the man no longer had Betty. It is unknown if he placed her in a lifeboat that capsized.
Norah placed an advertisement in the Cork Examiner:

Missing: A baby girl, 15 months old, very fair hair, curled, rosy complexion, in a white woolen jersey and leggings. Tries to walk and talk. Name Betty Bretheron. Please send any information to Miss Browne, Bishop’s House, Queenstown.

Betty’s body was recovered four days after the sinking, and is buried in a convent in Cork, Ireland.


In Roll Back the Clouds, Rosaleen Bonnard, longing for motherhood, enjoys playing with babies in the nursery. Betty was one of her little friends.



Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Lusitania Passengers Lady Allan and Her Daughters


Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Marguerite, Lady Allan, and her daughters, Anna and Gwen.



        Lady Allan was the wife of Canadian shipping magnate, Sir Hugh Montagu Allan. They had four children: Marguerite Martha (known as Martha), Hugh, Gwendolyn, and Anna.
            When the Great War began in 1914, the family planned to spend the war years in England. Sir Montagu set up a hospital for Canadian soldiers wounded at the front. Lady Allan would work at a convalescent hospital and with the Red Cross.
Daughter Martha secured a nursing qualification, bought an ambulance, and went to France a month ahead of her mother. Lady Allan took along Gwen, 16, and Anna, 15, along with their two maids and eighteen steamer trunks of belongings. Her husband remained in Montreal to finish up some business.
When the Lusitania sank, the Allans went into the water together, but were separated. A family friend, Frederick Orr-Lewis, was with them and later stated that explosion of the boilers sent him to the surface. Lady Allan suffered a broken collarbone, either from debris or the keel of a lifeboat, and may also have broken an arm or hip. Gwen’s body was recovered and buried in the family plot in Montreal. Anna was never found.


Two years later, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Hugh Allan was shot down and killed while flying a patrol over German trenches in Belgium. His sister, Martha, died in 1942. Sir Hugh and Lady Allan outlived all four of their children.
In Roll Back the Clouds, Rosaleen Bonnard meets the Allan ladies and feels intimidated in her simpler attire, but the girls admire her embroidery and set her at ease.



Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Lusitania passenger Alfred Vanderbilt


Roll Back the Clouds, my new novel about the Lusitania, releases on March 17. Many of the passengers aboard the ill-fated, final voyage appear alongside main characters, Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard. I’ll be profiling several of them here. This week, meet Alfred Vanderbilt.



Tall, lean, and elegant, 37-year-old Alfred Vanderbilt was the richest man onboard. He had inherited the bulk of the family fortune because his elder brother Cornelius Jr. had angered their father by marrying a woman reputed to being “fast.”
Alfred had a weakness for women, which led to scandals. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1908 due to his adultery aboard his private railcar with the wife of Cuba’s attaché in Washington. Six years later, the woman committed suicide. Alfred had remarried in 1911, but the death cast an unwanted spotlight on him.
His second wife, Margaret, had divorced her husband in 1910 on the grounds of drunkenness and cruelty. He threatened to sue Vanderbilt for alienation of affection, but the case was settled out of court. Alfred and Margaret shared a passion for horses.
Horses are what prompted Vanderbilt’s voyage to London on the Lusitania.  The outbreak of war the previous year caused the cancellation of a meeting of the International Horse Breeders’ Association, but Vanderbilt would direct the meeting in 1915. While in England, he also planned to offer a fleet of vehicles to the British Red Cross. His wife and two young sons remained behind in New York.
When the Lusitania was torpedoed, Vanderbilt assisted women and children with lifebelts and getting into lifeboats. He did not try to enter a lifeboat himself, even though he didn’t know how to swim.
A $5,000 reward was offered for the recovery of his body, but it was never found.


Taken a few months before the sinking, Vanderbilt with his three sons: William H. Vanderbilt 1st (far right), Alfred Vanderbilt jr. (left) and baby George W. Vanderbilt.

In Roll Back the Clouds, Rosaleen Bonnard bumps into Vanderbilt at the ship’s concert on Thursday evening, benefiting Seamen’s Charities.



Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Lusitania Sails in March!


In the early afternoon of May 7, 1915, the Lusitania, greyhound of the Cunard Line, fell victim to a single torpedo fired by German submarine U-20. After the torpedo exploded within the Lusitania’s hull, a second explosion rocked the ship. Whether caused by the boilers, coal dust, or contraband ammunition, the explosion ripped open a gaping hole that allowed the ocean to flow in. The Lusitania sank in eighteen minutes.


The beginning of the Great War the previous year had called all seasoned sailors into the military. Passenger liners were left with inept crews lacking familiarity with emergency procedures. The war also claimed priority on coal, causing Cunard management to close down one of the Lusitania’s boiler rooms, cutting down her vaunted speed, although this was not made public.
Concerns over sailing into the war zone were disparaged by Cunard, Captain William Turner, and the British navy. The Lusitania torpedoed? Ridiculous! The passengers were not instructed in the use of lifebelts. They were not told which lifeboat they should head for in the event of trouble.
On the day the Lusitania left New York, the German Embassy placed a notice in the papers, warning against sailing on belligerent vessels. Many passengers did not see the warning. The Germans considered the passenger liner a legitimate target, suspecting it carried contraband. And so they destroyed it.
Out of 1,962 souls on board, 1,201 perished, including 128 of 159 Americans. The war, however, was claiming millions of lives. New horrors regularly came to light, including the barbaric new weapon of poison gas. The Lusitania faded into history, better remembered for the controversies of whether it carried munitions, what caused the second explosion, and whether the British Admiralty played a part. For the passengers, the sinking was life changing, if not life ending.


My new book, Roll Back the Clouds, releases in March.
Geoff and Rosaleen Bonnard receive a once-in-a-lifetime voyage to England aboard the fabled Lusitania in 1915. Europe is embroiled in war, but that shouldn't affect a passenger liner.
As they approach Ireland, a German submarine hurtles a torpedo into the grand ship. Rosaleen and her new friend Constance scramble into a lifeboat, but where are their husbands? She searches the morgues in Queenstown, heartsick at recognizing so many people. Geoff is finally located in a Cork hospital, alive but suffering a back injury.
While waiting for him to recover, Rosaleen is thrilled to meet her mother’s family, but a dark cloud hovers over her. The battered faces of dead babies haunt her. She sinks into depression, exasperated by Geoff’s new interest in religion. Her once happy life seems out of reach.

Several of the actual passengers cross paths with Geoff and Rosaleen. In the coming weeks, I’ll introduce you to them here.