Harold Smethurst. The Cunard Line stated he was 27 years old and gave his point of origin as New Philadelphia, Ohio. He was the Harold Smethurst who lived at 14 Bent Gate Street in New Hey, Rochdale, Lancashire. He was a cop packer and had been born 12 June 1888 in Middleton, Lancashire; his father was in that case John Smethurst (a finisher and embosser in cotton and silk). In 1891, he was 2 years old and lived with his parents John, a shirting finisher, and Matilda (nee Wild), in the household of his grandfather Henry, 49, a cotton dyer. His parents had married in the end of 1886 at Oldham, Lancashire. He had dark complexion, brown hair and brown eyes and stood 5’9”. He had married Alice Schofield in Rochdale, Lancashire, in 1912. He was an engineer, classified for sedentary work. He came to Philadelphia 29 January 1914 on the Merion and was listed as a cotton worker, aged 25. He and his wife both survived the sinking of the Lusitania.
’’Mr. and Mrs. Harold Smethurst, the latter a niece of John Tweedale, 106 Liberty street, this city, were passengers on the Lusitania at the time it was sunk by a German submarine, but both were saved, and on arriving at Rochdale, Yorkshire, England, they were interviewed by a representative of the Rochdale Observer, which gives the following account of their thrilling experience in the form of an interview with Mr. Smethurst:
’We knew before the boat started that there was the fear of a submarine attack, but most of the passengers regarded it as a matter for joking. One man, however, was so afraid that he used to sleep fully dressed prepared for any emergency. This caused the passengers to christen him the ’Submarine.’ On Thursday evening a number of men caused much amusement by parading about the ship in life-belts, little thinking that in such short time their joy would be turned to horror and despair. When the boat was nearing the shore we thought that all danger had passed and that an escort would soon appear.
’I was in my cabin and had taken off my coat to have a shave when suddenly I heard a thud and said ’That is it,’ as all the way we had been talking about submarines. The blow however was not such as to cause the ship to stagger in any way. On deck the scene was one of confusion and excitement, but there was no panic. Men were looking for their wives and children and rushing up and down the deck. Luckily I soon found my wife. In fact she was the first person whom I met on going on deck. The men on the boat were assisting the women folk in whatever way possible.
’At first my wife demurred at leaving me on the ship, but I succeeded in persuading her to get into a boat. Directly afterwards I noticed a little boy called Arthur Scott of Nelson, who had lost his mother, and I also put him into the boat. It was safely lowered and the oarsmen pulled away from the doomed liner. I, however, did not notice anything of the submarine. So far as I could see all the boats on the starboard side were lowered. I was thinking of diving into the water when a steward suggested that I should let myself down into the sea by means of a rope fastened to the back portion of the ship. I took his advice, the steward giving me a serviette so that my hands would not get rubbed against the rope. Through not being allowed much time I was unable to secure a life-belt, as they seemed to be stored in the cabins.
’Being a fairly good swimmer, I swam on in the hope of being picked up by the people in one of the boats. My chief desire was to get well away as far as possible so as not to be drawn down when the ship took her last dive. After a time I came across a boat and succeeded in clambering into it; but I had not been there long when the boat capsized through being overcrowded. All the occupants, a majority of whom were women, were thrown into the sea, and I am afraid that most of them were drowned. Some of the women had not life-belts as they had left the ship so hurriedly. After swimming along I soon saw another boat, and got into it. While there I noticed and old Scotch lady floating by wearing a life-belt, and I succeeded in pulling her into the boat. Soon afterwards this also capsized and over thirty persons clung to the upturned keel.
’The sight was awful. Some men holding on with one hand were trying to support women until help came. At length, through sheer exhaustion, people would relax their grip and slide into the sea. While I was afterwards swimming I got my last view of the Lusitania. She went down bow first, just like a person diving, and I could see the propellers in the air. There was then a large number of people on the decks and many of them must have gone down with the ship. On looking round I saw a boat pulling clear of the liner and I made a strong effort to reach it. When I got there I was exhausted. A number of the crew were in the boat, and I asked them to pull me in and they did so. I could not tell how long I had been in the water, but it had seemed hours to me.
’For a quarter of an hour or so I sat in the boat too dazed to recognize anybody. After a time I revived somewhat and on looking around judge of my surprise and delight on seeing my wife, sitting opposite to me. I said, ’Alice,’ and could hear her exclaim ’thank God.’ The boy who had lost his mother, was also there. Altogether, there were 63 persons in the boat, and of these less than ten were men. It was a good job that the sea was calm at the time and that this happened in the day time or else the death roll would have been even heavier.
’For a time I suffered from cramp, and as a result was unable to take a turn at the oars. I also was very exhausted. In fact, I was practically a gone-er when I got into the boat. We could see a lighthouse in the distance and decided to steer for it, but we made slow progress. To make matters worse, the boat was leaking badly, and there was a danger of it sinking. For three or four hours, we took our turn bailing out the water and we had to work hard as it seemed as if the water would gain on us. At length we were picked up by a fishing trawler and the crew were very kind. They provided us with tea which I can assure you proved most acceptable after what we had gone through. The captain of the trawler decided to take us to the Olde Head of Kinsale, but after going some distance a Government boat came alongside and we were transferred to it and taken on to Queenstown.’
’Mr. and Mrs. Smethurst stayed in a hotel at Queenstown on Friday night. On the following day they travelled to Kingstown, Dublin, from which place, with other survivors, they were taken by boat to Holyhead. Mr. and Mrs. Smethurst arrived at Newhey about 9:30 on Sunday night. Mr. Smethurst intended to take the boy who had lost his mother to his grandmother, who lives at Nelson, but one of the survivors lives at Burnley, and she promised to take care of the little fellow. Mr. Smethurst spoke in terms of praise of the kindness shown by the officials of the Cunard Company, who did everything possible to make the position of the survivors comfortable.
’It was owing to the climate of America not suiting Mrs. Smethurst that they decided to return home. After a short stay here Mr. Smethurst intended to go back again, but the disaster may cause him to reconsider his plans. Needless to say all the property he and his wife had with them on the boat has been lost.’’ (Jamestown Evening Journal, 3 June 1915, p. 6)
”H. Smethurst, a steerage passenger, was saved in the same way. He had put his wife into a lifeboat and in spite of her urging he refused to accompany her, saying the women and children must go first. After the boat with his wife in it had pulled away the husband put on a life belt, slipped into the water and floated until he was picked up.” (The Baltimore Sun, 9 May 1915, p. 4)
The material presented on this page has been researched by Peter Engberg-Klarström. Copyright 2017 Peter Engberg-Klarström.
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