Since I first ran this blog post on May 8, 2012, I’ve found out that the disgraced captain of the Lusitania survived the tragedy and indeed invited my mother to dine with him at his table on board ship in 1928. When I first read my mother’s diary entry, I didn’t think it could possibly be true but I have done research that says William Thomas Turner died in 1933 at age 77 and that his wife and boys may have settled in Canada.
Excerpt from blog post, May 8, 2012
“Heartwarming Story: The WWI Warbride Who Left Fog for Bog and Prince for Preacher
“Eighty-four years ago today my mother was on the Cunard line’s steamship Ausonia crossing the Atlantic Ocean, no doubt keeping a wary eye out for icebergs. She had left everyone and every place she had ever known, her job, her friends, her family and her country in order to set out on that most daring of all adventures, lifelong matrimony.
“On the rainy day of Nov. 2, 1927 she had married a man she had seen for only three weeks out of her life. She had committed herself to joining him in wild northern Canada and sharing his work as a missionary to the Cree.
“The bridal couple had to leave their guests and rush off to catch a noon train to London. After spending the night in the honeymoon suite of the Hotel Belgravia, they flew over the English Channel and spent two days in Paris. Upon return, they invited forty guests to a dinner reception at Kimbells’ Hotel in Portsmouth.
“The day after that, my father set sail to get back to his job 5,000 miles away. My mother had lots of time to pack her trousseau and say her goodbyes before joining him when the ice thawed in spring.”
Excerpt from A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void:
“Clutching a bouquet of lilies of the valley, Mother waved
good-bye to her family and England. Just before her boat pulled
out, a friend from the café had a wedding present delivered
to the boat—a thirty-piece tea set of fine china decorated
with silhouettes of fairies. The steward said it could not land
in Canada. The straw it was packed in might carry foot and
mouth disease so Mother repacked it in the warm underwear in
her trunk. She got to know the ship’s recreation director who
told her the Ausonia was carrying Polish and Czech emigrants
in steerage. Mother was curious to see what they looked like
and recorded in her journal, “They are extraordinary folk who
lie about the deck in weird positions, some of them on top of
each other. The smell of garlic around their cabins is appalling.”
They packed it in with their clothes to ward off disease. The
former captain of the Lusitania was at the helm and invited
Mother to sit at his table.”
The Wikipedia entry about Turner says nothing about his trip to Canada on the Ausonia where he met my mother. She was a beautiful, intelligent, inquiring, innocent young bride; he must have been a very unhappy man. He was not only unfairly blamed for the sinking of his ship by a German torpedo in 1915; but also his wife left him and took their two sons to Australia, and then to an unknown location. Near the end of his life he developed intestinal cancer and became more desperate in his efforts to find them. He had a tip they had settled in Canada but no record exists of whether he found them. No doubt he was still searching as he guided the ship that carried my mother crossed the Atlantic in 1928. On an ocean voyage you never know whose path will cross with yours. I’m sure she felt a duty to be courteous and pleasant and her presence, if anything, helped cheer him up.
Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!
Come if you can to Prose in the Park, Ottawa’s major new literary festival, on June 6. I’ll be at the welcoming desk in Parkdale Park, Hintonburg from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. See you there!