William Thomas Turner

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Captain Turner aboard the Aquitania 1914

Commander William Thomas Turner, OBE, RNR (October 23, 1856 – June 23, 1933) was the Captain of the RMS Lusitania when it was sunk by a German torpedo in May 1915.[1][2]

Career and honors[edit]

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Liverpool, England to Charles Turner, also a seaman, Turner first set sail aboard the Grasmere between the ages of 8 and 13. Turner served under his father's command on the Queen of the Nations. While best known now for his role in the Lusitania disaster, Turner was an excellent navigator who accomplished several crossings at notable speeds, including Liverpool to New York in 12 days in 1910, and was promoted for his skill despite his unsuitably gruff demeanor around passengers.[3] Turner was said to have referred to passengers as, "a load of bloody monkeys who are constantly chattering".[4]

Acts of heroism[edit]

While appointed to the Cherborg, Turner gained recognition for personally rescuing a man and a boy who had fallen in the water after the Alice Davies was wrecked in a collision with the Cherborg. He again gained fame for rescuing a 14-year-old boy who had fallen off the Alexandra Dock, and was awarded the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society's Silver Medal. He received an illuminated address from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society for rescuing the crew of the Vagne in 1897. Turner received the Transport Medal for outstanding service in 1902 when, as Chief Officer of the Umbria, he moved troops to South Africa during the Boer War. Turner received yet another illuminated address from the Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society upon rescuing the crew of the West Point in 1910.

List of notable vessels Turner served on[edit]

Career with Cunard[edit]

Turner joined the Cunard Line in 1878 as Fourth Officer, following in his father's footsteps, and left Cunard in 1883 to gain additional experience required for a promotion. Turner gained his Captain's license in 1886, and then rejoined the line again in 1889. In 1903, Turner was given his first command, the Aleppo.[5] While Cunard initially had concerns about Turner's gruff demeanour and avoidance of passengers, they found to their surprise that passengers actually enjoyed Turner's elusive act and that he was in high demand.

In 1915 when the Lusitania was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat and began to sink, Turner ordered survivors evacuated. Believing himself to be the last living person on board, he climbed the halyards to keep from being washed away and to remain with his ship to the end. Eventually, he clung to a floating wooden oar and then a chair as the ship sank beneath him. Only later, when viewing the scene from some remove, did Turner discover to his horror that others had remained on board and were sucked under as the great vessel sunk below the waves. Turner had been denied the grace of being the last on his ship and going down with it too.[6]

After the sinking of the Lusitania, an Admiralty inquiry brought forth serious charges against Turner in 1915. Winston Churchill was directly involved with Turner's case. While Turner was exonerated, the charges haunted him for the rest of his days, and he lived in seclusion.[7]

SS Ivernia[edit]

In the autumn of 1916, nearly a year after the sinking of the Lusitania, Turner was appointed relieving master of the Cunard Line vessel SS Ivernia, which had been chartered for use as a troop carrier by the British government. On New Year’s Day, 1917, the vessel was torpedoed in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek coast by a German U-boat, with 2,400 troops aboard. The ship went down fairly quickly with a loss of 36 crew members and 84 troops. Once again, Turner survived the loss of his ship to torpedoes. This time, The New York Times reported, he remained on the bridge until all aboard had departed in lifeboats and rafts, “before striking out to swim as the vessel went down under his feet.” [6]

Personal life[edit]

Turner received the nickname Bowler Bill, for his custom of buying a brand new bowler hat upon taking command of a ship and wearing this hat on ship's business.

Turner married cousin Alice Hitching in 1883. They lived together in Manchester and had two sons, Percy (born 1885) and Norman (born 1893). Alice moved out in 1903 with Turner's sons, when the couple separated. They remained separated for the rest of their lives, and Turner lived with his housekeeper and companion Miss Mabel Every.[8] Alice emigrated with Turner's sons to Australia in 1915, following the Admiralty's inquiry, and subsequently relocated to Canada at an unknown date. Without knowing his sons had relocated to Canada with Alice, Turner went in search of them upon being diagnosed with intestinal cancer.

Turner died of intestinal cancer in 1933.[9] Ironically Turner's son, Merchant Navy Able Seaman Percy Wilfred Turner, age 55, was lost on 16 September 1941 on M.V. Jedmoor when it was sunk by the German submarine U-98 (1940). [10]

In popular culture[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Captain Turner Dead. Commanded Lusitania When Liner Was Torpedoed". Montreal Gazette. June 24, 1933. Retrieved 2010-02-27. Captain William Turner was one of the few officers saved when the Lusitania of the Cunard Line was torpedoed by a German sub marine and sank off the ... 
  2. ^ "Capt. Turner Dies. Lusitania Master. Went Down With Liner and Was Rescued After Being in Water Two Hours. He Began as Deck Boy. The Ivernia, Also Commanded by Him, Was Torpedoed In the Mediterranean In 1917". New York Times. June 24, 1933. Retrieved 2010-02-27. 
  3. ^ Korolev, Nick (February 1, 2012). Dark Waters. Salvo Press. p. Part 2. ISBN 9781609770303. 
  4. ^ Larson, Eric (March 10, 2015). Dead Wake. 5-133. ISBN 0307408868. 
  5. ^ Protasio, John (August 15, 2011). The Lusitania Disaster and Its Influence on the Course of World War I. Casemate. p. 17. ISBN 9781935149453. 
  6. ^ a b Gould, James E. (May 7, 2015). "Why Should Captains Go Down With Their Ships?". The Atlantic Monthly (in English). Retrieved May 8, 2015. 
  7. ^ Denson, John (June 16, 2006). A Century of War: Lincoln, Wilson & Roosevelt. Ludwig Von Mises Institute. p. 136. ISBN 1933550066. 
  8. ^ Larson, Eric (March 10, 2015). Dead Wake. 5-133. ISBN 0307408868. 
  9. ^ "Commander of Lusitania Dead", Daily Telegraph, June 24, 1933 
  10. ^ CWGC record

External links[edit]