Mr. Charles Tilden Hill

Charles Hill
image credit:  Michael Poirier Collection/National Archives

Charles T. Hill, 38, was a United States citizen living in England with his family, where he worked for the American Tobacco Company. The Hills had returned to the United States for Mrs. Hill’s health, and Charles was returning to England aboard Lusitania. Charles Hill saw the torpedo impact the ship and survived the sinking. He was lowered in lifeboat 14, which capsized many times in the water, and was rescued by the Indian Empire.

Life


Charles Hill was a native of Richmond, Virginia, United States.  He worked for the American Tobacco Company and had come to work for them in Britain 15 years before.  His address in England was 12, Lyon Road, Harrow, Middlesex, and he lived there with his wife and two children.  Hill travelled regularly between Britain and the US, though on the last voyage of the Lusitania, his presence in the States was not for business but because of Mrs. Hill’s health.  The whole family had come to the United States on the Lusitania in April.

Charles Hill
image credit:  Malcolm Barres-Baker/Harrow Observer, 14 May 1915.

Last voyage of the Lusitania


His cabin on the Lusitania‘s last crossing was B-110, and his ticket was 9956.

Hill knew about the stowaways on the ship, as stated in his deposition:

“On Tuesday night before the wreck, Staff Captain Anderson told me that three suspicious characters had slipped past the cordon of secret service men at New York and they had afterward found them and confined them below”.

As the Lusitania does not show any jail cells on her deck plans, the stowaways were probably locked in an empty cabin, storage closet, or at the office of the Master-at-Arms.

On the afternoon of Friday, 7 May 1915, Hill was hurrying to an appointment with the ship’s stenographer when he stopped to have a word with Chief Steward Jones on the starboard promenade deck.  Jones was already at the railing and muttered to Hill, “Good God, Mr. Hill, here comes a torpedo.”

Hill saw the periscope of the U-20 and the wake of the oncoming torpedo.  Both Hill and Jones were hoping that the torpedo would pass in front of the ship and saw the torpedo strike the starboard side with “a noise like that made by the slamming of a door.”  The second “dull, heavy, muffled” explosion then followed.

Hill then rushed below decks and spent several minutes trying to find Mary Brown, Beatrice Witherbee, and her son Alfred Scott Witherbee, Jr.  Reaching D deck, he found water flooding through the portholes.  Not finding his friends, he then went back to his cabin to get his dispatch case and overcoat.  He then ran into his steward Percy Penny who then assisted Hill into a lifejacket though Penny did not have one on himself.

Going back up on deck, Hill saw that the lifeboats were not being launched properly.  He was about to get into one when a woman inside told him that the boat was already too full.  He then climbed into lifeboat #14 with ship’s barber Lott Gadd.   The boat was lowered too quickly and smacked into the water right-side up.  The lifeboat started leaking immediately, and it wasn’t long before the waterlogged boat capsized.  As Hill saw Gadd swim away from the boat, Hill remembered that he had yet to pay Gadd for that week’s shave.

Hill was one of the few people who stuck with lifeboat #14 until it was picked up by the Indian Empire.

He cabled the American Tobacco Co. immediately on landing in Ireland, and they informed his terrified wife that he was alive.  After the sinking he stayed at the Rob Roy Hotel in Queenstown and was told that injuries to the skin of his legs prevented him immediately traveling back to England.

Contributors:
Malcolm Barres-Baker
Michael Poirier

References:
Hoehling, A. A.  Ships that Changed History.  Madison Books, 1994.

Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

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