Mr. David Alfred Thomas

David Alfred Thomas
Saloon Passenger
Saved
David Alfred Thomas
image:  D. A, Thomas Viscount Rhondda, 1921.  Courtesy Mike Poirier.
Born David Alfred Thomas
26 March 1856
Ysgyborwen, Glamorgan, Wales, United Kingdom
Died 3 July 1918 (age 62)
Llanwern, Monmouthshire, Wales, United Kingdom
Age on Lusitania 59
Ticket number 46043
Cabin number B 86, B 88 (Parlour Suite)
Traveling with Margaret Mackworth (daughter)
Arnold Rhys-Evans (secretary)
Lifeboat 11
Rescued by – Wanderer (Peel 12)
– Flying Fish
Occupation Politician
Citizenship British (Wales)
Residence Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Other name(s) – Baron Rhondda (1916 – 1918, his death)
Spouse(s) Sybil Haig (1882 – 1918, his death)

David Alfred Thomas (1856 – 1918), 59, was a British Member of Parliament traveling aboard Lusitania with his daughter Margaret Mackworth and his secretary Arnold Rhys-Evans.  On board, they also became friends with Dr. Howard Fisher and his sister-in-law, Dorothy Conner, who were traveling to France to work in the field hospitals.  Father and daughter were separated during the sinking, but both survived, as did Fisher and Conner.

Contents

  1. Family and background
  2. Involvement in politics
  3. Lusitania
  4. Rescue
  5. Media coverage
  6. After Lusitania

Family and background


David Alfred Thomas was born in Ysgyborwen, Glamorgan, Wales on 26 March 1856 as the son of Welsh coal magnate Samuel Thomas of Aberdare.  He was educated at Caius College, Cambridge, and returned to Wales to become the senior parter in the Cardiff-based Thomas and Davey.  This company owned several collieries in the Rhondda Valley.  Despite being born into wealth and privilege, D. A.’s needs were simple.  A Labour politician had even commented, “There goes Thomas — with the income of a duke and the tastes of a peasant.”

Subsequently, D. A. Thomas married Sybil Haig on 27 June 1882.  Their only child, Margaret Haig Thomas, later Lady Humphrey Mackworth and even later Viscountess Rhondda, was born in 1883.  D. A. educated his daughter in matters of business and she became a champion for women’s equality everywhere.  As D. A. would say of her daughter, “Margaret and I are not like father and daughter.  We’re buddies.”

Involvement in politics


D. A. Thomas was elected Member of Parliament (MP) as a Liberal for Merthyr Tydfil in 1888.  He subsequently became MP of Cardiff as well, and he held these positions until the 1910 General Election.  Although Thomas was reputedly an agnostic, he was a supporter of Nonconformity in his constituency.  He even laid the foundation stone of of Soar Welsh Calvinistic Church, Cwmaman, and many others.

When the First World War broke, David Lloyd George sent D. A. Thomas to arrange the supply of munitions for the British armed forces.  In April of 1915, D. A. Thomas and his daughter Margaret, who was now her personal assistant and proxy, went to take a look at Thomas’ interests in the Pennsylvania coal mines.  He also was launching a new barge service on the Mississippi and planning extensions of Canada’s railroad system.  His secretary, Arnold Rhys-Evans, also came along.

Lusitania


To end their trip abroad, they had booked passage on the Lusitania.  His saloon cabin was the parlour suite B-86, B-88.  Aboard the Lusitania, D. A. Thomas and his daughter had befriended Dr. Howard Fisher and nurse Dorothy Conner, Fisher’s sister-in-law.  Dorothy had often commented on the lack of excitement on the voyage and was often teased by D. A.  Margaret had also found the voyage rather dull, but as her father was having fun she decided to keep her mouth shut.

On the afternoon of 7 May, D. A., Margaret, Arnold, Dorothy, and Howard all sat down to lunch with the foghorn blaring.  Margaret remarked, “Home tomorrow!  Aren’t you pleased, father?”

“I would be more pleased, my dear,” D. A. remarked, “if I believed that wretched siren hasn’t given our whereabouts away.”

Margaret and D. A. left the saloon and left Howard and Dorothy to finish lunch by themselves.  The father and daughter stood waiting for the elevator with Frederick Tootal and Albert Byington.  D. A. then joked with his daughter, saying, “You know, Margaret, I think we might stay up on deck tonight.  Just to see if you get your thrill.”

Before Margaret could respond, they felt the torpedo rock the ship with “a dull thudding sound.”  They were already partially inside the elevator, but instinctively, they stepped back, a move that would save their lives.  D. A. ran over to a porthole to see what had happened; Margaret went upstairs to grab lifebelts, and they were separated.

Some time later, D. A. tried to get back to his cabin, but he found the stairs to be too crowded.  A steward gave him an inflatable lifebelt, but it wouldn’t work.  He was finally able to get to his cabin and retrieve one from the wardrobe.  On deck, he saw the ship overwhelmed by “absolute confusion” and “an entire absence of discipline” among the crew.

Back outside, he saw that the water was almost level with the deck and a woman with a small child hesitating to get into a lifeboat.  D. A. shoved them both into the boat, #11, before he jumped in himself.  Oliver Bernard, also in the boat, was amused by the “rather worried and puzzled expression” on the Welshman’s face.  His secretary, Arnold Rhys-Evans, was also in #11, but had gotten in before D. A. did.  Being one of the last boats to leave, #11 was still close enough to the Lusitania when she foundered that they were in danger of being crushed by the funnels.

Rescue


Lifeboat #11 was spotted by the trawler Wanderer of Peel and the boat took on the survivors.  After four hours of being cold and miserable, Oliver asked D. A., “Exciting day, Mr. Thomas?”

“Outrageous.  Simply outrageous.”  D. A. growled.

“They certainly made a job of it.”

“Didn’t you see what happened at the lifeboats?  Deplorable.  The standard of human efficiency is far below what we are entitled to expect — today it was ghastly.”

“Of course,” Bernard said, “it’s got to start at the top.  You can’t expect efficiency from the crew if you don’t set an example on the bridge.”

“What do you imagine the percentage of average efficiency to be?”  Thomas asked.

“Fifty per cent?”

“Nonsense, young man.  Any employer who gets an average of ten per cent efficency all around is doing extremely well.”

As the Wanderer was becoming overcrowded, the skipper, Ball, had to have many of the rescued transferred.  Bernard and Thomas was taken aboard the trawler Flying Fish.

At Queenstown, he was looked after by a Catholic priest who treated D. A. to dinner and brandy, despite D. A.’s protests.  By the time he returned to the Queenstown quay to await news of his daughter, he was a bit tipsy.

Margaret was aboard the Bluebell, the same boat that saved Captain Turner.  Upon their reunion, the father and daughter checked into the Queen’s Hotel to put an end to their ordeal.  Dorothy visited Lady Mackworth the next morning to check up on her and to say that Howard was safe.  Lady Mackworth and D. A. Thomas went home to Wales; Dorothy and Howard continued on to work on the battlefields of France.

Despite his survival, the Lusitania left a lasting impression.  D.A. Thomas would later remark, “The thought of crossing the Atlantic frightens me.  I can’t get the Lusitania out of my mind.  I dream of it.”*

Media coverage


The 8 May 1915 New York Times, page 4 ran this:   “Mr. Thomas declined to relate his experience, saying that he had too easy a time to be interesting.  Just as a boat was being lowered on the starboard side an officer ordered him to take a vacant seat.  This boat got away without any trouble and was one of the first to be picked up.”

One of the more interesting headlines detailing D. A.’s survival read:  “GREAT NATIONAL DISASTER.  D. A. THOMAS SAVED.”

After Lusitania


D. A. Thomas was awarded the title of Baron Rhondda in 1916.  From 1916 to 1917, he was President of the Local Government Board.  When he was appointed Minister of Food in June of 1917, he introduced food rationing to Great Britain.  Another title, Viscount, came to D. A. in June of 1918.  He was only able to enjoy his title for one month, as he died on 3 July 1918 in Llanwern, Monmouthshire.  His title and peerage, by special remainder, were inherited by her daughter Margaret.  Margaret wrote about him in her 1933 autobiography, This Was My World.


Contributors:
Michael Poirier

References:

Ballard, Dr. Robert D. with Spencer Dunmore.  Exploring the Lusitania.   Warner Books, Inc.,  1995.

“David Alfred Thomas,” Spartacus Educational.  Online.  <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRrhondda.htm>.

“Gareth.”  “Glamorgan Snippets.”  Online.  <http://home.clara.net/tirbach/HelpPagepearlsGLA4.html>.

Hickey, Des and Gus Smith.  Seven Days to Disaster.  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981.

Hoehling, A. A. and Mary Hoehling.  The Last Voyage of the Lusitania.  Madison Books, 1956.

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

Ramsay, David.  Lusitania:  Saga and Myth.  W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

* Sauder, Eric and Ken Marschall with Bill Sauder.  R. M. S. Lusitania:  Triumph of the Edwardian Age.  Waterfront Publications, 1993.  Page 47.

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