Mr. George Slingsby

George Slingsby (1889 – 1967), 26, was the valet to Frederick Orr-Lewis (later Sir Frederick Orr-Lewis). He had seen the torpedo heading towards Lusitania while at lunch on 7 May 1915. As the torpedo impacted and the ship started to sink, he found his employer on the port side deck. Slingsby gave his lifebelt to Lady Allan even though he couldn’t swim. Slingsby was rescued from the water, as was Orr-Lewis.

Early life


Slingsby was born in 1889 to a simple, country couple who lived on the estate of the wealthy Whitakker family. His father was a gardener at Babworth Hall, Retford.  As George grew older he aspired to be part of the inside staff and worked his way up from garden boy at Rufford Abbey to butler for Squire Foljamb at Osberton Hall.  He considered the life of a butler very lonely and after awhile moved on, much to the disappointment of the Foljamb family.  He eventually landed the position of valet to Frederick Orr-Lewis (later Sir Frederick), a wealthy Canadian who owned the estate of Whitewebbs in Enfield, Middlesex, England.

In 1915, his boss had to oversee some business and they took passage on the Lusitania. When this was done, they decided to return on the Lusitania and their friend Marguerite, Lady Allan booked passage with them.

Lusitania


Slingsby’s biography by his daughter states that he was in second class, but in actuality George traveled in saloon (first class) with Frederick Orr-Lewis on ticket D1348.  Slingsby had his own cabin, B-62, and dined in the magnificent saloon class dining room with William Stainton (valet to Charles Frohman), Emily Davis, and Annie Walker (maids to Lady Allan).  Their table was on C deck of the first class dining room on the starboard side facing the open deck through the window.

On board Lusitania, he oftened to entertained the Allan girls Anna and Gwendolyn.  On the final day, George remembered the alteration the ship’s course about 1:30pm, and that it was so sharp that it caused several glasses from the ship’s bar to fall.  Slingsby and Stainton were running late and joined Emily and Annie at their table in the saloon.  They listened to the band play “Tipperary” when Slingsby looked out the window and saw something.

Looking closer, he saw the wake of a torpedo.

He called everyone’s attention to it, including Inspector William Pierpont who also saw the wake.  As the torpedo impacted, Slingsby ran to B Deck to try and find his employer who was in the lounge with Lady Allan, her daughters, William Robert Grattan Holt, Dorothy Braithwaite and Frances Stephens.  Frederick Orr-Lewis and his party stepped out onto the portside deck where George found them. Slingsby selflessly gave his lifebelt to Lady Allan even though he couldn’t swim.  Grimly, Slingsby may have been reminded of the drowning death of his brother John.

As the ship sank, Slingsby was dumped into the water.  He swam to a raft which he found to be sinking.  He then found himself clinging to a cylinder and that was the last thing he remembered until he was rescued hours later. He found Sir Frederick and the two traveled back to Whitewebbs.

The following is his account, which he wrote to his mother from the Hotel Imperial, Cork. It was published on 28 May 1915 in the Retford, Gainsborough and Worksop Times. Newark and Mansfield Weekly News:

“It was marvellous how I got saved, and could not swim. I gave all my life-belts to women and children. Mr. Lewis and I never expected to see each other again, but he was saved as well, so both of us are safe. I will explain everything when I see you. I am all right and feeling strong, but Mr. Lewis is older than me, so it took more effect on him. I lost all my clothes and everything, but the Cunard Company will have to make them good. I found I had only one trousers leg left. Someone must have pulled it off but I don’t care about that, I am safe and sound, and hope you have not been worrying about me.”

A more detailed account from Slingsby appeared in the same newspaper two weeks later on 11 June:

“We were warned in New York that the Germans would sink the Lusitania, but took it as American bluff.

“We had a smooth crossing until this took place, which was at 2.10 p.m. by my watch. I was having lunch in the top saloon when I noticed a long white streak coming towards the ship in the water, and it suddenly struck me as from a submarine, and I dashed out of the saloon, and then came the crash, which struck the port-holes and caused a terrible sensation.

“I at once made for my lifebelt and fixed it on ready for what was to take place. When I got to the boat deck I saw my master and Lady Allan and two daughters and two maids without lifebelts. I at once pulled my belt off and gave it to the ladies. I then rushed in the ship and got two more, which I also gave to the ladies, and by that time the ship had got too much of a list on, and it took me all my time to get back on deck, as the fore part of the ship was almost level with the captain’s bridge.

“The boats were a failure as it was impossible to launch them. The first boat gave way and sent them all in the sea. I was then left without a lifebelt, and at 27 minutes past two o’clock I saw the ship disappearing fast. I was then taken off my feet, and the suction took me down with the ship. I went a long way down, when all of a sudden I felt myself going in a different direction quite fast. I was hit on the back of the head, and put my hands up in front of my face to prevent being hit with the wreckage. I then saw some light, and got hold of a piece of wood which was not strong enough to hold me, but I saw a raft close by which I succeeded in getting on, when I suddenly began to sink, and I was still on the raft with my head just out of the water when it disappeared and I was left struggling in the water. Then came an airtight tank which I made a grab for, and I was holding on to the tank when I saw a stewardess in the water, and I called out to her to get hold of the tank and share it with me, which she did, and I got her hand over the top of the tank and held her afloat for quite an hour, when all of a sudden she let go, and I think the shock killed her as the water was so cold.

“Shortly after that some man got hold of my left foot and pulled me and the tank under the water. I still held on to the tank, and I began to get the cramp as my body was in the water all the time for three hours. I don’t remember being picked up until I was near Queenstown, and I found myself in a torpedo boat. When I arrived at Queenstown I discovered one of my trousers legs was missing with the man that pulled me under the water. I was told the next day by one of the sailors who helped to pull me out of the water that when I was pulled up I pulled the tank up with me, which they threw overboard. It was a very good friend to me, and I hope it did the same work a second time.”

Later life


George married Dorothy Lawrence, whom he had known prior to his sailing on the Lusitania.

After his death on 9 June 1967, George’s daughter Nina Slingsby Smith wrote a biography about her father entitled, George:  Memoirs of a Gentleman’s Gentleman.

Contributors:
Randy Bryan Bigham
Michael Poirier

References:
“Survivors’ Accounts from the Lusitania, 7th May 1915.” Small Town, Great War. Hucknall 1914 – 1918. Online. <http://www.facebook.com/notes/small-town-great-war-hucknall-1914-1918/survivors-accounts-from-the-lusitania-7th-may-1915/293207364031341>.

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