Mr. James “Jay” Ham Brooks

James Brooks Saloon Passenger Saved
James Brooks Image credit:  US National Archives/Michael Poirier.
Born James Ham Brooks 4 January 1875 Lewiston, Maine, United States
Died 30 April 1956 (age 81) Paris Hill, South Paris, Maine, United States
Age on Lusitania 41
Ticket number 3080
Cabin number E 48
Traveling with None
Lifeboat Collapsible
Rescued by - Wanderer (Peel 12) - Flying Fish
Occupation Chain salesman
Citizenship United States
Residence Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States
Other name(s) Jay Brooks
Spouse(s) Ruth S. (1885 - ?)
James Brooks, 41, was a salesman with the Weed Chain Company.  He was on board Lusitania to travel to England, France, and Russia for business.  He was acquainted with Montagu and Chastina Grant, and was with them at the time of the torpedo impact.  As the ship was sinking, he remembered Captain Turner trying to stop the lowering of the boats and saw lifeboat spill as they were being lowered.  Brooks jumped into the water and climbed aboard a collapsible until he was rescued by the Manx fishing smack Wanderer (Peel 12).

Life


James Brooks was born in Lewiston, Maine, United States on 4 January 1875.  Growing up on the Androscoggin River, he would often swim in its cold waters as a child.  It was a practice that would eventually save his life.  As an adult, he lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and became a salesman with the Weed Chain Company.  His company made auto chains.  His wife's name was Ruth and together the couple had four sons.  They also had a Miss Hicks in their employ to look over the children, who as of 1915, were all under 6 years of age.

Lusitania


Before departing New York on the Lusitania, Jay and Ruth stayed in the Biltmore Hotel.  Only after her husband left the hotel was Ruth informed of the German warning. James Brooks' cabin on the Lusitania was E-48.  During the voyage, he became acquainted with Allen Barnes, Charles Jeffery, and Thomas Silva. As the Lusitania neared the coast of Ireland on 7 May, the day of the disaster, Brooks claimed to have seen Fastnet Rock.  He had also noticed, while on deck, that even though the lifeboats had been swung out, all but two were still chained to the ship.  While at coffee in the dining saloon, Brooks felt that the ship's speed had been reduced "very appreciably" and that filled him with unease. After lunch he walked up the staircase to the Boat Deck.  Reaching the outside, he heard Montagu and Chastina Grant call for him from the deck above, next to the Marconi room.  James Brooks climbed the companionway to join them.  They made plans to play shuffleboard and were waiting for a fourth to join them when he noticed a white streak approaching diagonally from the starboard side.  Brooks noted the torpedo to be "between ten and fifteen feet in length, two feet in diameter and appeared to be traveling about 35 miles an hour" (Hickey/Smith, 183).  He said flatly, "That's a torpedo." James Brooks felt "a solid shock" go through the Lusitania and "instantly up through the decks went coal, debris of all kinds . . . in a cloud, up in the air and mushroomed up 150 feet above the Marconi wires."  This was accompanied by "a volume of water thrown with violent force" that knocked him flat on his face.  Brooks got back up again and heard Chastina weakly call for her husband.  Jay ran between the second and third funnels to find Montagu and Chastina lying on the deck on the starboard side.  Then came "a slight second shock" that enveloped him in steam.  He felt that he was going to suffocate.  When the steam cleared, the Grants were gone. Panicking, Brooks ran down to the Boat Deck port side and ran into the smoking room from the rear door.  The room was deserted.  He then ran to the starboard side of the room and saw stokers emerge from below.  He didn't want to go back inside to fetch a lifejacket and continued around the decks.  Passing beneath the bridge, he saw Captain Turner hold up his hands and order, "Lower no more boats!  Everything is going to be all right!" As he passed a lifeboat station, he heard one crewman mutter to another, "To hell with him.  We'll damn well get this one away!" Brooks was calming down in his walk.  Then he saw the first lifeboat spill. He thought that maybe if the Lusitania were slowed down enough the lifeboats would get away safely.  The ship, however, seemed to be plowing straight towards the Old Head of Kinsale instead. Next, a crewman passed, waving a revolver saying that no one could get into the boats.  Brooks said aloud, "Who in hell is trying to?" Jay then saw Staff Captain Anderson running to the stern without his coat.  Apparently at least sixty or so women were hanging onto an iron pipe railing on the starboard side, afraid to let go and lower themselves into a lifeboat.  Brooks lent his help, holding onto a lifeboat davit with one arm and assisting women one by one into the lifeboat.  The deck was becoming level with the water but the chains prevented the lifeboat from being freed.  Before the clamps could be released, the boat's keel was afloat and the waters smashed the lifeboat into the davits, spilling most of the women into the sea. Without taking off his shoes, Brooks jumped into the ocean.  The water was clogged with wreckage and he had no idea how it could have happened in such a short time.  Compared to the Androscoggin, he felt that the water was "mild."  He swam as fast as he could and saw the Marconi aerials coming down on him.  He eluded the first one, pushed away the second on while it was in the air and it passed right by his feet.  The wire had cut his hand. He saw the Lusitania, pointing at the land just out of reach, go down "with a thunderous roar as of the collapse of a great building during a fire."  He thought that maybe the innards of the ship had broken loose and crashed towards the bow. Brooks climbed aboard a collapsible and went to work to raise the sides with Leslie MortonFred GauntlettSamuel Knox, and Charles Lauriat.  With great difficulty they tried to persuade those hanging on the sides to cling onto the ropes attached so they could raise the sides.  Those in the water were convinced that the men were trying to push them off.  After the sides went up, the seats had to be slid in place.  Then they had to look for oars among the floating wreckage; however, they were fully manned.  Carefully, they rowed, trying to avoid "the dead and living among the debris." Their lifeboat was picked up by the Peel 12.  Soon the rescue vessel was so crowded that Brooks had to dangle his legs over the side.  He was transferred to the Flying Fish. In Queenstown, Brooks did what he could to help the American consul.  He identified Charles Klein by his clubfoot.  Brooks and Charles Jeffery were taken to a hotel with other survivors.  They saw a scantily clad survivor washing coal soot from her face and Jeffery asked asked if there was anything in town that he could get for her.  Her response of "no thank you" sounded strangely natural after surviving the ordeal that they had just been through. Brooks report of the disaster was printed in The New York Times, Monday, 10 May 1915, page 3.

Later life


Brooks retired to South Paris, Maine, where he lived until his death on 30 April 1956.  He had also been in correspondence with A. A. and Mary Hoehling for their book The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, which was published that same year.

Related pages


James Brooks at the Mixed Claims Commission
Contributors Michael Poirier Judith Tavares References 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.  Berkley Books, 2002.

About the Author