Mr. Henry E. Needham

Henry Needham (? - 1944), was a British subject living in New York, New York, United States. He was traveling aboard Lusitania to return to his family home in Sidcup, Kent, England. His brothers had recently enlisted to fight in the Great War, and like many male passengers aboard the ship, Needham was doing his duty and planned to also enlist upon arrival in England. Needham survived the Lusitania sinking, and left his account of the events. He starts with the delayed departure from New York due to the Cameronia transfer and the weather and the fog they ran into off the Irish coast:
Just off the Irish coast we ran into a fog, and had to slow down to about half our normal speed. For three hours or so, our foghorns were going, so that any German vessels in the neighborhood had full warning that we were coming along. The haze lifted, and we had a clear view of the Irish coast, but although our speed was increased it was not so great as it had been earlier, and several of the passengers spoke about it. We were about half way through lunch when we heard a dull thud. We were some distance from the spot where the boat was struck, so could only hazard a guess at what had happened, though of course the Germans’ threat to torpedo the boat was uppermost in everybody’s mind. It was just as if she had struck a rock. People at once rose from their seats, women picked up their babies, and quite a wail went ‘round.  We tried to reassure them, and I saw the last of my friends at that time. I proceeded to the main deck. It was impossible to get near the boats to render assistance because of the press, so I climbed on the bridge at the stern of the boat that is used when they are backing out of harbors, and from this spot had a good view of what was happening all the way down the port side of the ship. She had a heavy list. Men were shouting that the captain had stated that the boat was all right and would not sink, at which there was quite a cheer. I noticed several women with young babies sit down on the deck with a sigh of relief. The first boat on the davits was full of people when they started lowering her.  I have an idea that there were very few of the actual crew assisting with it. She started quietly, suddenly set off with a rush, hit the side of the ship, struck the sea and was reduced to matchwood. I could see the people struggling in the water and gradually being carried away by the current. Some were wearing lifebelts; they looked like corks bobbing among matchwood. The others gradually disappeared. The second boat also met with disaster. One end broke away as she was part of the way down, and the other was held firmly. Eventually someone cut the rope away, and she dropped into the sea and smashed up. The third or fourth boat to be lowered had one end smashed in. She was full of people, and immediately filled and sank. By this time the starboard side must have been on a level with the water, and a few minutes later I saw the forepart of the vessel break away. A mass of people was swept into the water. By this time I thought I better get to the boat deck. I narrowly missed being swept into the sea by a collapsible boat which suddenly swept into the sea with a rush. At this time steam was pouring out of the port holes and the noise was awful. I merely had to step from the ship into the ocean. When I came to the surface, I saw one of the collapsible boats floating upside down. I managed to swim out to her and a steward who had just clambered on gave me a helping hand. I looked round for the Lusitania, but she had disappeared. There were perhaps a couple of dozen boats and masses of wreckage within a radius of a mile. People were struggling in the water all round us. Several made for the upturned boat, and we were able to help them on. One woman with a child was none-the-worse for her experience. She had secured a lifebelt.  In about a half an hour we had about thirty people on the boat. One little chap had his leg broken and he cried pitifully for his mother. We picked up a few more people and gradually drifted out of the wreckage. A crowded boat some hundred yards to our right was sinking. They called to us to help them, but it was impossible for us to do anything. All we could do was sit there and watch them sink. The moaning of the people in the water was terrible to hear. We were wondering if the S.O.S. had been picked up, and began to look around. A steamer was sighted about six miles away heading due south. We cheered our companions in misfortune by telling them she was coming to our aid, but she never altered her course, and it was obvious that she had no wireless on board and from that distance could not see boats low down in the water. It was about four o’clock when we finally saw boats approaching from the Irish coast- about an hour and a half after I got into the water. We first saw a smoke stack, and then all around we could see steamers coming in a cloud of smoke showing they were putting on every ounce of steam.
Henry Needham was one of the survivors who wrote to Gertrude Prichard about the fate of her son, Richard. Henry writes of Prichard: "He was a great favorite on board, he arranged all the whist drives & seemed to do most of the work." Henry Needham returned from his World War I service, only to be killed by a second wave of German attacks on civilian targets; dying in an air raid on Sidcup on 4 July 1944.

Links of interest

Henry Needham at Lest We Forget – Encyclopedia Titanica

Contributors Cliff Barry, UK Jim Kalafus, USA Peter Kelly, Ireland Mike Poirier, USA Judith Tavares Geoff Whitfield, UK References: Jim Kalafus, Michael Poirier, Cliff Barry and Peter Kelly (2013) “Lest We Forget : The Lusitania.” Gare Maritime (ref: #10962, accessed 27th April 2015 03:24:39 PM) URL : Larson, Erik. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Crown/Archetype, 2015.

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