Mr. John Welsh

John Welsh Third Class Passenger Saved
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Born John Welsh c. 1880 Manchester, England, United Kingdom
Died 1941 (age 61) Bromsgrove, England, United Kingdom
Age on Lusitania 34
Occupation Mechanical engineer
Citizenship British
Residence California, United States
Other name(s) Jack Welsh
Spouse(s) Gerda Neilson (1915 - 1941, his death)
John Welsh, 34, was a mechanical engineer from Manchester, England, United Kingdom sailing on Lusitania to return home to England from California.  He started a shipboard romance with Gerda Neilson, and she accepted his marriage proposal on Thursday evening, 6 May 1915.  Both John and Gerda survived the sinking and were married the following week.  


John and Gerda met on the deck of Lusitania on the morning of the departure from New York City.  A romance soon blossomed between the two. The first night out, John invited Gerda to sit with him at dinner. Next to them were George, Elsie, and Frank Hook and Thomas, Annie, and Thomas Marsh, Jr. Gerda and John often kept to themselves, as lovers often do, in a corner of the third class lounge.  On the night of Thursday, 6 May, they sought a change of scenery and went for a walk on deck.  There, under the stars, John proposed to Gerda and she accepted.  They decided to get married as soon as the Lusitania reached England. On Friday afternoon, 7 May, John and Gerda were back in their corner of the third class lounge after luncheon when the torpedo struck.  Rushing onto the deck, the lovers pledged to “sink or swim together.”  John placed a lifebelt on Gerda and he then placed her in what they believed to be one of the last lifeboats.  The boat soon upset and tossed everyone inside, including Gerda, into the water.  Wasting no time, John clamored over the rail of the Boat Deck and dived overboard.  He was determined to ensure Gerda’s survival. In the water, John supported Gerda and kept her afloat until a lifeboat came to pick her up.  John would later say, “she was braver than any man I’ve ever met” and that she encouraged him while they were in the water.  They reached a lifeboat where the people inside did not want to take Gerda in, but did so anyway.  After pulling her in, however, Gerda’s rescuers refused to also bring in John as they claimed that there was no more room.  Gerda pleaded with those in the boat and they relented.


The rescued couple took a ferry to England and, on Thursday, 13 May, not even a week since the disaster, John and Gerda were married in the register office of Chorlton, Manchester, England.  Their marriage was witnessed by Jane Fletcher, Ellen Fletcher, and Mary Gibbons.  They proceeded to live at 31 Carlton Terrace in Gorton, a Manchester suburb.
Welsh-Neilson marriage certificateJohn Welsh and Gerda Neilson’s marriage certificate. Editor’s collection.
Unfortunately, Gerda and John were unable to have children.  The memories of the disaster were too much for Gerda to live with.  In the years before post-traumatic stress disorder could be diagnosed, understood, and treated, the trauma of the sinking drove Gerda insane.  John committed her to a mental hospital.  While John hoped that Gerda would get better, she did not.  Years later, John moved away for work, and died in Bomsgrove in 1941.  Gerda lived in the mental hospital until her death on 2 June 1961.  Her mental health never recovered. Curiously, her obituary claimed that she was the last survivor of the Lusitania disaster. John Welsh is named in Hickey and Smith as Jack Walsh.  

Links of interest

Encyclopedia Titanica - Lest We Forget: Part 1
Contributors: Jim Kalafus Mike Poirier Judith Tavares References: Family Research Link.  Online.  <> 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. Kalafus, Jim and Michael Poirier (2005) Lest We Forget : Part 1 ET Research. <> Preston, Diana.  Lusitania:  An Epic Tragedy.  Berkley Books, 2002.

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