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Miss Marian “May” Bird

Marian “May” Bird (1875 – 1975), 40, of Cheshire, England, was a British subject and stewardess who had served aboard Lusitania since the ship’s maiden voyage. She survived the sinking in lifeboat 15 with her friend, Fannie Morecroft. They were rescued by the trawler Wanderer (also known by its registration number Peel 11) and then transferred to the fishing boat Flying Fish. May Bird had been a stewardess aboard Lusitania since the ship’s maiden voyage in 1907. A friend of hers was a Chief Steward at Cunard and was able to get her the job. She described Lusitania as being so large that it took 20 minutes to travel from one end of the ship to the other. She had also been impressed by the beautiful furnishings of the liner, stating, “I’d never seen anything like it before.” She became fast friends with Fannie Morecroft, who arrived on Lusitania sometime around or before 1912. For a few brief months in 1914, May also served aboard Cunard’s newest ship, Aquitania, but soon returned to Lusitania. May was a stewardess aboard Lusitania on one of the early voyages of the war, where the ship was diverted to Queenstown after a pilot boat had been torpedoed. May had been aware of rumors that Germans wanted to sink the Lusitania, but she had considered this voyage to be no different from any other. She and others had dismissed the warning as a joke. The cabins under her care were C 1 through 28, the odd numbers plus 28. Some of her passengers included Cyril Wallace, Robert Gray, Guy Cockburn, Canon Ernest Phair, Gertrude Poole, Muriel Thompson, Reverend Henry Wood Simpson, and Duncan Walpole Hanes. She herself stayed in a third class cabin. The torpedo hit Lusitania when May was on C deck. She asked the women to stay calm and get their lifebelts as quickly as they could, and get on deck. She asked crying and screaming children to be quiet. She made sure that no one was on deck around her when she left. She took out all of the lifebelts before going to the boat deck. The lights had gone out and the ship was listing, but she managed to get to the starboard boat deck and found Fannie Morecroft. Fannie encountered a man and woman leaning against the rail, begging “in God’s name” for their children to be saved. She put the children in one of the lifeboats. May’s account states that she and Fannie jumped into the water and were picked up by lifeboat 15. She also states that she saw Margaret Gwyer get sucked down a funnel to be blown out again. At the hearings, she stated that she got into the last lifeboat and there “weren’t very many on the boat deck”. She recounted the Marconi wires fouling the lifeboat or one of the oars. Archibald Donald, who claimed to have seen May during the sinking, recalled her escape differently, that she and Fannie had entered a boat that upset and thrown the people inside into the water:
They cut the hanging rope and the boat went into the water, but of course was water logged. The passengers seemed to be crawling up a rope netting on the lower deck, climbing higher as the water reached them… The only woman I knew in the boat was a stewardess, May Baird [sic], and she does not clearly remember what happened.
An interview that May gave when she was 96 had more details. She said that First Officer Jones had seen her in the crowd trying to get into lifeboat 15. He asked her if she could jump. She said that she would trip and landed in the middle of the boat. She was fond of rowing, so she took an oar. May also recalled that the ship was leaning over the lifeboat, and they had to row quickly before the ship rolled on top of them. As they rowed, soot from the funnels blew over them. She also recalled “hundreds and hundreds” of people in the water, begging to get into their boat that was already past capacity. It was one of the saddest things she had ever witnessed. May’s last glimpse of the ship was the Lusitania’s funnels standing straight up as the water covered them. She also claimed to have seen the submarine that sank the ship while they were waiting to be rescued. Lifeboat 15 was picked up by the small fishing trawler Wanderer. May and Fannie were among those transferred to the fishing boat Flying Fish, as the small Wanderer was becoming dangerously overcrowded with survivors. The captain of the Flying Fish was an old friend of May’s. The boat took them to Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. May went to the temporary morgues in Queenstown, but she said that she was not able to identify any of her lost friends. Cunard did not permit women to work on their ships for the rest of the war, but after the armistice, May resumed her career with Cunard. In early 1919, May married Charles Walker. Eventually, he predeceased her, and she and her best friend Fannie moved in together to a house in Sussex. Fannie passed away in 1958. May continued to grant interviews about Lusitania well into her 90s, and otherwise lived a quiet life. She passed away in Birkenhead in early 1975 at age 99, a few months shy of her 100th birthday.

Links of interest

Lest We Forget: Chapter 4, Part 3
Contributors Cliff Barry, UK "LondonGirl," UK Jim Kalafus, USA Peter Kelly, Ireland Michael Poirier, USA References Kalafus, Jim, Michael Poirier, Cliff Barry, and Peter Kelly ( 2013 ) "Lest We Forget : The Lusitania" Gare Maritime (ref: #10962, accessed 9th May 2013 05:28:44 AM) <> "The Sinking of the Lusitania: A Survivor's Story." Online. Accessed 8 August 2011. <>

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