A hundred years ago today, on 7 May 1915, the British ocean liner the Lusitania was struck by a German torpedo off the Irish coast, on her homeward voyage across the Atlantic from New York to Liverpool. She sank within twenty minutes. 1,198 of the 1,959 passengers aboard, including children and crew, perished. This was seen as a ‘German crime against humanity’, and a verdict of ‘wilful and wholesale murder’ was pronounced against Kaiser Wilhelm II and his government. In Germany, a medal was struck to commemorate the event, a copy of which we have in the collection.
Among those lost was a Welshman named Owen Ladd. He was born in 1882, the son of William and Phoebe Ladd, of Eglwyswrw in north Pembrokeshire. Owen had been educated at Llantood Board School and later became an apprentice watchmaker in Cardigan. He had also managed a shop in Pentre, Rhondda, for nine years.
In 1911, he left Wales to join his older brother, David, who was an accountant in Winnipeg, Canada. Owen quickly became a prominent figure within the Welsh community there, serving as secretary of the St David’s Society as well as being a leading member of the Nassau Street Baptist Church. He also occasionally acted as adjudicator at local eisteddfodau.
In 1915, Owen decided to return to Wales to visit his ageing parents and possibly enlist in the military. However, tragically, he lost his life on that fateful voyage aboard the Lusitania.
On 12 May 1915, The Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph reported on ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania’ and mentioned Owen Ladd as missing. An eyewitness account of Owen’s final harrowing moments appeared in the north Pembrokeshire’s weekly – The County Echo on 20 May 1915.
“The reason of my delay in replying to your enquiry was that I've been contemplating paying a visit to the old land when I would call & see you & settle all matters. Now I've definitly [sic] decided & shall be sailing by the Lusitania from New York May 1st. therefore I hope to call & see about the end of May. of course if we encounter any German torpedoes you'll have to claim on the German Emperor.”
(Extract from letter sent by Owen Ladd to Mr Francis, 15 April 1915)
The collection also includes a telegram, which was despatched by his brother David in Winnipeg on 8 May 1915 enquiring as to Owen’s safety; a non-committal reply was received from Cunard’s in Liverpool later the same day. And a letter received by another of Owen’s brothers, Hugh Ladd of Eglwyswrw, from ‘The Cunard Steam Ship Company Limited, Queenstown’ dated 14 May 1915.
The Owen Ladd collection is available to view online on the First World War Collections catalogue.