Tom Matthews

(1887-1962) – 'Lusitania' survivor

Tom Matthews (shown seated) left Lostwithiel in 1913, headed for the copper mines of Michigan. In 1915, keen to serve his country, Tom set sail on the 'Lusitania'. On May 7th the ship was sunk by a German U-boat. Tom, aged 27 and a strong swimmer, survived the disaster - and still joined the army upon his return.

Credit: Lostwithiel Museum and Gill Parsons

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John Thomas (Tom) Matthews was born on November 6th 1887 in the parish of St Winnow, the eldest son of John Clements Matthews and his wife Eliza. After leaving Bridgend School he became a slaughterman for a local butcher.

In 1909 Tom’s brother-in-law, Arthur, migrated to Michigan to seek his fortune in the copper mines. Four years later, after a visit home, Tom decided to accompany Arthur back to the United States in the hope that he could earn enough money to set up his own butcher's shop when he returned home. Soon after war was declared, Tom and Arthur decided to return to Cornwall. At the last minute Arthur, a non-swimmer, changed his mind. Tom boarded the Cunard Liner Lusitania, bound for Liverpool with almost 2000 passengers, on May 1st 1915.

On Friday 7th May, off the coast of southern Ireland, the liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat.  The Lusitania sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 1195 lives. Tom was forced into the sea. Being a fit 27 year old and a very strong swimmer, he managed to survive the cold water for four and a half hours before being rescued along with 763 other survivors.

He returned to his wife and son in Lostwithiel and was subsequently awarded £26 compensation for the loss of all his possessions. In June 1916 Tom joined the army and served until 1918. On his return from active service he fulfilled his dream by opening his own butcher's shop at 9 Quay Street. He worked there until his retirement in 1957 and died in Lostwithiel a few years later. He never spoke about his experiences of the Lusitania disaster.

By a strange coincidence, a Royal Navy Petty Officer, Leonard Bloomfield, was involved in the Lusitania rescue operation and 25 years later his younger daughter, Kathleen, married Howard Matthews (Tom’s son and partner in the butcher’s shop).

Arthur Martin remained in the USA and never crossed the Atlantic again.

Credit: Lostwithiel Museum and Gill Parsons for story and photo