Lusitania victim torpedoed twice
Mrs Frances Washington Stephens is the woman whose body was twice claimed by a German submarine.
Wife of the enormously wealthy George Washington Stephens of Montreal, Frances lost her life at age 64 on the Lusitania. Her husband was not with her, but she was travelling instead with her infant son John, his nurse, Carolina Millen, and her own personal maid, Elsie Oberlin. All four were drowned.
The body of Frances (No. 28) was the sole one recovered among the first class quartet. Her body was embalmed in preparation for its return to North America. The casket was taken to Liverpool by Mr Wedderburn Wilson, the accredited representative of her husband.
There it was said to have been embarked on the 10,920-ton Hesperian for the Atlantic crossing. This is not entirely confirmed, but it is the established story.
Six hundred passengers crowded aboard Hesperian. But the Allan Line vessel was not long out of Liverpool when she was torpedoed 85 miles southwest of the Fastnet on September 4, 1915 - less than a week after Count Bernstorff, the German Ambassador to the US, had assured Washington that ‘passenger liners will not be sunk without warning.’
Mrs Washington Stephens’s coffin reportedly went to the bottom of the sea with the 32 lives lost. This is not confirmed, although her body was undoubtedly re-sunk on his transfer back to the USA on some vessel.
The Hesperian survivors once more swarmed onto the quays of Queenstown, including one man who had been blinded on the Western Front only to have his sight restored by the shock of the explosion.
The heightened irony is that Mrs Washington Stephens’ corpse, if indeed on the Hesperian, was sunk by the same submarine — U-20 — which had first taken her life on the Lusitania.
Only a panel on a grave marker in Mount Royal cemetery in Montreal now commemorates her passing.