Mr Wilfred Deable Seward was born in Shoreditch, London, England on 5 March 1887.
He was the son of William Henry Seward (1865-1928) and Alicia Louisa Trout (26 March 1865-1954). His father was from Shoreditch and his mother was a native of Cork City, Co Cork, Ireland, the couple marrying in the latter city on 25 September 1884.
The eldest of ten children, Seward's siblings were: Colonel William (b. 1890), Kathleen Alicia (1892-1974), Frederick John (1895-1968), Lord Arthur (b. 1898), Nora Emmie (1903-1992), Harry (1904-1982), Samuel Richard (1905-1978) and Annie Janet (1908-1917). The family as a whole appear to have lived in various locations over the years, including Birkenhead, Liverpool, Essex and Tottenham.
Wilfred first appears on the 1891 census living with his mother and brother Colonel William at 40 Parkhurst Road, Tottenham, Middlesex but his father was absent at the time. On the 1901 census Wilfred and his father, described as a wine agent, are listed as visitors at an address in Toxteth Park, Liverpool. Wilfred, aged 14, was already described as a ship's steward.
The earliest known record of Seward serving aboard a ship was in June 1903 when he was a waiter aboard the Saxonia and he then stated his local address as one in New Brighton, Cheshire. His ship just prior to that was listed as the Ivernia.
By the time of the 1911 census Wilfred's family are living at 3 Ebeneezer Road, Liverpool and his father was described as a theatrical agent. Wilfred and his brother William are not listed at this address but at 5 Shirley Road, Southampton and both are described as ship's stewards. Also lodging at this address were future Titanic-crewmen, stewards Ernest Hamilton and Frank Morris.
Seward, who was unmarried, had transferred from the Olympic and was on board the Titanic for her trip from Belfast to Southampton although he does not appear to have signed-on for the trip. When he did eventually sign-on to the Titanic on 4 April 1912, he gave his local address as 5 Shirley Road, Southampton1. As Chief Pantry Steward he could expect monthly wages of £4, 10s.
Called to testify at the British Inquiry into the sinking on Day 15, for which he received expenses of £10, 8s, Seward's account was tame. He stated at the time of the crash he was in his bunk and got up but got back into his bunk again and went to sleep. He rose again after a time when the second steward came by ordering all men up on deck; before complying, Seward went to the pantry to check on the lifeboat list before assisting passengers into their lifebelts.
He first went to boat 5 and then to his assigned boat, lifeboat 3 which he entered and estimated to be filled with between 50 and 60 people, including around 14 other crew members which were made up of seamen (4) and firemen (10). He also related a reluctance of some of the passengers to leave.
In another and much more dramatic account he stated that his lifeboat capsized and he spent hours in the water.
Upon return to Britain and providing evidence at the British Inquiry Seward returned to sea. Two years later, on 29 August 1914, Wilfred enlisted in the 10th (Scottish) Battalion, The King’s Liverpool Regiment. On 1 November he landed in France, only to be discharged and sent home four weeks later. His invalidity certificate records that he was suffering from rheumatism and reports that:
This man was on board the Titanic when she went down. He was in the water 2½ hours….Causation of the disability - immersion at sinking of the Titanic.
His return home was reported in the press:
THREE GALLANT LADS
News has been received that Private Fred Seward, of the Liverpool Regiment, whose father lives in White Rock-street, Liverpool, was wounded in the recent "big push." His eldest brother Wilfred, who is in the Liverpool Scottish, a survivor of the Titanic has been invalided home owing to frostbite contracted in the trenches at Christmas, 1914, where he went through the early fighting. Another brother, Arthur, 18 years of age in September next, has been out on the front for ten months with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders and taken part in all their successful charges. - Liverpool Daily Post, 24 July 1916
Wilfred, therefore, returned to civilian sea duties, serving on various ships in the Merchant Fleet during both World Wars.
On 14 August 1917 Wilfred was married in Hornsey Road Methodist Chapel, Islington to Lylla Marion Box (b. 8 March 1891); he was described as a baker works manager and his address was stated as 112 New Warwick Road, New Southgate, London. His wife Lylla, a native of Bromley, was the daughter of Josiah James Box, a railway worker, and the former Mary Butcher.
Wilfred and Lylla had two children, Doris (b. 1920) and Peter James (b. 1926) and they lived in the Islington area of London for a number of years before living in New Forest, Hampshire and later Southampton. His daughter Doris related an amusing story about her father's extended absences from the home whilst at sea; she and her fiancé Thomas Patterson, of Doagh, Co Antrim, had written to him asking for permission to marry; the letter finally arrived with him eighteen months after the wedding had taken place.
Seward worked aboard the Majestic in the early 1920s and the Olympic in the latter half of the decade. During the 1930s he began a long association with the Queen Mary. In 1945 he was a pantry steward aboard the Monarch of Bermuda, operating between India and Liverpool. The following year he was working aboard the Queen Elizabeth as assistant pantry steward, immigration records describing him as standing at 5' 10" and weighing 140 lbs. He later returned to the Queen Mary where he spent the rest of his sea-going career and was shown serving aboard her as night pantry man into 1953. He retired that same year and continued to work as patrol officer aboard Queen Mary at Southampton docks.
In a move to be closer to their daughter Doris who lived in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, and also to get Wilfred away from his beloved ships in Southampton and for a quieter life, over Christmas 1956 retiree Wilfred and his wife Lylla decided to move to Northern Ireland. They initially intended settling in nearby Portstewart or Portrush but ended up living at the Glebeside Estate in Ballymoney where they would spend the rest of their years. In their new home Seward was frequently called upon by the local media to tell and retell his story and the memories remained vivid even after many years. During that time he corresponded with William McQuitty during his preparation for his film of A Night to Remember. According to an interview in the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph in 1956 he still retained his set of Titanic pantry keys.
Wilfred circa 1950s
Wilfred Seward died in Ballymoney on 12 December 1963 aged 76 and he was buried in Ballymoney Borough Council Cemetery, Knock Road, Ballymoney. When his wife Lylla died on 8 December 1967 she was buried with him. Their resting place lay unmarked until April 2013 when, through the efforts of the Ballymoney Museum and local historians, a headstone was erected:
WILFRED DEABLE SEWARD
Survivor of the Sinking of The R.M.S. Titanic
And His Wife
LYLLA MARION SEWARD, Née BOX
His son Peter died in Hampshire in 2007.