People on board
James Billington, a 48 year old member of the Wexford Harbour Board, was in the smoking room when the first torpedo hit. Billington was from Lancashire, where he shared his father’s trade of making clogs. In his later life, he was described as a clog maker and a merchant on the records of his children’s births. Though he was a Methodist, his wife, Mary Maher, and family were Catholics. Perhaps due to his professional experience on the Wexford Harbour Board, he immediately put on a life jacket and was among the lucky ones to survive the disaster. He later related the following to a newspaper:
'I got a life belt, put it on, came up again and the ship was then sinking forward. In a very short time she was almost down to the first funnel. I went up on the bridge where there were ladies who were unable to get into the boats, but we got them into them eventually, and there were also three little girls that we got in. One of them, however, became unconscious and died before our arrival in Dublin.
'We had scarcely got into the boats when the second torpedo came and the engine, boiler and funnels all went up. It was like a little volcano and all this stuff came down on top of us in the water. We got away from the sinking boat which went down very rapidly and quietly.'
There were fully 500 people swimming about in every direction - looking for where they could get a boat. We were an hour and a half before we could see anything in the way of relief in sight, and all the time there was a foot of water in the ship.”
James Billington died of colon cancer in 1940 at home in Wexford and was survived by his wife and children.
Text: Claire Bradley