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William Dewhurst

OVER the past 100 years or so, a handful of single words will readily conjure up emotions of sadness and tragedy, success and hope for anyone with a taste for history and a sniff for nostalgia. Places. Events. People. Disasters. Just a word; that's all it takes.
How about this dozen for instance: Dunkirk. Abdication. Alamein. Diana. Falklands. Holocaust. Hillsboro'. Beatles, Kennedy, Titanic, Hitler and Elvis. Making a list is interesting and quite a challenge. But it's likely that the word "Lusitania" will figure on most Top 20 lists of key words.
More than 1,000 people died when the German submarine U-20 torpedoed the Lusitania off the south coast of Ireland on the afternoon of May 7, 1915. Close on 200 of them were American citizens and this was one of the reasons why the USA came into the war the following year.
One of those who died was a young Darwen lad, 21-year-old William Dewhurst who had spent the previous two years with relatives in Fall River, Massachusetts, a major cotton manufacturing centre which had attracted a lot of textile workers from East Lancashire. Before then he had been a weaver at Bowling Green Mill.
William, who used to live in Bolton Road - just across from the United Reformed Church - had attended Culvert School in Watery Lane and was determined, when the First World War broke out, to return home to enlist and fight for his country. He had been a prominent member of St Barnabas Church and a sergeant in the Church Lads Brigade before going off to, first, Canada and then the USA. Most of his old friends from St Barnabas were already in the thick of the fighting.
It's a measure of William's courage and determination that he readily joined the ill-fated Lusitania out of New York and bound for Liverpool on May 1. The Germans had warned people not to sail on the 32,000 ton ship which they regarded as a legitimate target as, they said, she was going to carry war supplies. She did indeed carry tons of fuses, rifle cartridges and shrapnel.
As she passed the Old Head of Kinsale, a few miles down the coast from Cork, Captain William Turner slowed to catch the Liverpool tide and U-20 struck shortly afterwards. One of the finest ships then afloat went down in minutes. The British Government won the propaganda war which ensued and firmly denied that the ship had been carrying weapons of war. No one wanted to hear the German side of the row.
The death toll would have been greater but for the fishermen and boat owners along the Irish coast who set out and plucked hundreds from the sea. They also brought in many of the dead, but William's body was never found.
It was 12 years later that his widowed mother Alice embarked on a trip to see relatives in Falls River which had been paid for by her family. She took a wreath with her and, as they neared the south coast of Ireland, she asked one of the ship's officers whether they would be sailing anywhere near the Old Head of Kinsale. The officer said they would be and mentioned her enquiry to his captain who not only slowed the mail ship Celtic as they passed the spot where the Lusitania had gone down but he held a service of remembrance for William and all the others who had died in the tragedy. It was a poignant moment as the elderly and tearful 
Mrs Dewhurst cast her wreath onto the waves.
Anyone conversant with Darwen's old cemetery will tell their friends that every grave and every headstone has a story to tell. William's death is commemorated  on a headstone at the Dewhurst family grave close to the old cemetery entrance. This, briefly, is his story.


Cemetery supervisor Billy Briggs shows the Dewhurst family grave headstone on which Lusitania victim William Dewhurst is remembered. The grave is the last resting place of his father John (d 1901), mother Alice (d 1945), his baby sister and brother who died in 1957. The grave is in Section H behind the C of E mound. It is visible from the narrow path down to the south lodge. 

                                                                                By Harold Heys
                                                                                February 2011

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