Cunard Line Commodore William Thomas Turner, master of Lusitania when she was sunk by a German torpedo in May 1915, was born on 23 October 1856.
Turner went to sea at age 13. Nicknamed “Bowler Bill” by his shipmates because of his favorite choice of off-duty headgear, Turner joined Cunard Line in 1883. He became a captain in 1907 when he received command of Lusitania. Turner was promoted to commodore that same year.
Turner also commanded Mauretania (1907) and Aquitania before resuming command of Lusitania in April 1915.
Turner stayed with Lusitania until she sank from under him. He was rescued from the sea by Bluebell, a small steamboat whose crew reportedly detected Turner by the glint of his gold braid.
The Admiralty sought to blame Turner for the loss of Lusitania, yet he was exonerated by the Mersey Inquiry and Mayer hearings.
Turner died at home at age 76 on 23 June 1933. Stricken with intestinal cancer, he is reported to have quipped, “I’m all right fore and aft, but my longitudinal bulkhead’s given way!” A bitter Turner never forgave the Admiralty and particularly First Lord Winston Churchill for what he viewed as their attempts to exonerate themselves at his expense.
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