Remembering the Empress: Memorial service for ship that sank 100 years ago today, killing 1,012

The Empress of Ireland and (below) Harold Jones, who was on-board when it sank
The Empress of Ireland and (below) Harold Jones, who was on-board when it sank

A Tring woman has travelled to Liverpool to commemorate her grandfather and all the others who died when the Empress of Ireland sunk near Quebec 100 years ago today.

The ocean liner collided with Norwegian ship SS Storstad in thick fog at about 2am. Most of the 1,057 passengers and 420 crew on-board were sleeping and did not have time to escape – 1,012 of them died. Just four of the 138 children on board survived.

Harold Jones PNL-140529-131909001

Harold Jones PNL-140529-131909001

It took less than 15 minutes for the Empress to sink in the Saint Lawrence River.

Harold Jones was one of 172 Liverpudlians on the ship’s crew. He worked on-board as a bedroom steward.

The 33-year-old father-of-four returned below decks to try and help others after the collision and died trying to save passengers.

His granddaughter Linda Downey, 70, of Grove Gardens, Tring, said: “My mother was his youngest daughter. Our family didn’t get much in the way of compensation.”

Harold, who joined the merchant navy aged 16, married his wife Sarah when they were both 21. Linda’s mother Grace was born in 1913 and was just six months old when her father died.

The Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institution offered to look after Grace and her three sisters – Alice, born in 1903, Ethel, born in 1905 and Eve, born in 1910.

But Sarah refused and went out to work, so that she could keep the family together – she never married again and died in 1947.

Linda said: “My grandmother struggled really hard to bring up her four daughters. My mother always said that she grew up without a father.

“The sinking of the Empress always been there in our family, ever since I was a little girl.”

The tragedy on May 29, 1914, was overshadowed by the loss of the Titanic two years previously and the fact that the First World War was about to begin.

Linda said: “It has not really been remembered at all by history. When I tell most people about it, they look completely blankly at me.

“It is sad that it is not very well-known, but I am very pleased that Liverpool is marking the occasion – 75 per cent of the crew were from Liverpool.”

A centenary memorial service to remember those who died in the Empress will take place today at Liverpool Parish Church of Our Lady and St Nicholas from 2.30pm. Linda will be there.

She said: “I feel emotional, but very grateful and pleased because it gives families who are descended from those that died the chance to remember them.”