Viscountess Rhondda
Margaret Haig Thomas
1883-1958


Margaret Thomas aged 2
Margaret Thomas aged 2

Margaret Haig Thomas was born on the 12th June 1883; to Mr D.A. Thomas (Viscount Rhondda and Sybil Margaret, the daughter of G. C. Haig (of which family Earl Haig is a member), of Penithon, Radnorshire).

Sybil Margaret Thomas
Sybil Margaret Thomas

Margaret Haig Thomas was the daughter of Mr D.A. Thomas, one of the most brilliant men of his day, a man whose career though he died Viscount Rhondda, rich and respected, was in many ways unfulfilled when, never having recovered from the shock of the sinking of the Lusitania, he died in 1918. A brilliant observer recently wrote that D. A. Thomas’s ability was probably the greatest in Britain during the war.  Possessing all the qualities   which go to make s statesman, and statesmen appear at most once in a generation, he was inevitably  denied the highest political by the greater brilliance of his fellow-countryman Lloyd George.

She was educated at St Leonard’s School, St Andrews, and Somerville College Oxford.

The friendship which existed between D.A. Thomas and his daughter Margaret must have been one of the most remarkable of our time. They understood one another perfectly, and, although in his employees and associates Lord Rhondda expected and ruthlessly demanded the utmost efficiency, he found that much of his most confidential and vital work could be done by no one but his daughter. Their faith in one another was absolute; so was their affection for each other.

So it was with the man who rose from obscurity to unite a huge industry, collect a peerage, and kill himself with overwork in the service of a country at a crisis that the present Lady Rhondda learnt business. No wonder she knows her job. Once, when her father was in America, she wired him, “Free hand imperative,” in connection with a certain deal. It was immensely complicated but his consent came immediately. The deal was put through with complete success.

The sum involved was over a hundred thousand pounds.

Marriage

Sir Humphrey Mackworth Bart. Family

Sir Humphrey Mackworth, Bart, is the seventh baronet and succeeded his father in 1914, He was formerly a lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion Royal West Surry Regiment, and served in South Africa in 1902 as a lieutenant in the 38th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry. He was appointed in 1915 an Assistant Superintendent, Remount Service with the rank of lieutenant.

The Mackworth family is of considerable antiquity, originally settled in Shropshire and Derbyshire, and subsequently at Caerleon. One of its members fought at Poitiers in 1356. Sir Francis Mackworth, a distant Royalist, fought on the side of Charles I. Colonel Humphry Mackworth, a man of considerable note in the time of the Commonwealth, was M.P. for Salop, and governor of Shrewsbury, and one of Cromwell’s Council. The first baronet who died in 1791 sat as M.P. for Cardiff.

Married Life

“My husband, Humphry Mackworth, eldest surviving son of Sir Arthur and Lady Mackworth, was a near neighbour of ours. His people lived at Caerleon, only three miles from Llanwern. We took a pretty little old house, Llansoar, within a few miles of our respective parents. It was beautifully situated in a small wooded valley some was from the main road. I, who had been miserable between school and marriage, found no quarrel with life after my wedding. I was still so close to my old home that it did not mean seeing very much less of my family than before. Yet I had a house of my own, freedom I had never previously known, and the status of an adult human being.

But the shadows of coming events were already invading this Eden of the Monmouthshire valley. Her husband was twelve years senior, and his outlook on life differed from hers. He was master of Llangibby hounds; she hunted but revolted against the cruelty of it. “We were rather an oddly sorted couple. He held that no one should ever read in a room where anyone else wanted to talk, I, brought up in a home in which a father’s study was sacred, held, on the contrary, that no one should ever talk in a room where anyone else wanted to read!”

But here again she searches her own mind ruthlessly. “On the other side of the balance I am bound to admit that it was rather hard on any peace-loving countryman to marry in mistake, for what he had no reason to suppose was anything but a simple, quiet, country maiden, me! That extreme shyness and diffidence of mine gave me in my youth a surface of air of meekness which bore but little relation to facts.”

Votes for Women Campaign

And then two chances rescued her from “the life of unoccupied faculties and petty futility which, apparently, stretched out before me,” setting her feet on the road to amazing adventure and fulfilment. First she discovered the militant suffrage movement, and later became confidential secretary and right-hand “man” to her father in his vast and varied industrial undertakings.

She entered the “Votes for Women” movement instinctively, thrilled with this opportunity for action and release for energy.

Margaret Haig Thomas aged 20
Margaret Haig Thomas aged 20

Encounter with Sir William Davies

“D.A.” provided a typewriter and his daughter became the press propagandist of the Pankhurst movement in South Wales. Her first encounter with Sir William Davies, then editor of the “Western Mail,” makes amusing reading; “One Sunday when my father and I had been climbing the Breconshire Beacons (a favourite Sunday occupation), as we walked along the side of the Merthyr reservoir on our way home, we came upon the editor of the “Western Mail,” best known of all Welsh daily newspapers, fishing.

“My father introduced me, and in the same breath inquired whether the editor would like me to send him in occasional articles about militant suffrage. What between his natural Welsh desire to be polite and his doubts as to how articles from the pen of a young woman whose sole qualification for writing them lay in her firm belief in the righteousness of militancy would fit into the pages of his respectable journal, the editor’s struggle was not an invisible one.

“For my part, I also was rather taken aback. I did not believe myself a sufficiently experienced write to be worthy to be printed in the columns of a paper so widely respected as the “Western Mai,” and, indeed, the editor’s own feelings on the subject were far from being hidden from me. Moreover, as I have said, I considered my time to be already fully occupied.

“But the editor was too polite to refuse point-blank, and as for myself, that amazing conscience which the militant movement bred in those who worked for it told me that I had no right to reject such a heaven-sent opportunity to further suffrage, and gave me no peace till the first article was written. It was published on an August Bank Holiday: I have always supposed that the paper was short of copy that day!”

In Prison

Among her most startling exploits was that of jumping on the dashboard of a car which was conveying Mr Asquith, then Prime Minister.

She qualified for prison by dropping inflammatory material in a post-office, pillar-box, at Newport. Her chief anxiety, perhaps, was that her father should not brief Tim Healy and get her off! Her mother was militant enough to be indignant because her father was not pleased, and went off and got arrested herself in London later! So “D.A.’s daughter was given “one month,” with the option of a fine, and proudly entered the county gaol at Usk. At the end of five days’ hunger strike they let her out, and she went home to bed for 24 hours.

Apparently “D.A.” accepted all these family trials stoically and with the utmost good humour.

Lusitania Disaster May 7th 1915 from her autobiography

In March 1915 my father and I went across to America on a business trip. My father arrived before I did; I was detained at home, and followed him a week or two later. I went out on a little ship which took ten long dull days to do the journey. We were darkened to blackness every night for fear of submarines. Not so much as the lighting of a cigar was permitted on the desks after dusk. I remember that I took much too much of some anti-seasick remedy and was dazed with heavy sleep in consequence, but no too sleepy to be sick as usual when the bad storms came.

We reached New York early one bright April morning. On the quay was my father was waiting for me. I could see him half an hour before our ship docked. I can see him standing there still.

I cannot remember any other holiday in my life that I enjoyed quite so much as I did that one. Partly, I suppose, it was being alone, off by myself with my father, with all that that implied of freedom, interest, stimulation and entirely satisfactory companionship, but it was not only that. In 1915, to come out into the sunlit April New York, care-free and happy, after being under the heavy cloud of war at home, was an unspeakable relief. One should perhaps have been incapable of experiencing it. It may be that a more sensitive person could not have enjoyed even that temporary relief, but I know that I could and did.

Business came into our holiday, of course. Questions of Pennsylvania coal-mines, the plans for a new barge service on the Mississippi, and various Canadian ventures of my father’s, some prospective, others already undertaken, plans for railways across Northern Canada, for boat services on the Great Peace River in Northern Alberta, maps showing where minerals lay, were untapped reservoirs of oil were suspected. There were long discussions with various business associates on these and kindred matters, sometimes downtown, sometimes in our room at the Waldorf Astoria. But these things were only enough to add zest to the holiday, never enough to count as hard work.

In the evenings, almost every evening, we went out, either to the theatre or to dinner parties. With money supplied by my father, I bought a lot of frocks in which I fancied myself very much, particularly in one black velvet evening one, but they all went down in the Lusitania. Perhaps that New York holiday stands so shiningly in my memory for two reasons.  For one thing, for the first time in my life, when we went out together I sometimes felt myself to be almost a social success. At home my overpowering shyness had made me unavoidably a liability at any social function. In New York, going as I did under my father’s wing, it was on more than one occasion clear that I was actually regarded as an asset. Those weeks of open-hearted American hospitality and forth-comingness, of frankly expressed pleasure in meeting one, did something for me that made no difference to the whole of the rest of my life. I dropped the worst of my shyness overboard on that holiday, it has never been so absolutely annihilating since. I have always been grateful to New York for that. Finally, it was one of the best times when I consciously felt quite young. The war formed the most of my generation the bridge that separated us from our youth. For many of us it cut off those last days of morning sun earlier than need normally have happened. The Lusitania disaster was the apex of my bridge.

Since my father could never bear to be away from Llanwern during the most perfect weeks of the year. The second and third weeks of May, we decided to return by the Lusitania, which sailed on Mat 1st. In New York, during the weeks preceding the last voyage of the Lusitania, there was much gossip about submarines. It was freely stated and generally believed that a special effort was to be made to sink the great Cunarder so as to inspire the world with terror. She was at that time the largest passenger boat afloat. The few pre-war passenger boats of greater tonnage had been commandeered for war service of various kinds.

On Saturday, May 1st (the day on which she the Lusitania was to sail), in order that there might be no mistake as to German intentions, the German Embassy at Washington issued a warning to passengers couched in general terms, which was printed in the New York morning papers directly under the notice of the sailing of the Lusitania. The first-class passengers, who were not due to board till about 10 o’clock, had still time after reading the warning, unmistakable in form and position, to cancel their passage if they chose. For the third-class passengers it came too late. As a matter of fact, I believe that no British and scarcely any American passengers acted on the warning, but we were most of us very fully conscious of the risk we were running. A number of people wrote farewell letters to their home folk and posted them in New York to follow on another vessel.

There were some two thousand people aboard altogether, counting passengers and crew. Curiously enough, there were a large number of children on the passenger list. We noticed this with much surprise. I think that the explanation lay in the fact that a number of the families of Canadians serving in the war were coming over to join them.

My father and I made friends with our table-neighbours, and American doctor coming over on the Red Cross service and his young sister-in-law who had enrolled as a nurse. We used to discuss our chances. “I can’t help hoping,” said the girl, “that we get some sort of thrill going up the channel.”

We were due to arrive in Liverpool on Saturday, May 8th, and we had all imagined that the attempts would be made in the Irish Sea during our last night.

We were wrong. On the Friday afternoon, at about 2 o’clock, we were off the south-west coast of Ireland; the Old Head of Kinsale was visible in the distance; my father and I had just come out of the dinning-room after lunching and were strolling into the lift on “D” deck. “I think we might say up on the deck tonight to see if we get our thrill,” he said. I had no time to answer.  There was a dull, thud-like, not very loud but unmistakable explosion. It seemed to come from a little below us and about the middle of the vessel on the port side that was the side towards the land. I turned and came out of the lift; somehow, the stairs seemed safer. My father walked over to look out of a porthole. I did not wait. I had days before made up my mind that if anything happened one’s instinct would be to make straight for the boat deck (it is a horrible feeling to stay under cover even for a few moments in a boat that may be sinking), but that one must control that and go first to one’s cabin to fetch one’s lifebelt and then on to the boat deck. As I ran up the stairs, the boat was already heeling over. As I ran, I thought, “I wonder I’m not frightened,” and then, “I’m beginning to get frighten but I musn’t let myself.” My cabin was on “B” deck some was down a passage. On my way I met a stewardess; by this time the boat had heeled over very much, and as we each ran along holding the rail on the lower side of the passage we collided, and wasted a minute or so making polite apologies to each other.

I collected my lifebelt, the “Boddy” bell provided by the Cunard Company. On my way back I ran into my father’s cabin and took one of his belts, fearing that he might be occupied with his papers and forget to fetch one for himself. Then I went up in to “A” deck (the boat deck). Here there was, of course a choice of sides. I chose the starboard side, feeling that it would somehow be safer to be as far away from the submarine as possible. The side further from the submarine was also the higher out of the water, as the boat had listed over towards the side on which she had been hit and the deck was now slanting at a considerable angle; and to be as high as possible out of the water felt safer too.

As I came out into the sunlight, I saw standing together the American doctor, Dr F. and his sister in law, Miss C. I asked if I might stay beside them until I caught sight of my father, which I made sure of doing soon. I put on my own lifebelt and held the other in my hand. Just after I reached the deck a stream of steerage passengers came rushing up from below and fought their way into the boat nearest us, which was being lowered. They were white-faced and terrified: I think they were shrieking; there was no kind of order, the strongest got there first, the weak were pushed aside. Here and there a man had is arm round a woman’s waist and bore her along with him; but there were no children to be seen; no children could have lived in that thong. They rushed a boat before it was ready for them. A ship’s officer made a feeble attempt to prevent them, but there was no real attempt at order or discipline. As we watched, I turned to the American girl, “I always thought a shipwreck was a well-organised affair.” “So did I,” said she, “but I’ve learnt a devil of a lot in the last five minutes.” Two seamen began to lower the boat, which was full to overflowing but no one was in command of them. One man lowered his end quickly, the other lowered his end slowly; the boat was in an almost perpendicular position when it reached the water. Half the people fell out, but the boat did not capsize, and I think most of them scrambled back afterwards. I do not know. We turned away and did not look. It was not safe to look at horrible things just then, Curious that it never for a moment struck any of us as possible to attempt to get into the boat ourselves. Even at the moment death would have seemed better than to make part of that terror-infected crowd. I remember regretfully thinking something of this sort.

That was the last boat I saw lowered. It became impossible to lower anymore from our side owing to the list on the ship, No one else except that white-faced stream seemed to lose control. A number of people were moving about the deck, gently and vaguely. They reminded one of a swarm of bees who do not know where the queen has gone. Presently Dr F, decided to go down and fetch lifebelts for himself and his sister in law. Whilst he was away, the vessel righted herself perceptibly, and word was passed around the bulkheads had been closed and the danger was over. We laughed and shook hands, and I said, “Well, you’ve had your thrill all right.” “I never was another,” she answered. Soon after, the doctor returned bearing two lifebelts. He said he had had to wade through deep water down below to get them.

Whilst we were standing, I unhooked my skirt so that it should come straight off and not impede me in the water.

The list on the ship soon got worse again, and, indeed, became very bad. Presently Dr F said he thought we had better jump into the sea. (We had thought of doing so before, but word had been passed round from the captain that it was better to stay where we were). Dr F and Muss C moved towards the edge of the deck where the boat had been and there was no railing. I followed them, feeling frightened at the idea of jumping so far (it was, I believe, some sixty feet normally from “A” deck to the sea), and telling myself how ridiculous I was to have physical fear of the jump when we stood in such grave danger as we did. I think others must have had the same fear, for a little crowd stood hesitating on the brink and kept me back. Then, suddenly I saw the water had come over on the deck. We were not, as I had thought sixty feet above the sea; we were already under the sea. I saw the water green just about up to my knees. I do not remember its coming up further; that all have happened in a second. The ship sank and I was sucked down with her.

The next thing I can remember was being down under the water. It was very dark, nearly black. I fought to come up. I was terrified of being caught on some part of the ship and kept down. That was the worst moment of terror, the only moment of acute terror that I knew. My wrist did catch a rope. I was scarcely aware of it at the time, but I have a mark on me this day. At first I swallowed a lot of water; then I remembered that I had read that one should not swallow water, so I shut my mouth. Something bothered me in my right hand and prevented me striking out with it; I discovered that it was the lifebelt I had been holding for my father. As I reached the surface I grasped a little bit of board, quite thin, a few inches wide and perhaps two or three feet long. I thought this was keeping me afloat. I was wrong. My most excellent lifebelt was doing that. But everything that happened after I had been submerged was a little misty and vague; I was slightly stupefied from then on.

When I came to the surface I found that I formed part of a large, round, floating island composed of people and debris of all sorts, lying so close together that at first there was not very much water noticeable in between. People, boats, hencoops, chairs, rafts, boards and goodness knows what besides, all floating cheek by jowl. A man with a white face and yellow moustache came and held on to the other end of my board. I did not quite like it, for I felt it was not large enough for two, but I did not feel justified in objecting. Every now and again he would try and move round towards my end of the board. This frightened me; I scarcely knew why at the time (I was probably quite right to be frightened; it is likely enough that he wanted to hold on to me). I summoned up my strength, to speak was an effort, and told him to go back to his own end, so that we might keep the board properly balanced. He said nothing and just meekly went back. After a while I noticed that he had disappeared. I don’t know what happened to him, He may have gone off to a hencoop, which was floating near buy. I don’t know whether he had a lifebelt on or not. Somehow I think not.

Many people were praying aloud in a curious, unemotional monotone: others were shouting for help in much the same slow, impersonal chant: “Bo-at, bo-at, bo-at.” I shouted for a minute or two, but it was obvious that there was no chance of any boat responding, so I soon desisted. One or two boats were visible, but they were a long way away from where I was, and clearly had all they could do to pick up the people close beside them. So far as I could see, they did appear to be moving much. By and by my legs got bitterly cold, and I decided to try to swim to a boat so as to get them out of the cold water, but I was a big effort swimming (I could normally swim a hundred yards or so, but I was not see how I could get along without letting go of my piece of board, which nothing would have induced me to abandon.

There was no acute feeling of fear whilst one was floating in the water. I can remember feeling thankful that I had not been drowned underneath, but had reached the surface safely, and thinking that even if the worst happened there could be nothing unbearable to go through now that my head was above the water. The lifebelt held one up in a comfortable sitting position, with one’s head lying rather back, as if one were in a hammock. One was a little dazed and rather stupid and vague. I doubt whether any of the people in the water were acutely frightened or in any consciously unbearable agony of mind. When Death is as close as he was then, the sharp agony of fear is not there; the thing is too overwhelming and stunning for that. One has the sense of something taking care of one, I don’t mean in the sense of protecting one from death; rather of death itself being a benignant power. At moments I wondered whether the whole thing was perhaps a nightmare from which I should wake, and once, half laughing, I think, I wondered, looking round on the sun and pale blue sky and calm sea, whether I had reached heaven without knowing it, and devoutly hoped I hadn’t.

One was acutely uncomfortable, no more than that a discomfort mainly due to the intense cold, but further, at least so far as I was concerned, to the fact that, being a very bad sailor, when presently a little swell got up, I was seasick. I remember, as I sat in the water I thought out an improvement which I considered should be adopted for all lifebelts. There should be, I thought, a little bottle of chloroform strapped into each belt, so that one could inhale it and lose consciousness when one wished to. I must have been exceedingly uncomfortable before I thought of that.

The swell of the sea had the effect of causing the close packed island of wreckage and people to drift apart. Presently I was hundred yards or more away from anyone else. I looked up at the sun, which was high in the sky, and wished that I might lose consciousness. I don’t know how long after that I did lose it, but that is the last thing I remember in the water.

The next thing I remember is lying naked between blankets in a deck in the dark.  (I was discovered later, on a tiny patrol steamer named ‘The Bluebell’). Every now and again a sailor came and looked at me and said, “That’s better.” I had a vague idea that something at happened, but I thought that I was still in the deck of the Lusitania, and I was vaguely annoyed that some unknown sailor should be attending to me instead of my own stewardess. Gradually memory came back. The sailor offered me a cup of lukewarm tea, which I drank (we were on a teetotal vessel). There did not seem much wrong with me except that my whole body was shaking violently and my teeth were chattering like castanets, as I had never supposed teeth could chatter, and that I had a violent pain in the small of my back, which I suppose was rheumatism. The sailor said he thought I had better go below, as it would be warmer. “We left you up here to begin with,” he explained, “as we thought you were dead, and it did not seem worthwhile cumbering up the cabin with you.” There was some discussion as to how to get me down the cabin stairs. “It took three men to lift you on board,” someone explained. I said that I thought I could walk; so, supported on either arm and with a third man holding back my dripping hair, I managed to get down. I was put in the captain’s bunk, whence someone rather recovered was ejected to make room for me.  The warmth below was delicious; it seemed to make one almost delirious. I should say that almost all of us down there (I do not know how many rescued were on board; I can remember noticing five or six, but probably there were thirty or forty) were a little drunk with the heat and the light and the joy of knowing ourselves to be alive. We were talking at the tops of our voices and laughing a great deal. At one time I was talking and laughing with some woman when a sailor came in and asked us if we had lost anyone in the wreck. I can remember the sudden sobering with which we answered. I did not then know what had happened to my father; she was almost sure that her husband was drowned. He was, she had already told me (there are veils just after a shipwreck), all she had in the world.  It seemed that his loss probably meant the breaking up of her whole life, yet at that moment she was full of cheerfulness and laughter.

I can remember two exceptions to the general merriment. The captain of the Lusitania was amongst those rescued on our little boat, but I never heard him speak. The other exception was a woman, who sat silent in the outer cabin. Presently she began to speak. Quietly, gently, in a low, rather monotonous tone voice, she described how she had lost her child. She had, so far as I can now recollect, been made to place him on a raft, which, owing to some mismanagement, had capsized. She considered that his death had been unnecessary; that it had been due to the lack of organisation and discipline on board, and gently, dispassionately, she said so to the captain of the Lusitania. She further stated her intention of saying so publicly later. It seemed to me, fresh from that incompetent muddle on the Lusitania’s deck, that she entirely proved her case. A sailor who came in to attend to me suggested that she was hysterical. She appeared to me to be the one person on board who was not.

It must have been about half-past nine at night when I came to myself on board The Bluebell. As to the interval, I heard afterwards that I had been picked up at dusk by a rowing-boat; that in the gathering darkness they have very nearly missed me, but that by some curious chance a wicker chair had floated up under me (it must have happened after I lost consciousness); that this had both helped to raise me further out of the water than I should otherwise have floated (and so likely enough saved my life by lessening the strain on me) and had made a slightly larger mark which had been noticed in the water, and they had rowed to it. The little boat had transferred me to The Bluebell. I was handed up to it along with a lot of dead bodies, but the midshipman who handed me on board said, “I rather think there’s some life in this woman; you’d better try and see.”  So they did. They told me that when I recovered I went straight off to sleep without regaining consciousness, and had slept for two hours before I came to myself on the deck of The Bluebell in the dark.

We got into Queenstown Harbour about eleven. A man (the steward who had waited at our table on the Lusitania) came on board and told me that my father had been rescued and was already on shore. When we came alongside, the captain of The Bluebell came in and asked If I could go ashore, as he wanted to move on again. I said certainly, but not wrapped in one tiny blanket. Modesty, which had been completely absent for some hours, was beginning faintly to return. I said I could do it if only I had a couple of safety-pins to fasten the thing together; but it was a man’s ship, and the idea of safety-pins produced hoots of laughter, Finally someone went ashore and borrowed a “British Warm” from one of the soldiers on the quay. Clad in this, with the blanket tucked around my waist underneath it, and wearing the captain’s carpet slippers, I started for the shore. The gangway was a difficult obstacle. It was so places that it meant stepping up eighteen inches or possibly a couple of feet. I must have been pretty weak, for I had to get down on my hands and knees and crawl on to it.

At the other end of the gangway my father was waiting.

We went across the big dark quay to a tiny little brightly lit hut, a Custom Office maybe or a ticket office. Inside we sat down on a sofa and hugged each other.

Some man asked what I wanted, and I said brandy. The man said that brandy was rather dangerous when one was exhausted, but I said I would take the risk, and I got the brandy. Without it I do not know how I could have walked to the hotel, though it was only a few yards away. The hotel, I have forgotten its name was, inappropriately enough, still kept by a German (his sister had been interned, but for some reason he had been left at large and in control of this quay-side inn). It was by far the dirtiest place I have ever seen. My father had booked a room for himself there earlier in the evening, which he now gave to me. It was on the first floor and the steps of the stairs were shallow, but it was a big struggle to get up to it. I clung to the bannisters, rested after very two steps, and felt very sick. Once in the room, I got, still wrapped in my blanket, which looked cleaner than the bed clothes, into bed. There seemed to be no food in the hotel, but in the end they brought me some biscuits and fizzy lemonade. At first I thought the skirting board round the edge of the carpet was painted white, but I discovered later that it was really black but covered in inch deep in grey dust.

There was a second bed in the room, and presently a group of four or five people brought in another woman. Her son was with her and several other men. She appeared to be in hysterics, and kept on monotonously repeating that her husband at home in England didn’t know they were safe. Her son assured her again and again that he had sent him a telegraph to Liverpool the minute they landed. She did not seem to hear, but just went on repeating in a monotonous sing-song voice that Jack didn’t know they were safe. I called her son across to me and made a note of his Christian name and that of his father in case I had to spend the night trying to reassure her. However, the moment the door shut behind them she became perfectly sand and collected. She was, however, still slightly worried about her husband. “But,” said I, “that’s quite all right; didn’t you hear your son say he had sent him a wire directly you got a shore?” “Oh! I know that,” she replied, “but you don’t imagine they’ll let private telegrams through tonight, do you?”

We talked most of the night, and she told me what had happened to her in the wreck. She was travelling; it seemed, with her son and her son’s friend. The son had been badly wounded at the front, and they had gone over thinking the voyage might help him to complete his recovery. They had not meant to come home so soon, but her husband had got nervous at the increase of German submarine successes and had wired them to come back as quickly as possible. So they had caught the first boat available, which was the Lusitania.

After the ship sank, she and her son and his friend had found themselves on a raft so overloaded that it was beginning to sink. The three of them, all strong swimmers, had gone off to a neighbouring floating mass in the water, which turned out to be a piano in a packing case. They settled themselves on the top of it, but presently, when a slight swell got up, the piano turned turtle as every wave and threw them underneath, and they had to climb on again from the other side. This went on for two hours and a half. Finally a small steamer appeared and came up to rescue them. Its arrival made an extra big wave. The piano turned turtle as usual, and Mrs X, (I have longed ago forgotten her name) was shot down into the water and hit her head against the steamer’s screw or paddle. However, the steamer had luckily stopped moving and not much damage was done. But this did perhaps account for the hysterics.

She told me another story which has stayed in my memory. She had with her some jewels which she greatly valued, and after reading the warning issued by the German Embassy on the morning the Lusitania left New York, she had determined to save them and had carried them with her everywhere on the voyage. When the explosion happened she was down at lunch, the jewels in their bag resting on the table beside her. Then for the first time during the whole voyage she forgot them. I suppose they are in that luncheon table still.

We talked till three in the morning, and then I persuaded her to try to go to sleep, which she succeeded in doing for a short while. But I was still too much excited, and never slept at all that night. At five o’clock some reporters walked into the bedroom to get our story of the disaster, which we gave them.

One of the first people to come and see us the next morning was Miss C., the pretty American girl. She was still dressed in the neat fawn tweed coat and skirt which she had on when I saw her step off the deck the day before, and it looked as smart and well-tailored as if it had just come out of the shop. It seemed that, though she had partly un-unhooked it on deck, when I had unhooked mine, modesty had prevented her from undoing quite all the hooks. The result was that it had stayed on, and when she was sucked below as the ship sank, it caught on something and prevented her coming straight to the surface, so that by the time she did reach it she was unconscious. She was pulled onto a raft, but the people thought that she was dead, and there was no room on the raft for bodies, so they were just going to throw her back into the water, when one of them, a Canadian nurse, saw a throbbing throat. She was kept on board to see if the nurse was right. The nurse worked at her, and in a short while she came around. A couple of hours later, when the steamers came on the scene, the raft load were picked up. Her brother in law, the doctor, had been saved too. He had come up conscious and swum to a boat, a boat in which was an Italian surgeon, who so he told us, operated then and there on the leg of one of the crew, which had been badly damaged by the explosion, with a pen-knife.

My father soon came in, and he and I exchanged stories. Like most of the men, expert or otherwise, on board, he had not believed that a single torpedo could sink us, and it seemed that he had thought that there could be no immediate hurry, and that was why he had strolled over to look out of one of the portholes. But as the ship heeled over to port almost instantaneously, he went straight up on deck, where he looked out for me. But he, wisely, went out on the port side, whereas I had gone out on to the star-board side. (Anyhow, in that crowd of two thousand people our chances of meeting would have been small.) He chose the port side, he said, chiefly because the crowd went the other way, and he never believed in following the crowd. Certainly it was the intelligent side to choose, since boats could be launched from that side right up to the moment the ship sank, whereas owing to the chamber of the ship it soon ceased to be practicable to launch them from the other side.

In the end my father owed his life to the fact that he chose the port side, for he would have never have survived in the water. After looking about for a bit, he realised that he had no lifebelt and went downstairs to get one. Someone (a steward, I think) gave him a Gieve. He tried to blow it up, but it would no blow, and so he went down to his cabin to get one of his bed but they had all been taken. Finally he found three Boddy belts in his cupboard (the regulation ship’s lifebelt of that date and a most effective one). He came up on deck again just as the last boat, half empty, was being launched. The Lusitania “A” deck was by this time level with the water, and already the boat was about a foot away from the edge of the ship. A woman holding a small child hesitated whether to dare to step over it. He gave her a shove and sprang after himself. As the boat drew away, the Lusitania slowly sank, and one of her funnels came over to within a few feet of the boat. It seemed as if it must sink it but she was sinking by the bow as well as rolling over, and the funnel, passing within a few feet of their heads, sank just beyond them. My father had timed the explosion, and he looked at his watch when the ship disappeared. The whole thing had taken twelve and a half minutes.

The boat, which was only half full of people, was also half full of water; however, they baled it out and picked up some more people, and after rowing about for two and a half hours were taken on board by a small steamer and brought to Queenstown, which they reached about six o’clock. There my father chanced on a Catholic priest, to whom I shall always be grateful, who took him off to have some dinner and plied him with brandy. My father protested that he had not tasted alcohol for fifteen years, but was in no state to withstand the reply that in case he was going to have some now. He confided to the priest his dilemma about my mother. He must let her know he was safe, yet he could not wire without mentioning me, and he gravely feared, though still uncertain, that I was lost. Together they composed a telegram. It ran: “Landed safely; Margaret not yet, but several boats still to come.” In point of fact, no private telegrams were allowed through that day, and she did not receive it until after she knew that we had both been saved.

The next few hours must have seemed like a lifetime. Boat after boat came in with its load of dead, its smaller load of living. He was on the quay.

Someone who met my father just then said that his face seemed for a weeks to have turned into that of an old man, but I noticed nothing except that for a few days his temper with strangers was rather short. I am always glad to remember, too, that it was still sufficiently out of hand to tell our hotel-keeper all he thought about his “damned dog-kennel” before we left.



Later that same morning, whilst we still lay naked in our blankets in bed, a kind young woman who happened to be staying in the hotel came and made notes of all our requirement (hairpins, underclothing, stockings, blouse, coat and skirt, etc.), and went off to Cork to buy them for us so that we might be able to get up. One odd thing that had happened to us all was that we were exceedingly dirty. One might have supposed that for hours in the water would have washed one clean, but on the contrary, I was covered with black-brown dirt (incidentally, why I don’t know, I was bruised from head to foot). I went to have a bath, but really that hotel bath was so filthy that it was a question whether one came out cleaner or dirtier that one went in. Then we put on the clothes from Cork, it was late afternoon by this time. The American doctor had advised staying in bed till then, and indeed all day, but by that time bed in that room had become boring. So we got up and went down to dinner. We four, my father and I and the American doctor and his sister in law, sat together and exchanged all the news that we heard. Often after a sudden catastrophe men’s tongues are unloosed. We had heard many strange things.

After dinner my father and I went for a walk in the dark to have a look at Queenstown, a walk of which one incident recurs to me, A drunken inhabitant lurched up to us just after nine o’clock and confidingly inquired whether any pubs were still open (under war-time regulations there they were all obliged to close at nine). My father, still very irritable, gazed at him in revolted disgust: “No, thank God!” he replied. The disappointed and startled drunkard vanished. I enjoyed that little interchange.

Then we came home and went to bed. The night before my father had spent with most of the other men on the drawing-room floor.  They had all been kept awake by one of their number who had got drunk and insisted on singing all night until six in the morning my father had got up and taken him for a walk, leaving the others in piece.

But the jewel-lady had now left (gone to Cork, I imagine), and since he badly needed rest, I persuaded my father to take her to bed. Again (except for about half an hour, when I dreamt I was being shipwrecked) I could not sleep, and at about five o’clock I came to the conclusion that I was very ill. I took my temperature (someone had bought a thermometer the day before); it was 102. I decided that I was quite possibly going to die, but I decided also that nothing would induce me to die in that filthy hotel. At eight o’clock, when my father woke up, I told him that I was sure I was very ill and that I could not bear to die in that hotel, would he please have me moved? He replied that he would see to it at once, and went off full of energy and determination.

Presently he returned. He had found two doctors. One a local man, who said that it would be certainly kill me to move me; the other the American doctor, who strongly shared our view of the hotel and thought that, with due precautions taken, moving might turn out to be the lesser of two evils. My father did not believe the local doctor of whose intelligence he had formed a poor opinion. So he had arranged for a stretcher party to come in time to carry me down to the train which left for Dublin that morning, where he had reserved a seat for me to lay at full length. Moreover, the American doctor was going by the same train and could keep an eye on me.

Much as I wanted to get out of the hotel, I did not really want to leave it at the cost of my life, and I felt a trifle anxious lest the local doctor, in spite of my father’s poor opinion if his brains, might be right. However, by this time I was beginning to feel rather dazed and vague, and was no longer capable of making any decision for myself. Presently the ambulance men came and carried me down to the train. The Irish doctor had said that if I go I ought to be fed all the way on teaspoonful’s of whiskey; the American doctor, on the other had held teetotal’s views. We compromised on carrying with us a bottle of whiskey, which was in fact never uncorked. At Dublin another ambulance met us and took me to the Shelbourne Hotel, where I got between clean sheets and spent three weeks in bed with bronchial pneumonia.

Someone asked me not long ago whether the Lusitania experience had altered my view of human nature. It did not alter my opinion of human nature in general. I should scarcely, I think, have expected that, even had the material for a change of opinion been there, for after those first few minutes on deck I saw very little of what happened, and once I had been under water, moreover, I was too dazed to take it in if I had. I was spared the horrors that haunted so many of the survivors.

What it did do was to alter my opinion of myself. I had lacked self-confidence. I knew that I was frightened of many things. If anyone had asked me whether I should behave as I ought in a shipwreck I should have had the gravest doubts. Here I had got through this test without disgracing myself. I had found that when the moment came I could control my fear. True, the opportunities for disgracing myself had been very small. But all the same it altered my view of myself. It combined with the American visit to increase my self-confidence. It seem to me likely enough that given one was not caught in the infection of a panic, when I imagine that only the thoroughly disciplined or unusually strong-nerved would remain immune, and experience of the sort would have much the same effect on many people’s opinion of themselves.

Another result of that disaster was to take away my fear of water. At least, it was about then that it vanished, and I think it must have been the Lusitania that did it. In 1915 I could not swim more than a hundred yards or so, and having my head under water terrified me so much that I had never dared to learn to dive. Today I can, given time, very much time swim a mile, and I enjoy diving. Other causes (notably the Mediterranean in summer) have contributed to the change no doubt, but I think that that shipwreck had a good deal to do with it.

It altered me in one other respect. Curiously enough, for that is not what I should have expected, it very largely took away the fear (in my childish and adolescent days it had been terrified horror) death. I do not quite understand how or why it did this. The only explanation I can give is that when I was lying back in the sunlit water I was, and I knew it, very near to death. I wanted to live, of course.
Life was far too exciting and pleasant and interesting to leave (indeed, when for one semi-conscious delirious moment I thought, looking up at the beautiful blue sky, that perhaps I was now really dead and in heaven. I felt most anxious and depressed at the idea). But death was not frightening; rather, somehow, one had a protected feeling, as if it were a kindly thing.

Mr Lloyd George

Referring to her father’s clashes with Mr Lloyd George, Lady Rhondda states:-
“Mr Lloyd George inclined to the view that there was not room for two Kings in Wales, no chance for more than one man at a time to get pushed to the top in Welsh politics. He took all the precautionary measures to ensure that he should be that one.”

So “D.A.” disappointed but not embittered gave up politics. Years later by a strange chance the man who had damped his ardour for serving the State called him on the telephone and at the most critical period of the war asked him to go to America and organise munition supplies.

He accepted at once, thrusting the past out of his mind, and, in Mr Lloyd George’s own splendid tribute, “inspired the whole heart of America with the flames of liberty. It was Rhondda who gave to America and the Allies a breathing space and a chance. That service of his cannot be over-estimated.”

He organised the Food Ministry, “a job involving almost certain loss of reputation,” and died in harness, refusing food which would have prolonged his life because he had put the nation on rations!

This was the father and the man whom Viscountess served as first lieutenant at Cardiff Docks.


Viscountess Rhondda

Lord (Baron) Buckland (Seymour Berry)

Of Lord Buckland she writes:-

“He was as brilliant a man in his own field, as I have ever met, and one learnt much from watching his methods in business. Rather above medium height, slightly built, dark, with a curiously shaped head, noticeable eyes and an unusually sensitive mouth, it was obvious to anyone who knew him that he was equipped for success of some kind, although it might have been difficult to say that he was better equipped in brain or character for one special branch than for several others.

“It would have been easy to imagine Lord Buckland as an eminent K.C. as a successful, and possibly original Chancellor of the Exchequer, or as a diplomatist. Some of this who knew him were inclined to attribute a large part of his success to his wonderful head for figures, and certainly he had a remarkable financial genius and a capacity for turning an X-ray power of concentration on to some knotty problem, which would suddenly reveal many points which would otherwise have passed unnoticed.”

“I should have hesitated, however, to agree with those who ascribed his success chiefly to his capacity for figures. To the power of sudden and intense concentration on any subject which required it, perhaps. To his curious instinctive and knowledge of men. But the keynote of Lord Buckland’s success seemed to me to ne his capacity for working with a group, nay, it was more than a capacity; it was, I think, a necessity.

Team Work

“It was almost impossible to imagine him working alone, he must work in a team, and he must like the team he worked with and, in later years, led. Inside the group, which contained a small inside kernel and an outer, larger ring, there was perfect loyalty, absolute harmony; inside it, ‘what touched one touched all.” The group worked as one man.

“Where anyone of the individuals who composed it might fail to win through, this group, working as one, was an almost irresistible force, it roller forward like a snowball, occasionally adding to itself, but never turned from its objects. The men who composed it were each of them experts at their own job; they each brought their quota of knowledge and unusual capacity and energy, they were not, apparently, chosen on that account; they were apparently chosen because they were excellent fellows, but they were very much more than that.

“Seymour Berry (Lord Buckland) was in no way a conservatively-minded or tradition-ridden man, as my father’s daughter he accepted me without question as one of the group. And, once one had been accepted by him, the rest of the group almost automatically followed his lead. I owed an enormous amount to Lord Buckland. Incidentally that group lesson was a very useful one to mark, to learn, and to digest.”

Treasured Possession

Criticism of “Time and Tide,” ranges from the red-faced, illogical, bellowing sneers of a batch of picturesque but not very convincing enemies of everything for which Lady Rhondda stands to this much milder estimate from the incisive Mr Frank Swinnerton: “I will not say that ‘Time and Tide’ is a very good weekly periodical, for that wound not be a true thing to say; but it is Lady Rhondda’s for good or ill.”

Yes, and it is her most treasured possession. To me it seems one of the best weeklies in a country which sorely needs fifty furious weekly journals, It had brought together many of the ablest women writers in the country, including Rebecca West, Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, Cecily Hamilton, Edith Shackleton, E. M. Delafield; and it permits such stimulating Celts as Wyndham Lewis, St John Ervine, Richard Hughes, Sean O’Casey, R. Ellis Roberts, brilliant Hebrews like Harold Laski, and scintillating anonymities like “Francis Iles” to say things they almost certainly could not say anywhere else. Long live “Time and Tide,” and many more like it!

Won her last fight 20.07.1958

Viscountess Rhondda who in her long career had been called “the greatest business woman of her generation,” died in a London hospital yesterday. She was 75 and had gone into hospital for rest and recuperation just before her successful fight to save her magazine “Time and Tide.”

Lady Rhondda was born Margret Haig Thomas, she was daughter of Welsh Colliery owner, industrialist and Liberal M.P David Alfred Thomas.

After her father, the first Baron Rhondda, died in 1918, the title passed to her, a special provision having been made by Lloyd George when the title was created there was no male heir.

Once called the “most powerful Welsh woman since Boadicea,” during her colourful life she had been a suffragette, business woman, financier, politician, authoress and journalist.

These are some of the companies that she was involved with: Anglo-Spanish Coaling Co. Ltd.
Britannic Merthyr Coal Co. Ltd; British Fire Assurance Co. Ltd., Chairman Cambrian Collieries Ltd;
"Cambrian News" (Aberystwyth) Ltd; Celtic Collieries Ltd; Consolidated Cambrian Ltd; Compania General de Carbones Barcelona, S.A.; Cynon Colliery Co. Ltd;  D. Davis & Sons Ltd; Genatosan Ltd., Chairman Glamorgan Coal Co. Ltd; Graigola Merthyr Co. Ltd; Gwaun-cae-Gurwen Colliery Co. Ltd.
Globe Shipping Co. Ltd; Imperial Navigation Coal Co. Ltd; International Coal Co. Ltd; Lysberg Ltd., Chairman John Lysaght Ltd; North's Navigation Collieries (1889) Ltd; Naval Colliery Co. (1897) Ltd;
Plisson & Lysberg (Insurance) Ltd; Pure Coal Briquettes Ltd; Rhondda Engineering and Mining Company, Ltd; South Wales Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd; "South Wales Journal of Commerce" Ltd., Chairman; Sheppard & Sons Ltd; Salutaris Water Co, Ltd; Societe Maritime et Commerciale Franco-Anglaise; Thomas & Davey Ltd., Cardiff; Time and Tide Publishing Co. Ltd; Welsh Navigation Steam Coal Co. Ltd; "Western Mail" Ltd.