Hefford, Percy. Died 7th May 1915


Rugby Man First Saw the Torpedo.

The sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania by German submarines, involving a loss of over 1,100 men, women and children, has tragically cut short the life of a Rugbeian, whose career was already of great promise. The Second Officer was Mr. P. Hefford, stepson of Mr. W.F. Wood, hatter and hosier of Sheep Street, Rugby.

Percy Hefford. The Pioneer June 1915

Percy Hefford. The Pioneer June 1915

According to the evidence adduced at the inquest, it was Second Officer Hefford who first saw the torpedo which wrecked the great liner. Captain Turner, who went down with the vessel, but was picked up from amongst the wreckage by a trawler, giving evidence said, “We were going at a speed of 18 knots. I was on the port side and I heard Second Officer Hefford call out   ‘Here’s a torpedo.’ I ran over to the other side and saw clearly the wake of the torpedo. Smoke and steam came up between the two last funnels. There was a slight shock immediately after the first explosion. There was another report, but that might possibly have been internal. I at once gave the order to lower the boats down to the rails, and I directed that the women and children should get into them. I also gave orders to stop the ship, but we could not stop it. We found the engines were out of commission. It was not safe to lower the boats until speed was off. The vessel did not stop. As a matter of fact there was a perceptible headway on her up to the time she went down.


Mr. Hefford was an Old Laurentian. On leaving the Rugby Lower School, by his own wish, he was apprenticed with the object of equipping him for a naval career, with Messrs. Japp and Kirby, a Liverpool firm of ship owners. The whole of his apprenticeship was served on board the barque, Irby, and after the expiration of his articles he served with various other companies. During all this time his spare moments were devoted to study, which was to fit him, but for his untimely end, for a leading position in the maritime world and eventually he entered the Nautical college at Liverpool, where he studied under Dr. Nanson. He passed out of the College after obtaining his extra- master’s certificate.

Upon the day that his success was recorded in the Liverpool Shipping Courier, he received six offers of posts under London Shipping Firms. In each case the command of a barque was offered to him, but as it had always been his ambition to secure the command of a liner he rejected these in favour of an appointment under the Cunard Company as extra fourth officer on the Carmania. He held positions on various of the company’s boats, until one happy day he was transferred to the Lusitania, with the rank of second officer. Only three months ago, he married a Liverpool lady, Miss Elsie Nevanas.


An interesting episode in Mr. Hefford’s career is worth recalling. Two or three years ago, during the strike of dockers and stevedores at New York Harbour, the vessel on which he was then serving was unable, in consequence of the shortage of labour, to discharge the cargo. Mr. Hefford asked for permission to undertake the responsibility of getting the work done, but the Captain said that he could not allow this without the consent of the firm. Accordingly the Cunard Company were cabled and later on, armed with the official sanction, Mr. Hefford set about his self-imposed task. He was given a free hand in the matter of expenditure, and somehow he collected his men together. Under his direction, the cargo was discharged in a very short space of time and for this he received a letter of thanks from the company

Mr. Hefford was 34 years of age, and was a very capable and popular officer. His frank and open personality gained him the friendship of all with whom he came in contact, and those who knew him, whilst deeply sympathising with the young wife who has been so suddenly bereaved and with the one who, early called upon to play the father’s part, did all for the child entrusted to his care that a father could have done, and who was so touchingly proud of the success of his stepson in his chosen profession, will personally deplore the loss of a very brave gentleman and the tragic end of a career of such brilliant promise.

The first intimation of the terrible ocean disaster, was conveyed to the people of Rugby, through the medium of the special war bulletin posted on the windows of the Observer office, and subsequently Mr. W.F. Wood the stepfather of Mr. Hefford who was the only Rugby man on board the doomed liner received a telegram from the Cunard Company who regretted having to report that his stepson, Percy Hefford, the Second Officer, was missing. Later telegrams sent to Mr. Wood, unhappily only confirmed the first. On Saturday, Mr. Wood received a telegram from the Company which made the final statement that Mr. Hefford was not amongst the survivors.

Mr. Wood has since received a letter from the father of the bell-boy on board the Lusitania, who was rescued. He says the boy was going up to the bridge, where the Second Officer was on duty, when Mr. Hefford shouted to him, “Run, for your life.” The boy succeeded in making his way to the boat deck, and was taken off the ship.

The Fourth Officer of the Lusitania states that the last person he saw on the boat was Second Officer, Percy Hefford, who was wearing a lifebelt, and was standing on the bridge.In private life, Mr. Hefford was an accomplished musician and played well on the violin and piano. His favourite instrument, however, was a Japanese one stringed violin, which Mr. Wood has in his possession.

(Rugby Observer Friday May 14th 1915)

Percy Hefford is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, which commemorates men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who died in both World Wars and who have no known grave. It stands on the south side of the garden of Trinity Square, London, close to The Tower of London.




5 thoughts on “Hefford, Percy. Died 7th May 1915

    • This sounds like a memorial rather than a gravestone, because his body was not recovered. Can you say which cemetery, and give the wording?

      • Hi, I am sure you are right and I will get the wording for you later on today when I pay my daily visit with the dogs. Kind regards, Julie

  1. The inscription, according to the Monumental Inscriptions published by RFHG reads:

    I266 Sacred to the memory of WILLIAM FREDERICK the dearly loved husband of MARIA WOOD born June 14th 1860 died Feb 6th 1929.
    & “R.I.P.”
    I267 DAVID HENRY HEFFORD died May 24th 1937.
    MARIA WOOD died Feb 8th 1935.
    “At rest.”
    Sacred to the memory of PERCY the dearly loved and devoted husband of ELSIE MAUD HEFFORD and 2nd officer of the R M S Lusitania
    drowned May 7th 1915 aged 34 years.
    JANE ANNIE HEFFORD died May 9th 1961.

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