This post was written by Victoria Doran
Arthur Gittens was a steward on a hospital ship when she hit a mine and was sunk. He died a few years later leaving a wife and young family.
Book of Remembrance entry
Arthur Gittins was born at the beginning of 1883 in West Kirby, and baptised at St Bridget on 1 April. He was the middle child, and eldest son, of the 5 children of Arthur Gittins (1847-1910) and Ann Maria Hunt (1848-1920). The family was typical of working class families that came to West Kirby shortly after the railway arrived in 1868.
Arthur’s grandfather, Alfred Gittins (1820-???), originated in Birmingham and had moved to Derby by the summer of 1841 when he married Mary Anne Bull (1820-???). Arthur senior was born in Derby, but the family moved to Manchester within a few months during the summer of 1847. Manchester is where Arthur senior grew up, got married and had his first 2 children. He was variously a bricklayer and a general labourer, both occupations that the rapidly growing West Kirby was in great need of. About 1882 the Gittins family moved to West Kirby.
Ann Maria Hunt was born in Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire where her father was a journeyman shoemaker. She worked in cotton mills before her marriage to Arthur senior in 1870.
Arthur attended what is now called St Bridget Primary school, starting on 23 September 1887, several months before his 5th birthday. The family lived in Birkett Road, at that time home to some of the poorest families in West Kirby. About the time of his 6th birthday, he was sent home from school as he had ringworm, a sure sign of poverty. By the time he was 10 years old he was playing truant regularly, and a couple of years later the headmaster considered him to be the leader of the regular truants, and deemed his parents to have little or no control over their children. He left school aged 14 and became a bricklayer like his father. He clearly had character, and was quite possibly rather intelligent, but could see no purpose in attending school.
After Thomas left school his brother Thomas Gittins (1887-1951) took over his role as chief truant.
Arthur was married in the autumn of 1903 in Bridgend, Glamorganshire, Wales, though no reason for the location has been found. His bride was Edith Annie Bird (1881-1934), from an old Hoylake fishing family, though she had been partly brought up in Darmonds Green, West Kirby, close to where the Gittins family lived.
In the meantime Arthur’s 2nd sister, Amelia Gittins (1880-1966) had married Thomas Birch Pownall (1875-1908) from another local family. Thomas was a baker on transatlantic liners and died in New York. Amelia was remarried 6 months later, this time to James Kieran (1881-???). James was a chief ship’s steward with the White Star Line, and transferred to the Titanic from the Olympic just in time to meet his death when the Titanic sank. So Amelia was left a widow for the second time in 4 years.
The White Star Line had relocated its headquarters to Southampton in 1907, and at the 1911 census Amelia and family are living there. Also part of the household was Arthur, also a ship’s steward, presumably also for the White Star Line.
His wife and 3 children were in Hilton Grove, West Kirby and she was a laundress. Whether the marriage had failed is unclear, especially as Arthur was back living in West Kirby when he died.
At the outbreak of war, the White Star Line had a ship being built as a luxury Atlantic liner intended to be the SS Britannic. Her completion was delayed as resources were diverted to warships, but eventually she was at sea in 1915 as HMHS Brittanic, a hospital ship.
HMHS Britannic – from wikipedia
She made several voyages to the eastern Mediterranean to bring back casualties from Gallipoli (she could carry more than 3000). On 21 November 1916 she was at sea off the Greek island of Kea in the Aegean Sea, carrying just her crew and medical staff. A U-boat had laid underwater mines and she hit one. She sank far quicker than should have been the case and there were about 30 lives lost and about the same number injured. Arthur is not listed as one of the injured, but he almost certainly spent time in the sea and suffered after effects, as when he died of illness on 14 May 1919 in West Kirby, his family deemed it due to his experience.
No record has been found of Arthur being awarded any medals, though he certainly voyaged through a danger zone, which is the criteria for the Merchant Marine War medal.
He was 36 years old and left 3 children under the age of 14.
Arthur was buried in St Bridget’s churchyard, probably after being cremated. Although not acknowledged as a war death by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Arthur is listed on the War Memorial on Grange Hill.
Grange Hill War Memorial
Being a ship’s steward became a family affair. Arthur’s only brother Thomas Gittins became a ship’s steward (and was awarded WW1 medals). Arthur’s son, another Arthur Gittins (1907-1954), also went to sea as a steward, and sister Amelia was a stewardess for the White Star Line in the 1920s.
Birth: Q1 1883 in West Kirby
Death: 14 May 1919 in West Kirby of illness
Addresses: Birkett Road, West Kirby (91); 28 Birkett Road, West Kirby (01), Inglewood, Bellemor Road, Southampton, Hampshire (11)
Occupation: ship’s steward
Unit: HMHS Brittanic
Number and Rank: not applicable
Medals: none found
Commemorated & Buried: St Bridget’s churchyard, Grange Hill War Memorial – both West Kirby
Sources: BR, GH, Census: 91, 01, 11, PR, Log Book of St Bridget Primary school, West Kirby