Matthew Freeman aka Friedman (LUSITANIA SURVIVOR)

Matthew Friedman aka Freeman survivor and bravery award medallist following the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, by Dr Phillip Kirby.

During my research of the Kirby and Goudeket families I discovered that Laura Goudeket married Matthew Freeman aka Friedman (1895-1968). The marriage appears to have been in the USA circa 1950s and late in their lives

Sheffield Independent 27 October 1915. Courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive

Matthew Freeman is recorded on several online sites and publications as a survivor and recipient of a bravery award following the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 by a German U Boat. His tombstone inscription contains the comment that he was a ‘survivor of the Lusitania’. However, no mention has been made of his Jewish roots and he is not buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Matthew Freeman Early Life

There are many online references to Matthew Freeman and his connection to the Lusitania.
” He had left for Canada together with four brothers in 1913 but seems to have returned to Britain at some point and on 27 January 1915 left Liverpool… he stayed in New York for about three months before he joined the Lusitania as a waiter. Mr Freeman survived the sinking of the Lusitania”.

He later became a cloth buyer and returned to New York in 1916 and lived there for some time. He died in Eastbourne Sussex on 24 March 1968, aged 72”. (Peter’s Lusitania Page 22 June, 2017

The UK and Ireland Outward Passenger Lists shows brothers: Sam Freeman tailor 26,Solomon Freeman tailor 25,Aaron Freeman tailor 24,Matt Freeman tailor 18,Nathan Freeman tailor 15 departing Liverpool for Halifax St. John Canada on the ship Hesperian sailing 26.3.1913.

Sinking of RMS Lusitania

The RMS Lusitania was launched in 1906 and was one of the largest and fastest passenger liners in the world. When she was sunk by German U Boat torpedo on 7 May 1915 she had 1266 passengers and 696 crew.  Following the sinking of the Lusitania 1198 passengers and crew died.

Matthew Freeman was age 19 and a waiter for the 2nd   class passengers. He has been described in various publications as the amateur featherweight boxing champion of Great Britain but this needs confirming. Various accounts said that he had injured his hand lowering the life boats and that a Belgium passenger Marie Depage had bandaged the injury.

Once his hand had been bandaged he attempted to leave the ship and ran to the stern which was the highest part of the sinking vessel. He thought that the height of the stern was too dangerous to dive into the sea but had no choice. As he dove into the sea he hit his head on part of a sinking lifeboat.

Bleeding from his head wound he started to swim but was grabbed hold of by a frightened man which caused them both to sink. When he surfaced he swam to a keg where floated with five other men. His strength began to fail but he held on and they managed to get to an upturned life boat where about twelve people were holding on.

In his account of the sinking he said he was returning with a friend Ted aka Kid Lewis both were members of the boxing team who had visited New York. Lewis changed his mind and did not sail.

He doesn’t mention an injury to his hand but gives an account of diving into the water and hitting his head as the liner sank. “I reached out for a keg and a deck chair that were drifting. I pushed these out to some who were struggling close to me and towed them to a lifeboat but there was no room for me on it. I still had some strength left to swim and I helped a few more men and women who were near me. The second lifeboat had no room for me either. I managed to climb onto a third lifeboat but it over turned and we were all thrown into the water. About me were half alive and seeming to float by their own efforts. Many drifted past me dead. A woman with eyes wide open as if she were alive, brushed past me. Her face is clear to me before my eyes this minute.

While I was floating a very heavy man clutched at me and dragged me down. I managed to free myself. I met him later as a survivor. He weighed seventeen stone and was the Cuban Consul General. Finally, after nearly seven hours, I was picked up nearly dead, my eyes totally closed by the hours in the water, by the mine sweeper Brock”. (Thursday 7 May 1936 Aberdeen Press and Journal). 

Only five of those in the lifeboat survived, including Freeman.

What the various newspaper and other accounts describe is a young man aged 19 who through his bravery helped saved others following the sinking of the Lusitania and who in later life had vivid and recurring memories of the events.

On his return to the USA Freeman played a role in recruiting troops. He commented that he had tried six times to join the USA and British army but ‘was gaining an important position with the British recruiting authorities’ (14 July, 1917 Boxing World and Mirror of Life, London). He also spoke about being rejected six times when applying to join the USA and British army.

The US World War 1 draft registration card for Matthew has a pencil note reference to his eyesight. Matthew spoke about his eyes being badly affected by the sea salt water as he floated. He was also rejected from British army service because of his eye sight damage.

Matthew Freeman died in 1968, at Eastbourne and buried at Ocklynge Cemetery Eastbourne East Sussex.

The small tombstone Inscription reads:” And of Matthew Freeman son in law of above born 11 Oct 1895 Died 25 March 1968 Survivor of S S Lusitania disaster of 1915. Deeply mourned by wife LAURA nee KIRBY, Brothers and Friends.

Hoehling, A. A. and Mary Hoeling. The Last Voyage of the Lusitania, pages 130, 151-152, 178. Madison Books, 1956.

“Long Battle in the Water.”  New York Times, Monday, 10 May 1915, page 3.

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