More than 1,000 people were lost when the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company liner Empress of Ireland was wrecked in a pre-war collision while on her way to England - but three letters addressed to friends and relatives in Luton survived, recovered from the wreck by divers.
Mrs Weedon, of Rothwell, 121 Ashburnham Road, Luton, received a letter written by her niece, Mrs Garrard, who formerly lived in Luton, while crossing to America in the Teutonic in May 1914. She posted the letter on arrival and it became part of the mail sent home on the Empress of Ireland.
The letter arrived enclosed in another envelope from Ottawa Post Office officials. The original envelope was marked 'Recovered by divers from the wreck of the SS Empress of Ireland'. The postage stamp was washed off but the letter had been written in indelible pencil so was still easy to decipher. It included the sentence: "We are still on the boat, having been delayed by fog three days and four nights."
Mr A. Barnett, of Leagrave Road, said his son had received a salvaged letter from a business friend in Canada. It was posted on May 21st, 1914, in Hanbury, British Columbia, again marked 'recover by divers from the wreck of SS Empress of Ireland'. It was handed in at the Dead Letter Office in Ottawa on October 1st, 1914, and posted on by the Canadian Post Office in Ottawa in an official envelope on December 23rd, 1914, arriving in at its Luton address on January 5th.
The letter was said to be well preserved and only slightly discoloured. The stamp had been washed off and the original envelope had come undone, no doubt due to having been in water for some considerable time.
The final letter from the wreck was received by Mr and Mrs Hensman, of 25 Dallow Road, Luton, the writer being their daughter in Nova Scotia.
[RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the Saint Lawrence River following a collision with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad in the early hours of 29 May 1914. Of the 1,477 persons on board the ship, 1,012 died. The number of deaths is the largest of any Canadian maritime accident in peacetime - source Wikipedia.]
[Article source: The Luton News, January 14th, 1915]