Lennon, Margaret

Lennon, Margaret

Civilian War Dead

Died as the result of enemy action on Sunday 3 September 1939 (aged 58)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission


In the CWGC Debt of Honour it is recorded that Margaret Lennon was a daughter of Thomas and Eliza Ann Gunning of Donaghadee and the wife of William Lennon of 2028 Davenport Road, Toronto, Ontario in Canada.  Margaret Lennon (nee Gunning) was one of more than 100 people who died when the SS Athenia was attacked and sunk on 3 September 1939, some 250 miles west of Inishtrahull Island, Co. Donegal by the German submarine U-30.  It was on the day that war was declared, and the SS Athenia was the first British ship to be sunk by enemy action during the Second World War.  The SS Athenia was built in 1923 by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company at Govan on the Clyde and on 1 September 1939 she left Glasgow for Montreal via Liverpool and Belfast.  By the time she left Belfast Lough there were more than 1,400 people aboard and around 1,100 of them were passengers.

Margaret (Maggie) Lennon (nee Gunning) was born on 25 November 1880 in New Row, Donaghadee and she was a daughter of Thomas and Eliza Ann Gunning (nee Caughey) who were married on 1 September 1868 in Shore Street Presbyterian Church, Donaghadee.  Thomas Gunning (aged 20), a labourer from Hogstown, was a son of Robert Gunning, a labourer.  Eliza Ann Caughey (aged 16) from Herdstown was a daughter of James Caughey, a labourer.  Thomas Gunning worked as a labourer and seaman and he and Eliza Ann had at least four children:

Andrew (born 19 March 1870 in Herdstown)

Thomas (born 5 January 1874 in Hogstown)

Mary Ann (born 2 September 1878 in Hogstown)

Margaret (born 25 November 1880 in New Row, Donaghadee; baptised in Shore Street Presbyterian Church Donaghadee).

Margaret Gunning and William Lennon were married on 24 July 1902 in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Church and they had two children:

Andrew (born 14 January 1903 in William Street, Donaghadee)

James (born 25 February 1905 in William Street, Donaghadee)

William Lennon worked with his father, also called William; both men were deep sea divers.

Margaret Lennon’s sister-in-law, Mary Lennon, married David Nelson from Donaghadee and their son, William George Nelson, died on 8 May 1943 in the ‘Bangor Bay Disaster’.

William and Margaret Lennon’s elder son Andrew worked as a farm labourer and in March 1925 he moved to Canada.  He sailed from Belfast to Halifax, Nova Scotia aboard the SS Canopic and in his immigration papers he stated that he was going to stay with John Lennon who lived at 61 Osler Avenue, Toronto.  In 1927 Andrew Lennon and Martha Miller were married in Canada and they had at least one child, a daughter named Theodora who was born around 1930.

William and Margaret Lennon’s younger son James married Theodora Thomas on 25 December 1925.  Theodora Thomas was born around 1906 in Eccles, Lancashire and she was a daughter of John Frederick and Elizabeth Thomas.  John Frederick Thomas was a calico print salesman and for a time the Thomas family lived in Millisle Road, Donaghadee.  In April 1926 James Lennon followed his brother Andrew to Canada.  He sailed from Belfast to Quebec aboard the SS Alaunia and in his immigration papers he stated that he was going to stay with Andrew Lennon who lived at 61 Osler Avenue, Toronto.  He left behind in Donaghadee his wife Theodora who was expecting her first child.  In March 1927 Theodora Lennon took her ten-month old son Thomas with her when she followed her husband James to Canada.  Theodora and baby Thomas Lennon sailed aboard the SS Montcalm from Belfast to St. John, New Brunswick and in her immigration papers Theodora stated that they were going to stay with James Lennon who lived at 85 Edwin Avenue, Toronto.  James and Theodora Lennon had at least two more children who were born in Toronto:

Theresa (born around 1927)

Margaret (born around 1930)

In May 1928 William and Margaret Lennon (nee Gunning) followed their sons Andrew and James to Canada.  They sailed from Belfast to Quebec aboard the SS Montcalm and they stated that their home address had been 19 Bow Street, Donaghadee.  William described himself as a farmer, and he and Margaret stated that they wanted Canada to be their country of future permanent residence.

From time to time various members of the Lennon family travelled to Britain on holiday and then back home to Canada.  For example, in February 1933 James Lennon’s wife Theodora and their daughter Margaret sailed from Liverpool to Halifax on their way home to 263 Osler Avenue, Toronto.

In 1939 Margaret Lennon and her grand-daughter Theodora (aged nine) spent time in Donaghadee during a visit to the United Kingdom.  With rumours of war intensifying, Theodora’s father Andrew sent a telegram to his mother urging her to return to Canada immediately.  On 1 September 1939 Margaret and Theodora set sail from Glasgow aboard the SS Athenia and it was during that voyage that Margaret died as the result of enemy action.  Both Margaret and Theodora got into a lifeboat after the ship was torpedoed but the lifeboat capsized, and Margaret was drowned; her body was never recovered.  Theodora was rescued from the water and taken back to 5 Newall Terrace, Dumfries in Scotland where she and her grandmother had been staying on holiday with the Revd H. Purdie and his family.  Theodora Lennon returned to Canada in October 1939 aboard the SS Duchess of York which sailed from Liverpool to Quebec.

In his book entitled Tomorrow Never Came, Max Caulfield tells the story of the SS Athenia and he asserts that ‘aboard were people who, but for the irony of fate, ought never to have been on her at all’.  One of the examples he cites is Theodora Lennon.  Max Caulfield says, ‘some time in August 1939, back in Toronto, Mrs Andrew Lennon had dreamed she saw her nine-year old daughter picked up by a lifeboat from the cold black waters.  She insisted that her husband should wire his mother who had the child with her on holiday in Britain, telling them to come home at once; they caught the SS Athenia’.

Of the many civilians of the Commonwealth whose deaths were due to enemy action in the Second World War, the names of some 67,092 are commemorated in the Civilian War Dead Roll of Honour, located near St. George’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey, London.

Margaret Lennon’s son James died in 1989; her daughter-in-law Theodora died in 1993 and both were buried in St Paul’s Cemetery, Innisfil, Ontario – as were her grandson Thomas and grand-daughter Theresa.