Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

RNLI’s 200 Voices Podcast Shares Story of How Lusitania Disaster’s Youngest Survivor Sparked a Family’s Lifesaving Legacy

20th October 2023
Mark Hudson in cycling gear by the seaside
Mark Hudson has written his own name into his family’s lifesaving story as he organised a charity bike ride as a fitting farewell to his grandmother’s legacy and the soon-to-be-retired Audrey LJ lifeboat in New Quay Credit: RNLI

The RNLI’s 200 Voices podcast talks to Mark Hudson — grandson of Audrey Lawson Johnston, the youngest survivor of the Lusitania disaster — on his family’s remarkable story that ignited a life-long passion and commitment to helping save lives at sea.

In episode 61 of the podcast series, which explores captivating tales from the history of the charity that saves lives at sea through to the modern day, Mark recounts that fateful night in 1915 and its impact on his great-grandparents and granny Audrey.

On 7 May 1915, en route from New York to Liverpool, the passenger liner Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Cork. The vessel sank within 18 minutes and 1,200 lives were lost.

Against the odds, Mark’s granny Audrey, who was just three months old at the time, survived along with her mother Amy Lea, father Warren, brother Stuart and one of the family’s nursemaids, 18-year-old Alice Lines.

Mark explains the chaos of his granny’s rescue once the torpedoes had hit the ship: “Alice grabbed Audrey and Stuart and ran to the deck to try and get in a lifeboat. The ship was listing dramatically, a lifeboat was lowered… she jumped off the side to try and land in it, holding my granny in her arms and Stuart by the hand.

“They landed in the water and were pulled into a lifeboat and were saved that way.”

Courtmacsherry RNLI volunteers rowed for more than three hours to reach the area in an attempt to help with the rescue operation.

Mark said: “They had no motor and no wind and the RNLI spent three-and-a-half hours rowing to the scene. By the time they got there any survivors had been picked up, so they then spent eight hours recovering bodies.”

Sadly, Audrey’s sisters Susan and Amy, along with the family’s second nursemaid Greta Lorenson, were never found.

This pivotal moment in the family’s life became the start of their long association with the RNLI.

“We can’t find out how much my great granny [Amy Lea] did for the lifeboats, but the whole family became very involved for obvious reasons. It’s said she always raised money for the lifeboats which she passed onto granny,” Mark said.

Amy Lea was in fact pregnant when she survived the sinking of the Lusitania and eight months after the tragedy, Vivian ‘Perky’ Warren Pearl was born.

Perky and Audrey continued their mother’s dedicated fundraising for the lifesaving charity and in 2004 they raised enough money for a new D class lifeboat, which they named Amy Lea.

Amy Lea became New Quay RNLI’s inshore lifeboat, which went on to aid 93 people and save four lives during its operational service.

‘One thing my granny used to say was, “I was saved for a reason and this is it” and that’s what she said when she dedicated the Amy Lea’

This wasn’t the only lifeboat funded by the family. Led by Mark’s father Martin and his brother Hugh, they raised enough money for New Quay’s next inshore lifeboat, naming it Audrey LJ.

When Amy Lea was retired, Audrey LJ came on service and is still operational today, although soon to be retired at the end of this year. During its service, Audrey LJ has launched 189 times, aided 150 casualties and saved the lives of six people.

Mark said: “For me it’s just so perfectly circular that she was saved from drowning and then spent a good deal of her life raising money to give the RNLI the tools to save other people… And in turn, gave that legacy to her children and grandchildren.

“You just think ‘wow’, because of this it does make a difference — those people were saved as an indirect result of this whole legacy that’s been set in motion.

“One thing my granny used to say was, ‘I was saved for a reason and this is it’ and that’s what she said when she dedicated the Amy Lea.”

Last month Mark wrote his own name into his family’s lifesaving story as he organised a charity bike ride as a fitting farewell to his granny’s legacy and the soon-to-be-retired Audrey LJ lifeboat.

Cycling a punishing 190 miles from Swansea to New Quay, 21 cyclists visited 10 RNLI lifeboat stations along the way. So far the Tour de Dyfed has raised almost £28,000 and counting, and all the proceeds will be shared equally between New Quay and Tower Lifeboat Stations.

“It was the most incredible experience for everyone involved… this amazing camaraderie developed and it opened the eyes of all of us as to what these people do,” Mark said.

“The community that builds around the lifeboat stations is something truly incredible to behold… I love being a part of this story, giving something back.”

Listen to episode 61 of the RNLI’s 200 Voices — Lifesaving in Wartime: Mark Hudson — and you can donate to his fundraising efforts by visiting the Tour de Dyfed JustGiving page.

The RNLI’s 200 Voices podcast is releasing a new episode every day for 200 days in the run-up to the charity’s bicentenary on 4 March 2024, exploring captivating stories from the charity’s history and through to the current day.

Previous episodes have featured Niamh Fitzpatrick’s personal reflection on losing her sister Dara at sea in the Rescue 116 tragedy, Courtown lifeboat crew member and priest Fr Tom Dalton on what happens when rescue turns into recovery, and Baltimore RNLI’s Kieran Cotter remembering the 1979 Fastnet tragedy.

To find out more about the RNLI’s bicentenary, visit

Published in RNLI Lifeboats Team

About The Author Team

Email The Author is Ireland's dedicated marine journalism team.

Have you got a story for our reporters? Email us here.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in Ireland Information

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charity to save lives at sea in the waters of UK and Ireland. Funded principally by legacies and donations, the RNLI operates a fleet of lifeboats, crewed by volunteers, based at a range of coastal and inland waters stations. Working closely with UK and Ireland Coastguards, RNLI crews are available to launch at short notice to assist people and vessels in difficulties.

RNLI was founded in 1824 and is based in Poole, Dorset. The organisation raised €210m in funds in 2019, spending €200m on lifesaving activities and water safety education. RNLI also provides a beach lifeguard service in the UK and has recently developed an International drowning prevention strategy, partnering with other organisations and governments to make drowning prevention a global priority.

Irish Lifeboat Stations

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland, with an operational base in Swords, Co Dublin. Irish RNLI crews are tasked through a paging system instigated by the Irish Coast Guard which can task a range of rescue resources depending on the nature of the emergency.

Famous Irish Lifeboat Rescues

Irish Lifeboats have participated in many rescues, perhaps the most famous of which was the rescue of the crew of the Daunt Rock lightship off Cork Harbour by the Ballycotton lifeboat in 1936. Spending almost 50 hours at sea, the lifeboat stood by the drifting lightship until the proximity to the Daunt Rock forced the coxswain to get alongside and successfully rescue the lightship's crew.

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895.


While the number of callouts to lifeboat stations varies from year to year, Howth Lifeboat station has aggregated more 'shouts' in recent years than other stations, averaging just over 60 a year.

Stations with an offshore lifeboat have a full-time mechanic, while some have a full-time coxswain. However, most lifeboat crews are volunteers.

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895

In 2019, 8,941 lifeboat launches saved 342 lives across the RNLI fleet.

The Irish fleet is a mixture of inshore and all-weather (offshore) craft. The offshore lifeboats, which range from 17m to 12m in length are either moored afloat, launched down a slipway or are towed into the sea on a trailer and launched. The inshore boats are either rigid or non-rigid inflatables.

The Irish Coast Guard in the Republic of Ireland or the UK Coastguard in Northern Ireland task lifeboats when an emergency call is received, through any of the recognised systems. These include 999/112 phone calls, Mayday/PanPan calls on VHF, a signal from an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or distress signals.

The Irish Coast Guard is the government agency responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue operations. To carry out their task the Coast Guard calls on their own resources – Coast Guard units manned by volunteers and contracted helicopters, as well as "declared resources" - RNLI lifeboats and crews. While lifeboats conduct the operation, the coordination is provided by the Coast Guard.

A lifeboat coxswain (pronounced cox'n) is the skipper or master of the lifeboat.

RNLI Lifeboat crews are required to follow a particular development plan that covers a pre-agreed range of skills necessary to complete particular tasks. These skills and tasks form part of the competence-based training that is delivered both locally and at the RNLI's Lifeboat College in Poole, Dorset


While the RNLI is dependent on donations and legacies for funding, they also need volunteer crew and fund-raisers.

© Afloat 2020