The Lusitania : Part 7 : Passengers of Distinction
Herbert Light, actor, was returning to his native Southampton after learning of his mother’s death, when he survived the sinking of the Lusitania. Light was his stage name; his true name was Herbert Light Berks.
Interviewed nearly a decade later, in his dressing room before a performance, Light spoke of his experiences on May 7th, 1915:
He was in the lounge of the great ship when the torpedo struck the side of the boat and shook it for several minutes. The quivering stopped, and the craft began to sink, and within twenty minutes’ time the Lusitania was completely submerged, he declared. Unable to swim at that time, he held on to the rail of the ship, which came loose. He was soon unconscious and remembered nothing until he was picked up by a sailor manning a lifeboat. He was taken ashore after much difficulty and rushed to a Queenstown hospital where he remained for five days. Light asserted that he recalled the experience as though it happened yesterday. He recounted the pitiful cries of women and children who sought in vain to be saved. He said it was only through unusual luck that he was spared from their sad fate.
Mr. Light subsequently starred in touring productions of Broadway hits, being best remembered for his turn opposite Fay Bainter in East is West. He co-starred with Florence Reed in The Mirage, and in Success with Brandon Tynan. Broadway stardom eluded him, and a search of theatrical databases shows that he never headlined in New York City. He became a vaudevillian at some point in the 1920s, as a song and dance man, and toured the Orient as part of a troupe.
Herbert Light left the stage, and by the early 1930s was operating a florist’s shop in Los Angeles with his partner, Elmer Knott. They left Los Angeles in 1933, and moved to the small town of Quartzite, Arizona, where they ran the El Adobe Inn and Filling Station.
Light later operated a boarding house and restaurant in East Blythe, CA, and was working as the desk clerk at the El Solano Hotel when he suffered an incapacitating illness. He died at his home, in East Blythe, on October 15, 1959. He was 76 years old.
Bert Light, as Herbert was known, was described as a cheerful man with a clipped English accent who was always willing to help out with community theater programs. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen the May before he died; telling friends that he had started the process several times before but had been too busy to complete it. He was cremated and interred at Palo Verde Cemetery. Friends said that Light never failed to mark May 7th, and a 1915 newspaper with a cover story about the Lusitania was found in his personal effects after his death.