Centenary of R.M.S. Leinster Disaster


RMS Leinster was the greatest maritime disaster in Ireland. Sunk one month before the end of WW1 just outside of Dublin Bay.

One passenger was Francis Edward Higgerty. On his way from Canada to take up a commission in the British Army, he took the opportunity to visit the land of his ancestors. The visit cost him his life. Frank was a poet and wrote the following verse on October 8th 1918, two days before the Leinster was torpedoed. The poem was found on his body.

From Canada my homeland, to Ireland my Sireland,
from Ottawa to Dublin, some three thousand miles away.
The call of one’s relations, above the din and war of countries
conserves the one green spot in memory for ever and a day.
And when back o’er the sea I wander to the land that there lies yonder
I’ll bring tidings from dear old Ireland to the land I adore,
to Canada my homeland, from Erin my own Sireland,
stretch fond memories and emotions for ever and evermore.

Three 17 year olds Anthony Baker, Anthony Jones and Ralph Murray, students of the Irish School of Telegraphy in Cork were also lost on the Leinster. The body of Anthony Jones was recovered and buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Cork. The bodies of Anthony Baker and Ralph Murray were never recovered.

Les Morts; by Albert Murray (Father of Ralph)

They sleep in quiet waters where Kish towers,
‘mid sand and slender sea-grass soft and deep,
through all the sunlit and the moonlit hours
they sleep.

They are content, they murmur not, nor weep:
no rushing flotsam hastes to mock their powers;
they are content, and very deep
their sleep.

No tombs enclose them, and they need no flowers,
no mothers’ kisses make their fond hearts leap —
‘mid slender sea-grass, bending where Kish towers
they sleep.

That Sinking Feeling

Ark Royal

HMS Ark Royal (Pennant No 91) sank on this day in 1941.  Probably the most famous ship to bear this illustrious name, because of her role in sinking the Bismark.  The Ark Royal was the first British Aircraft Carrier with integrated flight decks (as opposed to them being a superstructure) and signaled the transition from battleship superiority to air-craft carrier led fleets.

The Battle of Taranto (Nov 11-12 1940) was the first clear display of the impact of naval sea power.  Obsolete biplane Swordfish torpedo bombers launched from HMS Illustrious wreaked havoc on the Italian Fleet at harbour, in an action that was closely observed by the Japanese.

Six months later the Bismark sank the HMS Hood and forced the HMS Prince of Wales to retreat in the most notable battleship to battleship action of WW2.  As the Bismark steamed for safety in St Nazaire in occupied France, she was spotted by the Flotilla out of Gibraltar led by Ark Royal.  It was a Torpedo from one of the obsolescent Swordfish aircraft that clipped Bismark’s rudder and put the great battleship into a circular course, allowing the fleet to catch the flagship of the 3rd Reich.  Bismark was scuttled after a sustained bombardment by the British fleet.

Ark Royal herself was lost to a Torpedo from U-81 on the return from the Gibraltar to Malta supply run delivering aircraft.  Struck on the 13th, she listed, inverted, broke in half and sank in the early hours of the 14th.

The naval war in the pacific, Pearl Harbour, Midway, Guadalcanal, Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf etc went on to seal the fate of the dreadnoughts as capital ships of navies.  The day of the battleship was over.

Channel Firing; by Thomas Hardy

That night your great guns, unawares,
shook all our coffins as we lay,
and broke the chancel window-squares,
we thought it was the Judgment-day

and sat upright. While drearisome
arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
the worms drew back into the mounds,

the glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
it’s gunnery practice out at sea
just as before you went below;
the world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
they do no more for Christés sake
than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
for some of them’s a blessed thing,
for if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
and rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,
will the world ever saner be,”
said one, “than when He sent us under
in our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
my neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
roaring their readiness to avenge,
as far inland as Stourton Tower,
and Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.