World War One

“The People Seem Odd & Talk Funny”: US Sailors Write About Cork During World War One

Between 1917 and 1919 thousands of American servicemen were stationed in Cork during World War One. What did they make of their surroundings? Back in the United States, local newspapers were eager to get correspondence from them, and family’s regularly contributed letters for local publication. We have identified a number, and reproduce them in full below. Here are descriptions from Americans based in Cobh, Aghada, Berehaven and Whiddy, with fascinating insights into both their service and their thoughts on Ireland and Irish people.

The first letter was written by Berkley Harker, who served aboard USS Trippe out of Cork Harbour. Berkley was also the pitcher for the vessel’s baseball team, and participated in the famous baseball game at the Mardyke Cricket Grounds in 1917. The letter was published in The Morning New Bernian in North Carolina on 18th August 1917.


Berkley Harker Writes of Picking Up British Crew, and of Sinking U-Boat


Mr. Berkley Harker, who is serving in the navy on one of Uncle Sam’s fighting ships, has written a most interesting letter to his mother, Mrs. James A. Harker, of this city. The letter was written in Queenstown, Ireland, on the first of August, and mailed in Newark, N.J., on the fifteenth by a member of the crew of an American oil tanker which sailed from Queenstown on the first. The letter in part follows:

“We have had some of the war and came out successful, no one being hurt. One time we picked up seventy-five survivors from an English merchant ship which had been sunk by a submarine. We were unable to find the sub, as it disappeared. We have seen three subs so far and dropped mines for them, and we are sure we got one, as we saw oil and some wood come up after we dropped the mine. The mine is set to explode at a certain depth, so when we sight a sub we run right over it and drop one of them.

We have a good baseball team, and I am the pitcher. We play every time we come in, but that is not often as we go to sea for five days and only stay in three. We have been to France and to Liverpool since we have been over here and we expect to go to London the last of this month for two weeks.

We are now on County Cork and only thirty-five miles from City Cork. The city has a population of about seventy-five thousand and is just about as lively as Beaufort.”

Mr. Harker enclosed a clipping from a Cork paper giving an account of a game of baseball played there between teams from the U.S.S. Trippe (Mr. Harker’s team) and the U.S.S. Melville, which is very interesting [the report of the game for the Cork Examiner clipping follows]

The Morning New Bernian 18th August 1917


USS Trippe, victors of the Cork baseball game and the vessel on which Berkley Harker served (Naval History and Heritage Command)

The next letter was written by Lieutenant John Herlihy, who was based at the USNAS base in Aghada. He had interesting things to say about visits to a local castle (likely Rostellan) and the situation of people in Ireland. It was published in the Massachusetts Fitchburg Sentinel on 1st June 1918.


Lieut. John E. Herlihy, formerly a dentist in this city, is now stationed at the U.S. Naval air station at Queenstown Ireland [Aghada]. In a letter to his brother, Dr. David J. Herlihy, 304 Main street, he gives a description of his work and tells of a visit to an old castle that is located near the station.

He writes:

I have been fairly busy for a couple of weeks now and as a result I have not had any time to take any jaunts into the country.

I am operating here with a portable field outfit, collapsible chair, foot engine, and student case to hold instruments, something very similar to the outfit we used in school. The office cannot begin to compare with my office on the Missouri, but of course I can do the necessary work and that is all that is wanted.

There is hardly anything to do for excitement around here and in time I imagine it will get quite monotonous, though we are kept busy.

I generally go to town for weekends to meet the boys and to get the latest information about the war. We very seldom see any regular papers around here and I imagine you know more about what is going on on the western front than I do. I have many opportunities to talk with allied officers who have returned from the front and it is mighty interesting to listen to their experiences.

There is an old landowner who lives quite near here. I go over to have tea with him quite often. He has a wonderful estate of 1000 acres and some of the most beautiful gardens that I have ever seen. He lives in an old castle over 600 years old and he has taken me all through it. The walls of the castle are six feet thick and, of course, were built that way as a protection against attack in the old feudal period.

He showed me one room that had been built especially for King George IV who made a visit to the castle and who always objected to sleeping in a room that had ever been used by any one else. He showed me curios, antiques and paintings that he has collected from all over the world and they in themselves are worth a fortune. He and his wife live all alone in the castle and have a large coterie of servants.

After seeing how people have to live in this part of the world and what little they have to be glad about I am fully convinced that a man in the States even working for a salary is better off than a man with money over here– at least as far as enjoying life is concerned.

I know that by the time I see Fitchburg again, I will have had enough of traveling around, and I will be perfectly satisfied to settle down. By the looks of things now I do not expect to see the States again for a couple of years. Of course we can not tell just how long this war is going to last but we do know the allies are in for a finish fight.

I see Harold Pierce quite often and talk over old times. Try to write when you can as I would like to keep in touch with the latest news.

Fitchburg Sentinel, 1st June 1918

The video we recently produced on the WW1 USNAS Base at Aghada, where Lieutenant John Herlihy was based.

The next letter was published in Pennsylvania’s Wilkes-Barre Record on 27th August 1918. Thomas Bedner was also stationed at Aghada. He describes their pastimes in Cobh, their reception from the locals, and also a trip to the Blarney Stone.



Thomas R. Bedner, son of A. Bedner, of North Main street enlisted in the naval aviation service early last fall, and is stationed at Queenstown, Ireland, at the naval air station. Before his enlistment he had been employed in mechanical capacities in Detroit automobile capacities in Detroit automobile work and at Bridgeport, Conn. Although not in the draft, Mr. Bedner decided to give his country the benefit of his skilled mechanical training and enlisted in the naval aviation. He writes to his father that he is in line for promotion and that his mechanical ability has stood him in good stead at the training station.

The following letter was received by his father. It contains interesting information of Ireland, the quaint customs and the conditions surrounding the navy boys stationed there:

“Dear Father– Well, everything is going fine with me here. We get ‘liberty’ every night and many of these free evenings we go to Queenstown where the Y.M.C.A. and Sailors’ Club have been established. Here we have movies every night– concerts by the ship’s band every Thursday night and a show and pictures every Saturday night. It’s about the only place in Ireland where we can buy ice cream.

“About a half mile from the club we have a dance auditorium. All civilians are excluded. The ship’s orchestra usually plays only American dance music, but once in a while they strike up an Irish tune, and then believe me the coleens are right there to whirl us around.

“These are about the only amusement places. If we do not feel like attending any of these we take long walks and visit some of the queer old villages. No street cars are seen around here. In some of the places they never saw a ‘Yank’ before. As soon as they see one or a group of us passing there is a general popping of heads out of windows as if there was a circus coming.

“During the summer there is only about five hours of darkness here. It is about 11 o’clock before it even starts to get dark. While I am writing this letter it is 9:30 and the sun is still bright in the sky. We don’t have to worry about lightless nights.

“Was to Blarny Castle when I first landed here and enjoyed the interesting experience of kissing the blarney stone. I almost broke my neck though before I managed to reach it. To kiss this stone, which is said to bless the person with ‘the gift of gab,’ it is necessary to go inside the castle, climb to the top window and then have someone you know who has a strong right arm to hold you by the feet with head down.

“A cemetery in which the Lusitania victims are buried is situated about two miles from Queenstown. All the sailors march there in a body on Decoration Day to decorate the graves with flowers. Many of the monuments and tombstones contain the inscription, ‘A Lusitania Victim; Foully Murdered by Germany.’

“It has been raining about every day this month. The weather is more like December than July and the mornings are very chilly.

“Would like to get the Record once in a while. I haven’t seen a Wilkes-Barre paper since I have been here.

“Give my regards to all and write soon,

“Your son,


The Wilkes-Barre Record 27th August 1918


An image of Thomas Bedner that accompanied his letter in the Wilkes-Barre Record (Wilkes-Barre Record)

There was another USNAS base on Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay. C.E. Durgee had correspondence about their 4th July celebrations published in The Daily Gate and Constitution-Democrat of Keokuk, Iowa on 14th September 1918.



With more of our men coming in here now, there is plenty of work to do. On the Fourth of July we had a great day– a baseball game in the morning, score 8-10, and in the afternoon a field meet, with the usual entries. The captain and officers attended; some played ball, and the men all voted it a great success. In the evening there was a mock trial, and a sing-song rounded out a most perfect day. The weather could not have been improved upon, and many of the men said they would never forget the Fourth of July on Whiddy “island.”

The captain sprang a surprise in the way of a flag raising, and now Old Glory floats in the breeze and cheers the hears of the brave men who are willing to lay down their lives in her defense. E. Evans has been quite ill and was sent to Queenstown by the doctor for observation. He is a very valuable man as an educator and in religious lines.

Arrangements are being made to chaperon a party to Killarney next Sunday. The captain here is very helpful and gracious, and told me that as long as we kept the men satisfied, to go as far as I liked. A number of fellows are wanting to send money home, and I think it should be encouraged. I don’t want the least opportunity to escape to be of service to these fine fellows. We have a dandy camp; the water supply is a problem, but the men are happy and willing to do anything.

Last night after “chow” we converted an almost impossible stony field into a respectable diamond. We had two auto trucks and hauled dirt and filled up holes, and all worked very hard. You can count on our sticking tight and making the best of whatever we have on hand here.

The Daily Gate and Constitution-Democrat, 14th September 1918


The memorial to the Lusitania victims in Cobh Old Church Cemetery. The site was regularly visited by US sailors during the war. (Bjorn Christian Torrissen)

The most detailed description covered here was an account of Cobh from a Mr. Lockey in the Oregon Daily Journal of 26th November 1918. He spoke about the surrounds of the town in detail, together with a visit to the Lusitania graves and conversations he had alone the way with local children and a U.S. sailor from Idaho.


At Queenstown Mr. Lockley reverently makes a pilgrimage to view the graves of those murdered on the Lusitania. He falls in with a bluejacket from Idaho, whose remarks are entertaining. There is also a word picture of Cork harbor.

Queenstown is on an island in Cork harbor. In the old says the city was called Cove, or the Cove of Cork. When Queen Victoria visited the city in 1849 it was renamed in her honor, Queenstown. Hundreds of thousands of Irish who are now Americans have had their last sight of Ireland at Queenstown as they stepped from Irish soil to the steamer that took them to the land of promise, for Queenstown is the principal port of embarkation for America. “You will see sailors from all the world ports on our streets in peace time,” said the hotel proprietor to me, “but nowadays the streets are thronged with men of the British navy, and your lads.”

R.J. Wynne, a Welshman who was born at North, Kan., and who is Y.M.C.A. secretary at Queenstown, said to me: “On Sunday, September 15, I had every bluejacket who came in register. Here is the list. There were 366 bluejackets who dropped into the ‘Y’ during the day. Every state in the Union but Idaho and Wyoming was represented.”

Cork harbor, from the heights above Queenstown, is a sight worth coming far to see. Scores of ships of every description ride at anchor in the harbor– transports and trawlers, destroyers and square-riggers, warships and tiny gasoline launches. Late one afternoon I decided to walk across the island beyond Spy Hill, where the farmer folk still speak their native Irish tongue. I stopped a black-haired, bright eyed little girl of 12 or 14 and asked her if I was on the road to Spy Hill. “Sure, sir, you are on the wrong road, altogether. You are going entirely away from it, sir.” “Where am I going?” I inquired. “I don’t know, sir, but if you keep on the road you are on now you will be after going to the cemetery. Many Americans go there to see the graves of the people who were drowned on the Lusitania. There are 260 buried in three big graves.” “How do I get there? Are there any turns in the road?” I inquired. “You will be after going straight along and the first you know straight ahead, sir. The road is very crooked, but just follow the turns you’re there.”

Presently I met a sailor lad who came onto the main road from a country lane. I said: “Do you know where the Lusitania victims are buried?” “Yes, sir. I’ll be glad to go with you and show you the place,” he said. The stone walls on both sides of the road were covered with blackberry vines that were loaded with ripe berries. We stopped now and then to eat berries. “My name is Ben Potter,” said the bluejacket. “My home is at Swan valley, in Idaho. It is about 30 miles from Idaho Falls, on the road from Pocatello to Butte, Mont. I just got a letter today from my mother. She says my youngest brother, 17 years old, has enlisted. there are four boys in our family, and all are in the service now. Say, this is some different from running a disc harrow on our 320-acre ranch in Idaho. The other day I had a seven-day furlough. I went to visit my brother in England. We went out to see a big Handley-Page plane go up. We asked the officer if we could do up. He said he was sorry, but it was against orders. he started the propeller. It made so much racket you couldn’t hear anything else. My brother said, “Let’s climb in just as he starts. he won’t know, and when he gets up he won’t throw us out.” So we got aboard. We hadn’t been up more than a minute or two till the officer looked back and saw he had some stowaways. He grinned at us and then turned around and headed the plane towards the seacoast. We got up about 4000 feet, and his engine died. he got it started again, and in about an hour we flew back to where we started. When we landed we thanked him. He said, “It is against orders to take up passengers. I didn’t have any. I took up some ballast. If the ballast enjoyed the trip, I am glad of it.” He was a pretty good sport, all right.”

We turned in at the old graveyard with its old world orderliness and its ancient Irish crosses over the graves. Soon we came to three large mounds, each of which was about 20×30 feet. The inscription stated that here were buried the victims of the Lusitania, torpedoed near that port. We stood silent. Finally my companion said, “Well, I would like to be home, but I don’t want to go till Germany is taught, and taught for all time, that murdering women and children can’t be done. I guess it’s up to us to help make the world a safe and decent place to live in.”

We started for the crest of a nearby hill, from which, like a panorama, the whole harbor was unrolled like a scroll before us. “I weigh 187, and I have to train down to 175 within the next 10 days, as I represent my ship in a wrestling match that is being pulled off,” said my companion. “I met a likeable chap recently– one that could ask as many questions as you can. His name was Peter Clark McFarlane. He invited me to his room and I spent the evening with him. He told me he was writing a series of articles for the Saturday Evening Post. I am going to watch and see if he mentions Queenstown and the fleet here, and if he does I am going to send the copy of the Post to my mother.”

Presently we found a sunken road bordered with ancient elms and beeches. I said: “Here is a regular trench, or ravine. We can make our way down it to the harbor.” “They drive their cows down these sunken roads, so I guess its name is a bovine rather than a ravine,” said my friend, the bluejacket. It was getting dark, so he hurried down to the dock to catch the “liberty boat” back to his ship, while I stood on a high point and looked out toward Forts Camden and Carlisle, which face each other across the entrance of the harbor. In the foreground was the lofty spire of the granite gray cathedral of St. Colman. Across the water a few miles lay Aghada, our naval aviation station, and not far from it was Crosshaven, near which is the amber-colored Owenabwee river, referred to in the plaintive Jacobite ballad of which the following is a verse:

“On Carrigdhoun the heath is brown,

The clouds are dark on Ardnalee,

And many a stream comes racing down

To swell the angry Owenabwee

The moaning blast is whistling past,

Through many a leafless tree,

But I’m alone, for he is gone;

My hawk has flown. Ochone Machree!”

The Oregon Daily Journal 26th November 1918


Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone was a popular destination for American sailors during their service in Ireland in World War One (Guilhem D.)

The San Francisco Chronicle of 22nd December 1918 brought a letter from a sailor who described his work aboard USS Allen, attacking U-Boats from Cork Harbour. He had also made a visit to the Blarney Stone, and was very protective of service in the Navy.


Destruction of a German submarine by the explosion of an “Ash Can” dropped from a destroyer, the deck of which is seen in the photograph, which was sent to George A. Tracy by his son in the Navy.


Personal experiences in dropping “ash cans” on German submarines from the after deck of a United States destroyer are recounted in a letter received by George A. Tracy, president of the Civil Service Commission, from his son, George A. Tracy Jr., who has been in very active service off the Irish coast.

Remarking that now the censorship is lifted he can tell his story with more detail, young Tracy begins by stating that the base of operations of the U.S.S. Allen, to which he was attached, and known as Base 6, is at Queenstown, County Cork, Ireland.

Queenstown looks “half as large as Redwood City” to this San Franciscan, who says that in the early days of the war the shore liberty of the boys of the destroyer flotilla included the city of Cork, but that owing to a rather vigorous celebration there, the shore liberty was cut down to the limits of Queenstown.

“Tell your Irish friends I kissed the Blarney Stone,” he writes, “The Lusitania was sunk just five miles off the coast at Queenstown, and there is a buoy that marks the spot today.”

Patrolling the Irish coast and convoying ships on the run from Queenstown to Liverpool and to Brest was the work of the destroyer squadron to which young Tracy was attached, and to illustrate the character of the work sends a photograph taken from a destroyer and showing a German submarine being lifted from the water by the explosion of an “ash can.”

Expressing a high regard for the work of the land forces, young Tracy instructs his father to reprimand anyone who may express the idea that the boys of the Navy have not been doing big things while the censorship prevented the telling of all the details.

“If they boost soldiers too high, we might go on strike, and, now that we have got them over here, refuse to bring them back,” he says. “But, believe me, the trips from now on will be pleasure trips, rather than the hunting variety.”

In the course of his service in the war Tracy writes he had the opportunity to visit London and Southampton in England, and Brest and Harve in France, and take a three days inland journey in that country.

San Francisco Chronicle 22nd December 1918


The image of a German U-Boat being destroyed by an “Ash-Can” that was carried in the San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco Chronicle)

Our final letter comes from a sailor serving aboard USS Oklahoma in Bantry Bay, one of the vessels that would later be one of those attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in 1941. William Hoffman was somewhat ignorant of the history of the area, believing that before the American arrival Bantry had been a German U-Boat base, though his views do provide an insight into some of the tensions that often existed between locals and American servicemen. He nonetheless though it a beautiful country, but confessed that he thought the people talked funny. His letter was published in the Lincoln County News, North Carolina on 20th December 1918.


Mr. Fred L. Hoffman of this city, has received a letter from his son, Sailor William Hoffman, a portion of which we are printing below. The letter is dated U.S.S. Oklahoma, “Bantry Bay”, Ireland, Nov. 20, 1918.

“Well I am in Ireland. Our base has been here in Bantry Bay since we came across to this side. It is as you can see on the map in the Southern part of Ireland. It lies between high mountains which are in every direction you look. Before the U.S. entered the war it was a German submarine base and the Irish supplied them with provisions, etc., as a good many of them were in sympathy with Germany. But now it is an American naval base and there are battleships, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, sub-chasers, mine sweepers and layers and all other kinds of vessels here. Zed Crawford is in here on a submarine chaser but I haven’t seen him. We have been operating and conveying in the most dangerous part of the war zone. Before we came over more than 500 ships had been sunk here off the Irish coast where we are on duty. We have convoyed thousands of troops ammunition and food supplies, etc., and have been along the coast of France, England, Scotland and Ireland. Of course besides convoying, our main object over here was to fight the German highseas fleet when she came out, but they didn’t come out.

The country of Ireland is beautiful. It is always green and is terraced in plots or squares so that it looks exactly like a checker board. There are very few trees and it rains about 9 out of every 10 days. The people seem odd and talk funny. You can’t hardly understand a word they say. Their shoes are very thick and heavy, many of them have iron soles, and the women most always wear shawls. Most of the horses and mules are very small and their buggies or carts have seats on the sides and are much higher from the ground than ours. And their trains are just like toys beside those in America. there are many saloons but it a very serious offense for an American sailor to get drunk and the very few that do are severely dealt with. I don’t see how the people live around here as their gardens are very small. They raise lots of sheep and cattle. there are many old castles and things of that kind to see.

We go on recreation and liberty in Bere Island, Castletown and Bantry. On Bere Island there are British soldiers, some who have already been in the trenches and others who are preparing to go. They have barbedwire entanglements, real trenches and everything there is in this modern warfare. In a little house they have every kind of poisonous gas the Germans use. All of us went through it, of course with our gas masks on. Some gas, believe me.

We have aboard very often many big speakers from over here, also from the States, who have given us very fine and interesting lectures of the war, etc. We have shows from London and other places and moving pictures every night. I have been getting your letters and papers and you can’t imagine how much they are appreciated all the boys shout with joy when mail comes aboard. I am in excellent health and have been exceedingly lucky in the way of sickness for there was about 200 cases of “flu” on here awhile back. Six of our boys and our ordnance officer died. They were buried in Queenstown, Ireland. A good many of our ships, submarines etc., are going back to the States pretty soon, but I think we will be over here some little time yet. William.

The Lincoln County News 20th December 1918

We hope to share many more of these letters from U.S. servicemen stationed in Cork during World War One in the months ahead.


USS Oklahoma in 1917, which William Hoffman served on in Bantry Bay. 429 of the crew died when she capsized following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

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Video: Aghada’s World War One U.S. Naval Air Station

As part of our ongoing U.S. Military in Cork Centenary Projecton Saturday we filmed a short video taking a look at the archaeology and history of the United States Naval Air Station in Aghada, Co. Cork. The video also touches on the economic and social impact of the base. You can watch the video below, we hope you enjoy it!


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The Story of Ambrose Haley: The World War One Australian Digger Buried in Midleton Graveyard

On 30th December 1918 a party of mourners were led by Canon O’Connor to an open graveside beside the main path at the Church of the Holy Rosary cemetery in Midleton. Those in attendance had walked to the church from the railway station at the other side of town, where they had met and formed a cortège behind a flag-draped coffin. The elm casket had been carried to the church by Timothy Murphy undertakers, who were based on the Main Street. Passers-by would have noted a number of unusual aspects to the funeral; the flag was not the Union Jack, as might be expected, but rather was adorned with the Southern Star. As well as that, the soldiers in attendance wore the slouch hat that marked them not as British troops, but men of the Australian Imperial Force. The young man in the coffin– Ambrose Augustine Haley– was laid to rest in the cemetery following a requiem mass. But he was not a local; indeed he had been born and raised on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away in Tasmania. How was it that he had come to be buried in East Cork? We decided to explore his story. (1)

Gunner Ambrose Haley (Australian War Memorial)

Gunner Ambrose Haley (Australian War Memorial)

Ambrose Augustine Haley was born to Thomas Haley and Mary Ann Haley (née Fox) on 7th December 1892 in Portland, Tasmania. Thomas worked as a clerk, and not long after Ambrose’s birth the family moved along the coast to St. Helens. There Thomas ended up working for J.C. Mac Michael & Co. General Merchants and Importers, who had branches in both St. Helens and Lottah. As Ambrose grew to adulthood he embarked on a career as an accountant, but also found time for more martial pursuits, spending a year in the cadets. (2)

Ambrose was not among the first rush of volunteers for service in the army; indeed he was not the first of his family to join the colours. His younger brother Jack enlisted in the recently formed 40th Battalion at Claremont, Tasmania on 8th March 1916. The 21-year-old shop assistant must have looked forward to heading to the seat of action, but he was to be disappointed. After just over a month Jack was discharged as medically unfit. The reason was the impaired vision he suffered in his left eye, the result of an accident with a whip when he was a child. Ambrose decided to take the plunge only a few months after his brother. On 7th November 1916, at the age of 23 years 11 months, the young accountant entered a Claremont recruiting office; when he emerged he was a gunner in the Australian army. The following year a third brother, Urban, would make the same journey. He enlisted on 23rd March 1917 at the age of 20– as he was under 21 his parents had to sign a permission slip for him to be deployed overseas. Thomas and Mary Ann consented, but his father stipulated that the consent was predicated on the fact that ‘he goes in a clerical position as promised by the Minister of Defence in the case of Military Staff Clerks.’ By this point in the war, everyone was aware of the risks. (3)

Australian artillerymen laying an 18 pounder at Maribyrnong in 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Australian artillerymen laying an 18 pounder at Maribyrnong in 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Ambrose spent the first few weeks of his service in Tasmania, before leaving his island home for what would prove the final time in January 1917. On the 9th of that month he sailed for the mainland, where he joined a pool of artillery reinforcements based at Maribyrnong near Melbourne. Here he waited for his deployment overseas while training continued. On 11th May Ambrose boarded the troop transport Ascanius, bound for Devonport, Plymouth. The young Tasmanian was off to join the Australian Imperial Force in Europe. The arduous journey to the other side of the world took more than two months, and Ambrose didn’t have a good time of it. He had to spend a day in the ship’s hospital en-route, and was no doubt delighted to finally arrive in England on 20th July 1917. (4)

The Ascanius which brought Ambrose to Europe (Australian War Memorial)

The Ascanius which brought Ambrose to Europe (Australian War Memorial)

It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like for the young Tasmanian arriving in England for the first time, but whatever his feelings, Ambrose was given little time to acclimatise. He was immediately whisked off to Larkhill in Wiltshire, home to the School of Instruction for Royal Horse and Field Artillery. For nearly eight weeks he continued his training as a gunner with No. 3 Battery, Reserve Brigade Australian Artillery, before word finally came that he was on the move again– this time to the Western Front. The 18th September 1917 found Ambrose in Southampton, boarding a vessel bound for France. (5)

Australian artillery in action in Passchendaele, October 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

Australian artillery in action in Passchendaele, October 1917 (Australian War Memorial)

In France Ambrose initially formed part of the 12th Reinforcements of the 15th Field Artillery Brigade, but within a few days he received his permanent assignment. He became a gunner in the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade, which formed part of the artillery compliment of the 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force. When he joined his new unit in Belgium on 5th October, they were in the midst of the bloody slog that was the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as the Battle of Passchendaele. Having spent months in training and traveling, Ambrose was finally at the front. It was not an environment he would experience for very long. (6)

Shell dump for Australian artillery at 'Birr Crossroads', near Ypres in October 1917, the mnth Ambrose was wounded © IWM (E(AUS) 1991)

Shell dump for Australian artillery at ‘Birr Crossroads’, near Ypres in October 1917– the month Ambrose was wounded © IWM (E(AUS) 1991)

Only six days after joining his unit, on 11th October 1917, Ambrose was shot in the left arm. He was rushed to 3rd Australian Field Ambulance at Wippenhoek, which was described as ‘an old and very well designed rest station to accommodate 300 cases.’ Among the facilities were a number of rudimentary buildings, including a hospital nissen hut and a small kitchen. Ambrose was one of 23 men admitted to the Field Ambulance on the 11th, which at the time was caring for 249 patients. (7)

Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele © IWM (E(AUS) 839)

Members of the 13th Australian Field Ambulance at Passchendaele © IWM (E(AUS) 839)

From Wippenhoek, Ambrose was moved to the 17th Casualty Clearing Station. By the 12th October he was a patient in the 7th Canadian General Hospital at Étaples, the major depot area for British and Commonwealth troops in France. His long road to recovery was only just beginning. He was still in hospital in February 1918, four months after he was hit. Shortly thereafter it appears he had recovered sufficiently to be given some leave. It was probably at this time that Ambrose traveled to Ireland, although he may have done so when he initially arrived in Europe. The reason he visited is also the reason that would ultimately see him buried in the town. Midleton had been the home of Ambrose’s grandmother, Mary Josephine Lynch. Mary had apparently been one of the first pupils of Midleton’s Presentation Convent, before she emigrated to Colebrook, Tasmania in the mid-19th century. Ambrose’s mother Mary Ann Fox was her daughter. Apparently no fewer than six of Mary Josephine Lynch’s grandchildren and a son-in-law enlisted in the Australian military during World War One. According to the Irish Examiner, the same Midleton Lynch family also had men serving in the American army in France. Ambrose’s grandmother had lived on William Street (now the New Cork Road), and the young Tasmanian Digger still had Lynch relatives living there. The 1911 Census records them at No. 51, where 79-year-old Margaret Lynch resided with her daughters Helen and Elizabeth, granddaughter Eileen O’Sullivan and boarder Daniel O’Flaherty. Ambrose supposedly stayed in this house during his visit. (8)

Notification that Ambrose had been wounded in 1917 (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Notification that Ambrose had been wounded in 1917 (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Eventually recovered, Ambrose was finally able to rejoin his unit on 31st August 1918. However, the unfortunate young man’s front line service was to again prove brief. He reported sick on 27th September, apparently suffering from slight deafness, no doubt caused by the noise of the guns. On 29th September he was sent to the 1st Australian General Hospital in Rouen, before being shipped back to England aboard the Hospital Ship Essequibo on 2nd October. Ambrose finally ended up in the Graylingwell War Hospital in Chichester, where his condition continued to worsen. His parents, who had initially been informed that his condition was not serious, must have been shocked to receive a communication in Tasmania on 19th November that simply stated: ‘Now reported Gunner Ambrose Haley dangerously ill condition stationary further progress report expected.’ Ambrose’s brother Urban, who was serving as a Warrant Officer at Australian Imperial Force Headquarters on 130 Horseferry Road in London, likely tried to visit his stricken brother. It transpired that Ambrose’s body was ravaged with cancer; the disease had taken control of his pancreas lungs, spleen and ‘other organs.’ The 26-year-old Tasmanian succumbed to the illness on Christmas Day 1918. (9)

Notification of Ambrose's Death (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

Notification of Ambrose’s Death (Ambrose Haley Service Record)

So it was that five days later Ambrose’s brother Urban (who would soon receive the Meritorious Service Medal for devotion to duty during the period from September-November 1918) joined Australian Imperial Force representative Sergeant C.E. Hunkin in Holy Rosary cemetery, Midleton. The Haley’s Midleton relatives had offered their family grave as a final resting for their Tasmanian Digger cousin. One of those relatives– Timothy Christopher O’Sullivan– was of an age with Ambrose and probably attended the funeral. Less than three years later he would be the next person remembered at the plot, when he was killed while serving with the I.R.A. at the Clonmult Ambush on 20th February 1921, at the aged of 28. Military tragedy had not steered clear of the family for long. It is unlikely that Ambrose’s parents ever made it from Tasmania to Midleton to visit their son’s grave, but it must have given them some comfort to know that he rested with family. The story of their son, and that of the Lynches and O’Sullivans, is just one of thousands preserved in stone in the Midleton cemetery. (10)

The grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

The grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

Close up of inscription on the grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

Close up of inscription on the grave of Ambrose Augustine Haley in Midleton (Damian Shiels)

(1) Irish Examiner, Haley Service Record; (2) Tasmanian Births, Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (3) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, John Marshall Haley Service Record, Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Service Record; (4) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (5) Larkhill Camp, Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (6) Ibid.; (7) Ibid., 3rd Australian Field Ambulance War Diary; (8) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, Irish Examiner, 1911 Census of Ireland; (9) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record; (10) Ambrose Augustine Haley Service Record, Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Service Record;


Irish Examiner 2nd January 1919. Southern Items

1414 John Marshall Haley Australian War Service Record

34423 Ambrose Augustine Haley Australian War Service Record

3441 Urban Aloysius Joseph Haley Australian War Service Record

3rd Australian Field Ambulance War Diary, October 1917

Diggers History: Larkhill Camp

Tasmanian Births in the District of Portland, 1892

1911 Census of Ireland, 51 William Street Midleton

Categories: 20th Century, World War One | Tags: , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Commonwealth Wargraves in the Church of the Holy Rosary Graveyard, Midleton

We went to the main Catholic graveyard in Midleton to have a look at the Commonwealth Wargraves related to World War One and World War Two, and to see if we could find any details on the men themselves. Of course there are numerous military-related graves in the Church of the Holy Rosary cemetery, from the I.R.A. volunteers killed and executed following the Clonmult Ambush during the War of Independence, to veterans of the armies and navies of both Britain and the Republic of Ireland. Below are those men buried in Midleton who died while in British service, and who are recorded by the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission. We supply short biographies of each one, but are eager to uncover more detail on their lives from readers. One of these men, Tasmanian Ambrose Augustine Haley, will be the subject of a more detailed post over the weekend.

Shipwright 2nd Class William Froyne, HMS Roxburgh

William died of disease on 24th May 1915. He was 33 years of age and served aboard HMS Roxburgh, an armoured cruiser. He was the husband of Mary Froyne of 10 St. Mary’s Road, Midleton. William was originally from Kilmore, Co. Wexford, and had married Mary Ballick of Midleton.

Shipwright 2nd Class William Froyne, HMS Roxburgh

Shipwright 2nd Class William Froyne, HMS Roxvurgh

HMS Roxburgh (Image via Rootsweb)

William’s ship, HMS Roxburgh (Image via Rootsweb)

Mechanician Patrick Lynch, HMS Revenge

Patrick died at sea at the age of 35 on 10th November 1918, the day before the armistice. He was serving aboard the dreadnought HMS Revenge. Patrick was the husband of Norah Lynch of Avoncore Cottages in Midleton. He had been born in Carrigtohill on 28th December 1881.

Mechanician Patrick Lynch, HMS Revenge

Mechanician Patrick Lynch, HMS Revenge

Patrick's ship, HMS Revenge (Wikipedia)

Patrick’s ship, HMS Revenge (Image via Wikipedia)

Gunner Ambrose Augustine Haley, Australian Field Artillery

Ambrose died at the age of 26 on 25th December 1918. He was from Australia and served in the Australian Imperial Force. We have carried out research into Ambrose’s life, and what led to him being buried in East Cork. His story will be the subject of the next post on the site.

Gunner Ambrose Augustine Haley, Australian Field Artillery

Gunner Ambrose Augustine Haley, Australian Field Artillery

Able Seaman Peter O’Reilly, HMS Marlborough

Peter died of disease at the age of 30 on 12th February 1919. He was serving aboard the battleship HMS Marlborough. He was born in Killorglin, Co. Kerry; his father Edward was from Ballyera, Ballincurrig.

Able Seaman Peter O'Reilly, HMS Marlborough

Able Seaman Peter O’Reilly, HMS Marlborough

Peter's ship, HMS Marlborough (Image via Wikipedia)

Peter’s ship, HMS Marlborough (Image via Wikipedia)

Private Edward Hayes, 6th Connaught Rangers

Edward (sometimes referenced as Edmond) died at the age of 27 on 25th September 1919. He was the son of Mrs. Bridget Hayes, Upper Mill Road, Midleton. The 1901 Census showed that he grew up in Broomfield West with his mother Bridget, grandmother Norah O’Callaghan, aunt Julia, uncle Stephen and older brother Christopher. As yet we know little of Edward’s service. The 6th Connaughts served in France and Flanders with the 16th (Irish) Division from 1915-1918, taking particularly punishing casualties at engagments such as the German Kaiserslacht Offensive of March 1918.

Private Edward Hayes, 6th Connaught Rangers

Private Edward Hayes, 6th Connaught Rangers

Private William Bridgeman, Royal Army Ordnance Corps

William died on 26th October 1940. Born in Ireland, he lived in London before his enlistment. We currently know little regarding his service or death.

Private William Bridgeman, Royal Army Ordnance Corps

Private William Bridgeman, Royal Army Ordnance Corps

Sergeant Stephen Joseph Coleman, Royal Army Service Corps

Stephen died on 15th October 1942. He was 42 years of age and had also served in World War One. He was the son of Hannah Coleman of Midleton. We find them in the 1911 Census living at 5 Park Street, with Stephen’s father Thomas working as Town Watchman. Stephen was the eldest of six at the time; he had three younger sisters and two younger brothers. He served as a driver in the army.

Sergeant Stephen Joseph Coleman, Royal Army Service Corps

Sergeant Stephen Joseph Coleman, Royal Army Service Corps

Categories: 20th Century, World War One | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘I Have Secured Your Name & Address Off An Egg’: A Midleton Woman’s Letter From An Aussie Wounded in Gallipoli

100 years ago the Gallipoli campaign was in full swing. Many Midleton men were there, and the local newspapers were keen to keep those on the home front informed. For example the Examiner reported details when Lieutenant T.D. Hallinan of Avoncore and Second Lieutenant Michael Moloney– the son of well-known Midleton lawyer John Moloney– were wounded. Not all of these men would come home. Private Patrick Egan from Park Street, a member of the 6th Royal Munster Fusiliers, was killed in Turkey on 14th August 1915. He has no known grave, and is today remembered on the Helles Memorial. But the men at the front proved not to be Midleton’s only link with the soldiers of Gallipoli. On Saturday, 11th September 1915, the Examiner carried an extraordinary story of how one ‘Australian bushman’, wounded at Gallipoli, came to write a letter to Mrs. Fitzgerald of Ballyannan, Midleton– a woman he had never met. The reason behind the correspondence all boiled down to one thing– an egg…

WW1 National Egg Collection (Library of Congress)

WW1 National Egg Collection (Library of Congress)


Midleton, Friday.

The following very interesting letter, written by Melrose Mailer, a Lancashire Fusilier, wounded in the Gallipoli, and now in Stepping Hill Military Hospital, Hazel Grove, near Stockport, Lancashire, has been received by Mrs. Fitzgerald, of Ballyanon, Midleton, wife of an agricultural labourer, in the employment of Mr. Michael Buckley, J.P. The letter has come to be written by the wounded soldier to Mrs. Fitzgerald under extraordinary circumstance, and the incident is one worthy of mention. For months past Mrs. Fitzgerald has been giving regularly every week a small contribution of eggs for wounded soldiers in hospitals to the Ladies Committee of Midleton in charge of the collection of such welcome gifts. In common with other donors of eggs Mrs. Fitzgerald’s name and address are usually written on the eggs so given by her, as her humble war contribution. In this peculiar way the wounded soldier in the Lancashire Hospital got the name and address of Mrs. Fitzgerald, which were written on the shell of an egg that happened to form an item in the rations served to him on a morning recently. The letter, which speaks for itself, is as follows:-

“Dear Mrs. Fitzgerald- These few lines to you are from an Australian Bushman, who has travelled 13,000 miles to do his duty to the mother country. After arriving here in February last, I enlisted in the Lancashire Fusiliers, and went to the Dardanelles, where we fought side by side with the famous Irish regiments, the Dublins and Munster Fusiliers. God bless them. I, as one soldier, will never forget the bravery displayed by these dear Irish boys. I have, indeed, something to long remember. I was myself wounded in a bayonet charge on the 4th June last, and that day I shall never forget. All the boys fighting for their lives, and we had a splendid gain on the day, killing many Turks. After two operations I have had two fingers and half the palm of my left hand removed. I was also hit in the breast, but luckily that was not serious. I have no regrets for my sacrifice– many are worse off. I am only glad to be on Australian, serving as I am in an English regiment. I have no friends here in this part of the world, but my people are always thinking of me, and that is some satisfaction. I have secured your name and address off an egg, so excuse me for writing you these few lines. I enjoyed eating that egg, and I thought it only right that you should know it. If you feel disposed to write back to me, I shall be only too pleased to receive a line from you. Believe me, yours faithfully,

Melrose Mailer.

WW1 Poster for the National Egg Collection (Copyright Imperial War Museum)

WW1 Poster for the National Egg Collection (Copyright Imperial War Museum)

Mrs. Fitzgerald had been giving her eggs as part of a campaign drive across the UK and Ireland– the National Egg Collection– which sought to provide eggs for the wounded. The grateful recipient of her charitable efforts, Private James Melrose Mailer, appears to have initially enlisted on 11th May 1904. He was discharged from the Lancashire Fusiliers due to his Gallipoli wounds on 20th April 1916. It is not clear if Mrs. Fitzgerald ever did decide to enter into correspondence with the wounded Aussie.

Medal Index Card James Melrose Mailer of the Lancashire Fusiliers (National Archives)

Medal Index Card James Melrose Mailer of the Lancashire Fusiliers (National Archives)


Examiner 11th September 1915

Imperial War Museum Image:

Library of Congress

Categories: World War One | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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