Posts Tagged With: First World War

The Experiences & Photographs of a US Navy Chief in USNAS Aghada, 1918-1919

During the last few years the site has shared a lot of material relating to the presence of American troops in East Cork during the First World War. You can check out all those posts on our U.S. Military in Ireland Centenary Project page.The major centre of the American presence on the eastern side of the harbour was the United States Naval Air Station at Aghada. Last year we were greatly fortunate to welcome Thom Dickerson to the area, whose father Thomas Dayton Dickerson served at the base during the war. Aside from bringing great knowledge of the base and his father’s experiences, Thom is also the curator of a wonderful collection of photographs that his father captured while stationed here in Cork. He shared that story with us during a public lecture in Midleton Library, and now has kindly agreed to expand on that for us in a guest post on a site. What follows is the story of US Navy Chief Thomas Dayton Dickerson, as told by his son Thom.

WWI ID Thos D Dickersonlowres

The First World War Identity Card of Thomas D Dickerson (Copyright Dickerson Collection)

Back in a time of peace, good times, and growing up in Summerland, California, my father, Thomas Dayton Dickerson joined the US Naval Reserves in Santa Barbara, California. It was the year 1915 and WW1 was already one year into the breach of a madness of what was to be the first taste of carnage and battle that our world would experience. His peace time job was being a chauffeur/ mechanic. His experience with automobile engines and aviation power plants began as a ride along mechanic racing on speedways in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Those race car drivers he participated with were Eddie Rickenbacker, Barney Oldfield, and one racer he personally worked with as a ride along mechanic was Glover Ruckstell. His first involvement with aviation was getting Lincoln Beachy’s aircraft ready to cross the Goleta valley in 1914. My father also worked with Alan Loughead (later changed to Lockheed) who had built a seaplane plant in Santa Barbara 1912. During the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibit in San Francisco, my father Tom also worked on Loughead’s F1 Flying boat. Mr Loughead gave patrons rides across the San Francisco Bay for $10.00 during the exhibit. (1)

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Photos from the Dickerson Collection– A depth charge in the Channel; A ship underway; a submarine in the Irish Sea; A ship at her mooring (Slideshow)

Skipping to April 20, 1917, my father shipped out on the USS St Louis as a QM2 for convoy duty to Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. He made three convoy trips from April 1917 to November 1917 and was awarded two convoy chevrons for making the crossings in harm’s way of German subs patrolling the coastal waterways. He was then transferred to the USS Melville and was assigned to the signal bridge. His assignment to the USS Melville went from December 31, 1917 to April 16, 1918. 

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Images of officers, sailors and locals around the Aghada Base from the Dickerson Collection (Slideshow)

A new assignment started on June 30, 1918 at USNAS Queenstown, Ireland. During his time on assignment my father served between USNAS Queenstown and USNAS Aghada. He was assigned to transportation where he was part of the support staff building the bases and later for aircraft support. His travels took him between Queenstown, Dublin, Cork, Castletownbere (kite balloon station), Killarney, Wexford, Bantry, and Aghada. He assisted in assembly of the aircraft, Curtiss H16s, ferrying the aircraft as an aircrew mechanic with the pilot to the bases around Ireland. While serving in many duties during his service in Ireland, he was the official photographer who recorded people, places, and events during his tour. Many of the photographs and documents you will see in this article are from his albums he had collected during his time in the US Navy from 1917 -1946. 

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Images of the Aghada Base buildings and surrounds taken by Thomas during his service, from the Dickerson Collection (Slideshow)

On July 1 1918, Thomas D Dickerson’s rate was changed to Machinist Mate 2nd Class from Quarter Master 2nd Class. The Quarter Master rate was not his actual area of expertise or training in civilian life. It was his US Navy Reserve training where he became Quarter Master, but that rating was not suited to the skills he was required to utilise during the war. He continued his work in Queenstown and Aghada as transportation chief and plane captain on the H16s as the base was built and operations began on September 30, 1918. His role in the immediate conflict was to build the seaplanes from incoming aircraft parts received from the shipping docks landing in Queenstown. In addition to his duties he drove various vehicles to pick up messengers and officers for Admiralty HQ. Those operations would continue until November 11, 1918, when all hostilities ended the immediate conflict of the war. 

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Images of American seaplanes at the Aghada base from the Dickerson Collection (Slideshow)

The number of aircraft in operation in Aghada at the end of the war were 28 seaplanes. The number of flights totalled 64 sorties with 11,568 nautical miles covered during patrols over the Irish Sea and surrounding waterways. 

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Images of Officers, sailors and locals in and around the Aghada Base and in Ireland, from the Dickerson Collection (Slideshow)

After the war was over, Tom was advanced to MM1 on January 1, 1919 and on March 3, 1919 he was assigned to the Naval Supply base in Dublin, Ireland in charge of transportation. From March 31, 1919 to July 25, 1919, his last duty station in Ireland was Dublin, Naval Air Detachment. Not to top his extraordinary assignments in Ireland he was then advanced to CMM on June 1, 1919 to Naval Air Force, London, UK

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Photos Tom took during his various trips around Britain and Ireland from the Dickerson Collection (Slideshow)

Tom Dickerson CMM US Navy, was next placed in charge of transportation for the Allied Peace Mission going between the US Embassy in London and the US Embassy in Paris France.

The duties which followed were:

Naval Forces Europe, London from September, 30, 1919 – January 22, 1920 and confirmed Rating CMM on Oct 1,1919; 

Naval Commission, Paris France from March 31, 1920 – June 25, 1920;

Paris Staff Office, Paris France from June 30, 1920 – August 4, 1920. Then on to the UK, assigned to the “Howden Detachment” in Bedford, England. Tom Dickerson and his US crew mates trained on rigid airships that were being built and sold to the US for convoy fleet support. He missed the tragic flight of the R38 (ZR2). His last assignment in the UK was the London Staff Office from September 30, 1921 – Oct 6, 1921. He then returned to America to assist building the ZR1 which was christened the USS Shenandoah and he flew on the entire maiden voyage across the United States and back, a story told in the National Geographic Jan 1925.


All images in this blog post remain the Copyright of the Thomas Dickerson, and cannot be reproduced without permission.

Thomas Dayton Dickerson ACMM National Archive Records and traveling personnel records.

Thom Dickerson Personal collection; Photographs and negative scans.

1915 Pan Pacific International Exhibit Fair

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Revealed: The Life Experiences of One of Cork’s First World War American War Brides

Readers may recall past work on the site that compiled a database of local Irish women–the vast majority from Cork–who married First World War U.S. servicemen and began new lives across the Atlantic (you can see the database here). Working with the National Archives in Washington D.C., the Port of Cork and the Sirius Arts Centre in Cobh, I subsequently curated an exhibition featuring a number of these women’s passport images for the 100th anniversary of the U.S. arrival in 2017. That exhibition has since been on display in Cork City Library, and from late July will be in Midleton Library (where I will be giving a free public talk on the topic on Saturday 21st July at 12.15pm). Due to the nature of the sources, we could uncover only fragments of the lives of these women after they went to live in America. I have been fortunate since first making the research available to be contacted by a number of their descendants, who have greatly increased our knowledge of the later lives of the Irish “War Brides.” Among them were Eve and Bob Pranis, the grandchildren of one of the women– Alice Maud Pain from Cork City. I was delighted to recently meet Eve and Bob when they visited from America, and show them around some of the sites associated with their grandparents. Eve kindly agreed to share some recollections of her Cork grandmother and her experiences with us, and these are reproduced below.


Eve and Bob Pranis at the door in Cobh–formerly the entrance to the Queenstown American Consulate– which their grandmother passed through when she applied for her passport to begin a new life in the United States (Damian Shiels)

To provide some background, Alice married U.S. Navy man Joseph Pranis in Cork in 1917, where Eve and Bob’s father, Jospeh Junior, was born to the couple on 17th October 1918. In 1919 Alice applied for a passport to go an live with her new husband in America, including as her passport photograph and image of her, her baby son and the family dog at their house at 5 Langford Terrace in the City (one of the images featured in the exhibition). But what happened next? Eve takes up the story.

Rediscovery # 29656

The passport photo that Alice Maud Pranis submitted with her passport application. Taken in her parent’s back garden in Cork City, with her new son Joseph (Eve and Bob’s dad) and the family dog (National Archives)

Grandma Alice Pranis Recollections 1896-1999

My grandmother Alice’s parents were James Arthur Pain who lived to age 76 and Susan Clarke who lived to 83. Alice told us that her father, James Arthur Pain, who was born in Cork, was a protestant who preferred that she didn’t play with the Catholic children. Her mother, Susan Clarke, was a bit more broad-minded. Alice married my grandfather, Lithuanian-American, Joseph Pranis, in Cobh in 1917 when he was stationed with the U.S. Navy. Joseph stayed in the Navy after Alice went to America, and each of Alice’s children were born in a different country or city depending on where her husband was stationed.

Grandma pranis4 large-colorized-family_print

A family photo of Alice and her siblings (partially colourised) taken in Cork during the early twentieth century, and which remains in the family (Pranis Family)

Alice’s eldest son, my father, was born Joseph Arthur Porter Pranis in Cork in 1918. (He passed away in 1995.) Note, the second middle name Porter was selected by Alice’s husband, Joseph, because he was stationed on the USS Porter, a US destroyer that was based in Cork. When the family was later stationed in the Phillipine Islands, my father was introduced to the library by a serviceman, and he learned to love reading. His dad wanted to “make him a man,” but he didn’t want to consider the service. Hence, he dropped the name Porter. He remained a Pacifist, making an exception for WWII.


Alice and Joseph’s Cork-born son Joe Junior (Eve & Bob’s dad) when he was three-years old (Pranis Family)

Alice talked – not wistfully – about being put on a “coal boat” along with baby Joseph after arriving in New York in 1919. That took them to Cleveland to stay with Alice’s husband’s “big, boisterous, non-English speaking family.” Alice was evidently not treated very warmly by her in laws. She recalled, however, that on her arrival in Cleveland, she met a Black woman named Effie who took grandma under her wing and helped orient her. They remained friends and grandma eventually named her daughter Elizabeth Effie Pranis.

An image of Alice taken in Cork during the earlier twentieth century (Pranis Family)

An image of Alice taken in Cork during the earlier twentieth century (Pranis Family)

Alice traveled, moved to and lived in a great many places, sometimes on short notice. Being married to a navy man meant frequent moves. After her stay in Cleveland, the family moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where her daughter Elizabeth was born in 1921. By 1926, they were in the Philippine Islands where her son Robert was born. By 1928, she boarded a ship in China with her children in tow and landed in San Diego, California. At age 42, Alice had her fourth child Mildred, who was born with fairly serious cerebral palsy. (Before settling for good in San Diego, the family had one more stint in Norfolk, Virginia.) 


Alice Pranis (centre) with her family in the United States (Pranis Family)

By the time Mildred was coming of age, Alice’s other children were out of the house. She was determined to keep Milly, who was very bright, but spastic and wheelchair bound, as active and engaged in life as she could. This included going to the enormous San Diego zoo, museums, summer camps, and theaters; traveling with her annually to Spain (where the climate agreed with Milly); and getting her a typewriter so she could correspond with “pen pals” around the world. Alice was a very tiny but strong woman who did most of the physically demanding work to keep Milly active. She lifted her out of her wheelchair and into tubs for decades. As they traveled, the two collected dolls from around the world. Alice and her husband chose to stay in San Diego because the school system had good programs for children with special needs.

Alice in 1986 (Pranis Family)

Alice in 1986 (Pranis Family)

We didn’t see as much of our grandmother Alice as we would have liked. We lived in New York State and our grandparents remained in San Diego, which is 3,000 miles away in Southern California. Travel was expensive then for our working-class family. But my brothers and I, along with cousins, have some vivid memories of our visits back and forth.

Alice had a delightful personality and a fairly bright outlook on life. She was never one to hold grudges and had a “live and let live” attitude. All this despite having to pack up home and children and move countless times — and having a husband who was a bit of an authoritarian (and drinker) who spent much time with his retired Navy buddies. Her memory was also fantastic. Twenty-five years after taking her the 12 miles from her house to Tijuana, Mexico for lunch, I asked if she recalled our outing. “Oh, wasn’t that a delicious fish dinner,” Alice accurately recalled at age 99.

Alice in later life (Pranis Family)

Alice in later life (Pranis Family)

Alice was a strong and active walker. She and I spent hours walking around the San Diego zoo. She walked to church every day until she was in her mid-80s – and had knee surgery in her 90s.

Although Alice was an American citizen in many ways, she retained her sweet Cork lilt until she passed away at nearly 104. (She explained that her longevity was due to never eating salty snacks. That said, she loved eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on her birthdays and other special events.) She made a mean Irish stew, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, and kept loads of photos of her life in Cork. Sadly, most of the latter were destroyed by her husband when he had dementia, which she took in stride. After her husband passed away (26 years before she did), she returned to Ireland several times with her daughter Elizabeth. Word has it that Alice met an Irish gentleman in a bar with whom she had a long correspondence.

Sadly, Alice outlived three of her four children.

Alice in the 1990s (Pranis Family)

Alice in the 1990s (Pranis Family)

I would like to thank Eve and Bob for sharing these recollections of their Grandmother with us. Hers was a life forever altered by the arrival of the Americans in Cork Harbour in 1917, and it is magnificent to have a flavour of where that life took her in the many decades that followed her departure. If you are a descendant of any of the War Brides identified in the database (or indeed of any First World War American War Bride from Ireland) and would like to share their story with us, please email me at 

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