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Person Details
Liverpool
In 1911 he was living in Holyhead with his mother Louisa and siblings Catherine, Edwin, Louisa V, Gwendoline, Margaret, Madeline and Charles R.
At an unknown time during the 1860s or early 70s he attended Nottingham High School. In 1911 he was a mariner (1st mate).
10 Oct 1918
30
2979602 - CWGC Website
Master
He was listed as being on Australian transport since 1914, but missing since 1918. He was Master of “RMS Leinster” on 10th October 1918 when it was sunk by U-123. It was a 2,646 tons vessel carrying 771 men, women and children, including the crew, civilian passengers and 492 soldiers and sailors returning from Ireland on leave. The ship, belonging to the City of Dublin Steam packet Company left Kingstown Pier, now Dun Laoghaire, for Holyhead. She had already been attacked on 27th December 1917 by a submarine whose torpedo had missed and was, since that incident armed with a single 12-pounder. An hour out, the ship was struck without warning by a torpedo from submarine UB 123. A second torpedo struck her a few minutes later. The engine room was blown out and she sank 13 minutes after the first impact. Lifeboats were launched and SOS messages sent. After an hour two old destroyers,plus other craft arrived and saved some of the Leinster’s passengers and crew, but 501 lost their lives out of 771. Birch’s body was never recovered. This extract was taken from an article in an online site called “The Downsman”. “By approximately 9 a.m. on the morning of October 10th, 1918, UB-123 was lurking a few miles off Dublin and in a sea area that was constantly patrolled by Royal Navy destroyers. However, during the past 24-hours storm force winds had lashed the area forcing the navy to withdraw its ships towards Anglesey and the shelter of Holyhead harbour. Thus, hull down in a choppy sea and keeping a wary lookout Ramm (the Captain of the U-boat) caught sight of a smudge of tell tale black smoke in the direction of Kingstown Harbour. Since first light the crew of the Royal Mail Steamer Leinster, registered to the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, had been busy with the myriad of duties that preceded each sailing; passengers were embarked, the mail and the sorting staff came aboard, checks were made on the ships life rafts while below decks the engine room staff attended to the procedures that would bring the Leinster’s propulsion units into life. Overseeing this busy scene was the ship’s master, Captain William Birch, then 61-years of age and from his photograph the archetypal sea captain with his weathered face framed by a trim dark beard. Although Dublin born and married, he had settled his family on Anglesey and now, undoubtedly, he was looking forward to making the familiar crossing to Holyhead and a reunion with his family. With his officers reports to hand and satisfied that all the pre-sailing checks had been completed, Birch gave the order to cast off and a few minutes before 9 a.m. the Leinster slipped her lines, a deep reassuring rumble from her engines as she edged away from Carlisle Pier. Slowly and with her bows pointing towards the open sea those on board with duties to occupy them settled into the routine of what should be a familiar passage to Anglesey. In total the Leinster was carrying 771 souls of which the majority were military personnel [493], including Private William Thomas Chaldecott formerly of the 12th Reserve of Cavalry but now assigned to the Royal Defence Corps. William was among a very mixed bag of servicemen representing units of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and Dominion forces plus a sprinkling of American army personnel. Amidships were 22 civilian postal workers already busy in sorting the sacks of mail that had been brought to the mailroom within the last couple of hours. Although the gale force winds had abated the air had a very distinct autumn chill which, as the ship cleared the protection of the shore, left only a few hardy passengers on the upper deck gazing at the spume whipped up from the passing waves. In the upper works the look-outs equipped with their binoculars maintained a silent vigil, sweeping back and forth as the ship held to its near due east course. Roughly an hour after her departure the Leinster was off the Kish Bank when either a lookout or one of the passengers sighted the wake of a torpedo approaching the vessel from the port side. But before any action could be taken, the missile sped ahead of the bows and was lost to sight. However, any thoughts that this may have been a single shot were dispelled within seconds when a gout of water accompanied by a massive explosion leapt skywards from amidships. The Leinster had been struck a mortal blow and though the wheelhouse was able to respond to Captain Birch’s order to come about the vessel's end was nigh. In the area of the post sorting room the carnage was awful for when the torpedo struck the blast was such that a sizeable hole was ripped out of the starboard side and this was followed by an overwhelming surge of sea water flooding the compartment from which only one man escaped with his life. Meanwhile, with engines slowing the Leinster completed her turn through 180 degrees but her bows were now well down and the command to lower lifeboats was given. This frantic activity was being witnessed by Oberleutnant Ramm who now ordered the firing of a third torpedo for though he could see that his victim’s bows were low in the water there was still a chance that the ship might be able to reach the nearest beach and thus be salvaged. With the Leinster barely making way the coup de grace was administered and it was in the detonation of this third missile that the majority of fatalities occurred. As well as the observations of Ramm, the alarm had been raised ashore and, it is recorded, a fleet of 200 ambulances were hurrying to Victoria Wharf. From those survivors already in the water come reports of seeing the ship wreathed in smoke and flame and settling bow first. Now came the battle for their survival; the lucky ones were in the few lifeboats that had been launched but many, including William Birch, were in the cruel sea, their limbs rapidly being cramped by the bitter cold. Some were dragged into the lifeboats but the sea state was such that it was becoming difficult to see anyone who was still swimming or clinging to the flotsam that littered the surface. For several agonising hours rescue boats out from the nearby ports scoured the windswept waters for survivors but to little avail and it is now believed that at least 529 of the 771 passengers and crew perished that bleak October day in 1918. Captain William Birch was found but as he was being lifted from the sea so his life ebbed away. For the remainder of the day a steady stream of both large and small boats returned to Dublin carrying pitiful cargoes of injured passengers and crew. Some were able to be released almost immediately to local hotels, but many were taken to St. Michael’s Hospital where they were received by teams of doctors and nurses. But, as was to be expected, the dead outnumbered the living and in the days that followed, as more bodies were washed ashore, funeral services were held in many towns and villages along Ireland’s east coast. The largest concentration of burials, all military, took place in Dublin’s Grangegorman Military Cemetery where 144 were laid to rest. The loss of the Leinster was, without doubt, one of the heaviest losses of life at sea during the Great War. Awful though it was Ramm had done his duty and thus satisfied he resumed his northerly course. Nine days [some sources say eight] after the sinking, by which time the next of kin of those who perished had either been informed, or soon would be, UB-123 came to an area in the North Sea known to the Allies as the Northern Barrage and which had been heavily mined. For Ramm and his crew, believed to number 35 in total, their passage through this dangerous stretch of water was never completed. The time is not recorded and in the official list of U-boat losses merely a single word marks their demise “mined”. Research Simon Williams
Remembered on

Photos

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  • Pre-war photo of RMS Leinster's crew
    - Pre-war photo of RMS Leinster's crew