■ The for­got­ten Ir­ish women who died in the war,

At least 43 women from Ire­land died on ac­tive ser­vice be­tween 1914 and 1918

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Fion­nu­ala Walsh

Hun­dreds of Ir­ish­women also con­trib­uted to aux­il­iary mil­i­tary ser­vices on the home front and over­seas

In Septem­ber 1916 the Ir­ish Times re­ported the loss of yet an­other young Ir­ish life on over­seas war ser­vice. On this oc­ca­sion, how­ever, it was not an Ir­ish sol­dier, but a nurse who had died far from home.

Mary Agnes Do­herty from Magherafelt in Co Derry died from malaria and dysen­tery in Salonika and was buried in the lo­cal Lem­bet Road mil­i­tary ceme­tery. The daugh­ter of a re­tired Royal Ir­ish Con­stab­u­lary po­lice­man, Do­herty was em­ployed as a nurse in Dr Steeven’s Hos­pi­tal in Dublin in 1914, when she vol­un­teered with the Queen Alexan­dra Im­pe­rial Mil­i­tary Nurs­ing Ser­vice (QAIMNS).

She ini­tially served in France, where she was awarded a Royal Red Cross and was men­tioned in despatches for her de­vo­tion to duty. In 1916 Do­herty was trans­ferred to Salonika where she died aged 28.

Dis­ease was a con­stant risk for those serv­ing over­seas. Many nurses also faced dan­ger from shell­fire while work­ing in ca­su­alty clear­ing sta­tions close to the front and from tor­pe­does while trav­el­ling over­seas.

Thou­sands of Ir­ish women mo­bilised for the British war ef­fort dur­ing the Great War, in a par­al­lel war ser­vice to that of men in the mil­i­tary. They served as pro­fes­sional nurses with or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the QAIMNS, to­gether with the Ter­ri­to­rial Nurs­ing Ser­vice, and as vol­un­teers with the British Red Cross and St John Am­bu­lance As­so­ci­a­tion.

Hun­dreds of Ir­ish­women also con­trib­uted to aux­il­iary mil­i­tary ser­vices on the home front and over­seas. As with Ir­ish men serv­ing in the British army, there was a mix of mo­ti­va­tions be­hind their mo­bil­i­sa­tion, in­clud­ing the de­sire for per­sonal ful­fil­ment and in­de­pen­dence, to­gether with pa­tri­otic, po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic mo­tives.

Pro­fes­sional nurses could earn sig­nif­i­cantly more through army nurs­ing: the wages of a ward sis­ter or ma­tron in the army were al­most dou­ble those of civil­ian nurses at home.

A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the women who de­voted their time had a fam­ily mem­ber serv­ing in the armed forces and so it pro­vided some con­so­la­tion to con­trib­ute in some way them­selves. Do­herty’s brother, for ex­am­ple, was serv­ing with the British Army when news came of her death.

Although women’s war ser­vice car­ried much less risk than that of men in the armed forces, at least 43 women from Ire­land died on ac­tive ser­vice be­tween 1914 and 1918, while an­other 13 died in 1919.

Along­side pro­fes­sional and vol­un­tary nurses, th­ese in­clude mem­bers of the Queen Mary Army Aux­il­iary Corps, the Women’s Le­gion, the Women’s Royal Air­force and the Women’s Royal Naval Ser- vice (WRNS). In­deed, the du­bi­ous hon­our of be­ing the only mem­ber of the Women’s Royal Naval Ser­vice to die in the Great War due to en­emy ac­tion goes to an Ir­ish­woman.

Josephine Carr drowned in the sink­ing of the RMS Le­in­ster mail­boat on Oc­to­ber 10th 1918. Born in Cork in 1899, she had re­cently en­listed with the WRNS to work as a short­hand typ­ist. Carr was trav­el­ling on the Le­in­ster on route to Eng­land for WRNS work, and was with two col­leagues from Cork, Mau­reen Wa­ters and Lil­ian Barry, who both sur­vived the sink­ing.

Mau­reen Wa­ters re­called af­ter­wards the mo­ment of the tor­pedo col­li­sion: “The ship was stand­ing up­right al­most, pro­pel­ler in the air . . . I prayed as I never did be­fore.”


Carr’s body, like so many of the ca­su­al­ties, was never re­cov­ered. She is how­ever com­mem­o­rated on the WRNS me­mo­rial in Ply­mouth. She was one of 10 Ir­ish­women on ac­tive ser­vice who died in the Le­in­ster sink­ing.

Among the nine oth­ers was Clare McNally, a mem­ber of the Women’s Le­gion, whose fa­ther had been killed ear­lier in the war while serv­ing with the Con­naught Rangers.

The dev­as­tat­ing im­pact of the war is fur­ther ev­i­dent in the case of the Hack­ett fam­ily in Co Of­faly, who lost two sons and a daugh­ter. Venice Hack­ett en­rolled with the Red Cross in Au­gust 1916, aged 30, fol- low­ing the death of her brother Eric at the front.

Af­ter serv­ing with a Tip­per­ary de­tach­ment, she was sent to France in April 1917 where she be­came ill in Oc­to­ber 1918, a few months af­ter her brother Learo was killed at Ypres. She died in Lon­don while trav­el­ling home to Ire­land and is buried in the Bal­ly­cum­ber grave­yard.

Many of the women who died are buried far from home, in Eng­land, France, Italy, Malta, Egypt, Pales­tine and Salonika. Eigh­teen of the nurs­ing ca­su­al­ties are com­mem­o­rated in St Anne’s Cathe­dral in Belfast while oth­ers are re­mem­bered in parish memo­ri­als.

St Mary’s Church on Hadding­ton Road in Dublin, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes Iza Ma­hony, a vol­un­tary nurse who died from ill­ness con­tracted while work­ing on hos­pi­tal ships in Malta, along­side her brother Ed­mund who was killed serv­ing with the Royal Mun­ster Fusiliers.

While they were not killed in di­rect com­bat, th­ese women are none­the­less part of the Ir­ish ca­su­al­ties of the first World War, and their ser­vice and sac­ri­fice is de­serv­ing of re­mem­brance and com­mem­o­ra­tion.

Dr Fion­nu­ala Walsh is a lec­turer in the School of His­tory at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Dublin. She is com­plet­ing a book on the ex­pe­ri­ences of women in Ire­land dur­ing the first World War

Josephine Carr and Clare Eleanor McNally drowned in the sink­ing of the Le­in­ster mail­boat on Oc­to­ber 10th, 1918. PHO­TO­GRAPH: IM­PE­RIAL WAR MU­SE­UMS

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