Sinking of the Leinster in 1918
by Sue Beesley
A first hand account by Elizabeth Costello re-told by her daughter, Rosalind Pulvertaft.
I was a passenger on the Leinster, on my way back to Cambridge, when she was sunk in the Irish Sea about 43 miles west of Holyhead, Anglesey on passage from Dublin.
The SS Leinster, the normal passenger boat from Dublin to Holyhead was , of course, packed with troops aw well as ordinary passengers.
I am a bad sailor and was below, lying down, when the torpedo struck. Alarm bells rang and there were shouts telling us to go on deck.
I grabbed a life belt from under the berth, and idiotically, a floppy velour hat and heavy coat I had bought on my way tjrough Dublin.
The scene on deck was chaotic, the ship was listing badly and the attempt to launch lifeboats was mostly futile, ending in tipping the would-be passengers into the water.
There was, however, none of the screaming and fighting depicted in such scenes in the cinema. Most people just stood still, apparently unable to move.
I was reminded of one occasion when I had accidentally dug a mouse's nest, she just sat there making no attempt to rescue her babies.
Personally, I decided that I didn't like the lookm of boats. I put on my life jacket and jumped into the sea.
The next few minutes were spent in a frantic effort to get rid of the hat which settled over my face and nearly drowned me.
As soon as I could, I swam awaay from the ship as I didn't want to be sucked down when she sank.
No doubt this swim saved my life as the second torpedo struck almost immediately and she blew up and sank. I can still see the plunge and the thick scum of oil and coal dust left on the surface.
I have been told there was a considerable interval, some hours, before the news of the sinking reached Dublin.
I found myself floating near a raft so packed with people that at intervals it submerged, tilting sideways, and many were thrown into the sea.
I made no attempt to get onto ot but after a time I realised I was getting very cold and would soon lose control of the situation, so I tied my arm to the raft by means of some rope that hung from the side.
A Tommy in uniform was lying on his face on the raft looking down at me. he kept repeating in a slurred, half-drunken voice, "Oh dear, I don't like to see you down there, come up here with me dear."
I have no memory of the interval between this and the time I woke up to find myself completely naked, lying on a table, very drunk, in a torpedo destroyer that picked me up.
No doubt I had been given artificial respiration and had the scum wiped off me.
I had also been given whisky which accounted for my cheerfulness. I vaguely remember sitting up, surrounded by my rescuers, making tea-party conversation, quite unembarrassed by my lack of clothing which was remedied by someone's dressing gown.
When we reached Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, it chanced that a Captain Martin and his wife, who lived near us in Dunmore, Co. Galway, happened to be there on holiday.
They took me in, clothed and fed me and sent a telegram to my parents. As there was not television and we were not on the telephone, my parents were in the happy position of hearing of my survival before they heard of the disaster.
On account of the explosion and the long delay in rescue, there were few survivors. I was one of the very few live ones my rescuers fished out of the sea.
They corresponded with me for months but I am unable to remember the name of the ship or that of any of the men to who I owe my life.
The ship that rescued Elizabeth Costello was the HMS Mallard. This fact was researched by Declan Varley of the Tuam Herald.
Elizabeth Costello married R J V Pulvertaft, Professor of Pathology at Westminster Hospital, London. They had three children and I am the second daughter, Rosalind. Elizabeth Pulvertaft, nee Costello, died in 1985, aged 88.
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