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DOUBLE WAR TRAGEDY FOR LEIXLIP FAMILY

Double War tragedy for Leixlip family
James Durney 
 
Second Lt. Frederick Maurice Wookey was only in France less than three months when his family in Leixlip received the tragic news that he had died of wounds received at St. Eloi on 15 March 1915. He was twenty-seven years of age. He was the son of Frederick and Fanny Wookey, of Weston Lodge, Leixlip. Lt. Wookey was a serving officer with C Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment. At the outbreak of war, in August 1914, the 1st Royal Irish had returned from service in India to join the 27th Division, of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), which arrived in France on 23 December 1914. Lt. Wookey and his men spent the winter in the trenches in the St. Eloi sector of the Ypres Salient where there was little respite from German artillery and infantry attacks. On 14 March 1915 a full-scale German attack captured the village of St. Eloi. The Royal Irish were in reserve and were given the task of recapturing St. Eloi and a 30-foot high spoil heap about half an acre in extent known as the ‘Mound of Death.’ The Royal Irish recovered St. Eloi, but their attack on the Mound was brought to a standstill with heavy casualties. When fighting died down, German and Irish dead and wounded were lying in the street of St. Eloi. Among them was Lt. Fred Wookey, who was seriously injured leading his company in the attack. He later died of his wounds and was buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery in Nord, France.
 
Frederick Wookey was a Justice of the Peace, and his family had lived in Leixlip for generations. A son, John Neil, had died on 4 April 1892, aged 4½ months and now Frederick and his wife Fanny had lost another child to the harsh realities of the world war. Frederick Wookey did not live to see the end of the war that had taken his beloved Fred. He died on 16 July 1918, aged sixty-eight, and was buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Leixlip. His widow, Fanny, sold Weston Lodge and prepared to move to England, where she had relatives. On 10 October 1918 Fanny boarded the R.M.S. Leinster, the Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire)-Holyhead mailboat. During the war a patrol of airships was maintained at Malahide Castle for the purpose of escorting shipping in the Irish Sea. However, the one that was to accompany the Leinster on her journey to Holyhead was damaged in a gale and no anti-submarine patrol went out that day. 
 
Just four miles (6 km) outside Dublin Bay the Leinster was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine, UB-123. Over 500 people perished in the sinking – the greatest single loss of life in the Irish Sea. The official death toll was 501, though recent research suggests the actual total was probably slightly higher. Her journal shows that she carried 77 crew and 694 passengers on her final voyage. The passengers included 22 postal sorters manning an onboard mail-room and just fewer than 500 military personnel. The latter comprised army, naval, air force and nursing personnel from Ireland, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. Among the civilian passengers lost in the sinking were socially prominent people such as Lady Phyllis Hamilton, daughter of the Duke of Abercorn; Robert Jocelyn Alexander, son of Irish composer Cecil Frances Alexander; Thomas Foley who was the brother-in-law of the world-famous Irish tenor John McCormack; Lt. Col. Charles Harold Blackbourne, veteran of the Boer War; Alfred White Curzon King, 15-year-old nephew to Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe; Maud Elizabeth Ward, personal secretary to Douglas Proby; and Fanny Wookey, widow of the late Frederick Wookey, J.P. There were as well as the less socially prominent ordinary people such as Gerald Palmer (15), a boy with a physical disability, from ‘The Cripples Home’ in Bray, Co. Wicklow, and Catherine Gould and five of her six children, whom a Limerick newspaper described as ‘humble decent people’.
 
Survivors of the disaster were brought to Kingstown Harbour and the nearby St Michael’s Hospital. Patients with influenza, then at its peak in Ireland, occupied most of the beds at St Michael’s, where the bodies and some of the injured were brought. The body of Fanny Wookey was brought to the hospital morgue where it was identified and brought back to Leixlip for burial. Relatives of the passengers besieged the hospital and the Dublin Metropolitan Police had to regulate visiting and erect a cordon to keep the crowds back. On Saturday, October 19, 1918, the Leinster Leader reported,
 
'Deep regret is expressed at Leixlip and Celbridge at the sad death of Mrs. Wookey, Salmon Leap, Leixlip. She was a passenger on the Leinster and was proceeding to reside in England with some friends having recently disposed of her property at Leixlip. She was widow of the late Mr. Wookey, J.P., whose family were associated with Leixlip for generations.' 
 
Fanny Wookey was buried with her late husband, Frederick, in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Leixlip, after Service in the 12th Century Protestant Church. Their youngest daughter, Frances Norah, died on 30 September 1939, aged forty-eight, and is also buried in St. Mary’s. A memorial for the R.M.S. Leinster, incorporating one of the anchors, was erected in 1998 through the efforts of the owner of the wreck, Mr. Des Brannigan. This is near the mailboat pier at Dún Laoghaire from where the Leinster sailed. The German submarine, UB-123, which sank the Leinster, was lost in a minefield in the North Sea on her way back to Germany, on or about 19 October 1918. The bodies of the crew, three officers and thirty-three men, were never recovered.
 
 
 

An article from local author James Durney on a prominent Leixlip family devastated by World War I.


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