WWI commemoration – I Beacham tells us about Wren Josephine Carr

It’s all about remembering.

We remember World War 1 and how the four years from 1914 pushed destructive tentacles out into far reaching corners of the globe, and affected almost every family in one way or another.

When we think of WW1, arguably our thoughts focus most on the young men who gave their lives for what they believed in, and of the miles and miles of stinking trenches in France and Belgium where soldiers on both sides were as likely to drown in the mud as they were to be shot by the enemy. Yet there are others who died whose stories were equally brave and valiant but their voices, their stories, are less known.

I would like to remember one of those. Her name was Josephine Carr from Cork who became the first Wren to die on active service when the transport ship she was on, the RMS Leinster, was torpedoed on 10 October 1918. She was just 19 years of age.

She joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service shortly after it was first formed.

The WRNS, (popularly known as the Wrens), was the women's branch of the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy. First formed in 1917, the females who rushed to join it became cooks, clerks, book-keepers, motor drivers, telephonists, wireless telegraphists and other technical experts. The WRNS was formed to carry out shore-based duties and allow sailors to go to sea. Recruitment posters encouraged women to “Free a man for sea service”. The posters did a good job. They eventually had over 5.000 women join.

Josephine Carr joined up and became a clerk. I’ve haven’t been able to find out much about her personally, other than she became a statistic of war and gained notoriety as the first wren to die on active service. But I imagine she was an independent girl with strong desire to serve her country. She probably saw joining the WRNS as an opportunity to drive her life in a different direction, to break loose the shackles that often held women in those times. When she boarded the RMS Leinster in Ireland, she was expecting to disembark at Holyhead, where the ship was destined, but the vessel was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. Accounts say that the ship went down fast after a second torpedo hit and caused a huge explosion. Josephine Carr would likely have been petrified. I would have been.

The RMS Leinster was a vessel operated by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. It was carrying some 77 crew and 694 passengers, mostly military. Besides naval personnel, there were members of the British Army and Royal Air Force, Also nurses from Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. The ship went down just outside Dublin Bay and over 500 people perished in the sinking, the greatest single loss in the Irish Sea.

Josephine never gained a posthumous medal. As far as I know there are no statues that celebrate her life, no dramatic seafaring paintings. I only know of her because I was privileged to join the WRNS back in the years before it was disbanded for good (1991) and to read of her in historical journals.

I thought it apt, because of my own military background, to remember her in this blog. She was young, a nineteen year old girl from Cork. She was someone’s daughter. She was someone’s friend. She may well have had a beau, some equally young person who ‘took’ her eye. She would laugh and she would cry. She would have dreams and aspirations. I expect she loved wearing the uniform of the newly formed WRNS. She would have stood out as someone different, to have joined up in that age.

And like so many during World War 1, she was someone who died far too young and whose name is little known and seldom remembered. But today, if you’ve read this far – Thank You. Today, you were introduced to the short life of a young girl called Josephine Carr who came from Cork.

She has been remembered.

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