Daniel Corkery of West End, Millstreet died on this day a hundred years ago in WWI (March 21st 1918), from wounds suffered during the German Kaiserschlacht (Spring Offensive).
PTE. DANIEL CORKERY, 6919, 2ND BATTALION, ROYAL MUNSTER FUSILIERS
(27th April 1897 – 21st March 1918)
(He died this day 100 years ago)
by Kevin O’Byrne
On September 4th 1915, the ship, ‘The Hesperian‘, left Liverpool bound for Canada. Some 350 passengers were on board. At 8.30 pm as darkness was falling, she passed the Fastnet Rock. Without warning, Captain Schweiger, in a German submarine, launched a torpedo which struck ‘The Hesperian’ in the forward engine room. Captain Main of ‘The Hesperian’ ordered the passengers and crew into lifeboats but he remained on the bridge with his officers. The German submarine was the same one that sunk the ‘Lusitania’ on May 7th, 1915 with a loss of almost 1200 lives.
This time 32 lives were lost. Among the survivors was my Uncle, Daniel Corkery from West End, Millstreet, Co. Cork. On Sept 3rd he had sent a card with a picture of the Hesperian to his father saying that he had just boarded the ship. On Sept 6th his father had a letter from Danny in Queenstown (Cobh) informing him that the ship had been torpedoed 400 miles from the town. The lifeboat, my uncle was in, was picked up by ‘The Empress’ which had come out from Queenstown to rescue people.
After this ordeal my uncle appears to have stayed at home for some time. On Tuesday April l8th, 1916, he joined the Royal Munster Fusiliers (RMF) and left for the Tralee depot on Easter Sunday April 23rd 1916. From then until he was sent to France on December 1st 1916, he wrote several letters home to his younger sister, Rita, then aged 16. She was my mother. While most of the letters are about family matters, he comments about life in the army. While still in Tralee, he states that they were confined to barracks because of the activities of Sinn Fein.
He gives an account of the daily routine at the Curragh: breakfast 7 am. Dinner 12.45pm. Supper 3.30 pm. On Tuesdays they went marching 20 – 30 miles, averaging 4 miles an hour, carrying a rifle and a 14 stone pack on their back. From June onwards they went swimming at 6 am. He mentions that he has to buy polish for his buttons, soap and boot polish.
From time to time items were stolen.
He tells his sister, in a letter dated May 2nd, that he was commended by his OC for being attentive to his daily duties and keeping his gear clean.
Early in June (1916), he mentions how the RMF had been covered in glory when Lieutenant A.H. Batten-Pooll won the Victoria Cross. On June 25th large draft was sent to France and another to Salonika. In July, he writes about a young boy of 16 going out on a draft and that he can hardly carry his kit. As the war wages on, he notes in August that many soldiers returning from the front are badly injured, missing limbs etc. He mentions about having an operation on his legs but gives no further details.
In October 1916, he had his photo taken with a chap from Cork but gives no details. It is probably his friend, Lance-Corporal Patrick Condon.
While at the Curragh, he meets up with a man called Dan Murphy but does not mention his regiment. This man lived across the road from him in his home town of Millstreet. Dan Murphy survived the war and did not die until 1959.
He tells his sister Rita that there is no conscription in New Zealand where his brother Tom lives. His last letter from the Curragh, dated Nov 28th optimistic and he hopes to be home in a few months. On Friday Dec }’I 1916 he sends Rita a picture post-card from Folkstone – which has different scenes of the town, – from where he departs for France.
His first comment from France in Jan 1917 was ‘that looking over the top’, if the war lasts much longer, there will not be many coming home. By February, he talks of a big advance and hopes that the war will be over by July/August.
In May 1917, he meets up with a chap (no name given) who had been in the Connaught Rangers (CR) but who was transferred to the RMF. He tells Danny that he knew his brother Neil, who was in the CR, while in India and that Danny looked like him. Neil was killed in the opening stages of the war at Ypres on Nov 23rd 1914. The chap from the CR informed Danny that Neil had given him some letters to post but that he had been wounded and that the letters were lost. Danny continues by saying that he hopes to locate Neil’s grave and will let them know at home. No grave of Neil’s exists today, but he is commemorated at the Le Touret memorial. Danny mentions Fr. Gleeson a lot in his letters. He was at the Curragh while he was there and he met up with him again France in June (1917). He made a big impression on him and he admired his sermons. Danny attended Mass in a ‘fine church belonging to the monks’. On this occasion, Fr. Gleeson gave them scapulars that belonged to Fr. Finn of the Irish Guards. He (Fr. Finn) left them in a church somewhere (censored) in July 1914. Fr. Gleeson got them and told those attending Mass, the story about finding them. The regiment was also presented with a fine flag made by the blind in Dublin and given to Fr Gleeson before his departure to France.
At the end of June, he comments on the fact that he saw in some newspapers, that there was trouble in Ireland. He continues by saying, that both the Ulster and Irish regiments got on fine in France but he wonders ‘will it ever be the same in Ireland’. He hopes to be home by Xmas as the Germans are ‘nearly done’.
In Sept 1917 he gives the name of his pal from Cork. He is Lance Corporal Patrick Condon, no. 7181, of Blackpool, Cork, who survived the war. In his letters he mentions him frequently. It seems he was wounded at some stage, was sent home, but returned to the front again. In act 31st he says that Paddy got a letter from home informing him of the funeral of Thomas Ashe. In his second last letter (Feb 1918) he says Paddy’s people must be very upset and ‘it’s all our turn some day or other’. He goes on to say that ‘Paddy got the military medal and another stripe for keeping his men together. He being the only NCO left, also for holding a pill box against great odds. We gave the Gerri more than he wanted.” In some letters he refers to ‘Base swallows’, meaning people who stole items from the parcels addressed to the troops. At the end of Feb 1918, he says the RMF made a big advance and took twelve villages. The last letter he wrote was on March 15th 1918 and it arrived home on March 19th it he says he is in a hurry and will not be able to write for a few days.
On March 22nd , his father, PJ.Corkery, had a telegram stating that Danny was dangerously ill in the 5th clearing station. Another telegram came on March 26th stating that Danny had died of his wounds on March 21 “.
On April 29th , his sister Rita received a letter from the Catholic chaplain – J. Finn – who stated that Danny had been wounded in the chest on the night of March 20th while taking part in a raid on German trenches. Fr Finn finishes his letter by saying that Danny was buried at Tincourt near Peronne.
On April 9th, 1918, P.J. Corkery received a letter from Driver Ernest Less of Scotland expressing his sympathy. He relates that on the night of March 29th, he volunteered to donate blood for Danny’s operation in the hope of saving him, but to no avail.
In June 1974, my wife and I took my mother Rita to see Danny’s grave at Tincourt. Looking at the photo of her at the grave, I wonder what must have been going through her mind as she stood at the grave of her beloved brother 56 years later.
My sincere thanks to Philip Lecane for all the information on the sinking of the ‘Hesperian’.
The article above was by Kevin O’Byrne, Skibbereen. 21st September 2013 and appeared in the 2013 Edition of the Royal Munster Fusilier Journal (The Bengal Tiger). Kevin is a brother of Fr Paddy O’Byrne and the recently deceased Dola.
The last will of Private Danny Corkery. (from the National Archives of Ireland where he is listed as David Corkery)
- CORKERY DANIEL Francis 1918-03-21 FRANCE
- Place of birth: West End, Millstreet, Co. Cork, April 27, 1897 [birth]
- Rank: PRIVATE
- Service No: 6919
- Mil. Unit:ROYAL MUNSTER FUSILIERS, 2ND BATT.
- Date of death: Thu Mar 21 1918, Died of wounds 21st March 1918. Age 20. Péronne, Battle of the Somme in the Kaiserschlacht
- Buried: Tincourt New British Cemetery Sp. Mem. 2. [grave]
- Son of Patrick and Margaret Corkery of West End Millstreet Co. Cork.
- Refs: [IMR], [CWGC], [Munster Fusiliers – Crushing offensive], [Geni.com]
Margaret Corkery – mother
Patrick Corkery – father
John Thomas Corkery – brother
Patrick Henry Corkery – brother
Helena Marie Corkery – sister
Jermiah Joseph Corkery – brother
Cornelius Corkery – brother
Marie Kelleher -sister
Rita O’Byrne – sister (Jan 21, 1900, Nov 29, 1976)
Johanna O’flynn – sister
Thomas Patrick Corkery – brother
Timothy Corkery – brother
Below are the movements of Danny’s Battalion around the time of his death (from the Royal Munster Fusiliers on Wikipedia)
By the end of January 1918 the 2nd RMF numbered up 44 officers and 823 men O.R.s., and was transferred to the 48th Brigade of the 16th (Irish) Division on 3 February near Peronne where it entered the lines a week later, the Division now under the inadequate command of General Hubert Gough. The next great initiative was expected from the Germans after their victory on the eastern front giving them a superiority of numbers in the west. The British front was at its lengthiest when the German March “Spring Offensive” (Kaiserschlacht) opened with a devastating bombardment early on 21 March from 4.15am until noon after which a fierce attack by fresh troops was launched. The battalion suffered badly from the shelling but held the Germans up all night, before they broke through and overwhelmed the Munsters who dashed to retreat, some few making it to a high ridge trench, there driven out and retiring to Epehy by dark, fog having allowed the Germans to infiltrate easily. Next day the battalion was withdrawn to Tincourt where the depleted 16th (Irish) Division was concentrated, the 2RMF now numbering only 290 other ranks, from 629 the day before. On 22 March the battalion crossed back over the Somme at Péronne.
By 25 March the battalion had lost 27 officers and 550 men, as the rest tried to reform, holding off several attacks and near encirlements, they formed a 400 man column and attempted a night retreat, half reaching friendly positions next morning at Hamel.
Undergoing further bombardment they attempted to retake positions lost, which reduced them further until the remaining 3 officers and 93 men had to be withdrawn into a reserve position. Merely 2 officers and 42 O.R. reinforcements joined them on 3 April. The 2RMF was largely destroyed by the German offensive losing 36 officers and 796 O.R.s since 21 March. It moved northwards to amalgamate with the equally hard hit 1RMF at Inghem on 14 April when the resulting unit numbered 28 officers and 896 O.R.s. The 2RMF was reduced to a training cadre of 11 officers who left the 16th (Irish) Division to provide instruction for newly arrived American units.
Fabulous map from 16th (Irish) Division Gen Staff HQ file showing their retreat during the Kaiserschlacht of March 1918 #WW1. Excellent detail of German shellfire falling on their positions. Nice little graphic @BattlefieldGD pic.twitter.com/SOEgjBdEr5
— Jeremy Banning (@jbanningww1) November 29, 2017