1918: UKPA President Michael Joyce survives torpedo Attack: Harry Hignett

Joyce RMS_Leinster

Retired Manchester pilot and author of both the original 1984 centenary UKPA history and the updated edition published earlier this year came across this account of the survival of a torpedo attack in 1918 by past President of the UKPA, Michael Joyce. Michael Joyce, who was UKPA president from 1910 to 1923, was on his way to London on board the Irish Sea ferry SS Leinster, to go to the Admiralty with a deputation of river pilots when it was torpedoed and sunk shortly after departing from Dun Laoghaire. The following account is edited from an interview with Michael which was published in The Freeman’s Journal of 11 October 1918.                      

“I was a passenger on the SS Leinster on 10th October 1918, and we left Dun Laoghaire at 0900. At around 1000 we were about seven miles east of the Kish lightship when, without any warning, there was a terrific crash that shook the ship from stem to stern. I knew at once that the ship had been struck by a torpedo and therefore as a nautical man I thought it my duty to give a hand at the lowering of the boats. Looking forward, I saw the deck on the forepart of the ship all torn up and the vessel was sinking by the head. I made my way to the boat deck and saw a number of stewards launching the port lifeboat and I assisted in the lowering of this boat. There was some difficulty in getting the ladies into it and one woman, who had apparently lost her nerve had to be forced into the boat while it was being lowered. I got in and took her bodily into the boat. While it was being lowered another torpedo struck the ship on the starboard side where other lifeboats were being prepared for launching.

The lifeboat, which I assisted in lowering, got clear of the ship after a struggle and the stewards manned the oars while I steered the boat with an oar, because no rudder had been shipped. At this time it was blowing fresh from the south-west and the sea was very rough and breaking, but our crew kept the boat’s head up to the sea with their oars, and with the assistance of a sea anchor, which was got out. Although we shipped a good share of water from breaking seas we were always able to bale it out and keep the boat clear.

A wireless message had been sent when the first torpedo struck, and we therefore knew that help would be forthcoming. There were many people in the water, some of them quite close to us, but we found it impossible to get them aboard and it was heart-breaking to be in such a helpless position. We then saw a life raft drifting towards us with two men and a woman clinging to it who we managed to pick up. We then had about forty people in the boat. After about two hours a small gunboat, called Lively came bearing down on us. We informed the Captain that we were capable of taking care of ourselves while he proceeded to pick up as many other survivors as he could find. After some time he came back and got all our people safely on board. I subsequently learned that there were 109 rescued by Lively which proceeded to Dun Laoghaire. I escaped so well that, with the exception of small bruises and cuts to my legs and arms, I was able to slip ashore quietly and get a couple of wires away to my wife and friends at home to let them know that I was safe. The passengers and crew of the Leinster that day numbered 771 people of whom only 270 survived”. 

Michael Joyce

Michael Joyce was born on 4th September 1851 and at the age of 14 went to sea on the barque Red Gauntlet. Though he only spent five years at sea, they were very eventful years. He was shipwrecked four times, each time losing all he possessed. In November 1869 he was on board the Herald when about 150 miles west of the Bay of Biscay it ran into a hurricane and began to take on water. An Italian barque sank within sight of the Herald and her crew were drowned. Eventually a French brig saved Joyce and the other survivors from the Herald. He had another narrow escape from death while serving on a sailing ship, which capsized during a gale in the Atlantic. For five days Joyce and other surviving crew-members clung to the waterlogged ship, until picked up by a passing vessel. He was then twice shipwrecked in the North Sea! On the first occasion his ship was blown ashore by a storm and then on another voyage his vessel went aground due to the removal of all buoys and light-ships during the Franco-Prussian War.  Possibly due to these unfortunate experiences, Joyce returned to Limerick in the early 1870s and began an apprenticeship as a river pilot. Following examination by the Pilot Committee of Limerick Harbour Commissioners on 8 March 1878, he was granted a pilot’s licence. In 1900 he was also elected M.P. for Limerick. A member of Limerick Harbour Board and its Pilotage Committee, he became active in the United Kingdom Pilots’ Association and was subsequently elected President of the Association, holding that post from 1910 until 1923. He died on 9th January 1941.

One Response to “1918: UKPA President Michael Joyce survives torpedo Attack: Harry Hignett”

February 1st, 2017 at 22:31

He was my great great grandfather.

I would give anything to have met him. He sounds like an amazing man.


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