The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

People on board

Elizabeth Costello

COSTELLO, Elizabeth

Elizabeth Lilian Mary Costello was born on 22 July 1897, the only child of Dr. Michael Bodkin Costello and Violet Bourke. Both were of medical families, Violet the daughter of Surgeon Lieut-Colonel Burke of Ballindine, Co Mayo, and Michael’s brother and cousin were also doctors. When Elizabeth was born Michael was Medical Officer in Ballindine but in 1900 he was elected to the position of M.O. of the workhouse and dispensary district of the Glenamaddy Union. The family moved to Dunmore, about fifteen kilometres from Tuam, Michael’s birthplace.

It is not known where Elizabeth went to school, but in 1918 she was studying at Cambridge University. She was returning there after holidays at home, when she found herself on RMS Leinster on 10 October. She was travelling with a Dunmore neighbour, Henrietta Kirwan, and surviving the ordeal, she gave an account to the Tuam Herald. The two women were in their cabin after breakfast when the first torpedo struck and they went up on deck, putting on their lifebelts. Elizabeth commented that “there was some, not a great deal, of excitement”, but then the second torpedo struck the ship. Henrietta Kirwan ran towards one of the boats that were being lowered, but Elizabeth chose not to, instead helping a terrified young girl put on her lifebelt. The ship then listed and they were thrown into the water. Apparently a strong swimmer, Elizabeth swam away from the ship, eventually reaching a raft which she clung on to for about an hour. Eventually she was pulled on to a raft and was later rescued by H.M.S. Mallard.

It is not known if Elizabeth returned to Cambridge to complete her studies, but in 1922 she married Robin James Valentine Pulvertaft in London. Son of a Church of England clergyman who had been born in Cork, Robin had been born in Dublin, the same year as Elizabeth. Graduating with Honours from Cambridge and as University Scholar from St Thomas’s Hospital, he served in the R.A.F. in WW1. Then, having been Director of Pathology in Westminster Hospital he served again in WW2 commanding the laboratories in the Middle East. He was awarded an OBE in 1944 for his work on studying the effect of penicillin on the troops. Elizabeth and Robin had three children, two sons and a daughter. He died, a Professor of Pathology, in 1990, Elizabeth having pre-deceased him in 1985.



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