People on board
PAUL, Wilfred Melville
Wilfred Melville Paul was born in Penzance, Cornwall in 1895 to Joseph Harvey Paul and Ada Jane James. They had married in 1892 and a daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1893, but Joseph Paul was not present in the 1901 census. When Wilfred was reported missing after the sinking of the Leinster in 1918, his father James was described as being a ‘Sergeant in a South African Regiment’. Wilfred was given the name Joseph Wilfred at birth, but appears not to have used that name later in life, perhaps as a reaction to his missing father. In the 1901 census Ada was ‘Living on Own Means’, and her father, two sisters and a cousin were living with her and her two young children. In the 1911 census she was a Boarding House Keeper and Wilfred, aged sixteen, was a Clerk.
By 1900 telegraphic communication was well established, with both European and transatlantic underwater cables laid. With commercial success came competition, not least in Kerry. The Waterville station was owned by an American company, the Commercial Cable Co., while from 1911 the Valentia and Ballinskelligs stations were owned by the Western Union Telegraph Co. The outbreak of war in 1914 brought two major changes to these stations. One of these was the volume of traffic increased enormously, meaning staff numbers increased and long hours of work were required.
Secondly, censorship was imposed and censors, or ‘Post Office Technical Staff’, were present in the stations, eleven in Valentia and six in Waterville. Each station was surrounded by barbed wire and kept under military guard.
Three young men from Penzance were among the staff at the Valentia station: Wilfred Paul, William Heller and Thomas Richards. On the 10th of October 1918 the three were returning home for a fortnight’s holiday and were travelling on RMS Leinster. Another group of three Telegraphists was also on board the Leinster, recently graduated from the Irish School of Telegraphy in Cork. Anthony Baker, Anthony Jones and Ralph Murray were all from Waterville where their fathers were working as Telegraphists in the Cable Station. The two groups may have known each other already, and in an affidavit to a probate hearing on Anthony Baker in December 1918, Thomas Richards said that they met up on board the ship.
Of the six, only Richards survived the sinking, though the bodies of Anthony Jones and William Heller were recovered. In his affidavit to the court Thomas Richards relived the moments after the ship was torpedoed. He and Wilfred Paul were about to jump into the water when Anthony Baker appeared and said “Hello old man. Goodbye.” Richards never saw Anthony Baker again and believed that he had gone down with the ship. Wilfred Paul did not survive the water either and his body was not recovered.