People on board
RICHARDS, Thomas Treleaven
Thomas Treleaven Richards was born in 1898 in Penzance, Cornwall to James Richards and Phyllis Harvey Cattran. James was a Postman who had retired by 1918. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses Phyllis was a Grocer’s Shop Assistant. Thomas was the youngest of their seven children. In 1901 an older brother was a Telegraph Messenger in the Post Office.
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 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: Thomas Richards, William Heller and Wilfred Paul. 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. He said that he himself jumped into the water having removed most of his clothes and put his money in his hip pocket. He believed that he had been swimming for about two and a half or three hours before he was picked up.
In 1968 Thomas Richards returned to Dublin for a reunion dinner for survivors of the sinking, organised by Tom Connolly, one of the crew.