During World War I, the American Naval Air Service constructed a Sea Plane Base on Whiddy Island, ideally located to respond to the increase in U Boat activity in the Atlantic. While returning from a routine patrol on October 22, 1918, one of the sea planes crashed close to the shore of Whiddy Island resulting in the death of Petty Officer Walford August Anderson, who was the radio operator on the flight.
In conjunction with events all over Europe marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, the Whiddy Island Development Association unveiled a memorial on the Island on Saturday, June 28, honouring this brave Officer. Guests at the ceremony included a granddaughter of one of the survivors of the crash. Also present was Lt. Col. Seán Coston, US Aircorps and Defence Attache to the American Embassy. The Irish Defence Forces, the American Legion, local search and rescue services, Mayor of Cork Alan Coleman, elected officials and members of the general public were all in attendance.
Tim O’Leary of the Whiddy Island Development Association speaks to Mary O’Brien about the history behind this momentous event.
IMAGE ABOVE: The hangers on the Whiddy base were dismantled and taken away but the huts were sold off at auction.
Although there were only 64 and half hours flying time logged in war time on Whiddy — flying activities began on September 25 and the war ended in November — it is thought that if the war went on longer then Whiddy would have become the busiest of all the four seaplane bases in Ireland.
Flying activities at Whiddy commenced with the arrival of two Curtiss H16’s from Cobh. These planes were 96ft wide and 45ft long with two 400 HP Liberty engines mounted on the wings. The engines were built in Buffalo New York and the planes had five crew.
On October 22, 1918, Plane A1072 crashed while returning from patrol on killing the radio operator Walford August Anderson. The second plane A1078 continued to patrol alone until the arrival of two more planes later in October, which arrived from Cobh just before the armistice, so six planes in total flew from the Whiddy base.
The planes on Whiddy investigated several suspicious sightings and escorted five convoys and rendered assistance to an H 16 operating out of Cobh, which got in to distress whilst out on a mission. A number of instructional flights were under taken after the war and the planes were at the base until January 1919.
The hangers were dismantled and taken away but the huts were sold off at auction. “I believe one of them is still lived in on College Road in Cork,” says Tim O’Leary, Secretary, Whiddy Island Development Association.
All that remains today on Whiddy is the concrete bunker used for storing shells and the concrete base for the hangers and the radio mast.
“During the gathering festival on Whiddy last year, an interest in the base was reawakened and we decided to commemorate the young marine from Monett, Missouri who tragically died in that seaplane crash on October 22 1918,” says Tim.
Tim explains that there are many side twists to the Whiddy story. “Some of the Americans stationed on Whiddy were on the Leinster, the mail boat torpedoed out of Dublin on October 10, 1918 with the loss of over 500 souls.
“One of the marines who had been stationed on Whiddy Island, Leo Hogan from New York City, died on the Leinster. However, another marine, WG Russell Master Mariner was saved by Captain Hutchinson Ingham Cone, a former commander of the USS Dale, who was returning to England after inspecting the Irish bases. He had both legs broken in the explosion, which sank the Leinster but still managed to rescue GW Russell. Ingham Cone went on to become a Rear Admiral in the US Navy and had a ship named after him. This ship was used to retrieved John Glenn and his crew in their pod after returning from their space mission.”
Moran and Co. Builders began construction of the Whiddy base on December 16, 1917. The first American personnel, approx. 45 in number, arrived on March 12, 1918.They were billeted on the mainland until April 27 when sufficient barracks were completed on the island. On May 12, a six ton Packard truck arrived by barge on the island, which speeded up construction considerably.
The station was formally commissioned under Commander JC Townsend on July 4, 1918. Construction of a large radio tower and radio hut began on June 18 and was completed on August 12 of that year. The first hanger was completed on July 10, 1918.
The marines were housed in timber structures on stilts. There was even a bakery on the island and the Bantry locals used to barter eggs for bread.
“They had a big dance hall and two Sibins on the island,” says Tim.
Born and bred on the island, Tim says the concrete base left behind when the base closed became a dance hall for the locals and boats travelled over every Sunday from Bantry.
Other projects currently being developed by the Whiddy Island Development Association include a Community and Visitor Centre and picnic areas on the island.
Bikes can be hired on the island and historical walks are organised regularly.
The Whiddy Island Ferry operates six times a day all year round with the frequency increasing in the summer time.
From July 18 to 20, a food festival will take place on Whiddy, with organised angling and foraging trips and cooking demonstrations, as well as live music and entertainment. A number of new seafood products will be introduced during the weekend.
For more information log on to www.whiddyislandferry.com or contact Tim at 086 862 6734.