The Patrick White Collection


(Above) The Patrick White Collection


In October 2023, a wonderful family collection made up of an assortment of documents and objects was donated to the museum. Part of the donation contained material related to a Cork-born man called Patrick White, who lost his life when the merchant ship he was serving on was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the southwest coast of Ireland, near Fastnet Rock, on June 10th, 1917. The collection includes his Victory medal, Mercantile Marine War Medal, and his Memorial Plaque (or Death Penny).



(Above) The medals and scroll awarded posthumously to Patrick White. The medal on the left is the Victory medal and the Mercantile Marine War Medal can be seen on the right. The beautifully produced scroll underlines how the crews of the Merchant Navy were only trained for peacetime but nonetheless ‘served fearlessly to the end’. This is the first example of the Mercantile Medal and Scroll in the museum’s collections.



White, born in 1887, lived all his life in the Evergreen Road area on the south side of Cork City. He was the only son of Edward and Hannah White and had an older sister, Nora. He married Margaret Foley in 1908, and they had two children, born in 1912 and 1914. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses, White’s occupation is listed as labourer, and he went where the work took him. According to his descendants, Patrick took up work on the merchant ships sometime before the Great War started.

By 1917, White was serving on the steam cargo ship called the SS Haulwen that was based out of Cardiff in Wales; its name means ‘White Sun’ in Welsh. He also served under the alias of G. Lyons, possibly to hide the fact he was already employed on another ship. Whatever the reason, White was listed as a trimmer/fireman and had responsibility for ensuring that coal was distributed evenly within a ship so that it remained ‘trim in the water’. He would have also kept the fires going that powered the steamship. These were the hardest and dirtiest jobs onboard. The SS Haulwen was on a voyage from Montreal to Manchester with a cargo of wheat when it was attacked without warning by German submarine U-43.  The SS Haulwen was one of forty-four merchant ships sunk by U-43 between 1916-1918.


2023.44-A-E-Certificate-and-Medals-Patrick-White-G-Lyons-Mercant-Navy-02                     2023.44-A-E-Certificate-and-Medals-Patrick-White-G-Lyons-Mercant-Navy-03

(Above) Close up images of the Mercantile Marine War medal with its depiction of George V on one side and the reverse showing a merchant ship ploughing through rough waters with a sinking U-boat in the foreground and a sailing vessel in the background.



The role played by the Mercantile Marine, or the Merchant Navy, during the Great War is not as readily recognised as that played by other branches of British military services.  They served as the supply arm of the Royal Navy during the war helping supply the front lines, as well as the home front. As the war progressed, their contribution was vital in ensuring that troops, raw materials, armaments, and supplies were shipped to the serving armed forces. They also helped transport food, coal, iron and other essential material to Britain to prevent starvation and to keep the home factories in production.


(Above) The Memorial Plaque or ‘Death Penny’ or ‘Next of Kin’ medal was sent to families of those who had died during the war to recognise with gratitude their ultimate sacrifice. White’s plague was sent to his widow, Margaret at 150 Evergreen Road, Cork City. He is also included on the memorial to those who died serving in the Merchant Navy on Tower Hill in London.



Due to the nature of their work, the ships and crew of the Merchant Navy were aggressively targeted by German U-boats during the war to hamper the Allied war effort by blockading supplies coming into Britain and Ireland from places like America and Canada. Most of the ships’ crew were only ever trained as peacetime mariners but nevertheless carried out their duties in treacherous wartime conditions. The introduction of the ‘convoy system’ in 1917 helped minimise U-boat losses and helped secure eventual victory in the war. However, it is believed that U-boats sunk nearly 6,000 merchant and fishing vessels with the loss of about 15,000 sailors, with 400 of these ships sunk in the waters surrounding Ireland between August 1914 and November 1918.

More research is needed to discover Patrick White’s full-service record and why he served with the alias of G. Lyons, but nevertheless his collection is a stark reminder of the sacrifices made by many Cork men during the 1914-1918 period and the families they left behind


Author: Dan Breen