A woman whose mother died in one of the most tragic incidents linked to Wales and Ireland in World War I recently celebrated her 85th birthday at an old people’s home in Cardiff.
She is Nora O’Connor whose father was killed in action during the Great War and whose mother was one of nearly 600 people who died when the Royal Mail Boat Leinster was torpedoed by a German U-boat between Holyhead and Ireland on October 11, 1918 – exactly one month before the Armistice.
A few months later, Nora was placed in the care of the Nazareth House nuns in Cardiff and the orphanage was her home until she went into service with a Cardiff family when she was around 20 years of age. During World War II she worked in the NAAFI at RAF St Athan and was later employed on the catering staff at Whitchurch Hospital. When she retired she lived in Warrens Evan Court, Whitchurch, and worked in the Dairy Café, in nearby Merthyr Road.
As a child she was one of the Nazareth House orphans who sang in the choir and carried a wreath at the funeral of Cardiff’s most famous boxer, Peerless Jim Driscoll, in 1925.
Nazareth House in Cardiff cared for girls only and Nora’s brother, Victor, was placed with the order’s nuns at their orphanage for boys in Treforest. He joined the Indian Army in 1931, and Nora believed he had been killed in World War II.
But Cardiff journalist John O’Sullivan and his late wife Eileen traced him living at Morden in Surrey and he came to Cardiff in 1982 and met his sister for the first time in 51 years. He thought she had been killed in the blitz.
Both Nora and Victor had special monthly treats “from a special friend” while they were children at Nazareth House. The friend was the famous Irish tenor, Count John McCormack, who set up a fund for all the children who were orphaned when the Leinster went down.

©: John O’Sullivan, a Catholic freelance journalist based in Cardiff.

Published in: The Green Dragon No 8, Spring, 1999.

Links St. Patrick's Day / Gorgysylltiadau Gwyl Padrig 2004