Finding Cousin James
By Harold Ford
I was born on Fogo Island, Newfoundland on October 31, 1939. In 1958 I left for Toronto and have lived here ever since. In 2000, after 35 years working for the Toronto Transit Commission, I retired. Now my life's work revolves around my family tree. I call it a hobby - my wife calls it an obsession. If it is an obsession, I say it is a magnificent one.
I have childhood memories of Mom saying her cousin James was "lost" during the war. As a young boy, taking things literally, I couldn't understand the true, tragic meaning of the word. Later, when I heard about a boat sinking with the "loss" of all on board, I was similarly confused - until the bodies of the drowned seamen were pulled from the deep and taken ashore. Then I finally realized what Mom had meant. Cousin James had died during the war.
James Albert Mahaney (my second cousin) was born on Fogo Island to parents Alfred Israel Mahaney and Susan (Clinch) Mahaney on April 21, 1899. His christening took place at St. Andrew's Church on May 5 the same year.
As a young man, James was a seaman onboard the trawler HM Lord Durham as a member of The Royal Newfoundland Naval Reserve during the First World War. This boat was one of many vessels that made up the Royal Naval Patrol, which kept watch over England's coast during both World Wars.
I learned the circumstances of my cousin's death on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Web site. According to the site, James and one other seaman, William Albert Parry (from the United Kingdom) of the Royal Naval Reserve, died at Queenstown, Ireland in October of 1918. Cousin James succumbed to pneumonia on October 14 that year, and William died five days later. Both men are buried at the Cobh Old Church Cemetery in Ireland, where 127 First World War Commonwealth graves are located. (Cobh is the original Irish name for Queenstown.) It seems the crew of the Lord Durham were all rescued, but James and William died in hospital some time later.
"Lost" and Found
On an overcast morning last year, my brother-in-law, Noel Keyes, and I set out to drive from Limerick City, Ireland down to Cobh. As we approached Cobh the sun began to shine. We asked a passerby for directions to the cemetery. The gentleman was very informative and we had little trouble finding it.
Considering this is a very old cemetery (and the particular section we were looking for hadn't been in use for some time), I didn't think we would be able to find our cousin. But I was pleasantly surprised; I could not believe how well the armed forces gravesites and headstones had been kept after all these years. The stones looked to be only a few years old; the grass was trimmed and on some of the graves new seed had been planted. It took about 10 minutes to find the grave I had travelled so far from home to visit. I had a lump in my throat when I saw the familiar caribou head (symbol of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment) carved into James' headstone.
I crouched down beside his grave for some time as my tears flowed. Questions filled my mind: How did James' parents find out about his death? How long did it take for the news to reach them? Did they ever know where their son was buried? This must have been a tragedy for Uncle Alfred Israel and Aunt Susan. James was their first-born and he was only 19 years old when he died.
When I regained my composure, my brother-in-law and I took a few photos. Our visit to the cemetery took place on October 14, 2007 - exactly 89 years after James Albert died.
Tragedy visited this family again when their youngest son, Stanley Gilbert Mahaney, was lost during the Second World War. While visiting Fogo during the summer of 2007, my cousin Janel discovered a news item about the family's losses. Included were photos of two young sailors in uniform with the caption "One generation, two wars. Brothers James and Stanley Mahaney of Fogo, killed in action 1918 and 1941."
Stanley was an ordinary seaman on Her Majesty's Yacht Rosabelle, as a member of the Royal Navy. He died November 12, 1941, along with the other 13 members of the ship's crew. Their bodies were never found and they are remembered on the Lowestoft Naval Memorial in Suffolk, England, which honours the men of the Royal Naval Patrol Service who have no other grave than the sea.
During both wars, the Royal Naval Patrol lost 2,397 members, including James and Stanley Mahaney of Fogo Island, my cousins.