War Graves of Wallasey

Rake Lane cemetery in Wallasey is the scene of many war graves, the most recent of which was unveiled in January 2016 when an army medic had a headstone erected by the Commonwealth and War Graves Commission (CWGC).

The CWGC had previously identifiedRake Lane Cemetery War memorial by Rept0n1x 255 casualties of the two world wars buried in Rake Lane cemetery. There are additionally a number of casualties of the Crimean, Boer and there is a war memorial situated near the chapel. The cemetery also contains the graves of a number of others connected with both world wars who did not die on the battlefield.

In May 1915 the sinking  of The Lusitania, bound for Liverpool from New York, turned the tide of public opinion in the United States against Germany. Over 1,200 lives were lost when the liner was sank by a German u-boat. Among the 764 survivors was Captain William Turner, who  had been with Cunard since 1883. Although the Admiralty tried to pin the blame on him, saying he had been in an area where u-boats were known to operate and too close to the shore, he was exonerated at the Board of Trade investigation. In summing up Lord Mersey placed the blame solely at the hands of the German government and said that Turner had exercised his judgement to the best of his ability. Turner was buried in Rake Lane after he died in 1933 and his memorial refers to the fact he captained the vessel.

Much closer to home, there was a disaster in Liverpool Bay on 28th December 1917 when the Liverpool pilot boat Alfred H. Read, which had been commandeered by the War Office, struck a mine and sank in minutes. 39 crew members perished, just two being saved. Seven of those whose bodies were recovered are buried at Rake Lane.

As war clouds gathered over Europe in 1939, the Cammell Laird built submarine HMS Thetis went on dive trials on 1st June but sank off the coast of North Wales, leading to the deaths of 99 of the 103 men on board from carbon dioxide poisoning. Most of the victims were buried in Anglesey but two engine fitters, Cornelius Smith and John Griffiths, were brought back to Wallasey and buried there. The Thetis was intentionally grounded on 3rd September, the day Britain declared war on Germany. After being repaired she was recommissioned as the Thunderbolt and after operating in the Atlantic and Mediterranean she was sunk off the coast of Sicily in 1043.

During the Second World War the Luftwaffe bombed Wallasey on 35 occasions, leading to the loss of 324 lives. The most sustained period of bombing was in March 1941 when 186 were killed over three successive night when parachute mines were used. The last raid took place on 1st November 1941 and a memorial is situated in the cemetery, where the remains of 51 of the victims are buried.

A burial that did not take place until 2005 was that of Flight Sergeant Ray Holmes, who fought in the Battle of Britain. After running out of fuel over London he rammed his plane into a German bomber and bailed out before crashing. After finding himself near the Oval cricket ground it was said he popped into a local pub for a pint and was later feted as the man who prevented Buckingham Palace from being bombed. When he died a simple memorial was put over his grave which states ‘Beloved husband of Anne, devoted father and grandfather. ‘One of the Few.

All these headstones connected with war related deaths have now in 2016 been joined by the CWGC memorial to Staff Sergeant Wilfred Cooke, unveiled on 21st January 2016. Cooke served with the West Lancashire Field Ambulance in France and Belgium. He was awarded the Military Medal and two Distinguished Service medals before being discharged due to wounds illnesses contracted at the Front. When he died of Tubercolosis on 26th July 1920 he was buried in an unmarked grave, but 95 years on his service and bravery have been formally recognised.


Captain William Thomas Turner

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the sinking of RMS Lusitania, one of the worst casualties of WWI in which 1,198 people lost their lives.

Capt William Turner

Capt William Turner

Captain William Thomas Turner was her commander when she sank, torpedoed by a German submarine. This was just one incident in a life full of adventure and bravery, but one that haunted him until his death.

Born in Clarence Street, Everton in 1856, Will Turner followed in his father’s footsteps, embarking on a life at sea as a cabin boy at the age of just eight. When the barque he was on was wrecked in a gale off the coast of Ireland, he refused all offers of help and swam to shore himself. Over the coming years, he would escape further disasters, including being swept overboard, shipwrecks and yellow fever, but never lost his boyhood dream of becoming a ship’s captain.

He became known for acts of bravery, putting himself at risk to save others in danger, and won various accolades throughout his career from the Humane Society and the government for his role in the Boer War.

Finally in 1903, he achieved his goal, becoming captain of Cunard’s ship, the Aleppo. While he was loved by the men who served under him, Cunard often didn’t know what to make of him. His bosses respected his ability, but disapproved of his gruff and dismissive way with the passengers. For instance, he often refused to carry out the custom of dining with them at the Captain’s table. Oddly, though, this only seemed to endear him to the travelling public even more and they actively asked to sail with him! He built a reputation for the fastest sailings, with the quickest turnarounds at ports, too.

Will first took command of the Lusitania in 1907, and then after promotions to captaincy of the Mauretania and Aquitania, resumed his command over the doomed vessel in April 1915 after her previous captain had retired due to nervous exhaustion from the constant threat from German U-boats. Less than a month later, RMS Lusitania, with Captain Will Turner at her helm, fell victim to German submarine U-20. A significant factor in her terrifyingly fast sinking was thought to be the substantial cargo of munitions she was secretly carrying in support of the war effort. Another element was the fact that the Admiralty had seen fit to withdraw Lusitania’s escort ship, HMS Juno, despite being aware of the German presence in the area.

Memorial to Capt William Turner, Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey

Memorial to Capt William Turner, Rake Lane Cemetery, Wallasey

Reluctant to accept responsibility, the Admiralty openly and loudly blamed Turner, even going so far as to say he was in the pay of the Germans and had sabotaged his own ship. Although he was later cleared of guilt by the Mersey Inquiry and Mayer hearings, and awarded the OBE in 1918 for his war efforts, controversy dogged him even in retirement. Hounded by the press after Churchill repeated the allegations against him in his memoirs, he sadly died almost a recluse, bitter and still living in the shadow of the disaster, in 1933. He is buried in Rake Lane Cemetery in Wallasey.



Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.