Leading Seaman Peter Beatty

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Louisiana.

Editor’s Note: Some details about Leading Seaman Beatty were incorrectly recorded by the CWGC. His online record now reflects his correct date of death, service and ship and his gravestone will be replaced.

The war memorial at Chester Cathedral
The war memorial at Chester Cathedral

When the war memorial was unveiled at Chester Cathedral on 24 May 1922, two mothers played a central role in the ceremony—Mrs Lydia Sheriff Roberts had lost three sons in the war and Mrs Mary Beatty had lost four.[1]

Peter Beatty was born in Chester on 25 July 1886, the eighth of the twelve children of James and Mary (née McAndrew) Beatty.[2] Peter left school aged 14 and went to work as a gardener, or nurseryman, until 1905 when he enlisted into the Royal Navy.

He enlisted on 6 June 1905 for a period of five years in the Royal Navy and seven in the Royal Fleet Reserve. After training as a gun layer, Seaman Beatty spent two years in HMS Arrogant, a protected cruiser, until September 1907; during this time became an Able Seaman. After another period of training ashore, he qualified as a Seaman Gunner and was drafted to the battleship HMS Majestic, in the Home Fleet, on which he served until August 1909. He then joined his final ship, the battleship HMS New Zealand. Able Seaman Beatty was transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve on 19 June 1910.

Peter Beatty returned home to Chester and found work as a hydraulic fitter. He was mobilised on 13 July 1914 and joined the armoured cruiser HMS Drake, the flagship of Rear Admiral William Grant, commanding 2nd Cruiser Squadron in the Grand Fleet.

HMS Drake in 1909
HMS Drake in 1909

At the end of this draft, Peter returned to Chester and married Alice McCleary on 29 March 1915 in St Werburgh’s Roman Catholic Church. The young couple only had a little over a week for their honeymoon before Able Seaman Beatty reported to Portsmouth, on 8 April 1915, for training as a gunner on defensively armed merchant ships. He was able to spend some time at home before his first cruise as a ship’s gunner—his daughter, Alice Mary, was born on 16 February 1916.

His service record does not include any of the merchant ships on which he served but it is known that he departed Liverpool in late-June 1917 in SS Baysarua as a Leading Seaman (he had been promoted to Acting Leading Seaman on 28 August 1916), in charge of the ship’s gun crew. The Baysarua, a 5,000 ton general cargo ship, had a largely Chinese compliment, with British officers. The master, Edgar Twidle, was a recipient of the Albert Medal, the nation’s highest award for lifesaving; it was awarded for his actions in saving life in a fire on SS Bayropea, which blew up at Archangel in northern Russia in January 1917.[3] The other gunners onboard the Baysarua were Seaman James McCull, Royal Naval Reserve, from Arklow, County Wicklow and Seaman William Long.[4]

SS Baysarua sailed up the Mississippi and came alongside at Westwego, New Orleans on 21 July 1917. The next day, Sunday 22 July, Peter Beatty fell overboard, hit his head, and drowned, a few days before his 31st birthday.[5]

Leading Seaman Peter Beatty was buried in Cypress Grove Cemetery, New Orleans. The description of the cemetery on the War Graves Registry: Circumstances of Death Records reads ‘in the rear of Greenwood Cemetery ‘, which indicates that is was Cypress Grove Cemetery No. 2. This cemetery contained the mass graves of Confederate soldiers and graves of Union soldiers from the civil war. Much of this cemetery was built over to make way for Canal Boulevard. A small section was in use until the 1920s when it was built over. There are no markers to indicate the extent of the former cemetery. The grave of Leading Seaman Beatty is lost to history. He is one of four First World War burials and five Second World War burials in the area of Greenwood Cemetery.[6] The two Special Memorials commemorating the First and Second World War casualties are located at the British Burial Association Plot, which is at Magnolia Avenue, Lot 20, between Cedar Walk and Hawthorne Walk. The special memorial that records Leading Seaman Beatty as buried ‘in this cemetery’ incorrectly records the ship’s name as ‘SS Baysarna ’; this error has been acknowledged and a new stone will be erected.

The Special Memorial commemorating Leading Seaman Peter Beatty
The Special Memorial commemorating Leading Seaman Peter Beatty

Three of Peter Beatty’s brothers were also lost in the war:

3502 Private Hugh Beatty was killed in action on 21 September 1916 while serving with 1/5th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment; he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
James Beatty died in an accident the third quarter of 1916 while working in a munitions factory.
172123 Sapper Richard Michael Beatty, Corps of Royal Engineers, died in Egypt on 26 September 1918 while serving with 61st Motor Air Line Section. He is buried in Ramleh War Cemetery.

While the city’s war memorial stands in the grounds of Chester Cathedral, the names of the fallen are on the war memorial in the entrance to Chester town hall. The three Beatty brothers who died while in uniform are listed there. They are also commemorated on the memorial in St Werburgh’s Church, Chester.

In this Pathé News clip, the ladies may be seen in the procession of dignitaries and, later, unveiling the memorial at Chester Cathedral:

Leading Seaman Beatty’s medals group comprises the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal.

Troy Valos for the photographs of Greenwood Cemetery.

1. (Back) Second Lieutenant Alan Sheriff Roberts was killed in action on 10 July 1916 serving with 14th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers; he is buried in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, France. Captain Henry Sheriff Roberts was killed in action on 27 August 1917 serving with 17th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers (2nd North Wales); he is commemorated on Tyne Cot Memorial. Second Lieutenant Frederick Sheriff Roberts was killed in action on 29 August 1918 serving with 9th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers; he is buried in Chocques Military Cemetery, France.
2. (Back) James Beatty (1844-1923) and Mary McAndrew (1852-1923) were married in Chester on 20 October 1869. They had eleven other children: Thomas (1870-1965); James (1872-1916); Mary (1874-1933); Hugh (1876-1916); John Patrick (1879-1967); Catherine (1881-1952); Edward Joseph (1884-1969); Richard Michael (1888-1918); Joseph (1891-1976); Francis (1893-1983); and Rose Ann Winifred (1897-1995).
3. (Back) London Gazette 7 September 1917. Issue 30273, p 9265.

Albert Medal
Master Edgar Twidle, SS Bayropea
Chief Officer William Francis Gordon Martin, SS Bayropea
Admiralty Clerk Robert MacBryde, Commodore’s Secretary

On the 26th January, 1917, a series of fires and explosions occurred at Economia, port of Archangel. When Captain Twidle arrived on the scene his ship was burning fiercely. On being informed that the Chief Engineer was alive, Captain. Twidle climbed on board but found that he was dead. He then examined the other rooms and found a Chinese sailor in a dazed condition. With the assistance of Mr. Martin and Mr. MacBryde this man was got over the ship’s side across the ice, and eventually to the Red Cross station. About four minutes after the seaman had been removed the vessel blew up.

4. (Back) Boatswain James McCull was killed on 9 January 1943 when SS Minotaur was sunk by U-124; he is commemorated on Tower Hill Memorial.
5. (Back) Jefferson County Certificate Death Records. Volume 4, page 242; and Louisiana State Board of Health Certificate of Death. Volume 16, page 7707.
6. (Back) The Second World War burials are:

Fireman Francis Guy, Merchant Navy, died on 31 July 1942.
Master William John Kershaw, Merchant Navy, died on 30 June 1944.
Gunner David Somerville, 1st Maritime Regiment, Royal Regiment of Artillery, died on 17 July 1945.
Master Harry Stephen, Merchant Navy, died on 21 June 1943.
Master Frederick Wells, Merchant Navy, died on 14 May 1942.

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