Sarah O'Keefe

Photo:Sarah O'Keefe's gravestone in West Calder Cemetery

Sarah O'Keefe's gravestone in West Calder Cemetery

West Lothian Local History Library

The Addiewell woman on the West Calder war memorial

It's quite rare to find a woman's name on a war memorial, so I was pleased when Mr Thomas Girdwood drew one of the names on the West Calder war memorial to my attention.

Sarah O'Keefe was his mother's sister and came from Addiewell. The O'Keefes were Irish immigrants to Scotland from County Mayo, and they settled in Addiewell.  There were eight children (six girls and two boys):  Maggie, Mary, Annie, Jane, Marjory and Sarah; and the boys, Pat and John.

In the 1911 census, you can find Sarah living with her parents and  brothers and sisters at 18 Livingstone Street - 10 people in a two-roomed house.

'Free a man for sea service'

In August 1914, the First World War broke out.  When the Women's Royal Naval Service (popularly known as the Wrens) was formed in 1917, Sarah O'Keefe (by then aged 21) joined and became a stewardess.  The Wrens were recruited for shore duties in order to 'free a man for sea service'.

According to her service record, Sarah enrolled on 16 September 1918.   However, she was not killed as a result of enemy action, or an accident.  Her death certificate shows that she fell victim to the terrible epidemic of Spanish influenza (flu) that spread over much of the world in 1919-20.  More people died in the flu epidemic than in the Great War, and it was not the elderly that were worst affected, it was the young and fit, like Sarah O'Keefe.  Sarah was serving on HMS Crescent at the time of her death, and according to one report, no fewer than 51 people on board that ship died of Spanish influenza.

Sarah died on 18 February 1919, aged just 23.  Since the treaty that officially ended the war was not signed until July 1919, her name was eligible for the war memorial.  She is buried in West Calder Cemetery.

To see a First World War Wren in uniform and find out a bit more about them, go to this link:


This page was added by Sybil Cavanagh on 13/06/2013.
Comments about this page

It is strange that only one local woman died for her country, are there other women who shoud also be recognized as well. Sarah's name was only added to the Scottish Roll of Honour in 2007. The monument should be revised to read "To the men and women" on her plaque at least and not men only We recite " We shall remember " and " Lest we forget " but it appears they forgot about Sarah being a woman on the Monument

By Thomas Girdwood
On 21/06/2013

Is there any pictures of Sarah.. I always pay my respects to her when I’m in visiting my grandfather and uncle in West Calder cemetery..

By Sean Galvin
On 05/10/2020

Sarah was also omitted from the Royal Navy Book of Remembrance 1914-1919. She is one of 4 members of the WRNS let out. It was most probably a mistake as there does not seem to be any reason given and her service record is OK.

By Giles Radford
On 25/06/2022

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