Rickard Charlie Donovan was born in 1898, the son of an ascendancy family from Ballymore near Ferns in County Wexford. At the age of 13, he was sent to the Royal Naval Colleges in Osborne and Dartmouth, England to qualify for a career in the Navy. His parents wanted to establish their son in a solid career to ensure the survival of their home and future in Ireland, after the break up of their estate under the Land Reform Acts.
Young Rickard quickly gained a reputation as able and intelligent, being promoted to
Midshipman at the outbreak of WWI in 1914. He was assigned to the battleship HMS Ocean on which he served until it was sunk by a mine in the Dardanelles on 18th March 1915. A family story says that he was the last man off the ship. The teenager was sent back to the sinking vessel by his Captain to recover the ship’s log.
Rickard was reassigned to other ships off the Turkish coast: first HMS Agamemnon from April to June 1915, then HMS Exmouth until January 1917, and finally HMS Blenheim to August 1917. Over those two years he was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant, and allowed to travel home to Ireland in May 1916 for his father’s funeral. Between 1915 and 1917 he saw several naval battles. His superior officer in May 1916 reported that he ‘carries out duties well and intelligently.’ [TNA, ADM 196/120, p.135]