Cadet John Dunn IV

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

The memorial window by Tiffany Studios in All Saints' Episcopal Church, Richmond dedicated to Cadet John Dunn IV, Royal Flying Corps
The memorial window by Tiffany Studios in All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Richmond dedicated to Cadet John Dunn IV, Royal Flying Corps

The state of Virginia is rich with beautiful windows and other commemorative and decorative pieces from the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany. There are so many sites of interest that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts offers advice on driving tours to see them.

In Richmond, the state capital, one such window commemorates Cadet John Dunn, Royal Flying Corps, who died of scarlet fever on 26 March 1918, aged 20. When it was dedicated at All Saints’ Episcopal Church on 22 December 1918, it became the first war memorial to be placed in the city to commemorate a casualty of the First World War.

The window features a representation of St Michael and has been described, somewhat portentously, as:

‘…a bold and impressive conception of the heroic figure of St. Michael, the archangel, who, according to the twelfth chapter of Revelation, fought with his angels against the Dragon, ‘that old serpent called the Devil,’ and cast him out of Heaven. The heavenly Knight, vibrant with youth and high courage, is clad in burnished armor and holds in his right hand a long and slender lance. Peace and victory achieved through battle in a holy cause are expressed in the post, of the noble figure and the clear and level gaze of eyes which have looked on death unafraid.’[1]

John Dunn IV
John Dunn IV

John Dunn IV was born on 10 March 1898 at Richmond, Virginia, the only child of John Dunn MD and his Canadian-born wife Nellie (née Porterfield). The family lived at 411 East Franklin Street; also living with the family was Nellie’s sister Jonnie. He was educated at McGuire’s University School in Richmond and studied at the University of Virginia (Class of 1918) but left in January 1918 to enlist. He attested on 25 January, joined the Royal Flying Corps (Cadet, 154472), and was sent immediately for training at Burwash Hall, Toronto.

The training in Canada of pilots for the Royal Flying Corps had begun in 1917. In addition to prospective Canadian pilots, this facilitated the flying ambitions of those young men in the United States, like Dunn, who wished to join the Royal Flying Corps, rather than the fledgling Aviation Section, United States Signal Corps. In addition to flying stations, the RFC established an aeronautical school to provide the training that pilots required before taking to the skies. No. 4 School of Military Aeronautics was based in Burwash Hall at the University of Toronto.[2]

Tents for Royal Flying Corps Cadets behind Burwash Hall, University of Toronto
Tents for Royal Flying Corps Cadets behind Burwash Hall, University of Toronto

John Dunn fell ill with scarlet fever at Burwash Hall a few days before he died at 3.00pm on Tuesday 26 March 1918 in the Military Base Hospital, Toronto. His body was repatriated to Richmond and interred at Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg on Good Friday, 29 March.

Blandford Cemetery is the second largest in Virginia, after Arlington National Cemetery. It was established in the early 18thC and amongst those interred here are the only British general of the American Revolutionary War buried in the United States—Major General William Phillips—and 30,000 Confederate casualties from the Civil War. In the cemetery stands Blandford Church (Old Blandford Church of Bristol Parish). The church was built in 1735 but was abandoned in 1806. It was restored in the latter part of the 19thC and, between 1904 and 1912, memorial windows by Tiffany Studios were installed to commemorate the Civil War dead of the eleven Confederate states and the border states.

The grave of Cadet John Dunn IV in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg
The grave of Cadet John Dunn IV in Blandford Cemetery, Petersburg

The grave of Cadet John Dunn is marked by a private memorial in the family plot on the western side of the cemetery, on the cemetery’s Carolina Avenue.[3] He is buried alongside his parents and nearby is the grave of his aunt, Jonnie Porterfield, who commissioned his memorial window in All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

The original All Saints’ was built on Madison Street in 1887. This was replaced by a new church at 316 West Franklin Street in 1901. It was in this church that the window dedicated to John Dunn was first installed. It was later paired with a window dedicated to Lieutenant David Adam Wallace, United States Army Air Forces, who was killed in action on 10 March 1943. The church moved again in April 1955 to its present location at 8787 River Road. Both windows, and many others by Tiffany from the old church, were moved to the new building. The window commemorating John Dunn is in the pulpit-side ambulatory, and that for David Adam Wallace is in the lectern-side ambulatory. Both men are listed on the two large bronze plaques mounted at the rear of the church nave, which commemorate parishioner deaths in the First and Second World Wars.

The dedication, part of the original window design, read:[4]

1898 – MARCH 26 1918 + FOR SEVEN YEARS

That part of the window was not installed in the new church and beneath the window is now a simple brass plaque that reads:

To the glory of God
and in loving memory of
March 10, 1898  March 26, 1918

John Dunn was commemorated in the Honor Roll of the University of Virginia, which was published in Volume 32 of Corks and Curls, the university’s annual yearbook for 1919, and which listed sixty-five men who had ‘perished in the bloody throes of war’; the Honor Roll was acknowledged as being incomplete.[5] By the time of the dedication of the university’s memorial in 1921 the Honor Roll had grown to 80 names. The dedication of the bronze memorial tablet—a gift of the Classes of 1918, 1919 and 1920 and of the Seven Society—took place in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia on 1 June 1921.[6] Subsequently, the university produced a comprehensive account of the university and its alumni in the war.[7]

University of Virginia War Memorial

In 1919, Arthur Kyle Davis, then a graduate student and an editor of the university magazine, The Virginia Spectator, and later professor of English at the university specializing in American folklore, wrote a heartfelt poem dedicated to his friend  John Dunn:[8]

War Claimed

Firm friend and comrade of my college years
Is gone; ‘twas the price of his brave carefree heart
That could not bear to waver in his part
When others went, nor heard their loved ones’ tears.

‘Twas not for praise, nor for his comrades’  cheers
He left home, friends, position, future—all;
He unresisting heard a deeper call
And answered; he must fight; he knew no fears.

Heroic in his splendid sacrifice,
He died with courage, as a brave man dies;
A destined hero of the battle line,
Death came too soon, and he could but resign;
A soul so pure that (reverently I say)
If he must die, Good Friday was the day.

Cadet John Dunn is also commemorated on page 586 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance, which is displayed on 19 December.[9]

Lori Humrich, Office Manager, All Saints Episcopal Church for her tour of the church and its impressive Tiffany windows.
Dan Addison and the University of Virginia for the photograph of the University’s First World War Memorial.

1. (Back) ‘First Memorial for Richmond. Window for John Dunn IV to be dedicated at All Saints’ Sunday.’ (19 December 1918). Richmond Times Dispatch.
2. (Back) For a full account of the Canadian-based flying training programme see: Hunt, C W. (2009). Dancing in the Sky: The Royal Flying Corps in Canada. Toronto: Dundurn.
3. (Back) New ground, Ward H, Section 8, Square 1, Grave 2.
4. (Back) ‘St. Michael a Reproduction of the Sketch for a Tiffany Favrile Glass Figure Window to be Installed in All Saints Church, Richmond, Virginia, in Memory of John Dunn, IV, a Cadet of the Royal Flying Corps.’ (1919). Tributes to honor : suggested types of memorials by the ecclesiastical department of the Tiffany Studios. New York: The Firm.
5. (Back) ‘Honor Roll’. (1919). Corks and Curls. Volume 32. p 33. Charlottesville: University of Virginia.
6. (Back) For a full account of the dedication of the First World War memorial see: Metcalf, J C. (1922). The centennial of the University of Virginia, 1819-1921: the proceedings of the Centenary celebration, May 31 to June 3, 1921. New York: G P Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press.
7. (Back) Patton, J S. (January 1922). The University of Virginia in The World War. The Alumni Bulletin of the University of Virginia, Volume 15, Issue 1. p 47.
8. (Back) Davis, A K. (January 1919). War Claimed. The Virginia Spectator, Volume LXII, Number 1. p 204. Charlottesville: Virginia Spectator Incorporated.
9. (Back) Information about Canada’s Books of Remembrance may be found here.

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