This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Louisiana.
Joseph Wosikowski was born on 10 June 1887 at St Marys, Southampton, the second son of Frank and Sarah Wosikowski. His father was a Polish immigrant from Altjahn in West Prussia, and his mother was from County Down in Ireland. His father and his elder brother were sausage skin dressers and his sister worked as a domestic servant. Joseph trained as a butcher with his father before enlisting into Royal Marine Light Infantry on 27 July 1905.
He trained at Deal and Portsmouth, after which he was appointed on 16 March 1907 to the scout cruiser HMS Foresight in the Home Fleet as a gunner . Ten months later he joined HMS Philomel, a cruiser just coming out of refit, and served in her in the Mediterranean Fleet until July 1909—this included operations in support of the campaign in Somaliland, for which he was awarded the Africa General Service Medal.
After another period ashore, Private Wosikowski joined the battleship HMS Albemarle on 25 February 1910 in the Home Fleet until she was paid off for refit in October 1911 when he transferred to the battleship HMS Venerable in the Atlantic Fleet. He remained in Venerable until she was laid up in December 1916. The period of war service from August 1914 included operations in the English Channel; bombardment duties against German positions in Belgium in late 1914 and early 1915; support to the operations in the Dardanelles in the summer of 1915; and, after a refit at Gibraltar in the latter part of 1915, operations in the Adriatic Sea in support of the Italian Navy. When HMS Venerable was laid up, Private Wosikowski transferred ashore and was officially transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve on 26 May 1917 at the end of his 12 years of service.
He was immediately remobilised, however, and appointed as a gunner in a defensively armed merchant ship, a common use of experienced marines. In order to join his new ship, Private Wosikowski was sent to Halifax, Nova Scotia and then on the SS Florizel, with 12 other marines, to New York, where he arrived on 28 August 1917.
Sometime after that he joined the merchant ship SS Kermoor. This British built cargo ship was owned by an Austro-Hungarian company and on the outbreak of war took refuge in neutral United States. When the United States entered the war in April 1917 German ships were seized and Austro-Hungarian ships were purchased. The SS Morawitz was purchased by the Kerr Navigation Company and renamed Kermoor.
Having joined SS Kermoor at some time in the latter part of 1917 and after sailing to Europe, Private Wosikowski sailed back across the Atlantic from Gibraltar on 15 December 1917, finally coming alongside in New Orleans on 12 January 1918. He was found drowned on 27 January 1918 in the Mississippi River—the full circumstances of his death are not known.
He was buried the next day in or near Greenwood Cemetery. The description of the cemetery on the War Graves Registry: Circumstances of Death Records states that the exact location of his grave is unknown. He is one of four First World War burials and five Second World War burials in the area of the cemetery. At Greenwood Cemetery, he is commemorated by a Commonwealth War Graves Special Memorial as ‘buried in this cemetery’, and listed on the British Burial Association memorial. 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.
Private Wosikowski is commemorated on the Southampton war memorial. He is recorded as ‘Wosekowski’, and included on the transcribed record as ‘Wosskowski’—it is hoped that the City Council will have his correct name added to the memorial by 2018. He is also one of 12 men whose names are inscribed on a chalice presented by their families to the Roman Catholic church of St Boniface, in Shirley, Southampton.
His medals group comprises Africa General Service Medal with clasp ‘SOMALILAND 1908-10’; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-20; Victory Medal.
His brother G/93596 Private Francis John Wosikowski, served in France with 5th Infantry Labour Company, The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment).
Dr Andy Russell, Archaeology Unit Manager, Ancient Monuments Officer, and War Memorials Officer, Southampton City Council for information about the city war memorial.
Troy Valos for the photographs of Greenwood Cemetery.
1. (Back) Franz (later Francis) Wosikowski (1855-1935) married Sarah Boyd Whitla (10 July 1867-11 August 1953) in Belfast on 2 May 1884; Francis John (13 June 1885-1959); Mary (1889-NK).
2. (Back) Now in Pomeranian Voivodeship, Poland.
3. (Back) Kerr Navigation Company bought eight ships for a total of $12,000,000.
4. (Back) The Kermoor was acquired by the United States Army in April 1918 and transferred to the United States Navy on 1 November when she was commissioned as the USS Kermoor. After the war she returned to Kerr Navigation Company before entering Hungarian merchant service, when her name reverted to Morawitz. She entered British merchant service in 1927, renamed SS Purley Oaks, and was scrapped in 1936.
5. (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.
6. (Back) The Commonwealth War Graves Commission on-line record shows his ship as ‘SS Kermooh ’; his ship name is not recorded on the Special Memorial.
7. (Back) Eight Infantry Labour Companies were raised from men who were British citizens but of enemy alien (primarily German) parentage. 5th Infantry Labour Company served in France from April 1917. Read more here.