Private Harry Fooksman

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

Editors note: Private Fooksman is commemorated as  by the CWGC as ‘Private Harry Ross’, the name under which he served.

97th Battalion (American Legion) Cap Badge
97th Battalion (American Legion) Cap Badge

Harry Ross is something of an enigma—the name under which he served, and by which he is commemorated by the CWGC, is an alias.  He was born Harry Fooksman, the only son of a Russian Jewish family, both sides of which had emigrated to the United States in the late-1880s.

His mother, Rosa (née Block), was born in Russia in 1875 and arrived in the United States with her family in 1888.[1] Around 1891 she married Benjamin Fooksman, a dry goods merchant.[2] According to Harry Ross’s attestation papers, he was born on 16 August 1892, and he appears to have been their only child. By 1900 the family was living among the city’s Jewish community at North High Street.[3]  Sometime in the following decade Harry’s circumstances changed. It appears that he was close to his maternal family—by 1910 he is living with his grandmother, Annie Block, (his grandfather had died in 1903) and his uncles Louis and Henry. They lived on Harrison Street, which no longer exists, but which was once at the heart of Baltimore’s East European, Jewish community. At this time he was recorded as ‘Harry Block’ and was working in a shirt factory.[4] Little is known of his mother, Rosa, although she later changed her name to Goldberg; the fate of his father is unknown.[5]

In 1912 Fooksman left Baltimore. Although Ross/Fooksman’s attestation papers record that he served for three years in the United States Army, there is no record of such an enlistment and this is countered by the report given to the family after his death by an uncle and Rabbi Jacobs, to whom he described the missing years as he lay dying.[6]

By late-1915/early-1916 Ross/Fooksman was working as a tailor in Detroit and/or Toronto when he decided to enlist for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force; he enlisted nearby Windsor, Ontario on 17 January 1916. Known as ‘Harry Ross’, he was allocated the regimental number 207551, and joined ‘C’ Company, 97th Battalion (American Legion) in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

'C' Company, 97th Battalion, March 1916
‘C’ Company, 97th Battalion, March 1916

The 97th Battalion (American Legion) was authorized on 22 December 1915 and recruited in Toronto, Ontario from January 1916. Membership of the Battalion was open to recruits either born in the United States or the sons of United States citizens.[7] [8] It trained at Exhibition Camp in Toronto and it was here in March 1916 that Ross fell ill. He was admitted to Exhibition Camp hospital on 25 March, initially believed to be suffering from influenza. He died there on Saturday 6 May from cerebrospinal meningitis. Expecting to die, Ross/Fooksman had called for Rabbi Solomon Jacobs[9] to whom he told his real name and explained how he had arrived in Canada. He asked the Rabbi to let his family know and a telegram was duly sent. In response, his uncle travelled to Toronto.

On Monday 8 May the first funeral service for Harry Ross was held at Holy Blossom Temple—the oldest Jewish congregation in Toronto—conducted by Rabbi Jacobs. Rabbi Jacobs also arranged for his repatriation home. The funeral escort in Toronto was provided by his comrades from ‘C’ Company and his casket was taken to Union Station and, accompanied by Rabbi Jacobs and his uncle, transported to Baltimore.[10]

Rabbi Solomon Jacobs
Rabbi Solomon Jacobs

In a newspaper account of his burial on 10 May he is referred to as ‘Harry Fuchsman’. He was reported to have ‘disappeared from’  the city three years before.[11] His funeral began at the premises of Jack Lewis, a well-known Jewish undertaker on East Baltimore Street, and again Rabbi Jacobs conducted the ceremonies.

Harry Fooksman, alias Private Harry Ross, was buried in a cemetery described at the time as ‘Philadelphia Road Russian Cemetery’. There is not, however, a cemetery of that name in Baltimore. In fact, his grave is in the B’nai Israel Cemetery, Southern Avenue, in Plot A.2.2. He is commemorated by a private memorial—his family wished to have an inscription on that stone paid for in-lieu of a CWGC stone but that was deemed not possible.

The grave of Harry Fooksman, alias Private Harry Ross
The grave of Harry Fooksman, alias Private Harry Ross

Private Harry Ross is commemorated on page 156 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 10 April.

Ackerman Collectables for the photograph of the cap badge of 97th Battalion (American Legion).
Joanna Church, Collections Manager, The Jewish Museum of Maryland for the information about Jewish cemeteries in Baltimore.
Marc Romanych for the photographs of the grave of Harry Fooksman.

1. (Back) Samuel (Shmuel) Ber Block (10 March 1841-10 June 1903) and his wife Annie (1848-3 February 1929) were born in Russia and emigrated to the United States circa 1888. They had been married in 1872 and had 12 children, of whom five survived: Rosa (later Fooksman, later Goldberg); Abraham (Avraham) Ari (15 October 1879-11 March 1962);  Sarah (later Meyers) (January 1892-NK); Louis (25 December 1893-24 December 1969); and Henry (Henoch) (15 May 1896–5 April 1974). Samuel was a member of the Bnai Israel Synagogue in Baltimore and is buried at the B’nai Israel Cemetery, Southern Avenue, as is Annie, Abraham, and Henry.
2. (Back) Twelfth Census of the United States. (1900). Baltimore Ward 3, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland.
3. (Back) Ibid.
4. (Back) Thirteenth Census of the United States. (1910). Baltimore Ward 4, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland.
5. (Back) On his attestation papers his next of kin is recorded as his grandmother, Annie Block. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemoration records his mother as Rosa ‘Goldbury’ (correctly Goldberg. See: ‘Harry Ross’. War Graves Registry: Circumstances of Death Records. Library and Archives Canada.)
6. (Back) Fooksman’s military service appears to be rather different to his statement on his attestation. Harry Fooksman enlisted into the US Marine Corps on 24 July 1912 in New York and two days later was sworn in at the Marine Barracks at Philadelphia Navy Yard. On 27 September 1912 he was transferred to Company ‘A’, 2nd Provisional Regiment on USS Prairie and dispatched to Santo Domingo, in response to insurrection that had closed the customs houses. The 2nd Provisional Regiment, which comprised 27 officers and 755 men, arrived on 2 October but did not go ashore—it remained onboard the USS Prairie until it returned to Philadelphia on 7 December 1912. On 13 November, Fooksman had been found asleep on duty and sentenced to three days’ confinement on bread and water. His offence appears enough to result in his discharge when 2nd Provisional Regiment returned to Philadelphia. He was discharged on 19 December as ‘having been recommended as unfit for  the service by his commanding officer.‘ (He was not alone; three Marines of Company ‘A’  and one from Company ‘C’ were discharged as being ‘unfit’.)
7. (Back) Groves, H. (1918). Toronto Does Her Bit. p 22. Toronto: Municipal Intelligence Bureau.
8. (Back) The Battalion left for England in September 1916 but the American experiment was not seen through; the three battalions that arrived in England (97th 211th and 213th) were disbanded and the men sent to other units. See Tennyson, B D. (25 November 2014). Canada’s Great War, 1914-1918. pp 101-103. Maryland: Scarecrow Press.
9. (Back) Rabbi Solomon Jacobs (9 July 1861-6 August 1920) was a prominent and influential, English-born, Toronto Rabbi.
10. (Back) ‘Camp Compares to Aldershot’. (9 May 1916). The Toronto World. p 6.
11. (Back) ‘Death Reveals a Real Life Romance’. (10 May 1916). The Evening Sun. p 7.

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