Private Henry Louis Gerow

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

The grave of Private Henry Louis Gerow
The grave of Private Henry Louis Gerow

This is a most tragic story about a young man, unsuitable for military service, who should not have been enlisted.

Christmas wishes, 1903
Christmas wishes, 1903

Henry Louis Gerow was born on 2 February 1895, the son of John and Matilda Gerow.[1] He was the fourth of six sons and he had four sisters. His parents were from New York, where they had married and started a family before moving to Beaugrand, in Cheboygan County, Michigan. His father was a farmer and in 1917 he was killed in an accident when a pile of logs that he was taking to the mill fell and crushed him.

Henry and his brother Willie survive an accident
Henry and his brother Willie survive an accident

Gerow left school at 14. After a period working with his father on the land, like many young men from northern Michigan he headed south to Detroit to find work in the new automobile industry. In April 1916, he crossed the river to Windsor and enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force.[2] He joined the 99th Battalion, which recruited largely from Windsor and Essex County, and was allocated the number 214337. Private Gerow did not take to military life and ran away. A farmer, whom he asked for help, persuaded him to return to duty. He did so but this was the beginning of a pattern of actions that would see him regularly in trouble. Gerow sailed for England with the Battalion in RMS Olympic from Halifax, Nova Scotia on 31 May.

After its arrival in England the Battalion was established at Otterpool in Kent and a few days later Private Gerow again went ‘absent without leave’. Having been caught, he was sentenced to seven days’ confinement on 14 June. The 99th Battalion did not embark for France as a formed battalion. Instead, on 6 July, it was absorbed by 35th Reserve Battalion to provided reinforcement drafts; Private Gerow joined ‘A’ Company.

On 4 August, he went into town for four hours without permission. Having returned, he was placed in detention. On 7 August, he was examined by the Battalion Medical Officer who judged that he was ‘mentally unbalanced’ and recommended that he attend a medical board. The following day he was taken before a board that ordered that he should attend Monks Horton Convalescent Hospital for four weeks. He was returned to the Battalion guardroom and at 6.00pm another soldier in detention, Private Harry Morris, raised the alarm having found Gerow with his throat cut; a razor was lying nearby.

The doctor that dealt with him in the cell reported that Gerow asked him to do nothing because he wanted to die. The wound was not life-threatening, however, and the bleeding was soon stopped. At the subsequent board of inquiry his platoon sergeant and section commander revealed that Gerow had always been reclusive and ‘melancholy’. The commanding officer commented on the final report that he ‘…should never have been enlisted.’

Private Gerow was admitted to Moore Barracks Canadian Hospital, Shorncliffe later that evening and transferred to the Mental Ward on 15 August, where he was diagnosed with ‘melancholia’. He stated that he had been told to kill himself by the Devil and that ‘…he had always had commands from God and that it was the only way he could get along.’ On 24 August, a medical board determined that he should be discharged from the Army. He sailed for Canada on 5 September—again on RMS Olympic—and on his arrival on 11 September he was sent to the London Asylum for the Insane in London, Ontario. His final medical board on 14 September recorded that his discharge was due to ‘dementia praecox’ and that ‘…his general appearance and behaviour leaves no doubt about his mental state’. He was discharged from the Army on 30 October 1916.

It is not known where his treatment was continued but on 11 April 1917 Henry Gerow was admitted to Traverse City State Hospital (the North Michigan Asylum), where he would remain until he died. At some time in 1920 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis from which he did not recover; he died on 1 January 1921. After a funeral service at St Charles Church, he was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Cheboygan on 4 January alongside his father; later his mother was buried there too. The grave—in Section 1, Block 17, Lot 7—is in the centre block of the cemetery alongside the western pathway.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Henry Louis Gerow
The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private Henry Louis Gerow

Private Henry Louis Gerow is commemorated on page 557 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 28 November. For his service in England Private Gerow was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, which was sent to his mother. His death was attributed to his military service in 1925 and the memorial scroll was sent to his mother in January 1926 and the memorial plaque was dispatched in January 1927. She was also sent the Memorial Cross.

His brother, William, enlisted in 1918 for service with the American Expeditionary Force and served with 14th Division at Camp Custer, Michigan; he did not serve overseas. Tragically, William drowned in an accident in Flint River in July 1922 in front of his mother and sister.

1. (Back) John Gerow (16 April 1865-12 February 1917) married Matilda Santimore (sometimes recorded as St. Amour) (1860-24 August 1936) in 1878 in New York: Frederick (1879-before 1916); Matilda ‘Ida’ (later Baier) (7 December 1883-30 October 1975); Agnes (later Juillet) (20 September 1886-12 January 1972); Rosalie ‘Rose’ (later Crawford, later Bettinger) (1889-NK); John (9 June 1892-10 February 1962); William (30 November 1894-2 July 1922); Adeline (later McGuire) (25 May 1898-31 July 1988); Lawrence (5 September 1900-2 August 1940); and Arthur (24 January 1904-30 August 1941).
2. (Back)  There are reports that his brother John also enlisted but no record of that has been found.

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