Project Update – October 2019

The pressure of another project with an impending deadline has kept me from adding as many biographies as I would have liked but behind the scenes there has been significant progress recently in correcting the errors on the online commemorations and on incorrectly inscribed gravestones maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the First World War casualties buried in the United States.

Here is what we have achieved:

Lieutenant Louis Bennett Jr.

Lieutenant Louis Bennett Jr. was killed in action while flying with No. 40 Squadron, Royal Air Force. His remains were reinterred in Machpelah Cemetery, Weston, West Virginia on 14 April 1920 alongside his father. His mother was buried beside them in 1944. For many years Bennett had been commemorated incorrectly as having been killed on 7 October 1918. This had been challenged previously but a ruling by the Royal Air Force’s Air Historical Branch in 1995 resulted in this error being maintained until challenged again in 2019 using, primarily, the evidence presented in the thesis by Dr. Charles D. Dusch’s, who also wrote the piece for the project. The CWGC commemoration now reflects the correct date of death. Continue reading

Sapper Byron Everard Nash

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

The grave of Sapper Byron Everard Nash

Byron Everard Nash was born on 16 May 1891 at North Beverly, Massachusetts, the only son and youngest of the two children of Dana and Ella Nash.[1] The family lived in Essex County, Massachusetts for a period, where his father was a newspaper salesman, before his mother and the two children moved to Ellsworth, Maine, near where the family originated. His mother was a telegraph operator and when Byron left school and became a telegraph linesman.

Byron Nash travelled north to Canada in April 1916 and enlisted on 25 October at Windsor, Ontario. He joined the Canadian Engineers Signal Service and was allocated the regimental number 506265. He arrived in England onboard the SS Grampian on 6 February 1917 and joined the Signal Company, Canadian Engineers Training Depot at Crowborough. Nash reported sick in March 1917 and was admitted to No. 14 Canadian General Hospital at Eastbourne suffering from diabetes. Deemed unfit for further service, he was evacuated to Canada in May 1917. On his arrival in Canada he was admitted for treatment London Military Convalescent Hospital in Ontario. In early 1918 it was determined that no further treatment was possible and was discharged from the Army in March 1918. Nash died of diabetes exacerbated by tuberculosis on 8 March 1920 at the family home on Franklin Street, Ellsworth. He is buried in the family plot in Forest Hill Cemetery, Harrington.

Private Byron Everard Nash is commemorated on page 552 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 24 November. For his war service he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20; his medal and the memorial plaque and scroll were sent to his father, and the Memorial Cross was sent to his mother.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Sapper Byron Everard Nash

Acknowledgement:

J. Fenn-Lawson on Find A Grave for the photograph of Nash’s gravestone.


1. (Back) Dana J. Nash (7 January 1869-16 December 1929) married Ella G. Leighton (25 March 1863-NK) on 25 September 1888; Jessie M. (later Howard) (24 March 1889-8 June 1949).

The RAF Airman Who Wasn’t

The grave marker for John Henry Dorman

Several years ago, an airman called John Henry Dorman was accepted for commemoration by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Dorman had been killed in an accident on 21 June 1918 while training at No. 14 Training Depot Station, at RAF Lake Down near Amesbury. The conclusion was that he was Royal Air Force, one of the many Americans who had earlier joined the Royal Flying Corps or Royal Air Force. When I first added his name to the project, I carried out some cursory research and was left with some doubts about this conclusion. Prompted recently to dig further, I am now left with the verdict that he was not Royal Air Force but was, indeed always had been, a member of the Aviation Section of the United States Army Signal Corps serving with 155th Aero Squadron. Continue reading

Fireman John Murray

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

Little is known of the early life of John Murray other than he was born about 1888 and his sister, Helen, lived in James Street, Kingston-upon-Hull.[1]

A merchant seaman by profession, Murray was embodied into the Mercantile Marine Reserve (numbered 948055) when the commercial liner SS City of London belonging to to the Ellerman City Line was taken up by the Admiralty as an armed merchant cruiser in January 1916. During the war HMS City of London operated primarily on patrol and convoy protection on the East Indies Station but began to escort convoys in the North Atlantic in the summer of 1918. On 10 October 1918 she sailed from Victoria Docks, London and that evening anchored off Brighton. The following day she sailed to Plymouth and on 12 October sailed with a convoy to New York and just after noon on 23 October came alongside at the 55th Street wharf on the Hudson River.

Murray had fallen ill on the trans-Atlantic crossing and died of pneumonia on 23 October 1918.[2] He was buried with full honours, accompanied by a burial party from the ship, on 26 October in Union Grounds, Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn which lies farther north than the National Cemetery, between Cypress Hills Street and Jackie Robinson Parkway.[3] His grave—in Section 1F, Grave 51—is marked with a United States National Cemetery Marker inscribed ‘John Murry, British Navy’.


1. (Back) The online war memorial for Kingston-upon-Hull conflates three different men in the record for Murray, including details for (a) John McLaughlin Murray, Mercantile Marine, who died in 1917 and (b) a reference to the memorial in St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church to Private John Prendergast Murray, 1/6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry who died in France in 1918.
2. (Back) According to the index to New York municipal death records, his death was registered in New York as ‘John Murry’, which is reflected in the cemetery records and on his gravestone.
3. (Back) The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his burial as being at Cypress Hills National Cemetery.

Signalman Walter Robert Thorburn

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

The grave of Signalman Walter Robert Thorburn

Walter Robert Thorburn was born on 1 August 1896 in Seacombe in Birkenhead, the third child and second son of James and Laura Thorburn.[1] His father and older brother worked for the Borough Council in the gas and water department and when he left school Thorburn became an apprentice gas fitter.

He enlisted into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on Merseyside on 2 February 1914, aged 17 (M3/243 Seaman). After war broke out, he undertook a period of training before joining the ancient ironclad battleship, now a moored repair ship, HMS Imperieuse. Having qualified as a signalman in the spring of 1917, he served aboard several ships before finally joining SS War Knight.[2] The freighter had been built and launched in San Francisco in April 1917; she was owned by the Hartlepool-based, shipping company  Furness Withy and contracted to the Shipping Controller as an armed merchant ship operating between the United Kingdom and the United States. Prior to her final journey from New York in March 1918, Thorburn fell ill and was admitted to hospital in New York. Meanwhile the War Knight sailed for England in a convoy of 16 merchant ships and six Royal Navy destroyers. As the convoy arrived off the Isle of Wight sailing without lights, War Knight collided with O. B. Jennings, at the time the world’s largest oil tanker—most of the crew perished, including three men of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve who had served alongside Thorburn.[3] Also killed was the ship’s replacement signalman, a seaman of the United States Navy, aged only 17.[4] Two of the ship’s crew were awarded the Albert Medal for their bravery in the incident, and an officer and rating from HMS Garland, which came to the rescue, were awarded the Sea Gallantry Medal.[5] [6]

Signalman Thorburn died of his illness in hospital in New York on 5 April 1918 and is buried in Cypress Hills National Cemetery, Brooklyn in Section 2, Grave 7746. His grave is marked with a United States National Cemetery Marker inscribed ‘Walter Thorburn, British Navy’. For his war service he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal.

His brother, R. D. V. Thorburn served in France and Flanders with The King’s (Liverpool Regiment).[7]


1. (Back) James McNaught Thorburn (30 March 1864-1952) married Laura Cockroft (1870-1848) in Leeds on 30 September 1891: Elsie May (29 June 1892-11 December 1983); Ronald Douglas Victor (5 June 1894-1971); Laura H. (14 May 1899-1986); and Norman James (21 February 1906-3 February 2004).
2. (Back) Erroneously recorded in most documents relating to Thorburn as SS Arkwright.
3. (Back) Petty Officer George Tucker, Able Seaman Joseph Gerrity and Able Seaman William Munro McPherson, all Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. None have a known grave and they are commemorated on the Plymouth, Chatham and Portsmouth Naval Memorials respectively.
4. (Back) Seaman 2nd Class, Signalman Charles Larue Phillips, United States Navy of Camp Hill Pennsylvania.
5. (Back) Albert Medal in Bronze (Sea) (Posthumous).

Apprentice Reginald Curtis Clayton, Mercantile Marine. London Gazette 27 August 1918; 30868, p 10115.

In March last the steamship in which Mr. Clayton was serving was in collision, and a serious fire broke out on board. Mr. Clayton was aft, where the accommodation for the crew was situated. It was his fire-station duty to stand by the flood valve of the magazine; and, in spite of the whole of the deck being in flames, he groped his way through the fire, found the valve, and turned it on to ‘flood.’ He received such severe injuries that he succumbed in hospital four days later. Those of the crew who survived no doubt owed their lives to the flooding of the magazine.

Chief Engineer David Falconer, Mercantile Marine. London Gazette 25 March 1919; 31251, p 3884.

On the 24th March 1918. the British S.S. ‘War Knight’ was proceeding up Channel in convoy, in company with the United States Oil Carrier ‘O. B. Jennings’. About 2.30 a.m. the ‘War Knight’ struck the other vessel on the starboard side abreast the bridge. Flames and fumes of naphtha appear to have spurted out of the ‘O. B. Jennings’, rushed the whole length of the ‘War Knight’, and set her on fire. The after part of the ‘O. B. Jennings’ also was soon burning furiously and the ships swung together, the ‘War Knight’ being to leeward of the ‘O. B. Jennings’ and consequently completely enveloped in the smoke, fumes and flames from the weather ship. Immediately after the collision flames swept across the top of the engine-room through the open skylight. Mr. Falconer stood in the flames and shut the skylights down to prevent the fire from entering the engine-room. Later on, when the third engineer and a fireman, who had remained below, made their way on deck, the former was severely burnt and gassed, and Mr. Falconer dragged both men to a place where there were less flames and fumes, and then put them into the engineers’ messroom with others whom, he had collected, from their bunks, and by breaking the skylight he assisted them all to get on to the boat deck. Finally, although he could not swim, he took off his own lifebelt and put it on the third engineer and did not leave the ship until he was satisfied that there were no others in need of assistance. Mr. Falconer displayed the greatest gallantry in rendering these services; but he was so injured that he subsequently succumbed in hospital.

Board of Trade Silver Medal for Saving Life at Sea (Sea Gallantry Medal).

Lieutenant Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen, Royal Navy
Chief Petty Officer Patrick Driscoll, Royal Navy

On the 24th March 1918, while the British s.s. ‘War Knight’ was proceeding up the English Channel in convoy, she collided with the United States oil carrier ‘O. B. Jennings’. It appears that the naphtha, which was on board the latter vessel, ignited, and the two ships and surrounding water were soon enveloped in flames. The Master of the ‘O. B. Jennings’ gave orders that all the ship’s available boats should be lowered, those on the starboard side were burnt, and the crew abandoned the ship in the port boats, whilst the Master, Chief Engineer, Chief Officer and three others remained on board. H.M.S. ‘Garland’, under the command of Lieutenant Fegen, with other destroyers, were proceeding to the spot to render assistance, when it was seen that one boat which had been lowered from the ‘O. B. Jennings’ had been swamped. The ‘Garland’ closed the ‘O. B. Jennings’, rescued the men from the swamped boat, and then proceeded alongside the ship, which was still blazing, and rescued those who were still on board. She afterwards proceeded to pick up the others who had left the ship in boats, rescuing in all four officers and twenty-two men. Lieutenant Fegen handled his ship in a very able manner under difficult conditions during the rescue of the survivors, while Driscoll worked the helm and saw that all orders to the engine-room were correctly carried out.

6. (Back) For more information about the demise of War Knight see here.
7. (Back) 1931 Private (later 240436 Sergeant) Ronald Douglas Victor Thorburn landed in France with 1/6th (Rifle) Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) on 24 February 1915. He was commissioned into the Regiment on 30 January 1918.

Private Patrick Joseph Connolly

The Badge of The Gloucestershire Regiment

Patrick Connolly was born on Mweenish Island in Connemara, County Galway in the latter part of 1888 and emigrated to the United States prior to the First World War. Little is known of his wider family other than that some of them also emigrated to Boston.[1]

In 1915 Connolly returned to the United Kingdom, and on 18 May after disembarking at Avonmouth he travelled into Bristol and enlisted. He joined the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment at Gravesend and was allocated the number 21329. At the end of his training he was posted to the Mediterranean to join the 7th (Service) Battalion, which had taken part in the Gallipoli landings as part of 39th Brigade, 13th (Western) Division. With his fellow reinforcements, he arrived at Mudros at the end of October and soon moved forward to join the depleted Battalion; the date of his arrival in Suvla is not known. Continue reading

Private John Robert Collinson

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

The grave of Private John Robert Collinson

John Robert Collinson was born on 1 February 1896 in Keighley, West Yorkshire the only son and eldest of the two children of Isaac and Martha Collinson.[1] When he was eight his mother died and soon afterwards his father remarried.[2] The fate of that marriage is not known but in September 1907 Isaac Collinson emigrated alone to the United States, to Lawrence, Massachusetts. The two children lived with their maternal grandparents and then their mother’s brother in Leeds until they followed their father in November 1914; Isaac Collinson had remarried by the time of their arrival and over the next few years half-siblings were added to the family.[3] Having lived for a time in Rhode Island, the family settled in Methuen, Massachusetts. Prior to his enlistment, Collinson worked in a mill in Lawrence and he lived in Methuen with his wife, Fanny, who had also been born in Yorkshire, and their daughter.[4]

He enlisted on 23 January 1918 and joined the 249th Battalion, Canadian Infantry; he was allocated the number 1070011. The Battalion had been raised in 1917 and by the time Collinson joined it was preparing to travel to England. Continue reading