Leading Seaman Sydney Stephen Milliner

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 Leading Seaman Sydney Milliner
The grave of Leading Seaman Sydney Milliner

Sydney Stephen Milliner was born on 8 December 1873 at Sittingbourne in Kent, the son of Richard and Louisa Milliner. The couple had two daughters and three sons before Louisa died on 8 December 1879.[1] By then the family had moved to Sandwich. The younger children were brought up by their aunt Rosa, a widow who brought three children of her own into the family, and later had two more children with Richard.[2]

Milliner, who worked as a labourer, enrolled in Royal Naval Reserve on 1 June 1895; he was allocated the number 1708A.[3] Early in 1897, he married Matilda Foster Dray in Ramsgate and later that year their daughter, Jessie Florence, was born.[4] By the turn of the century the marriage had ended—his wife and daughter were living with his wife’s future husband, and Sydney Milliner was working for the North Eastern Railway on a dredger at Tyne Dock; he lived in South Shields. Continue reading

HMS Alsatian

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

Trimmer Walter John Joseph Bowles, Mercantile Marine Reserve
Trimmer Percy Samuel Tomas Hyett, Mercantile Marine Reserve
(and Trimmer Leslie James Thornton, Mercantile Marine Reserve)

HMS Alsatian
HMS Alsatian

Two teenage sailors of the Mercantile Marine Reserve—Trimmers Bowles and Hyett—died while HMS Alsatian was alongside in New York during the influenza epidemic in October 1918. A third teenage sailor, Trimmer Thornton, had died as the ship was approaching the United States; he was buried at sea and, for completeness, his story is included here. This story is linked with that of the men of HMS Andes. Continue reading

HMS Andes

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

Able Seaman Thomas Drinkwater, Royal Navy
Leading Seaman William Stephen Charles Henry Fenton, Royal Navy
Scullion William Bertram Parr, Mercantile Marine Reserve
(and Private Reginald Francis Farley, Royal Marine Light Infantry)

HMS Andes
HMS Andes

In October 1918 two armed merchant cruisers—HMS Andes and HMS Alsatian—came alongside within days of each other and tied up at Pier 95 on the Hudson River near 55th Street. One crewman from HMS Alsatian had died as she approached the United States and a Marine in HMS Andes would die as she left United States waters. While the ships were in New York, five other crewmen died. All were victims of influenza. Continue reading

Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves

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 Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves
The grave of Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves

Leading Seaman Geeves survived 3½ years as a gunner on defensively armed merchant ships, including the sinking of the cargo streamer SS Betty by U-61, only to succumb to influenza in New York.

William Charles John Geeves was born in London on 3 December 1889 the second son and second of the seven children of Charles and Eliza Geeves.[1] The family lived at New Beckton, Woolwich, where his father, who was born in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire) in Ireland, worked as a dock labourer. William Geeves became a merchant seaman.

On 15 April 1915, William Geeves enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve and was allocated the number 8052A. After a period of training at HMS Pembroke in Chatham he joined SS Tuskar, a small, defensively armed cargo ship, on 19 May. Continue reading

Lieutenant Robert Archer Bowlby

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

Miss Ruth Elliott and Robert Archer Bowlby
Miss Ruth Elliott and Robert Archer Bowlby

Robert Archer Bowlby is one of two American dancers to feature in this project—the other, much more famous, is Vernon Castle, who is buried in the same cemetery in New York. There are numerous newspaper reports, and records of talks given by Lieutenant Bowlby, that testify to his war service in France, his shell shock and subsequent role in support of the War Bond drives in the United States. His service was more prosaic, however—he made it to England before falling sick and being diagnosed with a heart condition, which resulted in his return to Canada and discharge. Continue reading

Private Francis George Thomas

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

Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans
Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans

Frank Thomas was born in 1891 at Wells Street,[1] off Gray’s Inn Road, London the eldest of the two surviving children of Francis and Emma Thomas. His father was a printer’s compositor, a trade that Frank was to be follow. His father died in the early part of 1900 and by 1911 his mother was working as a cook in a factory—Frank was living with her and was a printer’s apprentice.[2]

After the outbreak of war, he enlisted into the British Army on 9 September 1914 at Holborn for service with 7th (Service) Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment.[3] He joined his new battalion at Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex and was allocated the regimental number 14178. Private Thomas did not serve there for long—he was discovered to have flat feet and was discharged on 27 October.

Not satisfied with his first experience of military service he enlisted again, this time at Islington, and joined The London Regiment. Continue reading

Company Sergeant Major George Mayer Symons

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

Panoramic Photograph of Camp Lee, 1917
Panoramic Photograph of Camp Lee, 1917

Company Sergeant Major Instructor George Symons was a pre-war regular soldier. In 1918 he was posted to the British War Mission in the United States, where he died at Camp Lee, Virginia on 8 October 1918 during the influenza pandemic. Continue reading

Captain Walter Frederick Fitch MC

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

The graves of Captain Angus Alexander Mackintosh of Mackintosh, younger; Major Hon. Charles Henry Lyell; and Captain Walter Frederick Fitch MC
The graves of Captain Angus Alexander Mackintosh of Mackintosh, younger; Major Hon. Charles Henry Lyell; and Captain Walter Frederick Fitch MC

Captain W F Fitch MC was one of two instructors serving with the British training mission who died during the influenza epidemic in 1918 and who were buried in Virginia (the other is Company Sergeant Major G M Symons). Fitch died on 1 November 1918 while serving as an instructor at Camp Lewis in Washington state. His body was transported by train across the country to Washington DC, where he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on 12 November. Continue reading

Lieutenant William Strong

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

Lieutenant William Strong, Canadian Machine Gun Corps
Lieutenant William Strong, Canadian Machine Gun Corps

This is a fight for humanity and I want to be in it.’[1]

William Strong came from prominent family in Washington DC—his paternal grandfather, also William Strong, was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.[2] His maternal grandfather, John Watkinson Douglass, had been President of the Board of Commissioners for Washington DC, as had his uncle, Henry Brown Floyd MacFarland. Reportedly, William Strong was the first man from Washington DC to volunteer to fight. He served with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps in France, before falling ill. He died in 1919. Continue reading

The Military Attachés

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

The first British military attaché in Washington DC was Major General J D McLachlan DSO, who had taken up his post in September 1917.[1] He was supported by an experienced and well-connected staff. When influenza struck—no discriminator between rich and poor, or the titled and working class—he lost two of his small team within days.

Major Hon. C H Lyell and Captain A A Mackintosh of Mackintosh, yr
Major Hon. C H Lyell and Captain A A Mackintosh of Mackintosh, yr

Continue reading