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

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

2016 Project Roundup

Amongst the aims of the project are a check of the accuracy of the details displayed on the headstones and the online commemorations by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The Commission has been very supportive of the project and it is appropriate to highlight the successes thus far.

Of the five cases submitted, four were actioned without question and one remains in adjudication—a brief description of the corrected error appears at the beginning of each story, which may be found at the links below.

Leading Seaman Sam Gordon Wills

Fireman Low On

Private Bert Lancelot Brennen

Leading Seaman Peter Beatty

The case still being reviewed is that of Private Harry Ross, whose real name is believed to be Fooksman.

In addition, Southampton City Council has acknowledged the error on the city’s war memorial in relation to Private Joseph Henry Wosikowski. Disappointingly, the error was not corrected due to a shortage of money. It is hoped that a series of additions and amendments to the memorial will be made before Remembrance Day 2018.

Next month we will submit a series of new cases, most comprising minor errors, and we hope that 2017 will see equal success, including some new commemorations.

New Headstone for Company Serjeant Major George Mayer Symons

The new gravestone for George Symons, August 2016
The new gravestone for George Symons, August 2016

Warrant Officer Class 2, Company Serjeant Major, George Mayer Symons, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), attached to the British War Mission, died during the influenza epidemic at Camp Lee, Virginia on 8 October 1918. He was buried in Poplar Grove National Cemetery near Petersburg.

Unfortunately, his grave marker was incorrectly inscribed. The error was first identified by Betsy Dinger, a Park Ranger of the National Parks Service responsible for the cemetery. In conjunction with the CWGC team in Ottawa, she obtained a new, correctly inscribed headstone and stored it pending the refurbishment of the cemetery. Continue reading

A Stranger in a Strange Land ‘

That old phrase describes the seaman who dies in New York, who lies alone in the hospital, or sometimes in the Institute. He turns to us when the end is near, confident that to us he is not a stranger, that what is left when he no longer can worry or arrange, will be reverently cared for.’[1]

Seamen's Church Institute Plot, The Evergreens Cemetery, BrooklynThe Seamen’s Church Institute plot in the Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn, has the second largest number of First World War CWGC graves in a single plot in the United States—the largest, with 10 men of the Royal Flying Corps and one from the Royal Air Force, being in Greenwood Memorial Park, Fort Worth, Texas.[2]

There are nine CWGC burials in the plot:

Trimmer Walter John Joseph Bowles, Mercantile Marine Reserve
Able Seaman Thomas Drinkwater, Royal Navy
Private William Richard Eveleigh, Royal Marine Light Infantry
Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves, Royal Naval Reserve
Trimmer Percy Samuel Tomas Hyett, Mercantile Marine Reserve
Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh, Royal Naval Reserve
Stoker 1st Class Henry John Gardner Miller, Royal Navy
Scullion William Bertram Parr, Mercantile Marine Reserve
Stoker 1st Class Alfred Weeden, Royal Navy

The history of ministries serving the needs of merchant sailors on the eastern seaboard of the United States began in Boston in the period after the war of 1812 with the founding of the Boston Society for the Religious and Moral Improvement of Seamen. Similar ministries were founded in New York—the Marine Bible Society in 1817, and the New York Port Society in 1818. Continue reading

Remembrance Day 2015 – Laurel Grove South Cemetery, Savannah

The grave of Private James Stewart, 11 November 2015
The grave of Private James Stewart, 11 November 2015

On Remembrance Day 2015, the Canadian Armed Forces contingent stationed in the United States at Fort Gordon, Georgia, held an act of remembrance at the grave of Private James Stewart.

Private Stewart was an African-American from Savannah, Georgia, who enlisted for service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and served with No.2 Construction Company attached to the Canadian Forestry Corps in the Jura region in south-east France, and at Alençon in northern France. He died in Canada on 19 December 1919 and was buried in  Laurel Grove South Cemetery, Savannah four days later.

The event was organised by Corporal Allan Gudlaugson and the photographs were taken by Marie-Carole Gallien.

The Canadian Cross of Sacrifice at Arlington National Cemetery

And the last land he found, it was fair and level ground
About a carven stone,
And a stark Sword brooding on the bosom of the Cross
Where high and low are one.

Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, Arlington National Cemetery
Canadian Cross of Sacrifice, Arlington National Cemetery

Rudyard Kipling’s verse from The King’s Pilgrimage—the visit of King George V to war cemeteries in France and Flanders in 1922—highlights three iconic aspects of the commemoration of the war dead of the two world wars by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.[1] Firstly, the huge Stone of Remembrance in the larger cemeteries—the ‘great war stone’ was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to be abstract and to avoid association with any particular religion. Secondly, and in contrast, the elegant Cross of Sacrifice designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield. Finally, the equality of treatment for all war dead regardless of rank, nationality, creed or race.

In the United States there are no Stones of Remembrance. There are, however, two Crosses of Sacrifice. The cross is in all CWGC cemeteries where there are more than 40 war graves, which explains its presence in Oakwood Cemetery Annexe in Montgomery, Alabama. There are 78 graves from the Second World War in the cemetery, all airmen who died during training.

The other cross is in Arlington National Cemetery. There are only 32 graves in Arlington and that cross serves another purpose. It is a memorial, specifically to the citizens of the United States who gave their lives while serving in the armed forces of Canada in the First and Second World Wars and in Korea. Continue reading