Lieutenant Louis Bennett

This essay is about the only First World War casualty commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in West Virginia.

Few know more about the life and exploits of Lieutenant Bennett than Dr. Charles D. Dusch, Jr., the Deputy Command Historian of the United States Air Force Academy, whose comprehensive and extremely well-researched thesis Great War Aviation and Commemoration: Louis Bennett, Jr., Commander of the West Virginia Flying Corps led us to his door.

This shorter piece by Dr. Dusch was written for this project. It describes Bennett’s involvement with aviation in the United States, his service with the Royal Flying Corps in France, his untimely death and his mother’s efforts to commemorate her only son. More information about Dr. Dusch may be found at the end of the essay. Footnotes are by the project editor.

The memorial to Louis Bennett Jr. in Machpelah Cemetery, Weston
The memorial to Louis Bennett Jr. in Machpelah Cemetery, Weston

West Virginia’s only Great War ace, Louis Bennett, Jr. was born in Weston, West Virginia, on 22 September 1894.[1] Unlike many of his peers who were merely enticed by the thrill of flying and became good pilots in the war, Bennett was much more. He clearly thought about aviation keenly and its impact on the war in larger terms, and he also took action on his ideas to bring them to fruition. Continue reading

Private George Melvin Atkinson

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 Private George Atkinson
The grave of Private George Atkinson

Private George Atkinson was a Canadian-born farmer from Clinton County, New York. He is the oldest casualty researched thus far—he was born in 1858, adjusted his age by 14 years when he enlisted, and died just before his 59th birthday. Three of his sons, all born in the United States, served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France. Continue reading

Sapper John Barton Carter

This is one of two essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New Mexico.

The grave of Sapper John Barton Carter
The grave of Sapper John Barton Carter

The details of the early life of John Barton Carter are difficult to determine but it is clear that they bear no resemblance to the information he provided on enlistment in 1918. He was probably born on 3 June around 1866, possibly in or near Albia, Iowa, the son of Thomas and Lydia Carter.[1] He worked in Albia as a tailor.

Carter enlisted on 8 May 1918 in Toronto. Like many citizens of the United States, he concealed his place of birth, giving it as ‘Toronto’ and he concealed his true age, giving his date of birth as 3 June 1878. He joined the Railway Construction and Forestry Depot at Hamilton, Ontario for his initial training and was allocated the number 2500551. Continue reading

Cadet James Austin Byrnes

Cadet James Byrnes was an American, living in New York, who enlisted in 1918 for service with the Royal Air Force. He was killed in a flying accident in Canada in June 1918.

The grave of Cadet James Byrnes
The grave of Cadet James Byrnes

James Austin Byrnes was born in Chicago, Illinois on 6 October 1893, the second of the six children of Robert and Margaret Byrnes.[1] His parents were English-born of Irish ancestry; they emigrated to the United States in 1889 and settled in Chicago. Early in the new century, the family moved to New York, where they lived on Eagle Avenue. His father was a machinery inspector for the railroad; James became a railroad linesman and worked for the Interborough Rapid Transit Company—the operator of the New York subway. Continue reading

Private Patrick Bradley

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 Private Patrick Bradley
The grave of Private Patrick Bradley

Patrick Bradley was an Irishman, who enlisted in early 1918 but fell ill soon afterwards and was discharged. He was born at Cushybraken near Kilrea in County Antrim, Ireland on 15 January 1893[1] the son of Charles and Mary Bradley.[2] His father was a farmer, who died before the turn of the century.

His mother emigrated to the United States around 1904, with his older brother James, and settled in New York. Patrick remained in Cushybraken with his widowed maternal grandmother and his mother’s family. After he left school, he worked as a farm labourer. James returned to Ireland in 1909 and in January 1910 he sailed back to New York from Londonderry on the SS Furnessia with his brother Patrick. Both sons lived with their mother and Patrick found work in service. At the time of his enlistment he was a footman for Mrs Sterling Postley, who lived in a sumptuous apartment at 830 Park Avenue.[3] Continue reading

Leading Seaman Sam Gordon Wills

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

Editor’s Note: Leading Seaman Wills was incorrectly commemorated by the CWGC as ‘Leading Seaman Gordon Willis’ His online record now reflects his correct name and his gravestone will be replaced.

Leading Seaman Gordon Wills
Leading Seaman Gordon Wills

Sam Gordon Wills was born on 5 March 1887, the second of the six children of Francis and Harriet Wills, at South Town, Kenton, near Dawlish in Devon, where his father was a farm labourer.[1] By 1901 he was working as a yard boy for a family in Dawlish.

He enlisted into the Royal Navy at Devonport on 18 April 1906 and was numbered SS/1368—during his service he was known as ‘Gordon’.[2] After a short period of training ashore, he joined the crew of the battleship HMS Vengeance in the Channel Fleet. His second ship was another pre-dreadnought battleship, HMS Caesar, from June 1908 to May 1909, and he then joined the dreadnought HMS Temeraire. He was transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve on 29 April 1911. Continue reading

Fireman Low On

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

Editors update, March 2016: For many years the CWGC recorded this seaman’s name as ‘Ou Loo’, believed to be the consequence of a series of transcription errors. That error has now been adjusted and he is correctly commemorated as ‘ Low On’. His gravestone will be replaced.[1]

The grave of Fireman Low On
The grave of Fireman Low On

Fireman Low On is one of the few casualties buried in the United States who died as a result of enemy action.

He was born in the mid-1880s in Guangdong province in southern China. There is no record of his early life or when he became a mariner but he signed on for service with SS Diomed in Hong Kong on 14 March 1918. Continue reading