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

Stoker 1st Class Alfred Weeden

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 Stoker Alfred Weeden
The grave of Stoker Alfred Weeden

Although recorded as being on the crew of HMS Leviathan, in fact, Stoker Weeden died in an accident in New York while serving in HMS Charybdis, which was undergoing conversion to a passenger and cargo carrier.

Alfred Weeden was born at Farnham in Surrey on 25 December 1884,[1] one of the twelve children of George and Mary Weeden.[2] When he left school he became a bricklayer’s labourer before he enlisted into the Royal Navy on 2 July 1906.[3]

After a period of training ashore and afloat at Portsmouth, Stoker Weeden joined the armoured cruiser HMS Drake. He remained in Drake, other than for periods of training ashore, until July 1909, when he was posted to various training establishments on the south coast. He transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve on 2 July 1911. Continue reading

Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh

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 older gravestone for Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh
The older gravestone for Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh

Patrick McDonagh (Padhraig MacConnachadh[1]) was born on 16 March 1895 in Claddagh, a fishing village on the western outskirts of Galway in Ireland. He was the fourth of the nine children of Thomas and Kate McDonagh, who lived at Rope Walk in the centre of the village.[2] His father was a stone mason but Patrick became a fisherman, like the majority of men in the village.

Claddagh in the early 20thC
Claddagh in the early 20thC

He enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve on 20 June 1913 and was allocated the number 5050A. Between August and November he underwent training at Portsmouth and in the gunnery training ships HMS Duncan and HMS Albemarle, and in the Home Fleet in the battleship HMS Bulwark. In the period before the war he returned to Galway, initially fishing as a crewman on the trawler Star of the Sea, before joining the liner SS Merion for a crossing to Philadelphia, and then the White Star liner SS Suevic for a journey to Australia between March and July 1914. Continue reading

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

Stoker 1st Class Henry John Gardner Miller

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 Stoker Henry John Gardner Miller
The grave of Stoker Henry John Gardner Miller

Henry John Gardner ‘Harry’ Miller was born on 27 May 1891 at Southsea in Hampshire, the son of George and Louisa Miller—he was one of 14 children.[1] His father worked as a shipwright and Harry worked as a milkman in Portsmouth. In 1912, he married Harriet Freeman.[2]

He enlisted into the Royal Navy at Portsmouth on 10 May 1916 and was allocated the number PO/K/33007. His training lasted until 30 August and he joined the crew of HMS Leviathan, then alongside at Greenock in Scotland. He was promoted to Stoker 1st Class on 19 April 1917. 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

Engineer Sub-Lieutenant John Gemmell

This essay is about the single First World War casualty commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Hawaii.

The grave of Engineer Sub-Lieutenant John Gemmell
The grave of Engineer Sub-Lieutenant John Gemmell

Engineer Sub-Lieutenant John Gemmell is the most westerly of the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in the United States. He died of pneumonia in Hawaii and is buried in O’ahu Cemetery. Continue reading