The Americans at Brookwood

Having spent an afternoon at Brookwood Military Cemetery the other weekend, the first time I’d been there in a good few years, it won’t surprise you to hear that one of the projects on which I am currently working (alongside the forthcoming Boesinghe Tour, and various other odds and sods), is a return visit to Brookwood, in particular to look at some of the sections of this huge cemetery we didn’t see last time .  The Brookwood American Cemetery is one such area, and it occurred to me that it might get buried within what will be a far larger post when finally completed (and which will also only appear in the Back in Blighty category), so here, in its own right, is a tribute to the Americans buried in Brookwood, men who died in 1918 & 1919, thousands of miles from home on the other side of the pond.

The Brookwood American Military Cemetery is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission, its four plots containing 468 casualties of the Great War.  At the time of the Armistice, ninety nine cemeteries scattered across the U.K. contained the bodes of American servicemen and women, Brookwood at the time being just one of them.  In 1921 the U.S. War Department decided to move all American casualties that had not by then been repatriated to the United States to Brookwood, and the following year the British Government granted the land in perpetuity as an American military cemetery.

Stars and Stripes.  As we tour the cemetery, I managed to find photographs of some of the men buried here, and a few of the stories behind the names.  We begin in Plot B, the headstones beyond the flag in this picture.

Front row, left to right: We do know that infantryman Private Walter Deco Reed died in Edmonton in London on 30th October 1918 aged 26, and Corporal Arthur Corsen (pictured centre), died in Surrey on 8th January 1919.  On the right, Private 1st Class Richard Mather Jopling, a Harvard graduate who had been rejected by the U.S. Army for being underweight, joined the Red Cross and travelled to France with the American Field Service.  He was awarded the Croix de Guerre in May 1918 and received a later citation for bravery, but at some point was severely affected by shell shock, and he too died in Surrey on 16th March 1919 aged 25.  In the grave behind Jopling, Private Roy Dupree, Labor Battalion, died of disease, aged just 22.

I can tell you nothing about Private Major Ellison (nearest camera) apart from the fact that he was from Tennessee, and I hope he had broad shoulders, as being a Private Major must have been the butt of many a joke amongst his colleagues.  Moving along the row, Thomas Logston, whose father and several uncles had fought in the Civil War, and Tom Kvam, both died of pneumonia at the age of 23, victims of the flu epidemic.  Third from the left in the second row, artilleryman Nels Anderson, a Norwegian emigree, was also a victim of pneumonia, dying on 27th September 1918 during the passage from New York to England.

Nurse Hattie Raithel worked at the North Eastern Fever Hospital in Tottenham in London (below).  The hospital had been put at the disposal of the U.S. military authorities, Base Hospital No.29, who had arrived in England just two weeks earlier, taking over from the British on 1st August.  Between then and mid-January 1919, when it ceased operations, the hospital cared for a total of 3,976 cases, 2,351 surgical and 1,625 medical.  Hattie Raithel was another victim of the flu epidemic and died on 2nd November 1918, a few days before her 33rd birthday.   She was buried here at Brookwood with full military honours.

Private Charles Elias Eisenhower, on the left, 118th Machine Gun Battalion, died of disease in West Derby, a suburb of Liverpool, aged 26, on 22nd October 1918,…

…and in the row behind, Private Ben Ross (centre), Labor Battalion, was another to die of disease, in his case on 16th November 1918.

Nurse Florence Athay was actually born in Somerset in England in 1873, and presumably emigrated to the United States at some point, as her records show she joined up in New York.  She worked at Base Hospital No.67, which had arrived in France on 15th July 1918 and began operating at Mesves-sur-Loire on 1st August.  In the first 24 hours of operation the hospital received a total of 1,075 patients, many of them seriously wounded men from the fighting at Chateau Thierry away to the north.  During its six month period of activity, the hospital received a total of 7,853 casualties.  Florence Athay died of meningitis, also in West Derby, on 12th November 1918, aged 45.

Nurse Teresa Margaret Murphy was born in County Armagh, Ireland, emigrating to America in 1910, and becoming a registered nurse some time in 1915.  Already in France by February 1918, she worked at Headquarters, Base Section 3, about which I can tell you nothing, assuming that Base Section 3 is different to Base Hospital No.3, which may not be the case.  If they are one and the same, she was stationed in Vauclaire, France, until the hospital moved to London in early October 1918.  The hospital catered for men suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, and it was contracting the disease herself that killed Nurse Murphy at the age of 29.  She died in Farnham, Surrey, on 9th November 1918.

And finally in Plot B, three U.S. Air Service privates, about whom I can tell you nowt.

Time to take a look around Plot A.

I found photographs of two of the men buried in the second row here in Plot A, 21 year old Texan Private Irvin Sims (‘he was tall with brown eyes and black hair’), second from left, and Private Robert Warren, aged 23, fourth from left.  Among the earliest burials in the cemetery, both men died on 5th February 1918.  Robert Warren was certainly one of 210 men who lost their lives when the S.S. Tuscania, carrying 2,013 American troops alongside 384 crew from New York to Liverpool, was torpedoed by UB-77 within sight of their destination, sinking in about four hours.  I would think that Private Sims suffered the same fate.  The man buried in the back row, furthest headstone to the left, Private Harvey Ray Maurice Nagels, died of disease somewhere in England even earlier, on 30th January 1918, and next to him,…

…another nurse, and another Murphy, this time Alice Virginia.  Her story is told in the newspaper cutting below.

As with many of the American burials at Brookwood, it seems clear from this report that Alice was originally buried elsewhere, and later reinterred here.

No, Esther was a bloke, a U.S. Army private from Tennessee who died on 8th October 1918.

Placed above their headstones, the two inset photos show First Lieutenant Leon Wheeler, aged 27, on the left, and Private John Guy Coppage, Coast Artillery Corps, on the right.  Leon Wheeler died in Combe Martin, Devon, on 9th September 1918, I know not why.  John Coppage was aboard the ill-fated cruiser H.M.S. Otranto, the flagship for Convoy HX-50 which sailed out of New York on 25th September 1918.  Already having hit a French fishing schooner off Newfoundland, and towards the end of their journey proceeding by dead reckoning due to the terrible weather and mountainous seas, on the morning of 6th October the Otranto spotted land to the east.  While the rest of the convoy, reckoning (excuse the pun), correctly, that it was the coast of Scotland, turned south, the Otranto’s Officer of the deck decided, incorrectly, that it was the coast of Ireland and turned north.  It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.  Otranto collided with H.M.S. Kashmir, the collision punching a huge hole in Otranto’s side, and crushing Kashmir’s bow, although she was able to disentangle herself and steam away.  The weather preventing the launching of lifeboats, the captain of H.M.S. Mounsey managed to bring his ship alongside and some 300 American troops aboard Otranto, along with 266 officers & crew, thirty of the 37 French fishermen who had survived the earlier collision,and one YMCA morale officer, were able to jump across from one ship to the other, although many others fell or were crushed between the two ships.  The Mounsey, hugely overweight and badly damaged after its pummeling alongside the much larger Otranto, staggered off to find port at Belfast.  Forty five minutes after the collision, a huge wave lifted the Otranto and brought it crashing down on to the rocks, breaking the ship in half; of the nearly 500 men still aboard when the Mounsey departed, just 21 (17 of whom were American) men managed to swim the three quarters of a mile to shore, and two of these ( one American) later died.  In total 12 officers and 84 crewmen of the Otranto died, along with 358 American troops, and six French fishermen.  316 American casualties were originally buried on the islands of Islay and Muck, before the bodies were either repatriated to the United States, or reinterred here at Brookwood.  As a sad postscript, John Coppage’s brother, Joseph, was killed in action just six days later.

A row of unidentified soldiers.  In the row behind, another man killed when the S.S. Tuscania was torpedoed on 5th February 1918 was Private Clarence Paul (second row), although the newspaper may have got his age incorrect – from what I can see he was 28.  Privates George Wilfred House and Edward Williams, on either side of him,and Edwin Berkey, on the far right of the same row, all died during the sinking of the Otranto.

A glimpse through the archway to the Canadian World War II section of Brookwood,…

…before we turn our attention to Plot C.

Two of the men whose graves are pictured here, Privates Pearl Crews and Fred Baumann (far left, third row), are also given a date of death of 6th October, and I reckon were also victims of the Otranto disaster.  Private Edwin Olsen (fourth row) died in Hursley Park Military Hospital near Winchester, Hampshire, aged 21, on 25th May 1918 and was buried in Magdalen Hill Cemetery nearby.  In May 1922 his body was exhumed and reinterred here.  Apparently there is a question mark over whether the name Dios Albenio, a civilian in the Quartermaster Corps, should actually be Albenio Dios, but either way he died on 25th January 1918.  Behind him, Private Charles Harrison ‘Hack’ Tipton was another who succumbed to the flu, dying on 17th October 1918 aged 27; for decades his family believed that he had been buried in France.

Still in Plot 3, 21 year old Lieutenant Harold Kidder Bulkley (far left) joined the U.S. Air Service in 1917 and died on active service on 18th February 1918, although as a contemporary newspaper report states that he was killed in England, one suspects a training accident was the cause.  The other three men in the row were all privates in the 260th Aero Squadron, and all three died on 11th November 1918, although what their stories (story?) may be I cannot tell you, much as I would like to.

The middle of the three, Private Walter Tjaden, I include in close-up because his name is clearly German, and because a central character in All Quiet on the Western Front, still one of the finest anti-war films you could ever wish to see, has the same name.

Corporal Earl Collins, whose headstone is nearest the camera in this shot, died on 22nd March 1919, but a long way from where he now lies.  One of some 8,000 American troops sent to Russia in 1918 as part of the Allied intervention force* supporting the White Russians in the Russian Civil War, Collins was captured by the Bolsheviks and died, aged 28, in a hospital in Moscow.  He had previously been reported wounded and then missing, although both reports were later denied. Thus, according to a local newspaper report, when on 17th July 1919 the trains began arriving in Detroit carrying the men of 339th infantry battalion returning from Russia, Collins’ parents waited forlornly on the platform as the trains came and went, until the news came that their son had been dead for three months and would not be coming home;  ‘Mr. Collins half rose from his seat and with a gasp, toppled over unconscious. Mother Collins was the stronger. She cried piteously, the stifling, heart-broken sobs of a broken mother. Mr. Collins revived quickly and together they rode in a Red Cross car, back to the home that would never be the same again.’   I include Earl Collins’ Draft Registration Card, dated 5th June 1917, as a reminder that many of these men were conscripts as opposed to career soldiers.

*which also included, along with other smaller contingents, a Royal Navy Flotilla of more than 20 ships, 16 battalions of British and Empire troops, 2000 French colonial troops (“Who shall we send to the far north of Russia? I know!  Let’s send the colonials.”) and French engineers, and a number of Royal Air Force aircraft.

Private Alexander Kurtz, Russian by birth, was another victim of the Otranto disaster on 6th October 1918.  The inset newspaper report needs no explanation.

The only Jewish headstone in the cemetery, sadly the identity of this man is unknown.

From Plot C…

…we move on to the final plot, Plot D.

Inside the chapel, by the way, 563 names are inscribed on the walls, all men who died at sea and have no known grave.  Unfortunately, as you can see, access was impossible on this day.

First Lieutenant Gerge Oprin Middleditch (photo inset), U.S. Airforce Service Signal Corps, was killed in an airplane accident near Lincoln, England, on 12th March 1918.  I don’t know his age, and it’s interesting that the inscriptions on American crosses do not include the ages of the dead.  The service card is that of Corporal Richard Goldsmith (third row), who died of wounds in France on 4th November 1918, aged 29.  On the far left of the picture, Private Russell Roy Brooks died of pneumonia in hospital in Knotty Ash, Liverpool, on 30th September 1918, aged 23.

One of forty one unknown Americans buried in this cemetery, many of whom, I am quite sure, were victims of the naval tragedies already mentioned.  Which brings us to the end of this brief tour of Brookwood American Military Cemetery.

Never forget.

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2 Responses to The Americans at Brookwood

  1. Edward Taylor says:

    Great tour of Brookwood Cemetery

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