Brookwood Military Cemetery – The American Memorial Chapel

We’ve looked around the graves in the American Military Cemetery at Brookwood before, but we’ve never been inside the chapel. 

We’ve never been inside because I can only remember a single time in fifteen years or more when the place hasn’t been covered in scaffolding (compare this shot with the previous one, each taken years apart), with the door firmly shut.

Today, however, although the scaffolding remains, the door is open.  The frieze above the entrance, supported by four Doric columns,…

…is inscribed with the words ‘Perpetual Light Upon Them Shines’,…

…and once inside, this is the view that greets us, with the altar and cross in the centre, flanked by six flags representing five of the Allied nations,…

…Belgium, the United States & Italy on the left,…

…and the United Kingdom, the U.S.A. & France on the right.

Behind, the panels on the Walls of the Missing list the names of American servicemen – soldiers, sailors & coastguards – who died at sea during the Great War,…

…many in the waters surrounding the British Isles and off the coast of France, and whose remains could not be recovered.  The names on the two panels behind the flags are all Army casualties, which, as you can see, includes a number of aircrew.

The small tablet on the altar features the Star of David and two smaller inlaid tablets symbolising the Ten Commandments,…

…and beneath our feet, the Great Seal of the United States.

The names of the dead surround us, ten panels listing, in total, 563 American casualties.  On our left, the first three of six panels on opposing walls listing the Navy casualties.

As you look at the details that follow each of the names on these panels, you will notice that certain ships appear again & again.  U.S.S. Jacob Jones, for example, appears on eleven occasions on this panel,…

…and eleven times on this panel too, and U.S.S. President Lincoln appears four times on these first two panels, and more on those that follow.

Originally a German steamer operated by the Hamburg-American Line, the President Lincoln (left) was seized in New York harbour on America’s entry into the war in 1917 and converted into a troop transport.  Between October 1917 & May 1918 she made four successful trips across the Atlantic, transporting 23,000 U.S. troops directly to France before her luck ran out.  On the morning of 31st May 1918, soon after leaving Brest at the start of the return voyage of her fifth trip, she was torpedoed by U-90 and sank within twenty minutes with the loss of twenty six of her complement of over seven hundred.  Packed lifeboats (above right) carry survivors towards rescuing American destroyers (below).

There are two recipients of the Medal of Honor, the American military’s highest award, on these walls, their names highlighted in gold.  The first, thirty year old Gunner’s Mate First Class Osmond Kelly Ingram, was a member of the crew of U.S.S. Cassin who, on 15th October 1917 off the coast of Ireland, spotted a German U-boat just as it fired a torpedo towards his ship.

U.S.S. Cassin (left), and Osmond Ingram (right).  His citation reads, ‘For extraordinary heroism in the presence of the enemy on the occasion of the torpedoing of the Cassin, on 15 October 1917. While the Cassin was searching for the submarine, Ingram sighted the torpedo coming, and realizing that it might strike the ship aft in the vicinity of the depth charges, ran aft with the intention of releasing the depth charges before the torpedo could reach the Cassin. The torpedo struck the ship before he could accomplish his purpose and Ingram was killed by the explosion. The depth charges exploded immediately afterward. His life was sacrificed in an attempt to save the ship and his shipmates, as the damage to the ship would have been much less if he had been able to release the depth charges.’  The Cassin would survive the encounter.  On 23rd February 1919, the U.S. Navy launched a destroyer named the U.S.S. Osmond Ingram, the first Naval vessel to be named after an enlisted man.

If you were to take one more look at this panel, you will spot another name with a small roundel to its left; this signifies the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, of which there are three recipients to be found among the names on these walls. The first is twenty three year old Lieutenant Stanton Frederick Kalk, pictured, whose citation reads, ‘For extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession on the occasion of the destruction of the U.S.S. Jacob Jones by a submarine, on 6th December 1917. Lieutenant Kalk, as Officer of the Deck, when the submarine was sighted, took prompt and correct measures in manoeuvring to avoid the torpedo, and later showed extraordinary heroism in sacrificing himself by giving up his place on a life raft to make room for others, as a result of which splendid self-sacrifice, he lost his life.’  The photograph of the Jacob Jones going down (above right) was taken by a crewman, presumably from a life raft.

The Navy names continue on the panels on our right,…

…and you will notice a small cross inscribed next to one of the names on this panel, indeed you may have already spotted two on the first Navy panel,…

…and there’s another near the top here.  These mark men who have received the Navy Cross, awarded to sailors and marines who ‘distinguish themselves for extraordinary heroism in combat with an armed enemy force’.  During the Great War, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal was senior to the Navy Cross; today, indeed since World War II, the precedence of the two decorations has been reversed.

The second Medal of Honor recipient, highlighted in gold, is Chief Special Mechanic Gustaf Sundquist, seven names from the top of the sixth Navy panel.

Sundquist (pictured) received his award during the Spanish-American War when, on May 11th 1898, off the coast of Cuba, he displayed extraordinary bravery and coolness under fire while ‘on board the U.S.S. Nashville during the operation of cutting the cable leading from Cienfuegos, Cuba, 11 May 1898. Facing the heavy fire of the enemy, Sundquist displayed extraordinary bravery and coolness through this action.’  Sadly, having re-enlisted in the Navy on America’s entry into the Great War in 1917 in his late thirties, he drowned whilst swimming off the French coast in the Bay of Biscay on 25th August 1918.

Looking closely at Sundquist’s entry, unlike most there is no ship mentioned, of course, instead of which we find ‘Lafayette Radio Station’, whatever that may be.  Actually, I know the answer to that,…

…mainly because I found this photograph, showing American & French station officers posing for the cameramen on Thanksgiving Day, 28th November 1918.  The radio station was a vast place, consisting of eight 520-foot towers, twenty barracks, a mess hall, speciality warehouses, a refrigeration plant, a laundry, and even a small hospital.  Pershing, the American Expeditionary Forces commander, was concerned that the existing radio stations were no longer able to cope, or were too easily jammed, and had concerns about the safety of the transatlantic cable beneath the Atlantic Ocean, the link between New & Old Worlds, and thus ordered its construction.  By the time of the Armistice, four of the towers had been completed, and construction continued post-war, at the behest of the French government, to whom the completed station was handed over in December 1919.

On either side of the doorway…

…the names of the missing men of the United States Coast Guard.  What differentiates the two Coast Guard panels from the Army & Navy panels is that all the Coast Guard casualties died aboard just two ships, most on the U.S.C.G.C. Tampa, the remainder aboard the U.S.C.G.C. Seneca, and it’s a member of the crew of the Seneca where we find, towards the top of this panel, the second recipient of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.

Assistant Machinist William L. Boyce (pictured) received his medal for ‘distinguished and heroic service in the line of his profession as an officer of the U.S.S. Seneca in volunteering as one of a party to board the British Steamer Wellington, following the torpedoing of that vessel on 16 September 1918, and her abandonment by her crew. Assistant Machinist Boyce was placed in charge of the machinery of the Wellington and through his efforts in handling the Power plant, the vessel, although fatally damaged, was able to continue on her course for port for twelve hours; then, owing to heavy weather and rapid rising of the water in the holds, a bulkhead gave way, flooding the engine and fire rooms. Even then, Machinist Boyce and his men stuck to their posts until steam was blown down sufficiently to prevent danger of explosion to the boilers. In the attempt to abandon ship when his services were no longer of any use Machinist Boyce lost his life.’

S.S. Wellington (above, as she begins to founder) was one of twenty one ships in Convoy OM-99 sailing from the U.K. to Gibraltar when the torpedo struck.  Five of her crew would die.  A total of nineteen Navy Crosses (today the award would presumably be the newly instituted (2010) Coast Guard Cross) were also awarded to members of the volunteer party from the Seneca, nine to survivors and ten posthumously, the names of two of the latter appearing on the first Coast Guard panel,…

…and seven here on the second Coastguard panel.  All share the same citation, this example that of August Zuleger, the final name on this panel, ‘The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Assistant Master At Arms August Zuleger, United States Coast Guard, for extraordinary heroism as a member of crew of the U.S.S. Seneca in an attempt to save the coal-laden steamer Wellington after that vessel had been torpedoed on 16 September 1918. Immediately after the ship was torpedoed she was abandoned by her crew. Volunteers were called from the Seneca. Assistant Master at Arms Zuleger was one of the eighteen* who volunteered although there was a high sea running and it was known she was in danger also of further submarine attack. The vessel was kept afloat for some hours but finally sunk. Of the eighteen men who volunteered, only eight were rescued, the others being drowned.’  All involved received a commendation from the senior Royal Navy officer stationed at Gibraltar for their bravery, and the event is, to this day, the most honoured event in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.

*the volunteers were led by First Lieutenant F. W. Brown, who would survive to receive his Navy Cross.  As far as I can find out, the Seneca’s crew received one Navy Distinguished Service Medal, to William Boyce, and nineteen Navy Crosses (ten posthumously, all of whose names appear on these walls).  Which, according to my maths, makes twenty men in total, of whom eleven died, whatever Mr. President may say.

This panel also features the third Navy Distinguished Service Medal recipient, Captain Charles A. Satterlee, whose citation reads, ‘for distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Tampa, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of transporting and escorting troops and supplies through waters infested with enemy submarines and mines.’  On the afternoon of 26th September 1918, the Tampa, having completed escort duty from Gibraltar (the picture above shows the Tampa moored at Gibraltar) to the Irish Sea, was ordered to put in at Milford Haven in Wales.  As she passed through the Bristol Channel she was hit amidships by a torpedo from U-91 and exploded, sinking with all hands.  Total casualties amounted to 111 Coast Guardsmen, 4 U. S. Navy personnel, 11 Royal Navy personnel, and 5 civilians.  Only four bodies were ever recovered.  Saterlee, who went down with his ship, was forty three.

There are, in total, fourteen recipients of the Navy Cross on these walls, the other five on the Navy panels that we have already seen, although shown again in close-up here (saves you scrolling back).  One of those (above) is another of the volunteers from the crew of the Seneca, the tenth posthumous award to a member of the ship’s crew (for those of you questioning my earlier maths), his citation identical to the other nine.  I am pretty sure that the reason he appears on one of the Navy panels is because gunners aboard these ships were U.S. Navy personnel, not Coast Guard.

Electrician First Class Charles Laurence Ausburne, United States Navy, received his award ‘for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty while serving on the Army Transport Antilles when that vessel was torpedoed on 17 October 1917. At the emergency wireless stations, Electrician First Class Ausburne sent out distress signals until the vessel went down, thereby losing his life.’

S.S. Antilles, laden with American troops, arrives at a French port (left).  Survivors of the sinking about to be rescued (right).

Lieutenant Earle Wayne Freed Childs, United States Navy, received his award ‘for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service while serving as an Observer on board the British Submarine H.M.S. H-5, engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous submarine duty in the War Zone, during World War I.’

Unfortunately, what actually occurred was that, on 2nd March 1918, H.M.S. H-5 (above) was mistaken for a German U-boat in Caernarfon Bay off the Welsh coast by S.S. Rutherglen, a British merchant ship, which subsequently rammed her and she went down with all hands.  Childs (above right), who was on board the submarine as an observer, thus became the first U.S. submariner to lose his life in the Great War.

Lieutenant George Fountain Parrott, United States Navy, received his award ‘for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in the line of his profession on the U.S.S. Shaw, when that vessel was rammed by the steamship Aquitania on 9 October 1918. Lieutenant Parrot lost his life on that occasion.’

U.S.S. Shaw in newly applied pattern camouflage shortly before the collision (above left), and, guess what, after the collision (above right).  Appparently, Shaw’s rudder jammed as she was completing a zigzag manoeuvre, leaving her heading straight for the ship she was escorting, the R.M.S. Aquitania, the Cunard liner being used as a transport ship at this point in the war (previously she had been converted to, first, an armed merchant cruiser, then a troopship and later a hospital ship).  Aquitania struck the destroyer, removing some ninety feet of her bow along with the ship’s bridge, setting her on fire, and killing twelve of her crew, although she subsequently did make port – forty miles away – under her own steam, which must have been a sight to see.

And finally Lieutenant Clarence Crase Thomas, United States Navy, who received his award ‘for exceptionally meritorious service in Command of the Armed Guard of the S.S. Vacuum, when that ship was torpedoed about 10.30 a.m. 28 April 1917. The ship started sinking so fast it was impracticable to open fire, and all hands took to boats. Lieutenant Thomas died from exposure in an open boat. It is believed that Lieutenant Thomas was the first United States Navy officer lost in the war.’  And I believe that this is now an established fact.  Thomas is pictured below.

Time to head back outside,…

…and sneak round the back of the memorial,…

…because you never know what you might find.  And yes, the whole memorial is indeed made of Portland Stone, just like CWGC headstones over the years – well, the ones made of Portland Stone, at any rate.

Actually, we have come round to the back of the memorial for a reason.  Somewhere around here there was once what was known as Plot X.

Plot X – probably a bit further up the slope on the right – once contained the bodies of nineteen U.S. servicemen who were executed at His Majesty’s Prison Shepton Mallet in Somerset during the Second World War between mid-1942 and September 1945 during which time the prison was staffed entirely by the American military.  Their bodies were later disinterred and reburied at Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France, where ninety six executed American servicemen now lie.

Looking down the length of the American Plot, and at the far end,…

…the entrance, where we started, only on a different day.  Oh, and if you want to see the memorial chapel on that one occasion I mentioned at the start when I visited and the building was scaffolding-free,…

…here’s the only photo I took of it that day, with some of the American burials in the foreground.  You might remember, some six years ago now, when we looked in detail at some of these burials, and this post has prompted some significant additions to that post, so if you wish to see the updated version, I should click here.  Otherwise, this really does bring our extensive look around both Brookwood Military Cemetery & Brookwood Cemetery to an end.  Hope you found it of interest, boys & girls.  We’ll go somewhere different next.

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4 Responses to Brookwood Military Cemetery – The American Memorial Chapel

  1. Alan Bond says:

    Thank you again MF for an interesting post. I don’t remember visiting the chapel on my 1 visit to Brookwood so maybe the door was closed, although it is equally likely that I ignored as there is so much else to see. Looking forward to what ever comes next.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Cheers Alan. Much appreciated. Should you ever decide to revisit, well, were I to know in advance, you might find me strolling about the place. Stranger things…….

  2. Nick Kilner says:

    It’s been a fascinating tour, perhaps even more so having visited in person. I hadn’t realised quite how fortunate I was that we were able to get into the American chapel (although I do recall someone muttering something about once in 15 years, and he’s in on his first visit lol). It’s certainly an interesting feeling, standing inside surrounded by panel upon panel of casualty lists. Despite it’s size, it suddenly feels somewhat claustrophobic when you realise how many names are carved into the walls that surround you. Excellent work on the research btw, I suspect it’s even trickier finding info on American casualties than it is British ones, and they are all tales that should be told. An excellent finish to a very interesting and informative tour. Nicely done

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