North Wales Western Front Association

The Foreign Burial of American War Dead: a History

CHRIS DICKON

McFarland & Co Inc, USA, 2011, £19.11, (Kindle edition)

302 pp, appendices

ISBN: 978-0786446124

I came across an extract from this book when I was searching on the web for more information on Puchevillers CWGC cemetery where my grandfather is buried, as the book lists nine “Americans” who are buried there. 

In fact, I found the text of the book rather disappointing, and especially so from the WWI viewpoint (but see below re the appendices).  The text is somewhat rambling and not particularly well structured and could do with some editing to remove inconsistencies and make it more digestible.  Having said that, the book does deal with a considerable period of time, covering foreign American war dead from all wars from 1790-ish onwards.  Did you know that there are 271 American prisoners from the war of 1812 buried at Dartmoor prison? Indeed, did you know that there was a war of 1812?

As regards WWI, the most valuable aspect of the book by far is the appendices.  The author has gone through CWGC records and has listed those casualties where the personal message makes mention of an address in the US.  Some of these are clearly Canadians who were working or living in the US, but others would indeed seem to be US residents who joined the Canadian or British armies.  Some may well have been British men who had gone to the US before WWI and whose home address is therefore an American one, but some will be home-grown Americans.  Nonetheless, it is a very valuable list.  The information does not just cover the Western Front itself but covers the various theatres of WWI.  There are also some “American” casualties listed in the book as being buried in the graveyard at the marble church at Bodelwyddan here in North Wales (where there was a Canadian camp at Kinmel in WWI).

Perhaps the most odd of the WWI burial records is that of nurse Nettie Grace McBride who died of typhus at the American red Cross Hospital in Tumen, Siberia on 23rd December 1918 and was reportedly buried at Tumen.  As the author says – is the grave still there?  Indeed, could you point to Tumen on a map?

On the Western Front, the author refers to Lijssenthoek CWGC cemetery near Ypres, where there are three American graves which are marked by the CWGC as Americans with a rather hybrid headstone.  It seems from this book that one was a US Army soldier whose family did not want him disturbed and reinterred in an ABMC cemetery.  In fact, his father came from the southern USA to see where his son was buried, and had to apply specifically for a passport for the purpose, the records for which still exist in the American archives.  Another casualty is a US Army soldier who was British and whose brother is buried in the British section at Lijssenthoek (Harry and Reginald King).

There are also three “British” listed in the ABMC Somme American Cemetery at Bony. In fact, they are definitely Americans who served in the British forces. Two served with the RAF, including one who was from a wealthy family.  He and his sister were the heirs to a family fortune but sadly she died of illness just a month after her brother was killed (TR Hostetter).  The other RAF casualty was also a flyer – JH Grantley. The third “British” person is New Zealand Rifle Brigade private whose father was American consul in New Zealand.

When Mike O’Brien spoke to us some time ago at the North Wales branch, he did say that there were also a significant number of the Canadian casualties at Vimy who seemed to be American, so it is a real aspect of WWI.  (Incidentally, the Canadian regiments even recruited in Ireland in WWI).

As an incidental comment, I would add that if you go to Washington DC there is a CWGC cross of sacrifice in the national cemetery at Arlington dedicated to those Americans who served with British or Canadian forces in both world wars.  So, this book gives some real life detail to that commemoration.

Well, as I said, the appendices are a good reference source and for those interested primarily in WWI they are going to be the main point of interest.  If the US aspect of WWI interests you, then the book may be worth it for that information alone.

Trevor Adams