Chris Mansfield listened to his father, a veteran, read the names of the war dead from his community every year. Names are not faces, though. Names are not people.
Mansfield started to wonder about the people behind the names. What were their stories?
“At the time, they were mostly just names - and mostly forgotten names,” says Mansfield.
He started researching the names on the Milton Cenotaph, and when he finished, he moved on to the Liverpool cenotaph in front of the former town hall.
The names on the cenotaph are local: Godfrey, Weagle. Freeman, Rhyno. Yet many of these First World War connections are lost to those still living.
Mansfield went to the media in 2013 to seek out more information on people from Queens County who died in the First World War. Not only did he find out more about the names he’d so often heard, he also found 14 more people who died as a result of the war who are not named on the Liverpool cenotaph.
Some of those war dead died later of tuberculosis, which they contracted during the war. They died after the statue and cenotaph was erected in Liverpool. Another person missing from the list was Lenna Jenner, a “nursing sister” North Brookfield. She was 29 years old when she died near the end of the war.
There are 80 names that encompass people from all over Queens County on the Liverpool cenotaph. There are 14 names however, on Mansfield’s list of war dead that do not appear there.
Mansfield says he believes one reason is that a lot of people moved around after the war. He also says that although you could still be considered a casualty of the war up until 1922, the local cenotaph was raised in 1921.
A slice of society
Besides more names, Mansfield found more details and stories.
“I like to assume… that the 94 names is like a microcosm, a slice of the sort of people that volunteered,” says Mansfield.
Every person on the list is different. Different ranks, different parts of the forces, different hometowns or villages. Most are young - some would say too young for war.
“They come from every walk of life,” says Mansfield. “There’s natives, there’s blacks, there’s rich, most are middle class, there’s some guys who would have been called poor.”
Mansfield believes between 600 and 900 people from Queens fought in the Great War.
He notes that most of the volunteers from Queens who died are Canadians of German and English descent. Most are from families whose names had been familiar in Queens County since the 18th century. That’s a little different from the majority of volunteers at the beginning of the war.
“The first group of people who volunteered to go over and fight were British immigrants,” says Mansfield.
Every person has a story
Mansfield says every person is interesting and every person is a character. There are two cousins by the name of Berryman on his list who were known for being a bit mischievous, and even in one of the cousins’ photos, it appears he is holding back a grin even in uniform.
“One time, Harvey Berryman was given a dare to walk the top roof of one of the mills in Milton and Harvey walked the spine of that building without even batting an eye,” says Mansfield.
Despite all his research, Mansfield has found it difficult to find direct descendants of the war dead. He has a great uncle who fought and died, but the many of the men on his list were young and unwed.
“These were guys who perhaps thought they’d go over and help fight the war and be back by Christmas and it didn’t turn out that way,” says Mansfield.
As a part of his research, Mansfield has a Facebook page, Queens County War Dead, to help get stories about the locals who died. He’s also working on publishing a book through the Queens County Museum before Christmas 2014.