There is a plaque from old St. John the Baptist Anglican Church fastened to the wall of the modern St. John’s in Iroquois. It is carved in heavy marble, with the phrase, Pro Deo, Pro Rege, Pro Patria, 1914-1918, carefully inscribed at the top. After nearly 100 years, most people rarely take note of the six names and dates that are etched below.
Brock Wells was barely 21. His mother, Clara, had a small farm outside Iroquois. When the call came, Brock signed up to fight on May 7, 1915. Frank Wert was also 21. He’d worked as assistant veterinarian in Iroquois: he’d also had a little military training helping on transports with the horses and mules. His sister, Mrs. Alfred Keeler, was listed as his next of kin. He signed up September 10, 1915. Allen Fisher, the name everyone in the village knew this young man by, although his real name was Charles Allen Fisher, was a 21 year old telephone operator. He’d actually received a little military training, having served for 10 months on local Canal Patrol. He enlisted January 4, 1916, naming his parents on his attestation papers.
The oldest of the six, Frank Osborne, in his mid twenties, worked as a cheese maker in Iroquois. His dad, Albert Osborne, was listed on his enlistment papers, when Frank signed up to fight in the Great War, January 5, 1915. David Allan Robertson, known as Allan to his friends, was 22 years old, and a clerk in an Iroquois store. He came to the recruiters February 5, 1917. William E. Thwaite was 22, not a local boy exactly. He was actually from Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, and just happened to be working in the local dry goods store in the village when the War began. He’d enlisted with the 59th Militia Regiment in Iroquois after he came to town, because he’d had militia training in the old country. When he signed up on March 7, 1916, authorities made him an officer. At various times, all six boys were members of Iroquois Platoon.
The Platoon often used to drill at the fair grounds in South Mountain: people recalled watching them training in a few open areas around Iroquois. As raw recruits, the six from St. John’s parish learned about the Ross Rifle, even heard a little bit about the great trenches – and not enough about mustard gas, barbed wire, flame throwers, hand grenades, land mines, tanks and sky bombers.
With their buddies, the six St. John’s boys probably sang the popular songs of the day: Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Pack up Your Troubles, Tipperary. They went to farewell dances. They took last walks by the river. They dreamed of the years “after the war.”
If Hell does exist, it must look a lot like the bloody, reeking, soul destroying trenches of World War One.
Private William Brock Wells died of terrible wounds January 11, 1916, at Ypres Salient. That was on a day that Major General Currie praised his brigade, but wrote in the War Diary, “While I deeply regret their casualties, I do not think they were excessive.” Brock lies in plot 1A7 in the Dranoutre Military Cemetery.
Private William Franklyn Wert was grievously wounded at the battle of Thiepval. He lived long enough to be delivered to the General Hospital at Wimereux, near the coast of France, but it was far too late. He was laid to rest, September 27, 1916, at Wimereux Communal Cemetery. He lies at stone marker IQ 22A.
Lance Corporal Franklin George Osborne died November 18, 1916, at the horrific Battle of the Somme, where 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed. On that plain of death, his body was never recovered. Instead, his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate at the Vimy Memorial.
Sergeant Charles Allen Fisher was killed by a sniper’s bullet on May 3, 1917, somewhere near Vimy Ridge. Patrols couldn’t recover his body in subsequent shelling. There is a single photo of him, in uniform, on a wall at the Iroquois Legion. His name is also carved on the Menin Gate on the Memorial.
Captain William E. Thwaite was killed at the battle of Amiens on August 10, 1918, while leading his men through the gunfire and bombs. He is buried in the Fouquescourt British Cemetery. A small rose bush blooms every year over his resting place, plot 111E.I.
Private David Allan Robertson was killed on October 12, 1918, at Valenciennes. Possibly he got to see his 23rd birthday. His body was never found. His name appears at Vimy, carved into the Tyne Cot Cemetery. Less than four weeks after Allan Robertson died, on November 11, 1918, the German forces surrendered unconditionally. The Great War was over.
But Brock Wells, Frank Wert, Allan Robertson, Will Thwaite, Frank Osborne and Allen Fisher, of St. John’s Anglican parish, Iroquois, didn’t come home: For God, for King, for Country.