April 13, 1921
When the United States entered the Great War of 1914-1918 it was only to be expected that sons of Newfoundland living in the United States would be amongst the sailors and soldiers who would join the American ranks.
Newfoundlanders living in the United States joined the Americans in the hundreds. Some died a hero’s death. The government of the United States had decided (if a request was made by parents or next of kin) to remove from foreign soil the bodies of those killed in war and bring them home for burial. Thousands were transferred, amongst those bodies was one destined for Newfoundland.
The dead soldier was Private Anthony McGrath, a native of Patrick’s Cove, Cape Shore, Placentia Bay, the son of George McGrath. Anthony had been working in New York when the United States declared war on Germany. Shortly afterwards he enlisted in the 106th Infantry Battalion of New York. After training he embarked with his unit as a part of the American Expeditionary Force to France, and in short order was in the front line trenches.
On September 27th, 1918, in the Argonne district, Anthony McGrath sealed his patriotism with his blood, when he was killed in action. The Meuse-Argonne offensive, in the Argonne forest (Sept 26–Nov 11), was their biggest operation and victory, in which Sergeant Alvin York became a national hero (played by Gary Cooper in a 1941 movie).
In the spring of 1921 the remains of Anthony McGrath were removed from France, brought to the United States, and then forwarded to Newfoundland.
In St. John’s, the newly formed Great War Veterans Association (G.W.V.A.) and Newfoundland Militia Department were consulted and arrangements made for a suitable military escort to meet the body on arrival of coastal steamship Kyle in the city.
Upon being notified the G.W.V.A. took charge of all arrangements and issued an appeal to all veterans to assemble at the dock pier, on arrival of S.S. Kyle to do honor to the remains of their deceased comrade. Permission was granted to all sailors and soldiers to wear uniforms and it was requested that all who could do so to wear them, as also for all American sailors or soldiers in St. John’s and vicinity to attend the funeral.
Commenting on the arrangements, the St. John’s newspaper the “Daily News” reported:
“This is an unique occasion in that it is the first body of a Newfoundland soldier who fell in France to be brought back for interment in his homeland …”
Another quotation from the same paper states:
“…. a Newfoundland soldier is being carried from the battlefields in France to find a resting place in his own country, and preparations are being made to pay him due respect in this instance, for he, after all, must represent the Dead who rest in France.”
The funeral procession paraded through the several communities on the Cape Shore, flags were flying at half-mast everywhere. All who could do so joined the funeral en- route to the soldier’s home, where, on April 13th, (1921) he was laid in his final resting place in the little cemetery on the hill overlooking Patrick’s Cove.
The final chapter was written in November, 1942, when representatives of the American Legion went from Argentia to Private McGrath’s grave at Patrick’s Cove and posthumously made him a member of the American Legion.
Anthony was the son of George McGRATH, age 65. He left to mourn his brother Bartholomew McGRATH, age 35; John J. McGRATH, age 25; George McGRATH, age 20; and sister Lucy F. McGRATH age 23.
Recommended Archival Collection: Distinguished Service: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the Great War, this exhibition documents the lives and experiences of the province’s soldiers and aims to encourage interest in research on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This on line exhibit focuses on the World War I service records of the Regiment, available at the ARCHIVES on microfilm. http://www.rnr.therooms.ca/part1_entering_the_great_war.asp
Recommended Exhibit: At the Rooms: Pleasantville: From Recreation to Military Installation. Level 2 Atrium.
Recommended Reading: Author: Collins, E.J. Repatriated: Veteran Magazine, July 1943, Vol. 14(1), pp. 93-95.