A Great War American in Portsmouth

I’ve been out and about the local cemeteries taking some last minute pictures for my book.

In Kingston Cemetery, in between hunting for distinctive CWGC headstones, I came across this chap.

 


Private First Class Bertrand Kinsell, from Illinois. He was serving with the 343rd Infantry Regiment, in the 26th Division. He died on 29 September 1918. Notice also that he has a CWGC style headstone. Frustratingly, the American equivalent of the CWGC – the American Battle Monuments Commission – doesn’t contain Kinsell on its online register. Searching the internet yields no information either.

Wikipedia tells us that the 26th Infantry Division was formed in July 1917. It originally consisted of two Brigades, the 51st and 52nd Infantry. Intriguingly, apparently its men came from Massachusetts, Conneticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. But not Illinois, where Kinsell came from. Neither was the 343rd Infantry Regiment listed as part of the Division.

The Division was one of the first of the American Expeditionary Force to land in France, at St Nazaire on 21 September 1917. It was eventually in action on the Western Front for 210 days, suffering 1,587 men killed and 12,077 wounded. The Division was demobilised after the war, in May 1919.

Initially I struggled to find information about the 343rd Infantry Regiment. However, it seems that it was part of the 86th Infantry Division. This Division remained in the United States, training and providing over 100,000 replacements for the AEF. The Division eventually arrived in France on 8 September 1918, but did not reach the front line before the Armistice. Between arriving in France and the end of the war its manpower was completely stripped to make up Divisions already on the front line.

My guess is that Kinsell was originally a member of the 343rd Regiment, but was transferred to the 26th Infantry Division as a replacement, hence the confusion over his Regiment and Division. Why might he be buried in Portsmouth? I’m not sure, but the AEF may have had a hospital nearby, or he might have been treated in a local hospital. Or, its possible that he may have been taken ill or died in an accident.

I wonder if we might be able to find out more about this young American, so far from home?

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20 Comments

Filed under World War One

20 responses to “A Great War American in Portsmouth

  1. John Erickson

    Any idea where in Illinois he was from, James? I checked the statewide death record, and though they show a few female Kinsell names, they (obviously) don’t show Bertrand’s. Don’t give up on Bertrand – since Illinois just happens to be my old stomping ground, I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve! ;)
    And, thank you. It’s obvious you brought up THIS young man as a tribute to your favourite overseas fan, right? RIGHT? (Hey, feed a guy’s ego, please? :D )

  2. James Daly

    Hi John, I haven’t got a clue where he came from in IL. Pretty much all I know is in the post, from either his headstone or wikipedia.

    I’m intrigued as to why he isn’t on the ABMC – is this because he is buried in a small town cemetery and not one of their ‘super-cemeteries’? Also that he has a CWGC style stone… very intriguing…

    • John Erickson

      Yeah, I found a couple hits on Mr. Kinsell, but none of them were useful. Especially the first one found by several different search engines. Some putz’s silly blog, Daily History or some such nonsense. Really annoying! ;)
      The trick is, the gravestone style is similar to a style used here in the States, so that could raise a whole other set of questions.
      Don’t worry, like I said, I’ve got a couple more tricks up my sleeve. I’ve also registered on the Great War forum, so I’m gonna drop a question on there, soon as they approve my registration. Hang in there, my friend, we’ll discover the background of the good Sir Bertrand! :D

  3. John Erickson

    Just a quick question – any idea of battalion? I’m digging through the US Army regiment list, and they have 3 battalions for the 343rd. I am NOT giving up! :)

    • James Daly

      Not a clue I’m afraid John, the headstone simply says 343.

      I’m going to have a look to see if there are any other doughboys buried in Portsmouth. The cemeteries office are normally quite helpful.

      • John Erickson

        I’ve got some Emails out, waiting to hear back. Just had a weird idea, might yield some results – I’ll let you know. Dang it, I want to find out who this gent was, and I WILL find out!
        By the by, when is our next meeting of “OCD Anonymous”? :D

  4. hey James just a thought … Portsmouth dialect is quite distinct and rapid . When you say the words Ill in I ? which in Portsmouth speech means Ill arn’t I ? perhaps Illinois was ‘ Ill arnt I ? ‘

    Your thoughts

  5. Bertrand Kinsell was Bertram Kinsell born 1890 Portsmouth , parents William & Georgina Kinsell who are buried with him in the War Grave !

  6. Bertam was with 86th division .. check headstone again .. its not 26th division . Georgina Kinsell left a will in 1924 and it states she was from Ophir Road in Portsmouth . When Bertram joined the 343rd Regiment 86th Division he lists his address as Ophir Road Portsmouth . Please check book by John G Little 86th Division which is available to read on net … it lists Betram Kinsell from Portsmouth .. he the only Englishmen of this regiment the others were mainly from Chicargo Illinois

  7. THELMA TURNER-HILL

    I have a copy of a photo where Americans are guarding the gates of St James Hospital Portsmouth, where Americans were in 1918 – there was a ‘flu epedmic that killed many and perfhaos Bertrand was there at the time, many died of the flu.

    • James Daly

      Hi Thelma, it sounds very similar to a photo in WG Gates ‘Portsmouth in the Great War’. I must confess it is an aspect of Portsmouth’s history that I knew absolutely nothing about until recently.

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