Honoring Uncle Frank: Anniversary of World War I

The 101st edition of the Tour de France is passing through many of the towns that I know better as battlefields from World War I. This is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the War to End All Wars. (If only.) As I will be following the Tour de France from Leeds to Paris, I am taking this opportunity to learn more about my great Uncle Frank Estel Denham.

My uncle Frank Denham of Santa Rosa, California
My uncle Frank Denham of Santa Rosa, California

In the last few months I have learned a great deal about him.

Frank was being groomed for working the family farm alongside his dad. Been reading about Germany’s machinations to distract the US from joining the Allies by ginning up conflicts with Mexico and Japan or both together in Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram (non-fiction that reads like a great spy novel). This explains why after Uncle Frank was drafted he was first sent to Mexico and then to Britain and ultimately to the front in France.

Private Frank Denham sent these postcards to his family from England.
Private Frank Denham sent this photo postcards to his family from England.

I learned from staff at the Oddfellows/Santa Rosa Cemetery that Frank was not buried until July 1921, a full three years after his death in France. They surmise that he was buried in a temporary mass grave until they could eventually ship him home. He was the first of the fallen sons of Santa Rosa to be returned. The article in the Press Democrat mentioned city flags would fly at half-mast, businesses would close and full military honors would be presented at his funeral. I hope it brought some comfort to my great grandparents and sisters at the time.

We determined that he was in England on July 12, 1918 and died July 29, 1918 somewhere in France. His gravestone reads “Co K 109, Inf. A.E.F.”  From reading various texts it is most likely that he was part of the Second Battle of the Marne and may have fallen near Chateau-Thierry.

If possible, I will go and pay my respects when I am on my way to Reims. If that proves too difficult, I will light a candle at the Cathedral in Reims.

You can read more about Frank E. Denham and what his loss meant to my family at http://redesigning49.com.