You never know when you are going to stumble across a piece of history or when one is going to come walking through your door.
While I was visiting the Pennsylvania Room this week, Shirley Iscrupe shared with me a recent donation of World War I memorabilia related to two soldiers with whom I am familiar.
One of the vignettes that I included in Ligonier Valley Vignettes tells the stories of these two young men who left their homes in Ligonier Valley to fight in World War I but sadly didn’t come back alive.
Private First Class Benjamin Byers and Private William Tosh were the first two soldiers from the Ligonier Valley to be killed during World War I. Byers and Tosh both served in the 110th Pennsylvania Regiment, which was deployed to France in the spring of 1918, near the Western Front with Germany.
Both soldiers tragically died on the same day: July 30, 1918. Private Tosh, only 18 years old, was killed when German forces blew up the 110th Regiment headquarters located in the French village of Courmont, where he was working as a telephone operator. The 29-year-old Byers was shot and killed on the battlefield during an attack against the German army at Sergy Hill.
The American Legion Byers-Tosh Post 267 was named after them when it was established in 1927.
Ligonier resident Mary Lou Mitchell, who is William Tosh’s niece, donated the following materials to the Pennsylvania Room: two memorial cards from William Tosh’s funeral; the program of the 1921 Memorial Day unveiling of the World War I Honor Roll tablet at the Westmoreland County Courthouse and admittance card; and Westmoreland County’s Casualty List for World War I, 1917-1918.
Both Byers and Tosh are listed in the honor roll program and the casualty list.
The honor roll program and card were owned by Mitchell’s mother, Bessie Hoon, who survived the horrific 1912 wreck between freight and passenger trains on a blind curve along the Mill Creek branch of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road. She fully recovered and went on to teach in the Ligonier Valley District for many years. Hoon and Tosh were brother and sister.
Thanks to Mitchell’s donation, these historic materials are now part of the permanent collection at the Ligonier Valley Library’s Pennsylvania Room. The Pennsylvania Room is an incredible resource for local history and contains information about the numerous veterans and casualties from the Ligonier Valley, including Privates Byers and Tosh, who participated in the wars that shaped American history.