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Harry William Withers. John Daniel Withers. West Market Street "Memorial Entrance" to the York Fairgrounds, plus the World War bronze memorial tablets flanking Gate 4, were dedicated October 4, 1921. Brothers Harry & John Withers were killed in action, by the same shell, in France. They are honored on these memorial tablets and are buried nearby in Prospect Hill Cemetery. (Portraits from WWI by Clifford J. Hall & John P. Lehn; other photos by S. H. Smith, 2018)

York brothers killed by same WWI shell

The walls flanking Gate 4 of the York Expo Center contain the names of York County’s fallen during World War I. In this and subsequent posts, their tales will be shared from seldom-used sources.

Harry and John Withers served in the same unit and fought side-by-side. During German shelling on September 6, 1918, John Withers was severely wounded by the same shell, which instantly killed his younger brother Harry; per page 103 of York County and the World War by Clifford J. Hall & John P. Lehn. John Withers died the following day from those injuries.

John and Harry Withers were sons of Daniel and Barbara Withers. John Daniel Withers was born in Hanover, York County, on October 4, 1894. Harry William Withers was born in Hanover on October 1, 1897. Shortly thereafter the family moved to York City; residing many years at 568 West King Street.

Click on this LINK for a yorkblog.com Full View of the two photos in this post if details are cut off in the cropping of the photos, or any has been removed from the ydr.com site.

John and Harry Withers were employed at the S. Morgan Smith plant when they enlisted in Company A, 8th Infantry Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard on April 12, 1917. They trained at Camp Hancock in Augusta, Georgia. The brothers were among the members of Company A, which were transferred to a Machine Gun Company assigned to the 112th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Division on October 17, 1917; and on May 7, 1918, this unit was sent overseas.

43-SOLDIERS correspond with BUPP’s GROCERY at 601 East King Street in York, PA

John and Harry Withers were among 43-soldiers from the neighborhood surrounding Elmer U. Bupp’s grocery store at 601 East King Street, that regularly corresponded with Elmer. The letters were posted in the store and made available to the newspapers. One of Harry Withers’ typical letters follows:

“Somewhere in France, August 29, 1918”

“Dear Friend Bupp:”

“Just a few lines to let you know that I am still among the living and hope these few lines will find you the same.”

“Received your card some time ago and thank you for it. I guess you are wondering why I did not answer it sooner, but you will excuse me this time, for I was pretty busy this while past and did not have much time to write any letters.”

“Well, John is back with the company once more. He came back last week. I sure was surprised when I seen him as I thought he would be put in another outfit.”

“We are having quite a bit of rain over here of late and I am hoping it clears up and stays clear for a couple months as I sure do feel blue when it rains.”

“The boys all take their hats off to the Y.M.C.A. and the Red Cross for they sure are doing their bit over here; the Red Cross gives the boys knitted socks, smokes and chocolate, and the Y.M.C.A. furnishes the boys writing material and books and magazines to read and they do all they can to make the boys feel at home. No matter what village you go to where there are troops you will always find the Red Cross of the Y.M.C.A. If you want to help a good cause don’t forget to give these two associations a little boost.”

“Did you receive any letters from me since I am over here? I wrote to you several times but you never said any thing on your cards if you heard from me or not. A good bit of our mail gets lost and I just wondered if you got my letters or not.”

“I guess there are not many young fellows left in York since the last draft, but I guess the old town looks the same. Believe me, I wish I was back there now. But it don’t do any good to do any wishing, the only thing to do is to wait, for old ‘Kaiser Bill’ can not last forever. I think he sees his finish now, only he is too stubborn to give in.”

“There are lots of things I would like to tell you of the experiences I had over here, but our mail is all censored, and very little have we dare to write of what is going on over here, so you will have to wait until we get back to the old U. S. A.”

“From one of the boys over here, Pvt. HARRY W. WITHERS, M. G. 112th Inf., American Expeditionary Forces.”

“P.S. When you see the old folks tell them I wrote them a letter and give them my regards. HARRY.”

The following photo of the Withers Brothers, in uniform, appeared in the November 8, 1918, issue of the Adams County Independent; a newspaper in Littlestown, PA. Harry, the taller brother, and John had relatives in that area.

John Withers wrote the occasional letter to his parents and to Elmer Bupp. John was not as a prolific letter-writer as his brother; but this was out of his control, since he was confined to a hospital in France for eleven-weeks, before recovering and returning to his brother’s unit on August 20, 1918.

Under shelling from the Germans, seventeen days later, on September 6, 1918, John Withers was severely wounded by the same shell, which instantly killed his younger brother Harry. John died the following day from those injuries.


An article in the November 7, 1918 issue of the New Oxford Item tells how the parents were notified:

“A telegram was received at the Withers house on October 4th, last, carrying the word that one son, Harry, was killed in action on September 6th. On the following day, just twelve hours later, another message came to the Withers home in which the information was given that the surviving brother, Private John D. Withers, had been severely wounded in action on the same date, September 6th. Both of the lads were members of the same company. Thursday night the father of the heroic lads received another telegram from the War Department, Washington. In this message the father was informed that his other son, John, had died on September 7th, from wounds received in action.”

In 1921, the remains of the brothers were disinterred from the temporary battlefield cemetery; with their final burial place in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Manchester Township, York County, PA. Surviving the brothers were their parents, Daniel and Barbara Withers, and two sisters; Vernetta and Beatrice, at home.

Links to related WWI posts:

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