November 21, 2014

Medina
Intermittent clouds
16°F

He was county’s first fallen

Portrait of Courtney Lawrence. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

Portrait of Courtney Lawrence. (PHOTO PROVIDED)

Courtney Lawrence was just shy of his 24th birthday when he died of wounds sustained in battle in France on April 1, 1918.

He was the first soldier from Medina County to be killed in World War I.

Two days after Courtney Lawrence’s death, his brother Charles received a telegram from Washington at his Medina home: “Deeply regret to inform you that it is officially reported that Private Courtney Lawrence, infantry, died April first, from wounds received in action.”

At about the same time, Courtney’s sister sent a telegram to another brother aboard a naval ship in Plymouth, England: “Courtney killed. Anxious about father. Try and come home tonight.”

Courtney Lawrence was given a military funeral and laid to rest in Medina’s Spring Grove Cemetery.

But although Courtney Lawrence was Medina’s hometown hero, the Lawrence family home was far from Medina.

According to Jeremy Lawrence, Courtney Lawrence’s great-nephew and a resident of Cornwall, England, Courtney was born in England, in 1893 in the village of Chilsworthy, East Cornwall.

Courtney Lawrence’s father and grandfather were hard rock miners and stone masons. He and his four brothers, including Jeremy Lawrence’s grandfather Fred, began their stonemason careers at a small granite quarry in East Cornwall, where each served a five-year apprenticeship before qualifying to work as skilled masons.

Courtney Lawrence, the first soldier from Medina County to be killed in World War I, is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Medina. (NANCY JOHNSON  / GAZETTE)

Courtney Lawrence, the first soldier from Medina County to be killed in World War I, is buried at Spring Grove Cemetery in Medina. (NANCY JOHNSON / GAZETTE)

During the 19th century, Cornwall was a bustling center of copper and tin mining and a source of granite for structural engineering. But by the end of the century, Cornwall’s economy had faltered, prompting Courtney Lawrence’ s eldest brother, Charles, to immigrate to the United States in 1895.

Charles Lawrence eventually settled in Medina where he worked as a stonecutter. Courtney Lawrence followed in 1913, working with his brother at the Medina Granite and Marble Works as a letter cutter.

In April 1917, Courtney signed a declaration of intent to become a U.S. citizen. By May of that year, he had enlisted in the Army. He was in Company A of the 26th U.S. Infantry, 23rd Cavalry Field Artillery, Battery A when he was killed in action.

“Courtney was wounded by a shell fragment in France,” Jeremy Lawrence said. “He died the next day from his wounds. His story is particularly interesting from the Cornish perspective because many Cornish people immigrated to America at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.”

Jeremy Lawrence is working on a display of his great-uncle’s wartime contributions for Cornwall’s National Trust Cotehele House in time for the 100th anniversary of World War I, which began in Europe on July 28, 1914.

After Courtney Lawrence’s death, an April 5, 1918, Medina Gazette front-page article stated: “Medina County has given its first life on the battlefield during the world’s war.”

The story noted that Lawrence “enlisted in the Ohio regiment of cavalry, which was afterwards transferred to an artillery regiment. Later he was, at his own request transferred to the heavy artillery and later to the infantry, being assigned to the 26th regiment. He sailed for France with his regiment Jan. 15 of this year. Since then his brother has received several letters from him, the last one only a week ago. (With four sons and a son-in-law in the British Service), the Lawrence family is giving just about its all to the cause of the Allies against the Huns.”

The devastation that echoed throughout the county after Lawrence’s death is apparent in another Gazette article on April 12, 1918: “No single event in the war has brought the terrible realities of the struggle so closely to home to the people of Medina or stirred their feelings to such a depth. The young man is spoken of everywhere as possessing an admirable character and his passing is felt as a personal loss by everyone, whether known to him or not.”

The public was so moved by Lawrence’s death, the Medina Board of Trade quickly drew up a resolution to “hold and cherish his memory through all time,” and “as further evidence of the depth and sincerity of these sentiments, be it noted the American Legion post in Medina is named the Courtney Lawrence Post.”

Today, a memorial stone outside the Medina County Veterans Hall on North Broadway Street still bears Lawrence’s name, and a group of trustees from the veterans’ organizations that use the hall is called the Courtney Lawrence Home Company.

Lawrence posthumously was awarded the Citation Star for Gallantry in Action by the First Division’s General Orders No. 1 on Jan. 1, 1920.

Charles Lawrence remained in Medina for the rest of his life. He bought out the partners of Medina Granite and Marble Works, renaming it Lawrence Memorials and setting up shop on South Court Street before moving the firm to West Smith Road. By then another brother, Louis, had joined him.

In 1971 Charles Lawrence, then 86 years old, sold the Lawrence Memorials to the Kotecki Monument Co., which still operates at the West Smith Road location today.

Contact reporter Nancy Johnson at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.