In late 1916 Swiss-German Mission President Hyrum Valentine, his wife Ella, and their newly adopted daughter Basel set sail for home. They left behind many dear friends and members of the Church, still suffering in the midst the First World War.
During the previous two years the Valentines would have woken each day, not knowing if they would receive news that day of the death of yet another young member of the Church serving in the trenches and in the great battles of the war.
The death that hit the Valentines the hardest was that of Wilhelm Kessler, a soldier who died on the Western Front.
Wilhelm was born in Germany in 1887. After he joined the Church he emigrated to America. In 1912, two years later, the Church called him to return to the Swiss-German Mission where he was appointed editor of the mission paper, Der Stern.
When the war began, Wilhelm found himself a German citizen, bound by duty and circumstance to join the military. As he prepared to leave the mission office in Switzerland, he sat down at the typewriter and wrote to President Valentine:
From the bottom of my heart do I thank you for your love and fatherly guidance. May the Lord repay you and bless you for all your direct and indirect good counsels and your correct conduct unto me.
I will think of you and mother [Ella] before I fall asleep; my heart will be tender when I feel your prayer, for which I will long as a child longs for food.
I won’t be of any service to the church under the circumstances existing at the present time, but yet of a little to my beloved country. I can truly say that/in my soul I [feel] a firm conviction that this step that I am making is not a wrong one.
God be with us till we meet again!1
The same issue of Der Stern that carried Wilhelm Kessler’s obituary also noted that Angus J. Cannon was being sent to Europe to replace the Valentines.
The Valentines would have learned of the deaths of most of the following servicemen before they left for America; others they would have seen after they returned safely home to Brigham City, Utah.
The following members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints suffered a hero’s death on the battlefields for their fatherland.
Member of the Zürich Branch died in 1915 on the battlefields in France. He was born on January 4, 1892 in Basel, Switzerland, and baptized on June 22, 1912.
Member of the Stettin Branch died on November 4, 1914 on the Western Front. Brother Vossberg was born on October 18, 1885 in Stettin and baptized on February 25, 1914. He was a sincere, true member until death.2
Karl Friedrich Otto Lehmer
Member of the Leipzig Branch died on March 5, 1915 on the battlefield. He was born on May 28, 1895 in Peterwitz, Delizsch, and was baptized on October 15, 1913. He was the sunshine of the Leipzig Branch in the truest sense of the word and had the wish to go directly on a mission; now it seems that the Lord has given him this opportunity on the other side.
Friedrich Karl Stadi
Member of the Bielefeld Branch died as the result of a shot to the stomach on May 2, 1915. He was born on May 3, 1901 in Aerzen, Hameln, and remained true until the end.
Member of the Hamburg Branch died in a field hospital in Serbia. He was born on March 31, 1893 in Vienna, Austria, and baptized on May 27, 1910. Without a doubt the Lord can use him well on the other side.
Philipp Jakob Alles
Member of the St. Gallen Branch. He was born on September 20, 1884 in Feuthen, Hessen and baptized on April 11, 1911.
Martin Robert Wendrich
Member of the Zwickau Branch. He was born on July 31, 1886 in Marienthal, Sachsen, and baptized on January 22, 1910. He died from enemy fire on June 21, 1916.4
Member of the Darmstadt Branch, died from a shot to the stomach on June 16, 1916. He was born on December 19, 1895 in Frankfurt and baptized on November 7, 1908.
Karl Franz Hack
Member of the Königsberg Branch died in the service of his Fatherland on September 7, 1916 in Galicia. He was born on December 13, 1896 in Langendorf bei Wehlau and baptized on June 27, 1909.
Paul Ernst Wachsmuth
Member of the Leipzig Branch died on the battlefield on August 25, 1916. He was born on June 16, 1896 in Leipzig and baptized on May 6, 1910.5
Brother Wachsmuth was a young man who was equipped with the best intentions and virtues to be a clever, useful contributor in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To the glory of our Heavenly Father, and to the delight of all members and investigators, he was trained under divine assistance as an organist. He had been just a short time at the front, and he cherished the desire to be able to return soon to diligently support his dear mother and the work of the Lord. On August 25, 1916, however, he suffered the hero’s death from the explosion of a hand grenade in the trenches. (Friedr. Hornberger, Leipzig Branch President.)
Brother Karl Hoffmann was in the field since the beginning of the war and was a diligent preacher of the gospel. For his faithful performance of duty in the service of his fatherland, he was decorated with a variety of medals and promoted to corporal. He was faithful in all things, and often sacrificed his breaks to share the good news of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with his fellow men. On 11 September the Lord called him to the other side for a better work in his vineyard, when he fell on the battlefield, hit by shrapnel. (Friedr. Hornberger, Leipzig Branch President.)
August Edmund Lehwalder
Member of the Frankfurt Branch died in the fighting at Verdun on August 31, 1916. He was born on June 8, 1895 in Frankfurt am Main and baptized on November 5, 1905. [August’s brother Heinrich Georg Lehwalder was killed by a grenade on February 18, 1917.]
August Hugo Hobitzky
Member of the Freiberg Branch, succumbed to his wounds on the Eastern Front (Romania) on December 3, 1916. He was true and diligent until death. He was born on June 7, 1880 and baptized on August 16, 1908.
Member of the Hamburg Branch died at the Battle of the Somme on October 9, 1916. His faith was firm until his death. He was born on July 4, 1896 in Wilhelmsburg and baptized on July 4, 1904. [Johannes’s death notice was repeated in the January 1, 1917 edition.7
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The picture of the Valentine family (Ella, Basel, Dee J., and Hyrum) from the mid-1920s is from Ella’s Memoirs. Both of their children were adopted; Basel had been a foster daughter of a member of the Church in Hamburg and Dee J. was a nephew whose mother died in the 1918 flu epidemic.
The picture of Willi Kessler is from Der Stern, as are the death notices.
The image in the old German script is from the German Casualty Lists. Julius Vossberg’s name is third in the image.
- President Valentine was traveling throughout the mission at the time with President Hyrum M. Smith of the European Mission. This letter is from the Hyrum W. Valentine collection at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. For more of the story, see Jeffery L. Anderson, “Brothers across Enemy Lines: A Mission President and a German Soldier Correspond during World War I.” BYU Studies 41, no. 1 (2002), 127-139. [↩]
- Julius Vossberg is buried in the Langemark Military Cemetery, Block A, Grave 2912, in Belgium. [↩]
- Wilhelm “Willi” Kessler is buried in the Bouligny Military Cemetery, Block 2, Grave 161, in northern France close to the Luxembourg border. His death date is listed in the cemetery records as July 7. [↩]
- Martin Wendrich is buried in the Salomé Military Cemetery, Block 1, Grave 127, in France. [↩]
- Ernst Wachsmuth, musketeer, is buried in the Achiet-le-Petit Military Cemetery in France, Grave 291. [↩]
- Karl Hoffmann is buried in the Maissemy Military Cemetery in France, Block 5, Grave 1266. [↩]
- Johannes Drewes is buried in the Neuville-St. Vaast Military Cemetery in France, Block 9, Grave 401. [↩]