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Thomas J Kehoe

Submitted by: Carl Oprey {Great Nephew}


Thomas J. KehoeThomas J. Kehoe was born around 1900. Thomas Kehoe served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The enlistment was in 1915 and the service was completed in 1918.

Story of Service


It begins with the story of a book my mother Patty often talked about, which her uncle supposedly wrote in 1918 and published in New York. However, since he and his brothers were poor street boys from Liverpool, England, it all seemed highly improbable. Together with the fact he would be just seventeen at the time of the publication I dismissed the entire issue as my mother’s aging ramblings. Then I discovered his book, The Fighting Mascot in a Chicago bookstore.

This personal account of World War 1, published in New York in 1918 - ten years before All Quiet on the Western Front - remains the only real-life version published before the end of the war. It later transpired that my great uncle, Tommy Kehoe, aged fifteen when he enrolled, became one of the youngest boy soldiers to fight in The Great War.

Following injury, convalescence and an emotional meeting with King George V upon his return to England, he joined the crew of a cargo liner sailing from Liverpool to New York. It was here that he was discovered giving first-hand talks on street corners about the war still raging in Europe.

Away from the vast rallies of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks on Wall Street, Tommy Kehoe placed himself among the suffragettes on Fifth Avenue, raising funds for the war effort. Here he was approached by journalist for hire, Ed Bacon, to put those stories into words. But the embarrassment of his illiteracy led him to suggest that Bacon himself write his story as he dictated the horrific details. These stories eventually became a book he would never be able to read or even check its authenticity. The Fighting Mascot by Tommy Kehoe was published in America in time for the armistice in October 1918. But Uncle Tommy never got to see a copy of his book and my mother went through her own life as the only person knowing and believing his story.

Fostered-out aged ten during World War 2, Patti eventually shared a house with her uncle Tommy and his mother in Amelia Street, Liverpool. It was here that he filled in the blanks of the story to his young niece, taking her on flights of fancy and horror as they climbed the increasing mounds of rubble in bomb strewn Liverpool.

On the evening of the Blitz, May 3rd, 1941, my mother and her grandmother left for the shelter leaving Tommy at the dinner table. It would be the last time anyone saw him. The following day my mother helped identify his body within the rubble. He was 40 years old. My mother became the only living person knowing the full story.

I’ve since discovered The Fighting Mascot in some of the worlds most prestigious libraries: The British Library, The Widener Library at Harvard, Yale University and The New York Public Library – the steps of which he once told his stories and where I conducted my research a hundred years later. I later returned to the Library of Congress in Washington where the book was first registered on October 1st, 1918 and recently digitized following a request by Microsoft who financed the conversion.

There is a short 4 minute film here. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8EfnpHlPU9MSUU3Nzl6RTlqUHc/view

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