Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

Kansans of the Great War Era: Walter Pearl Knapp

In an earlier post it was mentioned that Burlingame’s Lt. William T. Fitzsimons was the first American officer to be killed in action.  But who was the first Kansan to die?

That distinction may belong to Walter Pearl Knapp, who was killed on New Year’s Day, 1917, before the American entry into the war.  Knapp signed up in Canada, and was assigned as a gunner in the Royal Artillery.  As of yet, no account of his death has been found.

Although British records say Knapp was born in Windsor, Ontario, American census records suggest an Indiana birth, which seems more in keeping with his Ohio-born parents.  41 at the time of his death, his birth would have been around 1876.  His parents came to Iola, where Walter first began a career in printing, as a composer.  He would move on to Topeka, where he was a composer for the Topeka Mail and Breeze newspaper.

Knapp is buried at the Vlamertingue Military Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium. Learn more about his grave on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website.


Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.

1 Comment

  1. Blake Andrew Watson

    According to The Iola Register, Jan. 20, 1917, page 1, On January 19, 1917, Mrs. W.P. Knapp of Iola, Kansas, received a telegram that conveyed “without a moment’s warning and with nothing to soften the blow, the worst news that can come to a mother’s heart.” The message, from the War Office in London, said “Regret to inform you . . . W.P. Knapp, 55 trench mortar battery, Royal Artillery, killed in action first January.” He had gone to England, but had not informed his mother of his intention to join the British army, and the cablegram was the first news she had that he had done so. His paternal grandmother was English and his father was a Union solider. He was survived by his mother, a brother, and a sister.

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