John Bernard Ahern was born 4 October 1894 in Manchester, New Hampshire, son of Daniel J. & Julia (Butler) Ahern. At his birth, his father Daniel was a wholesale liquor dealer. The family lived at 556 Brown Avenue. Daniel J. Ahern was an Irish immigrant to the city who was successful in business and at one time was a Councilman. John had younger siblings Daniel, Helena/Nellie, Elizabeth, and Mary.
In 1915 John B. was a student living with his father at 556 Brown Avenue. In 1917 when he completed his War Registration Card on 5 June 1917, he was living in the same place, a law student at Georgetown University. He described himself as being tall and stout with brown eyes and dark brown hair.
When the United States entered World War I, the seas were a dangerous place. The submarine was put to great use by the German navy, and ships traveled in convoys for safety when they could. In this case, Ensign Ahern’s ship had engine trouble, and so lagged behind, becoming a target for torpedoes and shells. Some men escaped to lifeboats. Press accounts state that the lifeboats were shelled at close range. John B. Ahern was an Ensign, and gunner, and as a member of this crew, officially missing in action on 30 September 1918.
The newspaper reports tell it best. Boston Post 12 Oct 1918 page 9 Headline: 112 Lost on Sunken Steamer, only eight reported Saved from the Ticonderoga. WASHINGTON. Oct 11. — Ten officers and 102 enlisted men were lost, two officers were taken prisoner and three officers and five enlisted men were saved in the sinking of the American steamer Ticonderoga by an enemy submarine in midocean Sept. 30, the Navy Department tonight announced. A number of enlisted men of the army were aboard the Ticonderoga. No announcement has been made as to losses among the soldiers. FORMER GERMAN BOAT. The Ticonderoga, formerly the German steamer Camilla Rockmers, was eastbound and at the time of the sinking had dropped behind her convoy because of engine trouble. The vessel was torpedoed without warning and shelled after a white blanket was hoisted to the mast.
FYI: Another New Hampshire man was killed in the same incident. Fireman 3rd class, Ernest Joseph Dupont of Gorham, New Hampshire.
Two days after the tragedy, the Boston Post (Boston MA) of 14 Oct 1918, Page 13 added this notation. COLLEGE FOOTBALL STAR AMONG MISSING. Ensign John B. Ahern. Manchester, N.H. man reported as missing on the torpedoed steamship Ticonderoga.
MANCHESTER, N.H., Oct 13–Ensign John B. Ahern, son of former Councilman Daniel J. Ahern of 556 Brown avenue, who is reported missing by the Navy Department after the torpedoing of the Ticonderoga, was a football player of some ability, having been a member of the eleven at Colby Academy, St. Anselm College, Georgetown and the navy elevens. He was born in this city 23 years ago and was a student at Washington University Law school when the war broke out. He enlisted in the navy in August 1917 and had made five trips across the Atlantic. Besides his parents, he is survived by a brother and three sisters. The brother is now at the Georgetown training school.
Gunner John B. Ahern is listed on a memorial in Suresnes American Cemetery, Tablets of the Missing and on the Honor Roll in Doric Hall of the NH State House.
For additional stories of Manchester NH military in World War I, see: New Hampshire WWI Military: Heroes of Manchester.
[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I. Look here for the entire listing].