The Boys of Yarmouth In World War I

Published: 26 May 2024

By Theresa Barbo
via The Historical Society of Old Yarmouth website


Albert T. Chase and Arthur Graham in France

In June, 1917, Albert Chase of West Yarmouth left home for the bloody battlefields of France. Chase was one of 35 young men from Old Mattacheese who volunteered in World War One, and miraculously, all but one of the 35 native sons of Yarmouth came home alive.

How did our hometown boys fare on the front? How did they adjust from playing alongside the icy shores of Dennis Pond, and sand lot baseball, to a foreign battleground?

My dear Mildred,” wrote Private Alfred C. Baker to his cousin on Christmas Day, 1917, “we all had a very nice dinner of turkey, pies, pudding, nuts, and potatoes, all we could eat.” Private Baker wrote he was lonesome, but “a good many boys are here…

World War I political cartoon.

Young Baker asked cousin Mildred to “tell anyone to write to me” and “remember to all the Yarmouth people.” Baker served with the 103rd Machine Gun Battalion, Company C.

Henry Eldridge wrote home and said he sees Alfred Baker frequently, and looks ”eagerly for Yarmouth boys.” [Can you imagine being in France amidst fighting a war, and turning around to see someone you hung out with at Hallet’s store?]

Merrill Baker reported that he was in good health, and Russell Dodge claimed to have “motored 75 miles to play baseball for the amusement of the wounded in the American hospital.” The countryside of France, reported John Matthews, was very beautiful, and also of the promotion to Captain of Lieutenant Nathaniel Simpkins of Sandyside (on Summer Street in Yarmouth Port). During the war only one serious injury was reported. “Somewhere in France,” wrote Arthur Ryder, he was gassed, but eventually recovered.

Yarmouthites eagerly followed the global conflict from the trusty pages of the Register newspaper. In an editorial on April 21, 1917, the Register wrote “only a fool can imagine that this will be the last of all wars. There can be no permanent peace while the world is divided into different nationalities, each swayed by its on traditions of language and race.

One by one letters trickled home. “I am somewhere near where most of the boys are stationed and expect every day to run into them,” wrote Earl Davidson in August 1918. “I can’t begin to describe the feeling one has during his first shell fire. However, I stuck to my post as a good American should.” Davidson wrote that friends and family back home have no idea what real warfare is, “but if you could pass through some of the little French villages that have been shot to pieces you would surely say Sherman was right when he said ‘War is hell.’”

Historians are revisiting World War One, and with good reason. That conflict left us with new technologies of death: tanks, planes, and submarines; reliable rapid-fire machine guns and artillery, and motorized cavalry. It also ushered in new tactics of warfare: shipping convoys and U-boat packs, dogfights and reconnaissance air support. And it left us terrors we still cannot control: poison gas and chemical warfare, strategic bombing of civilian targets, massacres and atrocities against entire population groups.

But most of all, it changed our world. In its wake, empires toppled, monarchies fell, and whole political systems were realigned. Revolution swept into power ideologies of the left and right. And, the social order shifted dramatically. Manners, mores, and codes of behavior, literature and the arts, education and class distinctions: all underwent a vast sea of change.

Read the entire article on the HSOY web site here:

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