Saturday, October 13, 2018

Grandma's First Husband - "Deeply Regret to Inform You"

On October 23, 1918, my grandmother received the last letter she would ever receive from her husband James D. Calhoun. Written from France in September, she did not know that by the time she received the letter that James was already dead.

James died 100 years ago today on October 13, 1918 near a town called Montfacon, France (though the first notice of his death said he died on the 14th). Anna was notified by telegram on November 16, two days after her first wedding anniversary and five days after the Armistice.

Madeline Farmhouse, Montfaucon, France. James was killed near this house with many other American soldiers. The house is shown here just after the war.  Image courtesy of  Louise Smith from her blog about her Uncle, who died the day after James in the same area. The house was badly shelled in the battle. Louise's blog entry about Madeline Farm is at
Over the next few months, Anna Bell contacted a number of people to find out more about the circumstances James' death. A letter from Lieutenant Charles Allen written January 14, 1919 from Anderauch, Germany, provided her more detail about how James died:

“Perhaps I can give you what information you want.  On Sept 29 we relieved the 79th Division near Montfaucon.  We were at all times subjected to a heavy fire but your husband came thru O.K. until Oct 14th.  At all times during the actions he showed wonderful courage and was highly respected and loved by all of the men in the company including Lieut Spencer and myself.  I was slightly wounded on Oct 12 and left for the hospital but the particulars I received were that on the night of Oct 14th James and Lieut Williams were sleeping together and a shell landed near.  A large piece struck James killing him instantly.  Lieut. Williams suffered the same fate.  James was buried just east of Montfaucon near the town of Romange and Cierges.”

Another version of the story was contained in a letter from Emma Y. Dickson, also from Anderuach, Germany, dated January 20, 1919.  She worked in the YMCA of the 7th Infantry and she noted that “I feel as if they were all my children, so when the list comes in of the brave boys who have ‘gone west’ I too feel it very deeply.”  She received permission from James’s captain to write with more details:

“It happened on October 13 near the town of Cunel.  The first battalion was about to attack but there were some German machine guns concealed in the underbrush at the right and it was necessary to clear them out before the advance could be made - so Sergeant Calhoun volunteered to accompany Lieutenant Williams and arrived with hand grenades they bravely started to clear the way for their comrades, and it was while doing this courageous thing that the same shell brought them both instant death.”

About 9 months later, Anna received a letter from the mother of George Votee, who served with James in service.  She reported that her son was back home and had responded to Anna’s letter to him last winter.  “The letter must have been lost.”  She went on to report that James was killed during the Battle of the Argonne.  Her son was in the same battle but not together with James.  He was not with him when he was killed but heard about it the next day.  James was hit with a shell fragment - “he was cut clean through.” 

I sometimes wondered if telling Anna that James was killed instantly was a way to save her from thinking he suffered, but about two years after my grandmother's passing, I ordered the graves registration records for James. When his body was exhumed for shipping to the US his head was missing, so in this instance, James did die quickly.

The aftermath and impact of James' death on his family and friends will be presented next month. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

October 2018 - 100 Years Ago "in That Thriving Town"

October 4, 1918
·         James A. Gow is now on duty at the Center creamery.
·         At the Red Cross social at the home of Charles F. McPherson, last Friday evening, $48 was realized.
·         The Dry Milk company are shipping five more car loads of powdered milk to help feed the boys “over there.”
·         Someone stole several hives of bees  - all he had except a skep he had in the attic – from Lancelot Thomson one night recently.

October 11, 1918
·         Tracy Sherman has gone to Erie, Pennsylvania, to spend the winter with his brother.
·         The three members of the County Equalization Committee were on their rounds in town on Tuesday.
·         Mr. and Mrs. John B. Lee have been notified that their son, Clarence Lee, who is in France, has been missing since an engagement September 6.
·         Charles A. McPherson has bargained for the sale of his large farm on Bramley Mountain to Mr. Muller who came to this country from Switzerland some 18 months ago.

October 18, 1918
·         Mr. and Mrs. Herman Johnson will move to Bayone, N.J.
·         Mrs. Ella Telford is occupying her rooms in the village again.
·         Mrs. Mary J. Gill, of Andes, will be here October 23, with a full line of hats.
·         A liberty loan rally is to be held in the town hall, Bovina Center, Thursday evening.  The town is not yet over the top.
·         Mr. and Mrs. James A. Gow have moved from Halcott Center to their house here.  Mr. Gow is the tester at the Center creamery.
·         An inspector has been here and gave orders that all men employed in the creamery and Dry milk must be given one day off in every seven.
·         Ely Wight is the new herdsman at the Gerry farms at Lake Delaware.  He is moving into rooms in Alonzo Tuttle’s house on the site of the old Flower’s hotel.
·         Several mild cases of influenza are reported in town principally among the students of the Delhi school, which by order of the board of health is not in session this week.

Bovina’s Doctor Called
            Dr. Norris B. Whitcomb has been called into the war service.  He was in New York this week to buy his outfit.  Mrs. Whitcomb is packing up to go to Walton to live while he is in the service.  This leaves the town without a doctor.

Secures a Good Job
            William S. Boggs, manager of the McLean estate at South Kortright, has engaged Robert A. Thomson, of Bovina, to work in the barn.  Mr. Thomson will move to South Kortright after election and will occupy Al. Boggs’ new house in that village.  When Wm. H. Maynard was elected County Clerk he engaged Mr. Thomson as manager of his large farm in upper Bovina and he has been with him ever since.

October 25, 1918
·         The total [voter] registration in Bovina is 451.
·         Dr. Whitcomb is now recovering from his illness, but Mrs. Whitcomb is still quite ill.
·         The schools in town have been closed by the Board of Health until further notice, but no serious cases of influenza are reported.
·         The body of George S. Burdick was brought here for burial Tuesday from Treadwell.  He was a blacksmith and formerly resided here.
·         There was no preaching in any of the churches on last Sabbath, and if the influenza cases increase there will be none next Sabbath.
·         Clarence Lee of the U.S. army in France, who was reported missing in action, has written home stating that he was in a hospital there, but was improving.
·         The Liberty Loan rally on Thursday evening was a great success, thanks to Delhi men and the Andes Band.  We went about $13,000 over our quota of $20,000.

George S. Burdick “died Sunday afternoon at the home of Mrs. H.J. Elderkin in North Franklin, to which place he went last Tuesday evening, suffering with influenza, contracted while on a hunting trip.”  He worked for Gideon Miller in Bovina for several years. Burial was made in Bovina.