Great Uncle Leroy

I Was Going to Stay in Haskell

Or, How a Connecticut farm boy was killed in service to the King.

 

“I was going to stay in Haskell, but it started to rain.” On such small detail hangs a life story. If it hadn’t rained that night in Haskell, New Jersey, I may have known my Great Uncle Leroy. But it did rain, decisions were made, and lives were changed from the expected path.

Alanson H. Atwood married Minnie J. Williams in Watertown, Connecticut, at two o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesday, August 9th, 1893.[1] Their first child, Hubert Leroy Atwood, was born on December 10th 1895, followed by Adah Katherine on March 1st 1897, and Lyman Lewis on April 2nd, 1899.[2] Alanson largely supported his young family on a farm on the Watertown/Woodbury town line. However, it was the dawn of the age of the automobile, and Alanson was an enthusiast of that emerging technology. He had a foot in the future, advertising cars for hire, yet keeping a grasp on his roots by spraying fruit trees and selling fertilizer.[3]

His two sons followed in his footsteps. At a young age, they were stripping down used automobiles for use on the farm. They were natural mechanics, and easily mastered the workings of the rudimentary gas engines. They learned to drive a car or a team of horses, as the situation required. As they matured into young adults they left the farming life behind and ventured forth to find their places in the larger world.

Leroy wrote to his brother, Lyman, on his birthday, 2 April 1916, “I just got a letter from Ma yesterday in which she said you were working in the powder factory now (in Haskell, NJ) and getting $3 a day…. When I was in Haskell I tried for a job there, but there was nothing doing that day…. I was going to stay in Haskell that night but it started to rain so I took the jitney for Paterson. When I got there, I couldn’t find a place to stay so I had to go to New York…. The next day I signed on to the SS “Philadelphian” for Brest and London and sailed the same day.”

Leroy had left his home in Watertown for “two or three days” to find work in January of 1916. More than three weeks later, his distraught mother finally received a letter, from London, telling her that he had joined up with the British Army. The British, in attempting to motorize their ambulance corps, were having trouble recruiting experienced drivers and mechanics; Leroy excelled in both skills.

     “We were shipping seas over the rail most of the way across…we had to tie ourselves into our bunks to sleep. We unloaded the horses at Brest…they were in bad shape, all of ‘em has sores & were lame & sick, we lost 68 of 400 on the way across. From Brest we came to London in 3 days and I got paid off to the tune of 5 pounds 10 shillings, about $27.50 in U. S. currency.”

Leroy enlisted at the Scotland Yard Recruiting Office in London, and was assigned to Company 6 of the East Surrey Regiment, Battalion 3.[4] He was later transferred to Company B of the 13th East Surrey Regiment. From London he was sent to Kingston-on-Thames, and then to a location that was redacted in his letters, but was later shown to be the town of Lens, France.

Before leaving England, Leroy loaded his new ambulance on a transport ship. However, there was a delay in getting the vehicles across the channel, so he was assigned to duty “in the trenches.”

     “I would go out in the Town if I had any of the coin of the realm but I have (only) 9 pence…my weekly pay of 6 shillings ($1.50) don’t last over a couple of days after payday. I wonder if you would mind sending me an order for a couple of “Bucks” every once in a while to help me out a little…I would do as much for you if the circumstances were reversed…Tell Bub that contributions would be gratefully received from him also if he would care to help out a poor “Tommy”.

    At six foot – two inches tall, Leroy was not ideally suited to trench warfare, where showing your head could be a fatal mistake. Maybe it was for that reason that he volunteered for some night duty, repairing the parapet in front of the trench to make it higher. A shot by a German sniper found its mark, and Leroy died instantly.

Cablegram received in Watertown, Connecticut from the London War Office July 19th, 1916, “Regret inform you 18249 – Private L. Atwood – Thirteenth East Surrey Regiment – killed in action June 26.”

     Leroy went into action on 12 June 1916, and died just 14 days later.

“Well, if the U. S. enters the war I will get a transfer into the U. S. forces & hope that you will be patriotic enough to do your bit for the honor and good name of the “Red White & Blue” emblem of freedom and join the army or navy and fight for the “Stars and Stripes”.

The United States did enter the war 6 April 1917, ten months after Leroy was buried in the British Cemetery in Vermelles, France.[5] His brother Lyman registered for the draft,[6] but was not immediately called. When his father died 2 Aug 1919,[7] Lyman was called home from Tampa, Florida[8] where he was employed at an automobile dealer, and became the sole support of his mother and sister. He died in Wolcott, New Haven County, Connecticut 1 Sept 1967 while sitting at the dinner table.

Page 15

Leroy in Uniform

[1] Wedding invitation, in possession of author.

[2] Family records held by author.

[3] Various advertising media in possession of author.

[4] Details of military duties are taken from the World War 1 Veterans database Military Service Questionnaires, compiled by the Connecticut State Library. Images online at ctstatelibrary.org (library card required.) Details in italics from letter written by Leroy Atwood to Lyman Atwood 2 April 1916.

[5] www.findagrave.com, memorial #56588473, Plot IV, B44.

[6] U. S. WWI Draft Registration Card, 1917-1918, Connecticut, Litchfield. Image on Ancestry.com, accessed 2016.

[7] Obituary, in possession of author.

[8] Letter, Adah Atwood to Lyman Atwood, in possession of author.

 

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