Sandwich Responds to World War One
By Joan Russell Osgood
Part 1 ended with the mention that I was only able to find two other news stories about our townspersons, Willard Boyden and Alfred Hoey, who enlisted in World War One.
Willard Boyden was still in high school when he signed up to serve in the U.S. Navy. He, along with most of those in the Boston Globe picture, was sent to the Naval Training Station in Newport R.I. However, he was given leave so that he could attend his 1917 class graduation from Sandwich High School. The Sandwich Independent reported that “it was a rare pleasure to the class and the audience to have present Willard E. Boyden who gave up his studies a few months ago to enlist in the United States Navy. Mr. Boyden appeared in uniform and was given a rousing ovation.”
After training, Mr. Boyden was assigned to the transport U.S.S. Mount Vernon.
This ship’s assignment was to transport our troops from America to Brest, France to fight in Europe. It had nine successful voyages across the Atlantic. But, of course, German U-boats were always a worry. On September 5, 1918, while his transport was steaming home from Brest at about 200 nautical miles from France, a U-Boat was spotted about 500 yards off her starboard and it launched a torpedo at the transport. It struck her midship tearing a hole 30 by 20 feet, flooding the midsection, knocking out the boilers and killing 36 sailors and injuring 13. The crew was able to stave off more torpedoes by using a pattern of depth charges against the U-Boat. But it took every man left onboard to keep the transport from sinking. It was reported that the pumps worked 22 hours straight while a bucket brigade worked continuously. Even at that the transport listed a great deal.
To me it sounds like a miracle – but the transport was able to limp back to Brest under her own power without getting attacked again. After temporary repairs it made the voyage back to Boston to complete the repairs and went back to active duty in 1919.
I remember Willard Boyden very well. He came into our grocery store all the time until his death in 1974. He was a relatively short man and almost always smoked a cigar. I remember him as our Town Meeting Moderator; an active member of our American Legion; and a schoolteacher, principal and coach in the Falmouth School system. But I never knew about his harrowing experience aboard the U.S.S. Mount Vernon. I do not know if they got medals, but he and all the men of this transport are heroes to me.
And then there is Alfred Hoey. Mr. Hoey was manager of the First National store in the Jarves Street Novelty Block after returning from the war. After a time, the First National left town. But Alfred kept the location and ran it as his own grocery store for many years. That is my most vivid memory of him. We lived right next door to his store. He also was a Selectman, a member of the Clark-Haddad American Legion, and served on many committees over the years. And like many merchants during the depression that followed the war, he kept many townspeople afloat by extending credit.
He too joined the Navy. But his story starts before he even finished training at the Navy training center! On New Year’s Eve 1918, a series of three distinct explosions struck the heart of the business district of Norfolk, VA. The fires that ensued burned intensely and leveled the business district including the Monticello Hotel, the site of one of the explosions, the Lenox Building and the Granby Theater. Because of the strange occurrence of three separate explosions in different locations, there was general belief among officials that “enemy aliens were at work”. Mayor Windham R. Mayo placed the city under martial law and turned the situation over to naval authorities from nearby naval stations. Navy personnel patrolled the area and were given orders that anyone not able to account for themselves were to be arrested.
Monticello Hotel burns to the ground
On January 2, 1918, the Cornell Daily Sun reported: “there were reports that two Germans had been shot by sailors during the day, but neither the police nor naval authorities could confirm this.” Well…we now can confirm one person being shot! Enter Alfred Hoey. A letter I found that Mr. Hoey sent home to his father from Norfolk, VA was published in the January 17th Sandwich Independent. An excerpt follows: "I have been on guard duty since New Year’s…It was the day after New Year's, about 1:30 in the morning, when I saw this fellow prowling around the ruins of the Monticello Hotel
and was going over to ask him what he wanted when he saw me coming. He started to run, so naturally I yelled to him to halt, but he kept on running, so I fired and missed him the first shot, but I got him in the second. I caught him right above his right knee and he went down in a heap, so I and another guard picked him up and took him over to the lieutenant of the watch, and they are now holding him at the Norfolk Police court as a German spy. It was some excitement, but I had to do it."
Although not possible, every one of our townspeople who served in World War 1 deserve to have their story told. Each one left the comfort of their homes; the love of their families; and the security of their jobs. What drove them surely was a sense of duty – and maybe a bit of daring for a few. But regardless of the motivation, even all these years later – we owe each one our debt of gratitude.