The Veterans Come Home
Alfred Bonazzoli remembered an eerie silence along the front-line trenches in France at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The word had just come down that Germany had signed the Armistice. World War I was over.
“Everyone was very solemn,” he was to say later. “We just bowed our heads. We felt that we could live another day.”
Time has a way of dulling memories and thinning the ranks of men that enemy shot and shell could not destroy. Only memories, fluttering flags in our cemeteries and an inscribed boulder in Grinnell Park remain today of those 32 men of Sudbury who served their country during the first great war. All but one returned to tell the tale.
Bonazzoli, whose family delivered coal to more than half the households in Sudbury, remembered the cow. His unit had found her abandoned on a French farm and brought her along to the front where she provided fresh milk until she finally became a shell casualty.
Albert Germonprez of East Sudbury remembered the silence too. He was an interpreter in company headquarters for the 3rd Battalion of the 55th Artillery Regiment when rumors of an Armistice began circulating at 9 a.m. The big guns kept firing until three minutes of eleven and suddenly all went silent. There was no cheering. Men simply stood around and looked at one another. It was not until later that evening that reality sank in and celebrations sprang up along the lines.
Allan F. Flynn, who would start a 33-year tenure in the Sudbury School System as a teacher, principal and counselor in 1927, heard the news from a hospital bed in Paris where he was recovering from the effects of German gassing and a bout with influenza. There he observed men who previously hadn’t been able to sit up dancing on their beds.
Flynn’s unit, the 101st Field Artillery Battery of the 26th Infantry Division, played a key role in the defense of Paris earlier that summer. On July 4, 1918, the Battery was looking forward to a well-earned leave following a parade when word came that a German advance column was eight miles from the city. The 101st quickly mobilized and was soon in position to force the Germans to begin their long and arduous retreat through Chateau Thierry.
Charlie Goodnow Jr. was another who would hear of the Armistice from a hospital bed in France. He was recovering from what he considered “slight” wounds to the ear and leg sustained in action against the Germans in Belleau Wood and St. Michiel with the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry. Harold Chandler Butterfield also served in the Sixth, seeing action in St. Nazaire and Nantes.
Others who went overseas included John T. Hutchby, an ambulance driver in France, and Fred Stone, a musician who would later assemble a popular marching band that would be a fixture for years at Sudbury Memorial Day exercises. Roland “Pete” Eaton, a machinist at Hurlbut and Rogers, and William Hellman arrived in Europe in the late stages of the war.
Eaton’s 35th Engineers was the first company to enter Germany and was given the assignment of preparing bridgeheads over the Rhine for the allied occupation forces. Hellman’s ship was a member of the “Suicide Fleet” which was given the job of clearing more than 48,000 German magnetic mines from the waters of the North Sea.
Sherrold Garfield enlisted in the Navy in 1917 and wound up as a Machinist Mate First Class on an 0-Class submarine. Ironically, most of his action came against friendly forces. On one occasion, his sub was attacked by a British freighter while transferring supplies at sea from a Swedish sailing ship doing tender duty, and later it was accidentally rammed by an American warship in Boston Harbor.
Many Sudbury men never left the country, but served nevertheless. Steven M.W. Gray saw action at the Chatham Naval Air Station on Cape Cod when a German U-Boat torpedoed and shelled a coal barge off Nauset Beach. Clarence “Kye” Baldwin, whose powder blue Model A Ford school bus was a fixture in North Sudbury for years, served with the Coast Artillery at Fort McKinley in Portland, Maine, and was ready to board the troopship for overseas duty when the Armistice came.
Forrest D. Bradshaw, who would later serve the town in a number of capacities, including postmaster, was another who never left these shores. Bradshaw enlisted on August 24, 1917 and spent his enlistment training observers for the Balloon Corps at Camp Morrison near Alexandria, Virginia, and later at Fort Knox in Kentucky.
Sudbury’s only casualty spent less than a month in the service and never left American soil. William H. Styles, 21, enlisted on September 3, 1918 and reported for basic training at Camp Devens in Ayer. Less than two weeks later, he died of pneumonia.
American Legion Post 191 was organized two years after the Armistice, and shortly thereafter was voted the free use of the Wadsworth School, located where the police station now stands, for a meeting hall providing: “that the Legion be held responsible for the condition of building and grounds and that they shall stand the expense of such minor repairs that may be ordered by a committee composed of one member of the selectmen, one member of the Legion and one member to be chosen by the two.”
Bonazzoli, Bradshaw and several other veterans of the Great War would join forces for one more mission some seven years after the Armistice. The Legion Post had renovated the old Wadsworth School and installed a pool table. Now the Legionnaires were looking for a cannon to decorate the front lawn.
They put in a request with Colonel Chase, the commanding officer of the Framingham Arsenal. The request was granted and Bonazzoli, along with Bradshaw, Albert Tallant and Major Albert Owen, a surgeon with the Old 26th “Yankee” Division, drove over in a Bonazzoli coal truck to collect it.
Chase had jurisdiction over several obsolete American field pieces as well as a huge Italian cannon that had been shipped to the United States as a prize of war. It had been firing at Americans near Les Eparges, France, on the morning of September 13, 1918, before units from the Yankee Division stormed it, taking many prisoners in the process.
The Sudbury contingent was told it could take any of the American 75-millimeter guns on the field, but not the Italian gun, which, Chase said, had been promised to another town.
But Bonazzoli had other ideas. The gun, after all, had been captured by his regiment. He and his crew quickly hitched the tongue to the tow bar of his truck and off they went to Sudbury with the cannon bouncing merrily behind.
There was an official uproar of course, but Sudbury had the cannon in a place of honor in front of the Legion Hall, and possession, after all, was nine tenths of the law. The other town settled for another German gun and that was that.
The cannon stayed in front of the Legion Hall until shortly before the building was torn down and replaced by the Police Station. It was then towed to the Highway Department on Old Lancaster Road. In 1996 it was removed to John Bartlett’s greenhouses and restored. It now reposes on a permanent base on the lawn of the American Legion Post 191 Headquarters on the Boston Post Road.
What would the Sudbury boys who signed up to serve their country find when they returned home? There were subtle changes, to be sure, but most took up where they left off. A crisis in the school department developed when the teaching staff resigned en masse just prior to the start of the 1917 school year. Superintendent Frank Benedict called for an increase in the school budget in order to attract and retain replacements. The new payroll of $5,239.49 for 23 teachers prompted the six school janitors to petition the town for larger salaries.
There were also some architectural changes. Leonard and Ruth Stevens Goulding dismantled the old Moses Brewer house in Wayland and rebuilt it on a lot on Concord Road near the Wadsworth Cemetery. Antique expert and author Wallace Nutting hailed it as a “perfect 17th Century dwelling.” A committee composed of Waldo Stone, Frank F. Gerry and J. Stanley Rice was negotiating a five-year street lighting contract with the Edison Illuminating Company of Boston.
Town Meeting was busy too. For the first time ever, voters considered a line-by-line budget and established set salaries for town officials instead of paying them per diem. Under the new structure, the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen received $150, the second and third Selectmen $125, Clerk of the Board $25 and Town Treasurer $175. The Town Clerk earned $150, the Auditor $25, Town Accountant $150, Moderator $25, Chairman of the Board of Assessors $125, Second and Third Assessors $75 each, School Board Chairman $75 and other members and the School Treasurer $50.
By 1919, with most of the soldiers home from the war, Sudbury’s rural atmosphere, clear lakes and streams became a magnet for residents of Boston, many of whom built or rented cottages and fishing and hunting camps. Among them was a young pitcher for the Boston Red Sox baseball team. His name was George Herman “Babe” Ruth.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Sudbury, 1890-1989, 100 years in the life of a Town, a 256-page sequel to A.S. Hudson’s History of Sudbury. Autographed copies are available from Porcupine Enterprises, 106 Woodside Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. Hardbound presentation copies are $26.25 including tax plus $3.20 postage. Trade paperbacks are $12.60 including tax plus $3.20 postage.