Monday, November 9, 2009


Following the outbreak of war in Europe in the summer of 1914, in an effort to maintain the strictest neutrality, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation August 4, 1914, barring American citizens from enlisting in the armed forces of the belligerent nations. The order was largely ignored. Men from across the country flocked to join Canadian, British, French, and other forces, including men from Middleborough. Demonstrating, indeed, that it truly was a world war, Middleborough men (many of foreign birth or with foreign-born parents) would early on enlist in the armies of Britain, Canada, France and Italy, flouting America’s declared policy of neutrality and becoming the first local participants in the Great War.

Regardless of which uniform they might don, these men shared one thing in common – an abiding belief in the honor and rightness of their cause. The numerous letters written by Middleborough men in foreign service nearly all indicate the common cause which they shared with their Middleborough friends and neighbors.

James E. Jones, John McNeil and Earl F. Dempsey were among those Middleborough residents who enlisted with the British. Dempsey's story is reflective of that of the others. Enlisting in the British Army in July, 1915, he was transported to England aboard a horse ship. Originally a cavalryman in the 2d King Edward's Horse, he served in the trenches as a bombsman, machine gunner and signal man during the 1915-16 campaigns after the command was dismounted when the futility of employing cavalry on the Western Front was realized. During the summer of 1916, the low point of the British experience in France, Dempsey served on special duties as a dispatch carrier, before rejoining his regiment. He was wounded at the Somme in 1917, following which he was trained as a gunner in the tank service. On September 28, 1918, he was again wounded, in the back and neck, by an exploding shell. The tank in which he was serving caught fire, and Dempsey badly burned. Nonetheless, he survived the war.

Still other Middleborough men joined the Canadian forces. In 1915, fifteen-year-old Roger Keedwell left his home on Frank Street to enlist with the Canadian Army and served some ten months in the Canadian Grenadier Guards before his father was successful in having him discharged due to his age. He would later perish as a member of the American forces in the Argonne.

Kenneth Cosseboom, whose father was a native of New Brunswick, also served with the Canadian Army. He enlisted in the fall of 1914 and shipped to France in March, 1915, with the rank of corporal. He served at the front the majority of the time. In 1916, he was awarded a medal for bravery in action and received an honorable mention several times. In March, 1918, he graduated from officers' training school in France, and was made a lieutenant and transferred to the 26th Battalion Canadian Infantry. He was engaged in training Canadian recruits up until October, 1918. He was wounded in the arm once, and was in the hospital for six months recuperating.

Herbert M. Jones, like Cosseboom, saw action with the Canadian Army in France, as a member of a railway engineer company responsible for constructing and supplying supply rail lines.
John A. P. Lacombe similarly saw service in France as a member of the Canadian Army and was wounded a number of times. He too recognized the common cause shared by Americans and Canadians alike. “I am not in the American army, but in the Canadian, but it is all the same these days and we are all fighting for the same cause.”

Following the American declaration of war upon Germany in April, 1917, Middleborough men would continue to join foreign armed services, as indicated by this letter from Charles Fish to Middleboro Gazette editor Lorenzo Wood.

Montreal, P. Q., Canada,
Oct. 10, 1918.

Dear Editor:

Perhaps you would like to print a letter from one of the Middleboro boys in the service of Canada. I joined the Canadians just one month ago and have been in training steadily here in Montreal for overseas service, soon. My company is the 1st Depot Battalion, Quebec, but I'm attached to the tanks. Most of the fellows here are from the states and they are all Americans like myself. We call ourselves the American reserve Forces of Canada…. We are all soldiers fighting for democracy so there isn't any feeling shown between the Canadians and Americans. In fact the Americans are making the Canadian army….

1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment,
Guy Street Barracks

Still other Middleborough men enlisted with the French forces. Haroutune Haroutunian, an Armenian native, enlisted with a number of other local Armenians including Sarkis K. Afarian, Madirus Gochgarian, Dicran Baghdelian and Mihran Piranian, on August 3, 1917, in the French Army Legion d'Orient, anxious to serve in the front lines against Germany’s Turkish ally to avenge the Armenian genocide which had been perpetrated by Ottoman Turkey. The Legion, created in November 1916, included some 2,000 Armenian Americans. In 1918, Haroutunian wrote his brother John, "We are ready to attack the Turkish army by orders from Gen. Allenby. We are very happy at the present time because we are seeing the surrender of our enemy from our motherland." Haroutunian gave voice to the local Armenian community’s willingness to sacrifice when he wrote Lorenzo Wood on March 16, 1918, that “for humanity and justice, we will be ready for all happenings…”.

Six Middleborough residents not recognized on its honor roll, but two of whom would ultimately make the supreme sacrifice were the Merluccio brothers who departed Middleborough for their former homes in Italy where they enlisted in the Italian Army.

Despite the fact that Middleborough men would join the forces of foreign nations, and might not always consider themselves firstly as Americans, they clearly recognized the mutual goals which they shared with the native born Middleborough soldiers. The color of the uniform ultimately was irrelevant. Herbert M. Jones, then serving with the Canadians in England, succinctly wrote the President of the Middleborough Red Cross Association, emphasizing the common ideals shared by all.

Purfleet Camp, Essex, Eng.
Sept. 28, 1917.

Dear Madam:

…We are all fighting for one common ideal freedom from militarism – an ideal that America has stood for and I hope will continue to stand for in the years to come…. As I go to France, I go as a comrade and brother in arms to my American brothers. I have worked with them and played with them and eaten with them. I’m glad to know that I am to fight in a just cause shoulder to shoulder with your best and bravest. Many of us will not come back. I only hope that we shall all die to some purpose…. Here’s to the cause – God bless America and Americans and may they be worthy of their ancestors.


Prior to shipping overseas, many World War I soldiers had their portraits taken for posterity, either individually, or in groups as did the eight soldiers above who posed for Irving Kimball at his studio in Boston. Though unidentified, the group presumably includes Middleborough men.


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