They called it “The Great One.” Many people refer to it as World War I, but only a few today remember it personally because the military conflict began in Europe in 1914 and ended in 1918. It started between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, due to the assassination on June 28, 1914 of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, presumed to be heir to the throne, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serb nationalist.

That incident led to a global war involving 32 nations. Allies in 28 countries, including Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the United States, opposed the central powers of Germany, Austria-Hungry, Turkey and Bulgaria.

The causes dated back to the 19th and 20th centuries. The reasons were, as usual, political and economic. Germany, Italy and Belgium had all previously been divided in the 1800s, and it took a while to restore their independence and unification. Germany became a great world power in 1871. Even after that was resolved toward the end of the 19th Century, there still seemed to be an economic conflict. Because of such tensions between 1871 and 1914, the nations in Europe kept large armies and increased their navies. They armed themselves not only for self defense, but didn’t want to be standing alone if war broke out.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson gambled that he could maintain the right to trade with various powers without running the risk of war. But, Germany kept provoking the U.S. by sinking our ships, with lives and cargo lost. The most familiar episode seemed to be the Lusitania in 1915. Wilson did not want war, but the Germans had resorted to unrestricted submarine warfare, planning to defeat Britain.

On April 6, 1917, the United Stated declared war on Germany.

Here at home, the Camden Surgical Dressings Committee worked throughout the summer of 1916 at the Camden Yacht Club making 7,000 dressings. They moved to a vacant store in the Masonic Block and continued. They made “comfort bags” for the soldiers containing soap, socks, puzzles and pipes that were sent to the wounded French soldiers. Mrs. Mary Borden-Turner, daughter of William Borden, of Camden, organized it.

The people in town felt the effect as food prices rose. They took place in a nationwide effort called “4 Minute Men.” People from Camden gave a four-minute speech to promote the sale of “Liberty Bonds.” For the second sale, Camden had a quota of $112,000.

The Boston Post had headlines on Tuesday, September 4, 1917:

“President’s message to drafted me on the eve of departure for camp:

“You are undertaking a great duty. The heart of the whole country is with you. Everything that you do will be watched with the deepest interest and with the deepest solicitude not only by those who are near and dear to you, but by the whole nation besides. For this great war draws us all together, makes us all comrades and brothers, as all true Americans felt themselves to be when we first made good our national independence.

“The eyes of all the world will be upon you, because you are in some special sense the soldiers of freedom. Let it be your pride therefore, to show all men everywhere not only what good soldiers you are, but also what good men you are, keeping yourselves fit and straight in everything and pure and clean through and through.

“Let us set for ourselves a standard so high that it will be a glory to live up to it and then let us live up to it and add a new laurel to the crown of America. My affectionate confidence goes with you in every battle and every test. God keep and guide you!

“President Wilson’s Message to Soldiers of National Army.”

The first draft 178 men were called from Knox County, and the second in March of 1918 required only 11 men.

In The Camden Herald , November 29, 1918, it reads:

“Camden boy dies in action

“The sad news reached the family Friday that Harold Heal, son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Heal had made the supreme sacrifice for his country, being killed in action probably in one of the last drives made before peace came. Harold Heal entered the service last May and was almost immediately sent across, so he was in actual fighting much sooner than most of the boys. He was very popular here, being a young man of excellent character and liked by everyone. He was employed in J.C. Curtis Hardware when called to service. The father and mother and young wife, who was formerly Miss Maud Barker, have the sympathy of all. We feel pride, too, in the heroism of this young Camden soldier, the first of our home boys to die in actual fighting ! Harold came from fighting stock, as his aged grandfather, James W. Achorn, now long past 80 years was one of the heroes in the Civil War.”

The following letter was received by Fred Heal, in answer to his inquiry as to the manner of his son’s death.

“Hq. Co. C. 113 Inf. American E. F.

“17 January 1918

“My Dear Sir:

Your letter of December 17th has been referred to me as Commander of the platoon of which your son Harold was a member. I regret to advise that your son was killed in action in the battle of Bois de Estraye on October 23rd, 1918. His death was the result of a shrapnel wound in the chest and death was instantaneous. Your son was an excellent soldier, always ready and willing to perform the duty assigned to him and possessed the qualities of true Americanism which resulted in ultimate victory in this world war. He was a member of an assault platoon in this attack and the task assigned to it was thoroughly accomplished and its objective reached. Private Heal was well liked among the members of his company and up to the time of his death had been in excellent health.

“With personal regards, I am respectfully yours,

“Walter G. Scherrer, 1st Lieut. Co. C, 113th Inf. U.S.A.”

It was learned in October that another Camden boy, Russell G. Arey, had died on August 28th, 1918 of a gunshot wound.

On May 28, 1921, his body was returned to Camden from France. The body was received by members of the American Legion post and National Guard. He lay in state in the Opera House for a full week under 24-hour military guard. The military funeral was held at the Opera House on June 12. It was the first military funeral ever held in Camden, and following the service a large procession followed the caisson bearing the casket to Mountain View Cemetery, where the body was buried with full military honors.

In mid-September, the body of Harold Heal came home from France. His body lay under guard until Sept. 19, when a military funeral similar to that given Russell Arey was held. Following the services, the cortege proceeded to Mountain View Cemetery where a committal service was held, followed by a final salute by the firing squad and playing of “taps.”

Other news followed. Lieut. Albert Holbrook, whose father lived in Camden, had died in a German prison camp. Don Johnson had been wounded. In November it was learned that Lt. Henry Keep was killed in action on Oct. 5 and Miles Dodge had died in July in heavy fighting at Belleau Woods. He had graduated in the Class of 1915 from Camden High School.

On Monday morning, Nov. 11, 1918 the news everyone had waited for came. The Armistice had been signed and the war was over. The U.S. had fought for only a short time, from April 6,1917 until Nov. 11, 1918. A holiday was declared in town and bells rang from 8:45 a.m. until 10 p.m. Everyone went to town and an impromptu parade was formed. By noon, plans were made for a more formal celebration. Three effigies of the Kaiser were paraded through town before being burned in a large bonfire.

At noontime on Thanksgiving Day a new service flag was raised. The flag contained 141 blue stars and two gold stars for Russell Arey and Harold Heal. Postmaster Hobbs presided over the ceremony in front of the Post Office, and the flag was hung between two large elm trees directly across Chestnut Street from the Camden Post Office. Rev. G. M. Foxwel l gave a short address, presenting the flag to the town. Money for it had been raised by the young people of Camden.

On Aug. 19, 1919, after the boys had come home from World War I, Camden held one of their largest parades, “Welcome Home Boys.” The stores were all decorated in red, white and blue buntings. The Camden and Vinalhaven bands had concerts and many, many floats were decorated. There was a large contingent of marching soldiers in their uniforms. After the parade the former servicemen were served dinner in the Opera House.

On Memorial Day in 1920 there was a parade. At Monument Square, the memorial trees recently planted on the Camden Public Library grounds were dedicated. The five oak trees were in memory of Russell Arey, Harold Heal, Miles Dodge, Henry Keep and Benjamin Lee.

The American Legion Post of Camden named it the Arey-Heal Post. Also, the center of town, where Main, Bay View, Elm and Mechanic streets meet, was named the Arey-Heal Square.

Look for the next article, whatever it may be.


Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.