A WWI ‘Gentleman Volunteer’

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A volunteer ambulance driver in World War I was not selected for his ability to bind a wound or repair his temperamental transport vehicle. As one recruiter put it, “a volunteer must be a man of good disposition possessed of self-control – in short, a gentleman.” Fitting the bill was handsome, outgoing, nineteen-year-old Clark College student Rupert “Rupe” Wilder Lindsey, who is believed to have been the first Hampton man to leave for duty in World War I Europe.

The war-time ambulance services recruited heavily on college campuses, and many of the elite schools formed volunteer units. In May 1917, “to show his patriotism for his country and his flag,” Rupert joined the Clark College Ambulance Unit and was accepted as a driver for the Paris-based American Field Service (AFS). On June 9, 1917 he sailed from New York to Bordeaux, France aboard the transport ship Espagne.

At the time, some seventy-five college students per week were signing up at the AFS recruiting office in Boston, far more than could be employed as ambulance drivers. Rather than turn them away and dampen the fervor, the AFS played a bait-and-switch game. Not until the day of departure were the recruits told that they would be stuck driving camions (transport trucks) instead of heroically saving lives as “ambulanciers.” This did not suit a number of these young gentlemen volunteers, Rupert included, who had joined as much for an exciting adventure as for altruism.

When Rupert arrived in Paris he obtained a release from the AFS and joined the American Ambulance Service, a private hospital run by Americans in the Paris suburb of Neuilly. There, with his co-driver Mac, he performed “jitney duty”—transporting wounded soldiers to the hospital from the trains rolling in from the front lines. He was soon stationed near the front with the French 26th Division, transporting the wounded to “postes de secour” (field hospitals).

Camp at Triancourt, France

September 1, 1917

Dear Ernestine—

The last time I wrote I was leaving for the Front, wasn’t I? Well, I went and saw and did and here I am still in range of cannon. The French infantry took le Mort Homme and Hill 304, and it was interesting to see the French artillery moved up and the wonderful rapidity of the advance all along. But the other side of it, the wounded and dead during the attack. Men often died before we could reach the hospital, the car covered with blood and all. That’s what tries a fellow’s nerve if anything.

But for a while that is all over for us. We are on repos in Triancourt; the best part of it is that you can get something to eat, omelette, wine, toasted bread, butter, and all the jam you can eat. That is what we all like to get back for after living on sardines and boiled beef.

For this time c’est assez, but I hope to hear from you soon. Perhaps then I shall not be a Volunteer Ambulancier, but with the U.S. Army.

Most sincerely, Rupe

The ambulance corps were absorbed by the Red Cross and the United States Army. After a short leave home, in January 1918 Rupert went to Italy to drive ambulances for the U.S. Army. While he felt that he had been overlooked for a Croix de Guerre in France, he was awarded the War Cross for valor in Italy. In September the War Department assigned Rupert “for duty with the American Expeditionary Force in connection with the Red Cross.” He was assigned to Section IV, Ernest Hemingway’s unit in northern Italy. Unlike the writer, he was never injured, and was driving at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto (October 24-November 3, 1918), which marked the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The following letter was written in the battle’s aftermath.

Italian Front

November 7, 1918

Dear Ernestine—

I was sent down on the Piave River on the 23rd of October and the same night was sent out to a poste on the river called Cavallea where everything was ready for the offensive.

The bombardment came on the night of the 25th and under the artillery fire the Italians put up two bridges. Two brigades got across before the bridges were blown up by the Austrians and all that day there was lively fighting. For a while things looked very doubtful.

I was sent from my poste to a town four kilometers up the river where there were eight soldiers severely wounded. The road was lined with trenches full of soldiers ready to cross, shells were flying everywhere, searchlights were all over the place where the wounded were. Luckily I got the first load back to the hospital before I fell into one monstrous large shell hole. By the time I arrived for the second load, it was getting daylight and I could see the bridge and the French and Italians hurrying across. The Austrians were shelling heavily and many of the soldiers never made it. I saw one man thrown into the air in two parts and one part of him stuck in the remains of a tree. For once I never expected to return from that trip and to this minute I don’t understand how I got back without even as much as a scratch.

Remember I said some months ago that the war might be over by Christmas? What do you think of it now? There is only Germany left and she can’t stand it long.

As ever most sincerely,

Rupe

Four days later, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice of Compiegne to end the war.

Early Life

Rupert was born in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1897. He moved to Hampton as an infant with his father, barber George Lindsey, and his mother Alice Godfrey, daughter of Hampton Civil War veteran Jacob Godfrey. Rupert grew up to be a bright young man, a cornet player, active in various clubs and the school baseball team. Ernestine, the spunky, blue-eyed, red-haired daughter of Hampton businessman Ernest G. Cole, was his childhood sweetheart. After graduating from Hampton Academy in 1915 Rupert entered Clark College in Worcester. Ernestine enrolled at Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, working at her father’s Hampton Beach post office in the summer.

“Two fools laughing at a camera on a box.” Rupert Lindsey and co-driver Mac, Champagne-Ardennes, October 1917.

“Two fools laughing at a camera on a box.” Rupert Lindsey and co-driver Mac, Champagne-Ardennes, October 1917. Hampton Historical Society.

After the War

Rupert’s war experiences are known to us mainly from eighteen letters he wrote to Ernestine in Hampton and South Hadley. In 2009 the Hampton Historical Society received the letters as part of a larger donation of Cole and Page family papers, donated by Ernestine’s daughter Carole Wygant Felter.

Carole says that Rupert wanted to marry her mother but the feeling wasn’t mutual. On the day that Rupert came to her house to propose, Ernestine surrounded herself with girlfriends to thwart the attempt. He never spoke to her again.

In June 1919 Rupert graduated from Clark College with a degree in English. On November 11, 1919, he participated in the first Armistice Day commemoration in Hampton. He later moved to Chicago and found work as a salesman for a plastics materials manufacturer, married Marguerite Frisz of Indiana, and had two children, Lawrence (born 1928) and Robert (born 1930). By 1945 Rupert and his family were living in Clearwater, Florida. He passed away at the age of 92 in St. Petersburg on Christmas Eve 1989.

The one that got away, Ernestine Cole, c. 1920. Hampton Historical Society.

The one that got away, Ernestine Cole, c. 1920. Hampton Historical Society.

Ernestine became a teacher, married Calvin Wygant of New York State, and raised a family of her own. She passed away in 2001 at 103 years old. Thanks to her life-long regard for her childhood friend, Rupert’s letters and photographs from the battlefields of WWI France and Italy have been preserved.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, Tuesday, November 10, 2015.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several works of local history, including HAMPTON HISTORY MATTERS, a compilation of new and previously published articles. Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.

The Millionaire, the Minister, and the Museum

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It was the 1920s, the war to end all wars had been fought and won, prosperity was rising, morals were relaxing, and a rush of innovations was creating a new mass consumer culture in America. Amid all the ‘roaring’ going on in the country, significant changes were taking place in Hampton, too. The population was increasing as never before, farming and fishing were steadily abandoned in favor of business and manufacturing, and the town, embracing its reputation as a summer tourist destination, boldly touted Hampton Beach as the ‘Atlantic City of New England.’

 

Ira Jones (left) and NH Sec of State Hobart Pillsbury, October 14, 1925, Memorial Park dedication.

Ira Jones (left) and NH Sec of State Hobart Pillsbury, October 14, 1925, Memorial Park dedication. Hampton Historical Society photo.

A Good Time To Gather Up The Past

Some felt that now was the time to gather up the past before it slipped away forever. To that end, a group of civic-minded citizens formed the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association, with a mission to preserve the town’s history. They built Memorial Park on the Meeting House Green and dedicated it on the occasion of the town’s 287th birthday, October 14, 1925. Attended by representatives of Hampton’s nine ‘daughter’ towns, the event was capped by the unveiling of a 12-ton granite monument honoring Hampton’s Puritan founders.

Across the road from the Park, in an 1890 farmhouse purchased for the purpose, Association members created Tuck Memorial Hall as a place to collect and preserve the town’s historical relics. Nearby they erected a log cabin, their version of the town’s first meeting house. They later acquired the funds to construct the Tuck Athletic Fields to benefit Hampton’s present and future crop of youngsters. Not exactly a conventional historical society function, but they did it anyway.

Ira Jones of Hampton and Edward Tuck of Paris, France were largely responsible for creating the memorial park, hall, and playing fields. The original idea belonged to Ira, who applied the sweat equity in liberal doses and drummed up enthusiasm for the project while Edward supplied the funds and goodwill. Neither were spring chickens, but both would have scoffed at any suggestion that they were far too old to be running around starting new adventures at their time of life. Ira, a retired Baptist minister and funeral director, was 89 years old. Edward, a retired ex-pat banker, was 83.

Edward Tuck in Paris. 1920s. hampton Historical Society photo.

Edward Tuck in Paris. 1920s. Hampton Historical Society photo.

Edward Tuck, The Millionaire Philanthropist

Edward ‘Ned’ Tuck was born in Exeter in 1842. His mother was Sarah Nudd of Hampton, whose ancestors had settled here in the early 1640s. She married Mainer Amos Tuck, himself of Hampton first-settler stock, his fourth great-grandparents being the town’s first tavern keepers Robert and Joanna Tuck. A graduate of Hampton Academy and Dartmouth College, he became a lawyer, abolitionist, and congressman. His son Edward was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Dartmouth College.

In view of his father’s ardent abolitionist stance, it remains a curious fact that Edward missed out on the Civil War. After graduating in 1862, he was appointed to a diplomatic post in Paris, France by his father’s friend, President Abraham Lincoln. Edward remained in Paris, joined an international banking firm, and married heiress Julia Stell. By the 1880s Mr. and Mrs. Edward Tuck had wealth enough to claim membership in the new Gilded Age millionaire class.

In some measure, they were adherents of Andrew Carnegie’s ‘gospel of wealth,’ and when Edward retired from banking he and Julia devoted their lives to giving away their fortune to worthy causes, with much of their philanthropy aimed at New Hampshire. Long before Edward became the benefactor of the Hampton museum that bears his name, he had given generously to his alma maters and had financed such projects as the New Hampshire Historical Society building in Concord, the Reverend John Tucke obelisk on Star Island, Stratham Hill Park, and the Exeter Cottage Hospital. He was also in the habit of donating $300 a year to his father’s old prep school, Hampton Academy.

Founders Monument Ira Jones 1925. Hampton Historical Society photo.

Founders Monument & Ira Jones, 1925. Hampton Historical Society photo.

Ira Jones, The Minister With An Idea

From the founding of the town in 1638 until 1810, the Meeting House Green had been the site of a succession of meeting houses. From then until 1883 it was home to Hampton Academy. When plans were being made to move the school building to a new location, there were calls to ‘put in its place something as a memento of the past.’ For centuries this part of the common had been the beating heart of the town, and for some it was a wrenching experience to see it abandoned. But the calls went unheard, and for forty years the Green was a ‘desolate’ place, ‘growing only weeds and brambles.’ ‘Then,’ in the words of Caroline Lamprey Shea, the Association’s first secretary, ‘came a man with an idea.’

That man was Ira Jones, born into a Quaker family in Maine in 1836. Rejecting that creed, he studied at New Hampton for the Free Baptist ministry. When war came, he served with the 15th Maine Infantry Co. D until June 1862, when he was discharged as disabled at Camp Parapet, Louisiana. Over the years, he preached in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and every New England state. In 1901 he came to Hampton, bought a furniture and casket store, and hung out his sign as a funeral director. His wife Aurelia Lawrence Jones bought some nice flower gardens attached to an unspectacular Victorian on Winnacunnet Road, not far from the bramble-choked town green. The name of their new home was Roselawn, which Ira emblazoned in raised golden letters on his personal stationery.

Aurelia died in 1913 at age 83, and the following year Ira, now 77 years old, married a 38-year-old nurse named Vina Morgan, who was likely the old lady’s caretaker in her last illness.

Caroline Shea tells us in her elegant little sketch that Ira ‘came to town a stranger, learned to love its beauties and know its history,’ and he ‘determined to do something to preserve the Green and honor the founders of Hampton.’ Aware that wealthy philanthropist Edward Tuck was a regular contributor to Hampton Academy, Ira solicited and received his financial backing. Ned’s first gift of $7,000 in 1925 paled in comparison to the nearly $850,000 he gave to Dartmouth College that year, but it enabled the Association to buy the farmhouse and build Memorial Park.

The Jones-Tuck Mutual Admiration Society

Ira and Edward corresponded across the Atlantic as the projects progressed, even swapping photographs of themselves like a couple of giddy school boys.

“I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration of your picture, showing your fine and impressive appearance at your advanced age,’ Edward, the young pup, gushed upon receiving the senior Ira’s likeness. ‘I make a very good showing myself, but I take my hat off to you.’

‘I am quite convinced,’ Ira replied benevolently, ‘that you need not take your hat off to anyone as showing a better physical or mental condition for the age you represent. I do most sincerely compliment you.’ With his letter he included yet another photo of himself, which he pointed out that ‘in posture I have followed Paris Style.’

No one talks like that anymore, which makes their exchange all the more charming.

Ira had another admirer in James Tucker, the editor of the Hampton Beach News-Guide. Commenting in 1926 on Ira’s recent appearance as King James II in a local play, he heaped praise on ‘that splendid gentleman and rare citizen,’ who, ‘unbowed by his more than four score years, straight as the proverbial arrow and with real majesty in his bearing, moved across the pageant stage, a living symbol of everything that was and is good and worthwhile in the life of historic Hampton.’

Seven months later, in April 1927, just as his plans to build the Tuck Athletic Fields were being finalized, Ira died in his sleep. When Edward heard the news he lamented that it was ‘a pity that Mr. Jones could not have lived to see [his work] fully completed.’ He donated another $10,000, others took up Ira’s work, and the playing fields were completed and dedicated in 1930. Edward would live to see 96 years and no more, all the while continuing his financial support of the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association.

 

Tuck House, 1931. Note addition at rear with closed in porch. HHS photo.

Tuck House, 1931. Note addition at rear with closed in porch. HHS photo.

The Museum Turns 90

If the millionaire or the minister had any serious doubts about the future of their Hampton endeavors, they never expressed it. The Association was a legal corporation, and other members stepped in where they left off. Over the years the farmhouse that we know as the Tuck Museum has been joined by a fire-fighting museum, an eighteenth-century barn, and a twentieth-century tourist cabin. The old log cabin meeting house finally disintegrated, its place taken by a nineteenth-century one-room schoolhouse.

GOTG 1Up PosterThe Museum and the Association, now known as the Hampton Historical Society, together turn ninety years old this year. To mark the milestone, the Society has opened a new exhibit, ‘Gathering on the Green: A History of the Hampton Historical Society and Tuck Museum, 1925 to the Present, with highlights of town, beach, and national events.’ On Saturday, July 18 they’re hosting a birthday bash on the museum grounds, with appearances by Vikings at Thorvald’s Rock, the witch Goody Cole, and other things of equally special magnificence. I hope to see you there.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 29, 2015

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole, 1656-1680.” Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.