Gloucester County During WWI

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Gloucester County
During World War I
July 28, 1914 ~ November 11, 1918

By J. Edward Thornton

The first war of the twentieth century for America began in Europe July 20, 1914, and spread from country to country. (War was declared by Austria - Hungary or Serbia). None of the fighting was in our homelands, but was in Europe. It got its name, World War, because there were so many nations taking part in it. In fact there was no part of the world that was not affected in some way by this war.

Finally, in 1917, the United States felt it her duty to enter this war and declared war on Austria - Hungary. Once our whole nation was astir with war-like activities.

Service Men from Union Baptist Church
W. H. Templeman, Howard F. Belvin, James Jenkins, Hubert L. Shackelford, W. A. Shackelford, John F. Shackelford, Marion F. Hogge, Robert F. Jenkins, James A. Templeman, Earlin L. Brown, Walter L. Brown, Lemuel R. Belvin, Clinton Jenkins, Herbert Shackelford, W. B. Thornton, Philip P. Thornton, Aubrey F. Ash, Harvey V. Williams, William M. Buck, William B. Lawson, Ira C. Brown, Ernest Shackelford, John W. Belvin, Christian Rowe, Frank West, David West, Ira N. West, Neelie C. Bonneville, Bernard F. Thomas, David E. Bonneville, John C. Williams, Talmage Smith, John Rowe, Thomas Jenkins, James King, Joseph Green, John Jenkins, James H. Ash, William C. Brown, George W. Shackelford, Morgan Shackelford, Samuel Jenkins, Marion King, Melvin Thomas, Bernard Hayes, Hadley Shackelford, Captain Marvin V. Healey, Luther Jenkins, Marcus Rowe, Willie Roberts, Willie West, Lawrence Smith, Voight Jenkins, Edward Brown, Luther Rowe, Willie Shackleford, Christian Rowe, Robert F. Rowe.

Service Men, Severn Presbyterian Church: C. K. Deal, Henry Berry, Mack Bonnewell, and Thomas.

Virginia Communities in War Time

The largest armies that had been raised in the world to this time were collected and sent to Europe, mostly to France.

Gloucester County had its part in the war. Gloucester furnished 298 men for the service. Almost immediately after the United States had declared war, a company of volunteers was formed at Gloucester Village. Captain B. D. Harwood was in charge of them. In the fall, they transferred to Fort Wool in Hampton Roads off from Old Point. 1

"How these poor fellows suffered in the winter that followed, for it was one of the coldest that Virginia has ever had. The poor soldiers on Fort Wool, with the winters of Hampton Roads frozen in a wall around them, some times almost froze. There were so many soldiers to be outfitted in the United States that year that many of them had insufficient clothing and other covers. But none of them did exactly freeze. They became such good soldiers that many of them were sent to France or other camps in the spring, where they stayed until after the war closed on November 11, 1918. Many other ‘Gloucester boys’ were called to service in each of the three drafts. Even after the war was all over, some of them had to stay in France for six months or more before the government could find ships to bring them home." 2

The service flag of Gloucester showed 13 gold stars for the following men and one woman in the service:

Frank Cleary - Killed in battle in France
Willie C. Brown - Died of disease in France
Enoch Brown - U. S. Navy - Died
Willie Jenkins - Killed in battle in France 
M. W. Marbie - Died in camp
Henley E. Pierce - Died in camp
Herbert Franklin Robins - Died in camp
John Rowe - Died in camp
John H. Hall - Died in camp
James Bland - Died in camp
R. C. Lamberth - Died of disease in camp 3
Edward G. Field Died of disease in France after armistice was signed 4
Miss Cornelia Thornton (Red Cross Nurse ) Died in service in England

Mary Wiatt Gray, writes in her history book written in 1936. "I have felt the need of having a textbook on the history of Gloucester County".

"The volunteers and the drafted men of Gloucester were not the only persons to serve their country in the World War. We have already spoken of Cornelia Thornton, who served as a Red Cross nurse in this war, and died in England, and whose portrait hangs in Gloucester Court House. Everyone, big and little, showed a great deal of patriotism, which you know means love of one’s country. The women, and even the school girls and the boys, too, knitted sweaters, socks, and mufflers for the soldiers. They started Red Cross meetings and rolled bandages and picked lint to send to France for the hospitals for wounded men. They used all foodstuffs sparingly to save that much more to send to the armies, for of course no one knew how long the war might last and our boys in Europe must be fed."

The people all over the United States arranged to have sweetless days, using no sugar in anything,


The Gloucester County Draft Board was composed of George B. Field, R. A. Folkes and H. A. Tabb. Out of 2,151 registrants, 253 were accepted at camp.

The following men from the county are cited by their division commanders and are included in Virginia's Distinguished Service roster: George E. Allen, Lieutenant Irving E. Campbell, Edward T. Corbell, and Dave E. Bonneville.

The Eighth company, Virginia Coast Artillery, National Guard, was recruited from Gloucester and Mathews Counties. After being drafted into Federal service it was ordered to Fortress Monroe, arrived on August 17, 1917, and was "split," one-half going with an overseas organization and the other being stationed at Fort Monroe for the duration of the war.

Virginia Communities in War Times

 wheatless days in which they ate no flour, meatless days in which they ate no meat. Of course, they did not do without these things every day, but without some of them each day, such as Monday go without sugar, Tuesday, use some sugar but do without flour and so on. In all towns coal was used as savingly as possible, so one might say they had heatless days, too, in such a bitter winter as it was. Coal was hard to get, chiefly because of scarcity of labor and for lack of trains which were all pressed into service for carrying soldiers to the camps.

There was a flu epidemic in 1918 which took its toll on the troops and civilian population.

Many men, and lots of women also, worked in the munitions plants. A munitions plant is a place where they make the ammunition and the big gun shells for the soldiers to use. Work in such places was filled with danger. The plant in which many of the Gloucester people worked was a place called Penniman, across the York River from Cappahosic.

Gloucester mothers and sisters packed box after box of good home food to send across the ocean to their sons or brothers, or to any soldier. Prices of everything went up and up, higher than they had been for a great many years, but no one complained, each did his part and sure enough before long the side which the United States was helping won, and the war was over.

"Gloucester Point was an amazingly busy place during the World War. A great many of the United States battle ships were in Hampton Roads and many of them in the York River. There were thousands of sailors aboard them. Every few days some of them would have shore leave for recreation. Then thousands of them would come ashore at Gloucester Point and also over in Yorktown. The Point would be almost a solid mass of them in white or blue according to which uniform they wore. Some of them would form baseball teams, many were happy to just be ashore and walk around, others rode around in jitneys or automobiles for hire. Many stands sold them soft drinks, tobacco, ice cream and other goodies. On shore leave day for the fleet, these places found it a most profitable business. Some lines of business all over America profited immensely in furnishing the government with things necessary for carrying on the war. The soldiers were not among the money makers, for they received but one dollar per day, unless they were officers, and then their pay was a little more."

The war experience impacted each person in different ways. For many, it was their first travel away from home and contact with new people and exposure to disease and hardships foreign to Gloucester County. Understanding these times and family contributions to the war effort is a vital part of Gloucester History.

1. Gray, Mary Wiatt, Gloucester County (Virginia), Richmond, VA, Cottrell & Cooke, Inc., 1936.
2. Ibid.
3. The body of Mr. Lamberth was first buried in France, but was later brought back to Gloucester County in
   July, 1920. He was the first body of a soldier of this war to be brought back to Gloucester. His remains
   now rest at Salem Church.

4. Edward G. Field - Died of Pneumonia caused by exposure. The Gloucester Mathews Post of the American
   Legion is named for him.

The supplemental items for this article were taken from the Virginia Communities in War Time, First and Second Series, Arthur Kyle Davis, Editor, published by order of The Executive Committee, State Capitol, Richmond, VA, 1926. Available for reference at the Virginia State Historical Society, Richmond, VA, with call numbers D570.85 V8 A4 v.6 c.3 (first series) and D570.85 V8 A4 v.7 c.2 (second series).

William Buchanan Thornton, my grandfather, who lived at Achilles, had two sons and a future son-in-law that served in World War I: William Buchanan Thornton, Jr., who was gassed in Germany and as a result died in the early 1920’s; Philip Taliaferro Thornton who was also captured and held as a prisoner of war until the end of the war at which time the Germans dressed the prisoners and had the formation and then surrendered to the former prisoners; and Fred Atwood Clements, who lived near Ware Church and served in the navy. When the war ended his ship docked in Yorktown and he rode the ferry home to Gloucester. These were my three uncles.

J. E. Thornton