Mathews County During WWI

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Mathews County During WWI

Robert Hoskins Warren

After World War I, the Commonwealth established the Virginia War History Commission, and during 1925 an effort was made to locate a suitable person in each city and county of Virginia to write a history of his/her community, covering the period of the first World War. Forty-four communities responded to this request and thirty-two county histories, six city histories, and six joint city/county histories were published in 1926, in two volumes. These histories provide an interesting window into the past, and demonstrate the activities, leadership, and extraordinary degree to which communities supported the war effort. Much of this article is from Mathews County in War Time, A Community History, by Bertha B. W. Foster, which appears in the first series published by the War History Commission.

Early War Years

World War I began July 28, 1914, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. By Christmas of that year, committees were soliciting funds for Belgian relief. Mrs. Giles B. Cooke and Miss Mary Randolph were active in this process and raised $26 and a large box of clothing.

With the large number of Mathews men serving on passenger ships and freighters, the county closely watched and was greatly concerned by the sinking of the Lusitania ,May 1915. The United States protested strongly and Germany cut back on its submarine warfare. On March 16, 1917, L. P. Borum of Mathews, Captain of the City of Memphis, and his crew were forced from their ship by German submarine cannon. Captain Borum reported that the German captain asked him "…where I was from, what my ship carried, and my destination. I answered that we were from Cardiff with, in ballast, bound for New York. ‘Vell’, called the captain of the submarine, ‘I haff to zink your ship. You know dat?’" City of Memphis was sunk and Captain Borum and his crew were in lifeboats for eighteen hours before being rescued by English Monarch which picked them up and carried them to Glasgow.

A week after learning of the sinking of the City of Memphis, a Standard Oil ship Heraldton, was sunk carrying down fourteen of her crew, including Coles Frank Hudgins, son of Mr. and Mrs. O. F. Hudgins, of Laban.

A little over a year later, Captain Borum, by now captain of United States Army Chartered Transport City of Savannah, was honored by the Belgian government for the rescue of twenty-six crewmen, from an open boat, of the Belgian steamer Chilier.

Initial Response to War Declaration

The United States declared war April 6, 1917, and Captain Alexander James, Commander of the Lane-Diggs Camp of Confederate Veterans, was made chairman of a committee to decide what should be done. A big Patriotic Rally was held April 21. Daughters of the Confederacy and ladies of the Mathews Civic League arranged tables. A free lunch was prepared by ladies of the different communities in the county. Sheriff A. E. Thurston made arrangements at the court green, including a stage and flags and bunting on the various court buildings. Captain James called the meeting to order, Rev. J. R. Stodghill, of the Baptist Church, gave the prayer, and Major Samuel D. Freeman was the first speaker. Other speakers included W. M. Minter, Judge J. Boyd Sears, Rev. B. E. Hudson, of the Methodist Church, Rev. B. N. DeFoe Wagner, of the Episcopal Church, and Major Giles B. Cooke.

Churches were very active in the county’s patriotic efforts. St. Paul’s M. E. Church, Rev. W. G. Burch, Pastor, gave $27.50 to the Red Cross and held special services and prayers for servicemen. St. Mathews M. E. Church dedicated a service flag, as did many other churches. These contained one star for each member in service. The Missionary Society of the Mathews Baptist Church contributed $56 to the Red Cross and its Sunday School an additional $25.

A Junior Red Cross was organized in all the schools. Rev. B. E. Hudson was county chairman for the Juniors and Mrs. Wesley Foster was secretary. The children sewed and knitted, made scrapbooks and property bags, and collected tinfoil and nutshells. During Thrift Week, Cobbs Creek High School averaged nearly $11 per pupil in selling War Savings Stamps. Peninsula High School organized a War Savings Club; Winter Harbor School raised $266 selling Liberty Bonds and Savings Stamps.

When war was declared, six Mathews men volunteered immediately for patrol duty with the Navy. They were S. L. Hudgins, Augustus Hudgins, H. M. Forrest, J. L. Brooks, George Hudgins, and Hezekiah Hudgins. Within four weeks of the declaration, thirty-three Mathews men were serving.

All men between ages 21 and 31 were ordered to register. Mathews registrations were 433 white, 182 colored. This registration exceeded the number registered in many larger counties. A draft board was appointed with the following members: A. E. Thurston, Chairman, W. B. Smith, Clerk, Dr. C. C. White, Examiner. A second registration was called in September 1918 and this time was for men aged 18 to 45. The government estimated that 836 men would register, however, 945 men signed up. The county board was called upon for 85 men. The county had 275 men in service which was three times their quota.

Dr. Robert R. Hoskins, a Spanish-American War veteran, directed the movement to organize a company of Home Guards. This company continued to practice and drill until the end of the war. Dr. Hoskins enlisted in service September 1918 and served as a Captain in the Medical Corps in New York until the war ended.

The Mathews-Gloucester Coast Artillery was organized July 5, 1917. There were 31 boys from Mathews and 42 from Gloucester. A Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal photo, featured in the February 13, 1986 "Do you remember?" column, shows the 8th Company Coast Artillery National Guard. One person from Mathews is identified, Vannie Armistead. Identified from Gloucester are Company Commander Beverly D. Harwood, Catesby T. Field, Julien Carbell, Chris Hall, __ Goalder, Robert Wyatt, Bernard R. Woodland, Herman Horsley, George Cary, Earl Talliaferro, Edward G. Field, Louis Groh, Fred McKee, Marion Chapman, and Vernon Kerns. Other Mathews boys included Archie Acey, Charles W. Healy, and Julian B. Fox.

Mathews sent one doctor and three nurses overseas. They were Dr. E. T. Sanberg, Miss Mattie Shackelford, Miss Lucile Douglass, and Miss Maude Minter.

The colored people of Mathews responded to every call of the various war programs. Thirty-nine men left for Camp Lee November 1917. Members of Zion Colored Church raised $113.70 for the War Fund. Colored Red Cross auxiliaries were formed at Providence, Antioch, and Zion (Baptist Churches?) and accomplished much.

The Mathews Journal had frequent reports and letters from county men. Emmett G. Butts was selected to represent the Southern kind of soldier, John Bassett was wounded three times. Oscar Hudgins, Jr., Wilton Moore, J. H. Baylock, and William Hurst had been wounded. S. W. Treakle had been gassed. Men writing reports published by the paper included George Treakle, Rosser Hudgins, Currie Hudgins, and John T. Borum.

County Conservation Efforts

Many efforts were made towards home food production and conservation. Joseph E. Healy was put in charge of food conservation. Pledge cards were sent to homes and "wheatless" and "meatless" days were observed. Mrs. Robert Hoskins arranged a bulletin in the Red Cross rooms for signatures of those volunteering to conserve food. The Mathews Civic League, led by Mrs. L. M. Travers, President, and Mrs. R. Wesley Foster, Secretary, and the Captain Sally Tompkins Chapter of U. D. C., led by Mrs. Theodore Miller, President, and Mrs. Charles Williams, Secretary, also supported these registration efforts.

Red Cross

The Red Cross was one of the most active and highly supported organizations in the county. The Mathews County Chapter was organized May 12, 1917. Mrs. Robert Hoskins was elected chairman; Miss Alice Healy, Secretary; and W. B. Smith, Treasurer. The chapter was popular and included Cardinal Branch, Gwynns Branch, and the Cobbs Creek Auxiliary in addition to the three colored auxiliaries previously mentioned. The Red Cross held many fund raisers. A Fourth of July celebration in 1918, held at Lee-Jackson High School, raised more than $500. More than 5000 people took part in the exercises. A twenty-five piece Marine band played and the audience heard addresses by Maj. Samuel D. Freeman, Hon. Christopher Garrett, and Judge Sears. Corporal J. B. Fox and Sgt. S. W. Treakle had sent German helmets, gas masks, and shells home to friends and these were displayed to the public.

A summary of Red Cross production by the Mathews Chapter between May 1917 and August 1920, shows over 5500 articles were made for military relief including knitted sweaters, 210 garments for refugees, 500 comfort kits, 1000 pairs of socks darned, and 1600 pounds of old clothing. The Red Cross continued to make refugee garments and collect clothing for war victims in Europe.

The End of the War and Post-War

The Mathews Journal of November 14, 1918, reported "…They marched for and yelled for Wilson, and they cheered everybody else. Oysters were plentiful and firing was frequent. About 400 rounds were fired, and no one got shot, half shot, or crippled."

Post 83, American Legion, was formed September 1919. Maj. S. D. Freeman was elected post commander; Dr. R. R. Hoskins, Vice Post Commander; George Treakle, Post Adjutant; J. B. Fox, Post Finance Officer; and E. Muse Foster, Post Historian and Chaplain.

The Virginia War History Commission appointed the following committee members in Mathews: Mrs. Robert Hoskins, J. P. Nottingham, W. B. Smith, and W. M. Minter. Mrs. R. Wesley Foster was put in charge of Red Cross reports; Mr. Smith the soldiers’ records; George Treakle diaries and letters of soldiers; and Shepard G. Miller economics.

This verse is from a letter, written by an Islander, and on display at the Gwynn’s Island Museum:

A Soldier’s Farewell

I was born in old Virginia in a cottage by the sea
And like a Southern soldier I will return to thee
My grandfather followed Jackson, my uncle followed Lee
And I will follow Pershing which will soon mean victory.

In Memory and Appreciation of Those Who Died on Active Duty

  • Howard Hudgins, Private, pneumonia, Camp Lee
    Jenifer Garnett, Lt. Commander, U. S. N., pneumonia, Brest, France, January 1918
    Charles R. Richardson, Marines, killed in action, Bellau Woods, June 1918
    Glenn Rayne, Private, pneumonia, Camp Meade, October, 1918
    Stanley Edward Brownley, Quartermaster, U. S. N. R. F., pneumonia, Brest, France, October 1918
    Raymond Collins, wounds received in battle, October 1918
    Rufus Smith, Corporal, wounds received in battle, October 1918
    Harold Hatch, Private, wounds received in battle, October 1918
    Frank Rosser Hudgins, U. S. N. R. F., pneumonia, Brooklyn, October 1918
    Elbert Morgan, Private, pneumonia, France, December 1918
    Herbert S. Butts, pneumonia, Royal, France, October 1918
  • References and Resources

    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).

    The Gwynn’s Island Museum, Gwynn’s Island, VA, has an interesting collection of photographs, documents, and memorabilia relating to World War I servicemen and men serving in the merchant marine. Its WWI exhibits feature Stanley Edward Brownley, Richard Henry Respess, James W. Callis, Dr. Robert Roy Hoskins, John Andrew Buchanan, Walter McKinley Godsey, Marion T. Timmons, Orvus V. Sparrow, George Hennis Deagle, Earl Jerome Powell, John Raymond Bassett, and John R. Borum. Most of these were Island men. In addition, the museum has family histories and other displays of particular interest to those having Tidewater ancestors. It is located on route 633 on Gwynn’s Island and is open 1-5 on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays May 1 through November 1. For more information call Mrs. Jean Tanner, Museum Director, at (804)725-7949.

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    Last Updated  Friday, 30 January 2004 06:20 PM