The newspaper article below was located in the Tuesday, August 13, 1918 issue of the Naugatuck Daily News. The original telegram mentioned in the article no longer exists. Cortney Skinner, the illustrator for One April in Boston: The Gift of the Spyglass, did extensive research into WWI era telegrams and his re-creation of the telegram Mr. and Mrs. Edwards received on Monday, August 12, 1918 is shown above.
Second Naugatuck Boy Is Reported Killed In Action
Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Edwards of Millville Receive Word From War Department of the Death of Their Son.
A telegram from the war department was received yesterday by Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Edwards of Millville, announcing that their son, Philip Edwards, had been killed in action in France on July 9. Letters received from Private Edwards dated July 10 and 12, have raised the possibility of a mistake, and a telegram has been sent to the war department asking for a verification of the telegram received yesterday, but up to this afternoon no answer had been received.
Last week Mr. and Mrs. Edwards received a letter from their son, the letter being dated July 10. Miss Ella Wininger, a Naugatuck young woman, who is now taking a course of training to become a nurse at the Griffin hospital in Derby also received a letter, this letter dated July 12. From both letters it was apparent that Private Edwards was in the midst of the fighting that is going on at the front. In the letter to Miss Wininger he said that “he had seen all the side shows, and was now at the circus,” and this is taken to mean that he and his company had been placed in the front line trenches. In that letter he also mentioned the fact that there were no Y.M.C.A.’s where he was and that it was impossible to get writing materials. The letter was written on a piece of paper which was not letter paper.
In his letter to his parents, Private Edwards stated that he “was still at the front” the last words of the statement being crossed off by a censor in lead pencil but still quite visible underneath the pencil marks. In the face of these facts Mr. and Mrs. Edwards are holding out hope that there has been a mistake, and are anxiously awaiting the reply from the war department to the telegram for verification of the report received yesterday. Private Edwards’ name has not yet appeared in any of the casualty lists issued by the war department.
Private Edwards, who is 23 years old, and the only child of his parents, enlisted in Company [H] of the 102[nd] infantry on April 14, 1917, just seven days after the declaration of war by the United States against Germany. With him at the same time was John Simmons of Carroll street who enlisted in the same company. The two young men were chums, and Private Simmons was the first Naugatuck young man to be reported as severely wounded in action, having been wounded early last spring. Private Simmons has since recovered from his wounds, and is back in the front line trenches, as indicated by reference to him in Private Edwards’ letter to his parents. Private Edwards also referred to Warren Birdsall, son of Mr. and Mrs. Warren Birdsall of Maple street in his letter to his parents. His letter to his parents was as follows:
July 10, 1918.
Dear Mother and Father:
It has been a long time since I have written any letter and no doubt you are greatly worried. But we have been up against it for writing material and this is the first chance I have had to write for some time.
I saw Warren the other day and he is looking fine. All the boys from here are well and happy. We are still looking forward to some mail. It has been nearly a month since we had any. John received some that had gone to the hospital after he left, and he let me read it. Of course it was rather old but it helped cheer us up. In one of them we found a two dollar bill and maybe that old American money didn’t look good. The darn stuff they have over here rots in your pocket if you keep it any length of time. It is just like a piece of newspaper.
Well, there is nothing to write about, I guess you get the war news about as quick as we do. We are still at ————. Will close with love and kisses.
A note from illustrator Cortney Skinner:
To produce an authentic re-creation of the telegram received by the Edwards family about their son’s death, it took some delving into my own document collection as well as some online research.
Western Union telegrams changed form over the decades, and so the correct basic format and layout for a 1918 telegram had to be found. At the top of the telegram can be seen the local Naugatuck Western Union office where the telegram was received before being delivered to the addressee. The number “30” stated the word count in this telegram, since the sender was charged by the word, here the sender being the U.S. “Govt.”
The notification of the Killed in Action death is worded in a standard way and is “signed” by Adjutant General of the U.S. Army, Peter Charles Harris who served as the AG from 1918 to 1922. Notice that no company, division or service details for Private Edwards are given in this telegram other than the branch of service, “Infantry.” This was due to security concerns during WWI. If detailed information about the casualties of Edwards’ company and division were known by the enemy, they would then know how successful their own military operations might have been.