Friday, May 21, 2021

Before the memory fades: Field and Allen, Windham’s sons of sacrifice and honor

Lieut. C.W.W. Field. Writing around
the photo says 'Killed at Chateau
Thierry - July 18, 1918 - Shot by
German sniper - 103 Machine
Gun Batt. 26th Division - Killed
By Walter Lunt

In observance of Memorial Day, 2021, Before the Memory Fades explores the character and the combat legacy of two native sons, Lt. Charles W.W. Field and Sgt. James Allen, who died fighting in World Wars I and II respectively, and became the collective namesake of an American Legion Post and a Windham middle school. Part one focuses on Lt. Field.

Charles William Wallace Field was born in Windham on June 25, 1892 to William and Emily (Lamb) Field. William was a Civil War veteran, having served with the 25th Maine Regiment. He died in 1893 when his only son, Charles, was 1-year-old.

Charles grew up in Windham helping his widowed mother, sisters and a boarder work the family farm. He was a member of Presumpscot Lodge of Masons of North Windham. Following his early education in Windham grammar schools and at North Yarmouth Academy, Charles entered Bowdoin College where he served as president of Sigma Upsilon fraternity for several years.

By around 1915, Charles was working various jobs for the Grand Trunk and Boston and Maine Railroads. A later newspaper report said the young Field enlisted in the U. S. Army immediately following America’s entry into the World War. He was commissioned an officer at the Plattsburg (New York) Training Camp and shipped out overseas in October 1917.

Lt. “Chick” Field would engage German forces in a major confrontation at Chateau-Thierry, France in July of 1918. The last heroic moments of his life would be recorded in a book, With the Yankee Division in France, written by Boston Globe reporter Frank Sibley, who witnessed much of the conflict:

“Lieutenant ‘Chick’ Field of North Windham, Maine was in a machine gun battalion. The man commanding the platoon ahead of Field’s chucked away his cane when he started on an advance out of Bouresches, and Lieut. Field picked it up and led his men down into the deadly railroad cutting, behind a built-up embankment where they had to stand and take it for a few moments.

Lieut. Field was as cool as though he had been behind the guns that were sweeping the digging, instead of being the very center of their fire. He was really in a support command, and supposed to be in the echelon. But he came up, with his supports, and insisted on moving. He and his men alike were anxious to get into the fight on this first day of the offensive.

He moved back and forth directing his men and swinging his cane jauntily. And his death came swiftly and mercifully (by a German sniper) while he was smilingly at his work. His body is buried there in the cut where the detail found him next day.”

Days later, the Portland Express-Advertiser reported on the memorial service for Lt. Field…” held at the Union Church at North Windham…attended by a large delegation of family and friends. The sermon was preached by Rev. Jas. E. Aikins, pastor of the Congregational Church at Windham Hill…A large American flag extended across the back of the church…Many beautiful flowers including roses, Easter lilies and seasonable blossoms were sent. As the remains of the young officer lie in France, these floral tributes were sent to the sick and shut-ins among his former neighbors.”

Three years later, on September 3, 1921, The Portland Evening Express reported, “The body of Lieut. Charles W.W. Field of Co. A 53nd Brigade, 26th Division, who made the supreme sacrifice on the morning of July 18, 1918 in the World War, has arrived at his home here.” He is interred at the Smith Cemetery, Windham Center.

Among Field’s possessions, retrieved after his death, was a framed picture of his fiancée, Mollie Sheehan.  On the back of the photo, written in pencil in Mollie’s handwriting was, “Left by Chick Field with his ‘buddy’ when he went to the firing line – July 17, 1918. He was killed July 18, 1918 at Chateau Thierry. This picture was returned to me by (a) Capt. Thomas of Providence, R.I.”

In 1938, 20 years following the death of Field, the Windham American Post 148 was chartered in honor of the town’s first soldier killed in action in the World War – the Charles W. Field Post 148. Another name would be added following World War II. <

Next week, the story of USMC Sgt. James Allen.

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