Long before the United States entered the Great War, Mainers got involved. Some were volunteering to fight in foreign armies. Some were driving ambulances across battlefields and nursing the wounded. At least two were working to end the war early aboard Henry Ford’s “peace ship.”
“The common notion that Americans are playing no active part in the European war is wrong,” the Bangor Daily News said in an editorial on Jan. 21, 1916. The Canadian government claimed that 20,000 Americans had volunteered to serve in the Canadian army. Large numbers of Americans also had enlisted in armies in England, France, Italy, Austria and Germany.
The editorial writer said he would not be surprised if there were now as many Americans at the front or on their way as had served in the Spanish-American War. Many were immigrants who turned around and went home to serve their country. But there were also a large number of native-born citizens whose stories were occasionally told in the newspapers. In the Bangor area, they included Jasper Haynes, Arthur Dearborn, Waldo Peirce and Mary Alden Hopkins.
“NIGHTMARE HORRORS SEEN BY BANGOR MAN,” a Jan. 1 headline said, informing readers of the Bangor Daily News that Jasper Haynes had been forced to quit the British army after fighting for months on the Western Front. He could tell tales “that make listeners’ hair curl,” the reporter noted.
Haynes was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Albert B. Haynes of 66 Charles St. He had left home last June seeking adventure with his parent’s approval — up to a point. A crack shot and a registered guide, he also had experience as a fire warden. The Haynes family had moved to Bangor from Amherst only a year ago.
Haynes served as a cabin boy on a steamship crossing the Atlantic. When he arrived in England, the underaged youth promptly enlisted in the army, telling recruiters that he was a Canadian. His parents didn’t know about this, and that’s how they were able to secure his release with help by the State Department some months later.
Haynes was lucky to be alive by then. He had been sent to the front. He occupied trenches in water up to his knees while bombs and bullets rained down around him. His fellow soldiers were regularly blown to pieces.
He stood at the pumps all night trying to drain the trenches. He came to understand that “there was mighty little glory in being blown up by mines, etc., modern warfare being nothing but plain slaughter,” the newspaper story said.
Although he was in the danger zone for weeks, Haynes escaped without a wound or an illness. His father wrote him letters ordering him home, but he refused to leave his comrades.
The family contacted the State Department through a Bangor lawyer. After the proceedings were over, Haynes “was taken out of the trenches without any warning, and was told ‘the United States wanted him.’”
Arthur E. Dearborn of Brewer was an adventurer with a “roving disposition.” He had worked handling large snakes in a Wild West show before becoming a cowboy. He had also worked in Maine as a log driver. He was the son of O.W. Dearborn of 21 Getchell St., according to an article in the Bangor Daily News on Jan. 5.
After traveling to England, he joined the Eighth Irish Regiment, “presumably as a Canadian.” Dearborn’s major encounter was at La Bassee, France, where 60 members of his fighting group charged and only 16 returned. Dearborn was wounded and ended up in a hospital for a few weeks and then returned to the front.
His parents had received many letters from him, but he never told them exactly where he was or how he had been wounded or how badly. He never complained, but from something he wrote, “his father thinks he will be well content to stay at home, should he ever return.” The elder Dearborn had sought his son’s release through the government, but was told it would be impossible because Arthur had been old enough to enlist without permission.
Instead of enlisting in the armed forces, some young men and women signed up to drive ambulances, perform nursing duties or help refugees. One of them was Waldo Peirce, the offspring of one of Bangor’s wealthiest families, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Mellen C. Peirce of Cedar Street. One day he would be a famous artist, a friend of Ernest Hemingway, his face on the cover of Time magazine.
For years, Peirce’s youthful career had been the subject of newspaper stories. At Harvard he had played on the football and the swimming team. He was known for “his feats of strength and deeds of daring. He was known as ‘Beef’ Peirce on account of his great size,” a story in the Bangor Daily News noted on Dec. 31, 1915.
“WALDO PEIRCE IN THE TRENCHES,” the headline proclaimed. “Bangor Man Enlists in Ambulance Corps — Last Heard From in France.”
His parents hadn’t received a letter from him since the middle of November. He was in the mountains in northern France, where winter weather had set in. No railroad was nearby, making communication difficult. He might not be able to send out another letter for some time, he had informed them.
One of the most remarkable stories of early war efforts is that of Mary Alden Hopkins, muckraking journalist and feminist writer, and her peace-activist colleagues who boarded a large steamship chartered by Henry Ford, who was bent on mediating an end to the bloody conflict.
Hopkins, the daughter of George H. Hopkins, treasurer of the Penobscot Savings Bank, had taught at Bangor High School and earned degrees from Wellesley and Columbia, before working as a journalist in New York writing for McClure’s, Collier’s and Harper’s Weekly, according to an article in the Bangor Daily Commercial on Feb. 3, 1916, after her return from Europe. She wrote investigative stories on such social issues as women’s suffrage, child labor and the dangerous working conditions in factories.
“One of the articles, which created more than a little talk, related to the laundry business in New York, the girls employed being found in a most wretched condition,” an earlier Bangor Daily News story related in December 1915. “Miss Hopkins secured employment in laundries as a working girl and lived with the others on a common level, the disclosures made in her magazine article having been startling and impressive.”
Along with a few dozen other journalists, Hopkins was invited by Ford to join the delegation of peace advocates aboard the ocean liner Oscar II, which Ford had chartered. (Another Maine journalist on board the Oscar II was Lou Rogers, a cartoonist from Patten. She worked in New York City and was known especially for her illustrations on women’s suffrage.)
The voyage did not go as planned. The delegates became bogged down in arguments. Henry Ford became ill and went home early, leaving a leadership void. Meanwhile, the press took endless potshots, ridiculing Ford and the others.
The war continued, although the voyage of the Oscar II and its aftermath had given the idea of a mediated peace plenty of publicity — good and bad — thanks to the inclusion of so many journalists. In that sense it had been a success.
The Bangor Daily Commercial, like dozens of other newspapers, predicted in editorials that the voyage was “doomed to failure,” because of its lack of leadership and its failure to generate support from President Woodrow Wilson or other important politicians.
Upon her return to Bangor in February, Hopkins granted an interview to the newspaper in which she defended the voyage, saying it had accomplished important goals such as establishing an “unofficial” conference among neutral nations like Sweden and Norway. That event was now under way in Stockholm.
The quarrels aboard ship among the activists were exaggerated by the press. They were little different than one would expect at any political meeting, Hopkins said.
Hopkins had been converted during the voyage from an objective writer to an advocate. “I went on the expedition as a correspondent, interested from a writer’s viewpoint. I returned as a delegate,” she said.
The U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917, and thousands of Americans left their hometowns to learn about war on a scale never before experienced by the U.S. Much of the idealism and enthusiasm initially felt by Jasper Haynes, Arthur Dearborn, Waldo Peirce, Mary Alden Hopkins and others who became involved early quickly evaporated.
Wayne E. Reilly’s column on Bangor a century ago appears in the newspaper every other Monday. Comments can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Dr. William Hopkins for information on Mary Alden Hopkins.