Wednesday, August 1, 2018

John Watson was first Wilcox County soldier killed in World War I

Rainbow Division Memorial in France.

This week’s edition of The Progressive Era marks the first for the month of August, and with that in mind I thought it would be fun to look back on what was happening in Wilcox County a century ago, way back in August 1918.

If you ever visit the State Department of Archives and History in Montgomery, be sure to check out the old copies of The Progressive Eras that they have on microfilm there. You’ll find editions of the newspaper well over 100 years old, and it’s fun to read through them to see how much has changed and how much hasn’t changed over the years.

Recently, with the beginning of August in mind, I took a close look at the five editions of the Progressive Era that were published 100 years ago – in August 1918 – and found more than a few interesting news items that took place a century ago this month. What follows is just a taste of those significant news events.

In the Aug. 1, 1918 edition of the newspaper, editor Stanley C. Godbold reported that the “community was shocked and saddened” to hear of the death of 52-year-old Lewis T. Lawler around 4 a.m. on July 29 in a Selma hospital. “His body was brought to Camden on the afternoon train, and he was buried Tuesday at 10 o’clock. There was a large company of friends at his funeral.”

In the Aug. 8, 1918 edition of the paper, it was reported, under the headline “First Wilcox Boy Killed In Action,” that the “casualty list of Tuesday bore the name of John Watson of Pine Apple as having been killed in action on July 15. John was the son of Dr. and Mrs. B.W. Watson of Pine Apple. He enlisted in the early stages of (World War I) and later was assigned to the Rainbow Division, which in the recent fighting has covered itself with glory. His death marks the first sacrifice that Wilcox will be called on to bear in the great conflict.”

In the Aug. 15, 1918 edition, readers saw a pair of notices letting them know that the new school year was right around the corner. Wilcox County High School, under principal Claude Hardy, was scheduled to begin classes on Sept. 10. The Camden Grammar School, under the principalship of Mrs. J.S. Foster, was set to start classes on Sept. 3.

In the Aug. 22, 1918 edition of the newspaper, Godbold praised a citizen who took road repairs into his own hands. “Mr. W.R. Alford deserves the praise of every man who travels what is known here as the Boykin bridge road. Mr. Alford, we are informed, has spent much of his time and money in repairing a very bad stretch of this road, and those who have passed over this road say it is in first-class condition.”

In the Aug. 29, 1918 edition of the paper, Godbold reprinted this news item from The Mobile Register, under the headline “Loses His Hand” – “Although his left hand has been shot off with the exception of his little finger – and it is possible that he will lose that – Private J.M. McWilliams of McWilliams, Ala. still wants to get another chance at the Germans, but as he has lost his hand there is not much probability of his getting back. McWilliams was hit by a piece of shrapnel and in a letter to his mother stated that he considered himself to be lucky as the man next to him was killed by a fragment of the same shell.”

As you can tell from the news items above, the month of August 1918 was an eventful month in Wilcox County, and there is little doubt that August 2018 will prove to be the same. If you ever get the desire to look at old Wilcox County newspapers for yourself, I encourage you to make the trip to the state archives in Montgomery. The friendly staff there will be more than happy to get you started.

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