Harold N. Keith, West Boylston's first casualty of the "Great War"
Corporal Harold N. Keith was the first resident from the town of West Boylston to make the supreme sacrifice during the war to end all wars, (World War 1). He was killed in action in France on July 20 1918; according to word received to his parents Mr. & Mrs. J.F. Keith, on August 28, 1918. Communication one hundred years ago was extremely slow and must have been very difficult for loved ones to sit and wait for word from their family members overseas; this is comparison to today's instant breaking news.
Harold N. Keith was born in Grafton MA, coming with his parents and siblings as young children to West Boylston to settle on a dairy farm on Prospect Street, to what is now known as Pinecroft. Harold graduated from West Boylston High School, class of 1908. After taking a course in dairying at the Massachusetts Agricultural College, he entered the milk business. By his strict integrity and pleasant ways he made many friends in business and at the same time he was called to service he had a flourishing business route in Greendale.
Harold was a member of the Centennial Lodge, I.O.O.F. and the Albert Rebekah Lodge. He was an active worker in the grange and was master for two years. He was a member of the Congregational Church and had served as President of the Y.P.S.C.E.
Corporal Harold N. Keith went into service at Camp Devens on September 19, 1917, along with town residents Carl Bigelow Jones, Byron W. Barker, Raymond S. Huntington. They all left from Town Hall on a Friday morning at 7:30 am to Ayer. MA at Camp Devens. Harold's brother Erving F. Keith had enlisted in the engineering Corps at Fort Slocum New York on June 1, 1918 and was shortly transferred to Camp Humphrey in Virginia on June 9, 1918.
The last letter received by Harold's parents that Harold had sent them was dated June 29, 1918. The postmark was August 2nd and the letter was received on August 20th. An extract from that letter states:
"If it wasn't for the fact that somebody has a birthday or wedding anniversary, we could never keep track of the days of the week, as it is a long time since we have seen a calendar."
"Some of the boys haven't heard from home yet, Raymond Huntington is one of them. I have been lucky enough to get 24 letters, but I haven't received any mail for some time."
In another letter to his parents dated May 5, 1918 it states:
“Just a few lines to let you know I am still somewhere in France. We are situated in a nice quite town on the bank of a canal. On either side of the canal is a beautiful growth of farming land beyond. It has been almost two months since I have heard any news from home, but we expect any day to have a whole bunch of mail, I have had so many addresses that I don't wonder we do not get the mail, but now that we have a permanent address we ought to get our mail quicker."
"Last night a young fellow came up and shook hands with me, and said his name was George Shephard, one of the families that lived on Mountain Street at the Summit."
"I went down the canal about two miles to another camp last night where there was a moving picture show in the Y.M.C.A. hut, it was the first one I have seen in a long while."
"How is everything going at home now? Please write and let me know."
Corp. Harold N. Keith "L Co., 102d infantry, A.E.F., by way of New York"
A memorial service for Corporal Harold N. Keith was held on Sunday, September 13th at the Congregational Church at 3 O'clock in the afternoon by the Rev. Edwin Woodman, pastor. The public being invited to attend and full uniform dress rites of the Centennial Lodge, Albert Rebekah Lodge, the West Boylston Grange and E Co., M.S.G. All to honor the first West Boylston man to make the supreme sacrifice in the Great Conflict of 1918.
*Post 204 would like to thank the West Boylston Historical Society for sharing this article with us.