A Tribute to Florida’s World War I Fallen
By Kate A. Hallock
Some would say the story began in 1918 when, just after the announcement that the Huns had surrendered their fight in the Great War, a group of businessmen in Jacksonville … well, more on that later.
Others might demur, saying the story commenced in 1872 or 1890 or 1894 or when women gave birth to sons and daughters who would later sacrifice their lives in that Great War.
Little did Lucinda Anderson know, on April 15, 1890, when she gave birth to her firstborn, Albert, in Pinewood, Florida, that his story would be told 132 years later in Jacksonville, Florida. The son of an Alabama slave, Anderson registered for the draft on June 15, 1917. Fourteen months later, he was ordered to report for military duty on August 3, 1918. After seven weeks of training, Anderson boarded the troopship R.M.S. Scotian at Hoboken, New Jersey en route to England. He never made it. Instead, Anderson contracted influenza and died aboard the ship less than two weeks later on October 4, 1918.
And Anderson’s story isn’t the only one. Consider Benjamin Lee II, born in 1894 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, who lived a life of privilege, attending an all-boys private prep school AND wintering in Jacksonville with his mother and stepfather, a director of Barnett National Bank. After graduating from the Wharton School of Finance in 1917, Lee took private flying lessons before being accepted into the United States Naval Reserve Flying Corps. Having completed training as a naval aviator, Lee was sent overseas in January 1918 to England. On October 28, 1918, Lee lost his life in an aviation accident on his way to assist in North Sea operations.
Women, too, are part of the story that will eventually culminate in Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood. For example, Elizabeth “Bessie” Gale is one of several women whose names will not be forgotten, thanks to a group of Jacksonville businessmen.
Gale, born on April 24, 1872, in New Marlborough, Massachusetts, was the second of five children. Her father, a veteran of Gettysburg, became a minister and worked as the superintendent of the American Home Missionary Society for Georgia and Florida, with headquarters in Jacksonville. Gale, who never married, was a music teacher and lived with her parents in Springfield on Hubbard Street. When her father died in 1909, Gale and her mother moved in with the Bedells, her sister’s family, who also lived in Springfield. An attorney, George Bedell established what would become the oldest law firm in Jacksonville today.
In 1917 Gale volunteered for two years of overseas service as a canteen worker with the American Red Triangle. On October 3, 1918, Gale became one of more than 3,000 women engaged in YMCA war work in France. Although the Great War ended November 11, 1918, Gale remained in France with troops at Camp Hunt, where she died, a victim of influenza, on February 22, 1919. You’ll find her grave in Evergreen Cemetery, where a triangle beside her name denotes her service with the YMCA.