November 2005

The story of World War I soldier Joseph Dee

World War I soldier and life-long Concord resident Joseph Dee. The following article is from the town of Concord Oral History Program. Its complete text can be found at the Concord Free Public Library. Joseph Dee was 82 years old at the time of the interview, in 1978.

When I got out of the service, I worked at the armory. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got out of the service, and this fellow, an officer from the armory, asked me if I wanted to interview for a job. Back in those days, very few went to college. About 1 out of 10 young fellows my age when to college when they got through with high school. So I went to the armory in 1921 and I retired from there in 1966. The armory on Everett Street was built in 1915 and used for quite a few occasions and organizations and the school used it for a gymnasium.

When I went into World War I, the armory was the old veterans building, which is now 51 Walden Street. I enlisted there on December 16, 1914. The old Company was the Concord company from that building, and it still means a lot to me. When I graduated from high school in 1913, I was working in Boston until I was called up in 1917. Company I was in the 6th regiment and when the war came along, all the different outfits were put into the 26th division.

My World War I experiences resulted in the naming of a street. I was sent up to Nancy, France, which is about the size of Boston. It had been pretty banged up by German artillery fire because it wasn’t too far from the German border. The nearer they were to the border, the harder they got hit. The streetcars were still running on a limited scale. Right outside the railroad station in Nancy, which was like South Station in Boston, they had a shelter built of concrete.

I lived in a French barracks there and there were some French soldiers. I was given some money, and I would eat in the local restaurant. We were detached service. I had to go down to Town hall with a woman I met because she didn’t have any food or ration money and she asked me to go with her. I would get paid in American money and the banker would turn it into French money and I would give her some money. But Nancy made a tremendous impression on me.

In the winter of 1918, I was sent to Rouceux near Alsace, Lorraine, and lived with a French family. It was the practice of the Army to make arrangements with French families to provide shelter for a small number of soldiers. I stayed in the hayloft. The mother of the family was like a mother to me. There was many an evening I spent in the family kitchen. I learned considerable French and she asked questions about this country. We agreed to write and before the war ended, I got a letter asking me to be godfather to the new baby of the family. I was able to get a pass to visit them the following year. The family had the baptism and I signed the baptismal certificate.

When World War II began, I lost contact with the family until 1 day a letter came to Concord from my godchild, explaining that her mother had died during the war from a lack of medical treatment and asked me to continue the correspondence with her. I hoped to get back to France one day, and in 1967 I did, and arranged to meet my godchild in the hotel lobby of the town where she was born. It was quite a moment for me. I had only seen her once, the day she was baptized. I remember that moment when she walked up to me and asked, “Are you Joseph?”

When I got home and later started developing this land, there was going to be 2 roads and I wanted to call one of the roads “Nancy Road.” It was about 1953. Being in Nancy really showed me what war was like. In school we had a choice of taking either French or German, so I took French. I liked French, it just came easy to me — and then about 3 years later when I got over to France, I found I had a pretty solid start on French. I was there 6 months and I could speak with the French just like you and I are now.

I was working at the armory at the time of the 1925 celebration (150 anniversary of the Battle of Concord). Golly, there was a terrific snowstorm. They waited 25 years for it and they couldn’t have had a worse day. The armory was headquarters. On many of the April 19 celebrations I couldn’t participate because they armory was usually parade headquarters, and I had to be on duty there.

I’ve lived the transition from the horse drawn wagon to the automobile. Back in my days when I was a kid, the streetcars would go. You could ride from here to Lexington for a nickel. The streetcar tracks ran along Bedford Street and another streetcar line, the Concord-Maynard-Hudson met downtown at what they called the turnout, and people would transfer from one line to the other. And that was a very thriving, flourishing industry for quite some few years. Then Ford showed up and he kind of revolutionized things and the streetcar line faded out and just gave up.

For more information contact Dick Krug, director of Veteran Services for the town of Concord located at 105 Everett Street, along with Council of Aging. He can be reached at 978-318-3038 or by email.