William "Bill" Connolly
Submitted by: T. J. Cullinane
William "Bill" Connolly served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known 1917 - 1919.
Remembering Our Family’s World War One Veteran
William Alfred Connolly
(September 6, 1895 – May 13, 1962)
Long before he was wounded while serving as a Sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps during the First World War, Massachusetts native William A. “Bill” Connolly had somewhat the reputation of a daredevil. Whether he was acting on a dare or fleeing from a ruler wielding harridan of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Connolly jumped from a second story window at St. Joseph’s Institute at 43 Green Street in Lynn. He somehow survived unscathed, at least until he returned to school the next day….
Bill was born in Woburn, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas F. Connolly and Ellen (Logue) Connolly. When Bill was just a toddler, his mother died after falling down a flight of stairs. Bill and his younger brother Steve, who would one day become the writer’s grandfather, were taken to the nearby city of Lynn to live with relatives. As we read above, Bill was educated by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, but as they say, “it didn’t take.” When Congress declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, Bill was 21 years of age and living at 45 Eutaw Ave in Lynn.
Bill worked in downtown Lynn at the A.E. Little Company, a shoe factory on Blake Street. Here he labored as a “rough rounder.” This type of work involves tending a machine that trims the edges of the sole to match the upper part of the shoe. After depressing a foot pedal, Bill would press and turn the outsole against a machine guide. A cutting edge activated by the pedal would trim the sole as Bill maneuvered it around until it matched the upper. Rough rounding constituted “skilled labor” and workers practiced in this trade were paid an average of fifty-six cents an hour. It was hard and monotonous work conducted within the confines of an overcrowded factory floor that reeked of noxious fumes generated by tanned leather and chemical solvents. Such was the pool of available labor however, that so-called “loafers” were quickly let go. This was the reality of many a Lynn man and woman when the war broke out.
Bill registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. He joined the Army shortly after this date. Tracing Bill’s military history is somewhat problematic as he was said to have destroyed every bit of his military paraphernalia soon after returning home. It has been further reported that Bill, normally a garrulous and outgoing sort, would never speak of his military service. It is currently unknown if Bill ever trained at Camp Joseph E. Johnson, an Army camp in Florida devoted exclusively to training Quartermaster personnel.
An existing military record that recently came to light however, reveals that Bill, now Private William A. Connolly, serial number 224014, assigned to Provisional Company No. 1, Quartermaster Mechanical Repair Shop # 302, may have departed from Hoboken, N.J. onboard the S.S. Olympic, on January 11, 1918. The qualifier “may have” is included because Bill’s entry in the manifest is crossed through with a red line. Since there are no further records of Bill on outgoing manifests and one record of an incoming manifest from 1919 that we’ll discuss below, it is safe to assume that Bill left with this ship or another that left shortly afterwards. The ship’s manifest also reveals that between registering for the draft and deploying, Bill got himself married. Mildred C. (Hayford) Connolly, born in 1897, was two years younger than Bill. Their only child, Bill Junior, would one day be the Godfather of the writer’s mother, Mary. Sadly, Bill would lose his wife in 1941. She was only 44 years old at the time of her passing.
Upon reaching France, Bill’s unit would transit to Quartermaster Depot No. 1, in Nevers, France. This was the sight of a sprawling American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) base and the location of the Headquarters of the Intermediate Section, Service of Supply (after September 17, 1917 referred to simply as the “S.O.S.”). Quartermaster Depot No.1 was an important railroad and storage center and served as the principal locomotive repair shop of the A.E.F. It also was the location of a large Veterinary Hospital.
Just a month before Bill left for France, the U.S. Army established the Motor Transport Service (M.T.S.) and assigned it as a subordinate component of the Quartermaster Corps (Q.M.C.). This move would contribute to the burgeoning size of the Q.M.C. At the beginning of the war, it had on strength 227 officers and 6,000 enlisted men. By the time the conflict ended 18 months later, its ranks had grown to 13,500 officers, 230,000 enlisted men and a sizeable civilian component of 100,000 personnel.
As the A.E.F. became increasingly motorized, the Motor Transport Service became a separate branch of the Army. Now called the Motor Transport Corps or M.T.C, the A.E.F. established a facility dedicated to large scale vehicle rebuilding and salvage operations in July, 1918. The facility repaired everything from bicycles to large trucks. Named the M.T.C. Reconstruction Park, it was located 30 miles east of Nevers in the sparsely populated commune of Verneuil, in the Nièvre Department. This expansive compound entailed an estimated 1,000 acres with five steel shops averaging 25,000 square feet each with a large onsite warehouse used to store spare parts and other matériel. Staffing the park was Bill’s unit, now designated the 302nd Mobile Repair Shop (M.R.S.) and two sister units, the 301st and 303rd. Each M.R.S. was composed of 1,150 personnel augmented by German prisoners who were housed in a camp within the park.
Research on Bill’s service is ongoing and hopefully will reveal the circumstances in which he was wounded. As a youngster, the writer learned from my Grandmother Connolly, Bill’s sister-in-law, that while serving as a motorcycle dispatch rider, Bill was caught in a German gas attack which left him severely injured. This bit of family lore was recently confirmed by Grandmother’s surviving daughter, the writer’s Aunt Ellenor (Connolly) Alvarez. Aunt Ellenor as we’ll soon see, had any number of amusing anecdotes to share on the roguish Bill in the 1940s and 50s. In addition, an undated clipping from Lynn Sunday Post on Bill’s brother Steve included the following; “Although you yourself were too young to serve in World War I and past the age limit in World War II, your oldest brother, William A. Connolly, was one of the first volunteers to enlist from Lynn in World War I. He was wounded in action with the A.E.F. in France.”
Motorcycles were among the vehicles repaired at the depot. It would make sense for a unit like Bill’s to have some on hand for liaison duties. It is further conceivable that Bill could have been assigned to escort newly repaired vehicles to the front or vehicles requiring maintenance to the rear using a motorcycle. Convoys such as this were tracked by German aircraft. The pilot/observers called in the coordinates and directions of high value targets such as this to long range artillery units that would rain a mix of high explosive / chemical artillery shells on crossroads. Perhaps someone reading this submission may be able to shed more light.
Wounded or not, Bill appears to have thrived in the Army. He left for the war zone as a buck private and would return as a buck sergeant. Three promotions over the course of his two year service; private first class, corporal and sergeant, makes for a very respectable war record. It also appears that Bill took the opportunity to go sightseeing when the opportunity presented itself. The only wartime artifact that we have from Bill is an undated post card sent home to his brother, my Grandfather, Steve Connolly. The card depicts the Benedictine Abbey at Mont St. Michel. Written with excellent penmanship that would have made the nuns at old “Saint Joe’s” proud, Bill’s message was as follows:
This is a wonderful place. Wish you could see it. Love Bill
Pvt Wm A. Connolly
The last surviving official record of Bill’s service is an excerpt from the manifest of the U.S.S. Charleston, the ship that would take Bill home. A St. Louis class protected cruiser, the Charleston had served on convoy escort duty for much of the war and made several voyages bringing demobilized soldiers back to the United States after the armistice. Among these was Sergeant W.A. Connolly, Q.M.C., late of the casual detachment at Camp Rochambeau. Leaving the French port of Brest on April 10, 1919, it would arrive on the east coast in early spring.
After his military service, Bill returned to Lynn. The federal census of 1930 shows him living on Parkland Ave. in Lynn with Mildred and young Bill. His occupation is listed as a commercial salesman. Still involved in the shoe industry, he sold the blacking used to edge the soles of shoes. My Aunt Ellenor recalls that Bill, “always looked like a million bucks.” He had a gravelly voice, characteristic of former soldiers that had been gassed in the Great War, and was always stylishly dressed. Bill reportedly wore silk underwear under his tailored suits and topped his ensembles with a fedora. He always drove the current year black Mercury coupe, the more chrome the better, and held in contempt any man that would drive anything else.
Given his predilection for flashy clothes and flashy cars, it might not come as a surprise that Bill was a ladies’ man. What’s more is that he would use Ellenor and her brother Steve to cover his assignations. On more than one occasion, Bill would decamp to New Hampshire on the pretext of taking Ellenor and Steve to the see the sights when in actuality he was visiting girl friends.
Ellenor and Steve would be consigned to the couch while Bill made his way to the master suite. My Grandmother recalled that Bill was always the first to rise in the morning and he made sure everyone else got up early to as ran through the house in drill sergeant fashion shouting, “Get up, get out of there!” Bill also had a fondness for poker and played in high stakes games all over the city. On one occasion he took over his younger brother Steve’s breakfast shop across from Lynn Hospital. Things apparently got out of hand as the place burned to the ground, crushing any hopes Steve had of going into the restaurant business.
Bill would eventually go into business himself and opened up a shoe store in downtown Lynn. Apparently, his goods were of less than high quality. Aunt Ellenor at the age of six or seven recalls being sent to Bill’s shoe store in downtown Lynn by her parents. Bill presented her with a pair of ballet slippers. When these wore out a week later, young Ellenor was promptly dispatched back to Bill’s shop for another pair. Bill took Ellenor’s worn out shoes and disappeared into the back room. Dusting off his rough rounder skills, he glued cardboard soles to the bottom of the shoes. These he presented to Ellenor with a flourish saying, “Here you go, wear these in the best of health.” So much for a bargain at Uncle Bill’s….
Bill died on May 13, 1962 at age 67 and was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn. He lies there still, next to his beloved Mildred and his son Bill Jr. In true Connolly fashion, the date of his death was recorded on a Church pamphlet printed with the admonition to “Please leave in pew after Services.” This guidance was promptly disregarded. Aided by his sister-in-law Alice, with whom he fought with throughout his life, Bill was able to achieve a final posthumous prank on Mother Church.