1918: Charboneau brothers Albert and Ray in WWI

Sepia Saturday 539Tenth in a series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

A previous post reviewed the WW I draft registrations of my dad’s Uncle Albert Barney Charboneau and his three brothers — among them my paternal grandfather William Ray Charboneau. Yet for various reasons, none of them ended up serving abroad.

Albert Barney Charboneau circa 1910. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Albert’s alternative service

Albert was not called up for active duty, perhaps because he was married. But he may have performed a sort of alternative service through his job as Woodworking Foreman at the Julius Breckwoldt Sounding Board Company in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., New York.

In its 12 July 1918 issue, the Otsego Farmer and Republican — published in Cooperstown, N.Y. — carried a front page column on Central New York that describes U.S. Naval officers visiting the Breckwoldt company where Uncle Albert worked to select spruce wood for military hydroplane construction.

The Otsego Farmer and Republican, Cooperstown, N.Y. (12 July 1918). This item, from a front page column covering Central New York news, describes U.S. Naval officers visiting the Breckwoldt company where Uncle Albert worked to select spruce wood for military hydroplane construction. Source: fultonhistory.com [Cooperstown NY Otsego Farmer & Republican 1917 – 1918 grayscale – 0644.pdf]
According to the article, the U.S. government planned to take “between five to ten percent of the spruce timber turned out at the Fulton Chain mill” of the Breckwoldt company.

An N-1 seaplane taxiing at high speed (c. 1918). Spruce was considered the ideal wood for hydroplanes and some of the best came from the Fulton Chain in New York’s North Country. Was Uncle Albert on hand when Naval officers came to select lumber at the Breckwoldt company where he worked? Photo: Library of Congress

Even without documentation, it’s not a stretch to suppose that Uncle Albert — a Woodworking Foreman who had worked with Fulton Chain timber since the age of 15 — may have been on hand when the Naval officers made their lumber-selection visits.

My grandfather’s home defense work

Meanwhile, my paternal grandfather Ray — exempt because he was married with three children — did alternative service of his own.

In Franklin W. Christman’s book Herkimer County in the World War: 1916-19181W.R. Charboneau is listed among non commissioned officers and privates who served in the Dolgeville Home Defense Unit of the Herkimer County Defense Committee — a local affiliate of the Council of National Defense.

U.S. Student Nurse Reserve recruitment poster issued by the Council of National Defense Women’s Committee (1917). This prophetic poster was issued the year before the Great 1918 Influenza Pandemic took hold. Source: Library of Congress

One of the first tasks of the county group was to conduct a military census and inventory of resources and report back to the New York State group.

Christman’s book2details some of the group’s many other  tasks, which make clear the profound daily economic and social impact of the world war — from cultivating fallow farmland and working with the Red Cross on healthcare issues to recruiting workers to fill jobs that were vacated by those who were called up.

Yet amid helpful tasks were other duties that likely turned neighbor against neighbor — such as reviewing and signing off on the credentials of immigrant job applicants in an area with a huge German-born or descended population.

A telegraphy school graduate

Vintage telegraph key. I don’t know what tasks my grandfather Ray carried out as part of in the Dolgeville Home Defense Unit. However, his obituary says he was a graduate of the New York State Telegraphers School in Albany, N.Y. So that skill may have placed him in the communications sphere. Photo: Pixabay

I don’t know what tasks my grandfather Ray carried out. However, his obituary says he was a graduate of the New York State Telegraphers School in Albany, N.Y. 3So I like to think that skill may have placed him in the more helpful sphere of communications.

And Ray and Albert may have worked together here and there as well — since Uncle Albert was head of the Dolgeville Masons lodge, which the Defense Committee collaborated with on various community-aid projects.

Up next: The brief WWI service of Uncles Tom and Dewey Charboneau. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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5 thoughts on “1918: Charboneau brothers Albert and Ray in WWI”

  1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find more than one or two in the Charboneau family supported the war in one way or another – either on the field of battle, or far behind the lines as there was so much to do away from the fighting to support those that were out there doing the actual fighting!

  2. The timber used in pianos for soundboard must be of the highest grade, free of knots, right straight grain, and well seasoned to prevent cracks. Spruce is very strong get lightweight, so it was ideal for ships and airplanes., Particularly those struts between the wings. Spruce veneer may also have been used to make some early laminated boards, or plywood, for the planes. Grading, selection, and packaging the timber would require an experienced eye.

  3. We seem to be researching along similar lines – the influenza pandemic – and I’m also focussed on a WW1 story right now. It’s such an interesting time to research. Interesting to learn about the alternative service in your family.

  4. I enjoyed this post very much. I am now wondering how my family might have supported the war effort besides joining the army. The timber industry is not one that would have come to mind although it should be obvious.

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