HEBRON — Hebron Academy suffered the first Maine casualty of World War I.
Harold T. Andrews, Class of 1914, died in the Battle of Cambrai in France in late November 1917, after he jumped on an abandoned machine gun and tried to defend himself and others in the American engineering regiments as the Germans advanced on them using every sort of weapon possible, including flame throwers.
The “Fighting Engineers,” as they would become known, were a group of railroad men, forestry workers, miners, electricians, bridge builders and construction engineers who were sent to France early on with limited training to build the vital railway system that would transport troops and equipment.
They were, by all accounts, considered some of the most unprotected soldiers in the war, their losses frequently far greater than the artillery or aviation corps.
On Nov. 30, 1917, Andrews and the other members of the engineering regiments were equipped with only picks and shovels – the tools they used to build the railroads and bridges to defend themselves when they came under fire.
Harold Taylor Andrews came from Portland, where his father served as principal of the Butler Grammar School to Hebron Academy in 1912. He was described in the June 1923 Hebron Academy Alumni Magazine as athletic – a star guard on the football team and a member of the school’s baseball team and captain of the track squad. He was a member of the Hebron Debating Council.
Known as being thoroughly sturdy and reliable, optimistic, an average scholar in his studies, but dependable in every sense of the word, he had come to Hebron from the Portland where he lived with his folks, their only child.
“With the younger boys he was a force for good and although mischievous himself he never did anything mean or underhanded, both of which he despised with all the force of his nature,” the Alumni Magazine article stated. He aspired to be a musician who always played “Sweet Adeline” on his mandolin as his first piece and his encore number.
Steve Middleton, history and social science teacher and freshmen humanities teacher at the Academy since 1989, said Andrews was a likeable, though not a particularly scholarly student at Hebron Academy.
“We still have his report cards and he was an average student, but where he excelled was in athletics and in the social world. He was an excellent football player and was a friend to all. He was also known to have a great sense of humor,” Middleton said.
When Andrews graduated Hebron Academy in 1914, he entered the University of Maine at Orono to study chemical engineering but left at the end of his sophomore year to take a job with Standard Oil Company in New Jersey.
It was not long after that the United States declared war against Germany on April 2, 1917 and America formally enter the war. Andrews left his job and enlisted on May 15, 1917, with Company B, 11th regiment, New York Engineers.
The action was to take him a long way from his high school days at Hebron Academy in Maine.
Back in his alma mater the same week Andrews was enlisting, members of the 1917 senior class were hosting a social dance in the school’s auditorium to raise money for the class gift traditionally given to the Academy by the graduating class. There was ice cream and music which, ironically, was provided by the Andrews’ Orchestra. The next day the class went to Lewiston to have their pictures taken.
Despite the festivities and merriment of the graduation season at Hebron Academy that spring, there were dark reminders that the country was heading into war. At least one member of the senior class had already left school to enlist.
Andrews was sent overseas two months after he enlisted as one of the first contingents of American troops, and one of nine regiments of engineers called up for recruitment, to land on foreign soil. The regiment arrived at Camp Bordon near London on July 27, 1917. Conditions were said to be hot and crowded.
According to information from a history of the 11th Regiment History and a military website called U.S. Militia Forum, the 11th Regiment was put to work building railroads on the front under with the British under the command of Gen. Julian Byng, commander of the Third Army.
It was Byng who helped plan and execute the November 1917 British-led attack at Cambrai, France – the battle that was to end the life of Andrews.
According to the information on U.S. Militaria Forum, each unit secured whatever supplies it could and much of it was outdated. The 11th, unlike other regiments, were able to secure M1910 equipment and M1903 Springfield rifles.
Mess kits and haversacks were obsolete, some marked with names of Spanish-American War volunteer organizations.
Most of the regiment had been veteran railway men and now they were trained as Army Engineers.
The 11th was slated to lead a large parade through the streets of London for review by the King and Queen but they were suddenly ordered across the channel to France and missed the parade, but not before King George V inspected the unit before it was transported.
The London Times commented on the Americans who, only six weeks before, were civilians and now marched “as well as many of our permanent battalions.”
Once they arrived in France, the 11th was assigned to work with the British Army. Other regiments were assigned to the British Navy.
According to the 11th Engineers History, the regiment “were issued shrapnel helmets, box respirators, and P.H. helmets (a type of gas mask, a cloth hood, with glass eye pieces and a rubber and metal mouth piece).
The 11th built and maintained (as well as operated) standard gauge railway lines, most of the standard gauge lines ended long before reaching the trenches, which is why light rail (narrow gauge) was used to transport men and supplies from the standard gauge rail heads to the forward positions, according to the 11th Regiment History.
The Infantry had the protection of trenches. The engineers were working out in the open and were exposed, according to the 11th Regiment History.
It wasn’t long before they saw action.
According to the 11th Engineers History, on Sept 5, a company within the 11th Engineers who were working at an old train station, were wounded by shrapnel from shell fire. They were considered the first casualties. The regiment was frequent targets of offensive and harassing artillery fire by the Germans.
By November, as an unusual amount of supplies were being moved to the front, including MkV tanks, it was clear something big was about to happen.
The battle at Cambrai was about to begin.
Reports in the 11th Regiment History and other sources say the plan was to “pulverize” the enemy, drive them from their trenches. Then the 11th was expected to race out and repair as much of the main rail line as they could and then extend it.
The 11th and 12th Engineers History described the first day of battle at Cambrai – where the first real use of tanks in war occurred – as seemingly successful.
“Some five hundred tanks preceded the first infantry waves, rolling down the barbed wire and neutralizing the advance enemy machine gun posts. In an incredibly short time the famous Hindenburg Line was broken on a twenty mile front and to a depth of nearly six miles. 10,000 prisoners constituted the first day’s haul.”
Back in London bells rang out when they heard the news.
But then things turned bad.
On the morning of Nov. 30, shells started falling on the men in the 11th Regiment who were working in Gouzeaucourt near Cambrai.
“The Germans were counter-attacking and retaking their lost territory. The speed and suddenness at which the Germans attacked was all too quick for the men who had thought the front miles away from them now,” according to the 11th Regiment History.
“The Canadians had told the officers of the 11th that it was not necessary to carry their rifles, and on this day the working party had left their rifles safely in camp when they left at about 7 a.m. They had enough tools to carry along anyway. Picks, shovels, and other implements necessary for grading were all that was on hand. Still, even at this point they did not know how the battle had turned against their British allies.
“Meanwhile the barrage around the station had lifted and the men in the shelters there came out to make a mad dash for the village only to find themselves either in the last line of the retreating British or already surrounded by Germans armed with everything, even to flame-throwers. Those who found themselves among the retreating British joined with them either taking rifles from fallen men or using the picks or shovels they still had by them. Some of them fell mortally wounded.”
Harold Andrews was among the six men killed in action from the 11th Regiment that day. Another 13 men were wounded and 11 men captured by the Germans.
Andrews was said to have gotten behind an abandoned machine gun to defend himself and others.
The Fighting Engineers became famous for fighting without weapons and using their own engineering tools to defy the Germans who advanced on top of their position, according to U.S. Militaria Forum.
Back at Hebron Academy, students were unaware of the death of their former classmate but thinking of those classmates and alumni involved in the war.
“The 4 score or more boys that represent Hebron Academy in the army or navy will not be forgotten by the old school this wartime Christmas,” wrote the Norway Advertiser on Dec. 7, 1917.
The Hebron girls sent a care package to every Hebron boy serving in the ranks. A fundraiser with music and readings by both students, faculty and former students including Kathryn Sturtevant, Class of 1914, was given to raise money for the Hebron Soldiers Christmas fund.
Just before Christmas, word erroneously came that Harold T. Andrews was believed to be a prisoner of war in Germany.
Andrews’ body, which had been buried in France, was returned to Maine in 1921. There was a huge parade to honor him – the Portland papers at the time described “thousands processing” by his casket in the City Hall rotunda, said Middleton.
In Portland the Rotary gifted a memorial to Andrews and the Harold T. Andrews Post 17 in Portland was designated. The Andrews Square memorial was originally dedicated in 1921 but refurbished and rededicated in 2015. Many dignitaries, including Sen. Angus King, were present for the re-dedication.
The trustees at Hebron Academy during the annual meeting in summer 1921 dedicated the athletic field in memory of Andrews. This was Hebron Academy’s only athletic field for 75 years, said Middleton.
In an essay written in the 1923 Hebron Alumni Magazine about Hebron Academy’s part in the war, it was written of Andrews: “He died as he lived – a good sport respected and loved by all who ever came in contact with his quiet dignified modesty.”
Andrews was not the only Hebron Academy casualty in the war.
Philip B. Frothington, Class of 1915, was the second Maine man to lose his life in the Great War.
Described in the June 1923 issue of Hebron Alumni Magazine as a quiet unassuming, modest young man who “died a glorious death and left a Hallowed memory,” Frothington enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps of Canada shortly after entering Dartmouth.
“In March of 1918 he was ordered to England where he did patrol work on the English coast before being transferred to the British Northern Bombing Group at Dunkirk,” said the Alumni Magazine. “A decorated pilot for his work of nighttime bombing the Germans lines, he was one of 20 men picked to go to Italy to study the new Caproni Bombing Planes that would do an intensive dives over Germans lines. He was one of six who survived the first 20 men in the squadron to fly over the Alps in a Caproni.
“On September 14, 1918 while making a landing at St. Englebert in France his plan turned over and he was instantly killed. He was first buried in France and later removed to the United States for interment. He has been made a lieutenant but never lived to get his commission.”
Albert Lavorgna, Class of 1913 and an active member of the Hebron Academy track team, also enlisted at the outbreak of the war with Company B, 103 Infantry and was killed in battle in 1918.
Lucien Libby, Class of 1914 and a native of Scarborough who was described as a fine student, an indefatigable reader with a good sense of humor, was sent to Hebron Academy to improve his fragile health, according to the June 1923 Hebron Alumni Magazine.
“After entering the University of Maine he enlisted in Field Artillery in June of 1917. Trained as a gunner he was ordered to France and was wounded in October of 1918. Eleven days later he was killed in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.”