NORWAY — Harold T. Andrews, a Herbon Academy graduate and the first Mainer to die in the First World War, was well known in Norway having spent some of his summer vacations at Beal’s Hotel on Main Street engaged in the insurance business.
But before Andrews was killed in the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, Norway residents were shocked by another soldier’s death – a young man who was about to graduate with the Norway High School Class of 1917.
Peter W. Klain was one of the first to enlist in Company D, Second Maine Infantry, after the call went out for recruits in April as the United States entered into World War I. He was expected to return on a furlough to graduate with his class in June.
Klain, who moved with his folks and 14 siblings from Portland to Norway when he was young, was a high-ranking student at Norway High School, which is now the Guy E. Row
e Elementary School. He was captain of the basketball team, excelled at all athletics, was musically inclined and often assisted in the Universalist Church choir and in various dramatic entertainment.
He was also the vice president of the Class of 1917.
Most thought Pvt. 1st Class Klain had a “brilliant military” career in front of him, according to a report in the Norway Advertiser following his death.
The young man, who was 19 when he joined Company D, was sent to Biddeford where he guarded the Boston and Maine railroad tracks. It was there he was to lose his life while caught between two trains on the double track.
He had stepped aside when an east bound Portland to Boston express train came through about midway on the bridge but failed to see a west bound fright train on the westbound tracks bearing down at full speed, according to the May 25, 1917, Norway Advertiser. He died almost 24 hours later without regaining consciousness.
The principal of the Norway High School took the Klain’s father and a brother to Biddeford in his car the following day for a military funeral.
Norway High School seniors, juniors and teachers accompanied the body from the Union station to the cemetery. Norway High School was closed all day and the flag remained at half mast.
Klain, said to be a “favorite in the company and the life at any party,” was considered by all who knew him as one of the first to die for his country.
He was “a true friend to his instructors and classmates,” according to the Norway Advertiser. “His memory will forever live with those who came to know him best…”
On May 25, 1917, word came to the Oxford Hills that every man between the ages of 21 and 30 must register for the selective draft.
There were no exceptions. Married men with children, cripples, those in jail or state prison, students, all had to register. If someone was sick arrangements had to be made for a “competent” person to take his place. No matter how important a public office and what type of work a man did, he had to register.
A special holiday for registration was called by the governor.
An Oxford County board for the draft registration was set up, including the sheriff, the chairman of the Paris Board of Selectmen, clerk of courts and the Norway physician. The members’ job was to segregate those who had registered. In the end, the men considered to be in fighting shape would be trained and equipped for battle.
Patriotism was rampant in Oxford County that spring. An Oxford County deputy sheriff arrested a German on a log drive in Bethel. The man was wanted in connection with explosives and the destruction of a Canadian munitions factory. He was taken by a U.S. Deputy Marshal to Portland and placed in custody on the order of President Woodrow Wilson on the grounds that his presence in Oxford County was a danger to the peace and safety of the Unites States, according to the June 1, 1917, Norway Advertiser. He was held without bail awaiting further orders from President Wilson.
Eventually, organizations called Vigilance Corps were establish with the goal of classifying every resident in town as to whether they were loyal, disloyal, doubtful or unknown, according to the Norway Advertiser. Following the general classification, the committee was urged to to further classify and designate as alien enemy, pro-German, anti-government. Those names were to be sent to the local police department, Justice Department, local representative or other authorities.
By June the Second Maine Infantry, all volunteers at that time, began recruiting toward “war strength” of 150 men. The Norway Armory was opened ever day. Inside Recruiting Officer Sgt. Lester Witham would say, “It is the duty of every able bodied man who has no dependents to enlist at once while he can choose a company that would be to his liking.”
As recruitment increased, goodbyes were being said to those who were being shipped overseas or to assignments within the United States.
About 25 young people gathered in the Shepard cottage on Lake Pennesseewassee to say goodbye to Sgt. Ned Shepard and 1st Class Pvts. Paul L. Brooks and Raymond Evirs, a member of the Class of 2017. Both privates were first assigned to a hospital unit in Indiana.
“A touch of sadness lingered with the cheer,” said the Norway Advertiser in its report of the event. Evirs was given another party at a home on Marston Street by the Norway High School senior class.
On June 15, the evening the senior baccalaureate exercises were held at the Norway Opera House where Kimball’s Orchestra provided music, but the graduation ball was canceled.
Pictures of some two dozen members of the graduating classes of 1917, including Peter William Klain, whom was listed as vice president of the Class of 2017, their teachers and principal were pictured in the June 15 Norway Advertiser.
The June issue of the Caduceus, published by the students of Norway High School, was on sale in the Opera House box office.
The issue was dedicated to Peter William Klain –”the soldier boy – a member of the class – one of the first to die in the service of his country.”
By the end of the year, the United States was fully at war.
On Nov. 30, 1917, the same day that Hebron Academy alumnus Harold T. Andrews was killed at the Battle of Calbrai and became the first Maine soldier to die in battle, Sgt. Lester L. Witham, 103rd U.S. Infantry, Co D., American Expeditionary Forces wrote his parents a letter from “somewhere in France.”
“There isn’t a day goes by but what I dream the old home over, starting at the gate along under the old pines, in the back door, and all through the house, and linger at everything I used to like best,” he wrote. “It seems almost like a few minutes home each day and mother’s dear face is before it all, making the picture of the dearest place on Earth.”