With each new generation, the memories of names, faces and events of the past slowly deteriorate, to be preserved by historians. We are now in the second year of the World War One Commemoration (2014-2018) and one wonders what we are doing to commemorate the event. Where are the World War One memorials in Chesterfield County? You would not think that a simple memorial can get lost but they do. Instead of being easily located, we have to ask our fellow citizens to help us. Some may know about cemeteries and other obscure and less obvious locations.
They may just happen to remember where the memorials are or if any exist.
The Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia would like to know where in the county memorials to our fallen WWI soldiers are located. Memorial observations relating to World War II passed without much fanfare. Not a good sign as to how we treat our veterans, many of whom are still living. Will World War I be the same? We need to find the memorials and every community where they are located ought to have some type of memorable event in 2018.
On Amistice Day, now called Veterans Day, a treaty to end the war was signed on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918. A parade through Chester headed by the Camp (Fort) Lee band ended with services at Chester High School (Thomas Dale High School).
The lost WWI memorials commemorate the events and the casualties of World War I. If we don’t have them, we should have a plaque mounted to our own memorial wall that separates Route 10 and the 1917 Historic Courthouse Green, which served as a muster station, where our WWI soldiers gathered for a farewell event prior to being shipped to France and where some returned to resume their civilian lives. Some did not.
In South Richmond, one can find a sprawling cemetery that has a simple, yet quite nice, WWI memorial. There was no shortage of residual civic pride back then in the close-knit neighborhoods south of the James and Maury Cemetery entombs a few fallen WWI soldiers from Chesterfield County. Although Maury’s WWI memorial is located in a secluded section, it is easily found. It was erected six years after the Armistice was signed by an organization called the South Richmond Patriotic Committee, who collected funds and dedicated a memorial to their fallen neighbors.
Private First Class Nathan Pride of Chester- just shy of his 22nd birthday was a member of the 318th Infantry Division, 80th Division. He was Chesterfield’s first casualty of the war. He died on August 2, 1918 and is buried in the Somme American Cemetery in Bony, France. His gravesite will get the best of tender care. We are not sure if he and his fellow soldiers ever had a memorial erected in the county except for those buried in Maury Cemetery.
Looking for the war memorials is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Other than individual veterans’ own tombstones, memorials are hard to find. They may take the form of civic memorials, large national monuments, war cemeteries, private memorials and a range of utilitarian designs such as halls and parks, dedicated to remembering those involved in the conflict. Huge numbers of memorials were built in the 1920s and 1930s, with around 176,000 erected in France alone. In Chesterfield County one has to ask where they are and whether we need to construct one.
We should find these memorials if they exist and the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia is once again asking for county citizens to help us out. We not only want to borrow your artifacts for an exhibit (or accept your WWI artifact donations), but we need your eyes and memories to help us find the war memorials. Someone may have seen them or may have noticed if a memorial is falling in disrepair that time has ravaged. Maybe you know of a memorial that has been sorely neglected and is in need of some tender loving care.
Our “Chesterfield boys of 1917” did what they had to do to make our world better and today some of their ancestors still carry on that tradition. On our Memorial Wall are the names of more recent veterans of foreign wars. The plaques honor them and their service to us. We should not forget them, as many have done for World War I, just 100 years past. The Memorial Wall has a plaque that says World War I and who donated it but nothing else. We can and should do better. Perhaps the 1917 Courthouse Green is a good, central location for a new and simple memorial to these long-forgotten warriors.