Mementos of the Fallen – WWI

 Edward Hale Perry
1LT Edward Hale Perry (1887-1918).

Edward Hale Perry was born in Boston on January 23, 1887. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in mining engineering in 1913. He was attracted to the geological aspects of mining and spent most of his time in the western part of the country. He was working in Arizona in 1917 when the United States entered WWI. He completed the job he was on and went back east to enlist in the Army.

He applied to the officer’s training school in Plattsburg, NY. He transferred to the Corps of Engineers and was made a First Lieutenant. He was posted to the 6th Engineer Regiment and was in charge of a mining, sapper and demolition platoon within Company D. He was offered the opportunity to remain stateside as an instructor but he declined and set sail for Europe on December 5, 1917 from Hoboken on the SS Huron with the rest of Company D.

Letter of Credit for £300 taken out by 1LT Edward Hale Perry from the National Commercial Bank of Albany, NY in November 1917 against Brown, Shipley & Co. in London.

Prior to departing the United States, 1LT Perry got his financial affairs in order and took out the above letter of credit for £300. This amount was the equivalent of $1,500.00 in 1917. Letters of credit were a precursor to travelers’ cheques that allowed the holder to draw funds from an in-country financial institution which was reimbursed by the issuing bank. Amounts paid out are entered on the back.

Battle of Rosières (Operation Michael). Concentration of the 17th Division at Henencourt as the V Corps reserve after evacuation. Photograph taken at Hermies, 26 March 1918. Imperial War Museum image Q8622
The British 17th Division after its withdrawal across the Somme at the start of Operation Michael. The division’s retreat was across bridges held by the American Engineer Companies.
(Imperial War Museum Image Q8622).

In January 1918, Company B and Company D of the 6th Engineers were detached for service with the British 5th Army. The American Engineer Companies were assigned to construct steel bridges over the Somme. On March 21, 1918 the German Army launched their Spring Offensive, Operation Michael, against the British and French positions.

Somme-1918 battlefield copy.jpg
Map showing the German advance during Operation Michael and the First Battle of the Somme 1918. The American Engineer Companies were thrown into the line east of Amiens between Hamel and Villers-Bretonneux after retreating from Peronne.

As the Germans advanced and the British 3rd and 5th Armies retreated, the American Engineer Companies remained at the Somme bridges to destroy them after the Allied withdrawal was complete. Having done their duty on the bridges, the American Engineers were thrown into a gap that had developed in the British lines between Hamel and Villers-Bretonneux as part of Carey’s Force, a hastily composed task force made up of whatever units could be found nearby.

The German Offensive eventually petered out but not before LT Perry would perish. His last actions are described by Captain Harris Jones, his Company Commander:

It was Saturday, March 30. We underwent a good preliminary bombardment followed by the infantry attacks supported by heavy barrages. Our trenches were pretty poor, as we had to get underground at the same time that we were keeping the Fritz out of the way, and the artillery smashed a good deal of our defenses. A shell had demolished a traverse in Perry’s section of trench, killing four men. He was working in the gap preparing the damage with his own hands, when a bullet, probably from a machine gun in an enemy aeroplane which was raking the trenches, penetrated his skull.

Transactions of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, Volume LXI (1920)
Letter from Brown, Shipley & Co. returning Edward H. Perry’s letter of credit to his brother Gardner, VP of the National Commercial Bank of Albany, NY.

Despite the eyewitness account of 1LT Perry’s death, his remains were not identified and the American Battlefield Monuments Commission lists him as missing in action. Curiously, the letter of credit was found somewhere in the French countryside and returned first to Brown, Shipley & Co. and then to his family.

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