It’s no secret what was happening in the world in 1944: the news was all about the war, and it was often tragic, especially the reports from the Pacific and Europe of the neighbors, friends, sons and husbands being killed and wounded in action. While the Allies had been fighting in Europe since 1943 when the battle for Italy began, that campaign had bogged down, and if the Allies were to get to Berlin, it was understood it would be through France and Belgium.
Our Russian allies were demanding a “Second Front” in France to relieve pressure on their forces which in January 1944 had defeated the Germans at Leningrad at a cost of nearly two million casualties. It was clear 1944 was to be a decisive year in the war and hundreds of men from both sides of the border were going to be in the thick of the battle. Many would make the supreme sacrifice.
On June 6th, 1944, the Allies landed under intense fire on the beaches of Normandy and letters and news from France soon began to arrive as they had from the Pacific theatre for over two years. All too often the news was tragic.
On October 4, 1944, the Advertiser reported that John Noble, Class of 1935, was killed in France September 18th. John had been a star pitcher for the Calais Academy baseball team but “was probably better known for his glorious baritone voice.”
His last letter to his parents was dated September 2, 1944:
This is the first opportunity I have had to write since I moved here. I have finally got into an outfit so things are a little better now. I am with a bunch of swell fellows and I am not going to be transferred around like I have been. I never realized just how big France is until I got here – we have sure seen a lot of it. You have read in the papers about the welcome the soldiers get. I have been given everything except the kitchen sink so far. Whenever we stop in a town the people come running out of their houses and give us wine, champagne, cognac, potatoes, pears, plums, eggs, apples and everything like that. Oh yes and lots of bread made just like a doughnut and about a foot across. I like it, the most of it is made out of German flour, and its brown as gingerbread. Every night we have to sleep out with only one blanket and our shelter half wrapped around us. It gets pretty cold but I sleep good. We have been the first soldiers to go through quite a few of these towns and we are actually right on the heels of the Jerries. When we come through the church bells start ringing and everyone starts celebrating. When you march through a town I guess every soldier shakes hands with every Frenchman, woman, child in the town and we get kissed by quite a few. In one town we went through the people had caught 20 women who had been sleeping with the Germans and they had some sort of a trial and then cut off all their hair. They were sure a funny looking sight. We are traveling so fast now that we don’t see any fighting. I guess we’re lucky. I hope we never see any. The Jerries are leaving a lot of equipment along the road so I guess they must be in a hurry. I will have to get this in the mail so I will have to quit now. Excuse the writing because I am doing it on a box about the size of a Cracker Jack. I haven’t had any mail now for over three weeks so I ought to get some soon. Write often to the new address.
Love to both of you.
The notifications to parents of the loss of their sons continued to arrive, the Calais Academy Broadcast of 1944 listed eight Academy graduates who had been killed in action: Clowes Warnock, Ralph Lincoln, George Smith, Frank Pulk, Curtis Kenney, John Lincoln, Ernest Perry and John Noble. Another, Kenneth Anderson was reported missing in action. A member of a bomber crew, his plane was lost during an aerial attack on the Japanese naval stronghold of Truk in the Pacific.
While letters from soldiers in Europe and the Pacific in 1944 were always welcome by the folks back home they were hardly reassuring:
Ernest Brown of Robbinston 10/11/44:
Brown recounts his time as a corpsman in the Pacific fighting island to island. During one battle he and fellow corpsman Robert Camp were evacuating a wounded Marine lieutenant under heavy mortar fire from the Japanese. After carrying the man down a steep rocky mountainside under fire they finally reached the bottom only to have a mortar shell land nearby, killing the lieutenant. Brown told the story to a war correspondent from his hospital bed and continued “on the 13th day we thought our area was secure. But all of a sudden a Jap 77 MM shell landed almost in the middle of our party. There were men killed and wounded. It got both Camp and me. Now we are patients.”
Carl Peterson from Leyte November 1944:
“ I was scared at first but am getting over it. People back home do not know what it’s like I’m sure. All they care about is whether we are pushing forward or losing or want to know why the war doesn’t end sooner. They don’t know what it is to wait for death or to kill others.” “After all this is done I shan’t want to fight, argue or be in or near anything that is confusing. I want to be a peace loving man and stick around home. All these islands are pretty and offer adventure, but Maine is for me.”
5/24/44: PFC Edward Southard of Woodland describes the assault in the Pacific on Eniwetok Atoll:
“Plenty of our boys were going down but we kept wading in and finally succeeded in establishing a fine beachhead.” “Some of us prayed a lot out there. Sniper fire was so heavy that we prayed for night to come so they wouldn’t be able to see us. Then, when the Japs started creeping into our lines at night, we prayed for morning to come so that we could see what we were doing.”
Gerry Beckett from somewhere in the Pacific described his experience as a sailor on a battleship under attack from Japanese fighters. Sleep was impossible so putting their mattresses below and “sleeping on deck, on gun mounts, on gun shields, under the guns and always ready, rain, rough weather, heat – all these things have worked us over and we are thankful that through it all we have found out we could take it.”
Percy Fox of Calais who had served valiantly in World War One and was awarded Croix de Guerre by the French for heroism reenlisted for service in World War Two and was awarded the Silver Star for heroism by his own country. The Advertiser of January 12, 1944, reported a ceremony at which Percy was honored:
“This rare honor came to Foxy when, his bomber plane being badly shot up, he took a wounded comrade in his arms and stepped out of the plane and parachuted safely to earth with his precious burden. He drew a hearty laugh from his intent audience when he revealed that the bomber which, at the time he jumped, was thought to be mortally wounded finally made it back to base okay, while he and his injured pal landed miles away and had a somewhat difficult time finding transportation back.
By 1944 many of our soldiers were being held in POW camps in Germany. Above is a Christmas card from that year sent from a German POW camp home.
Sgt. John Churchill of Calais barely eluded this fate. He had arrived in France in the fall of 1944 and was assigned to a new formation, the 106th Infantry Division in the Ardennes. The Division was assigned a “quiet” area of the front to train for the assault on the German homeland. The sector was so quiet and uneventful that the GIs called it the “Ghost Front.” With a front 21 miles wide, the inexperienced 106th was defending territory over three times the width recommended for a single division. On December 16th, 1944, the Germans mounted a completely unexpected, massive, go for broke offense on the Allies through the Ardennes which became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 106th was quickly overrun by battle hardened German infantry and panzer formations. Completely surrounded in a matter of hours the commander of the 106th was forced to surrender nearly 7000 men to the Germans on December 19th but not before giving his troops the option of trying to break out of the encirclement in small groups. Churchill and a few of his friends elected to try and, moving west, successfully reached Allied units rushing to stem the German advance.
Of course, for those lucky enough to live outside the maelstrom of Europe, North Africa, Russia and the Pacific, daily life went on. While Americans were said to be united in the common purpose of winning the war, societal problems such as racism continued to plague society. Though Blacks were serving their country in combat and civilian roles, South Carolina refused to give them the right to vote and a 14-year-old Black child was executed for murder after a short trial in which his defense attorney called no witnesses and cross examined none of the State’s. The jury deliberated for 10 minutes. Years after the hanging the case was reviewed and conviction vacated.
Americans flocked to the movies and watched Academy Award winner Casablanca. The major leagues still played baseball although the best players were in the service. 15-year-old high school sophomore Joe Nuxhall signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds and was soon on the mound. In his first game he lasted 2/3rds of an inning and gave up five runs but went on to have a long and productive major league career.
President Roosevelt was easily reelected, and the annual President’s Ball was held at the Academy Street Gym.
While the President’s Ball was held once a year USO dances were a regular feature of social life in Calais. Busloads of Seabees from Quoddy village attended as did soldiers from across the river. There was a USO dance hall on Lowell Street in the building now owned by Bill McVicar which was then the VFW hall but USO dances were also held at the Academy Street gym.
In fact, the war was generally good for business in Calais, the town filled many nights with Seabees from Quoddy village and soldiers from St. Stephen. Sailors and soldiers unwinding while on leave or in training often create a volatile situation and Calais in 1944 was no exception. The newspapers in 1944 contain many reports of rowdy behavior downtown: A few examples:
4/5/44 Calais Advertiser
Saturday night a Canadian soldier more than slightly under the influence walked right off the end of that narrow cement wall between the parcel post building and the former Mullen Shoe store on Main Street. How he happened to wander into that out of the way corner is something that will probably never be learned.
Plunging to the ice covered ground a dozen or more feet below and sliding and rolling more feet after he struck, the man was knocked unconscious but after being revived sometime after by Walter Clark, post office janitor, who had been notified of the accident by a small boy who had witnessed the plunge, he got to his feet and walked away under his own power apparently none the worse except a cut on his face.
Sept 27 1944 Calais Advertiser:
A hot argument between a half-dozen Seabees in a North Street house resulted in a brawl during which the boys took free swings at one another with bottles. When the fracas was over the boys were pretty well cut up, with three of them so seriously hurt they had to be removed in an ambulance. One had his nose and jaw broken, one suffered and ugly scalp wound and a third a possible fracture in addition to a severe gash across the forehead. Three women in the house were not cut but roughed up considerably. Three rooms were wrecked and there was blood everywhere. The participants were taken into custody by the Shore Patrol.
March 15 1944 Calais Advertiser:
In a desperate struggle in front of the State Theatre last night, Police Officer Charles McKay, with the assistance of Dustin Greenlaw, theatre employee, handcuffed an intoxicated Milltown N.B. citizen just spoiling for a fight.
In the company of a Canadian soldier the troublemaker had attended the movies that evening but had been ejected from the theatre by Officer McKay, at the request of manager Haskins for making a disturbance in the theatre.
Despite the pleas of his soldier friend the Milltown man refused to leave the front of the theatre and held forth at large upon the injustice of it all. Some of the remarks got under the skin of a Navy man who was passing with his lady fair. There was a quick exchange of blows and Loudmouth got a bloody nose. Officer McKay re-appeared and placed the man under arrest, but the visitor to our fair city would have none of such treatment, and it was not until Dustin put a full nelson on him that the officer was able to snap the handcuffs. Incidentally after the inebriated one was locked in the hoosegow it was discovered that the handcuffs could not be unlocked from his wrists. A hurried call was put into Fred McPeters of Todd’s Hardware, and he soon arrived with a pair of heavy-duty cutters and the steel cuffs were soon snipped in two.
The combatants were not always soldiers. A couple of Calais’ most prominent businessmen came to blows in the City Manager’s office:
Calais Advertiser 3/8/44:
Arraignment here yesterday in the Municipal Court before Judge John Dudley on a charge of vicious and aggravated assault upon the person of Arthur Unobskey, prominent Calais merchant, Thomas Dicenzo, widely known local contractor was found guilty by the court and fined $150 and costs. Dicenzo appealed the verdict and was released under bonds of $200 for appearance in the June term of the Superior Court. The assault took place in Mayor Ernest Woodman’s office when Dicenzo punched Mr. Unobskey in the face. Unobskey, it is stated, made no attempt to retaliate. It was with difficulty that Mayor Woodman prevented further assault. Although an exchange of word just prior to the assault was probably the spark that touched off the explosion, the underlying cause extends much further back, in fact it goes back to the time the A and P Supermarket block was built several years ago when a Dicenzo bid for the excavation work was not accepted by the contractor who was constructing the buildings for the Unobskey firm. Further fuel to the feud was added some weeks ago at the annual Director’s meeting of the National Bank of Calais when Dicenzo was elected to the board of directors. Harold Jewett, local attorney was the counsel for the defendant, William Blaisdell, prominent Ellsworth attorney, presents the Plaintiff’s case.
The Allies also took many prisoners and not a few spent their captivity in Princeton at what had been the CCC camp. This picture was taken of the Civil Conservation Corp. “CCC” 192nd co. camp in Indian Township, near Princeton. The Civil Conservation Corp was established in 1933 by the recommendation of President Franklin B. Roosevelt. This CCC Camp in Indian Township was called the “Far East” 192nd co. camp and was under the immediate supervision of the Maine Forest Service from June 1933 to June 1941. The Far East Camp focused on forest culture, road construction and maintenance, and extended West Street on what is presently called the Stud Mill Road. During WWII the camp was modified, in part, by the addition of a barbed wire fence, additional fences, and four guard towers. After approval from the U.S. Truman Committee this camp then became a Prisoner of War camp in 1944 and housed from 250-500 German prisoners. The prisoners worked in the woods primarily cutting pulpwood for the local paper mill. Picture taking was not allowed within the POW camp.
We’ll close with a list of 1944 prices at the A & P. Three lbs. of coffee were 59 cents, a dozen eggs 39 cents, tea was 62 cents a pound, elbow macaroni was 8 cents a pound, 9 cents for a bottle of Worcestershire sauce, corn flakes 5 cents a box, donuts 15 cents a dozen and a loaf of bread 11 cents although, to be accurate, many prices meant nothing unless you happened to have a ration coupon and could figure out the very complicated system. For instance, if you wanted sugar with your tea and coffee:
“SUGAR…Stamp no. 30 Book 4, marked “sugar” good for 5 lbs. through March 31. Stamps no. 40-book 4 good for 5 lbs. for canning purposes……….
One item you could buy really cheap was a baby carriage. On January 16, 1944, Stewart’s Furniture had a “Clearance Sale of Baby Carriages” but we are willing to bet he would have made a fortune if he’d stored them until 1946.