PORTLAND, Maine — A small group of veterans and historians gathered Thursday in the Wilde Chapel at Evergreen Cemetery in remembrance of the first Mainer to die in World War I. The ceremony marked 100 years, nearly to the hour, that Harold Taylor Andrews was killed in France.
An estimated 37 million people died in the conflict that raged in Europe between 1914 and 1918. That number included 7 million civilians and 10 million military personnel. At least 116,000 Americans lost their lives.
The numbers are staggering and hard to comprehend said Herb Adams, a Portland historian who led the ceremony with members from Friends of Evergreen Cemetery and American Legion Post #17.
“Looking at the life of one person is the only way to make it possible and personal,” said Adams.
Andrews was born in Portland in 1893. He attended Hebron Academy, where he played football and ran track. After graduating in 1914, he studied engineering at the University of Maine. Andrews was also a musician who played the mandolin.
When the United States entered the war in the spring of 1917, Andrews volunteered for the Army. By the fall of that year, with very little military training, he was serving in an embedded American engineering unit within a British outfit.
Andrews died on a Friday at the Battle of Cambrai, France. It’s a city in the woods near the Belgian border. His unit was building a railroad there. Commanders ordered the soldiers to leave their weapons behind when they went into the forest that morning. The carried only pickaxes and shovels.
Later that day, the engineers were overrun by hardened regular German army soldiers equipped with guns and flamethrowers. Andrews’ body was later found by British soldiers in a trench.
“And (in front of) Harold Andrews, there was a small circle of the foe,” said Adams, “that he had taken down with the only tool at hand: his shovel.”
Nobody in Portland knew what happened to Andrews until the war was over. At that time, his body was returned to Portland. It lay in state for two days under the curve of City Hall’s marble staircase. His casket was then taken to Wilde Chapel, where Thursday’s ceremony took place, before being buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Today, Portland’s American Legion Post #17 bears his name as well as a square in the West End, near his childhood home on Brackett Street.
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