The shrieking of a lone whistle was the first sign of peace in Amsterdam 100 years ago tomorrow. It was November 11th, 1918, and the Armistice had been signed in France ending the Great War.
The Recorder reported, “Other whistles blew and bells rang. Soon the whole city had received the glad tidings.” A community service was held that night at Second Presbyterian Church on Church Street.
With hostilities over, a train carrying 60 Amsterdam draftees bound for Camp Humphries, Virginia, stopped in Albany and the men returned home.
A report compiled after the Armistice by the New York State Adjutant General listed 78 Montgomery County armed forces deaths from all causes, including combat and disease, during the Great War. Of these, 41 were from Amsterdam.
A wartime atmosphere had existed in the Mohawk Valley starting in 1916, according to historian Hugh Donlon, when Amsterdam’s Company H of the National Guard left for service along the southern border during the Mexican revolution.
Members of the city’s new Boy Scout Troop 1 escorted the soldiers at the local train station. When America declared war on Germany in April 1917, Scoutmaster William Firth pledged to Mayor James Cline that the scouts would help the city in any way possible.
Troop 1 members planted gardens and sold produce at cost to help the war effort. The Scouts sold war bonds, packed boxes for the Red Cross for shipment to soldiers and collected peach pits which were used to make chemicals for gas masks.
In August 1917 the first local National Guard soldiers departed for training in Spartanburg, South Carolina. On September 8, the first draftees left Amsterdam for Camp Devens, Massachusetts.
“After that date there were monthly sendoffs for Camp Devens, Camp Dix in New Jersey and other reception centers,” Donlon wrote.
As many as 240 men left for the front each month.
There were price increases and shortages. Trolley fares in Amsterdam climbed from one cent to a nickel and electric power rates doubled.
Coal shortages started in 1918 and some of the city’s factories closed periodically. In January the city fuel administrator seized a carload of coal passing through by rail for local consumption. The Amsterdam Library closed for eight weeks.
A Marine named Floyd Henry Deckro of Fonda was the first Montgomery County casualty in France in June 1918. The next fallen soldier was Raymond W. Smith of Canajoharie.
The first man from Amsterdam killed was Matthew J. Coessens in August. Lieutenant James T. Bergen of National Guard Company H also died in the war. The news came a day after the Armistice and Bergen’s name was given to American Legion Post 39. Post 701 was named for John J. Wyszomirski, whose body was returned from France in 1921.
Troop 1 Scoutmaster Firth entered the U.S. Army in January 1918. He was killed in action October 12 in the Argonne Forest in France, one of thousands of American casualties in Allied offenses in the closing months of the conflict.
Retired Amsterdam High School principal Bert DeRose wrote that his uncle Ralph Pagliaro was killed by a German sniper in Belgium five days before the Armistice. DeRose said, “My grandmother wore black for over 30 years.”
There were four Liberty Bond Drives in Amsterdam to support the war effort. Over 15,000 Amsterdamians gave an estimated $383,000. Carpet mill magnate John Sanford contributed $700,000.
Money collected that was not used at war’s end led to creation of West End Memorial Park and the former Coessens Park in the East End, named in honor of the first Amsterdam casualty of the Great War.
Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]