Annie Laurie Williams – Red Cross Nurse

Annie Laurie Williams, 1914

Annie Laurie Williams, 1914

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

On this Veterans Day it was difficult to choose a subject from the many stories of service to our country by Duxbury’s men and women. Much has been written about our brave soldiers, so I thought I would shed light on a woman, Annie Laurie Williams. Williams was a dedicated Red Cross nurse who served in the Eastern European theater at the end of the first World War.

Medal awarded to Annie Laurie Williams by King Peter of Serbia.

Medal awarded to Annie Laurie Williams by King Peter of Serbia. Collection of Duxbury Rural & Historical Society

She was born in Rhinebeck, NY in 1879 but spent thirty-nine years in Duxbury so I think we can claim her as one of our own. When WWI broke out, Williams was already an established aid worker. She had served as matron on Ellis Island and as a nurse in its hospital. [1] Nothing she had witnessed helping the immigrant poor in New York, however, would have prepared her for the hardships she faced in war torn Europe. In 1919 she was sent to Siberia to assist with refugee children displaced by the Russian Revolution. While there she lived in a box car apartment and experienced temperatures 73 degrees below zero.  In Omsk, a town in southwestern Siberia, she had a run in with a Russian soldier whom she punched in the jaw twice when he attempted to enter a railroad car of female refugees. [2]  Williams came home to the US in 1920, but returned to Europe the following year to assist with orphan relief in war ravaged Serbia, establishing clinics and nursing  children.  For these efforts she was awarded a medal of the Order of St. Sava by the Serbian king, Peter.  During her Red Cross tenure she also received a medal of merit by the Serbian Red Cross and a silver belt buckle from Russian Cossaks.

Award given to Annie Laurie Williams from Serbian Red Cross, 1920

Award from Serbian Red Cross, 1920. Annie Laurie William Collection, Drew Archival Library

In 1922 she settled down to a quiet life Duxbury – census records show her renting for a time on both Washington and Harrison Streets. She worked as the school nurse for many years and also taught basic first-aid. Each year she rode in in the 4th of July parade and was an honored participant in Duxbury’s Tercentenary celebration in 1937. The Drew Archives has a wonderful album she created of photographs and memorabilia from this year-long event.   Annie Laurie Williams died in 1961, at the age of 82, in the Jones River Nursing Home in Kingston. She is buried in the Mayflower Cemetery.

The Duxbury Rural & Historical Society gives thanks to all the men and women who have served our country.

 

 

 

[1] Annie L. Williams Obituary from Duxbury Clipper, Feb. 2, 1961

[2] http://blogs.ancestry.com/cm/2014/04/21/red-cross-nurse-throws-down-with-russian-bully/ accessed Nov. 11, 2014.

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WWI through a girl’s eyes.

In preparing for our upcoming WWI Letter Reading I took a closer look at a diary we have at the Drew Archives.  It is a small blue day book that once belonged to a Duxbury summer resident, Eleanor Stearns Young, in 1916 .  Fourteen year old Eleanor was a faithful diarist for the first quarter of the year, recording her skating and sledding adventures with her best friend, Phyllis Winch Twombly (Phy); her crush on Atherton (Atty); her “peach of  dress” and her desire for a “tin lizzy.”  But peppered throughout her tales of sunny winter days are hints of a sadder, darker world.  Her diary gives us a sense of what it was like to be a young adult during the tumultuous days of WWI.  Below are a few examples of her entries:

Wednesday, January 12, 1916

Going to Chin-Chin.  Good bye.  Went, had a simply corking time.  Montgomery & Stone were corking.  They had a clown band.  Simply great.  Grandma enjoyed it greatly.  Vera still presists in teasing me.  Father has a cold.  He gave me a ten dollar gold piece. I have got 152 dollars in the bank.  When I put this in I will have $172.  Gosh I am sure some rich kid.  Be able to buy a tin lizzy soon.  Mother is going to Mrs. T’s for a dinner next Wednesday.  Phy is coming over here.  My dress is getting on.

Thursday February 3, 1916

Damn those Germans.  The last raid in England they killed almost one hundred people.  Mostly women and children.  They are planning a new offensive to take Dunkirk and Calais.  They won’t get it though.  Phy to supper.  Got a little cold.  Went to bed early.  Gee, I could smash those Germans.

Monday, February. 21, 1916

10 below this morning.  Great fun riding lying down.  Awful cold. K. and G went too.  Just three of us.  Coasted all the afternoon.  Slept like a top.  The Germans on West Front capturing a few trenches.  Nothing new.

Friday, February. 25, 1916

Grandmother home from New York.  Brought me a red Chinese wrapper.  Great.  Went to school. Bad day.  Phy came to supper. Dressed in costume I am going to wear tomorrow night.  Germans are still giving it.  Kaiser is sending them on to slaughter like pigs.

Wednesday, March 1, 1916

Verdun attack calmed down a little.  Went to school.  Phy has bought of some of her spring clothes.  One of her hats looks awfully well on me.  Striped skirts are all in style.  Am going to have one suit.  Just wait til I get speeded up.

Friday, March 3, 1916

Germans on fresh drive for Verdun.  Oh well.  I guess we are very sure of a few things wave.  Katie came. I am having five white shirts made over from mother’s. Such is life.  I must be getting fat

Tuesday, June 6, 1916

Birthday

I am fifteen years old.  Lord Kitchener dead. He was on his way to Russia. The ship was torpedoed in the North Sea.  I am afraid this is a very disheartening thing to happen.  I never felt this sort of thing but I do now.  It seems so awfully queer.  There seems to be a black shadow always behind one.  The President of China is dead also.  This is an awful world. 

Shopped all the morning.  I got thirty dollars from Gram and Gramp.”

Eleanor’s diary does not continue after a few entries in early June.  Perhaps she left her diary her Brookline home when she packed for her summer house on Harrison Street.   Perhaps it became lost or she simply lost interest.  Whatever the reason, we are glad she wrote her mind for at least a few short months in 1916.

To hear Eleanor’s words come alive or hear other WWI letters, join us in the Wright Building on May 20, 2010 at 7pm.  The even its free of charge and, as always, refreshments will be served.  See you there!