Charlestown Families Great WWI Sacrifice

By Bill Durette

Charlestown families have certainly given their fair share of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country.

To lose one son or daughter in a war is a great loss to a family.

Losing two children to war is an even greater loss.

Examples of those kinds of sacrifices are some of the Charlestown brothers who died during WWII, such as the Salvato, Kelley, McLaughlin and McCormack Brothers. One would never imagine four brothers being killed, but that’s exactly what happed to two families in Charlestown during WWI.

The Gordon and Randell families lost four sons each during the Great War. All those sons enlisted before the U.S. entered WWI in 1917. All of them served with the British, Canadian and Australian expeditionary forces.

The Gordon brothers, who lived at 1 Clark’s Court, were the sons of James and Mary Gordon who emigrated from Ireland to Charlestown. Frederick Gordon enlisted at age 16 and served with the British 74th Brigade Royal Artillery. He died from his wounds on May 14, 1918. David Gordon died from wounds received in the second Battle of Ypres Belgium in 1915, a battle that saw more than 100,000 casualties. Thomas Gordon served with the 72nd Canadian Black Watch and was killed in action on April 15, 1918 at Etrun, France. The fourth brother, Henry Gordon, who also served with the Canadian Black Watch, was wounded on April 5, 1918 in France. He succumbed to his wounds on January 24, 1919.

The Randell brothers, who were all born and raised in Charlestown, also answered the call to preserve democracy. When WWI broke out, three of the brothers went to Canada and joined the Canadian Black Watch in 1914. James, Harold and Leroy Randell went up to Canada and joined the Canadian Black Watch. Harold and Leroy were killed in the first Battle of Ypres Belgium in 1914. That same year, Thomas Randell went to London and joined the British forces. He would be killed in the Battle of the Somme in 1918. Frederick Randell enlisted with the Australian forces and was killed at the Battle of Gallipoli, a battle that had combined casualties of more than 500,000 men. The last surviving brother, James, was almost killed several times. He was once gassed and then on another occasion, in 1915, was severely wounded by machine gun fire. After he recovered, he was on his way home aboard the British ship Aurania, when it was torpedoed by a German U2 boat. James abandoned the ship and survived the attack.  He finally managed to make it back to Charlestown, miraculously, and was the lone survivor of the Randell brothers.

It was not unusual during WWI for Americans to join the British and Commonwealth forces. Charlestown men like Arthur Brickey, for example, served with the French Army and died of disease in 1917.  James Crowell served with the Canadian Army McLean Kittles and died of his wounds. Eldon Ellston also died serving with the Canadian Army. George J. McLean, who lived at Monument Street, served with the British Army’s 164th Coy machine gun corps. He fought at the Battle of Verdon and was killed in the Battle of the Somme. William P. Nearen also joined the British Army at age 16 and served with the 8th Irish Regiment. He was killed at Verdon in 1916. Nearen Row, a street in Charlestown, is named in honor of him.

All of those boys answered the call 100 years ago to preserve world democracy and paid the ultimate sacrifice in a brutal war that saw more than 40 million casualties. The Randell and Gordon families certainly gave more than their fair share to that war and are Charlestown’s four-gold-star families – a very rare distinction not commonly found and something that must always be remembered.

As part of that remembrance, on Saturday June 15, at 11 a.m., a Square in Charlestown, located at the corner Essex and Main Street will be dedicated to the Gordon and Randell bothers. The event will commemorate the recent 100th anniversary of the end of WWI and will stand as a place of remembrance for those young men. The event is sponsored by the American Legion JW Conway Bunker Hill Post 26 and supported by the Charlestown Veterans History Project and Abraham Lincoln Post #11 G.A.R.

The public is welcome to share in the dedication ceremony and remembrance.

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