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Owen Jarrett

Courtesy David Hardy

West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Owen Jarrett
1889-1918

"Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there."

Vera Brittain

The war in Europe has been raging for four years now. For three of those years, the expeditionary forces of France and England have been the major combatants, but now the AEF (Americans) have joined the fray, after years of moral support as well as provision of hardware and supplies. Trench warfare, which stalemated the troops for so long, has evolved into outright battles. Casualties are heavy, and the outbreak of influenza and pneumonia is killing as many as those who fall in action. The Kaiser’s forces have been driven back toward the homeland. It’s September, and Alsace-Lorraine, on the German border, is heavily involved. A skirmish erupts in Linthal, a small village deep in the Vosges Mountains.

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, a populace that long felt disengaged from the war now is convinced that The Great War is truly The War to End All Wars. To this end, they have rallied quickly and magnanimously in support of their nation’s war effort. Boyd B. Stutler’s 1924 compilation West Virginia Casualties in the War with Germany provides a comprehensive list of casualties by county, while putting the totals in the following perspective:

With a population of less than 1,400,000, West Virginia furnished approximately sixty thousand men to the army and navy for service in the war with Germany. Of this number almost two thousand died while in the service; 571 were killed in action, 194 died of wounds received in action, 356 died of disease and other causes overseas and 691 died of disease and other causes in the camps and cantonments in the United States…. One-twelfth of the whole number of West Virginians in service during the war period either became casualties at the hands of the enemy or died of disease or other causes—a very high percentage and one that places the soldiery of the Mountain State in the first rank in this respect. (Charleston, WV: Jarrett Printing Company, 1924)

In the eastern end of the county, the small town of Pratt, about the same size today as the village of Linthal, goes about its daily business. For many, that business is mining coal. Pratt has a long history in the Kanawha Valley, having been settled as early as 1781, but going first by the name of Clifton, and later as Dego. During the settlement era, the founding fathers of the town, the Morris and Hansford families, build magnificent homes, and presumably are businessmen and gentleman farmers. With many of its 19th and 20th century architectural masterpieces intact, the Pratt Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Post-Civil War (1880s), coal has become the most important economic resource in the area, and the major players at Dego (poised to become Pratt) invest heavily in that industry. The history of Pratt (incorporated as a town in 1905) now becomes the history of coal mining. The town is the center of the “Mine Wars” of 1912-1913 and renowned for union strife and its most infamous organizer, “Mother Jones.”

Into this milieu is born Owen Jarrett, son of Anderson Jarrett and his wife Martha Jane Jarrett. Owen’s draft registration card for World War I states he was born at Morton on January 19, 1889. Morton seems to have disappeared as a community, but the name still exists as a travel plaza on the West Virginia Turnpike. According to the 7th West Virginia Cavalry Book, Anderson Jarrett (c. 1839 – 1906) spent nearly four years serving in the Civil War (November 1861 – August 1865), although he and Martha were married during this period on April 7, 1864. Over a span of 20 years, Anderson and Martha became parents to a large family, including children James, Barbara, Frazier, Matilda, Julia, Abraham, Amanda Rose (Rosie), Joseph, Gracie, and Owen. The household sometimes included grandchildren.

Few details of Owen’s childhood pastimes and schooling exist. Pratt’s Bicentennial Book (1976) has a drawing and description of the Cabin Creek District High School, but it began educating eastern Kanawha County students in 1912, presumably when Owen was past high school age. It is likely his education concluded with grammar school. While the 1900 Federal Census indicates he was living at Dego (Pratt), the 1910 census states he was, at the age of 21, a gardener and living at Cabin Creek with his mother, his older brother James, and nephew Francis. By the time he registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, he was working as a carpenter at the Frieze Fork Coal Mining Company in Ethel, West Virginia. His nephew Francis registered for the draft at the same time.

draft registration

Owen’s WWI draft registration card. His nephew Francis registered for the draft at the same time. National Archives and Records Administration


The Frieze Fork mines were part of the Wood Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Imperial Coal Sales Company of Charleston. They were located on the Dingess Run extension of the Guyan River Branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. What precipitated Owen’s move from Kanawha to Logan County is unknown, but his work as a coal company carpenter would have been a step up from gardener. A technical journal of the industry at the time offers this description of the Wood Coal Company and its subsidiary:

The Frieze Fork mine, opened in the year 1912 by the Frieze Fork Coal Mining Company, was acquired by the Wood Coal Company four years later, or in 1916. The Wood Coal Company, immediately upon securing control of this property, erected an entirely new and complete tipple, equipping same with the most advanced appurtenances for screening and preparation of the coal. Those shaker screens and boom loaders insure the loading our Lump and Egg sizes into the railroad cars with the minimum of breakage in handling.

By the opening of a new mine on this property in 1917, the production has been increased approximately 100 per cent, so that we are now loading 400 tons daily. (The Coal Catalog, Combined with Coal Field Directory, 1920. Pittsburgh, PA: Keystone Consolidated Publishing Company, Inc., 1920. Page 835.)

Assigned to Company G, 54th Infantry, 6th Division, Owen was activated on May 10, 1918, trained at Camp Lee, and sent overseas on July 16, 1918. The 54th Infantry Regiment was constituted in May 1917. According to one account, in November of that year it was assigned to the 6th Infantry Division, along with the 51st, 52nd, and 53rd Infantry Regiments; the 16th, 17th, and 18th Machine Gun Battalions; and the 3rd, 11th, and 78th Field Artillery Regiments. Assembling in New York, these units went overseas in July 1918. They trained all over western France and were assigned on August 31 to the Vosges sector, where they fought from September 3 through October 18. (Thomas E. Price, “World War I: Origins of ‘The Sightseeing Sixth Division,’” 6th Infantry: The Sightseeing Infantry Division, 1996, accessed 25 September 2017, https://www.6thinfantry.com/about/a-brief-history-of-the-u-s-army-6th-infantry-division/.) The 6th Division account notes: “There, a chain of lofty wooded peaks had stalemated both the French and German armies.” Those lofty, wooded peaks can be readily seen today as in the photo below. Altogether, the division saw 43 days of combat, incurring 386 casualties that included 38 members killed in action. The West Virginia Adjutant General’s record of Owen’s death on September 11 notes that his engagements included the Vosges Mountains, concurring with accounts of his unit’s encounters.

Fast forward nearly one hundred years to 2017. Has Owen Jarrett been forgotten? Never. Hubert Martin, president of a local history society in Linthal, sends a query to West Virginia Archives and History asking about the life of Owen and his upbringing in Pratt. For September 2018, the village plans a 100-year remembrance of their liberation from the Germans and wishes to prepare biographies of those who fell in battle there. As with his life, few details are known of Owen’s death, but several sources point to his being killed by friendly fire. That is in accordance to family lore, which records he was killed by his own gun, and the Adjutant General record states that his death was by "accident."
Linthal

Linthal, Alsace, France, Autumn 2009. Courtesy Hubert Martin

Oberlauchen Cemetery

Original WWI cemetery at Oberlauchen, France. Caption reads: Oberlauchen Cemetery of soldiers fallen in the Vosges near Lake Lauch. Courtesy Hubert Martin

Despite heavy losses, the Expeditionary Forces routed the Germans, for which the French remain grateful. In World War I, casualties were first buried in temporary cemeteries. Later, they would be interred permanently in American military cemeteries overseas, or returned to the States, as was the case with Pvt. Jarrett, who was first buried at Oberlauchen, but in 1921 reinterred at the Pratt Cemetery, where he rests among many who have gone before and after him. Betty Jarrett Hardy, great-niece of Owen, never had the opportunity to know him, but she recalls her mother (his niece) telling of his homecoming, his coffin draped in the American flag.

While these first cemeteries for the fallen appear to be quite primitive, the gratitude of the French people cannot be underestimated. At the Oberlauchen Cemetery, citizens also erected a permanent monument, which unfortunately was plundered by the Nazis during World War II. At their commemoration in 2018, the people of Linthal plan to dedicate a replica of the lost monument.
Linthal

Original WWI monument at Oberlauchen. The caption translates: Old French-American Military Cemetery of Oberlauchen/ 1914-1918/ In this soil rest 63 [noncommissioned]/ French officers and soldiers. / 1 officer, 48 [noncommissioned] officers and/ American soldiers killed during the/ great war for France/ and for civilization. “For us to remember; for them immortality” (Erected by the French remembrance committee of Guebwiller). Courtesy Hubert Martin

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Dr. David Baughan (Pratt historian); Betty Jarrett Hardy, great-niece of Owen Jarrett; David Hardy, his great-great-nephew; and especially Hubert Martin, French historian, without whom this investigation would not have taken place.
September 2017

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Owen Jarrett

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