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Lest we forget

Charles Morton Toole Memorial at Washington St. & Arborway, Boston

Seen by thousands every day, but seldom noticed — across from Forest Hills, at the corner of the Arboretum facing the Arborway, sits a prominent stone memorial dedicated for one of the fallen. Like many others, this weekend we remember, and work so that their stories are not forgotten. The memorial is for one of the neighborhood's own, Charles Morton Toole - killed in action in Cierges, France, October 1, 1918.

The monument is dedicated in memory of Charles M. Toole, killed in the First World War during the Meuse-Argonne offensive in Cierges, France on October 1, 1918, at the age of 26. Born on December 24, 1891 in New Rochelle, NY, to Arthur Jerome Toole & Elizabeth Connor Toole; Arthur was born in Nova Scotia, and moved to the States in 1886, and sometime shortly met Elizabeth, from Hardwick, MA, where they were married in 1889.

The Tooles lived just on the other side of Forest Hills, with the earliest record I can find of them there was the 1900 Census at 29 Hyde Park Ave, before moving around the corner to 68 Weld Hill Street by 1910. Charles was the second of six children, three brothers (2 years older, then 2 & 4 years younger) and two sisters (7 & 11 years younger). Charles attended Mechanic Arts High school (now the O’Bryant School), and later graduated from Suffolk Law. He briefly taught at his old high school, before following in the footsteps of his father, a long time telegraph operator, and becoming a telephone engineer.

His draft card was completed on June 5, 1917, and six months later on January 22, 1918 departed on a two week transatlantic voyage to Liverpool, England on the S.S. Saint Paul as a member of the 107th Field Signal Battalion, 32nd Division; days later, they continued onto France. The 32nd “Red Arrow” Division, initially formed out of men from Michigan, Wisconsin & Illinois, with some storied roots in American history already as the Iron Brigade during the opening of Gettysburg. Soon after arriving in France, the 32nd was supplemented with men from all over the country.

The journey across the channel to France was improvised — described by other regiments in the 32nd as a “6-hour cross-channel jaunt from Southampton standing shoulder-to-shoulder on open decked cattle boats, which were still rife with the manure of the boats’ usual occupants”. On arriving in France, the 32nd was initially designated as a “replacement organization”, to be farmed out to fill other units on the front lines, but as the German Spring Offensive began, they were instead changed to a combat unit.

Like his civilian work, in the field signal battalion Charles’s role was to maintain communications between headquarters and the front line - in 1918, more likely to happen by carrier pigeon or runner than by phone line. While we can’t trace his exact footsteps in France, we know the 32nd entered the front line trenches on May 18th, alongside the French in Alsace, and there they suffered their first combat loss - also the first American soldier to be killed on German soil.

In mid-July, the 32nd was pulled out of Alsace and transported by rail for participation in a major allied counteroffensive at the Second Battle of the Marne, where they earned the official nickname given to them by the French - “Les Terribles” - when after being witnessed routinely clearing out strong German positions with determination, a French general exclaimed, “Oui, Oui, Les soldats terrible, tres bien, tres bien!”

In September, the 32nd was sent towards Verdun, to participate in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. Initially stationed as a reserve division at the start of the offensive on September 26, on the night on September 29th they advanced on orders eleven miles overnight in the cold, rainy mud through shell holes, barbed wire & artillery-shattered trees & brush, holding a two and a half mile front northwest of Montfaucon, today the site of the Meuse-Argonne American Memorial. The 32nd was sent to replace the weary 5th Corp (91st, 37th, and 79th Divisions), who had fought through the first four days; the 32nd along with the 3rd Divsision would continue the central effort of the offensive, moving on to seize the remaining part of the heights. It was sometime during establishing this front that Charles Toole was killed in action.

His family chose for his body to be buried in France, and today rests in the Meuse Argonne American Cemetery. In January 1920, the City of Boston Parks & Recreation Commissioners approved the placement of the monument we see today by the N.E. Telephone Telegraph Co.’s Employees Committee, in remembrance of their coworker.

A brief 7 Minute story of what, why and how WWI challenged and reshaped America as the defining force of "the American Century"; from The World War One Centennial Commission.

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A poignant reminder.

One thing - the dates and two places of birth in the 2nd paragraph don't make sense. Can your intern do some proofreading for you?

Apologies for the confusion (not an Adam article, he was just gracious enough to host it) -- a lot of names/dates going on there & takes a careful read; the last two dates refer to his father's immigration, and later marriage with this mother (1886 & 1889), not the subject himself.


While we can honor Toole's patriotism, or at least his obedience to the draft law, this was a pointless death. A good man, wasted.

There was no real interest of the average American implicated in that war between European empires.

Until we interrogate these past wars, we can't stop future foolish wars.

There's a lot to consider in the U.S. entry into the war -- late, but undoubtedly the force that tipped the scales upon entry in 1917, and combat arrival the following spring. For readers less familiar, this reading provides a decent summary of the German submarine warfare campaign & attempts to have Mexico invade the United States to distract it from supporting Great Britain and France, ultimately leading to American involvement.


My high school history teacher was a Jewish child born in Austria and escaped to England in the Kindertransport. She told us of going through school taught by the generation of "spinster teachers" (her words) who had lost their young men in that senseless war.