Oliver Moulton Chadwick
First World War Pilot
Oliver Moulton Chadwick, brother-in-law of James Parker Long, was a fighter pilot in the Lafayette Flying Corps (Groupe de Combat 12), Escadrille 73, during the first World War. In one of his first combat flights, he was killed when his plane was shot down by a German fighter over Belgium on August 14, 1917. Oliver was 28. After his death, he was awarded numerous honors, and accounts of his life are included in books and other writings about World War I. Excerpts from letters written by Oliver immediately prior to his death, and from letters by a Harvard friend about the effort to locate Oliver's grave, are included below. (For additional information, search on "Oliver Chadwick pilot.")
Oliver Chadwick was the brother-in-law of James Parker Long (1889-1970), of Naples, New York. James was a son of Samuel Parker Long (1860-1926), a missionary in Burma and later a resident of Naples, New York. Oliver's sister was Frances Chadwick (1886-1974). Oliver apparently introduced Frances to James Parker Long.
This section includes:
Brief Summary of Oliver Chadwick's Life
Letters from Oliver Chadwick and Charles Biddle
Memories of Oliver Chadwick
Brief Summary of Oliver Chadwick’s Life
This summary is based upon various publications and personal letters. More detail from this summary is provided in the excerpts of letters below.
Oliver Chadwick was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, September 23, 1888, the only son of Austin Kilham Chadwick, who was president of the Lowell Five Cents Savings Bank, and Julia May (Moulton) Chadwick. He was prepared for college in the public schools of Lowell, and at Phillips-Exeter Academy, the school of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
On his graduation at Exeter, Oliver received the "Yale Cup," awarded annually by the Yale Club of Boston to "that member of the senior class who best combines excellence in athletics with satisfactory standing in his studies." Although one report suggested that he was not a good student, Oliver was nevertheless admitted to Harvard College and then Harvard Law School. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he made a creditable scholastic record, became a member of the Institute, Hasty Pudding, Fencing, and Western Clubs, and was an excellent all-round athlete, winning his “H" as a member of the hockey team, for which he was a brilliant goal tender, of the varsity soccer team, and on the track squad — throwing the javelin and running hurdles. At law school, he was a member of the Ames Law Club. After receiving his LL.B. degree in 1914, he entered the law firm of Stone and Webster.
From the beginning of the European War, Oliver felt that he must take part in it, and, besides enlisting in Battery A for military training and spending the summer of 1910 at Plattsburg, he made more than one unsuccessful attempt to join the fighting forces. Early in 1916, he applied for membership in the Foreign Legion, but was ordered with his battery to the Mexican border, where he served four months.
Becoming a Pilot. On his return, Oliver was convinced that the best service he could render the Allies would be as an aviator. Accordingly, he went to the Curtiss Flying School at Newport News and, as soon as he had acquired proficiency in handling a plane, before the end of 1916, he sailed for France. He entered the French Foreign Legion, enlisting on January 22, 1917, and said he was prepared to serve in the trenches with the Foreign Legion if he could not make himself more useful as an aviator. He obtained his license as a pilot at the school of Pau and completed a course in aerial marksmanship at Cazaux.
Oliver was assigned to Groupe de Combat No. 12, under the command of Major Antonin Brochard, on July 29, 1917. This was a famed combat group, well known as the Cigognes, or Storks. Much has been written about the group. One book called it "France's Ace Fighter Group in World War I."
There were four squadrons in G.C. 12, as it was known. Each group had a stork as its symbol.
Squadron No. 3 was led by Georges Guynemer, considered by the French to be their "ace of aces." He was shot down and killed on September 11, 1917, one month after Oliver Chadwick was shot down. (To be considered an "ace," a pilot had to achieve at least five "victories," shooting down enemy planes. At the time of his death, Guynemer had 53 victories. See more about him below.)
Squadron No. 26 was led by Roland Garros, another famed fighter pilot. Garros was shot down twice and killed the second time, on October 5, 1918. The tennis center where he once played became the site of the prominent Roland Garros Stadium, where the French Open tennis tournament is played.
Squadron No. 103 was led by Jean d'Harcourt. It included Rene' Fonck, considered the most dangerous pilot of the war, credited with 75 official combat victories and 52 non-official. He was never shot down.
Squadron No. 73 was led by fighter ace Albert Deullin. Oliver Chadwick was assigned to this squadron.
Note: The Lafayette Escadrille, consisting primarily of American pilots assisting in the war effort, was joined with Groupe de Combat No. 12. All of the Americans in the French service comprised the Lafayette Flying Corps. This overlap of names and roles has contributed some confusion for those trying to sort out the aviation missions. See war photos involving the Lafayette Escadrille.
The Last Flight. After some practice flights on Spad aeroplanes, Oliver took part in patrol flights and was seen to be skilled as a pilot. He was assigned to the Escadrille (squadron) Spa, No. 73, a famed squadron that included some of the best French pilots. (Spad is a make of aircraft.) On August 14, 1917, he went out on a patrol with other planes from his group. Seeing one of his group being closely followed by a German fighter, Oliver broke off from his patrol to help, but he was shot from behind by other German fighters.
One of the German planes was flown by the Ace Wilhelm (Willi) Reinhard, who later confirmed a shootdown of a French SPAD aircraft north of Bikschote at 10:45 a.m. Oliver had made a fatal mistake. Since this was likely one of the first combat flights for Oliver, it is believed he would have been charged by his superiors to follow the patrol and learn the pattern of fighting before going off on his own. But it appears that he made the wrong decision, leaving the patrol to combat the German fighter and following his instinct to help a British Sopwith aircraft in great danger. The Germans coming from behind were all good pilots, very skillful in aviation maneuvers.
Reinhard in time achieved 20 aviation victories. After the death of the German ace Manfred von Richthofen (known as the "Red Baron"), Reinhard became commandant of the Red Circus, the best German squadron using the famous red tri-planes. Later, in 1918, he had a fatal accident. He was testing a new plane whenone of the wings broke off. Hermann Goering was the third of four pilots to test that new plane and Reinhard was fourth. There is speculation that if Goering had gone forth, he would have been involved with the failure of the plane, and the history of World War II might have been different (Goering later became responsible for the Luftwaffe in World War II and was denounced as a war criminal.) Willi Reinhard was originally buried with his parents (see the tombstone above, photographed in 2013). When the concession for the cemetery was ended, according to Piet Steen, the memorial stone was moved to the airbase at Wittmund. The remains of Willi were not moved to the airbase but buried in the "Sudfriedhof" in Dusseldorf; later the concession for that burial was terminated and the grave does not exist.
Oliver Chadwick's Remains. Oliver's plane fell an estimated 6,000 feet and crashed close to the German-French line of fight but between the lines, closer to the German side, about 25 miles west of Dunkirk. Reports said that both French and German troops tried to reach the wreckage after the August 14 crash, but the fighting continued and they were unsuccessful. The brook St. Jansbeek was basically the dividing line, for the moment, between the German and French troops. The crash site was to the north of Bikschote (or Bixschoote), Belgium, in West Flanders, on a farm named Carnot, but on the south side of the brook. The farm can be seen to the right of center of the map (below), under the word Draaibank. The next larger town was Merckem. It can be seen in the upper center of the map.
On August 16, two days later, the French attacked to the south of the brook St. Jansbeek (see photo above) and regained the area of the Ferme Carnot. (See the general terrain in this map.) Charles Biddle found the wreckage of Oliver's plane, No. 1429, and the body of a German soldier, but Oliver was gone. It is believed that the Germans moved Oliver's body during the night of August 14, searched his clothing for official papers, and buried him near the place of the crash but on the north side of the brook, about one kilometer north of Bikschote. The area was known as "Langewaede." Only a few houses were there at the time, near the village of Merckem, and many years later the number of buildings had not increased by much. (See the photos at this site of the fields pock-marked from the extensive bombing.)
On October 26 and 27, the French attacked Merckem and regained Langewaede. On November 14, 1917, Biddle and other pilots, looking for a French comrade, found the grave of Oliver in Langewaede. The area was the site of many graves, of soldiers from both sides. The marshy area had been deliberately flooded in 1914 to deter the German advance, and it is possible that this was the most advantegeous site for a burial. Oliver's grave was marked "Ici repose un aviateur inconnu" (Here lies an unknown aviator.) Biddle said he built out the place of Oliver's burial with a fence and installed a nameplate and flowers.
A German cemetery was located in the area (see photo above), probably assembled after the fighting stopped. When the German cemetery was closed in 1927, there was no evidence that Oliver was there. Oliver's name did not appear on the registry at that cemetery. All the graves were of Germans except for two French soliders. The war carried on some months after the crash of Oliver's plane, but the allies in time gained the upper hand. Early in 1918, the Germans attempted to recapture Mercken, Langewaede and Bikschote in order to regain ground taken by the allies, but they were effectively pushed back, as reported by the New York Times. Estimates varied widely, but by the time the allies succeeded in stopping the Germans, it was believed there had been more than 37 million casualties, both military and civilian, including 16 million deaths and 21 million wounded.
It is understood that the bodies of many soldiers remained long under ground in the farmland there. The bodies of American soldiers were gathered, and many were transported to the Flanders Fields American Cemetery in Waregem. This is the only American World War I cemetery in Belgium, and it is the smallest of these cemeteries in Europe. The cemetery website says that 411 American servicemen were buried or commemorated there.
It appears that Oliver's body lay in the fields of Langewaede for many years after the 1917 crash. The National Archives and Records Administration, in Washington, reported that Oliver's body was disinterred near Bikschote on April 15, 1928, almost eleven years after the crash, and moved to the Flanders Field cemetery at Waregem on June 13, 1928. Records show that Oliver Chadwick was buried there in Grave 22, Block B, Row 4 (first name on the list).
In July 1918, just 11 months after Oliver was killed, he was one of 33 aviators honored in Paris for their war service by the Aero Club of America. Julian Biddle and Georges Guynemer were similarly honored. This report of the honors was published in the New York Times on July 13, 1918. About 1927, the French began to erect a memorial to the American fliers of the Lafayette Escadrille at Marnes-la-Coquette, between Paris and Versailles. The memorial can be reached in a 20-minute train ride from Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. The bodies of 68 members of the Lafayette Flying Corps were moved from their resting places in France, Belgium and Italy and re-interred at the new memorial. The memorial was dedicated on the Fourth of July in 1928. Oliver Chadwick's body was among the bodies that were moved. The record of the Waregem cemetery shows that Oliver was "transferred to 'St. Cloud,'" the name of the community where the new burial site was located. (This must have occurred between June 13, 1928, when Oliver was moved to Flanders Fields Cemetery, and the Fourth of July dedication of the new memorial in St. Cloud, or at least shortly thereafter.)
The memorial honors 269 pilots of the Lafayette Flying Corps. (On the link, click on the radio button for The Pilots on the left side and then on "The 269 Pilots' Names.") Of these, 68 died before the end of the war, and their names, including that of Oliver Chadwick, are engraved in the stone of the memorial. A sarcophagus was provided for each American flier killed in the Great War, but only 49 of the 68 sarcophagi contain remains. A book about the Escadrille Lafayette said that "in truth, a number of the tombs lie empty today because of the impossibility in locating and removing several of the Lafayette pilots' remains." Oliver's name is on the list of those 49 who were buried there. The French-language brochure for the memorial provides more details and photographs.
Oliver's name is also included in a memorial in New York City, at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul on West 23rd Street, a church established by the French community. Oliver's name can be seen in a photo of the memorial by scrolling through this website down to the panel for "1916-1918 Escadrille Lafayette." A public debate in 2012 focused on the possibility of closing the relatively underused church.
Letters of Oliver Chadwick, Charles Biddle and Others
Below, in basically chronological order, are comments by and about Oliver Chadwick, especially the events leading to his death:
Germany and the United States Are at War
Letter from Oliver Chadwick, Pau
February 3, 1917
Last night I went with a New York fellow — one who has been in France since the beginning of the war, and is now completing his course — to a little town two miles south of here, it is called Lascas or something of the sort. We had with us a young Frenchman also about through with his work.
Our objective was the home of a splendid French peasant family which gains its principal livelihood through farming, but also does washing, carrying letters, etc. As families go over here that one is considered prosperous and certainly lives a very happy as well as industrious life. Upon a previous trip to leave laundry we had arranged to come last night to supper. This was entirely thanks to Barkley, my American friend. The house is 270 years old, but was put in good condition again ten or a dozen years ago. We only saw one room, but that was all it should be, with the fire on the floor and ample room to sit close to it on three sides and with a short, broad bed built into one wall.
The father of the household told us most impressively how one of his sons, while on outpost between the trenches, had been surrounded by seven Boches, and had killed five of them and driven the other two away, only to be killed himself a little later when he struck a match to light a cigarette which he was to smoke in celebration of his victory.
The other son was at home, for he had been badly injured in his left hand and arm. He proudly showed us his injuries and the certificate of citation which had been given him by the government in recognition of his marked bravery and splendid service.
In the midst of the meal, he went out for a few minutes to attend to several of his duties as postman. Presently he returned much excited, and it was then and there that we learned of the breach of diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany. There was much rejoicing and shaking of hands, and many speculations made as to what would be the effect of this new move on the conditions of the war. It was splendid to have the news come to us thus in the midst of a French family which had suffered so much and was ready to do whatever else was in its power.
Training to Shoot from a Fast-Moving Plane
Letter from Oliver Chadwick, Cazaux
June 25, 1917
Am leaving Ecole de Tir [marksmanship school] where I have been for nine days. I finished three weeks' work in two days because I found that through previous thought I had mastered the principles of the thing. I was sent here for a week, so had to stay it out, and there were the usual delays at each end. Twiddled my thumbs, bathed in the sea, looked busy, etc., for seven days, and then passed examinations which will result in the commander of the school writing to the French Minister of War to have him write to the U. S. Secretary of War, to have me sent back to the U. S. as instructor in shooting from a plane against another plane. However, I suppose I shan't be sent if I don't want to go, so his special interview with the American wonder, his many compliments and kind actions can be accepted as feathers in one's cap, and accepted gladly.
Flight school exercise: If a plane is going 3 miles a minute at 1.5,000 feet X. E. and at a rising angle of 15° and is then attacked from the side, above, and behind by a machine which is (500 feet away and moving at a velocity of 3 miles a minute and in rapid descent, in a path which will meet that of the other plane one half a mile off, where will the machine gunner of the first aim so as to hit the second, and that on the second aim so as to hit the first? If you will answer me that. I will give you the job of instructor.
Hit five circus day gas balloons in succession at altitude 100 yards with a cross wind, 35 carbine. Am sending you several cards made at 15 yards shooting "off hand."
Return tonight to Pau for uniform I do not want, do not need, must have, but could not get before finishing here. That is the way red tape works, killing four days of a pilot's time when the country is in desperate need of more pilots and can give them only one hour of air training.
With love, Oliver
Law School Classmate Arrives at the Front
Letter of Charles J. Biddle
July 28, 1917
With the Cigognes [Storks]
Just arrived at the front today and am in Escadrille N. 73, Groupe de Combat 12. The group is otherwise known as "Le Groupe Brocard," after its famous commander Brocard, who is one of the great French airmen. One of the escadrilles of the group is N. 3, more generally known as "Les Cigognes," or "The Storks" when translated into English. The name comes from their insignia, a stork painted on the sides of the fuselage of each machine, and this squadron is easily the best known in the French Aviation. The whole group carries the stork as its insignia, the bird being placed in different positions to distinguish the several escadrilles, and consequently the entire group is often referred to as "Les Cigognes." The original "Cigognes," however, which has gained such a wide reputation, is Escadrille N. 3.
This group is the most famous fighting one in the army and admittedly the best, so you can see that Chadwick and I were very lucky to get into it. It contains more famous fighting pilots than any of the other French flying units, one in particular, Guynemer, who has to date brought down about forty-eight Boches officially and many more unofficially. To count on a man's record, a victory has to be seen and reported by two French observers on the ground, or some such rule as this, so that a Boche shot down far behind the lines, where no one but his comrades see him fall, does not help a pilot's total. Last evening Guynemer got one 25 kilometers into the German territory, and as I sit here on the aerodrome he has just got into his machine and started off for the lines in search of another victim.
In the village of Poelkapelle, there is a monument to the memory of Georges Guynemer, with a stork on the top (photos above). The town was the scene of extensive fighting during the war, and is surrounded by numerous cemeteries and memorial markers.
Chadwick and I and two other Americans who came with us are the first Americans to be sent to this group. An escadrille or squadron in the French service numbers about fifteen pilots and machines. We are indeed fortunate to get into this crack group. Because it has suffered rather heavily lately, they had to fill up [replace some members of the crew], and so we got our chance. This morning Captain Auger was killed and our own chief, Lieutenant Deullin, was shot down with three bullets in his back, but will pull through all right. He was shot down last night also, but only his machine was damaged. He went up again this morning, and while attacking one Boche, another got him from behind. He has seventeen Boches to his credit officially, so I guess he is entitled to the rest that his wounds will give him. The captain who was killed had got seven German machines officially, so we are sort of out of luck to-day, losing two such good men. It seems to come in bunches that way for some reason or other. [Biddle, Deullin and Guynemer can be seen in this link along with discussion of Guynemer and the Spad 3.]
Thanks to a Professor
Letter from Oliver Chadwick to Professor Edward Warren
Harvard Law School
August 2, 1917
Esc. N. 73, S. P. 15, France,
Dear Mr. Warren:
With most of us I believe, with me certainly, time obliterates from the memory a greater part of the things which were once there. Fortunately it leaves some treasures which grow even brighter. It is one of these latter which is the occasion of this note.
Here in France on all the public buildings is written 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" and the blood of the nation is making them even more sacred. Here in a tent, alone, within hearing of the thunder of the guns of the world's greatest offensive, are two students of yours, of the Class of '14 in the Law School.
I made my first efforts to enter the fight in the fall of 1914, but men were more numerous than munitions and I was not wanted. In 1915 I went to Canada to enlist, but was called upon to take an oath of allegiance to the King, which I would not do. In the spring of 1916, I could stand it no longer, so gave up my position and made application for the Foreign Legion, but was called to the Border with my battery and could not get over here until the end of the year. The other, Biddle, came here in March and is also a soldier of the Legion, both being aviators.
This afternoon there is no flying and we have been talking over things of the past. One has grown brighter and brighter in my mind as the years have gone by, a thing which I think of when I see that "Liberte, Egalite, Fratenite" and when I think of the sacrifices being made to uphold them. I spoke of it this afternoon and got a quick response from Biddle. It was your talk to the Class of '14 at its farewell dinner, "The Equality of a Democracy; equality, not in achievement or reward, but in opportunity." You meant what you said, you said it well, your words went home, and I think it will please you to know that by some of us, and I believe many, it is and will be remembered.
It is because some of us have found truth in words like yours that we have been unable to "remain neutral in thought and act," even when so charged by our President [Woodrow Wilson].
Arriving on the Front Lines
Letter from Oliver Chadwick
August 3, 1917
I am now somewhere, and I can describe it no more definitely than by saying that I should rather be there than anywhere else. One of the first things I saw when arriving here was Capt. Guynemer. I saw him go up, and an hour later come back. In the meantime he got his 48th official [air combat victory], and he must have dropped about as many more out of sight behind the German lines.
One of the other things of interest which I saw here was a machine which had been hit by several explosive bullets. They do a thorough job.
The men here are a splendid lot. It is the most famous group of escadrilles in the world and the finest commander. If I don't learn how to be a good Boche hunter, it will be my own fault. I am not at liberty to say where I am, or much about what is going on, but here is a generality drawn from the past, which will probably hold good for the future: “Wherever the pot boils, there is to be found Groupe de Combat 12.”
[NOTE: The term boche, used in these letters in both singular and plural terms, is a disparaging reference to the German enemy soldiers. Language students suggest it is a blend of German and a French dialect, referring to caboche, “cabbage” or “blockhead.”] Also see this explanation.
Oliver Chadwick’s Last Letter to his Father
August 9, 1917
Somewhere on the Western Front
Just at this time when there are the most things of real interest to write about, there is the greatest necessity to be careful not to deal in particular about places, times, combats, etc. However, I believe there can be no objection to recounting what a battlefield looks like from the air, because there are certain characteristics which are common from the sea to the mountains, and it will be an old story save that it comes through my eyes.
Let us look at half a day of the normal working of any chase group. There are two sorts of things to do, attack and defend. Attack enemy machines and balloons and defend our own, also defend our positions from spying eyes. The day dawns clear and if we are really pushing the fight, there is a daylight bombardment on. Some of the pilots go off with a group of bombing machines to protect them. Others do patrol work. Let us suppose I am designated for the latter.
The land fighting used to be in two dimensions, but now it is coming to be in three. However, its dimension in height is measured in feet while that of the air frontier is in thousands of meters (how many I am not at liberty to say, but obviously it is as high as a machine and pilot can mount). To guard a front with as great a height as that there must obviously be a number of divisions, for a lad close to the ground cannot keep a Boche, thousands of meters up, from sauntering over the lines and dropping things or taking pictures.
Let us suppose that I have the lowest patrol, the one from which the ground can be seen with the most detail. First the planes circle about a given altitude until all are there, and then they follow the leader to the sector which it is their duty to patrol. Perhaps they are told to fly over their own lines, perhaps over the enemy's. Perhaps they are merely to strut around with chips on their shoulders. Perhaps they are to look for trouble. It all depends upon where it is policy to have the air front in relation to that on the ground. If the low patrol is over the enemy's lines, the pilot can see the whole show, if he has time.
No one can miss the front, the lines, even where the fighting has not been of the hottest. There is a dead area of considerable width where there are no houses, trees, animals, or other living things of any size except the men who can sometimes be seen in the trenches. If the sector has been the scene of a powerful drive, preceded by many days of artillery preparation, the lines are even more clearly marked, for it is all brown: Every living vegetation is being blown to atoms or buried many feet under the ground. The ground itself looks like an enormous slag heap which has bubbled slowly, leaving great craters over the entire surface. In such sectors the trenches themselves have been obliterated, and it is those craters, those shell holes, that are held by the infantry. Where the bombardment is heaviest, towns cease to exist, and not only towns, but the roads leading into them. I have been over several which could be spotted only by the line of roads from which can be conjectured the point of intersection. Larger cities seem never to be completely wiped out, though nothing is serviceable in them.
Just about the time you have noticed a very small part of this, it occurs to you to look up and behind (you had better do that about every ten seconds) and about the time you are looking up or behind or under your tail . . . the Boche are at you with their anti-aircraft guns.
The first salvo is rather pleasing, because it means that at last you have got to the point where the Huns are taking notice of you. After a bit, however, these bangs and black clouds of smoke get annoying, they are so cussed persistent. Some batteries are better than others, some you laugh at, others set you dodging.
This heavy fighting in the semi-darkness, while there is a certain amount of light several thousand meters up, seems like another world. One hovering about in the upper air and light seems like a voyager from one world who is getting a glimpse of another, one which he would not wish to inhabit and one whose inhabitants must be very different from us.
I must stop now and be “off" again for more flying.
With love, Oliver.
Meeting the King and Queen of Belgium
Letter of Charles J. Biddle
Events of August 13, 1917
Hobnobbing with Royalty
Got a rainy day today, and as I have pretty well caught upon the writing I told you I had to do, I can now drop you a line about what has been going on recently.
On August 13, we were inspected by the King and Queen of Belgium. We all got dressed up in our best and stood at attention while the King conferred some Belgian decorations on some of the men for bravery and the work they had done. I have some pictures of Oliver, Julian, and myself standing in the line of pilots with the King and Queen in front, and shall send the photos along as soon as I have an opportunity. The commandant stopped in front of us and introduced us all three to the King and Queen.
You see we are the first American pilots in the escadrille and therefore somewhat of a curiosity, so we sometimes receive attention to which our rank would not ordinarily entitle us. Shook hands with them and called them "Sire" and "Madame" as per the commandant's previous instructions.
Had a few words with King Albert, who said he is hoping for great things when America gets her forces over here. Glad to say he spoke English, as I was scared to death lest I might have to talk French to them. Kings and telephones get my goat when it comes to talking French. I guess little Willie is some pumpkins hobnobbing with royalty and such, eh, what!! The King is a very fine-looking man and the Queen is most attractive.
Hoping for a Chance to Fly
Account from various sources
August 14, 1917
Chadwick was not scheduled to fly until afternoon, but anxious to get all the practice possible, he went to the field in the morning hoping that an extra man might be needed. A patrol was just going out, and being one man short, they asked him to fill the place.
Has Oliver Been Killed?
Letter of Charles J. Biddle
August 14, 1917
My friend Oliver Chadwick has evidently just been killed. We are not absolutely sure yet, but there is practically no hope. He was the best of them all, and we have been together all the time for months. I had come to know him better than I have ever known any other man, and he was as fine and fearless a Christian gentleman as ever lived. He was apparently shot down from 2000 meters in a combat and fell inside the German lines over the little destroyed town I have described. I am glad he died with his boots on, as he wanted to, but my heart is sick and I cannot write you about it till later.
Reports of Oliver's Death
Letter of Charles J. Biddle
More about August 14, 1917
They set out at nine o'clock, and at 9.45, the patrol engaged in combat with an enemy squadron near the forest of Houthulst. An English patrol also took part in the fight, and seeing it attacked by an Albatross, Chadwick hastened to its assistance. At the same moment he was attacked from the rear by two enemy Albatross pilots and his machine was seen to fall towards the earth. It landed 1200 meters north of the village of Bisckoff, exactly between the two lines. At the time of its fall, both French and Germans came out of the trenches, and a skirmish took place about the machine without any definite result, the two parties shortly returning to their shelters.
Two or three days later, a new French attack carried the lines forward to the exact place where the machine had fallen. The Spad was found with the body of a German beside it, but no trace of Pilot Chadwick. It was not until many weeks later that the certainty of his death was assured, and his burial place was found marked with his name. . . .
The next morning, August 14 (1917) [the day after meeting the king and queen], Oliver and I were not scheduled to fly until the afternoon, but as we were both anxious to get all the practice possible, we went to the field in the morning in the hope that they might need an extra man. A patrol was just going out, and being short one man they asked Oliver to fill up. I saw him off and was a little disappointed that he had gotten the job instead of me, as he had already had an hour or two more over the lines than I. He went out with three Frenchmen and never came back. They reported that at about 9.45, shortly after they had reached the lines, they had lost track of Oliver while maneuvering near some clouds.
Shortly after lunch we received a telephone message, that the infantry had seen a machine of the type Oliver was flying shot down in the course of combat from about -2000 meters and fell about 100 metres north of Bixschoote at a place known as the "Ferme Carnot." According to the report, the French machine went to the assistance of an English one that was being attacked by a Boche, and at the same time was itself attacked from the rear by two other Bodies. The French machine was shot down and took a sheer fall of over 6000 feet, until it crashed into the ground.
I had hoped against hope that there might be some mistake, that the machine was merely forced to land, or perhaps that it was not Oliver's machine at all, or that he might be only a prisoner. I have been doing everything I could think of to get all the detailed information possible, as it will mean so much to his family to know just what happened and whether or not he is really dead. The commander has been very kind in trying to help me to collect this information, but it has seemed almost impossible to trace what clues we have. Where so many thousands are being killed and have been for the past three years, a dead man, no longer able to help in the fight, is nothing, and men busy with the great business of war have no time to spend in trying to find one.
Oliver fell between the lines, but very close to the German. The recent French advance has, however, put the spot just within our own lines, and I wanted to go up myself and have a look, but it seems impossible. I thought perhaps I might be able to find his body or the machine or something. Even though I could not do this, my efforts seem to be bearing fruit, and there seems to be no longer any doubt that the machine was his.
Today I received a photograph of the machine taken by a priest attached to the infantry and also some details of what happened when the machine fell. It seems likely that the Boche and French rushed out of their trenches to try and get possession of it, and a fight followed in which both were forced to retire. The picture was taken after the advance a day or so later and shows a tangled mass of wreckage and beside it the dead body of a Boche.
No trace could be found of Oliver's body, but this is easily explained by the fact that pilots often have papers on them of military importance, and his body would therefore have been taken and searched. This would have been easy for the Germans to do at night, as the machine was so close to their front-line trenches. I am now trying to get the number of the fallen machine and to find someone who actually saw it fall. I think then we shall have everything. What chance has a man who falls like that from such a height? I have seen the result of a fall of one-tenth the distance or less too often not to know.
More Details of the Shoot-down
Letter of Charles J. Biddle
August 21, 1917
Just a line to tell you that I am well, but I have so many letters to write that you will have to wait until next week before I shall be able to write you fully. My friend, Oliver Chadwick, was killed by the Boches on Tuesday. He sailed in to help out another machine that was being attacked and was in turn attacked from the rear by two other machines. At least this is what happened as far as we can learn. We are not even sure that the machine that was brought down in this manner was Oliver's, and as it fell in the Boche lines there is no way of verifying it, but the evidence is very bad, and I am afraid there is little hope. There is the barest chance that he may be a prisoner, but it is very slim.
Then on the 18th Julian (Biddle, a cousin of Charles) was killed; so it was a very bad week for the Americans here. I am terribly sorry about Julian, and I naturally feel his loss very keenly, for we were always very good friends and had had a lot of fun together since coming to France. He was an excellent pilot in the schools and extremely conscientious and hard-working. He got his military license in a remarkably short time and sailed through all the tests without the slightest mishap. Once he had had time to gain a little experience here at the front I felt sure that he would have done very well. Julian and Oliver and I might have had some great Boche hunting expeditions together if luck had not broken so against them. I am glad to say that M arrived here the day after Oliver was lost, so I am not left the only American in the escadrille.
Finding Oliver's Grave
Letter of Charles J. Biddle
November 18, 1917
I have been thinking a good deal about Oliver lately, and I am sorry that I shall have to be again the sender of bad tidings to his father, for last Thursday I found his grave. I told you in one of my letters not long ago about a couple of the Frenchmen in our escadrille having been brought down; one was named Jolivet and the other Dron (Dron Gaston 14 oktober 1917, from Merkem in north Belgium); you have pictures of them both, and I remember I sent you one of Dron, with a cigarette in his mouth and a little puppy in his arms. Captain Deullin went up to the lines some time ago to see if he could find where they had fallen, and when he came back reported that he had found the graves of both. He had not told me that he was going, for I should certainly have asked to go with him; he reported, to my surprise, that he had found the grave of Jolivet in almost exactly the same spot where I thought Oliver had fallen.
[Langewaede was liberated by the French troops on October 26 and 27.] Thursday the whole escadrille went up behind the lines to arrange the graves of the two Frenchmen. I was glad to go and also glad of the opportunity at last to look personally for some trace of Oliver. When we arrived at what the captain thought was the grave of Jolivet, lying scattered about it were the fragments of a shattered plane. I at once searched for a number, and soon found what I was looking for, 1429, almost obliterated by the rains of the past three months. That was the number of Oliver's machine, and in the midst of the wreckage was a rough grave; at its head a wooden cross that someone had made by nailing two pieces of board together, and on the cross written with an indelible pencil, "Ici repose un aviateur inconnu." (Here lies an unknown aviator.)
All around the grave were a mass of shell-holes filled with water and the other decorations of a modern battlefield. I tried to describe to you before what it is like, and this was but a repetition of the rest, that is, at least in this sector. A flat, low country torn almost beyond recognition by the shells; here and there the dead shattered trees sticking up from the mud and water; occasionally a dead horse, and everywhere quantities of tangled barbed wire and cast-off material. Just beyond the grave was the German first line before the attack on August 16. It is marked by a row of half-wrecked concrete shelters, "pill-boxes," the English call them.
Just beyond this is a village, but I stood on what had been the main street and did not know that there had been a village there until the captain showed it to me on the map. This little town has been so completely blown to pieces and churned into the mud that there is literally nothing left to distinguish it from the surrounding country. Not even a foundation stone is left standing.
The grave is only about 1500 yards from our first lines and not far in front of the heavy artillery. I have marked it exactly on a map, and there can be no doubt whatever that this is where Oliver is buried. Although scattered and still further broken by the weather, the wreck of the machine is recognizable as the same as that shown in the picture taken by the priest; the same broken roof of a house in the foreground, and in the distance the same sticks and splintered trees.
I am having a plate engraved by one of our mechanics who was an engraver before the war; on it will be, "Oliver Moulton Chadwick, of Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S., a Pilot in the French Aviation, born September 23rd, 1888; enlisted January 22nd, 1917; killed in action August 14th, 1917." This will show that he was an American pilot in the French service, enlisted as a volunteer before America entered the war. I think the simpler such things are, the better. Around the grave now is a little black wooden railing, which we put there, and a neat oaken cross; on the cross a bronze palm, with the inscription, "Mort pour la patrie."
The captain and I are going back soon to put the plate on the cross and I have bought a little French flag and an American one, for I think Oliver would like this. Also, I thought I would try and get a few flowers. The spot should be a peaceful one after the war, for it will take years to make anything out of that country again. Just at present there is a great deal of artillery close behind; the roar of the guns was almost incessant when we were there and a stream of shells went whining overhead on the way to the German lines.
Memories of Oliver Chadwick
Charles J. Biddle
I wish you could have known Oliver Chadwick, as I am sure he would have appealed to you as he did to me. He was the kind of a man that it takes generations to make and then you only get them once in a thousand times. A man with a great deal of brains, he was also a very hard worker and had learned much about aviation and had made himself the best pilot I have ever seen for one of his experience.
He was one of the very few I have met over here who came over long before America entered the war, simply because he felt it was his duty to fight for what he knew was right. That was why he was fighting and what he was fully prepared to die for. His ideals were of the highest and he was morally the cleanest man I have ever known. Physically he had always been a splendid athlete and was a particularly fine specimen. Absolutely fearless and using his brains every minute, if he had only had a chance to really get started and to gain a little experience, he should have developed into the best of them all. The Boche that got him certainly did a good job from their point of view, for if he had lived long enough to become really proficient, they would have known it to their sorrow, and I doubt if they would ever have gotten him.
We were in the Law School together, but I never saw much of him there, as we lived far apart and had a different set of friends. Since I came over here, however, and went to the aviation schools, we had been almost constantly together. We had lived together, eaten together, flown together, and planned all our work together. Always a gentleman and thinking of the other fellow, he was the most congenial man to me that I had ever known. I had come to regard him as my best friend, and it is astonishing how well you can get to know one with whom you work in this business, whom you often rely on for your life and who you know relies on you in the same way.
There is nothing I would not have done for Oliver Chadwick and I know he would have done the same for me. He was the finest man of his age that it has ever been my good fortune to meet and was my idea of what a gentleman should be. I am very glad to have known him, and I think it did me a great deal of good. When a man of this rare stamp goes down almost unnoticed, it seems, it makes one appreciate what this war means. To me, personally, his death naturally leaves a pretty big hole, but I am glad that if he had to die, he died fighting, as he wanted to. I know he himself never expected to survive the war, but his only fear was that he might be killed in some miserable accident.
He was a great favorite with all the instructors, both because of his amiability and because they could not help but admire his skill and his fearlessness. The Commander here regarded him as one of the most courageous men he had ever had, which is saying a great deal in this organization.
One of the officers tried to tell me that Oliver should not have left his patrol and gone to help out the other machine. I think he did exactly what he should have done. He could not well stand by when he saw a comrade in trouble and leave him to shift for himself. What one admires in a man more than anything else is this doing [what is necessary] regardless of the consequences to himself, and this was Oliver all over. As soon as I heard what had happened, I felt that it was he. My great regret is that I could not have been on the same patrol, as we usually stuck pretty close together and might have been able to help one another out.”
For more on the writings of Charles Biddle about the Great War, see his book The Way of the Eagle, 1919.
Honors for Oliver
January 1918, July 1919
Oliver Chadwick's memory was honored in January 1918, by the award of the War Medal of the Aero Club of America, "in recognition of valor and distinguished service." See the New York Times report here.
In July 1919, the Croix de Guerre with a silver star indicating his citation for bravery in the Army Orders of the Division Aerienne, was presented in person to Chadwick's father by Baron d'Estournelles de Constant, on behalf of the French Minister of War. The citation read, in rough translation:
Memorial from French Senator
To President of Columbia University
Paul Henri Benjamin Balluet d'Estournelles de Constant, Baron de Constant Derebecque, also known as the Baron d'Estournelles de Constant,a Senator of France, wrote to Nicholas Murray Butler, of Columbia University, concerning the devotion and loyalty of Chadwick. The reason that the senator wrote to Butler is unclear. So far as is known, Oliver Chadwick had no connection to Columbia. The French senator had won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1909. Butler won it in 1931, sharing it with Jane Addams of Hull House in Chicago. The senator wrote about Oliver Chadwick:
"He has literally flown to the defense of liberty, and might be likened to a young god. The letters which he wrote me filled me at the same time with admiration and anxiety, for he had but one thought. He was intensely eager to devote himself to the service at the earliest possible hour. I have often thought that he was one of those whom we describe as too good for this earth.
"When I consider such a loss, the only consolation which I find is that self-sacrifice such as that of Chadwick bears more beautiful fruit perhaps after death than during life. Such beautiful generosity awakens in souls still undeveloped unexpected inspirations and a desire to emulate. The heroic devotion of a single person is sufficient to animate suddenly the indifference of a crowd, of an army, of a nation, of a world. And then all humanity profits by the death of these magnificent young people, apparently wasted, but in reality most fruitful."
MEMOIR OF JAMES PARKER LONG (Harvard 1911)
Brother-in-law of Oliver Chadwick
Husband of Frances Chadwick Long
Oliver Chadwick and James Parker Long were classmates at Phillips-Exeter Academy and at Harvard. Oliver apparently arranged a meeting between his sister, Frances Chadwick, and James Long, and time Frances and James Long were married.
I became acquainted with Oliver Chadwick in my upper middle year at Phillips-Exeter Academy. The occasion of our meeting was characteristic of his viewpoint in several ways. I was trying for the track team in the high jump and not making very good success of it. In fact the coaches were leaving me alone, and I was plugging away by myself in the Gym, which was generally empty at that time of year.
One day Oliver came in while I was working and gave me a smile, and the first kind words I had had on my track aspirations. He gave me some suggestions on modifying my form which were practical, told me about certain men who failed to make their preparatory school teams and proved valuable men at college, heard my boast that I had jumped 5 feet a few days before without telling me that he could jump 5 feet 6 inches, and had been Lowell High School's high jumper the year before, and left me with a pleasantly stimulated feeling. That is what he always did. He was interested in the stranger, not only enough to listen to him, but enough to study him and his work. His mental caliber was such that he could see those needs and his interest was such that he was anxious to help fill them. And his modesty was such that he never told about his own successes.
We drifted together off and on at Exeter, never getting very intimate but growing gradually closer together. ... At Harvard we became very close friends, rooming together our last three years, and we might as well have roomed together our first, as we spent all our waking hours together. Oliver got me into the Fencing Club. . . . This practically furnished our club experience. We both of us received the usual invitations and did join one or two clubs, but we did it more because it was the proper thing to do and did not use them.
During the fall of our freshman year we commenced going to Lowell for over Sunday with the Chadwicks. This custom continued practically without interruption during the rest of our college course. I don't believe that there was anything Oliver enjoyed so much as those visits to his family. He didn't say or do much — in fact, he generally took a book and read or studied if we weren't driving in the car, but I have known him repeatedly to pass up invitations and amusements of one sort or another which one would suppose would appeal to him especially, to go up and sit there with hardly a word.
And so it was, with his family occupying the larger part of his mind, that he checked everything by comparing with his family or with what his family would think of such a thing. Of a certain invitation to visit a family where there were two daughters and which I told him he ought to accept, he said, "Wouldn't you rather go to Lowell and play around with Frances" (Frances being his sister). When I said "Yes," he said, "So would I." I believe that was one thing which kept him so fine. The thought was constantly before him "What would Father, Mother, or Frances think of that?" So it is small wonder that during all my acquaintance with him I never knew him to do a small or beastly thing. . . .
We led a care-free, happy life — competed in athletics some, saw our share of shows in Boston, and incidentally picked up the rudiments of an education. Oliver's viewpoint on athletics was essentially sane. They were there for him, not he for them. He spread himself so thin over all branches of sport that he is not remembered as an athlete, although I should not be surprised if he should be recalled as one of the greatest of them all. In football he was a really brilliant kicker, with good nerve, and an ability to get them off from any angle. His mother objected to varsity football, so he played on the class teams and on the Varsity Soccer Team.
He was picked as the greatest college goalie his first year on the hockey team and some of the leading sporting writers afterward placed him above the goaltenders of all time. He could give a creditable performance in any event, but the sprints on a track team have repeatedly turned in scores in the all-arounds with Bill Quinn, the field coach, which bettered the year's winning score. He has gone through to the fifth round of a national tennis championship without practice. The one summer he played golf he was defeated in an extra hole match for his club championship by H. H. Wilder, the scratch man for Massachusetts that year. Add to that the fact that he was a clever wrestler and a hard-hitting boxer — a dead shot with rifle or shotgun — that he was a man who never was rattled or excited in competition in his life, and you have the makings of a wonderful athlete. The glory of achievement was a minor matter to him. It was the competition he was interested in. If he could get a first place by confining his activities to one event, or four thirds by competing in six he would take the thirds every time.
In our room we had competitions "to burn" — wrestling, boxing, standing high jumps, shooting sparrows with an air-gun, various card games, notably California Jack, and what has since turned out in an extremely unforeseen way — the manufacture of paper gliders after the shape of airplanes. For a long time — over a year, I believe — we made model after model till finally my interest fell away and I stopped making them. But right up until he sailed for France, Oliver kept at it, and I have one here now which we found after his last visit just before he went to Newport News.
I stayed with him pretty well on most of his running, but I can't say it was fun to me to go out and run ten or twelve miles in the middle of the night, and when, as he frequently did, he would come in from the theatre and invite me to walk up to Lowell for breakfast, I would let him go without me.
In his studies it was the same, he spread his courses over as broad a surface as possible. He once claimed that he and I had taken every "1" and "A" course in College. Be that as it may, he was a quick student, and if the course he was taking appealed to him he did a great deal of outside reading on the subject, sometimes ending up far away from the matter at hand. For instance, the English instructor who made some remarks about Christian Science in the course of a lecture touching on some required reading in the Bible little knew that he started a two months' session on “Science and Health" which ended up in a thesis which exploded a congregation of Christian Scientists in a western city, and sent most of them back to the more orthodox folds.
Oliver learned shorthand and kept very full and complete notes of all his lectures. His set of notebooks is very beautiful, but does not mean anything to me. I believe that his favorite courses were those which Professor Kittredge gave, and if I remember correctly Oliver had a course with him each of his last three years. As a consequence he became well acquainted with Shakespeare and used to read him a great deal. Two other courses which he enjoyed were an elementary psychology course and a course in accounting by Cole.
I left College in January of my senior year and did not see Oliver very much after that -- I believe not more than five times, when I graduated, when he acted as best man for me when I married his sister [Frances Chadwick], and on three short visits to me here on the farm.
About the most noteworthy thing about Oliver was his power of rising to the occasion. He was never found lacking in a tight place, and he was never so dangerous as when you thought you had him beaten. In his last race at Exeter he ran the high hurdles against John Kilpatrick of Andover interscholastic, a man of great ability. Oliver had run against him six or eight times and had always been defeated, In this meet Exeter, needed a first or a tie for first to win and Oliver ran Kilpatrick a dead heat in 2/5 of a second faster time than he had ever run before.
In hockey, if the Harvard team were way ahead it seemed fairly easy to get a goal by Oliver; but in a tight game — as for instance in one McGill University game where Oliver stopped over 60 shots for one score — he would do wonders. This was due in part to his nerve. As Bill Quinn once said, "He has the cold gray nerve." He never got rattled, and seemed to think best under pressure. That was why he could do things like passing off Advanced French for Harvard when his instructor didn't think him worthy of recommendation for the elementary examination. He wasn't flurried and was able to make everything count for him. But another element which entered into it was his habit of completely mastering whatever he took up. When his father bought a car, Oliver went into the shop and saw one put together. He got books and mastered the theory and then he took the car apart down to the last burr and put it together again. As a result, when anything happened on the road he was in no danger of getting excited and would be able to pay strict attention to the business in hand.
When engaging in a new sport, he went about it in the same way — he got right back to fundamentals and as a result he knew the whole thing from the beginning. That is why he made a good coach. He knew how and why to do it and he could say it. Knowing a thing perfectly he was able to do the act instinctively and in a pinch he did not have to think about what he was doing, but could just try.
Furthermore, he was always fit. He never had to train because that was the life he lived. I have never known a man who so instinctively enjoyed the right thing as he did. Consequently, neither his body nor his mind had ever been abused and they were his servants, not he theirs. Whether on a 16 pound hammer or some delicate adjustment in a physics experiment his touch was sure and unfaltering.
With all this great natural ability and self-respect, which includes pride of family, he was most democratic. I know that the thought never occurred to him "How much money has so and so?" The question was always “What sort of a fellow is he?" If he did not like a person, no matter how successful or prominent that person might be, he was made to understand clearly just where he stood — that is, if he tried to press the acquaintance; if not, Oliver could say "How d'y do" and pass by as pleasantly as anybody. I recall one man — one of the most popular in school and later a class officer who cut Oliver religiously whenever they passed. Oliver always spoke to him. When I remonstrated he said, "I consider it a recommendation of my character. It makes me proud to be cut by a skunk like him." I never knew what the slight was over.
Whenever an honor did come his way it always took him by surprise. When he was awarded the Yale Cup at Exeter for the man who best combines proficiency in athletics with excellence in studies, he was the most astonished man in the room. Whenever something complimentary was said about him he always turned it off to someone else or seemed to apologize for being in the way. This unassuming way held him back, so that he was not appreciated until his last year and his course at law.
It is difficult to write concerning one who has held the central place in your affection for so long and is lost so suddenly. I can only say that I am overjoyed at being permitted to pay tribute to one who has always been my ideal of Christian gentleman and true sportsman.
In honor of Oliver, a camp for young people was created in 1925. Operated by the camping committee of the newly formed Greater Lowell Council, the camp was first located in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and moved in 1926 to Dunstable.
In addition to the letters of Oliver Chadwick and Charles Biddle, and other sources cited in this text, readers may be interested in these texts:
Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany, M. A. De Wolfe Howe, 1921, provided by Harvard University to Piet Steen of Belgium
New England Aviators 1914-1918: Their Portraits and Their Records, Volume 1, pages 10-13, Caroline Tieknor, editor
The Way of the Eagle, Charles J. Biddle, 1919. See the text in this link, especially the section on Escadrille N. 73, beginning on page 39.
Harvard College Class of 1911, Seventh Report, June 1936
Special thanks to Piet Steen of Langemark-Poelkapelle, Belgium, secretary of the Guynemercomite of Poelkapelle, for his research, photographs and advice.
Clarence Ray Long
Children of Clarence and Odie Long
Samuel W. Long
Samuel Parker Long
Miscy / Misey Family of Milwaukee
Neil Boyer's Family History Page
Comments and corrections to this report are welcome.
Please contact Neil Boyer at
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