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