Curious about World War I memorial, woman researches the names set in stone

A WWI memorial in front of the Island County courthouse honors eight men who died in service.

Although she had walked by the World War I memorial numerous times when she still lived on Whidbey Island, Candace Nourse-Hatch didn’t know who put it there or the stories of the men on the stone monument.

Nourse-Hatch’s great-uncle, Harry Nourse from the Maxwelton area on South Whidbey, is one of the eight men from Island County who died during their military service in World War I. They are memorialized on a stone monument in front of the Island County courthouse, right across the street from Coupeville Town Hall.

Nourse-Hatch collected biographical and military service information about each of the men over the course of a year from government archives, local newspapers, obituaries and a book written about one of them.

She found that none of the men were born on Whidbey Island, but each somehow made their way to Island County.

Nourse-Hatch’s great-uncle lived with his wife and his siblings on a farm in Maxwelton just after the turn of the century. The Nourse siblings emigrated to Whidbey Island from Australia.

“They’d never even heard of Whidbey,” Nourse-Hatch said, adding that the group had been looking to settle in Canada at first and wasn’t sure how they came to the island. The farm became their family home.

When her great uncle was 37 years old, Nourse-Hatch said, he joined the Canadian Army because the United States was not yet involved in World War I.

“For some reason he decided that he had to go fight,” she said.

He said goodbye to his wife and siblings (he had no children of his own) and went to British Columbia where he enlisted in Canadian Army, British Columbia Regiment, 7th Battalion on Oct. 18, 1917.

He died about a year later on Sept. 2, 1918, after being hit by shrapnel from an enemy shell, according to Nourse-Hatch’s research. He is buried in Vimy Memorial Cemetery, Pas De Calais France.

“Uncle Harry’s loss was a very tragic event for the family because he and his wife lived right there,” with the extended family, she said. “We knew all about him. He was a real hero in the family.”

Harry Burton, Langley

Another man from Island County also fought in the Canadian Army. Harry Burton was born in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, and registered for the draft in June 1917 in Island County. He was 27 years old. Burton lived in Langley at the time.

He stated that he was an alien working as a farmer on Whidbey. He enlisted in the Canadian Army, British Columbia Regiment on Jan. 18, 1918. He sailed from Nova Scotia, Canada, to Liverpool, England, in April 1918. He was sent to France at the end of August the same year. Burton worked as a Lewis gunner. He was hit in the kidney by an enemy sniper shortly after 4 p.m. on Sept. 27, 1918, and died from his wounds, according to Nourse-Hatch’s research and records from Veterans Affairs Canada.

He is buried at Quarry Wood British Cemetery, Sains-les-Marquion, west of Cambrai, France.

The six other men were born in the United States. One served in the Navy and the remaining five served in the Army. Several of them died from pneumonia at home and abroad, and it should be noted that the 1918 Spanish Flu killed thousands of U.S. troops worldwide.

Harvey Baker, Camano Island

Harvey Baker of Camano Island was the first man in Island County to die in Europe during the war, according to an April 2, 1918, article in the Island County Times Nourse-Hatch found. He died on Jan. 14, 1918, from pneumonia in France at 23 years old. He was born in Minnesota.

Ernest Knowles, Crescent Harbor

Ernest Knowles was born in Olympia and is the only sailor on the monument. Knowles enlisted in the Navy in February 1917 and was a Seaman 2nd Class. About a year later, he died of pneumonia on Feb. 18, 1918, at Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts.

According to several news articles at the time that Nourse-Hatch found, Knowles was his parents’ only son and his mother had received only one letter from him before he died. He told her that he had bought a Liberty Bond. He had Squaxin Island Tribe ancestry through his mother, and his step-father lived in Oak Harbor, according to Nourse-Hatch’s research.

“The story of this little mother’s sacrifice and the burden she is now called upon to bear all came out yesterday, following the arrival of the body of the sailor from the United States naval station at Cheslea, Mass., where he died February 17 of pneumonia,” reads a news article in the March 1, 1918 issue of the Seattle Daily Times.

Knowles’s body was sent back to Seattle where he was buried at Calvary Cemetery.

Math. L. English, Fort Casey

Nourse-Hatch said Mathew L. English of Fort Casey was one of the most interesting men on the monument.

English was born in Georgia and was sent in 1904 to Fort Casey two years after he enlisted in the U.S. Army to join the company of men who operated the mortar batteries at the fort. He married the daughter of the owner of the Island County Times and moved to Coupeville. The two had one son. English was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in June 1917 and sent to Europe. He worked his way up and was transferred to the American Expeditionary Forces Tank Corps. He was ultimately promoted to the rank of captain in July 1918.

English was killed in action on Oct. 4, 1918, while serving in the 344th Tank Battalion, Tank Corps under Col. George Patton.

English received two Distinguished Service Crosses for his service posthumously. The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest honor for a member of the Army and is the equivalent of the Navy Cross and the Air Force Cross.

A book about English’s life was written in 2016 by Anita Burdette-Dragoo, titled “A Hero for All Time: A Decorated Soldier of World War I, Mathew L. English from Ft. Casey, Washington.”

English is also mentioned in Patton’s diary entry on Nov. 11, 1918, which can be found online on the Library of Congress website.

“Peace was signed and Langres was very excited. Many flags. Got rid of my bandage. Wrote a poem on peace. Also on Capt. English,” is scrawled inside Patton’s notebook on what would later be celebrated as Veterans Day.

English is buried in Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial in France.

Glenn E. Muzzall, San de Fuca

A familiar name to Whidbey, Glenn E. Muzzall came to the island from Michigan with his parents in the early 1900s as a farmer. San de Fuca was a small community on the north side of Penn Cove. Drivers can still see the San de Fuca schoolhouse on the drive from Oak Harbor to Coupeville.

Muzzall registered for the draft in June 1917 and was in Company A, 76th Infantry for six weeks before he died of pneumonia on Oct. 11, 1918 at Camp Lewis (which would later become Joint Base Lewis-McChord). He is buried in Maple Leaf Cemetery in Oak Harbor.

“Glenn Muzzall was loved by all those who knew him here. He was kind and genial, a good companion and friend amongst his associates,” according to an obituary for the 26-year-old in the Oct. 18, 1918 issue of the Oak Harbor News.

George B. Morris, Smith’s Prairie

George Byron Morris was born in Kansas and was 30 years old when he registered for the draft in June 1917. He was a farmer at Smith’s Prairie, just south of Coupeville, before joining the 361st Infantry Company B, 91st Division of the army.

According to Nourse-Hatch’s research, Morris was killed in September 1918 in France after being struck by shell fragments in battle. He has a grave at Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville.

Albert Vasgard – Bayview

Like Knowles and Muzzall, Albert Vasgard also died of pneumonia. He was born in South Dakota and enlisted in the Army with his brother in April 1916 at Fort Lawton, Wash. He was a corporal in Troop L, 12th Cavalry. He died Feb. 26, 1919, in New Mexico and was buried next to his sister at Bay View Cemetery in Langley, according to Nourse-Hatch’s research.

Nourse-Hatch found that Vasgard “was one of the first Island boys to enlist in the service and at the time of his death was 23 years old and had been in Mexico for some time,” according to the March 7, 1919 issue of the Island County Times.

The memorial was dedicated in 1919, but Nourse-Hatch said she doen’t know who installed it. There is no explanation on the monument, and a representative from the Island County Historical Museum also did not know.

She hopes that anyone who may know more about the men would reach out to her with their side of the story.

“I would really love for anybody who has relatives or friends who might remember these people if they could bring their own side of the story in,” she said. “These people had relatives somewhere, or people who knew them.”

George Morris of Coupeville served in the Army in WWI. Photo courtesy of Candace Nourse-Hatch

George Morris of Coupeville served in the Army in WWI. Photo courtesy of Candace Nourse-Hatch

Candace Nourse-Hatch’s great-uncle, Harry Nourse, fought with the Canadian Army in WWI. Photo courtesy of Candace Nourse-Hatch

Candace Nourse-Hatch’s great-uncle, Harry Nourse, fought with the Canadian Army in WWI. Photo courtesy of Candace Nourse-Hatch

Math. L. English lived in Coupeville before he was sent to Europe to fight with the U.S. Army in WWI. He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses for his valor after he was killed in action. Photo courtesy of Candace Nourse-Hatch

Math. L. English lived in Coupeville before he was sent to Europe to fight with the U.S. Army in WWI. He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses for his valor after he was killed in action. Photo courtesy of Candace Nourse-Hatch