In 1942, a quiet man, a devoted husband, a father of two, and a supervisor who was keeping the New York City Transit (Subway) System moving along well, registered for World War II. He was 48 years of age, so the chances of him actually being called to action were pretty slim, even though this is after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He returned to his job later that day, after filling out his paperwork. This seems pretty usual for the time period, even for a quiet, working man that had petitioned for his naturalization just one year before, wanting to be an American citizen instead of his being an English subject.
His closest friends in the United States, and that would include his own children, knew little of the man's life before his sea trip across the Atlantic. More to the point, they knew little of his work in World War I. During my search into my family history, I came across information that completely changed the way I saw my grandpa. First of all, serving the Royal Army Medical Corps, UK, he was a stretcher bearer, or medic. When I trained for the US Army, I trained as a medic and x-ray technician. My training as a medic happened after I found out about his service to the War. What I found out was certainly unexpected, not because of the man, but because of his quietness.
In January 1915, Thomas B. Connolly entered the RAMCTF (Trench Force) as a private with the 22 Northumbrian Field Ambulance. It was in WWI that the UK decided to keep men from the same area together as to have an automatic comradeship, and they were right. The 22nd was attached to the 7th Division. According to the Great War historian, Cyril Falls, the 7th Division was "One of the greatest fighting formations Britain ever put into the field." They were sent to the front of Ypres, Belgium, a place where trench warfare was the death of too many men. It was where you could receive a package from home and have laugh now and then; and that night you or your mate could be dead. if it wasn't gunshots and shrapnel that Private Connolly was working on, it was helping all the men delouse. Lice were one of the worst problems for the medics and the servicemen they served. To "have a chat" was to sit with your mate and pick off the lice from each other. In April of 1915, the Germans rained down chlorine gas on the allies troops. Somehow it takes the romance and glory out of the old Great War.
My grandfather spent five years in the service of Queen and country. He never attained higher than the rank of Private, but won several medals including for Bravery in the Field with two stars. He never took them out to show, never spoke about what he went through, never used it as an excuse for any entitlement or misbehavior. He even made sure he registered with his new country when "the war to end all wars" turned out to be just another in a long line. He was a beautiful, fun, gentle man; and I had great respect for him before I knew about his war time escapades. Now, I have even more respect; first for his service, and second for his being such a quiet man regarding it.