Friday, September 23, 2011

THE FIRST AMERICAN TO DIE IN SERVICE IN WORLD WAR I - Helen Burnett Wood

Here's the story of an Evanston nurse, killed "by accident" on her way to the European front during World War I:


MILITARY RITES FOR EVANSTON NURSE PLANNED


Funeral in Chicago May Pay Last Honor to Miss Wood.

Plans for a military funeral for Miss Helen Burnett Wood, one of the two nurses of base hospital No. 12, the Northwestern university unit, who were killed by fragments of an exploding shell on board the steamship Mongolia, were set under way in Chicago yesterday.  Suggestions were made that the military honors for Miss Wood be celebrated in Chicago preceding the funeral at her home in Evanston.

William W. Buchanan, president of the Evanston Hospital association, and the Rev. D.H. Jones of the First Presbyterian church, Evanston, last night discussed plans for Miss Wood’s funeral.  They could see no objection to a military funeral, but expressed the wish to consult with members of the family.  Miss Wood’s relatives told a reporter for the Tribune that they would not object to public military services.  It is expected that Miss Wood’s body will arrive in Evanston today or tomorrow, but until definite information is received, no plans for the funeral will be decided on.

Capt. W.A. Moffett, commandant of the Great Lakes Naval Training station, was one of the first to express approval of the suggestion for a military funeral.  He said he would send the station band to participate in the service.

Mrs. James A. Patten of Evanston, a personal friend of Miss Wood, made the young nurse’s death the subject of a talk at the meeting of the Service Guild of the First Methodist Episcopal church, Hinman avenue and Church street, Evanston, yesterday afternoon.  Mrs. Patten told of the life work of Miss Wood, whom she first met several months ago while a patient at the Evanston hospital.  At that time Mrs. Patten was suffering tonsillitis and Miss Wood was her nurse.  A strong friendship sprang up between the wife of the millionaire wheat operator and the nurse.

Mrs. Patten was so affected by the death of Miss Wood that she refused to allow newspaper men in the church hall at the time she spoke.

The three nurses left Chicago Wednesday evening as members of base hospital No. 12, the Northwestern university hospital unit under the command of Maj. Fred A. Besley.  The unit, comprising twenty-three physicians, sixty-five trained nurse, and 153 enlisted men, sailed from New York Saturday and was the first to be dispatched to the front from the United States.


Miss Wood was the second of her family to die in the war.  One of her brothers, William, enlisting in Scotland, was killed in the Dardanelles campaign.  Another brother, James, was badly injured in France.

Two sisters, the Misses Anna and Jeanette Wood live in Evanston with Mr. and Mrs. James Hall, 2044 Sheridan road.  A great aunt, Mrs. Mary B. Miller, lives at 1578 Sherman avenue, Evanston.  All were nearly crazed by the news of Miss Wood’s death.  Miss Wood’s parents live in Effelburg, Scotland, and her mother recently sent her a letter protesting against her taking the trip.


She was observing her twenty-eighth birthday anniversary last Wednesday when she was notified by telephone that she had been accepted as a member of the unit and had only five hours in which to prepare.

Two letters from her were received by her sisters after she reached New York, one mailed the day she arrived and the other after she had embarked.  Both were written in a happy vein and she assured her sisters she was unafraid of the trip.


Miss Wood was graduated from the Evanston hospital in 1914 ad was a nurse in the same institution when called for service.

Exact details of the accident are meager, as Washington has closed down tonight on the matter until an investigation discloses the true facts.

Dr. A.B. Kanavel, 30 North Michigan avenue, was notified of the accident yesterday afternoon by the New York chapter of the American Red Cross, which sent him the following telegram:

“Unavoidable accident during target practice with stern gun on steamship carrying base hospital No. 12 resulted in death of Mrs. Edith Ayres and Miss Helen Burnett Wood.  Miss Emma Matzen not injured dangerously.  Nurses were seated on upper deck 200 feet away from gun.  No one else injured in any way.”
Chicago Daily Tribune – May 22, 1917

Helen Burnett Wood is buried in Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois. May she rest in peace.


Helen Burnett Wood


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