It was my intention to transcribe all of Harry Buzzell's letters that were sent home to Colby, Maine.  The letters were found in three small stationery boxes in Stella Buzzell's house after her death  and came to me on October 14, 2001.  As much as possible, I tried to follow the original spellings, grammar, and text of the letters as Harry wrote them.

Jean Buzzell Duncan, great-niece


Harry worked in Springfield, Massachusetts in the late fall of 1914 and then went to Florida January 1915.  He apparently returned home in February 1915 and then left again for Springfield in December.  He was in Florida again for February and March of 1916 and probably back to Maine in April 1916.  He then went to Connecticut in December 1916 and stayed through February of 1917.

He was drafted and reported to Fort Devens, Massachusetts in October 1917.  By the end of that month he was at Camp Gordon in Atlanta, Georgia where he remained until he was shipped overseas to England by June 1918.  By the first part of July he was in France where he remained until he was killed on October 21, 1918.

Finding the Letters

Harry Irving Buzzell sent many letters home to his mother and siblings in Colby Siding in the small Aroostook County town of Woodland, Maine.  Harry wrote at least sixty letters from 1914 to 1918 from various locations. His mother, Mary Olive Thomas Buzzell, saved the letters that her son sent home.   My great aunt Stella Buzzell lived on the original family homestead and kept the letters safe after her mother-in-law’s death in 1928.  Over eighty years later, the letters were found in three small stationary boxes in Stella’s house after she died in 2000.

Harry’s letters came to me in the fall of 2001.  I decided to transcribe the letters on my computer at home. It seemed important to keep all of the original spellings and grammar as much as possible.  Some of the handwriting was very difficult to decipher.

The first step was to put the letters in chronological order.  Most of the letters were in very good condition and many were in the original envelopes.  I put the original letters and envelopes in sheet protectors in a notebook.

Summary of the Letters

Harry Irving Buzzell was born in Woodland, Maine on November 20, 1893, the fifth child of Mary Thomas and Colby Buzzell.  There were eleven children altogether, seven boys and four girls.  My grandfather Chester was the youngest, born in 1905 and only eleven years old when his brother Harry died at the end of World War I in France.

Harry grew up on the family farm on what is known locally as “Buzzell Hill,” just west of the current Colby Baptist Church on the Woodland Center Road.  His father Colby was just sixteen when he arrived in Woodland with his father George and the rest of the family in 1879 to take up residence on lot number 53.

Harry probably attended the Pratt School, a one room elementary school at the end of the Colby Siding Road.  There was no high school in Woodland so Harry probably boarded with his cousins, the Spooners, in Caribou during the week so he could go to high school and then traveled home on the Aroostook Valley Railroad for the weekend. The story is told that Harry was sickly and unable to work hard on the family farm and so he worked in an office or store in town.  Even so, he was able to pass the physical examination when he was drafted to join the army.  Before he left for the, he is said to have told his cousin Freda Spooner that she should use his savings account to go to Normal School to become a teacher.

Before he was drafted, Harry worked in Springfield, Massachusetts in the late fall of 1914 and then went to Florida January 1915.  He apparently returned home in February 1915 and then left again for Springfield in December 1915.  He was in Florida again for February and March of 1916 and probably back to Maine in April 1916.  He then went to Connecticut in December 1916 and stayed through February of 1917.

He was drafted and reported to Fort Devens, Massachusetts in October 1917.  By the end of that month he was at Camp Gordon in Atlanta, Georgia where he remained until he was shipped overseas to England by June 1918.  By the first part of July he was in France where he remained until he was killed on October 21, 1918.

Harry was 21 years old when the first letter was written in 1914 and  24 years of age when he wrote the last letter just two days before he died in 1918.

The first twenty letters, written before he was drafted into the army, were written from several locations:  Springfield, Massachusetts where he worked as a clerk; from Orlando and Pinecastle, Florida where he worked in the fruit groves and in a box mill making celery crates; and from Hartford, Connecticut where he attended the Hartford Auto School.  The other forty letters were written after Harry was drafted into the army during World War I.  They were written from Fort Devens, Massachusetts; Camp Gordon and Black Jack in Atlanta, Georgia; and England and France.

Some Impressions

Each time I read the letters, I learn new things that are important to me about Harry’s world.  In one early letter, he talks about his job “firing line cars” and how he did not like doing this.  He rode on the train car loaded with potatoes and had to keep a fire going in the wood stove so the potatoes wouldn’t freeze.

He writes about visiting with his Connecticut cousins and spending Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with them.  Uncle Fred Buzzell was a brother to Harry’s father, Colby Buzzell, and had a family of seven girls.

Harry begins his letters with “Dear Mother” and frequently ends with “Your ever loving son Harry Buzzell.” He often asks about the farm at home in Woodland and the many close and extended family members.  At one point he asks for his family picture to be sent to him.  He tells about the church services he attends and asks for news of the Colby Siding Baptist church at home.  He makes comments about many of the local people his mother must have given him news about in her letters.  He philosophizes about the war and his fears and hopes for the future.  He tells about his daily routines, the food and clothes in the army, and his homesickness and his wish for a furlow.   He tells his mother not to worry about him.  He hopes his brothers won’t end up in the war.

There is an on-going discussion about the money that he apparently sends home to be used by the family and for the church.

While in the army, he describes going on a hike for five miles and then having to shovel gravel.  In the autumn when he first arrives at the army camp, there is no heat in the barracks, no hot water to shave with, and only a straw tick he had to make himself for a mattress to go on the iron frame bed.

The six letters that Harry sent home from overseas during the war have the mark and signature of the army censors.  These letters seem to hold back a lot, both in tone and in information.

Harry was killed at age 24 on October 20, 1918.  The armistice ending the war came just 22 days later.  He was buried in France.  His last letter was written October 18, two days before his death.  The last letter was not even postmarked until October 23 and certainly would not have arrived in his mother’s mail until much later.

He was a member of 321 Field Artillery Battalion D and is buried at #10 grave in Apermont Cemetery, France.  A memorial marker is located at Evergreen Cemetery in Caribou, Maine.

Excerpts From Harry’s Letters

(I have changed the grammar and spelling to make for easier reading.)

Inquiry about his older brother Ralph Buzzell’s animals, January 23, 1915, from Orlando, Florida, in letter written to Mother

How are all the folks up there now? I am sorry there is so much sickness. I hope this finds you all well.  Is Ralph working as hard as ever?   He wants to take care of himself.  Are his colt and cows and pigs doing well this winter?  I wrote him a letter sometime ago, but haven’t heard from him. I hope his colt and all the rest are doing well.

Ralph Colby Buzzell (second child) was born in Woodland, Maine on February 5, 1888.  He married Bessie L. Wiggins (born January 30, 1892) on June 18, 1913.  He was a Woodland potato farmer and probably the largest potato shipper in Aroostook County, shipping from about fifteen different locations.  He also sold fertilizer from an office in downtown Caribou, working with his wife Bessie in the business. He was active in the affairs of the United Baptist Church in Caribou.  Ralph died on March 16, 1984 at 96 years of age, his wife having pre-deceased him on September 11, 1976 at 84 years.  They lived in Caribou after their retirement.  They had six children.

Lawn party at home in Colby, January 23, 1915, from Orlando, Florida, letter written to younger sister Sadie Buzzell

I helped a man put on fertilizer and ashes in grove last week. He harrowed it till it was like a garden.  He only had about 8 acres and he keeps that looking great.  It is raining as hard as it can pour, warm as you please, just comes down as easy as it does when we want to have a social up in Maine, especially a lawn party.

Sadie Alice Buzzell, the sixth child, was born on June 16, 1895 in Woodland.  She was a Caribou High School Junior Class Exhibition speaker on Thursday April 9, 1914 with the selection “Cutting from ‘Evangeline’” (as evidenced by the program found in the same box with Harry Buzzell’s letters home).  Sadie kept up regular correspondence with her brother.  She was the closest sibling in age to Harry, about a year and a half younger.  One of the letters is addressed directly to her and tells about her future husband Mark and what things were like in Florida. From the letters, it seems that Sadie was an ardent gardener and enjoyed the birds greatly.  She married Mark H. Randall (April 18, 1892-March 13, 1977) who was a farmer and also worked in the woods.  They lived on Violette Road, Caribou and later in St. Albions, Maine.  They had two sons.  Sadie died on May 13, 1972 at age 77 years.

Eclipse of the sun, older married sister Fannie Buzzell, February 6, 1916, from Orlando, Florida, letter to Mother

How are the pigs and all the stock?  Have the boys had the colts hitched up yet?

Did you see the eclipse of the sun last week?   The women did but Mr. Philbrick and I were so busy we didn’t have time.

Do the boys get their dinners up to Fannies this winter?

Aunt Hatty is lost without an almanac.  Have you any kicking around?

The first-born child of Colby and Mary Buzzell was a daughter, Fanny Mae (May), born March 14, 1886 in Woodland.  She married Fred Jacobs (May 1886-May 15, 1928) on November 3,1909 and had four daughters and one son. Fanny lived with her daughter in later years and died on September 19,1979.  There are several references to Fannie in Harry’s letters home:  about the boys getting their dinner up at Fannie’s, about hoping her baby (Virginia) is better, about sending his picture home for Fannie, and hoping Fannie has a good trip and that Vergie’s  (Virginia’s) eyes are better.

Dreaming about the farm at home, February 13, 1916, from Pinecastle, Florida, letter to Mother

I dreamed I was home last night and I thought it was spring.  We were putting in the crops and it seemed as if Papa had sold all the horses and bought mules and we were having some time.  How is Myra this winter?  Does the school work seem hard for her?  Do the kids go on the car this winter or do they board?

Myra Sampson Buzzell was born on March 23, 1899 (eighth-born) in Woodland and married Heman Learnard on November 14, 1917, living most of her life in the state of Washington.  They had three children. She died May 2, 1971 in Spokane, Washington at age 71 years and is buried in Perham, Maine. Harry Buzzell’s letters home make several references to Myra:  wondering if the school work is too hard, problems with her eyes, going into the woods to cook for the crew, getting along with Heman Learnard and his parents, and her new first baby boy.

(The car was the Aroostook Valley Railroad, an electric trolley that provided transportation from Colby to Caribou..)

Auto School, January 2, 1917, from Hartford, Connecticut, letter to Mother

I thought I could go to work in the factory and to school two nights a week, but as I got through in the factory, I am giving all my time to the school.  I guess it will be better this way.  I can get rested and go to school.  It is called the Hartford Auto School.  I like it so far.  It is going to cost me quite a bit, but I think it is what I want, repair and driving cars combined.  The repair is practical work on cars so when I get through I can either drive or repair.  I find the best jobs and best pay is driving and a fellow isn’t much good if he cant drive if necessary.

Harry’s first reference to the war, February 11, 1917, from Hartford, Connecticut, letter to Mother

The people all talk war but hope for peace. . .  A fellow has go to know who he is talking with before he talks war too strong or says too much.

Army hiking November 4, 1917, from Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Georgia, letter to Mother

Some fellers fall out most every hike.   Then they are picked up in the ambulance and hauled along.   It’s quite a test, but I haven’t had to fall out yet.  They make them walk as long as they can.  If they think they are only spleeny, two officers walk beside them and make them walk.

Motor battery November 20, 1917, (Harry’s 24th birthday), from Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Georgia, letter to Mother

There is some talk again of them making this battery a motor battery.   If they do, the men in the driving will be used on the trucks.  That will be better than horses for there will be no horses to care for.

Patriotism December 9, 1917, from Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Georgia, letter to younger brother Arthur Buzzell

I am not afraid to give my life for this cause and will do my best for my country.

Let me tell you something.  You may be patriotic and support the Country and like to be a soldier, but the men that are out of the draft age are the fortunate ones, believe me.

There are a lot of lonesome days and a lot of hardships to be endured before our training is complete.  It may be a long time before we get in any actual service, but there is no place like home.  A fellow can’t get a furlow.   I understand there will be no furlows for Christmas in this Battery.  Don’t be misled by patriotic speakers, but stay where you are as long as you can and enjoy the love of home and company.

Arthur George Buzzell was born March 25, 1897 (seventh born) in Woodland and married Hazel Randall (21 May 1899-25 Feb 1992) on September 1,1920.  They had two daughters. After serving in World War I and working on the farm, Arthur was a rural mail carrier living in Caribou.  He collected bottles, loved fishing, and served as a caretaker at Baptist Park in Mapleton, Maine for many summers.  They spent winters during their retirement in St. Cloud, Florida.  He died on February 18, 1984 at age 87 years.

Philosophy and fear, April 7, 1918, from Camp Gordon, Atlanta, Georgia, letter addressed to Mother and Home Folks

Well, I am wondering what you folks think.  It is a time to be anxious and more or less excited. Boys are wondering where we are to move and how soon, if they will get a chance to go home before we go, and if we, or they, will ever come back at all.  Some look at it one way and some another.  There are so many stories going around.  It helps to confuse us.  The officers don’t tell us any  too much.  If they know or not, I can’t say.

Well, it is enough to make a feller stop and study to think.  You may not get a chance to come home and don’t know what danger you are taking which is great, you must admit.  I don’t see how some of them stand it at all. . . I know I couldn’t stand it if I didn’t have anything but this earthly life to cling to, but as you know, I have something bigger to live and fight and die for if necessary, than this present life and may I not hesitate to do His will.

Not that I do not value my life or that I do not love my folks and all the people at large, for I do. Although I never was much of a boy to show my love, but I do not think the folks understood me in many ways.  But now I am willing to fight, suffer, and die for you and them, that the world may be free and have peace that can’t be had till this war is won in the right way, which I pray may come soon.  All I am sorry for is that I ain’t a stronger and better man for Him.

Last letter October 18, 1918, from France, letter to Mother

Just a few lines to let you know I am well as ever and am thinking of you very often.  I am glad to hear you are all well and the crops are as good as could be expected.

Has Arthur gone to camp yet and what do you hear from Clyde?  The war news looks pretty good.  But you can never tell but we are all hoping it will be all over soon.

I received your letter of Sept 17 and I get the papers right along.  You mustn’t think I am sick if you don’t hear from me as often as you think you ought to for it is hard to get a base censor and envelopes.  A feller can’t ask the Officers to censor a letter when they are so busy.

I am driving just two horses and ride one of them in a saddle.  Of course, I guess the boys would think of that as a funny way to drive.

My side is fine now.  I guess it is all well again.

It has been quite muddy but not so awful bad for the time of year.

Yes, some of the boys have colds, but I don’t think there is any grip.

It is a fine habit you have of sending writing material as it is hard to get when you can use it and it is something I must have.

I am glad to hear Myra is well and I would like to see my little nephew.  I would like to write to them, but it is all I can do to let you know I am well.  The first time you see Myra tell her I will fight harder for the new nephew.  I suppose it will be hard to find a name good enough for him.

Hoping this finds you all well and happy with much love from your Soldier boy.

Harry I Buzzell

    Clyde Fred Buzzell was born February 5, 1890 (third child) and was also a potato farmer. He was one of the three sons who served in World War I. In 1919, Clyde and his brother Bill bought the home farm from their father and farmed together until Clyde married and bought his own farm.  He was married on October 26, 1926 to Rose Johnson who died in childbirth.   He never remarried after his young wife died.  Clyde died at age 65 on November 13, 1953 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Caribou.

Clyde’s middle name was for his father’s brother, Fred Buzzell, who lived in Connecticut and visited back and forth and whose daughters corresponded by postcards with Harry Buzzell.


Military Information

  1. --Member 321st Field Artillery Regiment, 82nd Infantry Division

  2. --Private in the U. S. Army

About Harry Buzzell

Born in Woodland, Maine 20 Nov 1893;

Son of Colby and Mary (Thomas) Buzzell  

Died in France in WWI on 21 Oct 1918

Buried in #10 Grave,

Apermont Cemetery, France

[Plot B Row 16 Grave 04, Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France]

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Copyright 2009 Jean B. Duncan

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