WWI Profile: Susan Adkins Williams 1879-1938

Susan Adkins Williams
Southport, Brunswick County, NC
Navy Nurse

Served:
June 27, 1917 – March 8, 1919
Overseas:
September 12, 1917 – November 11, 1918

 U.S. Navy. Base Hospital No.1, Brest, France: Personnel- Nurses
Digital Collections at US National Library of Medicine

 

Susie Williams was born and raised in Southport, Brunswick County, NC. Her father, mother, step-mother, and three siblings are buried in Old Smithville Cemetery in Southport. Susie and her remaining four siblings eventually moved to New York and New Jersey, living together at times. Only two sisters out of eight siblings married and had children, none of which remained in Southport. Their gravesites are unknown.

Susie attended Long Island College Nursing Hospital sometime between 1905, when the NY Census listed her occupation as forewoman, and 1910, when the US Census listed her as a private nurse.

This poster may have inspired Nurse Williams to offer her services to the Navy on June 27, 1917. (The British and French governments requested that only graduate nurses be sent overseas.) Nurses served without rank or commission and were not trained as soldiers, which was modified after the war, perhaps due to these women’s extraordinary service and bravery.

September 1917, Nurse Williams boarded the U.S.S. Henderson to serve at the first base hospital the Red Cross organized for the Navy, Navy Base Hospital No. 1, in Brest, France. Chief nurse Francis Van Ingen was given the task of staffing. Her account can be found starting on page 734 of History of American Red Cross Nursing.  Some excerpts follow, describing Nurse Van Ingen’s efforts beginning September 11, 1917, accomplishing an amazing feat in six days.  (Susan Williams was one of the forty nurses described below, the first group of nurses sent overseas.)

At noon on September 11th, while I was stationed at the United States Navy Hospital, Brooklyn, the commanding officer told me to have forty nurses ready to sail for France in two days. It’s still hazy in my mind just what did happen during those two days. Kind people helped me ‘phone, others loaned their automobiles or ran errands themselves, the Red Cross stretched forth its mighty arm and the full equipment, including the uniforms, appeared. On September 14, 1917, the unit left Grand Central Station. It was early enough in the war for our uniforms to be new to the public. A regular officer of the Navy, Dr. L. S. Von Wedikind, with Dr. Vickery, took charge of the unit. Our destination was the Navy Yard at Philadelphia and we walked from the train to the U.S.S. Henderson. It was the first time officers and crew had ever had women traveling with them and the nurses found things as interesting as the crew found us.

The following Sunday evening, the Sixth Division of Marines came aboard, about 1500 men under Major Hughes. Comparatively few of this division lived to come back. Two thirds of the officers were killed. After the Armistice Colonel Hughes passed through our hospital on crutches on his way back to the United States, a mere shadow of his former vigorous self.

Monday morning [September 17, 1917] we slipped from our moorings out between the men-o’-war.

In our convoy was the Cruiser San Diego [later sunk by a German submarine], with its great observation balloon which was up most of the time; two destroyers; a tanker; and two transports, the Finland and the Antilles, which was sunk on her return trip.

Van Ingen gives a detailed story of the grueling experience at the base hospital with its inefficient heat, water supplies and cesspool; numerous mice, rats, maggots, and flies; and unsanitary operating conditions. The main building of the hospital was 4 stories, requiring multiple flights of carrying stretchers, food, water, coal, and excrement. She also writes of serving in field hospitals at the front lines and experiencing gas attacks.

Back in Southport, NC, on November 18, 1917, The Wilmington Dispatch published the following account of a meeting of the Southport Civic Club.

At the same meeting a Christmas box was packed to be sent to Miss Susie Williams, a Southport girl, who is a Red Cross nurse in France. She went with a Red Cross unit from New York. She writes that she wants to know of any Brunswick county boys who may be sent to France so she may look after them with particular interest and care.

Some entries of note in the account from Van Ingen, given that the majority of the casualties of the war were from disease, were her descriptions of the transport ships from America. In December 1917, Van Ingen writes:

Our most serious cases were the measles and meningitis, especially the measles cases coming from the transports. The transporting of them from the ships to the hospital proved fatal to many. They were carried from the ship to the lighter, from the lighter to the dock, from the dock to ambulance, from ambulance to hospital. It sometimes took from six to eight hours to accomplish this. At this time these lighters were uncovered boats, mere barges, so that these sick boys were exposed for hours to the cold and rain.

The following year, September 1918, was when the flu pandemic began, or as commonly called, “Spanish Flu.” (A subsequent post on the pandemic is planned, due to the many deaths of Brunswick County veterans.) Van Ingen writes:

In September we began to get the “flu” cases from the States. Men brought in off the battlefields shattered and bleeding were not as tragic to me as these that came from our own ships. Men with the pallor of death on their faces, laboring for air, yet begging for food, their lips and tongues so glued together they could hardly articulate, and before we could care for them they would be out of their agony, beyond the want of food and water. Many died on their way to hospital or as they were put on their beds. … I think we all aged with the awfulness of it, and have our nights haunted with the memories of those weeks.

The 1918 Issue of The Trained Nurse and Hospital Review reported this item from New York.

A service flag containing thirty-four stars, representing the number of members of the Long Island College Nurses’ Alumnae Association who are in the country’s service, was unfurled recently at the rooms of the association, 186 Amity Street, Brooklyn. There were a number of visitors present and the Rev. G. Ashton Oldham, pastor of St. Ann’s Presbyterian Church, made an address.

One of the nurses now in the service, Esmee Everard, has been to the front three times. The nurses represented by the stars in the flag are as follows:

Margaret Ainslee, Ruth Bentley, Caroline Ballantine, Agnes Brankin, Lulu Brady, Caroline Bradshaw, Manon Bryant, Ann Burgess, Lettie Bellinger, Mary Badger, Lelia Church, Margaret Caldwell, Margaret Enright, Esmee Everard, Lottie Grass, Florence Grand, Maude Hicks, Alice Hamilton, Isabel Holden, Helen V. Kenney, Lulu Kinsella, Elizabeth Mignon, Rose McMullen, Mildred Overton, Florentine Ryan, Helen Spaulding, Bertha Spearman, Anna Thompson, Margaret Vassie, Emma Waiss, Susan Williams, Alice Zeigler, Laura Brown, Blanche Swan, Pauline Rose.

Nurse Williams boarded the U.S.S. Leviathan on February 3, 1919, returning to America along with Chief nurse Van Ingen, who made the same trip with her to France at what must have seemed a lifetime ago. Like many other nurses, Susie returned to private nursing, perhaps assisting war veterans as many former Navy nurses did. And like many military nurses, she never married.

Susan Adkins Williams succumbed to pneumonia on February 23, 1938, and was laid to rest at Flushing Cemetery, Queens, NY.

The State Port Pilot published her obituary.

Former Resident Dies Saturday
Miss Susie A. Williams, Who Was Born And Reared Here, Died In New York City Of Pneumonia

Miss Susan A. Williams, who was born and reared in Southport, died Saturday in New York City following a short illness with pneumonia.

The deceased, who was 58-year-of-age, was the daughter of the late Captain and Mrs. J.A. Williams, of Southport. She was a registered nurse, and for the past few years has held a responsible position with the Metropolitian Life Insurance Company.

She was a member of the American Legion by virtue of her service in France during the World War, and last summer she paid another visit to French soil.

She has no immediate relatives in Southport, but is survived by one brother, Raymond S. Williams, of New York; three sisters, Miss Leila Williams, Mrs. Beatrice Potter, of New York, and Mrs. George Reid [Reeves], of New Jersey.

Her funeral services were conducted in New York, and interment was made there.

If you would like to help us honor Susan Adkins Williams or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

Click the category: Veteran Profile here or at the bottom of any veteran profile post to see all of the veteran profiles published. Follow or subscribe to the blog to stay updated on all new profiles.

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WWI Profile: Dorman L. Mercer 1894-1996

Dorman L. Mercer
Bolivia, Brunswick County, NC
National Guard
Wagoner

Served:
July 24, 1917 – May 12, 1919
Overseas:
October 18, 1917 – April 24, 1919
Wounded: July 27, 1918
Gassed

Reprinted with permission from The Brunswick Beacon

On Veterans Day 1987, 93-year old Dorman L Mercer of Bolivia, NC, was interviewed by The Brunswick Beacon.

“I was a wagoner, and I drove trucks and mules in wagon trains. Our work was to haul ammunition to the front, and picks, shovels, and barbed wire for the engineers to use.”

Stationed about 10 miles from the heavy fighting, Mercer and his fellow wagoners were called on to deliver ammunition and supplies to the front lines at all hours of the day or night, and he had several “close calls.”

The roads he traveled were the most dangerous because “that’s what the Germans were shelling,” he said.

Once while retreating from the front, a German shell hit the roof of a nearby house and showered Mercer with shrapnel and debris.

Less than two weeks later, he was gassed in an engagement and required medical treatment, although he said his injuries “didn’t amount to much.”

He said some of his experiences in the war would be better off forgotten.

Read the entire article in the DigitalNC Newspaper Archives: The Brunswick Beacon; Nov 12, 1987; Section B

Dorman L. Mercer was laid to rest on December 6, 1996, at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Bolivia, NC. He was 102.


If you would like to help us honor Dorman L Mercer or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

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Please help us thank and honor a Brunswick County World War I veteran

The list of Brunswick County World War I Veterans is now available. Any veteran born, raised, lived, or served in Brunswick County is included. Please help us thank and honor the World War I veterans from Brunswick County.

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

After the Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range receives your donation, a certificate will be sent via email for you to print and frame, as well as an image of the soldier’s service card.

A design for the memorial has been proposed as shown. A historical booklet is also planned for the dedication on November 11, 2018, the Centennial of Armistice Day. The booklet will include some history of the 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range and the veterans and donors.

 

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Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them” – George Eliot

Honor the sacrifices of the brave men and women from Brunswick County
who served in World War I

As we continue to commemorate the Centennial of World War I, the Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range have been planning to honor the sacrifices of the brave men and women from Brunswick County, North Carolina. Many of them likely trained at the Fort Caswell Rifle Range, which was built in 1918 due to the number of soldiers arriving at Fort Caswell in preparation for the US entrance into the Great War.

We need your help.

The Friends of Fort Caswell have been raising funds for many years to stabilize the 1918 Fort Caswell Rifle Range, which was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. This work is still continuing.

A memorial will be placed onsite to honor the men and women from Brunswick County who joined the military for the war effort. This memorial will be dedicated next year, Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, the Centennial of the end of World War I.

Brunswick County recruits from 1914
Courtesy of Jane B. Henry

“Honor a World War I Veteran”

  • To help us honor the veterans, this website will list the names of all men and women from Brunswick County using the North Carolina World War I Service Cards and other archived sources. Any veteran born, raised, lived, or served in Brunswick County will be included.
  • These names will be available on the website in various sorted lists such as alphabetical order, by service (Navy, Army, National Guard, etc).
  • You choose one (or more) to sponsor and send a donation.
  • A certificate will be sent via email for you to print and frame, as well as an image of the soldier’s service card.
  • Your name will be listed on the website as honoring that veteran.

We hope to have all veterans honored through your donations. Any additional funds will be added to continue the stabilization efforts of the Fort Caswell Rifle Range. Subscribe or visit the website often to follow progress throughout the year.

The Centennial year of World War I is upon us. The rifle range is the only freely accessible structure in Brunswick County that remains of the war.

This year is the perfect time to thank and honor the men and women who fought in World War I from Brunswick County.

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Brunswick Historical Society to meet Monday, November 13

The next meeting of the Brunswick County Historical Society will be Monday, November 13, at Brunswick Electric Membership Corp on Hwy 17 just south of Supply. The meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. Guest speaker will be Dr. Norma Eckard, who will talk about the Friends of Fort Caswell World War I Rifle Pit and its efforts to stabilize the rifle range.

Eckard is a former professor at Campbell University and North Carolina State University and is the president of the Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range, Inc.

Anyone interested in preserving and studying the history of Brunswick County and genealogy is invited to attend. The meeting is free to the public.

 

Please make a note of the date (Monday, November 13).

The Brunswick County Historical Society meets the second Monday of February, May, August, and November.

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The origin of the Fort Caswell Rifle Range

In April, we honored and recognized the Centennial of the US entry into World War I by holding a Commemoration Ceremony at the Fort Caswell Rifle Range alongside the Brunswick Town Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

As we prepare for the Centennial of the End of World War I on November 11, 1918, we will also recognize the centennial of the Fort Caswell Rifle Range, which was approved and built in 1918.

Mason’s mark on north wall

The Fort Caswell Rifle Range was built to replace the existing one, which had become unsafe due to the increase in the garrison to house the “large number of recruits and drafted men now here or expected in the near future.”

A site for the new rifle range was found “three miles distant from the Post.” The site, now within the Caswell Dunes neighborhood, “affords a fine camp ground with plenty of water and wood without further expense to the Government.”

These US War Department documents including blueprints can be found by clicking the HISTORY selection at the top of the website.

 


Please consider making a donation to save this unique piece of history. Click here or the green “How to make a donation” button at the top right of this website.

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Exhibit: North Carolina & World War I

A recent visit to the North Carolina Museum of History’s exhibit “North Carolina & World War I” served as a reminder that honoring the sacrifices of the men and women of North Carolina is what energizes us to continue to work to stabilize the Fort Caswell Rifle Range.

The exhibit is modeled after trenches and includes barbed wire, sandbags, and even (fake) rats. The low lights, noise of gunfire, exploding shells, screams, and sudden challenges shouted in various languages add to the realism.

Displays of artifacts are seen while winding through the trenches. Many of these are uniforms, medals, letters written to loved ones, and various items once used by the men and women from North Carolina who joined the battle overseas. These items pictured were used by Thomas R. Darden of New Hanover County.

The story behind the creation of the exhibit is also interesting. This diorama was a war game that Jackson Marshall, deputy director, project manager, and exhibit curator at the museum, built with his two sons who were fascinated by WWI and traveled with him overseas to battlefields. Both also helped him build the exhibit.

A group of home-schooled students and parents helped museum artist Robert Stone and his team fill the burlap sandbags that are stacked throughout the exhibit, some of which are real Army surplus.

Many years ago, curator Jackson Marshall began gathering these stories that he eventually published in a book in 1998. The veterans’ biggest fear: that they would simply be forgotten.

If you want to read more about the exhibit or visit yourself:
North Carolina & World War I exhibit
Re-creating WWI with staple guns, duct tape and 5 shades of gray
Centennial of US entry into WWI puts ‘Great War’ in focus
NC remembers World War I

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In the News – August 2017


The Fort Caswell Rifle Range was featured in several publications this month.

South Brunswick Magazine published a wonderful overview of the accomplishments and goals of the Friends, including many photographs.

Read: Caswell Rifle Range Target Pit and Storage Area is Almost 100 Years Old.

The State Port Pilot included information about Historic Wilmington Foundation’s traveling exhibit of the 2017 most threatened historic places, which features Brunswick County’s John N. Smith Cemetery in Southport and the Fort Caswell Rifle Range.

Read: Traveling historic exhibit goes on display.

And finally, the Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range Club Profile was published in the Brunswick Beacon.

As always, The Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range appreciates the support of the local media!

Note that these and all published articles about the Fort Caswell Rifle Range can be found by clicking the NEWS selection at the top of the website.

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In the News – July 2017

Star News recently interviewed Norma and Ron Eckard about the Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range and the stabilization efforts. Read the July 16 article and view the photo gallery: Couple leads effort to save Fort Caswell Rifle Range

To read a detailed history of the stabilization effort, click the STABILIZATION selection at the top of the website. The stabilization journal begins in 2011, then flows into the more recent developments that are continuously updated on this blog.

The State Port Pilot featured the two Brunswick County historical sites included in the Most Threatened Historic Places List for 2017. Read the article from July 12: Cemetery, rifle pit among endangered sites

Note that these and all published articles about the Fort Caswell Rifle Range can be found by clicking the NEWS selection at the top of the website.


The Friends of Fort Caswell Rifle Range appreciates the support of the local media!

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Spotlight: Gregory Kleva

Gregory Kleva

Attorney Gregory Kleva offered pro bono assistance to begin the process of forming a non-profit organization dedicated to stabilizing the rifle range. The work he completed with the NC Department of the Secretary of State and the filing fee he paid enabled us to complete the subsequent paperwork with the IRS in 2015 to achieve 501(c)(3) non-profit status.

Greg practices law at Geddings & Kleva, PLLC Attorneys at Law on Oak Island. Read more about Greg at https://www.gkclawfirm.com/attorneys.html

We thank Gregory Kleva for his valuable legal assistance and generosity!

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