WWI Profile: Commodore Clarence Chinnis 1899-1960

NC WWI Service Card
Commodore Clarence Chinnis was born in Northwest, Brunswick County, the son of Augustus Marion Chinnis and Nellie Brew.

A previous post introduced the multiple draft registrations which occurred in 1917 and 1918, and the Students’ Army Training Corps.

Commodore did not become eligible for the draft until the registration of September 12, 1918. His draft registration was actually dated September 7, 1918, and shows he had already started his SATC training at Plattsburgh Barracks, NY. But the SATC program did not officially begin until October 1, 1918.

To determine the reason behind this discrepancy, college yearbooks were used. The North Carolina University at Chapel Hill (now known as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) yearbook Yackety-Yack provides the sequence of events.

The UNC Department of Military Science training and the Students’ Army Training Corps at UNC were two different programs. Commodore participated in the military training in 1917 when it first became available, then volunteered for the SATC in 1918 when it became available. The following shows Commodore’s activities in chronological order.

According to The Wilmington Dispatch (1916, May 27; p. 5), Commodore graduated from Wilmington High School on May 26, 1916.

He was a freshman in the 1916-1917 year at UNC Chapel Hill, according to the 1917 yearbook, Yackety-Yack, p. 147.

The 1918 yearbook, page 262, indicates that Commodore was in the Class of 1920. He is included in the list of sophomores on page 92.

Page 168 begins with the description of the formation of the Department of Military Science at the school and the enthusiasm in which the students responded. Several excerpts are shown below.

“It is not the nature of the North Carolinian to remain neutral when a ‘first-class scrap’ is in progress nearby. …his blood seethes with a desire to take part in the conflict.”


“When the suggestion was made, in the fall of nineteen-fifteen, that a course in military training be introduced in the University of North Carolina, it met with little favor among either Faculty or students. War was not regarded as imminent, and in our ignorance we failed to realize the importance of making ready for its coming.”


“…the sudden severance of diplomatic relations with Germany swept away all remaining opposition.”


“The total number of students registered in the University for the [1917] fall term was 820. Of these, 565 have been taking the course, devoting twelve hours a week to the work.”

Photos of the military training in Chapel Hill are located in the 1918 yearbook. Pvt Commodore served in Company B, which begins on page 176.

A diagram of the trenches that were created on campus is shown here.

The following summer (1918), 125 students, including Commodore, trained at the camp at Plattsburgh Barracks, NY. This explains why Commodore registered for the draft on September 7, 1918, from Plattsburgh Barracks.

Commodore Clarence Chinnis’ signature on his draft registration:

Photos from the summer of 1918 at Plattsburgh are shown in the 1919 Yearbook. This section of the yearbook is also located online at https://docsouth.unc.edu/wwi/yack1919/yack1919.html. Commodore has not been identified in the photo below, but he was described as a “likeable giant” in the local newspaper and stood at 6’1″, according to his WWI Draft Registration.

When the SATC became active in October 1918, Commodore, along with William Asbury Rourk, Jr, met the physical and educational admission requirements and volunteered. Both were accepted and ordered to report for duty on October 5, 1918, at the University of North Carolina, a Collegiate Section from NC. Click image at right to enlarge.

Source: Ancestry.com. U.S., Lists of Men Ordered to Report to Local Board for Military Duty, 1917–1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS: Registrants who are graduates of standard four-year secondary schools or have equivalent educational qualifications are eligible for Collegiate Sections and will be inducted at the institutions to which they secure admission. The admission requirements into the colleges, and hence into the Students Army Training Corps, have been left substantially as they were. Young men seeking information as to how to join a Collegiate Unit of the Corps should apply not to the War Department, but to the Dean or Registrar of the college of their choice.

Members of both sections will attend courses on the Issues of the War.

These excerpts are taken from the description of the Students’ Army Training Corps at Carolina on page 183.

From the first days in October, when the system was started, it seemed that fate was against a speedy organization of the units into efficient, spirited bodies. Equipment was hard to secure, personnel of the staffs were slow in assembling, and upon everything that scourge of scourges, the “flu” descended. The men were compelled to keep a strict quarantine, pleasures and freedoms were cut off. Sickness is a breeder of slow inertia and lack of spirit. Morale was hard to maintain, on the campus, when the atmosphere was full of dread.

Just as the training went into full swing, the November 11, 1918, Armistice ended it.

In the days of disappointment that followed the signing of the armistice, when the urge of the desire for service overseas was suddenly removed, every student soldier felt that the Students’ Army Training Corps was of no value.

The SATC was demobilized. Pvt Chinnis was honorably discharged on December 9, 1918.

The government did a very wise thing when it created this Students’ Army Training Corps, and could the experiment have been carried out its benefits would by now have been too obvious to point out.

Commodore did not complete his junior year in college. He is not listed among the juniors in the 1919 yearbook. This is confirmed by the 1940 Census which shows he had completed two years of college education.

The 1920 Census shows that he was living at home in Northwest. He and his sister Lila were clerks at a bank. His father was a merchant of groceries. The family home was on Wilmington and Charlotte Road, near Leland Road.

Commodore married and was the father of two sons who served in WWII, Carter Cabell Chinnis, whose findagrave entry includes an impressive obituary, and Hobson D Chinnis.

Commodore Clarence Chinnis passed away on July 8, 1960. He was laid to rest in New Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Leland. No military marker is shown.

To view this or an earlier profile or snapshot at any time, click on the veteran’s name on the WWI Brunswick County Veteran list, which is also accessible by the blue button on the top right of the webpage.

If you would like to help us honor Commodore Clarence Chinnis 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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