Clarence Fletcher Kelley was born on 25 January 1895 in Manchester, New Hampshire, the son of Thomas F. & Eola L. (Fletcher) Kelley. By 1900 both he and his brother, Carroll, were living with their mother at a 255 Auburn Street tenement house. By 1910 they were living at 396 Manchester Street. He would have attended schools in those neighborhoods.
On his war registration card of June 1917, Clarence indicated the following: 22 years of age, occupation a conductor on the Manchester Street Railroad (trolley). He was single, and had been a member of the NH National Guard Battery for 3 months. He was of medium height, slender with light brown eyes and brown hair.
Clarence was a Private in Battery D., 103rd Field Infantry. Members of the New Hampshire National Guard Battery “were called into Federal service on July 25, 1917 and incorporated with other New England guard units into the 26th Division of the AEF.
Trained to fire 155mm field pieces under their first commander, Capt. Gerald T. Hanley, the unit arrived in France two months later. They experienced much additional training in France and were eventually deployed in a “quiet sector” near Toul where their weapons temporarily included some obsolete 95mm cannons.”
Some time between September 1917 and the date of his death, on 13 April 1918, Clarence fell ill. By official records he died of disease, and in many cases this would indicate influenza, pneumonia or some other contagious disease. The cause of death on Clarence’s reburial form is misleading, stating “atrophic cirrihosis [sic] of liver.” He was a young man who had undergone at least two thorough medical examinations, and was considered fit and well to serve. I greatly doubt that he died as the result of (implied) alcoholism.
Instead, this same cause of death could have occurred from two other conditions: a) the result of viral hepatitis or b) the after affects of poison gas.* I wrote about a young man from Nashua who had been diagnosed as dying from the same liver ailment, and he had been working (in a military capacity) in a United States plant that was creating chemical weapons during WWI. In fact, the U.S. Army medical history states “Divisional sick and gassed who were fit for transportation were sent to Field Hospital No. 101, at Caserne-la-Marche, in Toul.”
Like his brothers-in-arms who died in Europe, Clarence was buried at first buried near Toul. Later, at the request of his family, his remains were returned to the United States, and reburied here. The Boston Globe of July 24, 1921, reported on his funeral. “PRIVATE KELLEY BURIED WITH MILITARY HONORS. Manchester NH, July 23–The remains of private Clarence F. Kelley, first man Battery B lost in the World War, was laid to rest this afternoon in Pine Grove Cemetery, following impressive services in which his former battery mates who served overseas in France with him took an active part. The services were held at the Peoples Baptist Tabernacle, with Rev Samuel Russell, former pastor of the Tabernacle, now of Buffalo NY, officiating, assisted by Rev. Herbert R. Whitelock. Manchester Post, American Legion, Maj. Oscar G. Lafrequist commander, escorted the body from the church to the cemetery. The street carmen’s union, of which the deceased was a member, was also represented by a delegation. The ladies’ auxiliary of Manchester Post was also represented and their service for the dead were carried out at the grave.”
His tombstone reads:
PVT 1ST C CLARENCE F. KELLEY
Battery D 103rd Field Art, A.E.F.
Jan. 25 1895 – April 13, 1918
Field Hospital 101
Clarence’s only sibling, was a brother, Carroll F. Kelley. Carroll was born 25 Jan 1896 in Manchester of the same parents. On 27 June 1930 he married Mary S. Prout. They named their first-born child, Clarence.
For additional stories of Manchester NH military in World War I, see: New Hampshire WWI Military: Heroes of Manchester.
[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I. Look here for the entire listing].