The town of Sandown New Hampshire sent more than its share of heroes to serve during World War I. In fact that small place sent the highest percentage of men based on population. Among those men was one who would not return. The newspapers called him Private Rene Woods, and stated he served in B Company, 104th Infantry, and was of Sandown NH.
It was not easy to track Rene down. I looked at the census records, the WWI Registration forms and burial records. There were Woods families who lived in the area, but I could not find Rene’s. The Gold Star Record of Massachusetts gave me my biggest clue. Apparently Rene and his family had used the surname Brisebois interchangeably, and even then the Gold Star record didn’t get it exactly right.
This is what the Massachusetts Gold Star Record states: “WOODS, Rene (also Rene Du Brisbois); killed in action 20 July 1918 [vicinity of Belleau Wood]. Enlisted and reported for duty 12 April 1917, Co. B, 6th Infantry Mass. N.G.; trans. to Co. B. 104th Inf. 26th Division. Overseas 5 Oct 1917. Born Sept. 1889 at Nashua, N.H. son of Alexander Woods of Sandown NH 1918.” Credited to Gardner MA.
Rene Woods was born Joseph Arthur Irene Brisebois, b. September 1889 in Nashua NH, son of Alexander & Cordelia (Ricard) Brisebois. At the time of his birth, his Canadian born father was a confectioner by occupation. Rene had siblings Alexander Frederick, Celia, Joseph Raoul Laurent and Arthur Adrien “Arsene” Brisebois. In 1910 Rene’s family and the two youngest children were living in Sandown, New Hampshire. Rene (as Joseph Arthur Rene Brisebois) married 1 Oct 1914 in Laconia NH to Bernice Goodell, dau of William & Myrtie (Carleton) Goodell. She m2d) 29 Nov 1922 in Laconia NH to Bert Hammond. He may have been separated or divorced from Bernice in 1918 when he went to war, for his father Alexander was listed as his contact person.
The 104th Infantry was well known for its bravery in battle, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive where Rene fell was part of a combined French and American attack on the German forces that pushed the Germans back. No doubt Rene was originally buried in a graveyard near the battlefield. When the war ended his remains were removed to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery. He lies there beneath a pale white cross, in Plot A., Row 2, Grave 30. His tombstone shows his name as Joseph Arthur Irene Brisebois.
Rene Wood’s service is claimed by Massachusetts, and so his name does not appear on the New Hampshire Honor Roll in our State House. He was connected to New Hampshire by birth and deserves to be remembered here.
[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].
Pingback: New Hampshire World War I Military: Heroes of The Great War | Cow Hampshire
Pingback: New Hampshire WWI Military: The Heroes of Nashua | Cow Hampshire
I had family in Vermont who modified (Anglicized) their French-Canadian surname when they moved to the US. I wonder about Alexander Brisebois’ motive for doing so and whether it was done to make his confectionery business more palatable to Americans? Although confectionery plus French sounds like a solid marketing plan to me.
Michael, first thank you for reading and commenting. As for your statement, any way I reply would be purely conjecture, because of course I have no primary evidence of why the name change or I would have added it to the story. What I do know, growing up in New Hampshire with a fairly high number of people of Canadian origin (including my great-grandmother), and through research, is that that many Canadians who immigrated to the United States used both the French and English version of their name, so this was not an unusual case. Name changes like this were not ominous usually, and the name use was a preference. I am not at all ruling out what you asked about it being a business ploy, just indicating that I have come across numerous cases in my local research where a family would shift back and forth from the French to the English version of their name, seemingly without a specific reason.
I’ve never seen Irene as a man’s name before—Rene, yes, but not Irene. According to one translation I found brise bois means bent or broken wood, so choosing Wood as a surname seems logical.