Fort Devens Museum

WWI Soldier Love Story

March 13, 2004

By C. David Gordon,
Copyright Nashoba Publications

Gammons diary and induction notice.

DEVENS — The Sweetheart Memorial, built when Devens was Camp Devens and still intact on MacArthur Avenue, symbolizes the importance attached to romance, love and marriage, especially when the people involved are about to face the dangers and horrors of war. Among the most appealing stories to come out of a training-for-war area are love stories.

The Devens Historical Museum has captured one such story in its first display of materials from its collection, to be seen in the lobby at the Devens Conference Station.

It is the story of Charles Clifford Gammons, part of the 76th Division training at Camp Devens starting Aug. 29, 1917. In his particular case, what happened in this love story is known because Gammons kept a diary from Jan. 1, 1918, when at Camp Devens, until Jan. 1, 1919, when he was discharged after serving in England and France.

In fact, his very first entry states, "Sally and I decide to get married January 26. Home for the day." Home was Cohasset and Sally was his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Lapham, also of Cohasset.

The museum has Gammons' diary and several official papers and artifacts, the gift of one of his three daughters, Clare Gammons McMullan of Lancaster.

Gammons diary and wedding photos.

Among the highlights of the exhibit are wedding photos of Gammons in uniform and Sally in her wedding gown.

Gammons graduated from Dartmouth College in the Class of 1916, where he had been a cadet in the Army ROTC unit on campus. Following enlistment in Boston in 1917, he was inducted into the Army in Plattsburg, N.Y., and was assigned as a second lieutenant to the 302nd Machine Gun Battalion of the 76th Division training at Camp Devens that August.

The couple spent their honeymoon skiing in Vermont. Then Sally returned to her home and he to Devens.

While being trained at Camp Devens, Gammons would take the train to Cohasset. Sometimes, the couple went to Boston. Sally would stay in Groton or Ayer occasionally when Gammons received a brief 24-hour leave. For a time, even, she lived at the home of a physician in Harvard to be near her husband.

There were walks around Camp Devens, taking in what are now Mirror Lake and Robbins Pond, and introductions to his fellow officers.

All was not romance and roses. In addition to training, Gammons, with a predilection for law, performed various law-related services for his unit and some of its individuals. To fill those hours when he wasn't training, he spent time in reading at the clip of almost a book a day and recording what he read in his diary.

Finally on July 8, 1918, Gammons' unit left for overseas. They went to England and then France, but while they were to replace another unit at the front, they never had the opportunity to join the fighting. (Only certain sections of the 76th Division that trained at Camp Devens saw combat in that war.)

A serious knee ailment struck Gammons. He was transferred from one hospital to another, finally to be placed on a troop ship bound for New York on Dec. 17.

The reception for the returned American soldiers in New York harbor was immense, a contrast with his stepping off the train in Boston to be met by his dad and taken home for Christmas.

Gammons made his career in law, graduating from Harvard Law School in 1920. Following the start of his own law practice in this state, he served as an attorney for Hood Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio, and later for Atlas Powder Co., retiring as a vice president and head of Atlas's legal department. The couple and their family resided in Belmont for a time and then Wilmington, Del.

Clair Gammons McMullan talking about her father.

Clare McMullan, one of the three Gammons children, spoke of her dad as "very learned, a person who could joke and have a wonderful time, a man who loved his family." While he liked golf, McMullan said, her mother "was an animal person." She always had cats, dogs, and even horses around. "The horses [were] our Saturday thing," she said. Her mother was a graduate of the original Sargent College, now part of Boston University, from which she went out to serve as a physical education teacher.

Charles Gammons died in 1964 at the age of 72, Sally in 1981 at age 88. Charles had three brothers: Everett, who had graduated from Dartmouth too; Donald, who became the business manager for the Boston Symphony Orchestra; and Ned, who was a musician on the staff at Groton School.

The museum exhibit has been set up by Meg Bagdonas of Harvard, a member of Freedom's Way Heritage Association, with assistance from the museum board's secretary, Mildred Chandler.