A Page from North Quabbin History: Red Cross nurse from Petersham put her life on hold to serve overseas in WWI

  • Carolyn (Clarke) Goodsell of Petersham served as a Red Cross Nurse during World War I and later wrote a memoir about her experiences titled, “Evacuation 114: As Seen from Within.” COURTESY/PETERSHAM HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Published: 5/31/2022 12:24:32 PM
Modified: 5/31/2022 12:24:35 PM

The Red Cross played a crucial role in the war effort during World War I. Among those who served as a Red Cross nurse at the time was Carolyn (Clarke) Goodsell of Petersham.

“The Red Cross was a critical and popular arena for service and support by those from the American home front who wanted to assist in the war effort; particularly women found it a reliable channel for their efforts in relaying warm clothing, supplies and funding to the European front,” said Nancy Allen, president of the Petersham Historical Society.

“The history archives show that Petersham’s own local World War I Red Cross effort was really well organized and fully supported by many residents, as was typical across the country. The local Red Cross ledgers, notes, meeting minutes and variety of materials were carefully preserved by Petersham’s Red Cross organizers, indicating a strong, heartfelt commitment to the need. Miss Clarke was one of many women who put their lives on hold in order to serve abroad in the much-needed medical capacity during the War,” Allen continued.

In December 1917, at age 28, Clarke sailed for France. She spent her first six months working at the Children’s Bureau of the Red Cross in Èvian-les-Bains, a town in northern France near the Swiss border. Clarke also was shipped with other nurses to Toule, France and to Chateau-Thierry which was one of the fronts at that time as German soldiers were there and were attempting to reach Paris. She then was shipped to Fleury on the southern coast of France, an active base for supplies and engineers and which also contained a German prisoner camp, said Allen.

Clarke later wrote a memoir of her experiences serving in WWI, entitled “Evacuation 114: As Seen From Within.” “Carolyn’s younger brother, Second Lieutenant Henry Ware Clarke, was killed in action in the war in May 1918 and along with her own intense experiences it may be her brother’s death, which occurred when they both were serving on the European front, that inspired her desire to write her memoir,” she continued. “Carolyn Clarke’s 1919 memoir, is a fine book telling in keen, readable detail of her Red Cross service in France. It is available on the internet for reading or purchase and at some libraries,” Allen said.

Clarke grew up in Watertown and first came to Petersham as a girl attending a summer camp held at Gay Farm. Meanwhile, ElsonGoodsell worked as a delivery boy for his family’s Country Store in Petersham. “That was how they met — he made deliveries to the farm,” said GlenedeAlbertine, who was a neighbor and good friend of Goodsell. Her future husband, Elson, also served in WWI in the cavalry in Europe.

Goodsell was also an artist. “One evening a week different people in town would meet at her house and paint portraits or be subjects for portrait painting. A number of people got into portrait painting because of her,” said Albertine. Goodsell also belonged to the American Legion, Petersham Historical Society and the First Congregational Parish, Unitarian Church.

Thanks to donations from Carolyn’s daughter, Louise Turner, the Petersham Historical Society collection includes a number of her personal Red Cross items including her full uniform. The Historical Society displays her work from time to time and currently is exhibiting her large-scale oil painting copy of Charles Bosworth’s circa 1855 painting titled, “Baseball on Petersham Common.” Bosworth’s painting is also on exhibit, according to Allen.

The Petersham Historical Society will be open Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m., beginning June 18.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on history with a particular interest in the history of the North Quabbin area. Contact her at cjfreelancewriter@earthlink.net.

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