Saturday, November 11, 2017

Pvt. William Bruce White (1893-1918)

White family photo. Used with permission.
Private William Bruce White was the fifth and final casualty for the staff of Base Hospital 50. His death, like most of his colleagues before him, was due to disease rather than injury. Private White succumbed to pneumonia, as a result of the raging influenza epidemic, just five days before Armistice on November 6, 1918.

William was one of eight children  four boys and four girls  – born to Lewis Pindle White and his wife Mary Ellen "Ella" Burke. He was the sixth child and fourth son and his older siblings included Clarence George Thornton, Jessie Pearl, Lewis Pinckney, Lily Darling and Harry Stanhope. William was followed by sisters Helen Frances Luella and Margaret Virginia. Born on January 1, 1893, in Terra Alta, Preston County, West Virginia, William and his family moved to Bellingham in 1897.

The large family lived for several years in a grand Victorian house at 1200 N. Garden St., in Bellingham.1 Its distinctive turret topped by a bell-shaped dome made it a local landmark, then and now. The house still stands although it has since been divided into apartments.

Built in 1890 for banker James W. Morgan, the house plan was from a pattern book designed by Robert Shoppel. Stock market collapses in the mid-1890's led Morgan to sell his home to Lewis White and his business partner William G. Brown, Jr. Together with Brown, also from West Virginia, Lewis White had started the Bank of Whatcom in November of 1897. The acquisition of 1200 N. Garden proved fortuitous since, with eight children, the White family needed a large house!

Snow-covered 1200 N. Garden, c. 1916. 
Photo by J.J. Donovan #1995.6.12, 
Whatcom Museum of History & Art
The family was at the center of many enjoyments in Bellingham."Darlings of the Society column, the Whites hosted elaborate dinners, parlor dances, and card parties that were always “most recherch√© and artistic” with “choice table decorations,” “tasteful hand-painted place cards” and “dainty favors.” Their guests included the business elite of New Whatcom and Fairhaven. The White’s teenage daughter, Jessie, had her own chaperoned social calendar and often entertained the “younger set” in a “most charming style” with music, dancing, and refreshments."2

Jessie White christened the 200-foot, four-masted lumber schooner Sehome on December 30, 1899. Youngest sister Margaret Virginia won a national photo contest for Resinol Soap in 1903 at the age of four. Sadly, the White family was rocked by the untimely death of Lewis White on July 9, 1903.3 Lewis White had traveled back to the West Virginia home of his mother in Terra Alta where it was hoped the mountain air would restore his health. Although he had been in poor health and suffering from diabetes, his death was unexpected. He left his widow, Ella, and children ranging in age from 4 to 20. Just one month later, Ella White sold the house on Garden and moved to a slightly smaller house at 2007 G Street which she purchased for $3,300.

On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1908, Ella White was married to Frederick Schuh and the family continued to reside on G Street. It is there the family is enumerated in the 1910 census, with 17-year-old William's occupation listed as bank clerk.4 By the time William registered for the draft in June of 1917, he was continuing to follow in his father's footsteps working as a bank clerk at First National Bank in Sedro-Woolley.5
Bellingham Herald, 10 August 1918, pg 6.

It isn't known if William specifically volunteered to serve with Base Hospital 50, but he was mustered into service in June of 1918 with Base Hospital 50, training first at Camp Lawton, in Seattle, then onto Camp Fremont in Palo Alto, California, before traveling to Camp Merritt in New Jersey in anticipation of overseas deployment. Together with the other members of Base Hospital 50, William sailed for Europe on July 14, 1918, aboard the S. S. Karmala.6

His death from complications from influenza came just as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive – the final push towards ending the war – was taking place and Base Hospital 50 was inundated with casualties. Initially buried at the cemetery at the Mesves-Bulcy Hospital Center, William's mother elected to have her son's remains brought home to Bellingham after the war ended. His death was remembered in Whatcom County's Honor Roll and commemorated with a Gold Star on the service flag of Whatcom High school, one of six out of 364 students who served.7,8 In January of 1921, William's journey was completed when he arrived home. He was buried in Bellingham's Bayview Cemetery on January 16, 1921, his loss deeply mourned by his friends and family.9

  1. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. New Whatcom, Whatcom, Washington; NARA T623-1742; Enumeration District: 245, Page: 4A, Line: 30; Louis P. White.
  2. Bellingham Business Journal. Victorian on Garden restored to 1890s style. November 30, 2007. (Accessed November 1, 2017.)
  3. Prosser, William Farrand. A History of the Puget Sound Country, Its Resources, Its Commerce and Its People. New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1903. Biographical Sketch of Lewis P. White, pg. 338.
  4. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. Bellingham, Ward 7, Whatcom, Washington; NARA T624-1688; Enumeration District: 320, Page: 5A, Line: 14; Fred Schuh.
  5. United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Precinct 1, Skagit County, Washington; William B. White, June 5, 1917.
  6. U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939; Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, National Archives Record Group 92, roll 457; digital image,, (Accessed 1 November 2017).
  7. William B. White Funeral Notice. Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, WA), Thursday, January 2, 1919, page 6.  
  8. Jacobin, Louis. With the colors, from Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties: an honor roll containing a pictorial record of the gallant and courageous men from northwestern Washington, U.S.A., who served in the world war, 1917-1918-1919. Seattle, Wash. : Peters Pub. Co., 1921.
  9. "High School is Given Service Flag with 364 Stars Flag Presented to School by Superintendent." Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, WA) Saturday, January 15, 1921, page 8.