An American Flag Pays Tribute to First Fairhaven Soldier Killed During World War I

M1914 Hotchkiss gun in France, 1918.
M1914 Hotchkiss gun in France, 1918.

This month, the 527th flag to fly at the top of the old Glory Tower in the North End pays honor to Pvt. Ernest J. Benoit, who at age 27 was the first soldier from Fairhaven killed during the First World War. He served in the 321st Machine Gun Battalion, 82nd Infantry Division, U.S. Army.

James Cochran, a Fairhaven veteran’s agent, gathered information regarding Benoit’s military career and family. Ernest Benoit was born Oct. 20, 1890, in Manchester, New Hampshire, the son of Joseph and Eliza Benoit, immigrants from Canada. Pvt. Benoit had five siblings, George, Henry, Frank and William; and Mrs. Edward Pierce, his sister.

At the age of seven, his family relocated to New Bedford and lived at 1700 Purchase St. for half a decade. When he was 14, Ernest began working in a mill and one year at the Morse Twist Drill Factory started learning the trade of grinding. When he was 17, Benoit had employment in Bristol, Connecticut, before returning to New Bedford after two years.

According to a Standard-Times article from August 28, 1983, Benoit was employed at the JC Rhodes Eyelet Co. when, on Sept. 1917, his draft notice arrived.

Benoit was conscripted on October 4 into the Army. The Standard-Times story continued to follow Benoit’s life from his reassignment to Georgia and a machine gun battalion. In April 1918 he was in France and soon in combat. He died on October 15, 1918, just under a year after he’d been drafted and seven days before turning 28.

The Fairhaven Star published on November 22, 1918, an article that announced his death and the location of his grave in France.

Almost ten years later, the Town of Fairhaven had a Town Meeting on February 11, 1928, and resolved to name the location at the junction of Main and Adams Streets Benoit Square, in honor of the first Fairhaven resident killed in WWI as a U.S. military member, South Coast Today reported.

The Fairhaven Star newspaper wrote on March 16, 1928, that Benoit Square would be consecrated to PVT Ernest J. Benoit. The square was dedicated in 1928 on Memorial Day.

According to the Fairhaven Star in a 1937 article, Benoit Square was chosen as the location for the creation of an accolade to all of Fairhaven’s living and deceased soldiers, by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2892. The square has a French 75 mm cannon and flag staff.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE