|Training Trenches at|
Merrill’s love of English literature extended to all people and things English. He occasionally referred to the English as “his countrymen” and admitted, “I like England very, very much. I could easily love it as a home, and it is surely greatly worth fighting for.” After the British had endured two years of combat, Merrill decided that he could no longer continue drilling and waiting. He left his home at Cambridge in November of 1916 to volunteer as a gunner in the Canadian Field Artillery. Only eighteen, he was considered a minor by the Canadian military, and his father did not consent to his involvement, so Merrill assumed the false name Arthur A. Stanley. In a letter home to his father, Merrill explained that he “could not, in honour, stay out if America should take no action.” So, Merrill’s great love of all things English propelled him into war and he soon found himself on his way to England.
|Students on Parade, Dartmouth College|
One of Merrill’s only frustrations was that he was just a private. Merrill does not explain why his college education and previous training experience did not earn him a commission as an officer, but it may have been a consequence of using an assumed name. On October 18, 1917, Merrill was posted to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, and was then stationed near Ypres in Flanders, Belgium. There he operated guns at the front, firing at unseen targets and relying on aviator’s reports to determine if the shots met their mark. During combat, he kept his optimism joking, “the Front is not so black as it is painted—though it is quite as brown with khaki and no end of Flanders mud.”
Merrill’s cheerful determination ended on November 6, 1917, when a German artillery shell exploded in his barracks, killing him. Merrill was only nineteen and had been in Belgium less than a month. Ten days before his death when he was assigned to the front, Merrill wrote to his friend from Harvard, Edward Hubbard, and contemplated the possibility of his death:
It's mighty hard, Ed leaving everything back there, perhaps for good and all. So if it should be that, friend, I'll say good-bye—but God! how can one—a couple of simple words and it’s over, and you go up to the Line, and try to laugh, or smile at least, and swallow it down. But it's part of the game, of course, and it is a noble end which we seek out of the ruck and jetsam of death and broken men and lasting sorrow.Merrill died when he had just begun to experience the realities of war. He never wrote regretfully about his decision to join the military, and as this passage shows, he considered dying in the war “a noble end.” Wainwright Merrill was one of the many young, good-humored, and idealistic men whose lives were ended prematurely by the war.
Written by Ellen Nye '14.
This Series: During World War I, 3,407 Dartmouth men were uprooted from campus, graduate school, or their early careers to serve in a modern war unlike any previous American military engagement. Four of them, Harold Pinkham ’15, George Dock ’16, Edward Kirkland ’16, and Wainwright Merrill ’19, left records of their war experience in the Rauner Special Collections Library. All four matched the demographics of the College at the time and were united by their experiences at progressive prewar Dartmouth, but despite their somewhat similar backgrounds, their personalities were quite different. Their stories speak to the diverse beliefs, experiences, and sources of comfort of Dartmouth men involved in World War I.
Wainwright Merrill ’19
Private, Canadian Field Artillery
Ask for Rauner Alumni M5525c.
2Wainwright Merrill and Charles Miner Stearns. A College Man in Khaki, Letters of an American in the British Artillery. New York: George H. Doran Co, 1918, vii.
3Merilll, Letter to Charles Miner Stearns, his English professor at Dartmouth, November 5, 1917.
5Merilll, Letter to his father, June 29, 1917.
6Merrill, Letter to Mrs. Clark, August 18, 1917.
7Merrill, Letter to his father, November 2, 1917.
8Merrill, To Edward Hubbard, October 28, 1917.
9Charles Wood, The Hill Winds Know Their Name: A Guide to Dartmouth’s War Memorials. Hanover N.H.: Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs, 2001, 6.