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Gainesvilleman told of escape during WWI

POSTED: December 4, 2011 1:00 a.m.

The Towery family of Gainesville hadn't heard from their son Fred Richmond Towery in more than three years during World War I.

Col. and Mrs. James Towery might have known their son had joined Canadian troops and became a sergeant in the machine gun corps. They must have thought that he had died fighting Germans overseas. That was almost the case.

Sgt. Fred Towery finally wrote his brother E.S. Towery when he arrived safely in New York in February 1918. "Would have written you sooner, but account of sickness and my right arm injured, I was unable to ... " Not to mention that he had been held prisoner in a German prison camp.

The night he was captured, Towery was in a shell hole manning a machine gun near Verdon, France, he said. About 10 Germans surprised and captured him. "Fine fellows they were," Towery wrote. "They were Bavarians, southern Germans, and not like the Prussians. They treated me fine until I was taken to headquarters, and then the harsh treatment began."

Towery recounted that he was kept in a cage for four nights while his captors tried to get information out of him about the Canadian defenses. He refused and was sent to another camp with other English-speaking prisoners.

"... Life was one thing after another, with nothing to eat but turnip soup and black bread," he wrote. "Every 30 days we received a box of food from the British Red Cross through the Swiss consul."

Towery made up his mind to escape after making friends with an elderly guard. The next Red Cross box he received he swapped for a pistol and ammunition. Oct. 8, 1917, he shot another guard and got away across country to Holland and England. He was in London by Thanksgiving Day. He had to stay in a hospital a week before being allowed to leave for the United States.

Towery told his brother to inform the rest of the family of his experience and his whereabouts. "I have received a commission in the U.S.A. and will leave for France soon and will not be home until the Kaiser is down and out for I have to obtain a few more revenges if I survive the rest of the war."

He explained his feelings: "When a fellow sees what a German soldier is and what he has done, you lose all fear and want to get him as quick as possible. They being big fellows are easy to hit or stick with a bayonet. I saw Canadians that were murdered and nailed to a cross as a warning. The company I was in took a solemn oath not to bring in a single prisoner. We just shot them down until our officers made us quit such practice."

Despite all that, Towery apparently was ready to go back to war. "I could write you a book on the horrors of war," he told his brother.

A few months later, World War I came to an end. The fate of Sgt. Towery couldn't be determined, but it is assumed he survived.

The first U.S. mail carrier in Gainesville was T. Newt Brewer. He delivered the first piece of mail by a carrier to Capt. Will Pillow, a businessman on the downtown square. Free mail delivery came to Gainesville March 1, 1905. Besides Brewer, other original carriers were Sam Smith, John Byers and T. Lumpkin Adderholdt. Brewer was a mounted mail carrier for a number of years.

Free mail delivery was a long time coming to Gainesville as the U.S. Post Office was created in 1775, and Rural Free Delivery began in 1896.

Gainesville was one of the first communities in the state in modern times to pass strong anti-smoking laws. However, as far back at the early 1900s, the city prohibited smoking on the second floor of its City Hall. That apparently was more for safety, however, than health reasons.

In 1902, Gainesville's population was about 5,500. However, it was modern for the time with waterworks, electric lights, a paid fire department and street cleaning by day laborers. Only seven other cities at the time had electric lights. Assessed valuation of property in the city was $2.1 million.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.



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