William LeBreux: A Life Remembered.
I share this post written by Eric Mommsen, a well known and loved teacher and Hilltopper, simply because I want it to have a permanent home. These are stories that are not often told, but are so worth preserving.
Labor Day: A Salute To The Past.
On this Labor Day…. I salute young William LeBreux (and the hundreds of children of all ages who worked long hours in the cotton mills of the Great Falls Manufacturing Co. here in Somersworth, NH. (These Lewis Hine photos show them walking home for lunch on May 19, 1909.) While I am forever grateful for their tireless contributions to our great city during the industrial era, I am even more thankful for the changes in labor laws that ensure that our community’s young people no longer spend their days toiling away in factories…..
The rest of the story….. (The shoeless boy who should’ve been in 8th grade….)
Yesterday I wrote a Labor Day post showing the picture of a boy working in the mills here in Somersworth back in 1909. Afterwards I couldn’t help but think about him and wonder whatever became of him. He had looked so sad in that picture and I had hoped that life had been good to him as he grew older…..
Luckily for me, the boy had given his name to the photographer (renowned child labor activist Lewis Hine). His name is now forever documented in the National Archives in Washington, DC. So I set out this morning to see if I could discover his story…. (Remember, now, not all stories end with “and they all lived happily ever after….”)
Wiliam Lebeux of Somersworth, NH
William Lebreux in life and death.
William LeBreux, born in Somersworth, NH on September 28, 1894 to John LeBreux and Delima (Ouellette) LeBreux of French-Canadian descent.
William was one of 14 siblings, several of whom died young. The family attended St. Martin’s Catholic Church. If the children attended school it was only up to 6th grade (perhaps at St. Martin’s Academy) then went to work in the cotton textile mills at the Great Falls Manufacturing Company where their parents worked.
They “boarded” at 81 Main Street in the company-owned housing right across from the mills. A town report in 1914 also lists him as a “laborer” for the city water works (most likely digging ditches for water pipes in addition to his mill work…..). At some point in time after that, he moved to Waltham, Massachusetts where he worked as a machinist.
On June 27, 1918, still single, “Willie” was drafted into the 151st Depot Brigade. His draft card listed him as being “short” and of “medium” build with “dark” hair and “blue” eyes (Somersworth blue….). William reported to Fort Devens then off to the World War… Three months later, on September 25, 1918, three days shy of his 24th birthday, William LaBreux died, just a month and a half before the war’s end…
His body was returned to Somersworth where he laid buried in an unmarked grave at Mt. Calvary Cemetery (St. Martin Cemetery) for 22 years before his father was able to petition the federal government for a military grave stone.
His older brother, Arthur, also a WWI veteran, is buried nearby. On this Labor Day 2018, the city of Somersworth remembers and honors a true “laborer” — William “Willie” LeBreux. You’re the best, Kid! I left you some flowers so you’ll know that you are not forgotten, my friend…
I hope you enjoyed this sad but enlightening story of one Somersworth lad as much as I did. A huge thanks to Eric for all his hard work researching this story and for allowing me to share William’s story with you.
You can also view Hines pictures at the Summersworth Historical Museum located at 157 High Street, Somersworth on Sundays 12.30 -3.30pm.