Much has been written about Canton native U.S. Army Sergeant Edward J. Beatty in the slightly more than one hundred years since his death at the Battle of Seicheprey, France, the location of the first significant infantry battle of World War I. One more entry in the collection commemorating the loss of this local young man will do little to balance the tremendous sacrifice that Beatty and his WWI brothers made a century ago, but as fellow citizens and compassionate human beings it is our responsibility to pause and recognize--no matter the length of elapsed time--those lives lost in the fight for liberty and freedom.
One of the two sons in a family of seven, young Beatty grew up in downtown Canton in a house on Wall Street where parents Edward and Mary (nee Boutilier) raised their family. Edward Sr. worked for Edison Electric for more than twenty years before a stroke disabled him; by then his namesake son was twenty years old and after completion of his education in the Canton public school system had become a carpenter by trade--though from his early days young Edward had consistently shown an interest in all things military.
So it was by that fateful combination of preparation and timing that Edward Beatty was of an age and in position to be a participant in The Great War, which still remains one of the deadliest conflicts in history. After the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria and before war erupted in Europe in the summer of 1914, Beatty had already enlisted with the Roxbury Horse Guards Massachusetts militia unit and “re-upped” annually through 1916--just as the United States declared war on Germany in the spring of 1917. By that time Beatty had seen a six month tour of cavalry duty on the Mexican border, earned medals for riding and shooting and been promoted to Sergeant.
September of 1917 saw Beatty sailing for France after transfer to a Machine Gun battalion; his letters home were numerous and articulate and his wartime experiences vividly portrayed to family and friends. Interestingly, Beatty also recounted meeting up with old Canton friends in war-torn Europe and sharing items contained in their “care packages” of smokes and sweets which were sent to American “doughboys” fighting overseas. Known from his youth to make and keep friends with ease and affability, Beatty also displayed his patriotism when he wrote home that “we boys are taking a hand in the making of the world’s history...and that in itself, is reward enough for us.”
1918 began on a somber note of foreboding for the Beatty family as Edward Sr. suffered another stroke at home and died on New Year’s Day. In the first line of trenches, Sergeant Beatty was writing home by February of the horrors of warfare and the senseless loss of life and destruction of property. The poignant letter written the previous December which his father would never receive, describing a white Christmas in a bombed out French village, had now been replaced with his accounts of more harsh realities endured as his battalion repeatedly engaged with the enemy.
Planned by the Germans as simply a raid to display the weakness and inexperience of the American troops, the Battle of Seicheprey was executed in the wee hours of the morning on April 20, 1918 and proved to be devastatingly effective against the Yankee Division, though later termed a victory by the American press. For Cantonites, Beatty’s death in that battle touched its townspeople and brought home once again the unforgiving reality of war. Despite his wounds, exhaustion and the bravery that allowed others to live, U.S. Army Sergeant Edward J. Beatty was killed by bayonet that day in northeastern France at the age of twenty six.
Though thirteen more would follow him in the total number of Canton losses from the war we now refer to as WWI, Beatty’s death as the first was appropriately recognized and his life honored in ways that are both visible and remembered to this day. A funeral mass said for him at St. John’s church at the time word of his death was received drew a more than capacity crowd and townspeople overflowed the building; local businesses were also closed to mark his passing. 1921 saw Canton’s new American Legion Post named for him; this special place on the grounds of Canton High School helps former service members process their wartime experiences and continues to provide practical support in the adjustment to civilian life.
When Beatty’s remains finally came home from France in 1921, he was waked at Memorial Hall where he lay in state for twenty four hours before being buried in St. Mary’s cemetery. No such honor either before or since has been granted a local member of our nation’s military.
You can find Edward Beatty’s name on the World War One memorial located in Memorial Park at the Canton Corner Cemetery on Washington St. which includes all of the other war memorials, each one displaying the individual names of local veterans lost to war. It is a beautiful and fitting tribute to our local veterans and a reminder to all of us that the cost of freedom is often quite high indeed.
Lynch, Edward J. Jr. “It Seems Like Yesterday”. The Canton Citizen
Piana, Edward R. Canton’s Fallen Heroes. Canton, MA: 2007.