Private Eugene Adelbert Neale: A life of service and sacrifice for the Maple Leaf Flag

In researching historical people and events, it is not all that rare to run across a gem buried among larger events. I recently located one such gem. The hero in this story is Eugene Adelbert Neale, born March 20, 1896 (some military paperwork says 1892) in Worcester, Massachusetts – population approximately 100,000 at the time. Worcester was settled in 1673 but was burned to the ground twice by Native American belligerents, mostly of the Nipmuc tribe, which had originally populated the area. The town was rebuilt the third time in 1713 and was never abandoned again.

Eugene Adelbert Neale was the son of Emily Josephine Blaisdell and (probably) Fredrick C. Neale or Fred J. Neale. Why his father departed the household is unknown at this time but Eugene’s mother first married Henry A. Raymond on October 15, 1890 in Worcester. Next, she married Frank G. Cook, a Civil War veteran, on July 12, 1899 in Worcester. Frank was fifty-one and Emily was twenty-eight. Somewhere between those two, Fred fathered Eugene. Eugene had two half-siblings, a brother and sister. He routinely referred to them as “step” siblings on his military records.

Eugene was living with his stepfather and mother on Wilson Street, San Antonio, Texas in 1910. Frank cook was the only one with an income. He worked as a watchman at the army post. Again, this would have placed Eugene in direct contact with many soldiers. Also, living in the home were Eugene’s half brother and sister, named after his grandparents, Harriet and Guilford.

Eugene was a teenager and soon to go his own way when his mother married Cook. Cook’s Civil War service with the 11th Rhode Island Infantry Regiment may have influenced Eugene’s entry into the military. Certainly, his grandfather Guilford C. Blaisdell, who was mustered in to the 25th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at the time of its organization, played a substantial role in Eugene’s thinking. The 25th Mass. fought in several campaigns, most notably, Cold Harbor and the siege of Petersburg.

The fact that Eugene made out his Last Will, in the event of his death in battle, leaving all his property to his grandmother Harriet K. (Rich) Blaisdell, says much about who was important to him.

Pvt. Eugene A. Neale circa 1940s

No one would have picked E. A. Neale as being a professional soldier. He was of average height and of slight build. All his top teeth were missing and he had barely over a half-dozen on the bottom. He was in his mid-twenties when he first joined the Canadian army, old in most circles for such a start-up. Eugene had a weak eye that was serious enough to prevent many activities. He was not going to be put behind a sniper rifle. He was tough however, having worked steel presses and other exhausting jobs since a boy. He had tattoos on both arms, a mark of membership in a society of poor and frustrated laborers no doubt. Only the above grainy photograph of Eugene could be found, but perhaps represents his struggle to merely be recognized by a world that must have seemed distant, foreign, and somewhat unwelcoming. With that said, one thing is for certain, Eugene Neale lived and died a soldier and one always on the right side of history.

Canadian Red Ensign, carried on land and sea during WWI

On a form contained in Eugene’s Canadian military files, he wrote that he had belonged to the militia for six-months in the USA. He lined through “until I left city.” The form was dated December 1915 and it might be assumed the city was San Antonio. This was probably his first experience with military training.

87th Bn. sailed for the UK April 23, 1916 aboard the first of three ships named HMS Empress of Britain. Empress of Britain was a converted passenger ship that carried Canadian, and later U.S. (AEF), troops to the U.K. during WWI. The 87th arrived in England May 4, 1916.

October 21, 1916 Eugene was admitted to the 13th Stationary Hospital at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. Gun shot wound to left arm.

Timeline: Eugene A. Neale

Worcester, MA. 1896-

Cleveland, OH.

Canadian Army 1914-1918. Assigned to 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards), CEF.

U.S. Army 1918-1920. assigned to Fort Sam Houston, TX.

Married Clara J. (unknown last). March 1, 1919

U.S. Army in January 1920 (U.S. census).

Worcester, MA. 1920-1925

San Antonio, TX. 1925-1928

Worcester, MA. 1928-1931

Cleveland, OH. 1932-1933

Detroit. Michigan 1933-1934

Kerrville, TX. 1934-1936

Detroit, Michigan, 1936-1938

Windsor, Ontario 1938-1939

Enlisted September 12, 1939 in the Canadian Army. Assigned to the Essex Scottish Regiment.

Dieppe Raid 19 August 1942

The seventh raid, undertaken by the 87th Battalion, was unsuccessful. The three officers and forty-seven other ranks who made up the party got well away close under the barrage, but on reaching the parapet two small mines were exploded beneath them. In some way the enemy had become aware of the approaching raid, probably owing to an attack carried out by the Division on the left; the element of surprise, the great factor in all successful raids, was thus lost. Heavy fire was directed against the attackers; and after a brisk exchange of bombs it became evident that nothing could be accomplished. The party accordingly withdrew.

Charles G. D. Roberts, Canada in Flanders, Vol. III

 On November 19, 1916, Eugene was admitted to No. 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Tréport, France. He was treated for a combat related gunshot wound to the left leg. Eugene returned to duty on January 19, 1917.

November 18th.

Barrage starts at 6 a.m. and the operations successfully carried out. Our guns succeed in capturing Desire from the Ravine to a point about halfway between the Pys and East Miraumont Roads. East of this point our men have great trouble, meeting with heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, and are ultimately driven back to Regina Trench. Parties from the 38th and 87th Battalions advance into Grandcourt Trench and take many prisoners, but later are ordered to retire and assist in the consolidation of the new line running about 100 yards north of Desire Trench. The operation as a whole distinctly successful, in spite of the reverse on the right.

Charles G. D. Roberts, Canada in Flanders, Vol. III

In January 1917, Eugene was able to return to duty. He was rewarded with ten days leave in Paris. It must have seemed that life went on in spite of the bloody war raging on the front. People attended plays, looked for the newest clothing lines and danced and drank.

Another six months would pass before the first soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force arrived in France.

The 87th returned to Canada aboard the RMS Mauretania, also a former passenger liner. They departed May 21, 1919 and arrived in Montreal on May 31. There, they were demobilized on June 6, 1919.  

U.S. Army 1918-1920

In January 1920, Eugene was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas as a private in the U.S. Army’s 14th Cavalry Regiment (Medical Detachment). The census did not reflect whether he was a patient or part of the permanent party. The largest threat to the military and U.S. population during 1918-1920 was not a foreign power but the Spanish Flu pandemic.

In April 1920, the 14th Cav. Regiment setoff on, what would be a 1,100-mile march stopping first in Iowa. The bulk of the regiment came to rest at Fort Des Moines on August 19, 1920. It is unknown if Eugene was among them or even if he was still in U.S. service by that date. 

Frank Cook died July 11, 1922 in Bexar County, Texas. Emily J. Cook died June 23, 1936, also in Bextar County.

The Second World War began on September 1, 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland. Eugene, once more, enlisted in the Canadian army . He was mustered into the Essex Scottish Regiment on September 12, 1939.

The Essex Scottish Regiment of Canada, WWII

A sergeant of the Essex Scottish Regiment of Canada
A soldier of the Essex Scottish Regiment of Canada

On 1 September 1939, the Essex Scottish Regiment, C.A.S.F. was mobilized. Within only a few days the Regiment had recruited a full strength force, including a notable number of Americans.

Veterans Affairs Canada

The ESR sailed from Canada on August 16, 1940. The regiment was part of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division. Their first combat came on August 19, 1942 during the ill-fated Dieppe Raid.

When the Essex Scottish Regiment landed on the eastern (BLUE) beach at Dieppe, they were met by a hailstorm of bullets and shells from the German pillboxes lining the high ground on all sides of the beach. The unit was immediately pinned down, and out of the entire regiment, less than a dozen men managed to get off the beach and into town. No one knows when Eugene Neale fell, only that he was among the hundreds of missing reported that day and not on the later list of those captured.

Military historians are still somewhat baffled by the purpose (or rather the lack of purpose) of the Dieppe Raid. Why was it necessary in August 1942, just prior to the TORCH (North Africa) landings, to stage a large landing on German occupied French beaches? David O’Keefe has provided the most current research on the raid. He suggests that a commando style hit and run attack was meant to disguise the true objective of the raid, to collect information that would break the code generated by the four-rotator Enigma machine. O’Keefe has at least given some degree of worthwhile meaning to the massive cost in Canadian, British, American and French lives.

It was five months before his wife, living in San Antonio, was officially notified that Eugene was dead. His last will left all his meager possessions to her.

In late 1948, a request for information on Eugene’s whereabouts came on behalf of his biological father, still living in Cleveland, Ohio. Fred J. Neale had married and ran a successful Insurance firm in Cleveland. Eugene had lived in Cleveland at least once in his youth. But it is obvious that he and his father were not close. Fred died in December 1951.

Canadian Cemetery, Dieppe, France . WWII medals awarded to Eugene A. Neale