AFTER THE START of the Great War in July 1914, President Woodrow Wilson was determined to keep the U.S. on a peaceful footing. Wilson was backed by a majority of the American people, but as the war raged on, political pressure mounted for the U.S. to join the fray on the side of the Allied Powers, including Great Britain.
Hungering for war news, American audiences were thrilled when the new art of documentary filmmaking enabled them to see footage of actual battles. In April 1915 the Manchester Union and Leader newspapers sponsored several showings at the Park Theatre on Elm Street of films shot on the front lines.
An ad boasted of “Startling Battle Films – Marvelous Scenes Taken in France, Germany, England, Belgium, Austria, and Russia.” The audiences would witness “100 Stirring Events” with “views of appalling destruction.” As the footage had no sound, a narrator would describe the dramatic scenes, to place the viewers “…in the midst of the greatest struggle in history.”
Although the U.S. remained neutral in the war, some American citizens chose to serve in the armed forces of other countries. On April 19, 1915 the Union reported “New Hampshire Loses First Son in European War.” The article reported that Charles C. Champollion of Newport, N.H., had been killed by a German sniper while serving in the French army at Bois-le-Prêtre in France.
The newspaper printed his last letter, which he had written to a friend right before his death, where he describes the miserable conditions faced by the soldiers in the trenches. The article concludes with: “The letter was punctuated with crosses put in by the writer whenever a shell passed over his head. There were 38 of these crosses in the letter.”
Champollion had been born in Paris to an American mother. He was the grandson of Jean Francois Champollion, the famous Egyptologist who discovered and deciphered the Rosetta Stone. A Harvard graduate and artist, Champollion traveled widely, and lived half the year in a “beautiful bungalow” in Newport. He was 35 years old when he died, and he left behind his wife Adelaide and their 5-year-old son René.
On May 4, 1915 the Union reported that Cpl. Joseph Antoine Guertin of Nashua, N.H., was killed in action while serving in the Canadian army. On May 7 the ocean liner Lusitania sunk off the coast of Ireland when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The newspaper reported that several people with New Hampshire ties had perished in the tragedy. The sense of outrage over this attack on a civilian target increased pressure for the U.S. to get involved in the war.
It was within this atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that an aspiring Manchester music publisher, 28-year-old Adam R. Rocheleau, composed a song entitled “I want to be a soldier for the U.S.A.” He partnered with another local resident, 32-year-old Eva C. Hardy, who wrote the words.
In 1915 Rocheleau published the sheet music for this piece out of his office on Elm Street. The cover art of a boy holding a toy gun was created by a Manchester sign painter, 28-year-old Louis G. De Tonnancour. Quoting from the lyrics: “Someday we should fight if we would hold our own … The man who dares to be a soldier puts honor before peace … I want to be a soldier for the U.S.A., to win or die boys in the midst of the battle’s hot fray. Who has dared hint that Uncle Sam is afraid to fight. A soldier for the U.S.A. can glory in its might.”
Rocheleau was the son of Canadian immigrants, and Hardy had been born in England. In 1916 the two wrote another song together, which Rocheleau published, entitled “She Has Left the Old Homestead Forever.”
Rocheleau went on to partner with other lyricists on songs including “Won’t You Kiss Me and No One Will Know” in 1915, and “A Dying Woodman” in 1916. After the war he became a principal in Fahey-Rocheleau Music Publishers in Manchester.
Hardy also continued with her musical pursuits. Among her achievements was the 1919 song “America, we’re proud of you” published in Haverhill, Mass. She both composed the tune, and wrote the lyrics.