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Remembering The Great War

One hundred years ago this week, the United States entered World War I. In the nearly two years that followed, 147 Westclox employees left their jobs behind to answer the call to defend their country. The bronze plaque that once hung inside the main factory entrance lists the names of those brave men. The plaque is now on permanent display in the Westclox Museum. It appears that none of these employees lost their lives during this great war, but our research is continuing. (Please note: we have found some misspellings of names on the plaque.)

In fact, Westclox was touched by World War I nearly three years before the United States entered the conflict. A valued employee of Westclox became a casualty of World War I in October 1914. It’s quite possible that you’ve never heard of Gaston Andre Le Roy d’Etiolles, but he is someone you should get to know.

Gaston Le Roy was born in 1882 in France, and educated there. At age eighteen, he came to the United States to “seek his fortune”, like thousands of other immigrants. His first job was as a bank messenger in New York. He later worked at a confectionery in that town. He became acquainted with a stockholder of the Western Clock Co. (Westclox), who helped him secure a position here as a clerk in 1902.

Soon after Mr. Le Roy began his employment, the company decided to expand their business by having someone make short trips to surrounding towns to solicit business. Mr. Le Roy took on this task and proved to be extremely successful. He solicited business in most towns in the Midwest and made one trip each week to Chicago. He was transferred to the New York office in 1904, and traveled from there as headquarters until 1906, when he returned to the Peru factory.

Mr. Le Roy had a great interest in advertising and helped to develop an advertising department. Through his travels for the company, he had a great knowledge of the wants and needs of dealers and the general public. His original ideas were quickly adopted and proved quite successful.

Space does not allow for detailed elaboration here, but his Big Ben Campaign is exceptionally notable. In fact, Mr. Le Roy is credited with giving Big Ben his name, after the famous Tower of London clock. He strongly encouraged advertising for this clock. In fact, he wrote a lengthy, detailed plan on how to go about it. It was likely the most successful advertising plan of any during that time period, and it survived him for generations.

When the company decided to investigate expanding into international markets, it was only natural to select Mr. Le Roy as its representative. He spent most of 1913 in Australia, investigating and establishing markets there. He returned briefly to the Peru plant before departing in early April 2014 for Europe to investigate conditions in Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and England. He had reached Paris, on his return journey to find the people worried about the prospect of imminent war. While he was in Paris, the unthinkable happened. War was declared between Germany and France.

According to French law, every male child of French parents was compelled to serve in the army for a period that varied from one to three years in peace time. In time of war, he was compelled to join the regiment he was attached to in peace time, regardless of his occupation, location, or family, up to the age of 45. An amendment to this law exempted those ages 19 to 30, who had left and remained outside of France until they reached the age of 30, from peace time service. In time of war, however, those who had been exempted were required to join their regiments upon first notice from the nearest consulate, if still abroad. France did not recognize naturalization of its citizens in favor of other countries. i.e.: A Frenchman who had become a naturalized American citizen remained a Frenchman in the eyes of military duties in France. (Mr. Le Roy had never taken out naturalization papers.)

Since Mr. Le Roy’s permanent address was listed at LaSalle, Illinois U.S.A., he was granted a longer time to report for duty – sufficient to reach Paris from Chicago. He used these extra days first to secure proper provisions for his mother, then to be sure all his reports were forwarded to his company in the United States. Finally, he arranged for disposition of his possessions, in the event of his death, and went about the task of trying to find supplies he was required to provide for himself in the army.

In a series of personal letters sent to Mr. Roth, General Manager of Western Clock Co. (Westclox), Le Roy described in detail the hardships of the French people leading up to and immediately after the declaration of war against Germany. Food was especially scarce, and one of the most difficult items for him to secure was a pair of shoes. He continued to write on the train that carried him to the front. The last letter received form Mr. Le Roy was dated September 11, 1914.

A little more than a month later, Westclox received a cablegram from London, dated October 26, 1914. The simple message read, “Le Roy died for his country.” The message was sent by a London firm with whom Le Roy had only recently established relations for the company (Westlcox). According to the November, 1914 issue of Tick Talk, “Their message unconsciously characterized the man – unaffected – direct – devoted to his cause.”

A short time later, a letter arrived form Mr. Le Roy’s mother, providing some details of his death. He had been wounded during fighting near Rheims. He was taken to a hospital near Dinard, where his wound was not considered serious, and he had written to his mother that he would like her to come to him. He died the evening before she arrived.

When the sad news had been verified, the employees of the factory adopted a resolution of sympathy that they asked Mr. Roth to convey to Madame d’Etoilles (Mr. Le Roy’s mother). It was signed by every employee who was present that day. Altogether some 1,200 signatures were attached.

The company also adopted a formal resolution of sympathy, which also included this clause, “BE IT FURTHEER RESOLVED, That the salary of the late Gaston. A. Le Roy, for the unexpired term of his leave of absence, ending December 31, 1914, be paid to his mother, Madame Helen Le Roy d’Etoilles, as a mark of our great appreciation and esteem for her lost son, and that a copy of these Resolutions be forwarded to her with our expressions of sorrow, regret and sympathy.” (Signed) E. Roth, Secretary, Western Clock Co.

Westclox dedicated the November 1914 issue of Tick Talk to Mr. Le Roy. In it, his personal letters to Mr. Roth during those days of turmoil are reproduced, as are testimonials from many who knew and worked with him, as well as the aforementioned resolutions. We have reproduced and enlarged the pages of this issue to make reading easier. It is available at the reading table in the museum during any of our regular hours. Persons with an interest in World War I will find Mr. Le Roy’s personal letters especially interesting.

There are no surviving veterans of World War I, but let us resolve not to forget their sacrifices in what was then believed to be “The War that Ends All Wars”.

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