William Joseph Reid


Meg Thorndike


My grandfather, William Joseph Reid (Bill), always enjoys telling stories. He's  told me about everything from managing my money, to learning from other's mistakes. So when I was first asigned this project, I knew he would jump at the opportunity to tell me about his expieriences in World War Two!

Recruitment posters like this were used to
encourage men to join the navy.

Starting Out
My grandfather enlisted in the Navy in May of 1944 at the age of seventeen. Soon after enlisting, he went to boot camp in Samson, NY followed by gunnery school at Camp Sheldon in Virginia. He was assigned to a ship from South Portland, ME which was part of the armed guard of the United States Navy.

Setting Sail
The ship's first job was to load up ammunition in South Portland and then travel to Boston to load a cargo of food. The next stop was to Halifax, Nova Scotia; but on the way there, they hit a storm that practically wrecked the ship and several men on board were injured. One man broke both of his legs on the deck because a heavy barrel rolled over him. Next they crossed the Atlantic, joined a group in Northern Ireland, traveled down the coast and delivered their supplies. After that, they loaded up with  ammunition including number three hatch detonators. My grandfather said that with such detonators, if the ship had “hit you there, you didn't need a lifejacket, you know what you needed, a parachute”.

Life on Board

The ship was run by seamen, and everyone else on board was part odid the other jobs and worked in the gun crew, as mailmen, brig wardens, etc. My grandfather, among several other jobs, was the brig warden. He told me that a brig warden was the person in charge of unruly sailors and they had a jail just in case. When I asked him if he ever had to put anyone in the jail, he told me that he did, twice. One of the times, a common rule breaker had so much to drink, that he was wobbling around the deck shooting his pistol into the air like a mad man. After several men restrained the man, my grandfather removed his gun and put him down in the jail.

A Sea of Opportunity

The ammunition was delivered to France, then it was back to the States to pick up tanks, trucks, and jeeps. After delivering them and making an appearance in Coffins Corner, a dangerous part of the Atlantic, they headed back to the United States. Once back in the States, my grandfather was assigned to an MS Oil Tanker. The tanker was helpful because of its speed, but it often broke down and they had to repair it in time so that submarines wouldn't catch up with it. They traveled to Trinidad to pick up oil, then took British soldiers back to Scotland, once the war was over.

Taking Time Out
The ship headed to Southampton and then he took a leave in Putney, right outside of London. Unfortunately, no one told him that the Buzz bombs were being shot there by the Germans, towards the end of the war, and he had to go to a bomb shelter. The yard in front of the building next to where he was staying had been hit, and there were several broken windows.

A Buzz Bomb: The "Ultimate Weapon"

Back in the Wave of Things
After his leave, he went back to the ship in Southampton and sailed to Baltimore, Maryland. From there he was assigned to Virginia as the chauffeur to the captain, where he drove a station wagon and also worked in the cafeteria in charge of the whites, due to segregation. He was then discharged from Portsmouth, Virginia in May of 1946 and traveled home by rail, stopping off in New York to see a few free Broadway shows.

Photograph of my grandfather's boot camp members

Home at Last
He arrived home in Massachusetts and became a civilian. Finally, he went to school at the Massachusetts Art School in Brookline because they offered last year high school courses to Veterans to be completed in only eight weeks. After hearing so much about my grandfathers exciting experiences in World War Two and knowing how it has impacted his life for the better, it was hard to believe when he told me,   “And my father said, ‘Never volunteer for anything’, my father was wrong”.

Life Since the War
A lot has happened in my grandfather's life since World War Two. He worked for the US Coast Guard for years and has been married to my grandmother, Sheila Ahern Reid, for over fifty one years. Together, they have eight children: Danny, Joan, Susan, Linda, Mark, Gail, Brian, and Mary and fourteen grandchildren: Josh, Tim, Elizabeth, Matt, Amory, Alicia, Meg, Geoff, David, Evan, Nicholas, Madison, Andrew, and Lily. He and my grandmother live in Scituate, MA in the same house that they have lived in since my mom, Gail, was born. My grandfather now enjoys spending his time watching the sun set and telling stories to us grand kids. Until this interview, I knew that my grandfather was in World War Two, but I had no idea what he had done.  I'm certainly glad that now I do!


Reid, William J.  Interview on 2/15/04

Spring Creek Youth Services Center