Skip to content
Narberth People

Harold Davis Speakman

1895 – 1918

The namesake of Narberth's American Legion Harold D. Speakman Post No. 356 lived in Narberth for less than three years, but thanks to that homage, achieved a prominence that has long outlived the young man himself.

Harold Davis Speakman was born the same year as Narberth. His family lived in West Philadelphia where his father was a station master for the Pennsylvania Railroad, perhaps at the nearby 52nd street station (closed 1980). The Speakmans purchased 511 N. Essex in May 1914, at the time of Harold's high school graduation.

The Our Town social column reports young Harold making a splash on the Narberth social scene: in September 1915, he joined a chaperoned straw ride (the same as a hay ride?), in January 1916, he enjoyed a surprise party for Miss Jean Chalfant.

He gained local renown as a performer. In January 1915 he took up roles as a "Yiddish gentleman" and, in a farce based on Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harold "as Eliza and her baby will bring the house down on the second scene in Eliza's escape over the ice, real ice at that. In this scene six Narberth bloodhounds will run across the stage, followed by Simon Legree." Eliza was certainly performed in blackface, as well as drag.

Then, in May "Harold Speakman and Bill McCargo, who have become famous in Narberth as Jewish comedians, will again entertain in some brand new songs and jokes. It is not necessary to dwell on the ability of these two actors—they speak for themselves."

At age 18-19, Harold, front row left in the photo, played on the undefeated 1914-15 Narberth Y.M.C.A. Basket Ball [sic] team.

team in uniforms posed in three rows; middle man holds basketball
Back row (left to right): Earl Smith, Norman Kriebel, Vernon Fleck, Lawrence Davis, Dr. Romaine Hoffman (coach). Middle row: Eugene Davis, William Durbin (Capt.), Lester Jeffries. Bottom row: Harold Speakman, Walter Humphries. Our Town April 15, 1915

“Narberth's First Hero”

On April 6, 1917, the U. S. entered the Great War. On May 28, Harold enlisted. Now Our Town regularly lists Harold among "the men of Narberth [who] have answered the call for the defense of our country". In 1918 "The Fireside" social column reported that "Harold Speakman, a private in the 109th Medical Corps, has been selected for the Officers' Training Camp at Atlanta, Ga." He was commisioned a 2nd Lieutenant as his unit shipped to France.

Harold Speakman was killed in action at the 2nd Battle of the Marne on July 25th 1918, age 22. He is buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery (Plot A Row 18 Grave 12) in France.

Speakman's death ("Narberth's First Hero") was announced in the September 12, 1918 issue of Our Town in a tribute written by State Representative Fletcher Stites, a former Burgess, as preparations were being made for the September 27-28 Patriotic Fete. "Lieutenant Speakman died as a soldier would wish to die, in the flame of battle with a cheer upon his lips."

newspaper clipping
Fletcher W. Stites's stirring remembrance of Harold Speakman in Our Town
Transcription:

LIEUTENANT HAROLD D. SPEAKMAN

Narberth's First Hero Dies Fighting in France

The great conflict raging on the fields of Flanders and Picardy was brought very close to the people of Narberth when word came to the parents of Lieutenant Harold D. Speakman that he had met his death fighting bravely at the head of his company. Shortly after war was declared Lieutenant Speakman enlisted in the Medical Corps and went to Camp Hancock. Eager and willing in the discharge of his duties he showed a marked aptitude and was soon made a sergeant. The gravity of the great issues involved in the war weighed upon his heart and he wrote to his mother that he could not be satisfied until he had been transferred into an active combatant branch of the service where he could feel that he was personally fighting for his ideals. Accordingly, he secured a transfer to the infantry and became a member of the 112th Pennsylvania Regiment. His enthusiasm and zeal in his work in the infantry soon brought him to the favorable notice of his superiors, and when his regiment embarked for France he received a lieutenant's commission.

Lieutenant Speakman died as a soldier would wish to die, in the flame of battle with a cheer upon his lips. When the Germans were driven back from the Marne salient, the 112th Pennsylvania Regiment was in the thick of the fighting. The retreat of the Huns carried them to the Vesle River and the American troops were ordered to capture Fismes. In this little town one of the most hitter struggles of the war took place. For hours the battle raged with first the Germans and then the Americans holding the town. Our forces having been driven out, Lieutenant Speakman's company was sent forward in a final effort to capture the position Lieutenant Speakman was charging at the head of his men when a German shell struck in the midst of a group of Americans, killing the lieutenant and several of his men instantly.

Harold D. Speakman made the great decision. He chose to serve the good to stand by his principles, to guard the sense of honor within his breast, and now he has died for his ideals To those of us who knew him well his death is a keen personal bereavement. The glow of his spirit, the fidelity of his friendship, and the sincerity of his devotion to his home and loved ones will remain as an inspiration. The land of the lengthening shadow has enveloped him, but we shall cherish him in the green memory of our hearts.

Fletcher W. Stites.

Lt. Speakman after the War

The person who emerges from these accounts is an outgoing, sociable young man, quick to integrate in whatever circle he found himself, who excelled at many endeavors. It is not surprising that in September 1919, Narberth WWI veterans named the local chapter of the American Legion in honor of Harold D. Speakman. The official justification was that Harold was "the first Narberth man to give his life for his country in World War I". In 1936, the Post commissioned Merion artist William Tefft Schwarz to paint the portrait of Speakman that hangs in the Legion headquarters today.

half-length oil painting of young man in WWI army uniform
Painting of Harold Speakman at the Narberth American Legion Post

Was Domenico Corvaro really Narberth's first WWI casualty?

Find a person

Search Help