Though St. Michael’s lost many young men in various wars, there are only two memorial war-time plaques. One honors a member of the Peters family and is part of the remarkably large collection of Richmond-Peters memorials that populate the church.
The other is the unusually small, modest and isolated plaque on the wall to the right of the altar in the Chapel of the Angels.
When the United States entered World War I, St. Michael’s heeded the call. In late March, 1918, St. Michael’s unfurled a special “service flag,” now lost, with seventy-nine stars for members of the congregation who were in the armed forces. The army, navy, “medical,” and “aviation” branches of the armed services were all represented; of the seventy-nine listed, eighteen were officers; seventy-seven were men and two were women.
Lewellyn Alexander, N. S. N. R. F. (Naval Station Naval Reserve Force), seems to have been a particularly well-loved member of St. Michael’s. He was one of the first to join the military when war was declared. His death in military service hit the congregation hard.
St. Michael’s rector, the Rev. John Punnett Peters wrote about Lewellyn in the January, 1919 Messenger. “He grew up in this Parish. He was confirmed here. He became a communicant. Regular in his religious duties, devout by nature and training, he abounded in service in his home and in the Church. None worked more or more faithfully than he in the Sunday School.” Lewellyn became a social worker. His first job was with the Young Men’s Christian Association in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Then he transferred to the Harlem Branch of the YMCA where, according to their memorial statement, “His devotion, his readiness to exert himself to the utmost to serve the members and those who sought help, won for him the affection of all.”
In the Navy, Lewellyn trained as a radio electrician and operator. His primary responsibility, especially on reconnaissance missions off the coast of Virginia where he was stationed, was to receive, record and transmit wireless communications from American ships torpedoed by German U-boats; in addition, he worked with other electricity technicians to devise adjustments and improvements to the wireless radios themselves. On a coastal reconnaissance mission in November, 1918, Lewellyn’s sea-plane became separated in fog from the rest of the squad and managed a shaky water landing. Then, attempting to reach the Norfolk, Virginia Naval Base, the plane become briefly airborne again before crashing into a tower. One of the plane’s engines was hurled into the hull of the plane, and Lewellyn was killed.
Fellow sailors and flyers wrote about Lewellyn Alexander, “He always impressed us as a straightforward, honest and Christian young man.” They reported that he exhibited “daring in his work” and showed “zeal, courage and self-sacrifice … His superior officers held him in high esteem.”
John Punnett Peters concluded his Messenger obituary notice, “He took an active part in the religious life at the Naval Station. He often played the organ, and almost the last word that I received from him before his death was that he had played at a Communion service and received the Communion.”
Lewellyn Alexander was twenty-four years old.