By Holly Clay
Olga Lingard was known as a recluse. There’s more to her story, though. She lived on the hillside above Annisquam’s Lobster Cove, on the Dogtown side of Washington Street. Her brother Eric took on heroic missions as a WWI aviator, dying in Action. In his memory, Olga gave a parcel of land for “Soldiers’ Memorial Woods,” where Annisquam’s WWI war memorial stands in a peaceful grove alongside the Cove. A plaque honors soldiers who lost their lives in that “Great War.” Three men’s names are etched there: Eric Lingard, John Gossom, and Bertram Williams. All had strong Cape Ann ties.
Olga wanted to pay tribute to her brother and establish a memorial. He died in October 1918 in the aftermath of a successful aerial retaliation against a German U-boat threatening a South American freighter. Ensign Eric Lingard died of pneumonia at the Naval Air Base at Chatham, shortly after a plane on which he was “gunner,” crashed. He and his co-aviators were spotted and saved after 27 hours in the freezing, October waters off Cape Cod. Eric had stayed partially submerged, tending to his comrade and holding up the left wing of the plane. The encounter was one of the rare home-coast incidents in which a U.S. Navy plane successfully diverted a German U-boat.
In 1923, Olga, along with an Annisquam memorial committee commenced discussion. She hoped the Grove would bear Eric’s name. She had cause. Hollis French, a committee member, explained Olga’s point of view in a letter to Professor Charles Frederick Bradley. (Bradley would ultimately deliver an address at the unveiling.) Hollis said that Olga noted the custom of naming Legion posts after their most prominent member, and believed the same protocol was afforded war memorials. He continued, “he [Eric] was, she thinks, the only one who was lost in actual defense of his home land and particularly of his home section…She feels, therefore, that if the land in question is to be used as a memorial, it should be named after him, although it could be used as a memorial for all the boys who went from Annisquam.“
By 1929 the committee and Olga had resolved to dedicate the Wood to all those who fought, highlighting the three Annisquam men who died. Preparing for the July 7 dedication, Olga eagerly shared memories and highlights of Eric’s life and career in a letter to Professor Bradley. “Those Naval Patrol Fliers were pioneers of the air in the tradition of 1776. A meager handful – with shaky planes, scant equipment, worthless compasses and no ammunition – they set out against the odds of storm and deadly fog, to see their enemy. They too met death barehanded for the sake of the land they loved.”
Her words reflect an aching heart, as she goes on to describe Eric’s roots in Annisquam, “This Wood, these trees, and rocks, this cove, were part of Eric’s childhood. Here he played Indian and learned to swim. And beyond all official data, there is one fact of particular significance to the people of Annisquam: The fact that Eric’s special service – the thing he individually could give – was his exact knowledge of this coast, gained from a boyhood spent cruising these waters. After he won his wings, his orders to France were issued but were delayed….as the Germans sent submarines over here. Our coastwise shipping, even the coast itself was attacked. Pilots familiar with these shores were needed. And so it happened that Eric was chosen to guard this very spot.”
“Those of us who were in Annisquam during the summer and fall of 1918 could hear, almost daily, the throb of his plane as he flew over us on patrol. And death came to him as the result of his volunteered response to an SOS from a submarine attack.”
“Truly, and directly, he gave his life in defense of this Wood which you now dedicate,” she wrote with the passion of one who has lost the person most dear to her. She never fully recovered. In later years, she could be found sitting in Eric’s tomb in Annisquam’s Mt. Adnah Cemetery. Perhaps, she tried to reforge the bond that his tragic death severed.
Olga also had a role in securing the hull of the downed plane, H.S. 1L.1695, for Gloucester. It was to be placed in Stage Fort Park as a tribute to the Gloucester men who fought in the Great War.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then Acting Secretary of the Navy, wrote to Olga, “Your letter concerning the hull of Seaplane 1695 has been received, and I am very glad to be able to tell you that the request you make in your letter has already been complied with.
“….I have given orders that the hull of Seaplane 1695 be turned over to the Park Commissioners of Gloucester…
“Knowing what a splendid young man your brother was, I can realize what a great loss you have suffered. Your brother lived up to the best traditions of the Navy and I cannot speak too highly of his gallant work.”
Olga, like her brother, had backbone. Their childhoods could not have been easy, but certainly fueled loyalty to one another. Though newspaper accounts say Olga was born in Switzerland, ships’ manifests list Hungary. It is not clear when they emigrated, but in 1900 Olga, Eric, and their mother Adele, this time claiming birth in Germany, were boarding with a family by the name of Boehme in Los Angeles. Their father Henry R. Lingard’s birthplace is listed as Russia. The census form lists him as deceased, around 1898. In 1900 Olga was 13 and Eric was 10.
By 1905 the family had moved to Boston. Eric attended Middlesex and Harvard, entering Harvard Law School in 1913. Then in January 1915, Adele died. Eric left law school to care for Olga. He was only half way through his second year. Coming home to Annisquam, to “Highland Cottage,” he established an ice business. Eric’s official Navy Registration card (May 1917) listed Olga as his sole relative. He wrote, “Yes. Am sole relative and guardian of invalid sister, …”
Olga Lingard lived until August 1970. Her GDT obituary says she was educated in Europe and spoke several languages. The obituary speaks of her contributions, most notably of the WWI Memorial here in Annisquam. Though solitary up on the hill with her dogs, she maintained links to the community. Below, she appears in a photograph of the cast of the Annisquam Village Players (first row, second from left).
Later in life, Olga sold the family house to the Crouse family (Sound of Music lyricist Russel Crouse) and moved into a smaller house on Bennett Street. In December of 1964, a fire ravaged her home. Olga lost everything, including the manuscript for a book she had written about her brother. Not long after, she moved to an apartment in Rockport and ultimately to a nursing home. An eccentric, or not, Olga Lingard made her mark, dignifying the family name and drawing attention to the ultimate sacrifice paid by her remarkable and loyal brother Eric.
The hull of HS 1695 has disappeared, its fate a mystery. One clue surfaced. In 2012, Gloucester resident Bill Hubbard responded to a Good Morning Gloucester photograph of the seaplane Eric regularly piloted.
The photo jogged his memory. In regard to the other plane, the one that crashed, Hubbard said, “For years before and during WW-II, the hull of a similar plane was in the lower level of the Twin Light Garage on East Main Street. The garage was owned by the late Ray Bradley who lived on Rocky Neck. As kids, we often played around it and I remember Ray telling us that it had been a WW-I airplane – I believe it was an old Coast Guard bi-winged seaplane. There were no wings or rudder, just the hull which was shaped very much like the one in the picture. Not long after the end of the war, they dragged it out to the flats on Smith Cove and burned it.”
In response, Bodin confirmed Hubbard’s memory. “Thanks, Bill. I had heard that Eric Lingard’s aircraft was stored in the DPW barn on Poplar Street for years, and then went to someone’s basement or garage.”
Hubbard replied, “Fred, maybe that was Lingard’s plane in the basement of Twin Light Garage.”
What else could it have been?
Gloucester’s VFW Post 1620 ultimately took Eric Lingard’s name, now known as the Doucette-Lingard Post.
To learn more visit:
The Annisquam Historical Society Exhibition at the Annisquam Firehouse
Annisquam in World War I
4 July 2017 – 30 September 2017
Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society. With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.