The birth of the Cheney-Armstrong American Legion Post

Cheney was first local casualty

  • William Cheney. Photo credit: Monadnock Center for History and Culture

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Saturday, November 10, 2018 2:10PM

The original namesake of Peterborough’s American Legion was the first local person to die in World War I. 

Peterborough resident William H. Cheney (1897-1918) was a first lieutenant in one of the earliest American aviation groups sent overseas. He enlisted six days before the United States entered the war and immediately was put into the Army’s Signal Corps because he had prior experience as a pilot. 

“William as a young man had been doing some aviation training before the United States got involved, but that’s really driven by him having the means to do that,” said Monadnock Center for History and Culture Executive Director Michelle Stahl. “This is very early in the history of aviation.”

The son of Mary Cheney Schofield and Charles P. Cheney, Cheney was born into enormous wealth and privilege. His mother was one of the main people behind the building of All Saints’ Church and her father-in-law was part of a group of businessmen whose company would eventually become American Express. 

“It would’ve been extremely unlikely that a working class person was learning to fly airplanes,” Stahl said. 

Cheney was among those selected for the first aero squadron sent to Italy. On Jan. 20, 1918, Cheney was participating in a training exercise and two planes from opposite camps were involved in an aerial collision during an attempt to escape from a low cloud of fog that blew over the training field. Three aviators, including Cheney, perished. 

Upon returning from the war, World War I veterans founded the American Legion Post No. 5 – the fifth in the state – naming it after Cheney. 

Peterborough’s American Legion Post now also honors Jock Armstrong, the first local man to die in service during World War II. 

Nicholas Handy can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or nhandy@ledgertranscript.com. He is also on Twitter @nhandyMLT.