Today, October 17, is the 100 year anniversary of the death of Washington University alum Captain Charles Henry Duncker Jr., who was killed in battle while serving as the Captain of the 340th Field Artillery division during WWI.
The Life of Charles Duncker
Charles Duncker Jr. was born in 1893 and attended Central High School in St. Louis, where he was editor of the school paper and played on the football team. Duncker was an exemplary student, and as the highest-ranking graduate of Central, he was awarded an automatic scholarship to Washington University.
At Washington University, Duncker continued his academic excellence while becoming an active participant in University life. He was the editor-in-chief of Wash U’s Hatchet yearbook, editor-in chief of Student Life, and member of Phi Beta Kappa, Beta Theta Pi, and Sigma Xi. He graduated from the University in 1914, and began working for his father’s carpet company before enlisting in the first officer’s training camp at Fort Riley in April of 1917 and was commissioned as a lieutenant. On May 14, 1918, he married fellow Wash U alum Ada Nicholson, who had worked on the Hatchet with him, and was shipped off to France later that same month.
Duncker served bravely in the war and was quickly promoted to Captain on October 7th, but only ten days later, he was shot and killed in Thiaucourt-Regnieville, France. Lieutenant Dan Bartlett, a junior at Washington University, was present when Duncker was shot. Below is a scrap of paper, from the Dan Bartlett Collection, that was allegedly in Duncker’s pocket when he was shot. The scrap even contains a hole that is purportedly made by the German shell that killed Duncker.
Memorializing a War Hero
After the war, Duncker’s parents and widow gifted Washington University with Duncker Hall in Charles Duncker’s memory. The cornerstone to the building was laid in 1923, and it was open for classes in 1924. Duncker Hall completed the main quadrangle of Washington University that is made up of Brookings, January, and Ridgley. It was originally home to the Business School until they outgrew it in the 1960s, and has since been the home of the English department.
Duncker and other students who died in the war were also honored in a 1921 ceremony by the Washington University Memorial Association. A plaque commemorating the dead is still on display outside of Ridgley Hall. You can read more about the Memorial Association and see a scan of Charles Duncker’s War Record in our previous blog post.
Further Resources on WWI
Materials from Washington University’s WWI collections, including a barrage report held by Charles Duncker when he died, are now available digitally through the Missouri Digital Heritage project, “Missouri Over There: Missouri and the Great War,” a project to digitize collections of Missouri’s participation in the First World War. You can check out the project at Missouri Over There. Patrons interested in researching more about WWI can also view the library’s WWI Archival Sources Research Guide to discover other related University collections.