Bayou La Batre natives and visitors are all familiar with the sight of the four mighty oaks that grace the front lawn of Peter F. Alba Middle School, but few know the history of the oaks.
Alba school, named in honor of the captain and land-owner that donated the property, opened in 1918 and was the first consolidated school in Mobile County for grades 1-11. Eventually the 12th grade was added. Many of us from South Mobile County attended school there for all 12 grades, and for some, so did our parents and grandparents. As the student population of the school grew, other schools were built to accommodate the needs of the students. First, in 1998, grades 9-12 were moved to the newly constructed Alma Bryant High School. Later, in 2005, grades 1-5 moved to the new Anna Booth Elementary. The original school remains, however, as a thriving community of learners and prepares the young adolescents of this charming fishing/shipbuilding community in grades 6-8 for the challenges of the 21st century.
The inaugural class of Alba school came about as WWI was nearing an end. Early in 1918, a number of young men from Bayou La Batre and the surrounding community were called to the draft board to determine their fitness for duty. From that list, nearly three-dozen were called to serve. While the first class of Alba students were completing their studies, many of their brothers, cousins, uncles and friends were training for war, most at Camp Sevier in South Carolina.
My grandmother, Clemmie McGallagher and mother, Elizabeth McGallagher Newberry, have both told me at various times that the four oaks in front of the school were planted in honor of the boys from Bayou La Batre that served in WWI. According to my family, the names of the soldiers were put in jars and planted beneath the trees. Because there are four trees, I assumed there were only four men that served. With the advances in technology and easier access to records online, I have discovered that there were more than four, even if you only count those who were living in Bayou La Batre alone and not the surrounding communities of Dauphin Island, Coden, Irvington, St. Elmo, and Grand Bay. Perhaps there were more trees at one time, or perhaps it was left to the families of the men to add their names when the trees were planted. I have not been able to locate any documentation to validate the story of the trees, but it seems plausible to me, and I feel that oaks are a fitting tribute to the strength and courage of our servicemen and women.
Below is a list of names of men that I found who were sent from Bayou La Batre to Camp Sevier, SC for training. Many of them can be found in my family tree, as well.