World War IB Y W I L B U R D . J O N E S J R .
An unlikely love blossoms, and endures for more than four decades
Wilmington historian Wilbur D. Jones Jr. spent countless hours researching World War II, military, and
defense issues for 18 books, lectures, preservation efforts, and battlefield tours in Europe and the Mediterranean.
This story is about a different war and a more personal research project — the World War I love affair of his parents.
Reflecting on my parents’ World War I love affair always puzzled me. How could two unlikely people — one an eighth-grade
girl, the other, 11 years her senior and an enlisted sailor, — sustain a 46-year relationship ending only by death?
They left letters, scrapbooks, photographs, artifacts, and a wedding book, later the core of my family papers at the University
of North Carolina Wilmington’s Randall Library. Occasionally I reminisced through them and other items nestled in storage
boxes, but not as a historian.
For whatever reasons, we rarely discussed the details of their courtship. Most of what I know was found among the mementos
from 100 years ago, and years of observing the two of them.
Where They Came From
They met on January 13, 1918, at her home at 1917 Pender Avenue in Wilmington, North Carolina. He turned 26 on
February 25, a month before her 15th birthday. On June 8, she wrote a poem about that first encounter, something had
Wilbur David Jones Sr. was born in Onslow County, North Carolina, and Viola Elizabeth Murrell was born in Wilmington.
He came from a large tenant dirt farmers’ family along the White Oak River and never entered high school. His official
Navy record notes he was 5-foot-4 and 119 pounds,
with blue eyes, black hair, a ruddy complexion, and
numerous body scars.
Mother, slightly taller, originally lived on North
Fifth Street, the wrong side of the railroad tracks.
Her education ended after graduation from
Hemenway Grammar School in May 1918.
My grandfather, Joseph Murrell, had divorced
my grandmother, Hattie, and moved to Norfolk,
Virginia, sometimes neglecting to send their allow-ance.
WBM february 2019
Hattie supported three children by keeping
the Front Street public restroom.
Mother and Daddy’s relationship developed
within early 20th-century lower-class norms. Lacking
pedigrees, they achieved middle-class Wilmington
economic levels from Daddy’s business acumen,
community service and reputation.
During World War I, the home of Viola Elizabeth Murrell was located at 1917 Pender Avenue in Carolina Place, Wilmington, N.C.
Opposite: Sailor Wilbur Jones Sr. and Viola Elizabeth Murrell were photographed on her front porch steps. Viola Elizabeth Murrell,
16, was photographed on Pender Avenue in Carolina Place.
PHOTOS COURTESY THE WILBUR D. JONES, JR. COLLECTION