Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Late Arriving, but the Men of the AEF's 40th Division Saw a Lot of Action

Shoulder Patch—40th "Sunshine" Division

The 40th Division of the AEF was composed primarily of National Guardsmen from California  and the nearby western states. It was initially formed up in August 1917 at Camp Kearney in southern California. However, its manpower was depleted by 8,000 men to fill  out other divisions in late 1917. The division was not brought up to full staffing until the summer of 1918, but the training regimen had not been completed when the division was ordered to France. Its most famous member when it departed was comedian Buster Keaton.

The Division Training at Camp Kearney

On 26 July 1918, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, followed by the different units, entrained for overseas duty, the entire 40th Division arriving in France during the month of August 1918, where it became the Sixth Depot Division or replacement division. As a unit, 40th Division saw no active service at the front, but its officers, and men formed parts of the First, Second, Third, Twenty-sixth, Seventy-seventh, and Seventy-ninth Divisions at St. Mihiel and in the Argonne. On 20 September 1918, a few days before [the Meuse-Argonne] drive an order reached the 40th Division Headquarters for 5000 infantry replacements, including officers, to be sent to divisions at the front. Of that number, 2500 were taken from the 159th and 160th Regiments. The 5000 officers and men of the 40th Division became part of the 77th Infantry Division during the Meuse-Argonne drive, and 100 men of Company G , 160th Infantry, were in the famous "Lost Battalion."  

Capt. Holderman
The Lost Battalion group included Capt. Nelson Holderman, who received the Medal of Honor for his part in the action. His road to the Argonne is instructive as to what service around the time of the Great War could involve for a National Guardsman. He had served in Company L [Santa Ana], 7th California Infantry Regiment during the Mexican Border Service and then in the 160th Infantry Regiment, until his company was reassigned in total as Company K, 307th Infantry Regiment.

All units of the National Guard that engaged in active service were present at the two  major offensives, the St . Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne. By 11 November 1918, the 40th Division had processed over 27,000 replacements into the front lines, and ranked seventh among the combat divisions of the A.E.F. in casualties. Of the men who started out with the 40th Division 2,587 were killed in battle, 11,596 were wounded in action, 70 taken prisoner, and 103 died due to other reasons.With the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the units of the 40th Division returned to California and were discharged at Camp Kearney and the Presidio of San Francisco, their services being no longer required. The last unit of the California National Guard, Company A, 115th Field Signal Battalion, was demobilized 16 July 1919 .

Sources: History of the California National Guard and Naval Militia in World War I
1917-1919, and California and the Lost Battalion.  Thanks to Sgt. Major  Dan Sebby for letting us know about these resources.


  1. You have shared good piece of history and it’s always nice to know more about our heroes.

  2. The union was not carried up to full employment until the summer of 1918, but the exercise regimen had not been finished when the division was orderly to France.

  3. Grandfather served in 115 supply trans ww1