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

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Over There with the AEF: The World War I Memoirs of Captain Henry C. Evans
Reviewed by Virginia A. Dilkes

Over There with the AEF: The World War I Memoirs of Captain Henry C. Evans, 1st Division

by Captain Henry C. Evans
Combat Studies Institute Press, 2011

Capt. Henry C. Evans
Over There with the AEF is the WWI memoir of Captain Henry C. Evans, who served in the 1st Artillery Regiment in the 1st Division of the AEF. Henry C. Evans volunteered to be part of the Allied war effort in WWI with the same spirit as that of the 1st Division in which he served: "First to the Front—First in battle—First cited for action." He interrupted his college education at Johns Hopkins University in his junior year to join the war effort. He wrote, "The war is, in my opinion, the most important thing for the whole world, and until our side has won, I shall not think of stopping."

When our country formally joined the war, Evans, initially rejected for medical reasons by the U.S. Army, went overseas with the intention of becoming an ambulance driver in the American Field Service serving with the French army. With an overabundance of ambulance drivers, Evans volunteered to join the French Motor Transport Service where he served as a driver for the French Army. He fulfilled his six-month commitment to the Motor Transport Unit and decided to seek a commission in the U.S. Army Field Artillery. In October 1917 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Field Artillery and was assigned to the 1st Field Artillery Regiment in the 1st Division of the AEF.

Evans fought in the Battle for Cantigny, the Battle for Soissons, the St. Mihiel campaign, the Battle for the Meuse-Argonne Forest, and served in the U.S. Army of Occupation. He desired his own field artillery battery command, and one can sense his drive throughout his memoirs. In addition to his war experiences, he wrote about the detail needed to keep the field artillery unit in which he served ready for action: attention to the men in the unit, the care of the horses, the maintenance of the artillery, and the calculations needed for effective use of the artillery in battle. "We first had to feed the horses and the men, clean the guns, but by noon we could all turn in." He taught himself analytic geometry to calculate the firing data for the rolling barrages. He wrote: "I would stay up all night, figure up all the firing data for the rolling barrages for the [the next day's] attack and direct the night firing."

The Field Artillery on the Move

He enjoyed telling stories of his war experiences. On one occasion he joined in tampering with the governors on the motors in the French Motor Transport Service to joyride at speeds exceeding those stated in the French Army rule book. One of his favorite stories was of an immature soldier who rose to the occasion to deliver much-needed rations.

He wrote about cooties and fleas although his memoirs reflected the seriousness of the responsibility of the field artillery unit at the Front. He learned to use semaphore signals to relay information about enemy positions to pinpoint where the artillery should fire. Evans suffered deafness from the loud noise generated by artillery shelling.

An American Crew Firing a French 75

As an editor of the WWI memoirs of my own father who served in the 1st Engineers, it was refreshing to read the memoirs of Henry C. Evans that offered another perspective on what it was like to serve in the military campaigns of WWI in which the 1st Division fought. Many times the detail in which Evans wrote about his experiences in battle caused me to reflect on my own father's war.

Over There with the AEF
is replete with excellent simple maps of the military campaigns of the 1st Division. Evans was as geographic in his memoirs as was my father, so it was easy to follow the footsteps of Captain Evans. His experiences are backed up with letters home, which are included in the appendices. The Introductory Essay by John J. McGrath and footnotes by Lt. Col. Charles E. Roller related Evans's experiences to the documented history of the war. The book needs additional editing.

This book is recommended to the reader who likes to learn about the contributions of the specialty units in the U.S. military in WWI and the individuals who made a difference. Captain Evans was such an individual. In Over There with the AEF Captain Evans relates what it is like to be part of and in command of a field artillery unit and the skills he developed in the process. He was able to hone these skills as he continued his military career in WWII and beyond, rising to the rank of brigadier general.

Over There with the AEF: The World War I Memoirs of Captain Henry C. Evans is available as a free PDF document online HERE. It was edited by the U.S. government, U.S. military, and the Evans family. Contributions by John J. McGrath; footnotes by Lt. Col. Charles E. Roller

Virginia A. Dilkes

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