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

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Letters from a Yankee Doughboy: Private 1st Class Raymond W. Maker in World War I

By Bruce H. Norton
Academia Press, 2019
Terrence J. Finnegan, Reviewer

PFC Raymond Maker

Primary source material on World War I combat experience is a luxury that the enthusiast of the era savors. Bruce Norton’s published work of his grandfather Raymond Maker’s experiences as a soldier in the 104th Infantry Regiment of the 26th “Yankee” Division is a case in point. About 125 letters and 365 pocket diary entries written by Maker covering his time in France during the war are published.

Looking at the information shared is a reminder that all correspondence was censored by a senior rank. The journal was kept private and not shared. The reviewer’s own stock of letters from this time were subject to such extensive scrutiny that the subject matter was watered down to just trite statements of "feeling fine" and "went to church today." Censorship was reduced or eliminated come the Armistice—many a true feeling came forth after 11 November. Such is the case with Maker’s writings.

Private 1st Class Maker fought at Bois Brule in the Seicheprey sector on 10 April 1918. The 104th Infantry Regiment under the command of Colonel George Shelton, was the target of a three-day Ersturmung (taking by assault) by the 5. Landwehr Division. They failed and the 104th quickly became recognized for success in holding the ground and not losing a single foot of trench. The three-day battle was the first victory of American arms in the war. Maker’s role in the battle is not very clear. His journal for 10 April cites, “Moved around…today. Very tired this am, but I am feeling fine.” On 12 April (day of the second attack), he writes, “I got shelled today. It was fierce. Weather is fine and so am I. But believe me, a little shaky.” On the third day of the battle, Maker wrote, “Fixed my lines today, that had been blown up. This still gets on my nerves. Weather is fine, and I feel very tired.”

A large mural on the third floor of the Massachusetts State House features the 104th infantry regiment of the 26th “Yankee” Division. In this painted scene they become the first American military unit to have its colors (flag) decorated by a foreign government for its service at Apremont, April 1918.

On 28 April, Maker wrote in his journal, “Nothing different. Had a big review today by General Edwards and a Frog (General de Division Fenelon Passaga). It rained all day. The Regiment was decorated. Am feeling fine. I wish I could hear from home.” The next day he wrote his sister, “The Regiment that I am with, the 104 Infantry Battalion [sic—Regiment], had a Grand Review yesterday, by both an American and French General and a lot of us boys were given the French War Cross (Croix de Guerre) and the Regimental Colors were given the Cross of War (Couer de Guerre), so you can see that I am with a good outfit.” French recognition resulted in 117 being awarded the Croix de Guerre. It was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that a regiment was decorated en masse by an appreciative foreign government.

It was during the Aisne-Marne campaign that summer that Maker suffered his first war injury. On 20th his journal recorded, “Am all in. Got gassed this morning…. waiting to go to the hospital.” On 26 July he wrote his sister, "A fellow by the name of Smith (my pal) and myself crawled into the dugout and had a sleep. Well, we had not been asleep very long when someone yelled, ‘Gas, Gas!’ And I guess that they yelled too late because by the time we got our masks on we started to throw up and then everything went black for us. We came to a little while later and were sent to the hospital and then on to Base Hospital 31, and here I am.” On August 12th, he wrote his sister, "I am still at the hospital and go out every afternoon.” He returned to his outfit on 26 August.

Maker took a moment in September to write in his journal, “A year ago, this month we left, and we came here like Norman Prince, dying to get to France, and now, I’m dying to get home. I’ve seen a lot of active service and have been very lucky. This little book is about the only treasure I own, and I hope that I will be able to get it home with me, if I ever get there. Raymond W. Maker.”

Yankee Division Infantry Advancing Toward Bouresches Woods,
Torcy, France, 17 July 1918

The final campaign in the Verdun sector shares reflections on several issues. In letters dated the 4th of November, he recounts the thrill of seeing a German aviator destroying an observation balloon. " I saw a German come over today and he brought down one of our balloons. It was a great job, but I don’t think he got away. I guess he got his. I wish you could have seen it, he dove right down out of the sky and opened up with his machine guns and set the balloon on fire. A subsequent account provides more detail. "I saw a Boche get one of our balloons yesterday and it was a great job that he did. The balloon was up quite high and the fellow inside jumped out (they come down on parachutes like they do at the fairs.) And then the balloon caught on fire, but we have another one up early this morning that doesn’t bother us very much, but I guess that they got the Boche all right. We are getting a pile of their flying machines."

The 104th finished combat on the Verdun battleground. He reflected after the Armistice, "I never expected to come back because Verdun was hell. That’s all a Frog soldier told me. We never saw war until we were at Verdun and now I know he was right.” On November 9th, two days before the Armistice, Maker was wounded again. "We went up at 2 am, this morning. And I ran wire and went over the top at about 8 am, and I got caught in a German artillery barrage. I was lucky, a small shell fragment got to my leg, only a few others hurt and killed. Am all in, tonight. Such mud. Leg wound not serious."

When the Armistice came on 11 November, despite his recent wound, Maker exulted, "Today is one of the happiest days of my life. The War is off, thank God. And all the boys have gone about half mad with joy. Bands are playing all day and at night all kinds of flares in the sky. The best part of it all is that our Division was in the front lines and we were at Verdun, the greatest place in history.”

Waiting to return to the United States showed his frustration and anxiety about getting home. He had served honorably and possessed the wounds to show it. "We get our third service stripe on the 5th of April, so I will be fairly well fixed for stripes. I can wear two wound stripes to brag about, if I want to.” On 18 April 1919, Maker telegrammed home, “Will be home early tomorrow morning.” A very well-deserved homecoming! 

Terrence J. Finnegan,


  1. Thanks for the review Terry. Sounds like a good one.
    Pete Belmonte

  2. A great primary resource--and as you say, it's something we all like to read. Really appreciate this, Terry.