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

Friday, May 31, 2024

The 353rd "All Kansas" Infantry Regiment of the National Army, Part 3 — Going to War Over There

By James Patton

The following is an extract from the History of the 353rd Infantry Regiment 89th Division, National Army September 1917–June 1919, by Capt. Charles F. Dienst and associates, published by the 353rd Infantry Society in 1921. It has been extensively edited for length, style, and clarity. 

Click on Image to Enlarge

Ready to Fight
Company G, 353rd Infantry

By the spring of 1918 the 353rd Infantry began to feel quite at home in Camp Funston. The men were now well acquainted… Every Company had its Victrola, and most … a small collection of books. Organizations vied … in their efforts to beautify the Camp. Trees were being planted; sidewalks were in the process of construction... Everybody was feeling fit and enjoying life.

To this home-like atmosphere was added a feeling of security; immediate service seemed out of question… reports kept coming in that ships would not be available for a long time to come. 'It looks as if we are going to do our bit in Camp Funston,' was the general opinion.

All of this ended on May 18th with the receipt of the following:    

Send troops now at your camp reported ready and equipped for over-sea service to Port of Embarkation, Hoboken, N. J. Arrange time of arrival and other details directly with the Commander of Port. Have inspections made to determine if Organizations and individuals are properly supplied with serviceable clothing, equipment and medical supplies. Report of result shall be made by telegram. Leave all alien enemies behind.

The last instruction included conscientious objectors. 

An enormous task was figuring out what to take, packing it all and then returning or disposing of everything that couldn’t be taken.  Everything heading overseas was classified as Light Baggage, Heavy Baggage or Freight, and each had a weight limit.  In the end, the "Freight" never made it farther than the warehouses at Gievres.   

Enlisted men were allowed no personal gear that couldn’t be classified as Light Baggage, but officers were allowed some additional kit to enable them to match the standard of their British counterparts. 

The Supply Company insisted on receipts and Company Commanders signed with fear and trembling. Supply Sergeants were the busiest men in the Camp these days. They emptied barrack bags and "turned in" what they considered disallowed for over-seas service and substituted according to Equipment "C." Sizes ran odd as usual and when the men returned Supply Sergeants were the most unpopular men in the Regiment. 

Assembly Base and Embarkation Point

On May 25th 3,401 soldiers and 111 officers were boarded onto eight trains. Strict secrecy was enjoined upon all, and no letters could be mailed. After five days the men arrived at Camp Mills, near New York City, where they spent a few days while the regiment was reassembled. Many men were allowed a pass to see the sights. 

At this time Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood was ordered back to Camp Funston to assume command of the new 10th Division. The history says that the soldiers felt his transfer as the loss of a friend as well as an able commander.  Brig. Gen. Frank L. Winn would take command of the 89th Division and in September would be succeeded by Maj. Gen. William M. Wright, who would lead the division through the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives.

New Divisional Commander General Winn

On June 3rd, 1918, the First and Second Battalions boarded HMS  Karmala, the Third Battalion, Headquarters and Company and Regimental Headquarters, on HMS Pyrrhus and the Supply and Machine Gun Companies on HMS Caronia. The ships had been pulled from the India service, and the deck crews were made up of Portuguese and East Indians. 

HMS Karmala

The next morning, June 4th, 1918 found the ships still at the piers, as the firemen had gone out on strike. However there were in the ranks a number of railroad fireman and by 1:30 full steam was up.

The convoy included one British cruiser, several submarine chasers and two sea planes.

The lives of all depended upon strict compliance with ship instructions. No lights were to be shown at night. No rubbish of any kind was to be thrown overboard. No smoking on deck after dark. In addition to the regular guards there would be submarine guards, life boat, and raft crews.

Americans Arrive in Liverpool

On the morning of June 14th the British escorts came to guide the convoy through the minefields of the Irish Sea and into Liverpool. Evening brought the ships into the harbor. Civilians on the Mersey ferries cheered the soldiers, but the city was dark and there was still one more night to spend aboard ship.

On June 16th a short march brought the men to waiting trains, thirty men to each coach. Each man received a letter of gratitude from the King. After many hours the trains arrived at Winchester, where the men marched four miles in the dark, with heavy packs, to Winnall Down, a British "Rest Camp." 

Winnall Down Rest Camp

Remembering the April 11th order of Sir Douglas Haig: "With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end”, rumors spread that the regiment was being attached to the British.

Camp Restriction was severe; passes to Winchester could be had for groups only and an officer had to accompany each group. No one was allowed to go to London. Censoring was tight. It was impossible to write of what had happened. Instructions forbade the following as "dangerous information": 1. Place where written; 2. Organizations, numbers and movements; 3. Morale and physical conditions of our own or Allied troops; 4. Details regarding supplies. 

King Arthur's Statue in Winchester
A Doughboy's Effort to Lasso His Majesty Wasn't Well Received

Orders came to move to Southampton by June 21st. 

Never before had the men been so crowded together. There were no sleeping accommodations. That was little hardship, for the violent rocking of the ship soon caused all to seek convenient rather than comfortable quarters. Men who had boasted of weathering the Atlantic now yielded to the humiliating inclination imposed by this little excursion across the channel. Suddenly submarine chasers swarmed around the ship. A sailor upon the bridge is signaling to one of the chasers; how fast he delivers his message. It doesn't seem difficult for him. Darkness begins to set in, and instead of wig-wag flags, blinkers are used. 

It suddenly sinks in that there must be something important going on, else why this continued exchange of messages? At the same moment, the ship makes a quick turn, heading back over the course just run, with full steam up. The chaser ahead draws up, and remains. The blackness of night has settled. One after another long streaks of light are brought into play, irregularly criss-crossed as some lead toward the skies while others stretch out over the water. In the distance is visible, at regular intervals, a burst of flame followed by the thunderous boom of the naval guns. An attack is on; evidently submarines. Interest increased as the ship again put out to sea while the excitement of the battle was at its highest. These troops were needed at the front; the men of the Navy would see that they landed safely.

By early morning on the 22nd  the ship had landed at Le Havre, directly astern of a large hospital transport that was being loaded with wounded. They were marched uphill to another Rest Camp. ‘German prisoners stopped their work to gaze at the passing columns, and then fell-to again as if they were glad of their present occupation’. In the city, crowds of French children followed, crying, "Biskwee," "Penny," "Souvenir." 

An American Unit Marches Off the Le Havre Docks

Once the division had reassembled, the men were loaded in the "Hommes 40, Chevaux 8" rail cars. No one, not even the Train Commander, knew the destination. For many hours the trains rolled on, through Rouen, within sight of the Eiffel Tower, through Troyes, and to the Reynel Training Area of the American Expeditionary Forces. A month had been spent in making this trip. Nearly 5,000 miles had been covered. Another month and these men from the heart of America would be on the fighting line in France.

Next Friday: The All-Kansas regiment trains for battle.

James Patton

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Remembering a Veteran: Nurse Nora, Countess Kinsky, Red Cross

Nora, Countess Kinksy


Nora, Gräfin Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau (1888–1923)  was the sixth of nine children of an Austro-Hungarian family. Baroness Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, was her paternal aunt. In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, Countess Kinsky became a Red Cross nurse and founded a hospital. For her work with the wounded and her language skills, she was chosen as an official Red Cross visitor to the German prisoner-of-war camps in Russia, infamous for their miserable conditions and high mortality. She recorded these experiences in her diary. 

On her travels through Russia and Siberia, the countess visited 16 POW camp and 15 labor camps, where she assisted in surgeries and other medical interventions under the most primitive circumstances. She was an eyewitness to the Russian Revolution before her return home in 1918. 

She married Ferdinand, Graf Wilczek and gave birth to her first daughter in 1921. She died in childbirth in 1923, along with her second baby. The countess's journal was published as Russian Diary: 1916-1918, with an introduction by her daughter. A biography entitled I Have Lived Too Short: The Story of Nora Countess Kinsky, by Monica Czernin, was published in 2005 and a documentary film called The Countess and the Revolution: Nora Kinsky, the Red Cross Baroness, was made in 2007.

Excerpt from Russian Diary, 1916-1918

September 22, 1916

Spent the day at Skotowo with the officers. A lack of order and discipline that is heartrending. The camp is not far from the sea, with a very beautiful view, but the barracks are too little, there is too little room for the number of prisoners, which doesn’t contribute to their good humor. 

We are with the Russian officers, as we were not permitted to dine with our compatriots, and they gave us meat from animals with mad-cow disease. The soldiers here are well and the noncoms quite likeable, which pleased me. This hospital made a good impression; the head doctor, Dr. Möstl, a good Viennese, whom the sick seemed to like. I found the morale of the officers worse than that of the soldiers. It’s natural, since they suffer more from captivity. The lack of occupation is terrible for them. I was touched by their pleasure at our arrival and the gratitude the prisoners showed for the least effort on their behalf. They seemed completely to forget that it issimply my duty.

The officers who accompany us, the commander of the camp Sokolov and Colonel Markosov, are bland and repellent.

Sources: National World War One Museum; Library Thing

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

27 August 1918: The U.S. Army's Battle of Ambos Nogales

At  Fort Huachuca, AZ,  in 1918, the men of the all-Black 10th Cavalry had time to reflect on the events in Europe and waited anxiously to learn if they were to get in on the fighting. But they were required on the border, a place at that time that was thought to be subject to attack from Mexicans instigated by German agents. The threat from south of the border appeared to be real and intelligence reports on German activities there were received in number. The historian of the 10th Cavalry recalled the importance attached to these reports.

About 15 August 1918, the Intelligence Division reported the presence of strange Mexicans, plentifully supplied with arms, ammunition, food and clothing, gathering In increasing numbers in and about Nogales, Sonora, as well as the presence of several strange white men, apparently Germans, at times engaged in addressing gatherings of Mexicans explaining military terms, movements and methods. At about this time an anonymous letter was received, written by a person who claimed to have been a major in Villa's forces who was sickened and disgusted at the atrocities committed by Villa and his men, and at the lack of pay or reward, and who claimed a feeling of friendly respect for American troops, warning them of the German influences at work near and in Nogales.

U.S.-Mexican Border, Where Things Started

A shooting incident on 27 August 1918 led to a full-scale shootout when Lt. Col Frederick J. Herman, 10th Cavalry commander at Nogales, rushed reinforcements to the international line. Three troops of the 10th Cavalry and three companies of the 35th Infantry from nearby Camp Stephen D. Little took up position along the American side and returned sniper fire of Mexican troops. It would be known as the "Battle of Ambos Nogales" (Both Nogales).

Manning the international guard station in Nogales were details from the Thirty-fifth Infantry, and patrolling east and west along the border were cavalry detachments. Lieutenant Colonel Frederick J. Herman, Tenth Cavalry, was with the cavalry troops and also acting Nogales sub-district commander.

Military intelligence developed information that the Nogales situation was becoming critical. The Mexican garrison were, digging some trenches in the hills overlooking the American side. Groups of mounted Mexicans, some in uniforms, were seen moving along the trails into town, and the Sonora border guards at the crossing gate had adopted a changed and officious attitude. Such an explosive condition seemingly only awaited an incident for ignition.

Wider View of the Border

At 4:10 p.m. on 27 August, a Mexican carpenter named Zeferino Gil Lamadrid coming from the American side tried to walk through the guarded international gate without interrogation. When the U.S. Customs inspector (Arthur G. Barber) ordered " Halt! " the man kept moving toward the other side. Then the government official drew his revolver and went after the person. Private W. H. Klint of Company H, Thirty-fifth Infantry, followed for protection. A Mexican customs guard fired at the American official and missed him but killed Private Klint. Instantly Corporal William H. Tucker of Company H shot the Mexican officer. More Mexican guards came running and started shooting. The corporal opened fire with his Springfield and killed three more. The U.S. inspector gunned one down. A civilian at the gate (Mr. Frank Eames of the Nogales Theater) phoned to the Thirty-fifth guard detail at the West Coast Company warehouse about the emergency. Another (Mr. Otto Mayer) cranked up his truck and sped to the place, returning with Lieutenant Fanning (Fannin) and the soldiers. They arrived amidst a fusillade of lead from the Mexican side. That was the beginning of the Battle of Nogales.

No sooner had the smoke cleared from the border gunfight in Ambos Nogales on 27 August 1918, than a hail of concentrated fire erupted from the south side of town, as Mexican soldiers and armed civilians advanced on the international line. Much of the firepower came from entrenched machine guns and sniper holes in the surrounding Sonoran hills, suggesting the Mexicans had been preparing to mount a full-scale attack.

As the Mexican riflemen advanced, Lt. Oliver Fannin and some 20 enlisted troops of the Thirty-fifth Infantry threw together a stubborn defense. Fannin would receive the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, as well as a testimonial from 33 of the leading U.S. citizens of Nogales. “Lt. Fannin hurried to the boundary line the reserve of the guard,” it read in part, “and taking position, he stood off the attack until the garrison could be brought to the line.”

Enlisted Men of the 10th Cavalry

On hearing the gunfire, Col. Herman phoned in an alert to sub-district headquarters and raced to Ambos Nogales in his staff car to assume command. Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry from nearby Camp Stephen D. Little soon arrived at the border on horseback or in whatever motor vehicles were available. Herman understood the key to any effective defense of the border was possession of the hills to the east and west, which offered clear fields of fire into both sides of town.

Herman first ordered Capt. Roy V. Morledge, commander of the 10th Cavalry’s Troop A, to lead a detachment of dismounted cavalrymen into the Mexican district. Taking fire from the surrounding hills and urban snipers, the troopers took cover in a building just south of the border. “It seemed as though everybody in Nogales was shooting from the windows toward the border,” Morledge recalled. The men soon realized they had taken refuge in the Concordia Club, a local house of ill repute. On recognizing a familiar customer, one of the “frightened señoritas” exclaimed, “Sergeant Jackson, are we all glad to see you!”

On orders from Herman, Morledge launched an assault against a Mexican position on the heights south of town, directing his force up the hillside in squad rushes. After dislodging the defenders, Morledge assessed his casualties—just five men wounded. The Mexicans weren’t as fortunate. “I hope we only hit those who were shooting,” the captain noted in his after-action report. “But there were a lot of bodies lying around.”

Machine Gunners from the 35th Infantry

Herman next ordered Troop C of the 10th Cavalry, under Capt. Joseph D. Hungerford, to take and hold Reservoir Hill, a ridgeline to the southeast from which entrenched Mexican forces were laying down a withering fire. As he led his troopers in a dash up the scrub-covered hillside, Hungerford was killed by a bullet through the heart. First Sgt. James T. Penny took command, driving the Mexicans from their positions.

As the Americans advanced to take Titcomb Hill, another hilltop vantage, the men of the Thirty-fifth Infantry supported troopers of the 10th Cavalry. Wounded in the right forearm early in the attack, Troop F commander Capt. Henry Caron was carried to safety by 1st Sgt. Thomas Jordan, who took command of the assault force. Two Americans were killed before the soldiers managed to dislodge Mexican defenders and occupy the hilltop.

Hearing of the battle on the border, individual American soldiers from the surrounding region made their way piecemeal to town. One 10th Cavalry trooper arrived on a horse riding bareback and wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Dismounting at the camp ordnance depot, the soldier practically begged for a rifle and ammunition. The quartermaster sergeant provided both, though not before having the man sign a receipt for the weapon. Another quartermaster soldier, Pfc. James Flavian Lavery, would receive the Distinguished Service Cross for “braving the heaviest fire, repeatedly entering the zone of fire with his motor truck and carrying wounded men to places of safety, thereby saving the lives of several soldiers.”

Officers of the 10th Cavalry

Tenth Cavalry Lt. William Scott was riding toward Ambos Nogales on a motorcycle when the battle broke out. Apparently familiar with the sandy desert trails around town, Scott navigated through the brush to a hillside offering a clear field of fire into the Mexican district. Armed with a .45-caliber pistol and a lever-action Winchester rifle, Scott engaged in solitary counter-sniper fire, picking off unsuspecting Mexican gunmen until the battle was over.

Although U.S. forces held most of the high ground and managed to establish a rooftop machine gun position, fighting raged throughout Ambos Nogales well into evening. Civilians on both sides joined in the fray, either out of sheer animosity or in self-defense. On the U.S. side Pat Shannon—the daughter of a Chicago doctor, who worked as a pianist at the local theater—gamely loaded ammunition for two civilians firing from the windows of her hotel room. Customs officer Gaston Reddoch armed himself with a wounded soldier’s rifle and returned fire until mortally wounded in the neck by a sniper’s bullet. He was the only known U.S. civilian killed in the battle.

As the casualties mounted, Mayor Félix Peñaloza of Nogales, Sonora, tied a white handkerchief to the end of his walking stick and rushed into the streets. While pleading with his fellow citizens to end the bloodshed, the 52-year-old was struck down by gunfire. Bystanders carried the mortally wounded mayor to a nearby pharmacy, where he died within minutes.

Dead Being Removed to a Local Cemetery

Amid the chaos the U.S. and Mexican consuls, Herman and various other civil and military officials somehow managed to communicate with one another and eventually coordinate a cease-fire. On arrangement at 7:45 p.m. Sonoran officials in Nogales had a white flag flown from their prominent customs house, and Herman ordered his troops to put up their guns.

The respective representatives met in an open plaza near the border, despite the risk posed by random potshots. “A sniper’s bullet cut off a small limb of a tree that fell pretty close to me,” recalled Lt. Fannin, who served as Herman’s aide at the meeting. “I felt like diving into a big ditch that was close to us.” Herman, who had suffered a bullet wound to the right thigh, demanded the Mexicans surrender and wholly disarm, but the diplomats negotiated a more amenable cessation of hostilities. Though sniper fire persisted through the night, the Battle of Ambos Nogales was over.

After conducting an investigation into the causes of the incident, Mexican and U.S. officials opened negotiations to re-establish peace in the border area. Hostilities flared briefly in late August, after an American trooper wounded by sniper fire retaliated by wounding a Mexican soldier. But cooler heads prevailed, containing the incident. 

Local Memorial to the Dead of Nogales

Capt. Joseph D. Hungerford, Troop F, 10th Cavalry, was killed while leading his men in a frontal assault on Mexican troops. Lieutenant Loftus of Company C, 35th Infantry, was killed by sniper fire as he brought his men into position. Other American casualties were three enlisted men killed, including Private W. H. Klint and Corporal Barney Lots, both of Company H, Thirty-fifth Infantry, and several civilians. Two officers, Lt. Col. F. J. Herman and Capt. H. C. Caron, both of the 10th Cavalry, and 29 men were wounded. Mexican casualties are not known. One history of the battle claims Mexico lost "up to 28-30 soldiers, and about 100 civilians were killed with about  300 total wounded. Claims were made that the bodies  included two German agents provocateurs.

Sources:  Great War Document Archive; HistoryNet; Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

From My Bookshelf: The Best Book on the French Army in the Great War

Click HERE to Order This Title

By Michael Hanlon, Editor/Publisher

In 2018 those of us interested in the history of the First World War lost one of our finest historians. Australian Elizabeth Greenhalgh (1944-2018) was the author of three essential works on the war, all published by Cambridge University Press: Victory through Coalition (2005), Foch in Command (2011), and The French Army in the First World War (2014).

To me the most important of these—since it is the only comprehensive treatment on its subject in English—is the last.  As reviewer  In fact, as reviewer Richard Fogarty puts it: 

The French Army in the First World War  is indispensable more broadly to the history of the First World War, and to the history of modern France. One of the author’s primary arguments is that English-language historiography all too often underplays the critical importance of the French army to all aspects of the fighting, from the war’s beginning to its very end. After all, “France provided moral leadership” to the Allied coalition “by supplying the largest army of the belligerent democracies”  , and the decisive western front lay almost entirely in France. . . Greenhalgh’s handling of operational military history is masterful, but her efforts to link this history with the broader context within which it took place make the book far more important and impossible to ignore for historians of the First World War and of modern France. 

The French Army in Action

Fogarty's review justly points out  that the book is not without its flaws. Greenhalgh misses a number of details like confusing the Paris Gun with Big Bertha, and she seems to overstate the contribution of the colonial forces and sometimes confuses their origins, designations, and organization. Those flaws, however, are vastly outweighed by her grand summary of the politics, operations, and personalities of the—ultimately—victorious French Army of the Great War.  I hope readers of Roads to the Great War get an opportunity to read this work.

Other Important Works by Elizaberth Greenhalgh

Sources: Bibliothèque nationale de France (colorized photo);  Richard Fogarty: Review of  Elizabeth Greenhalgh's The French Army and the First World War. H-Net Reviews. May 2018. 

Monday, May 27, 2024

Remembering Our Veterans: A Memorial Day Tale of Two Uncles of the Yankee Division

William Redican and Stanley Rakowski,
Company L., 3rd Battalion, 102nd Infantry, 26th Division

One of our readers, Dennis Redican, has shared a story with me that I think is appropriate to present on Memorial Day. Dennis had two uncles from the same hometown, one from each side of his family, who found themselves fighting in the same company in that last stages of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive just days from the war's end. Sadly, Pvt. William (Billy) Redican perished that day, and Cpl. Stanley Rakowski suffered wounds that resulted in one leg amputated above the knee and the other leg below the knee. Dennis, of course, never knew his uncle Billy, but his Uncle Stan, who spent the rest of his life fully disabled, was his hero until he passed away in 1967.

Their Final Battle

Bois d'Ormont with Hill 60 in Distance

By the time the 26th, Yankee, Division was deployed to the Meuse-Argonne battle, a case could be made that it had been the most active formation of the AEF.  By October 1918, the boys were probably hoping their toughest fighting was behind them. That, however, was not to be the case. The division was deployed on the east side of the Meuse River, given the job of fighting through a well-entrenched enemy position on the heavily forested steep slopes of the Meuse Heights. On their left flank was densely wooded Bois d'Ormont dominated by Hill 60.  Behind these hills is the flat Woevre Plain which, in 1918, was the road to the heartland of Germany.  The enemy had to hold here at all costs.

The challenge facing the men of the Yankee Division in this attack was described in an unofficial division history, New England in France. The brigade order for this attack vividly explains the tactical situation: 

[Studying the staff map]. . . one may sense what was being required, one my visualize the high, frowning ridges, seamed and scarred and blasted, see the ragged woods with their nests of machine guns, minenwerfers, and heavy wire, realize the difficulty of an advance over a country of steep slopes, confusing ravines, and deep mud, in the face of a determined resistance by troops who had been told off to hold these woods and ridges to the end.

Still Standing—A German Pillbox in Bois d'Ormont

It's hard to find details on the subsequent action, but one U.S. Army summary tersely states:

The 26th Division made determined efforts to capture Hill 360 on each of the three days, October 24, 25, and 27, but no permanent gains resulted. . . [On 25 October] at 11:30am the 102nd Infantry made another attempt, with its 3rd and 2nd Battalions, to capture Hill 360 [nicknamed by the French as Dead Man's Hill] in Bois d'Ormont, following an artillery preparation on the enemy entrenchments.  The troops met with stubborn resistance and all attempts to advance failed.  

Billy Redican was killed on the 25th and Stan Rakowski was wounded the same day.  

Uncle Billy's Story

William Redican came into the world in 1892 and grew up in Meriden, CT. He was working at Colt Firearms before America entered the war.  Possibly stirred by the Lusitania sinking on 7 May 1915, he enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard four days later and was eventually deployed to  Arizona during the Mexican border crisis. He was demobilized from the Guard when things calmed down and then was activated for federal service when war on Germany  was declared. Billy participated in all five of his division's campaigns on the Western Front up to his death. He was temporarily buried in France and his mother chose to have his remains returned home. He is buried in Meriden's Sacred Heart Cemetery.

Sacred Heart Cemetery

Uncle Stan's Story

Stanley Rakowski, also of Meriden, CT,  was born in 1896. He lived about two miles from Billy Redican.  It's not clear how closely the two men got to know each other in Meriden, or even in the service for that matter. Prior to the war, Stan made his living as a "Bore Maker" at Wilcox and White, a local organ manufacturer. He enlisted with the Connecticut National Guard a month after Congress declared war.  His service from that point closely paralleled Billy's,  although it's not clear when they both ended up in Company L. In the attack on Hill 60 he was wounded by both shrapnel and machine gun fire and was the only member of his platoon to survive. Multiple amputations followed with a long recuperation period.  Considered 100 percent disabled when he returned home from the war, he was offered jobs by many employers in his hometown. He never took up an offer because he felt like he was stealing it from someone who really needed it to support their family. He lived on the disability pension for the rest of his life. He died on 20 July 1967 at the Veterans Hospital in Newington, CT. He is buried at St. Stanislaus Cemetery about five miles from where Billy Redican rests.

St. Stanislaus Cemetery

Sources:  ABMC,  New England in France, Ferme d'Ormont Today (YouTube Video), Wikipedia

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Returning to Flanders

A war never ends. This is one of the arguments against any war: a war never ends. Even when peace is declared, even when the armies have left and the generals are counting their decorations, a war continues to hang, like a menacing scythe, over the local population. Not only here, but in any battlefield, anywhere in the world.

Luc Dehaene, Mayor of Ypres, 2010

Lille Gate, Flanders, 1919

Yes, there was no doubt about it. It is the big pasture at R33 on the map. How often he came back there, he cannot think, but it is the place he remembers best, in all those wanderings from camp to billet. It is what he has been looking for, the reason of his detour by out-of-the-way Hondebecq, instead of following the usual route of tourists, visiting the Front.

The thing they call the Front, preeminently a place where men have died, soon saddened and sickened him, but at R33 perhaps one might catch a glimpse of the place where men had lived. Better here than anywhere else. The biggest and best known camp was only a war-time affair, inhabited by soldiers, cleared away since the Armistice. But the low two-storied old house, there at the back of the pasture, under the elms and round its cobble-edged manure heap, is a place that had kept its civilian character all through the War, and has survived, more or less intact, now that War is gone. He looks and looks and slowly he understands why it seems so strange. The pasture is empty. Not a soul stirs. Not even a pig is in sight. Leaning on the gate, he closes his eyes, to recall how it used to look.

Slowly the picture comes back. The quagmire about the gate, the “road” built of faggots and brick-ends from bombarded buildings that led to the house, the tents to the left, the transport parked to the right. He can feel the rough surface under his feet, can hear the lugubrious jollity of men doing odd jobs, the squawking and fidgeting of the mules, being as awkward as possible. At the corner of the barn, to the left, the cookers blacken everything, but on some of the hard ground just by the entry, the lip of the old dry moat it may have been, a party of men are falling in, to go up to the line for some special duty. He passes in front of them, watching the N.C.O. checking their equipment . . .

Unidentified Site in Postwar Flanders

He opens his eyes, and the sound, the sight, the odor vanish. Nothing! There is nothing there. Some birds are chattering in the elms, the greyish spring day is waning. It is no good standing there waiting for something to come back, which will never come back. At least one hopes not. He has still some time to put away before his train, he will follow the lane down to the pave, have a last glance from the high land there, and so back to the village and the station. That will be a good wind-up, for he feels that he will not come that way again.

From: The Spanish Farm Trilogy, R.H. Mottram

Friday, May 24, 2024

The 353rd "All Kansas" Infantry Regiment of the National Army, Part 2 — Early Days at Camp Funston

By James Patton

Camp Funston, also known as the 14th Cantonment, was constructed on a 2,000 acre site adjacent to the cavalry post at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Over 50,000 trainees passed through, including the entire National Army 89th Division and Regular Army 10th Division , (which later became the Panama Canal Division) and Funston was one of the eight camps that trained the men of the 92nd Division. At its peak, there were about 40,000 people on the site with about 1,400 buildings. By 1924 all had been razed, and the only traces visible today are a chimney and some foundations. 

The following is an extract from the History of the 353rd Infantry regiment 89th Division, National Army September 1917 – June 1919, by Capt. Charles F. Dienst and associates, published by the 353rd Infantry Society in 1921. It has been extensively edited for length, style and clarity.  Camp Funston is considered to be one of the early sites where the Spanish flu broke out. The 353rd left Funston in May, which was early in the pandemic. The influenza is not mentioned in the regimental history.

The First Men of the 353rd Report to Camp Funston

On the morning of 5 September 1917, the first five percent of the enlisted personnel arrived. The names of the men were checked off at Regimental Headquarters, then all passed under the cold showers. The surgeons gave each man a careful going-over before he received his clothing. Sizes were determined by the supply on hand: "Two each shirts O. D., one each trouser denim, one each jumper, etc." Civilian clothing couldn’t  be kept; it was either sent home or turned over to the Belgian Relief Commission. Drill began immediately, men arriving in the morning were on the drill field in the afternoon; and everyone the following morning.

By 19 September, when the 40 per cent increment had arrived (approximately one hundred twenty-five additional men per company), the system of assigning new men to the different companies had been perfected. Each company now supplied its men. Barracks planned for 150 men now were crowded with two hundred. As a result of this congestion various diseases made their appearance. But in spite of the inevitable monotony of drill, equipment shortages and disease, determined effort soon manifested itself in the military appearance of the new organization.

Hurrying Up and Waiting for Supply Issue

During the first six weeks, training was uniform. Every man was kept busy on Infantry Drill. "Letter perfect" was the requirement; "cheerful and immediate" in execution. Movements were diagrammed and demonstrated and repeated again and again until habit allowed no error in execution. 

Members of the French and British Missions arrived. These seasoned personnel saw little value in close order drill; modern warfare demanded "specialists” so emphasis was shifted from drill to instruction. Starting on 5 November 1917, schooling began in the French language, bayonet fighting, grenade throwing, field fortifications, automatic rifles, and scouting. 

Members of Camp Funston's Foreign Mission

No part of military training appealed to the men so strongly as marksmanship. The six mile march to the range began at first light. All day long the firing continued in shifts, until the light grew too dim, and then came the return march. But interest in scores seemed to overcome hardships. Officers of the Foreign Missions admitted that these mid-western soldiers were better at the beginning of practice than the average British or French soldiers were at the end. Target practice was completed early in 1918. 

Another objective was "the excavation of a Divisional Trench System on Carpenter Hill." Digging on that hill was hard work and progress was slow. After the first foot or two the tough clay soil had to be picked loose. In some sectors rocks were near the surface. Fortunately there were some miners. For them digging was a welcome variation in the schedule. In at least two respects this training fulfilled its purpose—intensity and organization. 

Going Over the Top from the Practice Trenches

For field exercises the companies were lined up before sun-up and marched to Smoky Hill Flats, a distance of approximately five miles. Upon arrival the work began—bayonet training, live grenade throwing, Chauchat automatic rifle practice, trench and combat formations in unbroken succession. At four-thirty the return march was begun and entrance to camp was made after dark. When asked of the men about this time, they replied, "You'll be glad to see Camp Funston before the week is over."  

These exercises revealed the need of emphasis upon more practical organization. Exercises in minor tactics made up in aggressiveness where they lacked in accuracy. Both sides claimed the victory in many bloodless campaigns around Morris Hill. "You're a prisoner" was answered by "I killed you half an hour ago." In victory or defeat the aggressive execution of the general plan was expected of every officer and man.

The increase in the number of men in the different units and introduction of modern equipment demanded new formations and new methods of control. Instead of 150 men and three officers per company, there were now 250 men and six officers. In addition to rifles the infantrymen carried hand and rifle grenades, automatic rifles, bolos, and trench knives. Coordination and control of the increased personnel and these various arms of the Infantry appeared now as the problem of the future. 

But the preparation for service included more than was written in Training Plans and Field Orders. Colonel Reeves knew the value of recreation and comradeship. He insisted that soldiers must be broad-minded, loyal men before they could be good fighters and that the development of these qualities was as necessary as the manual of arms. This policy was advanced in the Regiment through the co-operation of the entire personnel. Officers Conferences and Non Commissioned Officers Committees were formed. These meetings were open and every valuable suggestion received encouragement, and plans were carried back to the enlisted men. In this way every man gained responsibility for the mutual welfare. 

A Squad from the 353rd's Machine Gun Company

On 5 October 1917  in the mess hall of Company "C" all of the officers heard General Leonard Wood plainly and frankly: "You men," he said, "need to get together. You are going to have to live under conditions that will make you absolutely dependent upon one another.” These meetings continued on the 5th of each succeeding month.

In order to provide a meeting place for the men with their relatives and friends, the "Kansas Building" project was conceived. Governor Capper took a leading interest in the movement and subscribed the first $100 on 26 October 1917. Support poured in from every section of the state. On 5 November 1917, the Regimental Bulletin was able to announce, "Construction of the Regimental Building is begun."

Officers and enlisted men of the 353rd did the work. On 15 January 1918, the massive three story all wooden structure—96 feet wide and 236 feet long with a seating capacity of 4,000—was dedicated to the welfare of Kansas men, with speeches by notable Kansas citizens and camp officials. This achievement was not only a matter of pride to the men but a revelation of the support on the part of the people back home. There was but one requirement with regard to the use of the building and that was summed up in the general order, "Treat this building as your home."

A Performance of Handel's Messiah Before
the Entire Regiment

Concerts were staged, including a pro bono appearance by the St. Louis Symphony. To the soldiers who had been shut up in the routine of camp life for five months, this entertainment appealed as the finest favor yet received from the co-operating forces of civilian life. The enlisted men held open houses for their parents, brothers, sisters, sweethearts, wives and children. Acquaintance between the men broadened to their loved ones at home and the spirit of comradeship grew stronger with the deeper appreciation of common problems and sacrifices.

Of equal importance were the local gatherings: boxing, athletic contests, regimental band concerts and shows helped to break the monotony of drill and study. Continued association in these various activities developed deep concern for the welfare of each man. 

Change was inevitable. On 28 February 1918 it was announced: "There will be a smoker in the [all wooden!] Regimental Building at 7 o'clock this evening to be attended by the entire Regiment. The guests of honor will be the 504 men who are to be transferred over-seas.” The transferees were given a rousing ovation, all joined in to sing many choruses of "Over There," then each one received a dollar out of the Company Fund to cheer him on his way. 

Continued transfers seemed to indicate that the hope of the men to remain in their own outfit was in vain. The final separation was more like breaking home ties than a military exercise. This attitude grew to be the strongest tradition of the 353rd and bore its finest fruit in self-sacrifice on the battlefields. 

Present Day Historic Markers at the Site of Camp Funston

Next Friday: The All Kansas regiment heads Over There.

James Patton

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Eyewitness: The British Cabinet Declares War

Lewis Harcourt During the War

Lewis Harcourt (1863–1922), known as "Loulou," was the son of the prominent Liberal politician, William Harcourt. Although frequently involved intrigue, notably when Sir William tried to succeed Gladstone as premier in 1894, Loulou did not enter Parliament until 1904. Cooler-tempered, subtler, and less domineering than his father, if also less driven and passionate, he spent most of his career in government, becoming First Commissioner of Works in 1905, promoted to the Cabinet in 1907 and, the following year, taking up the more significant post of Colonial Secretary, which he held until 1915. 

Harcourt generally wrote his original rough notes of Cabinet meetings on copies of Foreign Office telegrams, which were routinely circulated to ministers. Most of these notes were rewritten more neatly by him, apparently soon afterward, to form a political journal, with stylistic changes to make them more easily understandable and the addition of some extra details, including events that occurred outside the Cabinet.  His decision to take down such a record did not go unnoticed, and he recorded that, during a meeting on 22 July 1914, Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, "remonstrated with me for taking notes of Cabinet proceedings, so I desisted…" But, within a few days he was back to his old habit. Consequently, his is one of only two Cabinet members accounts of the discussions and arguments that eventually led to Britain joining the Great War.

Having earlier criticized increased naval spending and, when these were disclosed in 1911, military talks with France, it was predictable that Harcourt would oppose involvement in European war in summer 1914 but,  like most initial skeptics in the Cabinet, he was eventually won over. His entries pertaining to the war begin on 26 July 1914.  He missed the Cabinet meeting of 24 July, when the international crisis was first mentioned.

Here are the war-related excerpts from Harcourt's journal for the last two days of the Cabinet's deliberations.  I've done minor editing to make is abbreviations and notations more easily understood and adopted a bullet point format.

3 August, Political Journal

Belgium recd. demand from Germany for neutrality & has categorically refused.

Germans concentrating at Liege.

Grey “We must support Belgium & France”.

I said. great advantage if Germany declared war on us.

Bonar Law & Lansdowne seen Asquith – they agreed with Burns, fleet proclamation is a declaration of War.

They attach great importance to our supporting Belgium.

Germany offered Belgium neutrality afterwards if they allow passage of German troops.

[German Ambassador]  Lichnowsky “pledges his govt. not to attack French coast with fleet”. Grey does not think Lichnowsky authorised to say this.

£4 mills per month extra wanted for Navy during war.

Asq.(Asquith):  army mobilisation now necessary (not for Expeditionary force, but for home safety & defence.) £8 mills for army mobilisation.

Crown Princess German ship with £2 mills American gold for us been diverted north to Germany – we can’t stop her.

We appoint Committee to deal with food supplies.

? "extend Bank Holiday" (next Monday) for two days. Huth Jackson against it.

Grey gave us summary of what he will say in H of C. today.

Sweden joins Germany in the War if we come in with France. 

Asq. then said, “Burns has resigned; Morley, Simon, Beauchamp also going; many others uneasy: the Cabinet with much shattered authority in time of great stress. Labour will be against us: Irish will act for Ireland. Under other circs. Asq would have resigned, but no Govt with a majority in H of C. – dislikes and abhors a coalition –experiment none would like to see repeated. Asq will not separate from Grey – remains in best interests of the country.

Asq will not separate from Grey – remains in best interests of the country. Asq “most thankless task to me to go on”.

J. Morley made a speech on his reasons [for refusing to support war]. Simon said. “if country at war it was the duty of men like himself and the peace party to support the Govt.”: he broke down. Pease, Crewe, Ll.Geo., I, Samuel, Runciman & Winston subsequently spoke. 

An appeal was made by Haldane & Winston to Simon & others not to resign now, or at least not announce it today. Simon and J. Morley were willing, Beauchamp not; sd. our party ought to be informed. No statement will be made by any of them today.

Resumed Cabinet at 6 p.m.

German ultimatum to Belgium came in: very stiff.

Churchill “the Fleet will be absolutely ready by 4 a.m. tomorrow”

Asq. Army mobilisation will be completed by Sunday – we have 3 days more.

Grey will telegraph to Germany tomorrow morning as to their ultimatum to Belgium & demand answer.

South Wales colliers sd. to have struck “won’t dig coal for War”. Since Grey’s speech this afternoon. [But, Miners President] Brace  told them to resume.

Following Note for 3 August:

Harcourt: ‘You don’t contemplate sending an expeditionary force to France?’

Asquith: ‘No, certainly not.’  [!!!]

This 1909 Cartoon Shows a Number of Cabinet Members Who Would Participate in the 1914 Decision for War: Richard Haldane, Winston Churchill (text balloon reads "Don't let my feet touch the ground!"), David Lloyd George, H.H. Asquith, John Morley. Front Row: Reginald McKenna, Crewe (text balloon reads "My boy, they are delivered into our hands!") and Augustine Birrell.


4 August — Notes of Cabinet Meeting

We are to fire on German dreadnought (Goeben) in the Mediterranean if it tries to stop French transports: we to stop her getting out to prey on our commerce in the Atlantic.

We are sending an ultimatum to Germany & to have the answer by midnight.

Belgium has informed  that her territory will be violated by force of arms.

Discussed seizure of German colonies: I said “No, better wait a bit”. I told the Cab.  I was holding back Dominion Exped. Forces for the present & they approved. I spoke about Territorials & farmers horse & begged they should not be impounded now in the middle of the harvest. I want a Committee at once to deal with food distribution.

The Goeben will be warned that if she shoots at French transports we shall sink her. Germany has now declared War on France. I insisted, and Asq. agreed, that orders shd. be sent to our Mediterranean Fleet not to fire on Goeben till we have become at war with Germany. Winston was compelled to send these orders & at once. The wireless was sent off at 12.50 p.m.

Grey read us his telegram to [British Ambassador] Goschen at Berlin, which is an ultimatum: we say we must have an assurance from Germany – similar to that from France last week – as to the neutrality of Belgium.

Germany said to have sent an ultimatum [demanding neutrality] to Sweden & may do so to Norway. Grey wants to offer Holland & Norway (as well as Belgium a guarantee of future integrity if they will remain neutral now.

In telegram just received by French Embassy, it is said that the Germans have penetrated to Verviers [in Belgium] between Liege and German frontier.

Separate Note of Downing Street Meeting, 4 August:

Went to Downing St. 11.15 p.m.

Grey, P.M., Churchill, Ll.Geo., McKenna there.

German answer unsatisfactory & Goschen asked for his passports – War Declared.

Sent all my tels. to Cols & Dominions

Long discussion as to tactics. Churchill wants to block Amsterdam & mouth of Rhine, Asq. Grey & I insisted we wd. not violate neutrality of Holland. Our defence of small nationalities our greatest asset. We insisted on this.

Some discussion about Expeditionary force. I pointed out dangers of doing this to India & Crown Colonies and home (possible revolution in North). I told Asq. & Grey this was vital to me. No decision – perhaps discuss tomorrow. I think Ll. Geo. weakening in his peace “convictions” under the impression of mad popular enthusiasm in streets for war.  

5 August Prime Minister Asquith at the House of Commons

Our Ambassador at Berlin received his passports at seven o'clock last evening, and since eleven o'clock last night a state of war has existed between Germany and ourselves. We have received from our Minister at Brussels the following telegram: "I have just received from Minister for Foreign Affairs—" that is the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs— "a note of which the following is a literal translation: 'Belgian Government regret to have to inform His Majesty's Government that this morning armed forces of Germany penetrated into Belgian territory in violation of engagements assumed by treaty.'"

Editor's Note:  Harcourt left the government in 1915, when Asquith decided a coalition government was in order. His public service continued, and despite being married and the father of four, Harcourt had a reputation as a compulsive sexual predator that followed him until his death in 1922. 

Source:  Lewis Harcourt’s Journal of the 1914 War Crisis, Edited and Introduced by John W. Young, University of Nottingham; full document (26 July4 August) available HERE.