December, 1917: Neufchateau Training Area
In December, 1917 the 26th “Yankee” Division continued its training for the Western Front in the area of Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France. Supervised by the French Army, the training process included constructing a full-sized system of fire, cover and support trenches large enough for a battalion front which were used for practical exercises in attack and defense. This network of training trenches was nicknamed the “Noncourt Sector” after the nearby village of Noncourt and was used by all units to develop their skills in trench warfare. The Noncourt Sector trench system was called the “Quartier de la Sapiniere” (Sapper’s Quarter), with the earthworks named in honor of the New England troops: “Trenche de Boston” (front line of observation), “Trenche de Newport” (line of resistance), and “Trenche de New Haven” (support line).
Gas training also began on December 10 after the arrival of a shipment of 25,000 small box respirators and 6,000 gas masks. Due to the limited number of qualified instructors available, the men were trained one battalion at a time in a very preliminary fashion. Sam also found his responsibilities increased with the assignment of Drum Major for the 103rd Infantry band, leading evening Parade around the Ville each night.
Read about the Neufchateau Training Area here. See original film of the 26th Division at Neufchateau here, including Sam himself standing Color Guard following Evening Parade [far right edge of frame at 06:19]. Also, read Sam’s December correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the winter deepens, the first casualties due to illness are buried and Sam prepares for war on the Western Front.
December, 1918: After the Armistice
After the cessation of hostilities following the Armistice, the 26th Division was in such bad shape due to battle casualties that it was sent to the rear rather than join the Army of Occupation in Germany. On the march, it passed through the area between Gondrecourt and Neufchateau, finally stopping on November 23 at Montigny-le-Roiwhere Division HQ was established. The 103rd Regimental HQ was located at Chauffort.
As the Armistice was not a formal peace treaty, the men continued to maintain their training although leaves were now permitted. Military censorship of the mail was lifted, enabling the troops to more clearly reveal the nature of their whereabouts and activities. Prisoners were returned by both sides in early December. At Christmas, the 26th Division was honored both as the Division with whom President Woodrow Wilson shared Christmas dinner, and that which furnished the Presidential Honor Guard at AEF General Headquarters in Chaumont.
Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s December correspondence here as he experiences his first furlough since arriving Over There, and also finds himself back in the hospital on Christmas Day to ensure he dosen’t fall prey to the Spanish Flu.
The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.