Soldier’s Mail for February, 1918-1919

ObservationPost

“Observation Post” by William Barnes Wollen

February, 1918: Chemin des Dames Sector

By early February, 1918 the 26th “Yankee” Division had taken up front line positions reinforcing the depleted XI Corps of the French 6th Army on the Chemin des Dames front, north of Soissons and the Aisne River. The Chemin des Dames had been fought over since the beginning of the war and the rocky, wooded terrain favored the German defensive line. In addition, the Germans enjoyed almost total air superiority in this sector and frequently flew low over the roads and trenches to strafe them with machine gun bullets.

The 12 battalions of the “Yankee” Division were spread across a front of 30 kilometers. The 103rd Infantry held the front line between the ruined towns of Chavignon and Pinon. Regimental HQ was at Vaudesson with a support battalion located at St. Blaise Quarry/Nanteuil and a reserve battalion at Vregny.

As individual companies took over the French positions (by platoons of 20-40 men supported by 2 or more machine guns) in shallow, knee-deep trenches along the northern edge of the Chemin des Dames plateau,  the balance of their battalions remained sheltered in reserve inside limestone quarries and caves along the edge of the ridge. The entire terrain was covered with shell craters and sections of abandoned trenches from past engagements. The outposts were occupied by men whose mission was “warning and sacrifice:” If attacked, they were to fight to the last man and resist capture, which would buy time for the main line of resistance to make ready. No reinforcements would be coming.

Read about the Chemin des Dames Sector here. See original film of the 26th Division in the Chemin des Dames here. Also, read Sam’s February correspondence from the Chemin des Dames as he adjusts to life under fire in the trenches.

February, 1919: After the Armistice

In early February, 1919 the 26th Division had arrived in the vicinity of the embarkation area near Le Mans. Division HQ was opened at Ecommoy on February 4 with the 103rd Regimental HQ located at Laigne.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s February correspondence from Laigne, France here as he continues to struggle with the boredom of waiting and the concern that AEF combat divisions have not yet returned home and may instead be redeployed to Russia.

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.

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  1. In 1968, my grandfather, Colonel Connell Albertine, published a book called “The Yankee Doughboy”. It can be read on line now. He was in the 26th Yankee Division of World War I. Library of Congress Card Catalog Number 67-23441. It is a good read. Many pictures at the end of the book. There is a full page of helmet insignias of the units of the 26th Division. This is a very good website.


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