Soldier’s Mail for January, 1918-1919

January, 1918: Neufchateau Training Area

In January, 1918 the 26th “Yankee” Division concluded its preliminary training for the Western Front in the area of Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France. On January 23, word was suddenly received that the 26th Division had been assigned to reinforce the depleted XI Corps of the French 6th Army on the Chemin des Dames front, north of Soissons and the Aisne River. Hasty preparations were then made to complete the insurance forms, write home to loved ones and make ready for the move to the Front.

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 January correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the winter continues, the men look forward to packages from home and Sam suddenly hears word that he and the boys are finally heading for the Front.

January, 1919: After the Armistice

On January 8, 1919 orders were received for the 26th Division to begin preparations for return to the United States. Movement orders were received on January 17, but the day prior to the 103rd Infantry’s scheduled departure, their commander Col. Percy W. Arnold was tragically killed in an accident. After burying their Colonel with full military honors and much sadness, by January 21 the troops were finally marching to the trains which carried them to the embarkation area near Le Mans.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s January correspondence from Sarrey, France here as he struggles with the weather, the boredom of waiting and the frustration of hearing that other units which only recently arrived in France have already returned home.

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.

Soldier’s Mail for December, 1917-1918

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.

Soldier’s Mail for November, 1917-1918

November, 1917: Neufchateau Training Area

The 26th “Yankee” Division had arrived in France during the month of October, 1917 as the first complete American division and also the first National Guard division to be deployed as part of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). By November of 1917, divisional HQ had been established at Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France, and a new AEF training center was constructed which would continue to be used throughout the war. Initially troops were billeted in lofts, stables and outbuildings in the surrounding villages until suitable facilities at the training base could be constructed. The 103rd Infantry was billeted at Liffol-Le-Grand and Villouxel to the southwest of Neufchateau. Advanced combat training in trench warfare immediately began under the supervision of the French Army, and additional training in hand-to-hand combat was provided to American officers and NCO’s by the British Army at Bazoilles. Read about the Neufchateau Training Area here. Also, read Sam’s November correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the weather grows cold and he prepares for war on the Western Front.

November, 1918: Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In November, 1918 the 26th Division moved into captured German defenses along the Kreimhilde Line with the 103rd Infantry’s center of resistance near Romagne.  The entire divisional front was subject to heavy gas and high explosive artillery fire as the German Army prepared to withdraw. On November 8, the 103rd Infantry responded to evidence of the German retreat with an advance into German front-line positions which they occupied before new advance lines were established. The 26th Division then attacked towards the southeast and remained on the advance until November 11. The 103rd Infantry made its final advance in line with the other regiments in pursuit of the retreating Germans, reaching the road south of Ville-devant-Chaumont before coming to a final halt at 1100 hours.  The men of the 103rd were occupied with clearing machine gun nests until the very last moment, and some were angered when their artillery support suddenly stopped before realizing that hostilites had finally ended.

Read about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive here. Also, read Sam’s November correspondence from captured German lines as he continues to endure both heavy fire and the loss of friends while also worrying about his family during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

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.

Happy Independence Day!

UncleSam4th

Original Portrait of Sgt. Sam Avery by Jack Skinner

1st Sgt. Samuel Avery, Hdq. Co., 103rd Inf., 26th “Yankee” Division

It has long been my desire to have an original painted portrait of my great-uncle Sam to accompany the book project which is a companion to this website. I turned to my colleague, friend and skilled New England artist Jack Skinner to assist in this endeavor. Over nearly two years, Jack rendered this astonishing work in acrylic paint based on some old photos and painstaking historical research.

This work pictures 1st Sgt. Sam Avery seated in front of the door to a French farmhouse in the Vosges region of France, his Springfield 1903 rifle propped behind him. On the front of Sam’s uniform blouse can be seen ribbons for the World War I Victory Medal with 5 Campaign Stars and the Mexican Border Campaign. Below the ribbons is the Sharpshooter’s Medal. On the left sleeve is found the 26th Division’s “YD” shoulder patch, 1st Sergeant’s chevrons, and Overseas Service Stripes (1 for every 6 months overseas) along with a “Sammy Star”  indicating Sam’s arrival among the first 100,000 AEF troops in France. In Sam’s lap is shown his M1917 helmet bearing the 103rd Infantry helmet mark.

Click here to discover other captivating original artwork by Jack Skinner available at FineArtAmerica.com.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 49,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 11 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

The YD’s Birthplace: Apremont Park, Westfield Mass.

The 26th “Yankee” Division was formed in August, 1917 at Camp Bartlett in Westfield, Mass (Read about the 26th Division here). In Westfield today, Apremont Park memorializes the sacrifice of the 104th Infantry Regiment during the Great War.

Following is a collection of photos courtesy of reader Donna (Anderson) Blews that show the beauty and detail of this memorial park.

Apremont Park Dedication (Donna Anderson Blews)

Apremont Park Memorial Walkway (Donna Anderson Blews)

Approach to Apremont Memorial (Donna Anderson Blews)

Detail of Apremont Memorial (Donna Anderson Blews)

Close-up of Apremont Memorial (Donna Anderson Blews)

Detail of Apremont Memorial WWI Flag Staff (Donna Anderson Blews)

Close-up of the Apremont Memorial WWI Flag Staff (Donna Anderson Blews)

Epilogue: Corporal Joseph Maus

The Somme Offensive was launched on September 24, 1918 with the objective of breaking the Hindenburg Line. As part of this operation on September 27, the 105th Infantry moved forward in attack and made initial gains near Quennemont Ferme, Guillemont Ferme, and fortified heights called “The Knoll”, before being driven back by German counter-attack. On September 29th, the 105th Infantry attacked “The Knoll” again but was checked with heavy casualties. It was during this attack that Corporal Joseph Maus was killed in action, one of 1,609 casualties in the ranks of the 105th Infantry during the war.

Grand Parade in Boston, 4/25/1919

On April 25, 1919 the men of the 26th “Yankee” Division participated in a hero’s homecoming parade in Boston. The painted helmet markings worn by the men helped distinguish the various units for the onlookers. The Boston Globe even published a Helmet Insignia reference chart for parade watchers:

Insignia Chart from The Boston Globe, April, 1919

The parade began at Beacon & Charles Streets and took the following route through the city of Boston: Beacon St., Park St., Tremont St., Boylston St., Arlington St., Commonwealth Ave., Charlesgate, Berkeley St., Boylston St., Massachusetts Ave., Columbus Ave., ending at Park Square. The wounded of the Division were driven in a phalanx of open-topped cars. Following is a set of photos which captures the event, found inside an old collector’s photo album and shared with the readers of Soldier’s Mail courtesy of Gretchen Gudefin.

26th Div. On March; Mass Ave, Boston, 4/25/19

26th Div. Parade Rest; Mass Ave, Boston, 4/25/19

26th Div. Wounded; Mass Ave, Boston, 4/25/19

(Special thanks to Gretchen Gudefin for sharing the above Parade photos.)

Here also is a 12-page tabloid insert from The Boston Traveler newspaper specially prepared for the event which featured songs for all spectators to join in singing. Also contained in this collectible was the parade route and other information on temporary billeting arrangements for the various units where banquets were held for the men and their loved ones.

Parade Bulletin from The Boston Traveler, 4/25/19 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 2 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 3 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 4 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 5 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 6 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 7 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 8 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 9 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 10 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 11 (Shane Colledge)

Parade Insert Page 12 (Shane Colledge)

(Special thanks to Shane Colledge for sharing the above Parade Bulletin photos.)

Epilogue

photo by Michael St. Maur Shell

After safely returning to the Port of Boston aboard the USS America, Private First Class Sam Avery traveled by train to Camp Devens in Ayer, Mass. where he was billeted with the rest of the 26th Division pending discharge from service. Following a Division Review by the New England Governors at Camp Devens on April 22 and a parade in Boston on April 25, the officers and men of the 26th Division received their discharges on April 28-30, 1919.

Sam returned to his former employment at the Bristol Patent Leather Company in Boston, eventually married and became a father. After the onset of the Great Depression, the Bristol Patent Leather Co. closed its business operations and Sam was fortunate to find a Civil Service position as a janitor at Bridgewater State College.

When the United States entered the Second World War, Sam reenlisted in the Massachusetts State Guard at the age of 50 and once again served as a First Sergeant with the 10th Co., 25th Mass. Infantry on the Home Front until his final discharge on August 31, 1945.

At the same time, the next generation of the 103rd Infantry Regiment continued its distinguished battle history as part of the 43rd “Winged Victory” Infantry Division (New England National Guard) starting in February, 1941. During that year, the 103rd Infantry trained at Camp Blanding, Florida and participated in maneuvers in Louisiana, North Carolina, Fort Shelby Mass., and Fort Ord, California. The regiment deployed overseas to the Pacific Theater in September of 1942, exactly 25 years after it had first sailed “Over There” to France with the AEF. The 103rd Infantry fought in the bloody Pacific campaigns at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, New Guinea and Luzon, taking part in the amphibious assault at Lingayen Gulf. The 103rd Infantry was one of the first units to land in Japan after the cessation of hostilities in August, 1945. After serving several weeks of occupation duty, the regiment returned home to the United States and was mustered out of Federal service in late October, 1945.

Meanwhile, the 26th “Yankee” Division was reorganized as a “triangular division” based on three infantry regiments and saw combat action once again on the battlefields of Europe. Shipped directly to France in August of 1944, the 26th Division landed at Cherbourg and Utah Beach in early September. In October of 1944, it fought over familiar ground during the Lorraine Campaign as part of the Allied drives on the Saar River and Metz. In December, 1944 the 26th Division participated in the Ardennes Breakthrough during the Battle of the Bulge and remained on the advance across the Rhine River. The division then moved into Austria by early April, 1945 where it helped liberate the Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camps. After advancing as far East as Czechosloviakia, following the surrender of Germany the 26th Division returned home to the United States and was mustered out of Federal service on December 21, 1945.

Telling War Stories in Camp, 1940's

Sam lived in Bridgewater and remained working at Bridgewater State College for twenty seven years, eventually becoming Chief Custodian until his retirement in December, 1961. Ever a believer in self-improvement, Sam could be frequently found auditing college classes in his spare time as an informal drop-in student. His humor and wisdom made him well-liked by students and faculty alike over the years.

Sam remained an active member of several veterans’ organizations including the American Legion until his death on March 21, 1974 at the age of 82. After a long struggle with emphysema from years of smoking, Same died peacefully at his home in the company of his wife Marion and was buried with full military honors at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, Massachusetts. Today, Sam and Marion continue to rest there together on scenic Celosia Path.

Woodlawn Cemetery, Everett Mass.

In commemoration of his military service, Sam was posthumously awarded a Presidential Memorial Certificate signed by President Richard M. Nixon which reads as follows:

The United States of America

Honors the Memory of

Samuel E. Avery

This Certificate is awarded by a grateful nation

in recognition of devoted and

selfless consecration to the service

of our country in the Armed Forces

of the United States.

Richard M. Nixon

President of the United States

As Sam himself would say, “Nuf Ced.”