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.

Soldier’s Mail for October, 1916-1918

October, 1916: South on the Border

In October, 1916 Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the Massachusetts Brigade embarked on a 60-mile campaign march to Fort Selden in New Mexico (today both a National and New Mexico State Monument). The entire marching column contained 18,000 National Guard troops from Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and South Carolina. Heading relentlessly northward through scorching desert heat, many men were felled by heat exhaustion and lack of water. Near the end of the march, the troops from Massachusetts were ordered to immediately retrace their steps across the desert to Camp Cotton where they awaited relief by newly-arrived troops from Georgia.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Read the page October, 1916 to learn more about the Long March to Fort Selden. Read Sam’s correspondence to his family as he relates his ongoing experiences of camp life and the hardships of service on the border.

October, 1917: The Long Voyage

Following the formal entry of the United States into the Great War, the U.S. Navy was challenged with organizing the greatest sea lift of soldiers and supplies in history up until that time in order to effectively fight in Europe. Never before had American military might been projected so far from home for so long and on such a scale. The overseas troop transport effort became known at the “Bridge of Ships,” accomplished by assembling a large collection of passenger liners, borrowed British ships and seized enemy vessels to help carry more than 2 million men and 7.5 million tons of cargo across the Atlantic.

Sam Avery and other men of the 103rd Infantry sailed aboard the S.S. Saxonia from Hoboken, NJ to Halifax, Nova Scotia before crossing the North Atlantic in convoy to Liverpool, England. After traveling by train to Southampton, they crossed the English Channel to Le Havre, France before traveling by train once again to their final destination at the new AEF training area near Neufchateau.

Read about the “Bridge of Ships” here. Also, read Sam’s October correspondence which details his Long Voyage from America to embattled France.

October, 1918: Meuse-Argonne Offensive

In early October, 1918 Sam Avery finally returned from the hospital to the 103rd Infantry which had been severely battered during the St. Mihiel Offensive. Immediately upon his arrival, the Regiment was on the move again to Verdun with the rest of the 26th Division where it took up defensive positions before joining the AEF’s final attack during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Sam would bring home shoulder-straps cut from the uniforms of German troops captured during the final advance.

Read about the Meuse-Argonne Offensive here. Also, read Sam’s October correspondence from Verdun 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.

Soldier’s Mail for September, 1916-1918

September, 1916: South on the Border

In September, 1916 Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the Massachusetts Brigade continued to secure the Border from their base at Camp Cotton (the “City of Tents”) outside of El Paso, Texas. The National Guard troops were inspected by the Regular Army to ensure their compliance with Federal standards for training and performance. In mid-September, there was a Brigade March to test the men’s strength and endurance after three months of active duty. This was followed by a military parade to Fort Bliss which formed the largest military column seen in the United States since the Civil War.

Read the page South on the Border to learn more about the events of the Mexican Revolution that made American military action necessary. Read the page September, 1916 to learn more about the living conditions of the Massachusetts troops at Camp Cotton as they continue to secure the Border. Read Sam’s correspondence to his family as he relates his ongoing experiences of camp life and the dangers of patrolling along the border.

September, 1917: Watchful Waiting

Following the formal entry of the United States into the Great War, in August 1917 1st Sgt. Sam Avery and the rest of the 8th Mass. Infantry were mobilized once again for federal service. The encampments used by the men of the 8th Infantry for training and reorganization were at Lynnfield and Westfield. During this time, the 8th Mass. Infantry was disbanded and Sam found himself reassigned to the 103rd U.S. Infantry Regiment. Read Sam’s diary notes and letters about life in the encampments, being reorganized into the 103rd U.S. Infantry and preparing to sail to France.

September, 1918: Recovery in the Hospitals

In September, 1918 Sam Avery remained in the AEF hospital system while he recovered from severe gas poisoning. At the same time, the 103rd Infantry participated in the St. Mihiel Offensive with the rest of the 26th “Yankee” Divison. Read about recovery in the AEF base hospital system here. Also, read about the St. Mihiel Offensive juxtaposed with Sam’s September correspondence which reveals a rare parallel narrative.

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.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 5/17/1919

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids, Iowa, May 17, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I am now just an ordinary citizen again. We got our discharges yesterday and I went to Des Moines last night and came down to Cedar Rapids this morning. I have been busy seeing everybody I know and I have so many invitations that I would have to stay several days if I tried to fill them all. Everyone has been fine to me and it seems good to be back among old friends again. The college Spring Festival is to be about the 24th and I wish I were going to be here to see my many friends in the Minneapolis Orchestra. Stephens is going to play a solo on one of the orchestra programs.

The town looks just the same as ever. There is hardly anything new. The YMCA has built a new building and that is about all there is. The college has been growing right along and now that so many of the boys are back there should be still more next year.

Doc Crawford is as big as ever and his two little boys have grown a lot since I left. They have a nice little house, very nicely furnished and seem as happy as can be. The Walkers are taking me to the Country Club for dinner tomorrow (Sunday) and in the evening I have supper with the Crawfords. Tonight I have supper with the Stephens. I don’t know just when I will leave here but I think it will be Monday morning some time so I will get home in the afternoon or early evening.

Cedar Rapids has been very prosperous this last year or two but now things have slumped a bit. The cereal mills are not getting the big army contracts and have shut down almost entirely for a while. Most of the soldiers from here have come back but I don’t know whether there are many of them out of work or not. There has been lost of work and lots of money here but when the mills slow down it affects everything.

I shall be so happy to get home again. I can hardly realize that I am a free man and probably won’t until I get these clothes off. I enquired all over for the shoes but they had not come so I didn’t wait. I got a new pair of shoes issued but they are rough field shoes that I don’t like to wear around to nice places.

Well, look for me home Monday afternoon or evening. That isn’t very far off but it is long enough.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Somewhere Heading West, Early May 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I am sorry I couldn’t let you know when or where to meet me but I couldn’t get any information myself. By the time you get this I will be in Camp Dodge, we will get there about eight in the morning. We probably will not be there more than three or four days so counting a couple of days for a stop in Cedar Rapids I ought to be home in a week. We left Boston on Monday at 2:30 so we have made good time.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Soldier’s Mail for May, 1918

May, 1918: Toul (Boucq) Sector

The La Reine (Boucq) Sector (also known as the Toul Sector) was the southeastern aspect of the St. Mihiel salient which was a bulge in the Allied lines remaining from the original German advance in 1914. This salient continued to threaten Verdun and Toul along with the entire right side of the Allied front (See detailed maps of this salient in the “Map Room”). The principle feature of the terrain in this sector was a ridge east to west from Flirey to Apremont with a highway running along it. The front line was anchored on the towns of Seicheprey and Xivray-et-Marvoisin, continuing into Bois Brule where it linked up with lines held by the French. The Germans had the tactical advantage of both observation and attack as the Allied front could be penetrated through several shallow ravines. In addition, the Allied trenches were in very poor condition and had drainage problems. The entire length of the La Reine Sector front was 18 kilometers and this was the first time an entire sector was completely entrusted to an American division.

During the month of May, the sector was enlarged on the right side to include Jury Wood and Hazelle Wood near Flirey. Relief of front line battalions occurred every fifth day when the men would be moved to rest billets in the rear where baths and steam delousing stations were available.

On May 10, at 0115 hours in a heavy fog, the Germans detonated 1,141 gas projector bombs containing over 20 tons of phosgene on the south slope of Hill #322, Bois de Apremont, St. Agnant and the surrounding trenchworks which were occupied by the 103rd Infantry. Additional incoming gas, trench mortar and high explosive fire was taken by the 103rd at 0525. A total of 33 men were killed, 12 wounded and 162 hospitalized due to gas from the night’s work. The 103rd Regimental HQ was relocated to Laigne from May 22-27 and then to Royaumeix.

Read about the Toul (Boucq) Sector here. See original film of the steam disinfection process for uniforms here. Also, read Sam’s May correspondence from the Toul Sector as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

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.

Camp Devens, Mass. 4/29/1919

Barracks & Troops - 1917

Camp Devens, Mass., April 29, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

You probably got the Salvation Army telegram yesterday afternoon. I had intended wiring to you but when we got off the boat the Salvation Army took our names and addresses of those we wanted notified and sent the messages.

We had a very fine trip across. We left Prum March 27th and got to Brest April 1st. We found the camp at Brest much different from what it was when we went through a year ago. At that time there was nothing there but some old stone barracks that were built in Napoleon’s time. Today there is a camp of tents and wooden barracks about two miles long. There may have been a lot of criticism of the camp while it was being constructed but no fault could be found with it now. I don’t believe there is a camp better kept up or better organized anywhere. We had iron beds, springs and mattresses and plenty of blankets. The food was good. There was entertainment of all sorts at the various YMCA, K of C and Salvation Army tents in the camp.

We left Brest the 17th of April on the SS Breton, a German passenger vessel which has just been taken over. It is an old slow boat but not made to carry so many thousand troops as the regular transports are. We sergeants had second class cabins which were a treat to us. We had our own dining room and mess so we felt that we were traveling in style. About 2200 men were on the boat altogether. There were several French brides going over to their husbands and YMCA women going back home.

We had very fine weather all through the eleven days. There was hardly a real wave on the ocean the whole time. I don’t know of anyone who was seasick. The trip was very long and tiresome, partly because we were so anxious to get back.

We landed yesterday morning about ten-thirty. Trains were down at the docks and we got right on and were brought out here. The camp is about thirty-five miles from Boston. I am going to try to get in to see Boston if I can. We have no idea of what is going to be done with us or how long we will be here. We suppose, though, that the company will be broken up and the men sent to the camps nearest the point of their enlistment. I am elated to go to Camp Dodge, at Des Moines, Iowa. I want to stop in Cedar Rapids a day or two on my way home. I want to look after the car and the money I have invested there and also find out what the college is expecting me to do.

It is good to be back again, so far we have not seen many civilians. We saw nothing of Boston and passed through just a few small towns on our way out here. When we got into the harbor all the boats blew their whistles and kept them going for about five minutes. Then a boat came out with a band and a lot of Bostonians on it. The band played and the boat circled around our ship. At the dock the Red Cross served us coffee and rolls, the YMCA gave us candy and postal cards, the K of C gave us cigarettes and the Jewish Welfare Board gave us handkerchiefs. I needed that more than the others as I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks. The thing we appreciated most of all was the sending of the telegrams by the Salvation Army.

This is a miserable camp. I never saw such a dirty place and I can’t understand it. It doesn’t look as if the army over here is as strict as we have been used to on the other side.

I hope that there will not be any delay in our getting discharged. The time seems so long when we have nothing to do but wait to go home.

Several thousand 26th Division men are here now. Their homes are in New England and they are being discharged here. A good many of them are from Boston and other towns near here and their friends and relatives come out to see them.

Will write again tomorrow or sooner if we get any news.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Camp Devens, Mass. 4/28/1919

Barracks & Troops - 1917

Camp Devens, Mass., April 28, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

By now you will have received a telegram telling of my arrival at Boston. Just now we are on the train bound for Camp Devens, about 50 miles from Boston. I expect that we will be kept there only a few days as most of our company are to be mustered out at Camp Dodge, Iowa. It seems very likely that I will be home within a couple of weeks. Will write a letter as soon as I get to camp and get settled.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Soldier’s Mail for April, 1918-1919

April, 1918: Toul (Boucq) Sector

St_Mihiel_map

St. Mihiel Salient (Click to Enlarge)

The La Reine (Boucq) Sector (also known as the Toul Sector) was the southeastern aspect of the St. Mihiel salient which was a bulge in the Allied lines remaining from the original German advance in 1914. This salient continued to threaten Verdun and Toul along with the entire right side of the Allied front (See detailed maps of this salient in the “Map Room”). The principle feature of the terrain in this sector was a ridge east to west from Flirey to Apremont with a highway running along it. The front line was anchored on the towns of Seicheprey and Xivray-et-Marvoisin, continuing into Bois Brule where it linked up with lines held by the French. The Germans had the tactical advantage of both observation and attack as the Allied front could be penetrated through several shallow ravines. In addition, the Allied trenches were in very poor condition and had drainage problems. The entire length of the La Reine Sector front was 18 kilometers and this was the first time an entire sector was completely entrusted to an American division.

On March 28, 1918 the 26th Division’s infantry was hastily moved into the sector while a German gas bombardment was in progress. The two necessities of life throughout the sector were to maintain cover during daylight hours and to encode communications with extreme care. On April 12, men of the 103rd Infantry were sent into the left side of the line at Bois Brule near Apremont and St. Agnant to reinforce the 104th Infantry which had been under heavy artillery and infantry attack since April 5. Throughout the afternoon and evening of April 12, the 103rd was engaged in small unit close combat with German infantry in a tangle of earthworks, wire and underbrush. The enemy was finally driven back from the American positions.

On April 20, following a 90-minute pre-dawn gas bombardment and taking advantage of a heavy fog, a German force of about 1800 troops assaulted positions held by the 102nd Infantry at Seicheprey. It was during this action that Stubby (refer to the page “Stubby, 26th Division Mascot”) was wounded by a grenade fragment. At the same time, throughout the day the Germans fired over 21,600 gas shells, 4,200 high explosive shells and 6,000 trench mortar shells into the American lines from Xivray to Bois de Remieres. This bombardment destroyed all communications in the sector, smashed American artillery liason and caused the infantry units to lose all track of each other.

Read about the Toul (Boucq) Sector here. See original film of the steam disinfection process for uniforms here. Also, read Sam’s April correspondence from the Toul Sector as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

April, 1919: After the Armistice

On March 28, 1919 Private First Class Sam Avery made passage from Brest, France back to the United States with 7,200 other officers and men of the 101st and 103rd Regiments aboard the U.S. Navy’s troop transport USS America (ID-3006), returning to Boston on April 6 after a speedy 9-day voyage without the threat of U-boats. After arriving in Boston, Sam traveled 3 hours 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 grand Divisional Parade in Boston on April 25, the officers and men of the 26th Division received their discharges on April 28-30, 1919. Approximately only 57% of the officers and men who originally went overseas with the 26th “Yankee” Division returned home with it.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read about the Grand Divisional Parade in Boston here. See original film of American troops sailing from Brest for home here.

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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