Thursday, March 8, 2018

March, 1918, First Contact: “The Boche haven’t got me yet!!”

by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

On March 7, Private Robert Addleton stepped through the door of his home at 6 Holt Avenue in Macon for the first time in more than six months. He was the first member of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion to return from the war. After enlisting April 17, 1917, Addleton had traveled to France with the battalion and ultimately to within 10 miles of the Western Front. Mere days before the 151st entered the front-line trenches, it was discovered that Addleton had been underage at the time of his enlistment. He was sent home with an honorable discharge. While his comrades were overseas receiving their baptism of fire, Addleton went back to work at the Willingham Cotton Mills in Macon. 

Somewhere in France (The trenches near Ancervillier)
March 14, 1918
My dearest daddy,
Your letter received today. I was surely glad to hear from you. I am getting along well and fine. Tom Hensler is getting along just as nicely as can be. So is (Private Weymon Guthrie, Company B; Pvt. Leonard Chandler, Company B) and old Moore (Emory Moore, Company C.) You couldn’t kill him. Tom is just as full of life as ever, keeps you laughing all the time. (Sergeant Ed Williamson, Company A) is with us now. He rejoined us about a month ago I suppose. I was as glad to see him as if he had been my own brother.

Corporal Robert G. Burton’s March 14th letter offers a reassuring version of the war in which he and his fellow soldiers are happy and in high spirits. Perhaps knowing that any correspondence sent home would be widely distributed among family members and shared with the local paper, Burton provides no hint of his location or the fact that Soldiers of his unit had been in the trenches for nearly a week. in the Luneville and Baccarat sectors.

Sectors in the Vosges Front, 1918. Map by Capt. William Carraway from
American Battle Monuments Commission data.

Company C, 151st MGB entered the trenches near Badonvillier with the 168th Infantry Regiment on March 8, 1918. That same day, Pvt. Frank Adkins of Company B succumbed to sepsis at the age of 31. A resident of Vienna, Ga., Adkins was buried in St. Mihiel Cemetery.

Private Frank Adkins grave, St. Mihiel Cemetery, France. Photo courtesy of
Jack Solomon

Company A moved into fire support positions for the 167th Infantry Regiment near Ancervillier a few days after Company C. Accompanying the American units to the front were veteran Soldiers of the French 128th Division who would serve alongside the American Soldiers until they were ready to assume full responsibility for their sectors.

Corporal Burton provides a description of the countryside from his vantage point in Ancervillier in his March 14, 1918 letter:

This is a very pretty country suited to raising wheat and vegetables and most all kinds of foodstuffs that is raised over here now. The lay of the country reminds me some of north Georgia on account of the low rolling hills and rich valleys. Everything is old and settled down. There are no farm towns like those we see in the States. The people follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. All of the houses are made of stone and the barn and living apartments of the people are all in one building.
Some of the finest stock that I have ever seen are over here. The horses are big Belgian draught horses and the cattle are all kinds. Lots of port is raised than this country.
I would like to have a car over here during peace times. You would never have to worry about being stuck in the mud or about it being too muddy to go. There are some of the finest roads in the world over here. It is not local because it extends over the whole of France. The part that I have seen is that way and I expect that it is that way all over France.
Well, have about run out of something to say so will close. Write again soon.
With love from your devoted son,

On March 17, 1918 Company D began rotating into the positions held by Company C. Aside from ever constant German artillery fire, Company C’s rotation had been relatively uneventful. A notable exception occurred when the company provided overhead barrage fire in support of raid conducted by Soldiers of the 168th Infantry Regiment.

Private Sullivan Sylvester's Grave, Meuse Argonne
Cemetery, France. Photo courtesy of Jack Solomon
While Company C completed their time in the trenches without suffering any casualties, Company D would not be as fortunate. Private 1st Class Sylvester Sullivan of Harrisburg, Penn. was killed in an accident on his first day at the front. He was 22.

The 1919 history of the 151st MGB compiled by Pvt. Arthur Peavy and Sgt. Miller white of Company B notes that Company B relieved Company A in the Ancervillier sector on March 18, 1918. The relief was not conducted all at once as casualties were suffered by both companies from March 19 to March 21.

Corporal Jack Peavy of Company B was wounded in the leg on March 19. The 20-year-old Macon resident was only slightly wounded and would soon return to duty.

On March 21, Pvt. Robert Foster of Company A was seriously wounded. Foster, a 24-year-old from Rochelle Ga. would recover and return to the ranks only to suffer a second wound four months later.

Also, on March 21, 18-year-old Pvt. Clifford Evans was mortally wounded. His body was returned to his hometown of Ooskaloosa, Iowa for burial.

Find A Grave, database and images ( accessed
08 February 2018), memorial page for Clifford Ervin Evans
(16 Jul 1899–21 Mar 1918), Find A Grave Memorial no. 12532384,
citing Forest Cemetery, Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, Iowa, USA;
Maintained by Shelli Steedman (contributor 46805729).
Photo by Jamie Johnson Crouse

Newspaper accounts in the Walton Tribune and Macon Telegraph recount the work of the Macon Volunteers in the trenches before Luneville and Baccarat:

March 1918 edition of the
Walton Tribune, courtesy of courtesy
of Bonnie Jacobs Mastro
“The 151st Machine Gun Battalion – the three Macon Companies in the Rainbow Division – has been in the trenches for nineteen days continuous service of such a nature that the officer writing the tidings to his mother in Macon confided that he had not had a chance to take off his clothing in that time, and that the battalion of Macon and Georgia boys saw real fighting of the sort that was given to them to take over the first little area of German soil won in Alsace-Lorraine, is not the only information that comes in a letter written to a Macon home, and to which the Telegraph has had access.
“Furthermore – after seeing some stiff enough fighting, being under fire for nineteen days and going first over in an attack that took German soil and kept it, the Macon battalion came back to its relief billets without a man being killed or wounded in the whole encounter, except Jack Peavy who was injured in the leg while the ‘show’ was on.”

On March 23, all units of the 42nd Division were relieved and the 151st MGB marched to Rambervillers. In their first 15 days in the front lines, the battalion had suffered one killed, two wounded and lost two to disease and accidents.

Corporal Burton took advantage of the time in Rambervillers to write home.

France (Rambervillers) March 25, 1918
My dearest mama,
I have intended writing to you for the last day or so, but have just put it off until tonight…
Well now comes the news. I have been to the trenches and stayed up there a good many days. As you see by this letter, the Boche haven’t got me yet!!
I am afraid that I will be kinder hard to get…
Ed (Sgt. Augustus Williamson) is down here reading while I write this letter. He says tell you that we are getting along fine and that he was still looking after me.
Well, will sign off for this time.
As ever, your devoted son,

Next Chapter: Back to Baccarat

Other works cited: 

Author Unknown. Walton Boys Are Seeing Service In The Trenches. Walton Tribune, March, date unknown, 1918.

Carraway, William M. "Luneville and Baccarat Sectors, February 18 to March 23, 1918." 

Robert G. Burton to Phillip F. Burton. March 14, 1918. Trenches near Ancervillier, France.

Sparks, George McIntosh, ed. Macon's War Work; A History of Macon's Part in the Great World War. Macon, GA: J. W. Burke Company, Unk.

White, Miller G., Jr., and Arthur H. Peavy. The 151st Machine Gun Battalion Rainbow (42d) Division Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917, to April 26, 1919. Macon, GA: J. W. Burke Company, 1919.

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