Thursday, April 5, 2018

April 1918, Back to Baccarat: “They are putting our names down in history it looks like.”

by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

When the units of the 42nd Division pulled out of the trenches March 23, 1918 they were initially dispatched for further training in the Rolamport area. (MWW, 91) These orders were countermanded due to the spring German offensive and the 151st MGB instead marched to Badmenil March 28, 1918. They did not have long to wait. On March 30th, the 151st received orders to move with its supported units to new positions in the Baccarat Sector. Major Cooper Winn established battalion headquarters at Neufmaison with the 84th Brigade HQ while Company A and B marched with the 167th Infantry Regiment and took up support by fire positions at Vacqueville. From there, they rotated into front line positions near Neuviller or Grand Bois. Companies C and D, moving with the 168th Infantry moved to Pexonne and entered front line positions in Badonvillier and Village Negre.

Upon arriving in Vacqueville, Cpl. Robert Burton humorously advised his family about life in the trenches in spring.

Somewhere in France (Vacqueville)
Easter Sunday, March 31, 1918
My dearest mama,
Well another Easter is passed and still the world moves on and the war still rages. I suppose that everyone came out in their spring duds Sunday. The Soldier styles are a little changed this year. Also, we don’t wear the old felt campaign hat any longer. The steel helmet is the craze over here just now. They are much easier to keep clean and they have many uses other than covering wool. They are very good as candle sticks. The helmet is somewhat heavier than the old hat but at times it feels as if it were nothing especially when the “whiz bangs” begin to sing. The “whiz bangs” being our friend, the enemy’s 105 artillery.
The overcoats are being worn much shorter this winter by request. They do not hinder so much in walking as did the long coat. They are especially useful to cover up feet at night. All in all, they are very nice.
Spiral leggings are also in great demand. They are said to keep the leg much warmer and also increase the extra duty squad for it takes an artist and quite a lot of time to adjust to the human leg. They are especially recommended for soldiers who have a shapely calf.
The shoes have changed in a marvelous manner. From the russet they have changed to the mouse colored hob nail. The hobs being small nails driven neatly in the sole. Said hobs being very useful and absolutely necessary in promenading on slick ice-covered roads. Everybody has the hob nail habit.
Rubber boots are also the rage especially in inclement weather which by the way has been the program for a little time past. They also are very useful in “making” reveille.
You think I suppose that I have gone crazy or something, but you seemed to be worried about me keeping warm and dry and comfortable. I thought this a very good way in which to tell you how we were looked out for. We get along very nicely.
With heaps of love. Your devoted son.

Days later, Burton writing from position with the 167th Infantry in the Grand Bois center of resistance reassured his mother that he was alright and urged her to look for news about the German offensive.

Somewhere in France (The Trenches near Saint Pol, the Baccarat Sector)
April 2, 1918
My dearest mama,
Will drop you a line to let you know that I am still alive and well. I haven’t heard from you in about 2 weeks but when the mail does come I know that I will get a letter from you because I most always do. I hope that you receive my letters regular. I write at least once a week and sometimes more.
I suppose that you have seen by the papers of the great drive that the Germans are making. The general impression over here seems to be that if they fail which is more than probable that the war won’t last very much longer. It seems to be the death struggle of the giant. I don’t know so awful much about the drive, but I do know that we can’t lose. The Boche haven’t a chance. So, you watch the papers from about Mch 28 and see if the drive don’t fail.
Mama, don’t you worry for a minute about me. Just think all the time that I am well and fine.
Will write to you again before the week is up.
Your devoted son,
The great drive Burton referenced was the Spring Offensive which the Germans initiated March 21, 1918 in the hopes of striking a decisive blow before the Allied Expeditionary Force could fully deploy manpower and materiel. The decisive effort of the Germans, Operation Michael, was directed against the British Fifth and Third Armies. Following a massive artillery barrage, German stormtroopers assaulted the British Lines achieving breakthroughs and driving back the Fifth Army and right wing of the Third. But where the Germans were able to achieve success in sectors with little strategic significance they could not dislodge British forces from key objectives where defenses were the strongest. On March 28, The Germans attempted to drive a wedge between the two British armies and were heavily repulsed. French, British and Australian reinforcements were rushed to protect the rail center in Amiens. Unable to move supplies rapidly enough to support the exhausted infantry, the Germans abandoned Operation Michael on April 5, 1918. While they had achieved initial success and gained much ground, the advance cost the Germans nearly 240,000 Soldiers with little strategic value achieved. The allies had suffered 255,000 casualties, but they still held vital rail and supply centers.

Writing to his Aunt April 10, 1918 from the trenches near Saint Pol, Burton reflected on the news
Your two most delightful letters received. One today and one day before yesterday. You can’t imagine how very much I did appreciate them. They were as good as a tonic.
They are putting our names down in history it looks like. They have a roll most every place. Well, it will be good for our grandchildren to look over.
I know that you have seen by the papers about the great drive the Boche are making. The military critics over here are unanimous in their opinion that it will be the end of the war. It is the dying struggle of the giant. Well, I hope that they are not wrong. The Boche are bound to lose. There is no possible chance for them to win now. Not so long as the allies have a single man left.
Well, this is quite a long letter so will ring off for this time.
Your devoted nephew,

Next Chapter: May 1918, “Trust in God. Hold your head high and fly the service flag.

No comments:

Post a Comment