Thursday, May 17, 2018

May 1918: “Trust In God. Hold Your Head High and Fly the Service Flag.”

by Captain William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

By May, the grim reality of trench warfare had set in for the men of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion. In the two and a half months the 151st spent occupying the relatively quiet Baccarat sector they were exposed to regular direct and indirect fire as well as gas attacks and probing actions. Life in the trenches was unsanitary, boring and terrifying.

Letters from home provided the only relief from the dull routine and tense waiting while reminding the Soldiers that a world existed outside the scarred landscape of France. Corporal Robert Gober Burton’s aunt Mary Eulalia Gober wrote frequently to him and the other Soldiers in the 151st from Monroe, Ga. One of the Monroe Soldiers, Sgt. Tom Hensler, wrote back:

In the Trenches
Gas-proof shelters for dressing stations, near Badonviller, Baccarat Sector,
April 29, 1918. Photo from The Medical Department of the United States Army
in the World War, 1925
April 28, 1918
Mrs. W. H. Nunnally
Monroe, Ga,
My very dear Mrs. Nunnally
Received your card yesterday and was glad to know that there was still one in my old home town that hadn’t forgotten me altogether.

Sometimes I think that Mrs. Nunnally is the only friend that I have in Monroe. But I know my thoughts deceive me there for I know I have a lot of friends there, but they are all so busy that they don’t have time to drop a line or two at times.
Are in the trenches tonight and it is about 2 am. Have just finished a letter to mother and am writing you.
A setting in my dugout writing by a candle light and am on the alert for gas signals and other signals that might come up.
Saw Gober Burton a day or so ago. Played a little catch with him and Ed Williamson was on this post in the trenches when I came up. Co B relieved Co A.
Mrs. Nunnally, don’t forget me. Keep sending little remembrances and right time will write you more of my trench life, which is pretty hard at times.
Will close,
Sgt. Thomas Hensler
Co B 151 M.G.Bn.

One does not get a sense of the omnipresent danger from Burton’s letters home. Rather than share stories of the terrors of combat, Burton maintained a cheerful veneer about life back home and reminisced on Mother’s Day.

Corporal Robert G. Burton's Mother's Day Correspondence
Georgia Guard Archives
May 15, 1918
Somewhere in France (vicinity of Vacqueville, Luneville sector)
My dearest mama,
I wrote you a letter on Mother’s Day but did not get to finish it as I wished. On Mother’s Day before last I was at home with you. Can it be that two years have passed since that day? Can it be that I travelled (sic) across the U.S. and back and to the southern extremity and to the north and am now across the ocean? Is it possible that such things can happen in so short a time? Not two years ago quite has it been since that memorable 20th of June. This May two years ago I was just a common ordinary boy from a small town in Northeast Georgia. Now I am a corporal in the United States Army and doing active service in a foreign land.
I can’t see that I have changed much. I have the same opinions on things I did then only now they are broadened by travel and contact with humanity. I still try to be a Christian and try to lead a clean open life.
Don’t worry mother dear. I will come back to you the same Gober as I went away. I am thinking of the daughter that I shall bring to you.
Trust in God. Hold your head high and fly the service flag.
Well Mother dear, this is getting long, and I am getting sleepy so will sign off for this time.
As ever, your devoted

The relative quiet of the Baccarat sector would soon be shattered. Within the next 30 days the 151st would endure heavy gas and artillery attacks and repel enemy infantry assaults before taking up the march to a new area of operations.

Next chapter: The war will be ended by the first of 1919.”

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