Thursday, November 8, 2018

October 17-November 17, 1918, The Drive for Sedan: “Can it really be that we have won the war?”

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Non-commissioned officers of Company A, 151st MGB.  Sergeant Burton is third
from the right. Georgia Guard Archives

October 28, 1918
(Exermont) France
My Dearest Mother,
Well, will drop you another line tonight. I am as well as fine as can be.
I know no especial news to write only that we are still giving the Boche no rest and I believe “Daddy” Foch won’t until he has them across the Rhine and back into Germany.
We received some German propaganda today. I wish that I could send you one of these. They are real funny. They say come over and be a free boarder in Germany till after the war. They don’t mention the work nor do they send the prison camp menu. This is very neglectful of them. The boys had a great laugh when they read it. It was certainly absurd, to say the least of it. They consider that we are as the German Soldier, block minded and they treat us as if they thought we were children. It was great.
Well fall and winter have and are rolling round again. I suppose the people at home are killing hogs and having fresh meat. Gee! Wouldn’t some fresh sausage and spare ribs and backbone taste good. We get plenty to eat and all the time, but some homemade fresh meat would sho go good.
Ed (Sgt. Augustus Edward Williamson) has been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and I hope he gets it for he certainly deserves it. He is Mess Sergeant now. He has all the feeding to look out for and he does it in great style. We get lots to eat.
You already know that I have received the box but that the watch was broken. That was hard luck, but I think that if I ever get to go to Paris I can have it fixed. I am writing with the pen now and it surely does write good. I am also smoking one of the cigarettes while I write. The box they came in is serving as a writing desk so all around the whole outfit came in handy.
I have written you about my girl in Macon. She is the best looking girl in Georgia, “That’s all they are too it.”  She has asked me several times if I have written you about her. This is the most serious affair that I have had I think. I think a heap about her. I also think lots of her. She is certainly a fine girl. I have already told you I think she was a cousin to Rob and Hiram Nowell.
You know about the seven boys that transferred from old H Co. to the 151st? Well six of them are non-commissioned officers.  5 Sergeants, 1 corporal, 1 private. That is a pretty good record, don’t you think?
Tell Frank, Rache and John that I will write them when I have more time. It takes most all the spare time to write to you and Mary, so when an opportunity presents itself I will write to them. I know Lois and little Gene are interesting now. Tell them their Uncle Gober thinks of them heaps ad sends lots of love and a big hug for each one of them.
I appreciated Ida’s letter a whole lot and will answer it when I have the time.
Ere you have received this I suppose you will have received the little slip to send me an Xmas package. It is only three pounds, but it is that much and it will come in good about Xmas time. You will have to comply with the directions on it for me to receive it.
I told you in the letter what to send in it I think.
Well mother dear, this will make the third Christmas from home but I am quite certain that war won’t be the cause if I am away Christmas a year from now. For the war will finish before then and peace will be in the world.
This is long mother so will ring off for this time. Write me long letters. I like to receive them.
Your ever devoted son,
Sgt. R.G. Burton
Co A 151 M. G. Bn[i]

The 151st Machine Gun Battalion remained in position near the Cote de Chatillon and Exermont through November 1, 1918 and supported an assault made by the 2nd Division on that day.[ii] Once the 2nd Division’s assault moved beyond the range of supporting fire from the guns of the 151st MGB, the battalion was relieved. Transferred to the First Corps, the battalion began movement towards Sommerance the next day during a pouring rain. The battalion moved on to Immercourt the next day and forward to front line positions near St. Piermont, arriving on November 5, 1918. With German resistance rapidly collapsing, the Americans maintained a rapid pursuit driving north. At one point, the companies of the 151st found that they had actually advanced ahead of the infantry units they were assigned to support.[iii] 

Thelonne, France.  Photo by Maj. William Carraway

On November 7, the 151st reached Thelonne, a small village set among hills just south of the Meuse River and the important supply hub of Sedan. While in Thelonne, the battalion was subjected to severe German artillery fire. The next day, Cpl. Charles B Long of Company B died of wounds. The 28-year-old native of Macon, Ga. was the last battlefield casualty of the 151st.

The battalion was relieved from their front-line positions November 8, 1918. On November 11, 1918, the day the armistice went into effect the 151st MGB was on the march from Grand Armoises to Germont.[iv]

Sedan, France as viewed from the final position of the 151st MGB.
Photo by Maj. William Carraway

On November 17, 1918, Sgt. Burton was availed of the opportunity to write home for the first time since the armistice.
November 17, 1918
East of the Meuse River
My dearest mother,
Well will write you for the first time since the war has finished. Can you realize that the war has actually finished? For the first day or so I could not grasp that we would not have to go back up and fight some more. I am becoming more convinced each day that it has finished.
Long lines of Frenchmen pass each day and all day long coming from Germany. Most of them have been prisoners for four long miserable years. And they tell some horrible tales of those four years.
I have received several letters from you but as we were in the last fight I could not very well answer them at the time so will try to do it with this one.
Yes as I have already written you, the box came OK. I am writing you with the pen now and have not smoked all the cigarettes yet. Ed and I have both been smoking on them. He is Mess Sgt. of the Co. now and had room to carry them so we have both been smoking on them. As I have written you the watch was broken but I think that I will be able to have it fixed. It was certainly the very thing that I wanted. It is surely a cracker jack.
I am glad that the allotments have begun to come in as I had about decided to stop it and get it straightened out. It has been changed to $15 a month. They owe me $60 now, so I suppose you will get $30 and papa the same amount. Be sure and keep it for now the WAR IS OVER I may be calling on you and papa for some money. This won’t be until I come back to the States. I should have some money from the $12 a month allotment that I made June 1917. You know I will have to have a new outfit when I get home and I certainly do mean to have good goods. I am going to have at least one tailor made suit. But at that I won’t have to buy as much as most fellows for I have enough shirts to last me for some time to come.
I would like to shove my feet under that dining table and eat some real home cooked food. That would be the life and I think that I wouldn’t weaken a bit on it.
We will probably have to go into Germany and quiet down the population so that they can distribute food and the like. But that won’t last always and Mch 1 will see us in the U.S. if not at home. Just to be in the U.S. will surely be a relief from war-torn France. Even now, the work of restoration has started and in 5 years there will be little signs of war for France is an energetic country and thrifty too. I am real sorry that it could not be that I could be home for Xmas. But I thank our Heavenly father each night that he spared me so miraculously through the year of the war. We have only been over here only a year but we have certainly had some experience, one that I will ever forget.
Can it really be that we have won the war and that we won’t have to go up and fight any more? That the Germans won’t shoot us anymore?
Great have been the celebrations in France since the Armistice was signed. Frenchmen coming back to their homes and the meeting of brothers and fathers and mothers and old friends. The Americans were certainly warmly received in the towns which they liberated. They have liberated many French towns and many thousands of the inhabitants.
Well mother dear, will close for this time. Am waiting for a letter from you.
Your ever devoted son,

Burton was correct. While the war was indeed over the battalion would soon head into Germany for occupation duty.

Next Chapter:  The Rhine

[i] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. October 18, 1918
[ii] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 17
[iii] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 18
[iv] Peavy, Arthur and Miller, White, The 151st Machine Gun Battalion 42d (Rainbow) Division: A Battalion History and Citations of the Rainbow August 13, 1917 to April 26, 1919. J. W. Burke Co., 1919, 20