Monday, December 31, 2018

January 1919: “I belonged to the Rainbow Division.”

by Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

As the New Year approached, the Soldiers of the 151st settled in for what they hoped would not be a long occupation duty in Kripp and Bad Bodendorf, Germany. The men of the 151st Machine Gun Battalion were lodged among the civilian population and were thoroughly briefed on expectations of military courtesy.[i]

In this composite image, a Soldier of the 151st MGB patrols a street in Bad Bodendorf Germany during occupation duty in 1919.  Original image courtesy of The National Archives Records Administration.  Photo by Capt. Dan Nichols. Composite by Maj. William Carraway

While acclimatizing himself to his new surroundings, Sgt. Robert Gober Burton learned from correspondence that his parents had wired the house for electricity, prompting him to express anticipation of returning home to have a reading lamp in his old room.[ii]

As the terror and maneuver of combat duty transitioned to the static routine of occupation, Burton’s letters reflected the Soldiers ruminations over all they had experienced in combat and of how they would adjust to life back home. Anxious families back home awaited updates expecting “the boys” to come home now that the war was over. Burton grew testy when his mother expressed exasperation over the delay in mail.

“I am with a fighting outfit and we don’t hang around the base parts and the cable offices. Where we are, there are no cable offices. If there were, I would have answered your cable. But don’t worry about me mother dear for I am fine now.[iii]

The last days of December 1918 were chilly with light snow falling on the Rhine. The days were short with darkness falling at 4:00 pm. To keep the Soldiers occupied and to keep thoughts from wandering homeward non-commissioned officers presided over drill and ceremony. Soldiers rotated through guard mount and various details. The men received new clothing issue and, at long last, leave was granted for up to seven days. The Soldiers were able to venture about Bad Bodendorf or visit the YMCA for coffee and writing material to pass the time. Sergeant Burton availed himself of the writing material to increase his rate of correspondence home.

Dec 31, 1918
My dearest Mother,
You see I am writing quite often now as we are stationary and don’t have so awful much to do. I write every time that I think of it. As you see by the heading, we are still in Kripp and we are enjoying ourselves very much.
There are reports and they come from good sources that we will leave here on Jan 10 on our way home. I surely do hope that we do. As rule, I am rather skeptical about rumors, but the officers are talking it and from the records and things they are taking up it looks as if we are about to sail. Oh boy, won’t that be great business.
I appreciate everyone’s good wishes and I certainly do thank them for it. But Uncle Sam won’t consent so will have to make the best of it.
I don’t care anything about parading in Washington. There is only one place in the U.S. that I want to parade in and that is Monroe. I don’t doubt tho that we will parade quite a bit when we come over. We have about forgotten all the parade soldiering that we knew. We know the other kind now.
Tomorrow is New Years and we are going to have fresh pork for dinner. We bought three nice little shoats and are going to have them for dinner tomorrow. You see we are faring quite well.
Well mother dear, am always looking for a long letter from you.
Your ever devoted

One week later, writing in response to a letter received from home, Burton expresses his pride in being a member of the 42nd Division and his contempt for reports of hardship in Germany.

Kripp Germany
January 5, 1919
My dearest Mater,
I haven’t heard from you I about a week or so but will write just the same. I am getting along fine. As you will notice, we are still at Kripp. The place is not so large, but it is quite a nice place. I am still living in the same house and like it just as much as ever.
Rumors are flying fast now to the effect that we are soon to return to the U.S. the latest dope is that we are to be decorated by the French and given a pin that we can wear when we are discharged. I doubt if there is any truth in it tho so don’t believe too much of it. Take it with salt. But I do think that it won’t be long before we are home.
The Germans don’t seem to mind our being here anymore than they did at first. We are being well fed and have good places to sleep so all that we have to worry about is going home.
I want to take some schooling when I get home, but I will be a little too old to commence again where I left off, so I think that I shall take some kind of a special course. What do you think about it? Is that a good idea or not?
There is one thing that I will always have to be proud of and that is that I belonged to the Rainbow Division. It is a great outfit. I believe that it will go down in American History as the greatest of American Divisions. I am proud to belong to it and justly so.
Listen mater, when they tell you Germany is starving for food don’t believe it for she is not. The people look slick and well fed and they dress as nice as the people at home do. I haven’t seen anyone suffering for food yet and I have been in Germany for a month. We came into Germany on Dec 3. Everywhere I have been the people seem to have plenty. There is not as much of course as prewar days but no one is starving. The restaurants of Coblentz and Cologne are running full blast and there is no limit to what you can buy. So don’t be fooled when you are told that Germany is starving.[v]
Burton closes his Jan. 5, 1919 letter with a bit of branch rivalry inspired humor at the expense of the aviation. After learning that the sons of one of his former neighbors in Monroe were aspiring aviators, Burton chided them with a song sung to the tune of the popular bawdy British tune Mademoiselle from Armentières:

“I appreciate Mrs. Nowell’s interest in me, but I wonder why her boys didn’t come earlier to help win the war. They think that they are getting into a bomb proof job when they get in aviation, but they haven’t seen what I have seen of the aviators. It will be entirely different from what they think. I am not the least bit envious of them nor am I jealous. I wouldn’t take worlds for my experience as a machine gunner, but I think that the next war will find me in the service of supplies. We have a little song that we sing about the aviators. It goes like this:
The aviators so nice and fine
Parley Vous
The aviators so nice and fine
Parley Vous
The aviators so nice and fine they won the war behind our line
Hinkey Dinkey Parley Vous

Sgt. Burton's signature on his correspondence of
Jan. 5, 1919.  Georgia Guard Archives.
But I know who won the war: The Doughboys.
Well mother dearest I must be in a bad humor tonight so had better close.
Your ever-devoted son.
Sgt. R. G. Burton
Co. A. 151 M.G. Bn
American E.F.[vi]

[ii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Dec. 31, 1918
[iii] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Dec. 31, 1918
[iv] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Dec. 31, 1918
[v] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Jan. 5, 1919
[vi] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Jan. 5, 1919

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

November to December 1918: “We will probably have to go into Germany”

by Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

First Sgt. Lucius G. Hughes,
Company A 151st Machine Gun Battalion 
On November 17, 1918, the 42nd Division was designated to take part in the American Army of Occupation. Three days later, the 42nd Division was on the march. Leaving Brandeville France November 20, the 151st Machine Gun Battalion marched to Belgium and arrived at Septfontaines, Luxemburg Nov. 23, 1918 where they would remain for the next seven days.[i]

Four days after arriving in Luxemburg, Burton wrote to Mrs. Bessie Aycock, wife of his former company commander during the Mexican border mission.
Septfontaines Luxemburg
Nov 27, 1918
My dear Miss Bessie,
I feel very much ashamed for not having written you, but it looks as if mama was the only one I could find time to write while the war was on, but now, is it over or am I merely having a glorious dream? Will I wake up after a while and find myself in the trenches again? I can hardly grasp the fact that the war is over. It is too much of a daze to take all at once.
We were in the lines when the war stopped, and we couldn’t sleep for the quiet. The “Rainbow” was racing the 1st Division for the heights of Sedan. You have probably read in the papers about the last great push in the Argonne Forest. Well, we were in it.
The lucky seven from H Co were in all the engagement that the Americans took part in. I don’t mean to be bragging but that is a fact.
Ed (Sgt. Augustus Williamson) is mess sergeant in this Co. Tom (Hensler) is off at some machine gun school as instructor. Haley Moore and I are line sergeants. (Leonard B.) Chandler is a corporal and (Waymen G.) Guthrie is a 1st Class private. A pretty good record. Six non-comms out of seven.
I thought that Noria (New Mexico) was a big battle but it wasn’t I was pretty scared there, but oh day, some of these over here. Chateau Thierry – wow-.
But God was good and spared us thru.
Ed has been recommended for a D.S.C. Distinguished Service Cross for bravery under fire ad well he deserves it too.
I have about learned to speak French. I can speak enough to understand most anything they say and make them understand most anything I say.
I spoke excellent French last winter. The Frenchmen admitted it, it was so good that they couldn’t even understand it.
Well, it looks as if another Xmas will see me away from home, but I think that the next one won’t.
Please write me if you have the time.
Sgt. R.G. Burton[ii]

While still in Luxemburg, Burton wrote home to his father and related some of the exploits that he could not previously share due to the censors.

Septfontaines Luxemburg
Nov 29, 1918
My dear papa,
As the censorship has been lifted so will write to tell you what I have been doing since I left home and the U.S.
We sailed from New York on the 31st of October and came in sight of land on the 12th of Nov. On the night of the 9 of Nov, one of the ships in the convoy ran into us and we had quite a scare.
We landed at Brest France Nov. 17. We then went in to training around Chaumont France at a little village called Viller sur Suize.
We left Viller sur Suize and went into the trenches in the Luneville sector. The exact place was a little place called Ancerviller. The first time in we stayed 10 days. The scaredest 10 days of my life. We stayed in this sector for four months.
From Lorraine we went into the sector Champagnes, before Chalaus. Here, we helped to stop the great German offensive of July 14. We stayed here from July 4 to the 18.
We moved from the Champagne to the Marne Salient. Here we threw the famous Prussian Guards. It was here north of Chateau Thierrey that I was wounded on July 31.
I stayed in the hospital about a month and 1 days. I then went back to old A. Co. and it was like going home again almost.
I came to them just after they had started the drive in the Saint Mihiel Salient. So, I got into that also.
From here we went to the Argonne forest. Thru there was tough going and the weather was bad.
From the Argonne we went into the (final) drive, the one that ended the war. We were in the front line when the armistice was signed.
I haven’t missed a single big fight that the Americans have been in.
Christmas has come again, and I can’t be at home which makes the third, but I think that next years’ Xmas. I think that we will come home by March 1.
I certainly will be glad to come back to the U.S.
Well, here’s hoping for you and all a Merry X Mas. I hope to be with you for the next one.
Write me a letter soon.
Your Devt son,
Sgt. R.G. Burton
Co. A. 151 M. G. Bn.[iii]

On Dec. 1, 1918, the 151st MGB resumed the march and passed into Germany on December 3. For the next six days marching to Boos, Germany, the Soldiers endured their most difficult marching since their 70-mile march to Rolamport the previous year.[iv]

Eisenach, Germany. The 151st MGB marched through Eisenach on Dec. 4, 918 on the way to occupation duty. Photo by Capt. Dan Nichols 

This is the only road from Bettenfeld to Neichen, Germany. It was along this route that the 151st MGB experienced its hardest marching. Photo by Capt. Dan Nichols

The battalion rested in Boos before resuming their march to the Rhine. They arrived in the towns of Kripp and Bad Bodendorf five days before Christmas and received new clothing and billets among the civilian population.

On Dec. 15, 1918, the 151st MGB’s marching route took it through Waldorf Germany. Photo by Capt. Dan Nichols

Writing home, the day after Christmas, Gober related his experiences spending Christmas on occupation duty.

Kripp Germany
December 26, 1918
My dear mother,
Well, it is the day after Xmas and all is quiet along the Rhine tonight. I spent a very nice Xmas and enjoyed myself lots better than I did last year.
Our mess (the Sgts) had quite a nice diner. We had light wine as an appetizer, soup, chicken, chicken soup, dressing, fried rabbit, potatoes, apple sauce, tapioca pudding, coffee and cigars. I think that considering everything it was quite a nice dinner. We have our mess in a pretty villa overlooking the Rhine. We have plates, cups, saucers, silver knives forks and spoons that the lady that owns the house kindly lent to us. We do not sleep here but down the street in another villa that is just as pretty as the one in which we have our mess.
The man that lives where I am staying is certainly nice to us. Last night he and his wife brought us in an Xmas tree all lighted up with candles and decorated up with the things that go on a Xmas tree. There are no children here, so he must have fixed just for us. There are eight of us that sleep here. In former days he was an artist and his sketches are on the walls. They are good too. Some of his paintings of the Rhine in winter are great. He and his wife can’t seem to do enough for us.
There is a rumor out here that we start for home on Jan 10 and that the Rainbow parades in Washington Feb 22. I don’t hold out any false hopes, however. That is rumor.
To think that we will be over here so very much longer. So little mother be patient and your war-boy will be home before long a very peace-loving citizen of the United States of America.
The Y gave us an Xmas tree yesterday and each of us got some smoking tobacco, chocolate and cookies. They were certainly appreciated. Our Christmas boxes haven’t come in yet, but we are expecting them every day. I had about as soon have a letter from home as the box. When I have received the box, I will write Miss Griffin again and thank her for this candy. I certainly do appreciate her sending it.
I have written all the children a card wishing them the merriest of Xmas and the most prosperous of New Years.
Have you received the souvenirs I sent home? I will have quite a collection. Save the letters and I will explain them all when I get home. There are lots of things interesting that I can’t write but can tell you all about.
I am looking for a long long letter. My love to Ida and Toombs.
Your ever-devoted Son,

Post card sent home by Robert Gober Burton from Kripp Germany Dec 21, 1918.  Georgia Guard archives

[iii] Robert G. Burton to Mr. R. F. Burton. Nov. 29, 1918
[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, 21.
[v] Robert G. Burton to Mrs. R. F. Burton. Dec. 26, 1918