Friday, January 12, 2018

One Soldier's Experience: Heading to the War Front

My great grandfather Victor ended up at Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas once he got through all the paperwork and other requirements for enlisting in the war. For many, the hot mid August sun in Texas was too much for their systems and much of the time was spent acclimatizing to their new world. Most of their days were spent either doing long hikes or drills.

 Finally at the end of October, orders came through and my great grandfather's squadron boarded a train and spent five days in transit to Aviation Field in Garden City, New York. From the writings, it sounds like it was the southerns turn to suffer in the cold temperatures as the lodged in barracks without heat. They stayed in New York until December 7th when order came to proceed to France and once again the soldier boarded a train for a ride to New Jersey, or so they were led to believe. However it wasn't until three days later that they finally got off the train in St. Johns,  New Brunswick. There they immediately boarded the RMS Tunisian which I believe is shown in the pictures below.

RMS Tunisian

RMS Tunisian

Soldiers boarding the RMS Tunisian heading for France
The RMS Tunisian left port later that evening and headed up to a bay near Halifax, Nova Scotia arriving just five days after one of the most horrific accidents ever to occur and which I wrote about in this blog post some time ago. My great grandfather finally arrived off the shores of Liverpool, England on Christmas day and was treated to a Christmas dinner of tripe, marmalade and tea. (No mention was made about why they were obviously being punished!)

The following day they disembarked the ship and boarded a train for a ride across England to Southampton where they boarded a side wheeler named the Mona's Queen for the trip across the English Channel. Finally they arrived in La Havre, France at the mouth of the Seine on December 30th where they marched inland to a rest camp comprised of little round tents that house 12 soldiers each. They stayed there until January 1rst when they boarded another train for St. Maxient (Deux-Sevres) which they arrived at the following day. This time they were housed on the third floor of the Presbytere Barracks.

Rest Camp near La Havre, France
My great grandfather's letters describe that during meal times soldiers lined up and went through the food tent and then found a place to sit where ever they could.
This group of men were some of the first Americans in town and so were treated well. They spent the next couple months drilling and training repeatedly and were known as being the best drilled squadron in France at the time. They did have some off time because below is a picture of a football game between them and the Foreign Detachment Cadets which resulted in a 7-7 tie.

January 27, 1918 Football Game
The squadrons were reorganized during this time and eventually became the 800th Aero Repair Squadron which was further divided into three flights and sent to other places in France on February 26, 1918. My great grandfather Victor was assigned to Flight B and sent to Camp Coetquidan.


Susan said...

These photographs are wonderful! I know I've said it before, but what treasure!!! Thank you for taking along with you - this is fascinating!

Ed said...

Susan - You are more than welcome!

Kelly said...

I agree... these wonderful photos make it all the more special. Do you have enough to publish a short history out of it? If so, you should!! (something along the lines of my SIL's "Whisky and Blood" book)

I would have been one of those suffering in the cold. Heat (even with humidity) is easier for me to bear. And tripe? Well, I've never had it, but I'll just go ahead and claim I don't like it. ;)

sage said...

What wonderful photos and a great story. I'd loved to have toured that ship.

Bob said...

I’ve read your last two posts back to back. Fascinating stuff. By my estimation you and I are roughly 20 years apart. I wish I had had the foresight at your age to put something like this together and ask questions of family members before they were gone.

Ed said...

Kelly - Perhaps someday I might have enough just for a family history but I'm not sure I would have enough to publish.

Sage - I would have liked to tour it too.

Bob - I think we are closer together than that. I didn't have the foresight at an earlier age but fortunately my ancestors have been long lived enough to allow me to develop that foresight.