WWI Letters: Randolph County
Elkins Intermountain July 8, 1918
To: Sergeant Raymond Britt
Marine Corps Recruiting Station,
Post Office Building
I have been over the top about five times and you can't imagine what it is like when they send over a barrage of fire before we go over the top. The ground shakes just as if it was water and then the dirty work starts. In this case we hang more Boches on our bayonets than we shoot down. The bayonet plays an important part in this war.
I was also on several raiding parties and it is great sport: that is, if you don't get knocked off. the last one we were on we captured a German officer, eight men and two machine guns. Three of them started out and we shot them down. The others were brought in alive. On one we went so far as to clip their barbed wire and peep in their trenches, and got some good dope. this time we lost one man. They got him with machine guns. One night we saw something moving along our wire, we turned our machine gun loose, the next morning there was four dead "Fritzes" on our wire. It is nothing to look up into the air and see a good fight between several planes. We were considered among the finest marksmen of the expeditionary forces.
There are some things about the Boche mode of warfare, however, which the marines haven't as yet learned, and probably never will. On more than one occasion the "squareheads" as the Germans are affectionately called, have attempted to teach and to play what popularly known as the game of "Kamerad" but with poor success. for the benefit of the uninitiated it might be explained that the game originated with the Boche. It has the "made in Germany" mark stamped all over it. It can be played by any number of persons and consists of say eight or ten Boche coming across No Man's Land on the run with hands upraised and shouting "Kamerad" (That's where this form of amusement derives its name). When they shout "Kamerad" it means that their playing the game and you must not shoot at them. But allow them to come quite close. If you shoot at them it spoils the whole game and besides it's strictly against the rules. Boches rules of course. Anyway your not to do any shooting. They will then come up and each Boche picks out his man, the one he likes best. To show that your his Kamerad and that he means it , he places his arms about your neck, almost as if he were going to kiss you. at the same time he draws a knife of the long trench variety and stabs you in the back. then the first part of the game is over. Sometimes they don't come so close and instead of using the knife they use a grenade, with practically the same results.
the Boche picked out a particularly dark night to play the game with some marine patrol who were doing patrol duty, but for some reason or other the Marines did not feel like playing. Any way when the Boches came running across No Man's Land and shouted "Kamerad" one of the the Marines yelled "Sure I'm the guy" and let go. There were a few other shouts of "Kamerad" and some more shots. Some of the Boche stopped playing and a few managed to get back to their lines.
I enlisted with you at Cumberland shortly after war was declared and we were the first Marines to go in the trenches, and when you read about the boys over here don't forget us.
Enlisted at Cumberland MD., May 5, 1917. Former resident, Clarksburg WV
Elkins Intermountain, July 12, 1918
France, June 3
I got both your letter and Virginia's in the last mail and also the little note form "Jimmy" and one from Aunt Lou: and Summer's kid had a note like the one James sent but it was just a scribble. I also heard from Munro Northamer this morning and he seems to like it very well, wherever he is, but it can't be very far from us according to the postmark.
things are about the same in the village with us as usual , part of our boys gone and the rest real anxious to go. This thing of watching train load after train load going to the front gets on a fellows nerves far more than anything else you can imagine. We are still on the Marne canal and every one likes the place but many are getting very restless to get a whack at "the Boches" and when our time comes to take over some trenches I'll be ready as it is getting pretty monotonous watching the other fellows going up and coming back. Now don't misunderstand me and think that I am getting too brave, but when once you get over here and see fellows, every day, who have been through three years of it and thing nothing about it, you begin to get the same feeling, but that's not saying that the first shrapnel won't change your mind.
Last week we had a fire and everybody fought it all morning before we finally got it out. We formed a bucket brigade for passing the water and the women and kids another line for the empty buckets going back. You should see the French fire department here. They came with sleepy old plugs and the firemen wore big solid brass helmets which they must have stopped to polish before they left their town. The pump worked like a handcar and the water was poured into a trough at the bottom after which it came out through a hose about the size of a garden hose but we finally managed to stop the fire, however not until the old woman's house had just about burned down.
Yesterday Locke and I were invited to dinner at a French house and I'll bet you would have laughter to have seen us in action. First they served what they called tapioca but it looked more like potato soup. Then came a mixture of potatoes, carrots and beef. after that fresh fish. (Thank the Lord they didn't have snails). Then came some kind of salad and finally prunes which had been bottled and a cup of coffee last of all, but the coffee is not like what we have at home and it takes a pretty good stomach to get it down. We also had cider and the ever ready bottle of "Red Paint" which the French can not get along with out. They take it to the fields when they go to work and you see the whole family around the table the last thing at night. We took our own bread to dinner as the French are rationed and have none to spare.
The people in this section eat four times a day-- early in the morning (about 5:30), again about noon; at 1:00 in the evening and then the big meal at 8:00 and by 9:30 they are all in bed. The women do absolutely all the work in the fields with the help of a a few men who are too old to fight.
Must close for this time with love to you all.
June 16, 1918, Elkins Intermountain
Somewhere in France, June 17, 1918
Received your letter today dated April 22. Will say that I am glad to hear from you. My health is great and I am getting along fine in the army. I bet your boys are crazy to get in the army and they will both make good soldiers, and I know you won't step in their way if they make up their mind to enlist. There are men your age in the army and they make the best kind of soldiers. This is a big job we have on our hands but when we get the gang over here watch the smoke fly. I guess the Marines gave the Huns a few points how the Americans are going to do this job. The reason I enlisted I felt it was my duty as a single man and and American citizen to do my bit and believe me I am trying to do that job about right. I will do all in my power to have freedom of the world so that decent people can live in peace.
I see plenty of German prisoners; they seem contented as prisoners of war, but you can not trust them. As a negro soldier told me the other day: He said you have to have a watchful eye all the time or the Hun will get you. Any time they get me. You can make up your mind that I have got my share of them. I guess you people are roused up over the German submarines sinking those boats off Nantucket Point. Just lie a fellow told me coming over on the boat; he said the German submarines would take a crack at you any time they got half a chance. We had a long trip coming over, 15 days on the water, weather stormy. I did not believe the Atlantic was so big. Seasickness did not bother me very much as I am too tough to get sick.
have been over here almost six months now and expect to be here a good many more. I have seen some of the country, been about all over England and France and expect to see more country before I get back. I did not believe a man could stand the hardships we have gone through, but when the government gets done taking the kinks out of your body you are ready for any thing, as I know the army has made a different man out of me. It will break you or make you as they say, but I guess it's the truth.
Now Charles, if you have any magazines around the house send them right along as reading is hard to get. They Y.M.C.A. and K. of c. are doing a great work for the boys and we think those two organizations are wonderful. I don't know what we would do if we did not have them.
I am glad to hear that they gave that pro-German Keenan a good dose of tar and feathers. The next one you get give a few for me. Give my best to Tiffany, John Graham and all the boys. Will close with the best of wishes for you and Mrs. Davis and all the family. Let me hear from you again.
Your old friend,
Sgt. William J. McGady
Elkins Intermountain, Oct. 2, 1918
I will write you a few lines today to let you know I am well and having a good time. I hope every one at home is well and happy. We certainly are having a good voyage, the water is smooth and beautiful so far. We had some rain; it gets chilly at night, I have not got sea sick yet and believe I am going to try not to get sick on this trip. I got one of the letters you sent to Camp Johnston, Florida, but left before the box was sent me. I guess they sent it back home as they don't allow us to have candy sent over seas. Tell Walter to smoke the cigars for me: they certainly would have been good on this trip. Mother, please don't worry about me for this war won't last much longer; Tell everybody hello and that I will try to get a German or two. I will close and write more the next time.
Corporal Fred Baker
Aug. 27, 1918
I will write you a few lines to let you know I am getting along all right and am having a good time. Hope all at home are well. Mother please don't worry about me for one of these days soon this war will come to an end and all us boys are coming back to the good old U.S. A. We had fine weather for the trip over and arrived safe and sound and believe me it was a happy bunch when we sighted land. I wrote you a letter when we were half way across. I guess you will get it and this one at the same time. This part of France is very pretty but it is old fashioned, all the houses are made of stone and concrete. We got plenty to eat coming over and still getting plenty. We buy what we want at the Y.M.C.A. canteens, get them at cost. Tobacco is the only thing that's cheap. I guess papa got the card I landed safe overseas. I am in a pretty part of this country, the land is laid off pretty and the people here believe in farming. There ain't any forests and they save every piece of wood. tell Walter I have seen some pretty French girls but the Red Cross nurses bent them a mile. Tell Love and Bill not to run the car to pieces before I get back. Tell everybody hello and send me Monroe Northamer's and Troy Marks addresses. Love to all.
Corp. Fred Baker
Salvage Unit 302
A.E.F. via New York
August 25, 1918
Received your letter and was certainly glad to hear from you and to hear that you were all well and getting along good. I was certainly glad that you have got over the fever and able to work again.
I had a letter from sister today and two from Erma. I was only to glad to fear from the good old U.S.A. There is a song we can always sing--"We Belong to the good Old U.S.A.."
Well brother, I went through Paris last week and it sure was some place. There were lots of good looking girls there to cheer us up so you know all of us boys liked that.
Well brother, I have been in the trenches so you know there was some noise up there. There was shooting going on all the time I was up there. but I did not shoot all the time I was up there, but I shot just the same.
I am not in the trenches now; I have not been feeling well for a few days but am better now. Tell mamma not to worry about me for I have been over here for a long time and have never been sick before.
Well brother I think we will give kaiser Bill all he wants before spring, don't you?
I suppose that brother Abner is still getting along good in camp. Well I must close for I have got to go to my supper. Hoping to hear from you all soon again. With love and best wishes to all
From your loving brother,
Private Ray Harris
80 Division Co. C. 318 Inf.
A.E.F. via New York
Sept. 13, 1917
Mr. Saml T. Spears
Presuming upon your good nature and upon the assumption that a little news on the subject of "Life at Camp Lee" would not be stale at this time I will try to give an outline of what to those here consider important happenings.
first we arrived. The first of West Virginia's quota were placed in the Field Artillery. suppose they had already had wind of the fighting qualities of the Sons of the Little Mountain State. The fact noted by all and commented upon by the officers addressing the soldiers today as the universal cheerfulness and compliance with orders.
Second, there are men from every profession, excepting bartenders. Two grow nowwhere none grew before. There are mechanics, cooks and drivers to supply our own battery. It has been stated by officers at various occasions, since drill began, that the men are catching on quicker than was expected of men without military experience. The common question of drill master to recruit when at work is "Have you had experience at this drill before?"
Even now a company pride is preceptable and we expect to make the 313th famous in the service on both sides of the water.
Several of the boys expect to enter the Officers Reserve, but plenty of chance for all is open.
We were instructed in Military Law this afternoon and incidentally told that present indications pointed to a trip to France about the first of next year.
Hoping the men are ready and anxious for the 19th, I am.
Very truly your,
Sept. 12, 1917
Dear Mamma and Papa:
Just a few lines tonight as I am at the office and have not much to do, although we are supposed to be working. this week has been pay week for several of the squadrons and we have been keeping open of nights some. This is the first night I have been in the office since I have been working here. it is also the first time there has been any men paid. all of the men are allowed ten dollars canteen credit, and when they get paid, we also have a desk at the pay table and collect what is due just as the men get paid and it makes a little extra work in getting the accounts straightened up. I assisted at the pay table yesterday and it was something new for me. We collected from 11 squadrons and 150 men each yesterday and it kept us pretty busy. All the men did not owe the canteen or exchange but the majority of them do. we collected something over $7,000. A great deal of the money we got was silver dollars and I helped carry it from the Y.M.C.A. where the pay table is located to the office a few hundred feet away. One can't carry very many silver dollars. It was the first time I ever had more money that I could carry.
i was promoted to corporal, effective September 1st and am now a non-commissioned officer. I did not know it for several days afterwards and did not receive official notification of it until today when I got my warrant. It is a document something on the order of a certificate of diploma and is signed by my commanding officer. I was only a "buck" private one month, something not many of the fellows can say. I got it a little sooner than really expected as there were several boys here in the office that had been here from two to five months and I rather supposed we would be promoted according to seniority. However, such was not the case. Each recommendation made by the Captain was made on the individual merits of the particular person. The Captain seems to appreciate my work, and he his a very nice man to work for. He had several boys in here before me, but from what I can find out, they did not care much whether they worked or not, and did not seem to take much interest in the work as they were in the Army and did not care. However, when I came in here I did my work just the same as if I were getting $75.00 per month, instead of $30.00. I wear chevrons on my sleeves now to denote my rank, which is tow "V" shaped bars with the Signal Corps insignia woven in, which is two flags and a torch.
Lieutenant Floyd House who was commanding our squadron was killed in a motor cycle accident Thursday and the remains were shipped to his home in Louisiana this morning. We all came to the depot and several and several squadrons also from Ft. Sam Houston . He was a young fellow about 24 or 25 and was well liked by the squadron. While the remains were at the depot about a dozen aeroplanes circled around over the station, and one came down real low and threw some flowers over the casket and pall bearers. a salute of about fifty rifles was also given as the train pulled away from the station. It was quite an impressive ceremony.
I am working every day and getting along good and feeling fine. Have been pretty busy this week on account of so many of the men getting paid.
Will close f or this time and hope to hear from you all soon.