Spokanites in Europe

Click to expand. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Digital ID cph 3g03301

Clarence C. Dill 

C.C. Dill in his office in 1914. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress. Digital ID hec 06421.

Clarence C. Dill, a Democrat from Washington’s 5th Congressional district, visited the front lines with a group of American Congressmen. He recorded his experience in an unpublished manuscript.  In Paris he visited the Tomb of Napoleon and The Eiffel Tower before making his way to the front.  Upon reaching Verdun he recalled

“That afternoon we were taken to a battlefield where the fighting had ended only 24 hours previously.  It was an indescribably horrible place, still covered with legs and arms, heads and parts of bodies of both German and French soldiers, whose remains had not yet been removed.  At one point bodies of dead horses and dead men were mingled in the mud.  After walking over several such spots and looking at underground shelters blown up by shells, we asked to be taken back to our autos and on to a segment of the front under British control.  We had no desire to see any more such scenes.”

Dill and the other congressman received an invitation the meet the King of Belgium.  The Congressman negotiated a visit that included a trip to frontline trenches.  Upon their arrival Dill apologized for the Congressmen’s lack of formal attire to which the King responded “Don’t apologize, I like you just as you are.  You look rugged like your country”  After a long walk to the frontlines, the group observed Germans throwing grenades towards the trench they occupied.  The waited until the cover of darkness before returning to headquarters and then left for home the next day.   Dill voted against the US declaring war on Germany and lost his reelection campaign in 1918.  In 1922 he was elected to the Senate and served for two terms.1

This clipping, from the May 23rd, 1918 edition of the Spokane Daily Chronicle captures a picture of the first US Army gun to fire in Europe. It’s crew included Corporal Royce Richardson of Spokane, who worked at the Spokane Falls Gas Light Company as a clerk before he enlisted.

Burch Brothers

Ralph, Charles, and Walter grew up and worked on their parents farm in Moran Prairie just south of Spokane.  Although Walter stayed at Camp Lewis for the duration of the war, Ralph and Charles both served in France.  Their letters to their mother and brother back in Washington contain observations on their daily life in France as well as the horrors of combat.  Ralph served as Military Police in North Carolina before being sent to Europe.  Once in France however, he became a cook for the majority of his deployment.  Speaking highly of the French, he observed:

“France is quite an interesting country and the people think nothing is too good for the Americans.”  He described one old couple whose son died in battle earlier in the war.  The woman “practically adopted me” and taught him bits of “French lingo” he noted.  He reported that “whenever I learn a few new words it tickles her to death”, and he attempted to give them leftovers from the kitchen whenever he could.  

Charles joined the Army infantry and went to the trenches in March of 1918.  In April he voiced his frustration with the censorship of the Army, “Writing a letter is the worst agony there is over here” he complained, “there is nothing we can write about except our health and the weather.”  Every letter needed to be checked by an officer who determined what kind of stories he could and couldn’t write back. When writing back home he often adjusted his tone on combat operations to fit the recipient.  The Spokesman Review published a portion of one of his letters addressed to his mother:

“Dear Mother, I am writing today as is everyone in the A.E.F. forces to the one who is dearer to us than anyone in the world.  And one who spends days and nights of worrying while we, over here, are a carefree and happy as if there never was a war. 

All of France also sets aside this day in memory of mother. In memory of the ones who are sacrificing and have sacrificed all that is so dear to them, and yet go ahead, facing the future with the grim determined smile, that, in itself speaks more than words. I know what it is mother, I have seen that smile many times in poor war-torn France.  The night before leaving our first camp for the front, another fellow and myself were at a French home near camp, where we had gone many evenings before to get a meal of potatoes., eggs, beef steak, etc. There was just the old couple there. They had only one son, and he had been killed in the third day of the struggle at Verdun.

The fellow I was with could talk French. When she told us of her son, not a tear was in her eyes. But on her face was that sad, but proud and courageous smile, that I can’t explain which in the past few years, has saved France

She bid farewell to us with that same subtle smile of assurance and courage, which came from the heart of one who had sacrificed all and understood.  It was through that that I could really understand the courage and determination of the loved ones we leave behind.

So mother dear, thru days that are to come look only on the bright side of things, for there is no dark side. And always wear that cheerful smile that you have in the picture you sent.  I know and understand some of the lonesome hours you spend with three of us in this, more than you know.  But mother I am only more proud and love you all the more for it.  Look forward only to the days when we will be together again; with a freedom won that will be so much more dear to us then. Remember me to all, hoping that this day next year will be spent together.  Be cheerful always and smile, smile, smile. 

Your loving son, Chas

P.S. I am ok. I guess it is almost unnecessary to say that.  Write often, Chas.”

Sergeant Harvey Lord(left), an MP, shakes hands with Private Harvey Murphy. Both men were from Spokane and fought with the 41st Division in France. Clipping from the Spokane Daily Chronicle, July 1st, 1918.

The heartwarming letter sparing the war’s details contrasts sharply to one Walter, his older brother, received the next month:

June 8, 1918

“It’s a great game and whatever comes you will never regret the day you enlisted.  Take it from me- I’ve seen men killed and wounded, the dead in heaps, some mutilated beyond recognition and helped carry and give some of them the best burial possible in the three months that I spent at the front- but never a moment did I regret being there. Even while we were burying them, the ‘beloved Hun’ started shelling that very spot.

After one has seen men give their lives as the price for the cause we all hold so dear, he can face anything.  I can’t explain the feeling, but you’re just as happy as if you were home, yes, even happier… I wouldn’t send this home[to his parents] as it would probably only cause more worry.”

These were Charles final letters back home.  Four days later he received orders of transfer to the 26th Infantry Division. He, two other men from Spokane, in addition to three other soldiers, volunteered for a special assignment at the front.  They were to hold a forward observation post outside the trenches to gather intelligence about German troop movements.  During a German attack they were all killed.

Charles brother, Ralph, soon received permission to go to the frontlines.  He began working in a first aid station as part of a stretcher crew, where men would rush wounded soldiers from the front lines to the aid station.  In one attack, Ralph remembered “We found men in all conditions but there was one man in particular I shall never forget.  We had, or were, passing this man up as dead when he turned and whispered: ‘Can you give me a lift pal?’ I won’t tell his condition as it was unbelievable. He was laying in about ⅓ of his blood.  We started back through the dugout with him– but he died before we got there.

Ralph’s letters show a clear desire to serve in combat, even when presented with the opportunity to stay in the rear and direct traffic.  After repeatedly being denied transfer to a frontline unit, he went AWOL and took a train to Commercy to visit the grave of his nearby brother and then take part in the action at the front.  The next day he set out to find the frontlines and found Charles’ former division headquarters.  Eventually he found his way to 103rd Company E where he found some men who had known his brother.  He soon participated in an attack where he notes:

January 26th, 1919

“The Argonne was nearly impossible. We went over the top about four I guess and met severe machine gun fire.  We were forced to fall back and attack from their right flank. Again we met the same resistance but kept going. I always imagined I would be scared.  Maybe it was fear, but I was insane.  I’ll confess I had but one instinct and that was to keep moving! The machine gun is the most terrible thing I know of when you’re exposed to them put-put- and these bullets whistle through the weeds like snakes.”….

“We were sprayed with shrapnel, and my face was cut slightly and the calf of my leg.  My leg bothered me some, but I didn’t go back to the dressing station as we were expecting to be relieved. The scar on my cheek can hardly be seen now.  I still have a spot on my leg as big as a dime”

Ralph’s unit lost about ¼ of their platoon in the attack, and they were relieved in the next phase of the offensive.  Their mission changed from frontline combat to overseeing prisoners of war.

“Our duties were to care for the prisoners that we soon had, for they surrendered an entire regiment, and we had the position that the French lost thousands trying to take in 1914.  I went with a prisoner escort…reported to the field hospital…and I learned we were going to be relieved.  We were relieved that night, and I left the old outfit to .’Go Home.’”2

In the Summer of 1919 Ralph returned to Spokane and the following Summer he married Ruth Swan.

From the Army, to the Navy, to the Marines, Spokanites served in every branch of service in World War 1.  Some men even enlisted in allied armies.  Fred Mac Doughan, born in Spokane, joined the 72nd Canadian infantry in 1915 and fought at the Battle of the Somme and Vimy Ridge before America even entered the war.

 

Battery F, 146th Field Artillery

Formed of close to 200 men,  Battery F drew it’s soldiers exclusively from Spokane and the Inland Empire.  They began their tour January of 1918 and fielded the French Canon de 155mm Grande Puissance Filloux, a powerful and at the time modern towed heavy artillery piece.  They trained through the winter and spring and in July they deployed to the Marne battlefield to begin combat operations.  They took part in the combat which routed German forces from the area.

One of the surviving soldiers from the Battery, R.L. Richardson recalled the units experiences in a 1926 edition of The Spokesman Review.  His account of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, in which the artillery crews fired their guns for 47 straight days, details the magnitude of their effort.  “Nights of firing and days of moving; tragedies written into the heart of all of them, with no comedy; work, work, work, with no let-up and no relief; hours of straining to get gun wheels back on doubtful roads, only to have them slip again; more meals postponed than eaten; the sleep of exhaustion in soggy blankets; men balanced two-deep in a friendly truck and glad to be there.”

The Battery suffered four killed in combat, and another 20 wounded or gassed.  German artillery accounted for the deaths, as their counter barrages hit one gun crew one time, and hit a nearby pile of phosgene gas another time.  After the armistice they took part in the occupation and remained stationed in Bassenheim, Germany until May of 1919.3

 

“Dickie” Delay, an aviator from Spokane is pictured in a newspaper article alongside his Spokane War Committee Record Card.

Aladdin Richard DeLay 

Aladdin Richard “Dickie” DeLay, born and raised in England, worked in Spokane for three years at the local branch of the Bank of Montreal.  During the war he left Eastern Washington to join the Royal Flying Corps, Britain’s aviation wing.  He enlisted in Spokane through the British and Canadian recruiting office in town and pursued aviation in for an opportunity to get back at the Germans for bombing London, his hometown.

While training in Britain he ran into some other service members from Spokane and mentioned “It was the first time I had seen a Spokesman-Review since leaving Spokane and it sure did my heart good.  It brought back some of the happiest days of my life, and intensified my desire to return to the sunny city as soon as possible.  I expect, in the course of a few days, and probably before you get these rambling lines, that I will experience the sensation of strafing Fritz”.  He was soon shot down and killed in German territory.4

A photo of the engineers before their embarkation, in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 8, 1918. The caption reads “Every member of the 20th engineers, recruited chiefly in the Pacific northwest, who was on the Tuscania when it was torpedoed is included in the picture shown here. This remarkable photograph of the Sixth battalion of the 20th was taken just before the foresters embarked on the trip that ended disastrously for their transport. The photograph was received this morning by Mrs. Stephen F. Morin, E1613 Sprague Avenue, having been sent by her husband, who is the cook for Company F, the unit of which most of the Spokane men are members.

The Tuscania

On February 5, 1918 the German U-boat UB-77 hit the troop transport Tuscania with a torpedo, sending the ship to the bottom of the Irish Sea.  Over 2000 US Army personnel were onboard, including 25 soldiers of the 20th engineers from Spokane.  Spokane newspapers published their names and a photograph of the battalion just before embarkation, captioned “This remarkable photograph of the Sixth battalion of the 20th was taken just before the foresters embarked on the trip that ended disastrously for their transport.”5  In the following days the majority of the 2000 men were rescued and out of the 210 that succumbed to the sea, only 1 of the men from Spokane died.6

 

Battle of Belleau Woods

On June 7, 1918, the headline “Soldiers of Sea beat Foe” covered the front page of The Spokane Daily Chronicle headline.  Although the papers declaration appeared several weeks before the battle actually ended, the victory of the Army and Marines at Belleau Woods proved the Americans fighting ability to the Germans.  Myron Clark of Spokane joined the Marines in March of 1917 and took part in the battle.  His father who lived on Denver St. received a letter and a piece of cloth from a German airplane from his son in France. “The Boche who was driving this plane was shot down by rifle fire from American trenches and when they found him he had 24 bullet holes through him”, Myron wrote.7  Another Spokane Marine died in battle after having been wounded twice.  Lieutenant Charles B. Maynard who resided on Lincoln St. and received his commision after graduating Washington State College wrote back home that he took part in the Marines offensive and had been lightly injured.  After quickly recovering he rejoined the front lines and sustained serious injuries in combat which he quickly succumbed to.8

Men from Spokane served as Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, and sometimes in Allied armies before the United States officially joined the war. They distinguished themselves in combat, and of the thousands that served, 183 died in Europe.

 

Sources

  1. Dill, Clarence Cleveland. Chapter XXV, To Paris and the Battle Fronts. MS, Eastern Washington State Historical Society.Pages 252-260
  2. Jaroneski, Matthew S. “”Dearest Mother…” The Burch Brothers in the Great War.” The Pacific Northwest Forum. Accessed January 5, 2018. http://www.narhist.ewu.edu/pnf/articles/s2/i-1/mother/mother.html.
  3. Kershner, Jim. “100 Years Ago This Week the United States Entered World War I, a Conflict That Would Claim the Lives of 200 from the Spokane Area.” Spokesman.com. April 01, 2017. Accessed January 4, 2018. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/apr/02/100-years-ago-this-week-the-united-state-entered-w/#/0.
  4. Kershner, Jim. “100 Years Ago This Week the United States Entered World War I, a Conflict That Would Claim the Lives of 200 from the Spokane Area.” Spokesman.com. April 01, 2017. Accessed January 4, 2018. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2017/apr/02/100-years-ago-this-week-the-united-state-entered-w/#/0.
  5. Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 8, 1918. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=tsBXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QfQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4692%2C3438854. Page 2, Column 1.
  6. Spokane Daily Chronicle, February 12, 1918. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=ucBXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=QfQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=1774%2C3739199. Page 1, Column 5.
  7. Spokane Daily Chronicle, October 30th, 1918. https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=CMZXAAAAIBAJ&sjid=PvQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4626%2C4298668. Page 2, Column 4.
  8. Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 18, 1918. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=ddB7do2jUx8C&dat=19180618&printsec=frontpage&hl=en. Page 1, Column 4.