Tag Archives: WWI

One hundred years ago, in December of 1917, American National Guard soldiers prepped for war.

42nd Infantry Division's 1917

In December of 1917 the soldiers of the 42nd Division, all previously serving in National Guard units, were in France, waiting for training.

Among the men was my great grandmother’s brother, huddling for warmth with the thousands of fellow American soldiers in France, preparing to go to war.

The division’s 27,000 troops had started moving from Camp Albert Mills — often shortened to just Camp Mills — on Long Island to France in October. The last elements of the 26-state division — the 168th Infantry Regiment from Iowa, which included my great grandmother’s young brother Leslie — had reached France at the end of November.

The 42nd Division had been formed by taking National Guard units from 26 states and combining them into a division that stretched across the country “like a rainbow” in the words of the division chief of staff, Colonel Douglas MacArthur.

The largest elements were four regiments from Ohio, Iowa, Alabama and New York organized in two brigades of two regiments and supporting units.

By Christmas 1917 the division’s elements were located in a number of villages northeast of the city of Chaumont, about 190 miles east of Paris. The men had hiked there from Vaucouleurs where they had originally been deposited by train.

The 168th Infantry, from the Iowa National Guard, hosted 400 French children at a Christmas celebration in the village of Rimaucourt, where they had been stationed since November. Two American soldiers dressed like Santa Claus gave presents to the French children and a French band played the Star Spangled Banner. The kids received dolls, horns and balloons, Lt. Hugh S. Thompson recalled in his memoir Trench Knives and Mustard Gas.

The 168th didn’t eat as well as the 165th on Christmas day, according to Thompson. “Scrawny turkeys and a few nuts were added to the usual rough menu,” he recalled.

While Christmas 1917 was a good one for most soldiers of the Rainbow Division, the next week went down in the division’s memory as “The Valley Forge Hike.”

It was 30 to 40 miles from where the division’s troops had celebrated Christmas to the town of Rolampont, the location of the U.S. Army’s Seventh Training Area.

Today you can drive the route in an hour. In 1917 it took the soldiers four days on foot. The march was miserable, according to the book The Story of the Rainbow Division.

The soldiers had “scarcely any shoes except what they had on their feet, there was no surplus supply to speak of. Some of the men had no overcoats.”

The men walked into a mountain snowstorm. In some places the snow was three to four feet deep. Soldier’s shoes wore out. Some marched almost barefoot. Some left behind bloody trails in the snow.

Lt. Thompson recalled that the men in his unit were issued hobnailed boot: the soles were held by heavy nails. The problem, he said, was that the nails got cold and the men’s feet froze too.

“Bleak expanses of icey geography appeared and vanished in monotonous fields between villages,” he recalled. “Legs ached, pack straps cut into shoulders, unmercifully men fell out, exhausted.”

At night the men huddled in the barns and haylofts of the French villages to keep warm.

The mule and horse drawn supply wagons got stuck on the icy roads and men had to move their best animals from wagon to wagon to get them unstuck, Father Duffy recalled.

For three days the men in the 165th Infantry Regiment’s Third battalion had no food, according to Kilmer, and when rations caught up to the men they got coffee and a bacon sandwich, or raw potatoes and bread.

“The hike made Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow look like a Fifth Avenue Parade,” one New York officer remembered later.

“The men plowed over the hills and thru the snow, enduring hardships which are not pleasant to remember,” wrote Reppy Alison, the author of a book about the 1st Battalion 166th Infantry.

Medics reported cases of mumps and pneumonia as the temperatures dropped below zero. Hundreds of men fell out– 700 at least and 200 of the New Yorkers–but most made it to Rolampont.

As the 165th Infantry arrived, the regimental band struck up “In the Good old Summertime”.

By New Year’s Day the division’s elements had arrived in Rolampont, and along with a new year they got a new commander.

Major General William Mann, the former head of the Militia Bureau, the equivalent of today’s Chief of the National Guard Bureau, had taken command of the division at Camp Mills.

But Mann, who was 63 in 1917, couldn’t meet the physical standards for officer laid down by General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.

He was replaced by 55-year old Brig. Gen. Charles T. Menoher.

As 1918 began Menoher and the soldiers of the Rainbow division began gearing up to go to go into the trenches.


Iconic. Bravery. Friendship. Touching.

AF26108 Townsend

I have been looking through some imagery created by the talented artists of the AEF, the American Expeditionary Forces, during the nastiness that was the First World War, and I came across this one, a new favorite, of a soldier carrying his wounded buddy. A sketch by Harry Everett Townsend using charcoal on paper, it hangs in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum.


Like Joyce Kilmer & many others, I too like trees

Hanging out around trees is good for you. That’s what a recent study discovered.

I’m not sure why we are spending money on such research. There’s more pressing problems, in my opinion, like cancer and homelessness and poverty. But, then again, few, if any, listen to me.

Joyce Kilmer was a writer who gained prominence by serving, and dying, as a soldier during the First World War. Sadly, my great-grandmother’s younger brother faced the same fate, minus the fame.

No one knows much about my great-great uncle, even in our family, though I have been working to correct this. I plan on writing a book about his life, particularly his experiences during the war.

They died on the same day: July 30, 1918. Kilmer was 31. My great-great uncle, Leslie Warren Darling, was 22, three weeks shy of his 23rd birthday. He had been gravely wounded by German machine gun fire four days prior.

When I mentioned some of these details to Grandma, she recalled having read his poem Trees while in school.

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


Every year, a journey through Iowa, each time different.


Every year Iowa hosts a cycling event called RAGBRAI, which crisscrosses the state. The route changes every year. This year it’s passing through a few towns and counties with personal significance to me.

Shenandoah is one such place. It’s a town in southwestern Iowa where my great-great grandfather lived. It’s where my great grandparents, George Hay and Geneva Darling, married in 1913.

My great-great uncle lived and worked there, as a reporter for the local paper, before shipping out for Camp Dodge, New York, and then Europe to fight in the First World War. Sadly, he was mowed down by German machine gun fire in July of 1918 while on the Western Front in France, where his remains have been ever since.

A few hundred miles later, to the east of Shenandoah — two hundred and twenty-five to be precise — the route passes through Washington County and the county seat also named Washington. This is where the Darling clan lived for many years, starting in 1853 or so, when Ezra Darling came from New York looking for farmland and opportunity.

Maybe one of these days I will do at least part of the route. I will definitely need to train a bit. Perhaps an electric bike would help. Would that be acceptable? I know nothing about the rules.

That’s an idea! Doing genealogy throughout the country, maybe even the world, by BIKE! Sounds like too much work though.


Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney & Her ‘Château-Thierry’

A statue of an American doughboy, titled Château-Thierry, by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.
A statue of an American doughboy, titled Château-Thierry, by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.

Recently, I learned of a bronze figure made by one of the Vanderbilts. It was in an art catalog I had picked up at Cornish College, which the librarians had purged from the collections.

The piece is personally significant because its design and inspiration was based on events on the Western Front during the First World War, during the fighting in July of 1918 when my great-great uncle was mortally wounded. Château-Thierry, a town in France, is near where he was cut down by German machine gun fire, and it is the name the sculptor adopted to name her piece.

It was for sale via auction and with a hefty price tag attached, I’m sure.

The artist, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, was a remarkable woman. The First World War affected her greatly and influenced her work.

“All her works are simple, direct, and for the most part traditional in character. She also worked on a more modest scale, creating many sculptures in reaction to World War I, which deeply affected her.”


Ninety Seven Years Ago

Ninety seven years ago yesterday, my great grandmother’s younger brother Leslie died from wounds in France while serving on the Western Front during the First World War. He had been cut down by German machine gun fire four days before and taken to a makeshift field hospital, what had been what’s called a sanitary train, a place where the wounded and sick were tended by medics and nurses. Maybe I’ll get a chance to visit his resting place and the area of operations in France on the 100th anniversary in 2018.


More WWI Records — at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Looks like I’ll be adding the library at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to my list of places to visit. I’ll be adding it to one of my personalized Google Maps.

Yesterday while searching for the 42nd Division roster, I discovered that the records of the Rainbow Division Veterans Association are housed there. There are two boxes dedicated to the Rainbow Division and World War I.

Box 1
Series 1 – WWI

  • Correspondence, n.d.; Currency, n.d.
  • Hat
  • Lyrics, Poems n.d., 1989
  • Maps n.d.
  • Memorial, Information, Casualty Report, n.d.
  • Orders, 67th Field Artillery Brigade, 1918
  • Orders, 165th Infantry, 1918-1919
  • Orders, French Commands, 1918-1919
  • Orders, War Department, 1917-1919
  • Orders, War Department, Awards, 1923
  • Photographs, n.d.
  • Prayers 1918, n.d.; Press Release, 1918
  • Programs, Dinner, Holiday, 1918-1919
  • Publications by Individuals
  • Publications (photocopies)
  • Scrapbook, n.d.
  • Sheet Music, 1917-1931
  • Unit Histories and Rosters, 1918, Jan. – May

Box 2

  • Unit Histories and Rosters 1918, June – Dec.
  • Unit Histories and Rosters, 69th New York National Guard Artillery , n.d., and 117th , 1917-1919
  • Unit Histories and Rosters, 165th , 1917-1918, 1958
  • Unit Histories and Rosters, 166th , 1918-1919
  • Unit Histories and Rosters, 167th,, n.d.
  • Unit Histories and Rosters, 168th , 1917-1919
  • Unit Histories and Rosters, 408th , Telegraph Battalion, n.d.; Unit Histories and Rosters, Sanitary Units, 1917; Unit Histories and Rosters, Signal Corps, 1938
  • Unpublished Materials
  • Unpublished Materials


The 42nd Division Roster

Someone wrote to me via the blog, in a response to another post, about family records housed by the U.S. Army. He wanted to know if I had a man named Robert Hynes “among my records.”

I’m interested if your records show a listing of the men in that unit and, if so, is there a Robert Hynes in the 168th. His father’s obit in Dec 1918 in Bridgeport, Fairfield Co., Connecticut says his son is over in France in the 168th Infantry. Thank you.

Oddly there is no one with that name on the 42nd Division Roster. There is no Robert Hynes listed in the roster. There is a Joseph. And there is no Robert Hines either. Hynes may have been transferred from another division or may have joined after the roster was published.

Here’s what I initially wrote in repsonse, with two links of interest:

I don’t have any records personally. Just what I’ve found in books and online. I did find a book of the men with their addresses while they were at Camp Mills on Long Island before shipping out. I will try to find it again. I’ve also been in contact with the modern Iowa National Guard. There is a museum at Camp Dodge, near Des Moines. Someone there may be able to help you.

After a little searching on Google Books I found the roster again. Although there’s no Robert Hynes, my great grand uncle is listed with his home address. I don’t recall ever writing about this find, so I am adding it now.

DARLING, LESLIE W., Pvt., 704 Sixth Ave., Shenandoah, Ia.

When I originally discovered his address, I did a Google Maps and Street View search. I also wrote to the local Methodist church, which isn’t far from the house on Sixth Avenue, but I didn’t receive any response.