Letters from World War I – Corporal Ellis Edmond “Dutch” Ketchersid
My Grandfather was in the 132 Machine Gun Battalion in the 36th Division, First Army, which was deployed to France in World War I. He passed away in 1982, and somehow I was the recipient of several of his World War I mementos:
- a 48-star flag.
- the roster book from his Company “B” (update: this has been donated to the National World War I museum in Kansas City. Images of each page of the roster book with the name of all of the men in the Company can be found here.).
- an artillery shell.
- and an Argentine Mauser, circa 1890s.
Through his letters (which I have from my father) and through an excellent article called Panthers to Arrowheads: The 36th (Texas-Oklahoma) Division In World War I by Lonnie J. White, I pieced together much of his journey. I wish I would have asked him more.
132nd Machine Gun Battalion
Born in October of 1893, he was near his 24th birthday when he became part of the 132nd Machine Gun Battalion, which was formed in October 1917 at Camp Bowie, Texas from the 1st, 2nd and 7th Regiments of Texas Infantry and the 1st Regiment of Oklahoma Infantry. From Mr. White’s article:
Major Preston Weatherred was assigned command of the 132nd, and he would many years later command the Texas National Guard State pride was so great in both Guards that Texas officials sought as early as May, 1917, the permission of Secretary Baker to form a purely Texas division, and Oklahomans in July applied political pressure to have their Guardsmen trained in Oklahoma. The new divisional arrangement was particularly galling to the 1st Oklahoma, the pride of the Sooner state, whose recruits had been promised during the summer enlistment campaign that the regiment would retain its state identity. To make matters worse, the 1st Oklahoma was not to form a separate regiment, but was to be merged with the 7th Texas Infantry to comprise the 142nd Infantry
Of the Oklahoma officers, the most upset was Lieutenant Colonel Jayne, who complained that there would “be no Oklahoma unit anywhere.” There were “so many Texas regiments” that they cannot lose their identity, merely taking different numerals.” Captain A. H. Drake of Childress, 7th Texas Infantry, perhaps reflected the sentiment of the Texans in his statement that the 1st Oklahomans “will not lose their identity any more than we will.” The 7th Texas would not be known as such “any more either.”
Oklahomans at home felt strongly enough about the matter to seek redress in Washington. Their efforts were to no avail, for Secretary Baker in a meeting with “prominent Oklahomans” on September 29 flatly refused to budge from the War Department’s decision to renumber the divisional units without reference to states. Consequently, Blakely’s order stood, though he was constrained, owing to the furor, to amend it to move back the date for the completion of consolidation and removal of the Guardsmen to their new unit locations at Camp Bowie to October 15.
Jayne was presumably so distressed that he took a 10-day furlough, leaving Bloor as the new commanding officer of the 142nd to deal with the unruly Oklahomans in the best way he could. Fortunately for Bloor, General Hoffman, who had every reason to be as dissatisfied with the rearrangement of units, which left his brigade without a single Oklahoma organization, as Jayne, urged the men of his former regiment in a farewell speech to accept consolidation. Standing on “a dry goods box” on October 12, Hoffman told the 1st Oklahoma troops, who were gathered around him, that orders “were orders, and you are soldiers.” He wanted them “to be friendly to the men of the Seventh” and to accept their new commander whom he declared was “one of the best colonels in the American Army.” Following Hoffman’s remarks, Bloor welcomed the Oklahomans to the 142nd and asked them as “experienced veterans” to assist the green Texans in becoming soldiers. “We want to make this the best regiment in camp.”
The troops began training in trench warfare. In November, a cold front blew in on Camp Bowie, which the camp was not prepared for. Pneumonia, measles and meningitis hit the crowded camp. Again, from Mr. White’s article:
There had been 2,900 cases of measles and 409 of pneumonia during the past month and pneumonia had taken 41 lives. The measles “and other epidemic diseases” had been introduced by incoming troops and had been spread by overcrowding of the camp. The 36th Sammies had been raised mainly in scattered rural communities and had never been exposed to childhood diseases. The lack of winter clothing until recently had “probably increased the tendency to pneumonia.”
First letter from my Grandfather
This first letter was to my great-Grandfather, while at Camp Bowie:
Camp Bowie, Tex.
Mr. C.V. Ketchersid & Folks,
I am writing you today by request of our Co. Commander giving you my Serial No. It is 1486719. You are to remember it so that you can write me if I should felled ha ha.
I received your last letter yesterday, was glad to here from all of you, glad you had such nice rain. But awful sorrow to hear of Grandmother being so seriously ill. I got the wire but it take so long to get a pass through that I may not get there in time to see her. There is an order out to allow no passes, only in extreme case.But I spoke to our Major and he had me to bring it over and he approve it. But it must be approved by Brigade hdq. too and they are so busy too now getting ready for a move that the don’t have time to look after passes.
I don’t know where we are going but I am sure we will make a move some times in 8 weeks. But I think I will get to come home on a 5-day pass as that is the limit of passes now.
Well don’t look for me until you see me coming and the you won’t be disappointed if I don’t come.
We have got a big bunch of new men with us now and we sure do laugh at them. I’ve wondered lots if I was as awkward as they are when I first tried to soldier. They fight flys and twist around too while that are at attentions. And if I done that now why they sure would get my Sunday goat.
I have got to where I love to soldier and can stand as much of it as any body.
If you see Grandma tell her I am going to do my best to see her, and if I don’t why it won’t be any fault of mine or my officers.
I hope you all get rich by making a big crop this year for there sure is going to be money ins a good crop next year or rather this year.
Say what is Jack doing at Mt. Park, did he leave home? And what. Tell me all about it. Did he have to register?
Well be sure and remember my Serial No 1486719 for that is my name in the Army and if you ever loose trace of me why that is the only way you can find me.
Write Soon. Ellis.
The 36th shipped out to France in July, 1918. From Mr. White’s article:
White considered the crowded conditions aboard ship as the most disagreeable part of the trip. He did not get “the least bit seasick” but got “awful dirty.” Hart complained that the bunks were very small and arranged in tiers four deep. There was standing room only on the main deck and coal carts as well as men obstructed movement. The food had been good and plentiful at Camp Bowie, but aboard ship, if the comments of several Panthers are any indication, it was often neither. Sergeant Charles H. Powell, Company D, 141st Infantry, on the Finland, years later remembered the food as “so bad that most of us lived on bread, coffee and water” the entire voyage.
The unpleasantness notwithstanding, the Panthers found life aboard the troopships far from dull. Chastaine reported “two motion picture shows almost every night,” one for the officers and the other for the enlisted men, in the dining room. “We saw Mary Pickford, Fatty Arbuckle and several others and felt very much at home.” Kenneth Garrett, Battery C, 132nd Artillery, stated that “band concerts, ‘stunt’ shows and moving picture performances were given every night on deck.”
In France, the men who had built Camp Bowie were hit with rainy French weather and a camp trampled by previous divisions. Again, from Mr. White’s article:
The generally filthy conditions at Brest were such “a disappointment” to many men that they wondered whether France was “worth fighting for.” Still, they found their stop interesting owing to the new surroundings in a foreign country and the historic sites, not the least of which was the Pontanezen Barracks, after which the camp took its name. The stone barracks were two stories high and formed one side of a high stone-wall enclosure. The great Napoleon had housed troops and prisoners in them over a century earlier. That many inmates had seen their last moments there was obvious to the Panthers, one of them M. L. Reed, 142nd Infantry, who observed that “the old ‘chop-block’” Napoleon had employed to guillotine them was still intact.
The 132 Machine Gun Battalion’s major action was with the 71st Brigade at St. Etienne in the first two weeks of October, 1918.
The French intended at the time the 36th was handed over to the GAC to use the Texans and Oklahomans with the French Third Army in reserve behind the French Fourth Army. The Third was to exploit any breakthrough of the Fourth east of Rheims. Although the Fourth drove the Germans several kilometers beyond the Hindenburg Line, it failed, as indicated above, to puncture the enemy’s defenses. As the result, the Third was utilized elsewhere and the 36th was assigned to the Fourth’s 21st Corps “for the purpose of re-inforcing the 2nd and of relieving a part of that division should occasion arise.” Because the French considered the “immediate presence” of a reserve brigade in the Somme-Py sector as imperative owing to heavy casualties incurred by the 4th Marine Brigade, General Smith was instructed to send one brigade and the 111th Field Signal Battalion by French camions (trucks) to the Suippes-Somme-Suippes area during the night of October 4-5.
Smith selected the 71st Brigade to make the movement because it could be picked up quicker than the 72nd. The 71st (General Whitworth) consisted of the 141st Infantry (Colonel Jackson), the 142nd Infantry (Colonel Bloor), and the 132nd Machine Gun Battalion (Major Weatherred). It numbered 247 officers and 5,955 men. Each regiment contained 12 rifle companies divided into three battalions, a supply company, a machine gun company, a regimental headquarters company, a medical detachment, the battalion and regimental staffs, and two or three chaplains. The 111th Field Signal Battalion (Major Robinson) was composed of 14 officers and 459 men.
Mr. Smith describes the logistics of getting there, and the battle in detail here.
Citation of the 36th Division
Letter after battle in France
This is a transcription of the first letter from after the action in France, from my Grandfather, to my Great-grandfather, Chesley Ketchersid:
Oct. 30, 1918
Mr. and Mrs C.V. Ketchersid
Dear Father & Mother One and All
How are all of you today (Sunday). I am fine and enjoying health, also a good rest, after 21 days at the front. And I hope I get to rest from now on. But if the Germans don’t sign up this time I don’t want any more rest until the Dirty Devils are willing to submit to any thing that is offered them. Don’t take this to mean that i am having a good time of it. For we are not. It sure is Hell – But we are smiling and raring to put the hot lead to the Dutchmen by the ton and dodge and duck all that the way to give us. And believe me but I am good at ducking from “the big ones” and little one are scarce.
I read your letter telling me of the crops you had, and am glad old Smife (?) is going to (illegible). But best of all I love the spirit you seemed to be in when you wrote about it. Laugh at it all and look the world in the face. God knows I will never bother if the things don’t come my way any more. I’ve never done much of it anyway and expect to do less.
There is quite a bit of Peace talk but I sum it up that if there is to be any Germany will take what is coming to her now or take an awful licking.
(next para illegible)
I would love to tell you all of it but can’t get by the Censor yet. Perhaps you would be glad to know that I am Corporal now – if you don’t already know it. But can’t tell you just exactly what we are doing as you ask.
I will close just now as the YNC is closing so by by for awhile.
The casualties for the 71st Brigade were higher than the 72nd, as reported by Mr. White:
The final tabulation for the entire division, including the 111th Engineers, was given by the Secretary of War in 1926 as 2,584. The killed, counting died of wounds, came to 26 officers and 565 enlisted men for a total of 591. Casualties for the infantry regiments were: 141st, 709; 142nd, 1,007; 143rd, 272; and 144th, 369. Those for the machine gun battalions were: 131st, 3; 132nd, 148; and 133rd, 43. The 111th Regiment Engineers and Train, the 111th Field Signal Battalion, the 111th Train Headquarters and Military Police, the 111th Sanitary Train, and the Division Headquarters posted 17, 13, 1, 1, and 1, respectively. Since the figures in the preceding paragraph are for the Champagne only, it is befitting to note that the losses for that campaign, as finally reported by the Secretary, were 2,567.
The 36th left the front with a substantial record and an excellent reputation. It performed well enough under the worst of circumstances at St. Etienne and enjoyed remarkable success under the more favorable conditions at Forest Farm. The 71st Brigade was engaged in harder fighting and suffered heavier casualties than the 72nd, which sparkled in the advance to the Aisne. One suspects that if the 36th units had fought with their own engineers and artillery, had been fully equipped, and had served throughout under their own commanding general, their accomplishments would have been even more impressive. The valiant performance of the officers and men reflected the high morale that characterized their service from the beginning.
Last Letter from Overseas
The armistice was signed November 11, 1918. The 36th spent several months in the Tonnerre area of France, and were apparently quite successful in AEF Football and Baseball. Last letter from my Grandfather, from France:
Feb. 12, 1919
Mr. C.V. Ketchersid, one and all,
Just a few lines tonight to let you know that I am fine; and just passed one day in the Army in France which I really enjoyed. We had a game of baseball today between the officers of our Btn. Also a game of football between the 132 MG (Machine Gun) and the 131 MG and these few athletic stunts coupled with the fact that today was one of the prettiest I’ve even seen in France, and coming as it did right in the middle of winter, helped the day pass by in great leaps.
Say I’ve wrote you three times since I came back from my furlough; two letters and one of the S.G (?) cards, which is compulsory. Hope that all find you well and enjoying life.
Say I am sending you a pen sketch drawn by the best read headed pal I’ve ever had. It is of my self and was drawn of me wile sitting on a box in front of the fireplace, thinking of home and my girl.
I want to keep it as a remembrance of my best friend “Bert Daniels”. I will frame it when I get home. The cigarette holder is an imitation of a deer foot which I bought for a souvenir at Chamonix. My Corp stripes are on the wrong arm but he wanted to put them on the stripe lower down on my arm is my service stripe having served six months overseas. The Arrowhead the T in it is our Division insignia; the T stands for Texas, the arrowhead for Okla. The Box with corned beef on it is only imaginative. But Corned Beef (Corned Wille) is the Big Army Menu.
Well I can’t tell any more than usual in regard to our coming home for I don’t know where we will get started back, not real soon tho.
Tell everybody that everybody is OK. McClendon went to the Hospital with a lame leg caused by coming in contact with an Army Mule.
Gilberd is on K.P. this wee. Revel, running for Bn.Hdq. and Hinsley and I are just doing the same old dope. I don’t know where Elija Woodman is and I haven’t seen him since he left the front wounded. I heard tho’ that he was recovered.
I must close. Be sure and keep good care of this silly little sketch.
With love. Ellis.
I have never seen the sketch Grandpa refers to his this letter. From the roster of his I have of Company B, it does indeed mention a Pvt 1st class Albert Daniels from Amorita, OK. And it does mention the other men from Gould, OK, citing Elija Woodman as “Wounded in action near Somme Py, France on October 8th, 1918.
My Grandfather and the rest of the 36th made it back to the States in May, 1919. Grampa married Grandma in October, 1919, shortly after his return from France.