Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Parents of Lena Schmidt Laun

One of my major research goals for 2014 was to determine the parents of my husband’s great-grandmother, Lena Schmidt.  I am very glad to say that I’ve managed to accomplish this.  Not only does it tick a goal off the list, but it’s the culmination of many years of work on the toughest brick wall I’ve yet encountered.

The grave of Lena's father, Herman Schmidt in Belleville, Illinois.  (Photo by Donnie Goss, Jr., 2011)

When I last wrote about Lena,  I had learned what happened to her after her divorce from Harry Laun.  I also had a good lead on her parents, but wasn’t yet able to prove my hunch.  I had found a census record from 1900 that appeared to list her with her parents and siblings.  However, I could not prove conclusively that this was the correct Lena.  Lena Schmidt was a common name at that time and in that location.  Part of being a good researcher is adhering to the Genealogical Proof Standard.  Evidence must be analyzed, sources must be cited, and contradictory evidence must be resolved.  Just because a set of potential parents looks right doesn't mean they are right.  Proof is necessary.  I dug deeper into available records and tried to build a solid case for Lena's parentage.  

Lena’s death certificate stated that she’d been born in Belleville, Illinois in September 1891.  Her father’s surname was given as Schmidt.  Lena also used the surname Schmidt in all of her marriage documentation.  Using this information, I zeroed in on a 1900 census listing for a family in Belleville that included a young girl named Magdalena Schmidt.  This child had a stated birth date of September 1892.  Given the known inaccuracies in census records, I didn't immediately disqualify her as a candidate.  Other than that discrepancy, this family looked promising.  Both potential parents, Herman and Elizabeth “Elisa” Schmidt, were born in Illinois, and Lena’s marriage documents and census listings state that both her parents were born in Illinois.  I could not find any other family in Belleville that had this correct combination of factors.  Still, promising does not equal correct.  I needed something that proved that young Magdalena Schmidt grew up to be Lena Laun Hook.

The document that cracked the case was a probate record for Lena’s father, Herman Schmidt.

I found an obituary for Herman Schmidt but it listed his daughter as Mrs. Magdalena Lang of St. Louis.  I searched and searched for a Magdalena Lang but could not find one that seemed to be connected to Herman Schmidt.  Was it possible that Lang was a misspelling of Laun?  I requested probate information for Herman Schmidt from the Belleville Public Library.  Jackpot!  The very thorough document that I received lists in two different places that Herman Schmidt’s youngest daughter was Mrs. Magdalena Laun of St. Louis.  Lena had married Harry Laun in St. Louis just one month before her father’s death. 

Why I believe the mystery is now solved:

1.     Lena’s marriage license and death certificate list her maiden name as Schmidt.   Her death certificate lists her place of birth as Belleville, Illinois.  I found a 1900 U.S. Census record showing a Magdalena Schmidt of the age of our Lena living in Belleville with her parents, Herman and Elisa.
2.     In the 1920 census, Lena gives her parents’ birthplace as Illinois.  Both Herman Schmidt and Elisa Bosch were born in Illinois.

3.     Herman Schmidt’s will twice references his daughter, Magdalena Laun, after Lena’s marriage to Harry Laun.

4.     This point is more circumstantial, but worth mentioning.  The address that Herman Schmidt gives for his daughter, Magdalena Laun, in his 1913 will is less than a mile from the home where Harry Laun was living in 1910 and only a half mile from the church where Harry and Lena were married.  This is clearly the neighborhood where Harry and Lena settled after they were married in 1913, so it puts Herman Schmidt's daughter in the correct location.

So, I believe that I have now exhaustively analyzed the evidence and can come to a strong conclusion.  Lena Schmidt Laun Hook was the daughter of Herman Schmidt and Elizabeth “Elisa” Bosch of Belleville, Illinois. 

The Schmidt family was Catholic with German roots.  Herman Schmidt fought for the Union in the Civil War. They lived in Belleville, Illinois for decades, establishing deep ties there and owning several plots of land in the city.

Lena was the youngest of eleven children born to Herman and Elisa.  At the time of Herman’s will in 1913, nine of those children were still living.  As I continue to explore this family, I hope I can connect with some other Schmidt descendants and learn what they may know about the family.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

George Rutherfurd: The Later Years

This is the eighth and final post in a series about my great-grandfather, George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd.

My grandmother told me that after her mother's death, friends were always trying to set George up with women.  He was still fairly young, in his mid-40s, and his friends didn't want him to be alone the rest of his life.  However, George found love for a second time without any outside help.  He had known Ozelda "Dandy" Dandurand Roberts for many years because they both worked for the telephone company.  Dandy had been married to the late John H. Roberts.  They had no children.  George's employment at the telephone company had already allowed him to meet his first wife, given him a wartime assignment that kept him out of the trenches, and now it was about to change his life for a third time.  George and Dandy were married in 1942.

George and Dandy

My grandmother said that she had dreaded her father getting re-married after her beloved mother's death.  However, she liked Dandy, and Dandy never tried to replace her mother in any way.  They established a good relationship, and LaVerne was glad that George and Dandy made each other so happy.  Dandy was also a wonderful grandmother to LaVerne's children, all of whom spoke lovingly of her.  I had the pleasure of meeting Dandy several times in the 1980s, when she was in her nineties.  I remember her warm demeanor and the affection she showed us, even though my brothers and I were all at ages when we must have been a handful.

George in downtown Los Angeles

After their marriage, George and Dandy settled in Arcadia, east of Los Angeles.  By all accounts, they were very happy together.  They both liked to paint and were interested in photography. They shared an enthusiasm for travel and reading.  George also continued to have success at work.  In 1946, he was promoted to Plant Extension Engineer, after many years in management positions.  Outside of the office, he was involved with the Los Angeles Yacht Club, where he served on the board of directors and as chairman of the annual regatta.  My mother remembers him being quite the social butterfly, with many friends and social obligations.  He and Dandy had active social lives and enjoyed these years together.

Eventually, George retired from Pacific Telephone and Telegraph.  He and Dandy chose to retire on the same day and were given a lovely retirement party by their colleagues.  Then, George and Dandy bought an Airstream trailer and spent about a year traveling around the United States together.

George and Dandy during their travels around America

 After returning from their travels, in 1952, George and Dandy built a house at 710 Park Knoll Lane in Fallbrook, California.  Fallbrook was, at the time, a small, rural country town in northern San Diego County.  They had friends there and the quiet environment suited this time in their lives.

A modern view of the house at 710 Park Knoll Ln.  The wing on the left, with porch and chimney, is a new addition.

George left behind journals for the years 1952-1962. They detail construction of the house in Fallbrook, extensive travels with Dandy and visits with family and friends, including his daughter LaVerne (whom he called "Tommy") and her children.  Since there are too many entries to copy here, I've selected a few to give an idea of George's activities during these years.

1952, April 18: House & garage are framed, roofed, shingled, felt paper & chicken wire all around, fireplace in, hardwood floor laid in dining room, subflooring in rest of house, septic tank partly installed, electric wiring in and connected, garage doors installed.

1954, November 7: [Most of this year was spent traveling with Dandy in the Airstream]  Florida.  The dew collects at night until it looks as though it had rained.  A man in South Carolina told us that the east coast of Florida catered to the "fast" crowd while the west coast is for the more leisurely elders.  From the way they drive around here it seems that he was correct in part of his statement.  Clear day with a breeze off of the ocean.

1957, July 23: To Los Angeles, where Drs. Guiss and DeMoss, after poking the neck until it became tender, decided that the trouble is not a swollen lymph gland.  Quien sabe?  On the way home visited Tommy & family and Helen & Frank.

1961, June 24: In the past period we have (1) Visited El Jacal for some delicious Mexican food. (2) Been entertained by Tommy, Glenn and the four "at homes" at a delayed Father's Day dinner.  The food was superb & the company excellent. (3) At Dr. Lewington's request a PH blood test.  I doubt if there was ever a more unique doctor patient relationship. (4) Spent time with Helen. (5) Returned to Fallbrook today.  The trip down was through considerable heat but the weather at home was comfortable.

In 1962, George's health declined sharply.  He wrote in his journal less and his hand was shakier.  He was ill and in and out of the hospital.  Dandy began to write entries in his journal for him, noting visitors to their home and medical developments.

George Rutherfurd died of throat cancer on August 22, 1962 in Fallbrook.  He was 67 and had been ill for some time.  In his journal, Dandy wrote the following:

George went on his way today at 5:51pm.  Tommy was with him.

The funeral was held on August 25, 1962 at St. John's Episcopal Church in Fallbrook.  George was survived by his wife, Dandy, his daughter, LaVerne, and five grandchildren.  He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California, in the same plot with his first wife, Julia Barrett Rutherfurd.

Friday, November 28, 2014

George Rutherfurd: Life After War

This is the seventh post in a series about my great-grandfather, George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd.

George Rutherfurd with his wife Julia after arriving home in California

George Rutherfurd and the 411th Telegraph Battalion arrived in San Francisco on May 5, 1919.  The war was over.  George was returning home to a wife he hadn't seen for fifteen months and a daughter he'd never met.  Julia Barrett Rutherfurd was in San Francisco to greet her husband upon his arrival.  It must have been a joyful moment, as George and Julia had been newlyweds when they were separated by war.  George had brought Julia a beautiful cameo pin he'd bought for her in France, a lovely piece that my mother now owns.  Packed carefully in his belongings was the telegram announcing his daughter's birth.

George Rutherfurd and his wife Julia at the time of their marriage in 1918

A banquet was held for the veterans at the San Francisco Commerical Club.  Emotional speeches were given and the members of the 411th prepared to decommission and re-enter civilian life.  For George, this meant a return to Los Angeles and his job at Pacific Telegraph and Telephone.  It meant moving out of his mother-in-law, Nellie Barrett's home and into a house of his own with his wife and child.  Most importantly, it meant forging a bond with his nine month-old daughter, LaVerne.

My grandmother, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith, said that she and her father loved each other from the start.  She thought he hung the moon, and he felt much the same about her.  LaVerne had been named for her mother's good friend, LaVerne, but this name presented a challenge for George.  He didn't much care for the name LaVerne, so he called her Tommy.  My grandmother said she wasn't sure how this nickname had originated, but it wasn't because her father had wanted a boy.  It was a term of endearment, and so special to her that she later called her firstborn son Tom.  George and his Tommy formed a mutual admiration society that would last the rest of their lives.

George, Julia and LaVerne in 1921

In 1920, George was sent on assignment to work with the phone company in Sacramento.  He brought Julia and LaVerne with him, and they lived there well into 1921.  They then returned home to Los Angeles, and in 1922, George and Julia bought their first home at 3429 West 60th Street in Los Angeles.  Three years later, they moved to 3510 West 59th Street, just a short distance away.  They remained in this home for many years.

The house at 3429 West 60th Street in Los Angeles

While George and Julia wanted to have more children, they weren't able to do so.  LaVerne was their only child.  LaVerne was very close to her parents and had many fond memories of them.  She often described her father's love of sailing.  After the war, he'd learned to sail and was at his happiest sailing out to Catalina Island on his boat.  He owned a Star boat of about 38 feet in length and took Julia and LaVerne out sailing nearly every weekend.  Julia never enjoyed being on the water as much as her husband, but she shared a great love of reading with George and LaVerne.   The family could often be found reading into the evenings at home.  George was occasionally sent to Sacramento to work with the telephone company there, but other than that, the family didn't do much traveling.  They talked about sending LaVerne on a European tour after she graduated college, but then World War II broke out and the idea had to be abandoned.

In 1941, George and Julia announced the engagement of their daughter, now a graduate of University of Southern California, to Glenn Smith, a young man she'd been dating since her teens.  A wedding was planned.  Then, Julia died suddenly of a stroke on June 30, 1941.  She did not live to see her daughter's wedding on November 1st.  Julia's unexpected death devastated George and LaVerne.

George with his daughter LaVerne on the day of her marriage to Glenn Smith in Los Angeles

To be continued...

Monday, November 17, 2014

George Rutherfurd: Coming Home

This is the sixth post in a series about my great-grandfather, George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd.

George Rutherfurd

World War I was drawing to a close, but its biggest battle was still on the horizon.  George Rutherfurd and the other members of the 411th Telegraph Battalion were in eastern France setting up the communications network necessary to support the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  Again, I'll quote from "Memories of the 411th Telegraph Battalion In the World War Here and 'Over There'" by C.H. Moore to illuminate George's experience.

On September 24th our Battalion began the construction of a ten wire lead from Bois Foucheres through Recicourt in a northwesterly direction to the edge of the Forest de Hesse, and by working every available minute of daylight, hauling and distributing material at night, had completed the lead to the edge of the forest which was just behind the German front lines during the night of the 25th.  (p. 107)

From there, the lines were extended to Avocourt.  All of this was accomplished on a very tight schedule and in challenging conditions.

The building of this lead across the old "no-man's land" north of Avocourt through the Forest de Montfaucon to the "water-hold" south of Montfaucon, constituted a task which tried our men to the very limit of physical endurance.  Performing the very hardest kind of work in lugging materials long distances over shell torn fields and woods heavy with mud and water, covered with almost continual rain, sleeping in recently evacuated German dugouts filthy with vermin and rats, living on scant food owing to difficulty in bringing up supplies, subject to scattering shell fire in the day time and air raids at night, these men accomplished results worth enough to be chronicled alongside of the many brilliant exploits further to the front in that long battle. (p. 107-108)

George was fortunate that his role as an officer kept him out of rat-filled trenches.  He often went ahead of other members of the Battalion, driven in a motorcycle sidecar, drawing out a route for the communications and relaying those plans back to the Battalion.  At night, he and his driver sought rooms in local villages and relied on townspeople to feed them.  Sometimes, they went through villages that had been reduced to rubble in battle.  In one of these towns, a church had been bombed.  George found a register of village marriages and births in the ruins, and took it with him so it would not be destroyed by the elements.  It took some years after the war ended to get it back to the village, but George managed to do so.  I like to think some French genealogists have been very happy to find that not all records from that area were destroyed in the war.

Telephone lines built by the 411th before and during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

The Allied forces were victorious in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and on November 11, 1918, Armistice was declared.  The members of the 411th were jubilant at the news.

A short time after the Armistice we were informed that the First Army headquarters was not going on into Germany and that after a few days work, completing work under way, we would be moved back into a rest area.  And shortly thereafter we started down the Meuse Valley to Verdun, the trip being made after dark.  We will never forget that trip; it was a bright moonlit night. The camp fires of troops resting for the night lighted up the landscape and completed the naturally beautiful picture.  It was the first time in over four years that the soldiers had had the privilege of fires at night and they were indulging it to the limit.  There was light aplenty without the moon, for on all sides the victory celebration was still in progress, and the shells and vari-colored flares lighted up the sky for miles and miles.  And everybody was happy; the old tenseness was gone; in its place was hilarious laughter and spontaneous raillery hurled at each other and passers-by. (p. 124)

Members of the 411th outside Verdun on November 20, 1919

The new headquarters for the 411th was established at Fravaux.  There, they settled into a camp life of drills and study, hoping they'd soon be sent home to America.  At Christmas, an elaborate dinner was served, followed by a musical performance, a film and a visit from Santa Claus.  The local villagers were invited and a good time was had by all.  In February 1919, the 411th was sent to a new headquarters at Montlouis, a small village just outside Tours, in the Loire Valley.  There, they worked to repair damaged telephone and telegraph lines in the area.  Finally, in March 1919, word came that the 411th was going home.

Some of the men of the 411th Telegraph Battalion

On April 10, 1919, the 411th Telegraph Battalion departed Brest, France on the U.S. Cruiser Charleston.  They arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey on April 21, 1919.  After an eight day stay at Camp Mills, they departed for California and arrived in San Francisco on May 5, 1919.  Nearly fifteen months after they had sailed to war, they were home.

George was about to meet his daughter for the first time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

George Rutherfurd: War and Fatherhood

This is the fifth post in a series about my great-grandfather, George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd.

George Rutherfurd, third from the right with fellow members of the 411th Telegraph Battalion

In the summer of 1918, George Rutherfurd and his unit, the 411th Telegraph Battalion, headed to eastern France to support communications at the front.  In "Memories of the 411th Telegraph Battalion In the World War Here and 'Over There'" by C.H. Moore, the author describes how the 411th moved into Chateau-Thierry in early August, after the American Army had pushed back the Germans.

On August 9th Company E and Headquarters moved to Chateau-Thierry, and at once engaged in surveying and laying out contemplated toll line routes from Chateau-Thierry north to Fare-en-Tardenois and Coulonge.  Part of the plan involved using abandoned German pole lines in this territory and French lead along railroad from Chateau-Thierry to Armentieres.  However, just as this work was under way, orders were received to move entire Battalion to Neufchateau.  This move consumed two days and was part of the great troop movement to the Toul sector in preparation for the St. Mihiel offensive. (p. 91)

While George was working hard to support the troops at the front, his wife, Julia Barrett Rutherfurd, gave birth to their first and only child in Los Angeles.  After George left for the war, Julia had returned to Los Angeles to live with her mother, Nellie O'Hare Barrett.  It was there that George and Julia's daughter was born, on August 10, 1918.  The new mother named her baby Julia LaVerne Rutherfurd, and sent a telegram to the American Expeditionary Forces office in London informing George of the birth.  The message said simply, "Girl the tenth. All Okay. Julia Rutherfurd."  What a mix of emotions that telegram must have brought George.  Joy at the birth of a healthy child; sadness at being absent during an important time.  He kept that telegram, folded into his belongings, until his return home.  George would not meet his daughter, LaVerne, for another nine months.

George and all the men at the front were very busy during the late summer and fall of 1918.  In September, the American forces launched an attack on the Germans at St. Mihiel.  This battle "was one of the first United States solo offensives in World War I and the attack caught the Germans in the process of retreating. This meant that their artillery were out of place and the American attack proved more successful than expected. Their strong blow increased their stature in the eyes of the French and British forces..." (Wikipedia)

In his book, C.H. Moore describes being one of the first Americans to enter St. Mihiel on September 13th, as they prepared to begin construction of telephone lines through the town.  However, George refutes this version of events in a testy, handwritten paragraph in the margins of the book.  He says, "It happens that I was in command of the detachment at Rupt and was waiting in St. Mihiel when C.H. and his staff got around to visiting the area."  However, the reaction of the citizens of St. Mihiel to their American liberators is not up for debate.

The civilians who were left in the town were absolutely frantic with joy; yesterday they were prisoners; today they were free.  They told many tales of their long exile during German occupancy and were loud in the praise of the Americans, calling them their deliverers and saviours; the food which had been supplied by the American Relief associations had materially assisted them.  French flags long buried in the bottom of trunks and other undiscoverable places were already displayed in almost every window.  On the way out of the village the members of our advance party met General Pershing and his staff on the way into the newly freed town. (p. 97)

American soldiers leave St. Mihiel after the victory there. (Public Domain)

There was no time to rest on their laurels.  The war was spiraling towards a deadly conclusion, the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, and the 411th was soon moving into position to support American troops near Verdun.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive... was a part of the final Allied offensive of World War I that stretched along the entire Western Front. It was fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. The battle was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers, and was one of a series of Allied attacks known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which brought the war to an end. The Meuse-Argonne was the principal engagement of the American Expeditionary Forces during the First World War. (Wikipedia)

The end of the war was coming, but George and the men of the 411th were not aware that the Armistice would be so soon at hand.  They scrambled to set up the communications that the American Army would need at the front.

American switchboards were installed at many small headquarters, additional telephones installed, telegraph stations opened. It was also necessary to place telephone operators alongside the French operators to learn the location of the various lines, switchboards, etc.  The reader will please keep in mind that all this work had to be accomplished in eight or nine days, as the offensive was scheduled to start on Sept. 26th.  After whipping the lines of communication into shape, operating crews and maintenance crews were placed at the various headquarters and as much precaution taken as possible for everything to be in shape when the heavy load came. (p. 99)

To be continued...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

George Rutherfurd: First Assignments in France

This is the fourth post in a series about my great-grandfather, George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd.

George Rutherfurd in France, 1918

After two months spent supervising quarantined soldiers at Camp Merritt, in New Jersey, George Rutherfurd rejoined the 411th Telegraph Battalion in France.  It was April of 1918.  The rest of his battalion had arrived in France a month earlier, landing at Brest and then, after a training period, continuing by train to the Loire Valley.  Company E set up their headquarters surrounding a large barn at St. Ettiene and Company D took over an old chateau at nearby Savenay.

Progress of the 411th across France, from Brest to Chateau-Thierry

Again, I will quote heavily from "Memories of the 411th Telegraph Battalion In the World War Here and 'Over There'" by C.H. Moore to describe the experience of the 411th in France.

During these first days in France we were fortunate in having time and opportunity to learn a great deal about our new friends - the French inhabitants.  Withal we found them a very hospitable, open-hearted, courteous, kindly people.  they were particularly gracious to us Americans and showed us every consideration.  Much has been written about the French and their peculiar customs, but it was the good fortune of our outfit to receive universally fine treatment during all of our stay in the A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Forces), and the writer believes that much of this was due from the fact that we made friendly contact with them in the very beginning.  More will be said about this angle of our experiences as our story progresses, but the writer is sure that each of us will always affectionately recall the kindliness, the gentleness, and the good natured spirit in which these simple home folks of the valley received us.  Bowed down with four years of the horrors and griefs of war, as they were, they had not lost faith and were embued with that spirit of service to their country, which eventually helped more than any other one thing to bring victory about. (p. 54-55)

The first military assignment given to the 411th was to build a wire from St. Nazaire to Nantes, a distance of thirty-nine miles.  This was the beginning of a system of communication which would enable the various military camps to pass messages to each other and would greatly improve the transfer of supplies and information.  While the 411th had brought some equipment with them, they found that they had to borrow shovels, saws and similar items from the French villagers to fully begin their work.  Battalion members got to work putting up telephone poles and stringing lines.  They drove through the countryside in motorcycles with sidecars, sometimes having to ask permission of residents to put up poles on their property.  By April, when George re-joined the battalion, this first line was being completed, and communication centralized in the headquarters at Tours.  The 411th moved on to their next assignment, which they were delighted to find would take them nearly to Paris.

As an officer, George's role was to decide where the lines of communication would be routed.  He did not do the actual work of putting up the poles.  He rode in the sidecar of a motorcycle, with a lower-ranking battalion member driving him, as they traversed French roads plotting out the location of telegraph lines.  My Grandma said that George was frequently ahead of the forward troops and stayed in local farmhouses at night. During this time he developed a life-long fondness for the long cooking soups that resided on the farmhouse stoves and were shared with him and his driver.

In late May of 1918, the 411th moved north, camping overnight at the famous cathedral city of Chartres, and then arriving at their new camp in Versailles, at Camp Satory.  As they waited for an official resumption of duties, the men took the opportunity to visit the palace at Versailles and take a trip into Paris, which appears to have thrilled them all.  However, C.H. Moore describes the battalion as restless to get to the front and feel closer to the war.  Being near Paris provided them a glimpse of the action, however.

At this time it was almost a nightly occurrence for the Hun bombing planes to make air raids over Paris and the surrounding suburbs.  A very elaborate system of signaling devices of all kinds had been installed for the purpose of advising the inhabitants as soon as the outlying observation posts detected the Germans coming over.

On this particular night of our first experience, the "alerte" was sounded about 11:30PM;  the sky was immediately lighted with a great many searchlights weaving their shafts of light back and forth across the heavens in search of the Hun planes.  The anti-aircraft guns opened fire and the sky was filled with bouquets of fire from the bursting shells.  (p. 76-77)

George and the other men of the 411th were tired from long days of work and long nights of air raids, but they'd been given a critical assignment.

The job which had been assigned to us in this locality was an extremely important one and had to be finished in the very shortest possible time.  It consisted in the building of a twenty-four wire lead from a junction with the British lines at a small place called Ham to La Belle Epine, just south of Paris, a distance of approximately thirty-three and one-third miles.

This job presented many difficulties in the way of strengthening the French lead, building through forests, over canals, cable work through a half-mile railroad tunnel, private right-of-ways over property owned by Royalty, transposition problems in connecting with a different system of the British and constant delays and annoyances in obtaining the necessary material which had to be hauled long distances by motor truck.  Everybody in the organization was working from daylight to dark, as orders had been received that the work absolutely had to be finished no later than June 30th. (p. 77-78)

Just as this work was completed, the 411th got the news they had been hoping for.  They were being sent closer to the front.  The Germans were trying to cross the Marne and begin an invasion of Paris, and the Army was engaged with them at Chateau-Thierry.  George and the 411th were being sent to nearby La Ferte to construct a line from there to Chateau-Thierry and support communications at the front.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

George Rutherfurd and the 411th Telegraph Battalion

George Roscoe Oliver Rutherfurd's journey to the battlefields of World War I with the other members of the 411th Telegraph Battalion was documented in "Memories of the 411th Telegraph Battalion In the World War Here and 'Over There'" by C.H. Moore.  As this is the best account of the 411th during World War I, I'd like to share some sections of the book that illuminate George's experience

The first chapters of the book describe the battalion's training period in Monterey, California.  The 411th was comprised of civilians from various telephone companies, and they needed a bit of whipping into shape.  Their days seem to have been devoted primarily to exercise and study, with a much-enjoyed hike through the nearby woods on Saturdays.  Here are some quotes regarding the 411th's training and their preparation for war.

The hour of reveille was 5:30 AM and we used to wonder as we stood in line rubbing our eyes and finishing dressing why it was that the Army persisted in doing calisthenics in the dark instead of waiting for daylight to come.  But, after all, those early mornings setting-up exercises in the crisp, foggy air of the early day, probably did more than anything else to harden us and get us ready for the strenuous work of the future. (p.21)

Telegraph classes were formed at this time and about 25 men from each Company were selected to take up the study of telegraphy.  These classes were separated into different sections, depending upon the ability of the men to receive 2, 8, 10 or 15 words per minute.  After having studied Morse Code for about one month and having become rather expert in the use of it, advice was received from the War Department that only Continental Code would be used.  This was rather a setback for the class, but they studied hard and it was not long before the sound of the Continental Code could be heard every morning from 10:30 to noon as if  a dispatcher's office was going at full tilt. (p. 23)

We were to experience many anxious days of waiting while in the Army, but the last two months at Monterey were absolutely the hardest and most tiresome days.  We felt that we had had enough training and were raring to go, especially as new bulletins began to pour in during the Fall of 1917, telling of the Americans' active participation in affairs on the other side of the Atlantic. (p. 29)
In this photo, my Grandma made note of George's location in the second picture from the top.
Monterey had, in the seven months' training period, become just like home to the men of the Battalion - married men had moved their families to live there; many men had married since coming, many more were on the point of proposing and all had made many friends. Preparations for departure were hastily made, tearful good-byes said and on January 18, 1918, the "411th" started on the first leg of their journey overseas. (p. 29-31)

George was one of those men who had married since beginning his training.  He and Julia Ellen Barrett were married in nearby Salinas on August 18, 1917.  They shared five months as newlyweds in Monterey before George shipped out to the war.

On January 18, 1918, the men of the 411th Telegraph Battalion boarded a train to San Francisco. They made a stop at the Ferry Building and then continued on to Fort Mason, on the waterfront, where they boarded the ship Great Northern.  However, they were startled to realize they'd also be transporting some unexpected cargo on their journey.

The next morning, a detail of three officers and ten soldiers boarded a large tug boat and went to Angel Island; little did the members of that detail realize the nature of the trip as no information had been issued concerning it.  Imagine their surprise upon arrival at Angel Island Dock to find four hundred thirty-five German alien prisoners of war.  All had looked forward to a most delightful ocean voyage through the Panama Canal, but here we were face to face with several hundred Germans who were to be guarded and convoyed to an Atlantic port.  All day was consumed in loading the Germans, searching their baggage for possible infernal machines, weapons, etc., and placing them in quarters aboard.  Anchor was lifted at five-thirty PM Thursday, January 24, 1918, and just as dusk was gathering, the ship poked her nose through Golden Gate out into the Pacific. (p. 32-33)

The Great Northern took the battalion and the German prisoners through the Panama Canal, where they lost one American soldier, Frank R. Emery, to illness.  They continued on to South Carolina, where they unloaded the Germans.  From there they sailed to Hoboken, New Jersey, and reported to Camp Merritt, where they prepared to journey on to France.  However, there was a setback.

The stay at Camp Merritt was occupied in refitting the organization with clothing and other necessary equipment for overseas duty.  Many inspections were necessary, and all were in constant dread of something happening to prevent our early departure.  There was an epidemic of contagious diseases, and a very alarming scare seized our Battalion when some thirty-five men were quarantined on account of contact with a suspected case of diphtheria.  Their confinement only lasted about forty-eight hours when it was decided they had not become infected.  All were happy again, as it was rumored we were to embark Monday, February 18th; and then when this rumor became an order, measles broke out in a barracks where two sections of Company E had been quartered.  They were quarantined and had to be left behind.  Lieutenant Geo. R. O. Rutherfurd was detailed to remain with them and proceed at the earliest possible date overseas. (p. 36)

George and the thirty-five sick men from his company would not join their fellow soldiers in France for two months, in April 1918. 

To be continued...