Not long after moving to Los Angeles in 1913, at the age of seventeen, my great-grandfather George Rutherfurd accepted a job at Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. This decision would change the course of his life several times.
In 1910, there were two telephone companies servicing Los Angeles, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph and Home Telephone and Telegraph Company. These companies merged in 1916 and became known as the Southern California Telephone Company. George was a bright and ambitious young man. While he hadn't had the benefit of a college education, he went above and beyond at the telephone company and moved up in the ranks rather quickly. My grandmother, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith, told me the following story about her father's work at the telephone company.
My father went to work at the telephone company and did a lot of extra studying about what made a telephone work. He was once on a night shift and there was an emergency because the circuits weren't working for some reason, and he was able to go and fix it because he'd just read about it. He was promoted quickly. He was a general manager of a district that included Hollywood and the nearby area when he was thirty years old.
The first two ways that the telephone company would change George's life became apparent early in George's career. In his first years there, while working at the switchboard, he met his future wife, Julia Ellen Barrett. Julia was working as a telephone operator when George met her. They had much in common. They were both the eldest of five children, working to help support fatherless families. George adored Julia, whom he always called by both of her names, Julia Ellen. They married in Salinas, California on August 18, 1917, shortly before George shipped out to fight in World War I.
|Julia Ellen Barrett in 1917, while she and George Rutherfurd were dating.|
The second way that George's choice of employment would impact his life became clear as the United States drew closer to entering World War I. The United States Army convened a unit of telephone and telegraph operators, the 411th Telegraph Battalion. This unit was created for a specific purpose: to lay cable in front of advancing troops in Europe and ensure that military units could effectively communicate. While this was not a safe job, it was far safer than the assignments of most soldiers in this war. World War I is known for its trench warfare and brutal battlefield conditions. The official tally of American dead in World War I is 116,516. It's very possible that George's life was spared due to an assignment that kept him out of the trenches and off the front lines.
One of George's fellow officers, C.H. Moore, wrote a wonderful book about the 411th, entitled "Memories of the 411th Telegraph Battalion In the World War Here and 'Over There.'" At the beginning of the first chapter, he recollects how the battalion was formed.
Very shortly after war had been declared The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company issued a Bulletin announcement that a Telegraph Battalion was to be organized, enrollment in which was to be composed entirely of employees. The Bulletin also announced that The Telephone Company would pay to individuals accepted by the Government for service in the proposed Battalion the difference between their pay at the time of entering service and the government pay, for a period of at least one year. Applications for enlistment were sent to all portions of the Company's territory, comprising the States of California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and part of Idaho. The question as to "where to enlist" for men in the telephone and telegraph service was immediately answered by this plan, as it not only offered a field where the technical ability and knowledge of telephone and telegraph men could be best utilized in serving their country, but also presented the opportunity of becoming affiliated with an organization composed of men who had been trained to think along the same lines, thus at once establishing a bond of fellowship and comradeship.
George registered for the draft on June 5, 1917, two months after the war began. An interesting detail can be found on his draft card. It states that George had prior military experience, having served four years in the Wyoming National Guard, ranking as a first lieutenant. George was only seventeen years old when he left Wyoming, which would have made him thirteen at the time of his enlistment. Currently, you would have to be a high school senior to join the National Guard in Wyoming. I'm unsure if the rules for enlistment were different in the early 1900s or if there is some other explanation for this assertion.
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. George joined the 411th Telegraph Battalion in Monterey, California on June 29, 1917 for training. Julia moved to Monterey with George, and two months later they were married in nearby Salinas.
|Just a small piece of a panoramic photo of the 411th Telegraph Battalion. George is third from the left.|
George and the other members of his battalion left San Francisco on January 24, 1918 on U.S. Steamship Great Northern and traveled via the Panama Canal to New York. On February 18, 1918, they departed New York on U.S. Steamship Covington, bound for France. George would be gone nearly a year and a half.
|George headed to France.|
To be continued...