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...

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