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...

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