A 2017 French Battlefield Tour Journal

Dispatches from the Front: The Doughboys, Sept. 2-7, 2017
Photograph of a golden sunrise over a misty forest.

Along the Western Front in what were once places of devastating violence, we now see landscapes of great beauty, a testament to peace and remembrance. Join another venture to the Great War battlefields with the National World War I Museum and Memorial and Battle Honours. Experience the centennial of U.S. entry into World War I with an inspiring journey to the Western Front and areas of American involvement!

Museum staff members Doran Cart and Mark Gunter share their experiences on this journey, with a day-to-day glimpse into the Museum's tour of Western Front in France.




The day before the trip officially began, the Museum's Senior Curator Doran Cart spent some time exploring in Paris. Speaking on his adventures that day:

“Soon after arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport I headed into Paris and made a beeline for the French Musée de l'Armée (Army Museum) located at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and historical architecture that includes Napoleon's Tomb. While the Army Museum contains incredible arms and armor and a New WWII exhibition it was, of course, the WWI exhibition that I spent the most time in.

Google Streetview of a stone courtyard bounded by medieval stone buildings.

Click for the Google Street View.

“Naturally, the collections holds a wide variety of French and French Colonial uniforms. The centerpiece is the Marne taxi, one of hundreds ordered to take French soldiers to the 1914 defense of the Marne.

Photograph of a museum display of a WWI-era red automobile with yellow wheels.
The Marne Taxi
Photograph of a museum display of a brown-colored camouflage suit with gas mask.
A French sniper's camouflage suit

 “My visit to the museum absorbed over 3 hours, time well spent. Tomorrow the Battlefield Tour starts at 10 a.m. with an in-depth study of the Battle at Cantigny.”

Photograph of a museum display of a trench gun on large wheels.
The famous French 75mm gun



Day 1

The American action at Cantigny was the first large unit action by the American Expeditionary Forces in the war. With the taking of the German salient they proved valuable lessons they had learned.

Photograph of a bronze statue on a plinth. The statue depicts a doughboy striding forward with his rifle in hand. The plinth is smooth black stone and engraved with text.
Monument to the American Expeditionary Forces
Photograph of an imposing gate built of slate-grey bricks.
The Orival Wood British Cemetery in Flesquières, France
Three photographs of three rectangular white gravestones with flowers planted around them.
On the left: A British headstone (the original was made from wood), at center: headstone for a member of the Chinese Labour Corps, and at right: a German soldier's headstone.

On a personal side of the Battle of Cantigny was the life and death of Lieutenant George Buchanan Redwood of Baltimore. The collection of letters we read on the battlefield are in the Museum's archives.

One of his men wrote the mother of the newspaper man turned American Lieutenant about his death on May 28, 1918:

“Lieutenant George Redwood was killed in action in the successful attack made by his regiment (28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division), resulting in the capture of Cantigny. In the attack he was twice wounded by bullets, but, though he was ordered to the hospital, he continued to perform his duty.

“He did not know fear, it was wonderful to see him. He was a wonderfully fine fellow.

“He got a machine gun bullet through his mouth and one in the breast. They were bringing him in a stretcher to the first aid station when shrapnel burst right over him.”

Photograph of a group of people posing in front of memorials and medieval buildings.
Our tour group at the American monument in Cantigny



Day 2

The second day of the trip was spent tracing the Hindenburg Line, a defensive position of the Germans on the Western Front.

Left photograph: dirt path through wooded area with the trees forming an arch above. Right photograph: A white stone-like object lying on dirt.
At left: the path taken by the Staffordshire Regiment as "point of the spear" to take the bridge under cover of night at Pont de Riqueval, a key step to break the Hindenburg Line; at right: a WWI-era grenade found along the path.

The 301st US Tank Battalion was the only American heavy tank unit to get into action on Sept. 29 and 30, 1918. As we stood on their push-off point we read letters from two of the tankers. In one, Lieutenant Earl Dunning related that “we started to break the Hindenburg Line under a terrible barrage. We got about two miles, our eight machine guns and six pounders (cannons) taking their toll of Germans as we advanced. Our tank was struck and we lay disabled, a fine target for the enemy fire. Every man in the crew was wounded and the tank was on fire. Most of the men were badly burned, but we crawled out and carried our machine guns with us.”

The day's visit was especially resonant for our group, as participant Bruce Kinzer's father, Cpl. Harry Kinzer, served in the 301st Army Tank Battalion. The battalion helped break the Hindenburg line near Guillemont Farm.

Photo of a field covered in rows of green plants interspersed with flowers.
Poppies and crops now grow on what were once battlefields.

Google Street View of a road running past a large square stone monument at the entrance to a cemetery.

Click to view Google Street View.
Rectangular white stone grave marker.
The grave of Private Joseph Elder of the Gordon Highlanders Scottish Regiment, the great uncle of Tour participant Linda Jantzen. We visited his gravesite outside of Romeries, where he was killed helping liberate the town on Oct. 25, 1918.
Left photograph: the base of a large white stone monument. Right photograph: a man standing in front of a map etched into the monument.
At left: American Monument near Riqueval, at right: at the Monument, Clive Harris of Battle Honours analyzes the American positions at a pivotal point of the war.

Visiting Saint Quentin, the group was able to take a break with some modern culture at a local arts and beer festival.

Left photograph: A colorful statue of a person dressed in historical French clothing including pink trousers. Right photograph: a French pug wearing a black vest that says 'Security'.
At left: a festival in Saint Quentin, at right: Security forces hard at work.



Day 3

Once the Hindenburg line was breached by the Allies, the Final Offensive pushed the Germans back toward Amiens.

Photograph of a dark grey stone wall topped with flags.
Memorial for the Australian Military Forces outside of Le Hamel, the starting point of the final Allied Offensive of 1918.
Photograph of irregularly-shaped sandy pits in a grassy field.
The remains of the German trench near Le Hamel overrun by a well orchestrated pre-dawn charge in 1918.

 In June 1918, much of the US 33rd Division moved to the Amiens sector. On July 4 elements of the 131st and 132nd Infantry Regiments joined their comrades from Australia and, ironically, on that remembrance of Independence Day, advanced side by side with British Empire troops in the attack of German positions at Le Hamel.

An official history of the 33rd Division published in 1919 stated that in that battle the “Americans charged to the shouts of ‘Lusitania.’” After the brief but explosive action a story was told that an Australian remarked to the 33rd soldiers that “you'll do me Yank, but you chaps are a bit rough.”

Northeast of Montbrehain, Sgt. Willie Nims (grandfather-in-law of tour participant Steve Suddaby), part of the 30th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces, was wounded on Oct. 8, 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart.

Photograph of a man standing in front of a statue of a lady dressed in classical robes. The man is reciting something from a sheet of paper.
Mike Sheil reciting Alan Seeger poetry in Barleux, with Clive Harris on his right.

In Barleux, we stopped for Mike St Maur Sheil to read Alan Seeger's famous poem, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." Seeger was an American poet who served in the French Foreign Legion. He composed this poem shortly before his death on July 4, 1916.

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

The day's itinerary also saw a visit to the crash site of Baron Von Richthofen (The Red Baron), whose streak of 80 aerial combat victories was brought to an end on April 21, 1918.

Photograph of an older white man in a baseball cap talking to someone out of frame. Behind him is a field of yellowing grass.
Doran Cart discussing aerial tactics near Le Hamel. Behind him is the crash site of Baron Von Richthofen.



Day 4

Our fourth day was very busy as we visited the site where the Armistice was signed between representatives of Germany, Great Britain, and France on November 11, 1918. The armistice effectively ended the fighting on the Western Front after the Allies halted the German offensive in the summer of 1918.

Photo of a statue on a plinth in front of green trees. The statue is of a man dressed in a greatcoat and military hat.
A statue of French Marshal Ferdinand Foch at the clearing in the woods where the Armistice was signed. The location was chosen for privacy. German rail cars joined the Allies at the remote location.
Photograph of a museum display of a train rail car.
Replica of the Compiègne Wagon, the rail car used as headquarters while the Armistice was being drawn up and signed. In 1940, the original was taken to Germany after being used to sign a second armistice, this time with the roles reversed between France and Nazi Germany. The wagon was destroyed a few years later.

 We stopped at Cavigny Farm, near Longpont, which served as a training site for the American Field Service (AFS) Transport Material Units (TMUs). Tour participant Tom Richards’ grandfather, Edward Clinton LaMontagne, was stationed there as a volunteer camion (truck) driver in a Franco-American Camion Réserve Mallet supplied by the AFS. He served under French command until April 1917. The current farm owner was quite gracious to the tour group.

The day also saw a trip to the Confrécourt quarries in the Aisne River valley. These caves were used by the French soldiers for a variety of purposes, including storage, as a hospital, and as a refuge from the battlefield.

Photograph of an underground cave-like area. An altar with a crucifix is carved into the wall.
A religious altar in a WWI-era cave hideout for French infantry. The stairs at left lead up to the Front, likely providing a shocking contrast for soldiers.
Photograph of a crudely carved figure wearing a steel helmet emerging from a cave wall.
A soldier carved into the cave wall.
Photograph of a small set of railroad tracks running through overgrown weeds.
Small gauge French railroad tracks at Confrécourt. They could be laid in place rapidly for transportation of goods to the front lines.



Day 5

The day was spent exploring Belleau Wood, following the exploits of the Doughboys who were rushed into action to stem the German offensive which threatened to break through the Allied lines and reach Paris in June 1918. The subsequent month-long battle to secure the Wood, which the French re-named Bois de la Brigade de Marine in honor of the Americans who fought here.

Two men standing in a field of green grass, holding up a paper map.
Mike Sheil and Clive Harris discuss strategy at Le Franqueis Farm. In the Background, the River Marne and the village of Jaulgonne.
Rows of white crosses in a green lawn.
The Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau.
Two men pose in front of a fountain shaped like a dog's head.
Marines Max Hand and Nelson Barrios at the Devil Dog Fountain in Belleau.

Google Street View of a small park-like area with a lone tree.

The Memorial of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division at La Croix Rouge, near Fère-en-Tardenois. It was installed in 2011. Click to see the Google Street View.
Two men posing in front of a bronze statue on a stone plinth. The statue is of a soldier carrying an unconscious person in his arms.
Museum Senior Curator Doran Cart (left), who provided technical support to the memorial's artist, with tour member and Alabama native Todd Harvey (right). Alabama's 167th Infantry Regiment was under the 42nd during WWI and this memorial was gifted by an Alabaman whose father served and was wounded in the battle.
The tour group poses in front of a grassy field.
20 of our 21 adventurers on this Battlefield Tour. In the background is a battlefield of significance for our group. Tour member Ed Bernreuter's uncle PFC William J. Bernreuter was wounded in the 2nd Battle of the Marne in July 1918 and again in Oct.1918 in the Battle of the Argonne Forest. He was with Company E of the 125th Regiment of the Army's 32nd Division.



Day 6

Over the past days, we have followed in the footsteps of those soldiers known and loved by our group, but as we visited the battlefields and cemeteries and monuments, the mark of those soldiers whose names are lost is indelible. We learned about the markers for graves of unknown soldiers, many times adorned with the words: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

Finally, our tour has come to an end and the Americans return to Paris. There were so many sights on our recent journey, it's impossible not to share more.

Bas-relief statue of a soldier striding forward with his bayonet.
“Iron Mike” Marine Memorial at Belleau Wood.
Crude cartoons and phrases carved into a cave wall.
More carvings in the Confrecourt caves.
Photo of a bridge over a river with houseboats sailing under it.
Here in Chateau Thierry, a key engagement was waged in the war, with the River Marne separating the combatants.
Photo of the front facade of Moulin Rouge - a red windmill.
Exploring Paris on our last day - ready to come home. Go Chiefs!
Two men posing near a memorial shaped like an upright ring.
Our intrepid reporters, Senior Curator Doran Cart (left) and Vice President of Finance Mark Gunter (right) in front of a sculpture in the Armistice clearing. The word “peace” is engraved in dozens of languages.

Thank you for reading along with our 2017 Battlefield Tour!


Be sure to look at our recaps of the 2016 Tour of the Italian Front and 2015 Tour following the German forces in the war.


Interested in learning more about WWI? Check out our interactive timeline, view primary resources on the online collections database or come visit our Edward Jones Research Center in person.