Ted Kisebach won the Terry Lokken Award as the outstanding undergraduate in history in the class of 1986 at Eastern Washington University. He met the Armfield brothers while working as a research assistant at the University. He is currently an Energy Management Systems Operator at Fairchild Airforce Base and is assistant Wing Historian.
Locating a surviving veteran of World War I is an increasingly difficult task today, nearly seven decades after the "doughboys" first set foot in France. A veteran of the American Expeditionary Force, in good health and sound memory, is a valuable historical asset.
So it was exciting to find 93 year-old Weldon "AImy" Armfield living at the V. A. Hospital in Spokane, Washington. When complimented on his remarkable recollection of the past, Weldon replied that his brother, also a veteran living in Spokane, had an even better memory. He added that Walter, 95, was his older brother!
Walter's memory, as advertised, was nothing short of spectacular. He attributed much of this to having kept a diary during the war, and this record was still in his possession. A trip to his basement produced a well-worn notebook, secured by a rubber band.
"Army Book 316" read the cover. Inside were several smaller notepads, with nearly daily entries from July, 1917, until June 1919. The entries began when the AImfields left Spokane to report to training camp at American Lake, near Tacoma, and the last entry was made aboard the troopship bringing Walter home. This diary yielded an excellent account of the experiences of Washington State troops. I learned more through a series of interviews with both Walter and Weldon.
Walter was the oldest child of William and Ella Armfield. He was born in 1890 at Diamond, Washington, and moved to nearby Rockford when he was four. His father entered the ministry in 1895, and was a Methodist circuit preacher for ten years. In 1905 the (5) Annfields moved to Spokane permanently.
There were six children in all:
Walter, Weldon, Duke, John, Ruth, and Esther. They were a close-knit family, tied together by strong religious faith and hard work.
Walter had to end his education early to help the family budget. He hired on at L.K. Dalby Company, a clothing and furnishings from in Spokane. Promoted rapidly, he soon had the job of buyer for Dalby's. Upon graduation from school, Weldon joined his brother at the company, and he was sent to Chicago to study clothing design.
In June, 1914, Walter was visiting friends in Twin Lakes when word came that Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated at Sarajevo. Like most Americans, Walter never dreamed that his nation would ever become involved in the conflict. How the next three years would change things!
In February, 1917, Walter was on a buying trip to New York City. He was attending a banquet of the Far West Travelling Men, at the Astor Hotel. President Woodrow Wilson was scheduled to address the group. But Dudley Field Moore, Governor of the Port of New York, announced that the President would not be able to attend, because the United States had just broken off diplomatic relations with Germany. "The crowd went wild," Walter said.
John, the youngest Armfield brother, had gotten his parents' permission to join the Second Washington National Guard. The Second Washington was part of the 20th National Guard Division, which took in the Guards of several far western states. Each large city in Washington had its own Guard regiment, and Companies H and I were the Spokane contingents.
On March 25, 1917, due to the impending crisis with Germany, the various Guard units around the state were called in to the regiment's headquarters at Camp Murray, American Lake, near Tacoma. On April 6th the United States declared war on Germany.
John encouraged Walter to join his outfit, which Walter did after closing out his business affairs. Walter, in tum, wrote to Weldon back in Chicago, who returned and enlisted, too. The fourth brother, Duke, had been killed in a vehicle accident in 1916. (6)
Entries in the diary begin as Walter and Weldon depart Spokane to join John and the rest of the regiment at Camp Murray on the coast.
Saturday, July 28, 1917
Left Spokane at 8:45 p.m. on the Northern Pacific for American Lake. Eight recruits were sent over altogether. Private W. W. Armfield (Walter himself) was placed in charge of the recruits till they arrived in American Lake and were turned over to the commanding officer there. Thursday, August 2 We received our clothes today.
Everybody looks like real soldiers. Friday, August 3
We went out and drilled today... While we were at mess the bugler blew payday call. Immediately everybody set up a yell. We got paid about five o'clock. We received orders to strike our tents. We just got our tents down when we received orders to suspend operations. We were then ordered to put our tents back up.
Tuesday, August 14
We got off guard at noon today.
This afternoon was sent to the hospital for my first "shot in the arm" and vaccination for smallpox. The shot in the arm is for typhoid. They give you three of these ten days apart. Thursday, August 16
At noon today in the company street after mess a kangaroo court was held over one of the boys in camp ... who was accused of not having bathed in six weeks . He was sentenced to be scrubbed by six fellows. He broke loose and ran to the lieutenant to appeal his case. It was to no avail, however...
Saturday, August 26
At inspection of rifles this morning we all got called down for not having rifles thoroughly clean. At inspection you should have every little crack and crevice clean.
Sunday, August 27
We did nothing but sit around today. We practiced a little with a quartet we have formed, consisting of Sgt. Ladd, Ray Horn, Weldon, and myself. We haven't much music yet, but sent home for some. We went to church tonight at the Presbyterian church at DuPont.
Saturday, September 1
Inspection of rifles, quarters, and equipment this morning by Capt. Wise. We sat around the barracks all day as we are on guard at three in the morning. Word just came in that we are to go to Charlotte, North Carolina, Tuesday. We reserve our opinion until we are actually on our way.
These rumors about a departure to North Carolina were true, though the actual departure occurred later. The Second Washington Infantry was "federalized" on July 25, 1917, and became the 161st Regiment of the 41st Division. This was the division that Teddy Roosevelt (7) wanted to lead, but the command went instead to Maj. Gen. Hunter Liggett. The plans called for the 161st to go to Camp Fremont in California, but orders were changed to send the regiment instead to Camp Greene, North Carolinal. John Armfield wired their father that their departure was imminent, and he came for a last visit. Walter and Weldon secured a pass, and William Armfield and his two older sons enjoyed a tour of Seattle together. They walked along the wharf, ate oyster stew, and had portraits made up at a photographic studio. The diary does not mention the twinge of sadness they must have felt at the prospect of a prolonged and hazardous absence from each other. After a few days William departed to visit John, who was stationed at the DuPont powder works in Tacoma, while Walter and Weldon returned to camp.
Wednesday, September 12
One of the boys who was out last night celebrating, on account of it being our last night in camp, came in about six o'clock and turned everybody out of our cots. He was a big, husky fellow, so no one disputed him... We were kept pretty busy till noon loading the trucks which hauled our supplies to the train...
Friday, September 14
We got up this morning in Wyoming. It certainly is a desolate looking country... Wyoming is the first wet state we have come to. Several of the boys induced civilians to buy them whiskey. Consequently, they were pretty well "stewed" by evening...
The troop train carried 148 men and 3 officers from Company I, which was to serve as the advance detachment for the rest of the regiment. They passed through ten states, with few stops along the route. They arrived in Camp Greene on September 18, and spent the next few weeks preparing the campsite for the rest of the regiment. Walter and the others cleared cotton bushes, stumps, and weeds, and laid out a company street with sidewalks.
In their off duty time, the soldiers were treated with warmth and cordiality by the residents of Charlotte. The Armfields were affable and articulate, and socialized well. They had a standing invitation to dinner in many homes. The Armfields were musical, too, a valuable talent in those pre-radio days, and the (8) brothers sang in church services and socials. One of their audiences' favorite was a rendition of "Sunny Old Spokane."
Walter's diary reflects that he enjoyed his time down South. In October he was assigned to work in the post canteen, which did such a brisk business that Walter moved his cot into a room next door.
Friday, October 5
We had a very busy day in the canteen. We sold about 50 gallons of ice cream. We had about $230 at ten o'clock, when we closed. Saturday, October 6
Inspection this morning, but I do not have to stand it, being in the canteen. This afternoon at 1:30 p.m. the whole company marched down near the camp post office where about 14,000 soldiers, the entire amount at Camp Greene, had gathered to hear Secretary of War Newton Baker. After he had spoken a few words of welcome to the soldiers, they witnessed the returns of the World Series baseball game between New York and Chicago. The game was played out on a miniature baseball field on a board...
Thursday, October 11
The company marched down to the post office and watched the result of the baseball game between Chicago and New York. New York won by a score of 5-0.
There were several regimental bands there, and they vied with each other in furnishing the music. Brigadier General Coulter also spoke on Liberty Bonds ... .Each soldier is given a chance to buy a liberty bond, in denominations of $50 or $100, and pay for them $5 a month to their quartermaster .... Saturday, October 20
... This afternoon our football team of the company played a picked team from a Washington, D.C., battalion. Three men from this squad played on the team--Clp. Howard, Paul Heydon, and John, my brother. We beat them with a score of25-0. In celebration of this event, Capt. Wise extended check from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, October 28
We went to church at 10 a.m. this morning. After church we went home with Miss Squiresfor dinner. After dinner we sang until 3:30, when I went back to the YMCA to write some letters. I went back to the Squires' for supper at 7 p.m., after which we went to the first Baptist
Church... the choir sang, "Breast The Wave Christian," which was one of our favorite anthems at St. Paul's Church. I heard a rumor from one of the boys that we are to leave in the morning. It is probably just a rumor.
It was no rumor. Orders had been changed again, and the 161st had been assigned to Camp Mills, Long Island, preparatory to shipment overseas. After all their labors on the campsite, Company I was ordered to proceed north to meet the rest of their regiment at Camp Mills. They arrived on (9) October 31st, with Walter remarking on the cold weather. The main body of the regiment arrived the following week, and the Captain gave them all a weekend pass to New York City.
Sunday, November 4
After breakfast we took an omnibus ride up Fifth Avenue up to 100th Street. We walked back through Central Park. We saw statues of all the noted men here, also a submarine which was captured by the British off the coast of Helgoland in March, 1916. We took a car to the Woolworth Building [the tallest building in New York at this time] and went to the tower for a view of the city. After dinner we took a ferry to Bedloe Island, where the Statue of Liberty is located. We climbed to the top ....
Saturday, November 10
My birthday. I am 27 years old.
We got our pay about 11 o'clock today. This afternoon, Company I football team played the 3rd Oregon regimental team. After outplaying them in the first half, they beat us 6-0. This evening I went into Hempstead to take in a show.
For the remainder of his time at Camp Mills, Walter worked in the regimental supply office. In his free time he took in a lot of movie shows in the nearby town of Hempstead. He also struck up a friendship with a local resident, Reginald Johnson. Mr. Johnson was an influential businessman who held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Walter and some other soldiers went to the Johnsons' for Thanksgiving, and after this Walter was a frequent guest at the Johnson home. Walter very much admired Mr. Johnson, and later named one of his own sons after him.
Wednesday, December 5
We received orders today to get ready to move. This evening we went over to Mr. Johnson's, near Freeport, and stayed until 9 p.m. when we had to be back in camp. Mr. Johnson drove us back to camp in his car.
After December 9 there is a break in the diary, which was packed away for the sea voyage. The Armfields remembered the journey that began when they left Camp Mills. At Hoboken, New Jersey they boarded the USS Lincoln, a troop ship that was converted from a captured German cruiser, the Prinz Eithel-Frederick.
Their convoy left New York harbor with the cruiser USS (10) Carolina as escort. They zigzagged to avoid V-boats, and soon reached the gulf stream. It had been bitter cold in New York, but now the men could sunbathe on deck. Though it was December, no lights were permitted after dark; so supper was served at 3 p.m. You didn't get hungry till later, recalled Weldon. Luckily he was assigned to KP duty during the entire voyage, and swiped food to share with his pals on deck after dark.
The trip took two weeks, and to pass the time the troops would visit with other soldiers from around the country who were also on board. The Spokane boys met a black troop from Alabama who were going over to be stevedores in ' Brest harbor. These men sang wonderfully well, especially this catchy tune:
I don't bother work, work don't bother me, That's why I'm as happy as a bum can be.
I eat when I can get it, I sleep most anywhere, As long as I can see the sun, I don't care ...
The troops of Company I liked "I Don't bother Work" so well that they made it their theme, singing it as they travelled France. The Armfields could sing the song from memory 69 years later.
The Lincoln arrived in Brest December 27, but the ship was too large to dock. The men waited on board until December 31, when a smaller vessel could pick them up. The captain of this lighter was British, and he told them, "Awfully nice of your fellows to come over here, but you're too late. It's over, we're beaten." Walter was the 76,671st of an eventual two million American soldiers to arrive in France. Looking back from today, the Englishman's pessimism seems unfounded.
But if Germany was weakened by years of war in December, 1917, so were England and France. And with the collapse of Russia after the October Revolution, the Germans were beginning to pour troops from the east into the trenches of the Western Front. By March of 1918, when the Germans began their last great offensive, they had 194 divisions to 1 00 French and 56 British. By April, the Americans had only added nine more divisions to the cause.2
In their desperation, the Allies pressed General Pershing for incorporation of American troops (11) as replacements within their units. But he opposed breaking up American divisions and mixing them in with French and British units. Instead, he insisted, " ... the integrity of our forces should be preserved as far as possible." 3
Pershing preferred to have a separate American sector in the front lines. He felt that the spot should probably be between St. Mihiel and Pont A Mousson. This St. Mihiel salient was ideal because it had been a fairly inactive area, "least likely to be the point of great German pressure, and it will afford, on the other hand, a better opportunity for offensive action ... " when the AEF was ready to take its own initiative.4 So the Armfields' first months in France were spent in more training.
Tuesday, January 1
We travelled all day in a box car across France. Still travelling in box cars. Snowing most all day. Landed at Gievres this evening about 6 o'clock. About four inches of snow on the ground. Went to barracks with no floor. Unrolled packs and slept on the ground.
Thursday, January 3
We left Camp Gievres at 8:30 this morning, travelling eastbound. We travelled all day. Landed at Camp Mehun Sur Yevre ... at 10:30 p.m.
Friday, January 4
Got up this morning, washed in melted snow. Also shaved for the first time in a week. Spent all day in straightening up camp. We have good barracks with beds built up off the ground.
Saturday, January 5
Snow on the ground and very cold. Company put to work on railroad construction work with pick and shovel.
On January 7,
Companies I and K were quarantined due to an outbreak of mumps. With only these two companies in the camp and nothing to do but wait out the quarantine, time passed slowly. By mid-January, nerves were becoming frayed by the monotony. Saturday, January 19
Last night Sgts. Hebert and Raymond, and Cpls. Meek, McEllright, and McColl got on a spree, and got in a mix-up with the provos, and were put in the guard house. Much noise, cognac, and fight.
Sunday, January 20
Private Bliss also in the guard house.
Monday, January 21 Same old thing.
Pay Day. Received it in French paper. Looks like Confederate money. (12)
Friday, February 1
Out of quarantine. Went down to Mehun tonight with Ray Horn. Had dinner at a French restaurant, Du Middis, consisting of:
"Pomme de Terre Bijtels," and bread and butter with vin blanc. First meal at a cafe in France.
The next few weeks at Camp Mehun were uneventful. Walter was put to work in Company HQ. He spent his off time sightseeing. He very much enjoyed the chance to study the people and history of France. He toured the city of Bourges and was fascinated by its architecture:
Thursday, February 7
... Saw the palace of Jaque Couer, also the birthplace of Louis Xl and second largest cathedral in France (St. Etienne.) Dimensions 400 by 150 feet. Stairs in lower tower have 395 steps. Part built in the tenth century, part in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth century. Beautiful statue of Jean D'Arc in this town ....
Friday, February 8
Went to town after retreat with Sgt. Taylor, Weldon, and others. Ate at the Cafe Portier Brasseau, run by two nice-looking French girls, Blanche and Rennie. Saturday, February 9
Quarantined again on account of mumps.
These quarantines were indicative of a problem that faced armies on both sides. Infectious diseases often took more lives than did bullets. For example, during the war the Washington National Guard suffered a total of 131 fatalities; of these, 58 were killed as a result of combat, while 73 died of diseases
The rest of their time in Mehun, Walter was assigned to the regimental censor's office. His diary entries center on those facets of life that the soldier hangs on during periods of boring duty: mail call, meals, and movies.
Then at last:
Tuesday, February 26 Rumor of move.
Wednesday, February 27
Getting ready to move. We know not where .
Thursday, February 28
Left Camp Mehun, 2 p.m.
Boarded trains and backed up to warehouse.
Saturday, March 2
On train going east. Passing through very pretty country. Sunday, March 3
Arrived at Menil La Tour at 3:15 p.m. got off train and walked nine miles through town of Sanzy to our camp in the middle of the woods.
Tuesday, March 5
Company went to work about 2.5 miles from camp, one half mile behind 3rd line J. Digging a ditch near the town of Rambo court.
This ditch Walter refers to was part of the buildup necessary for the American army to reopen the front at the 81. Mihiel salient, which had been inactive since 1916. The AEF had a vast task on (13) hand preparing for the offensive. Over half a million troops would have to be assembled at St. Mihiel, along with 3,000 guns, 40,000 tons of ammunition, and three million artillery rounds. And a modem army needed more than just firepower. Railheads, 19 of them, were needed, as well as 15,000 hospital beds and 120 water supply points to furnish over a million gallons of water per day.6
Not only this, but a complex network of telephone and telegraphic lines had to be established. Communication was vital to the modern army, and the central switchboard for this operation would eventually have 38 separate circuits'? The Americans would bury their phone lines eight feet underground, to make them less vulnerable to enemy artillery.
The 161st Regiment was assigned to install these lines, working with picks and shovels. At times the Germans would shell the workers, forcing them to leave their work. Weldon recalled that after awhile they learned to recognize the type of shell by its sound as it came over. The ones to watch for especially were the gas bombs. The enemy used three kinds of gas: Chlorine, phosgene, and mustard, which was the worst, for even if you had your mask on it would burn any exposed skin. As the Spokane boys dug and sweated, they sang the song, "I Don't Bother Work," that they had learned from the black troops on the trip to France.
Thursday, March 7
Went out on the works myself today. Lots of fun dodging shrapnel. Soon got used to them, though.
Saturday, March 9
Saw an airplane battle today.
Very thrilling. Tuesday, March 12
It's great to see the "Jerry" plane start up over our line, and watch the shells fired up from our antiaircraft gun burst around him in the sky.
This fascination with the airmen was a common reaction. The humble doughboys needed every diversion they could get. Weldon recalled one time when they saw an allied plane tumble from the sky in flames. They were told later that it was the famous ace, Raoul Lufberry, who was shot down May 19, 1918, near Toul. He had recorded eighteen kills before his death. (14)
Thursday, March 14
Company comes home every night and tells thrilling tales of the day's bombardment.
Friday, March 15
Usually go to bed early so as to keep warm. Three of us sleep in one bed...
Saturday, March 16
We camouflage everything so the airmen can't see us.
They were housed in small wooden structures called "Swiss huts," which they could blend in with the forest around them, but they still had close calls. Walter said an artillery shell once tore through the roof of his hut and buried itself in the dirt floor without exploding. Since it was obviously a dud they just covered the hole over and went on about their business.
Monday, March 18
We are under the sound of guns at all times.
Wednesday, March 20
We have about a month's job at this place on this trench.
Thursday, March 21, Rather monotonous. No variety.
Sunday, March 21
PALM SUNDAY. But no peace.
About this time Walter was promoted to Supply Sergeant to fill the spot of a man who had been sent to officer's candidate school. He had two "Mechanics," (an actual rank) who served as his assistants. His duties now entailed travelling from camp to the supply depot at Meni! La Tour in a mule drawn wagon, gathering material which he then distributed to his Company.
As April passed, Walter issued equipment of all sorts, including one pair of oversized boots. There was a huge fellow in the outfit whose feet were too large for any available boots; so he'd been on light duty. Walter scrounged up a pair of size 15EEE boots from a British supply outfit, but the big man complained they were still too tight. Walter, convinced that the man was merely shirking, ordered him back to work.
On the night of April 20 the Germans pulled a surprise attack on the American lines, and taking advantage of a dense fog, broke through and took the nearby town of Seicheprey:
Saturday, April 20
Big noise all last night till 7:00 a.m. Noise continued all day today ... received orders to be ready to go out at any time ... could see rockets and shells bursting, also shrapnel fell very near. Saw another sight 1 won't forget. His name was Cassidy, from Rhode Island.
Cassidy was the first fatality Walter had seen up close. There were three men on a wagon when a shell burst right next to it. Two of the men were unharmed, but Cassidy slumped over with blood rushing from IDS mouth, mortally wounded. That incident truly "brought us into the war," as Walter phrased it many years later. (15)
The Spokane troops spent the day helping "hassle" extra artillery up to the front lines. The Germans were pushed back, but with heavy losses on both sides. Weldon recalled that the next day they spent digging graves instead of telephone ditches.
Sunday, April 21
Quiet this morning. Big noise has ceased. Sammies drove the Jerries back.
Thursday, April 25
Went to Menil La Tour today.
Drew 198 pairs shoes and 78 pairs boots. Walked all the way to camp as the wagon was too loaded to ride. Saw a deer in the woods on the way down.
Sunday, May 12
Mother's Day. Every soldier in France wrote to his mother today. Special effort was made by the Quartermaster department to rush all the letters through.
Monday, May 20
I secured a pass last night for myself and Mechanic Wiley to go to Toul, about 15 or 20 miles southeast of here... We rode on a hospital truck, which left at 12 :30. Guards twice stopped the truck to look at the passes of the drivers, as well as ourselves. Uncle Sam is taking no chances with spies.
Arriving at Toul at 2:00 p.m., we went to the Metz Hotel and registered for a room. After we had went up to our room and washed up, we sallied forth to do some shopping. We had quite a time in the different stores, making ourselves understood to the sales ladies, but after much laborious effort and many references to the dictionary, we got along pretty well.
The main street is the Rue De Republic. While walking down this street we saw a large crowd collected around the public square, with a French Poilu guarding the entrance. On going over, we found that they had the remains of the Hun Aeroplane which was brought down near our camp yesterday... We went down to the YMCA to get some oranges and etc. We went back to the hotel at
5:30 and ate supper... After supper we promenaded the streets, meeting many U.S. officers, French, English, and Italian soldiers. At 9:30 we went to our room, as that was the hour you had to be off the streets.
Saturday, May 25
Regular inspection of quarters this morning. The Company went out to work on a new ditch near Rollen court.
Thursday, May 30
Decoration Day, but in many ways you would not know it. Several large French 155's (afield monar) were put into place by the Frogs near our camp today, and tonight they hassled up a trainload of ammunition. It is rumored that a big barrage is to be pulled off tonight by the Americans, assisted by the French. We got lots of mail for the company tonight. I received eight letters. One letter is dated May 8th, which is the latest I have received... (16)
Friday, May 31
At 2:30 this morning we were awakened by terrific artillery fire. The barrage was on. The Yanks closer to the line were firing six inch guns and 75's. The French were firing 155'sfromfurther back. It lasted for one hour.
On June 9 orders came down that broke Company I up. All those below the rank of Corporal were designated combat replacements for front line units, and all NCO's were sent to the rear to be training instructors. Company I lined up for the last time, with the two groups of men facing each other for a final farewell. Walter recalled this as a sad moment. The Armfields, who were all NCO's, wound up at St. Aignan, 400 kilometers to the Northwest of Menil La Tour.
Sixty-nine years later, at his brother's home in Spokane, Weldon called this phase the "bungling part" of the war. The first troops coming in from the U.S. had received adequate training prior to assignment to the front, but no raw recruits received less than a week's advanced instruction before being sent into combat. General Pershing had decried such scant training, and complained that it was "unfair" to send men who had never handled a rifle to the front, but he admitted he needed the manpower. 8
"Training changes a man completely," said Weldon, adding, "A man's a coward till he's fully trained, really. After they're trained they get hardened." Walter agreed, "I got more training in Officer Training School than anywhere else ... the kind of training all men should have had."
It was hazardous duty to work with undertrained personnel, as Walter was to learn. While demonstrating the use of the hand grenade to some newcomers, one of them pulled the pin on his. Unaware that it was armed, he set it down. Walter saw it, however, and yelled for the men to hit the ground. They did, as the grenade went off. They were covered with dirt, but no one was injured.
Wednesday, June 26
Stayed in today and cleaned up some work which Thad to do. Received word that Beaumont and Burch, two of the old company, were killed in action a few days ago, also that Bomar was one of the wounded. He came into the company the same time that I did. (17)
Thursday, June 27
Went out to drill this morning.
We had trench raid drill with Chachants (a French rifle). Very interesting work, and very warm...
Tuesday, July 2
Spent the day in checking the equipment of 56 men who came in last night.
Monday, July 8
Went to drill this morning. We had bombing instruction. We had to practice trench raids, with bomber's throwing his grenade into the trench then going over afterward.
Wednesday, July 10
Worked in the office today. Band concert by Wisconsin regimental band. I forgot to mention that Monday we received word that Lt. McLish, our second lieutenant and property officer, had died a week ago in the hospital at Chatteroux. This is a great loss to the company, as he was well liked by all. Since arriving in France, we have lost ten privates and one officer, all except two KIA with the 26th, having died of disease.
Thursday, July 18
At noon we received 45 men from the classification camp who had just arrived from the States. With the aid of Mechanics Wiley and Lindberg, I checked all their equipment on the line.
Friday, July 19
Busy all day equipping the new men. Orders came this evening that they would leave for the front tomorrow.
During July and August Walter continued to equip and train replacements. Once, orders came in from the front for one of the Company's two mechanics to go up to the lines. The two men drew straws, but the loser did not want to go. Eventually another man, a Corporal, volunteered to go in his stead. The Annfields recalled that such fear of combat was common. Weldon even had a bugler who committed suicide rather than go to the front, and another man who offered him a bribe to see that his name never came up.
By this time, the Americans were a truly formidable fighting force, with 27 divisions on the Western Front, each twice the size of a German division. Allied attacks in early August, using massed tank formations, achieved a huge breakthrough on August 8th, hereafter known to German military historians as “The Black (18) Day." The eventual outcome of the war began to be obvious, but the Central Powers struggled grimly on.
At the end of August Company I was reassigned to Sambin, 50 kilometers east of Tours. Walter, Weldon, and some of their friends got an extended pass. They travelled to Lyon and Aix Le Bains, by Lake Bourget in the Alps and went sightseeing and hiking around Mt. Revard. When they rejoined the Company on September 10, it seemed like the old gang was all gone. Adonday,
Lt. O'Leary left the Company this morning at 8:00. Capt. Wise arrived front Paris tonight. Orders came in the afternoon sending hint to the Third Division; so I presume we lose hint tomorrow. I ant getting to feel like a stranger in the outfit. Practically all the old Spokane men have gone.
Tuesday, September 17
There has been a big drive on the Lorraine front near St. Adihiel the last three days, in which the Americans have swept everything before them, taking over 15,000 prisoners and advancing seven miles.
At last, the big drive that they had dug telephone lines for was underway. The company continued to change. John Armfield was sent to NCO school, and Walter was selected for OTS at Camp De La Valbonne. This promotion was not so thrilling as it might seem. It was a well known fact that new lieutenants did not survive long at the front, with a 50 percent casualty rate. The fellow Walter was to replace had lasted a mere two days before being picked off by a sniper. However, Walter told his commander, "If the Captain wants me to I'll do it."
Monday, October 21
The school has started as of this morning. Lt. Henry, formerly of H Company, 161st, is our platoon commander. I ant in the 11th Company, 4th Platoon ... Saturday,
I am so busy that I don't have time to write in my diary every day. Two weeks of the course has passed. Don't know whether it will be a three months' or six weeks' course. News came today that Turkey had signed an armistice, and Austria is crumbling…
Saturday, November 9
I ant in charge of quarters today, so I do not have to stand inspection. I have spent a very busy week. This week I was on guard. It looks as though the war will soon be over. Austria has signed an armistice practically giving the allies control of everything. German representatives have been sent through our lines to talk terms of an armistice. Don't know how much longer the school will last, but don't think it will be long... (19)
Tuesday, November 12, 1918
Yesterday afternoon at 4:30, when we marched in front battalion parade, Lt. Henry announced that tomorrow there would be no drill on account of peace, Armistice being signed at 5 AM yesterday morning. The camp simply went wild. To make things better we signed the payroll last night. We are preparing for a big show to be put on by the 3rd battalion next Saturday night. I am in the chorus, and singing the solo in "Homeward Bound," which will be very appropriate.
Walter and his brothers had survived the war, and Walter said that no one could have been happier to hear of the armistice than he was, since he would have soon gone to the front had it not ended.
He did get his commission, and remained as part of the occupation forces until June, 1919, when he departed France aboard the transport U.S.S. Antigone, arriving in New York Harbor 28 June of that year.
Walter's diary presents a clear cut picture of that modern army that had emerged during this first World War. In an age where battles engaged literally millions of men, transport, communication, supplies, and training became as important as actual combat. This can be seen in the splitting of the company I in June. The NCO's were too valuable to send forward to be cannon fodder. They were needed to train the new troops, whose lack of proper training was a real problem, recognized from General Pershing on down to Weldon Armfield.
His diary also shows us the unglamorous part of war normally ignored by larger scale history: endless drilling and details, long train rides in box cars, and ubiquitous rumors that are spread around to pass the time. The sad part was counting up the fallen comrades who never made it back. But to be part of great events is surely memorable, and it was gratifying to watch the Armfield brothers' faces light up as they recalled their war experiences.
Note: Walter Armfield died in Spokane during the winter of 1986 shortly after his discussions with Ted Kisebach.
1. The Washington National Guard in World War I (Camp Murray, Tacoma [n.d.]) Vol. 5, 514.
2. Susan Everett and Brigadier Sommer. Wars of the 20th Century (Greenwich, Ct., 1985), 194.
3. John J. Pershing. My Experiences in the World War (New York, 1930), Vol. 1,274. (20)
4. Ibid., 331.
5. The Washington National Guard, 552.
6. Pershing. Experiences in the World War, Vol. 1,227,260.
7. Ibid., 260.
8. Pershing. Experiences in the World War, Vol. 2, 278