When I was conducting the research phase of Ready To Do My Part, I spent many hours at the Library of Virginia going through the files of the Virginia War History Commission.
Established in January of 1919 to collect, edit, and publish source material on Virginia’s participation in the Great War, the Virginia War History Commission fulfilled it’s mission for nine years before finally disbanding. While the Commission failed to publish a comprehensive history of Virginia’s participation, it did manage to collect a wealth of material that is now stored at the Library of Virginia (in over 100 cubic feet of storage space, I might add).
I was very happy to find that there were around 2,500 letters and 50 diaries in the collection and it was great fun holding these forgotten missives in my hands and poring through their contents.
I was amazed to find wonderful firsthand accounts of what life was like as a soldier in the AEF and I thought I would periodically share some of what I found.
I found the following letter written by Eugene B. Foos of Richmond with the following note scribbled on it – “believed to be the first and only Richmond boy to serve in battle in a tank.” Needless to say I was intrigued and it turned out that Mr. Foos did not disappoint.
Here’s what he wrote:
It sounds like a continuous Fourth of July around here at nights. You see a blaze pop up in one place and turning around you find three or four. One night after we had gone to sleep they moved a big gun up by us and started firing. I thought the Germans were shelling the place. I mean to say when they fire it is enough to wake up the dead, but now I don’t pay any attention to them.
We have had five or six air battles around us, but every time we drive them back and bring down a couple of German planes. It is surely interesting to watch an air battle; it looks like a bunch of birds fighting for something to eat.
I noticed in a paper from ‘over there’ that machine gun bullets do not have any effect on us. Somebody has evidently not been in one while in action. There are little slits in it for us to look out of, they are about four inches long and about a quarter of an inch wide. There are ten of them, and when the bullets would hit around them the hot lead would come through, and I mean to say it surely does sting when it hits you in the face. It feels like a bunch of bees had lit on it and that makes you all the madder. Outside of that, the small bullets do not bother us.
Here are a few things we have to stand: The barking of our gun; the darkness, for it is pitch black on the inside with the exception of two small green lights; the racing of our motor which is always humming at your ears; the bullets hitting on the outside playing ‘Annie Laurie’ and ‘Oover There’ at the same time and looking out for Fritz; so you can see we cannot get lonely.
With all of that I would not transfer to any other branch. The people over here think it is the highest branch and so do I, and so will the people back home when we get a little older. We are in our infancy now. Just wait until we put on our long pants, then the world will know of us.