We shall never forget the night that Varennes was flooded with light, and a celebration broke loose on the strength of the reported signing of the armistice.Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry
The Mission Changed
The war was over. Now the mission changed. The stated goal was to get the American soldiers home as quickly as possible. But there were exceptions:
- There must be an occupying force in Germany
- There must be a salvage and restoration force in France
No slackening of work was permitted, despite the signing of the armistice November 11. Sunday was no holiday.Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry
We are all aware of the battles, the devastating losses, the trench and gas warfare.
But what of the aftermath? After the Armistice, the armies left. The vanquished troops left. Can you imagine what was left behind? There were four years’ worth of war detritus – craters, trenches, ammunition, equipment, concrete bunkers, bodies, and barbed wire. The Western Front was a garbage dump of war.
The 805th Pioneer Infantry’s mission changed after Armistice Day. Instead of supporting an attacking army, they would now be responsible for salvaging and cleaning the battlefield.
November 21 the company moved to Romagne, about twelve kilometers north. Here the company stayed in dugouts east of town, until the ruins of Cunel could be cleaned and repaired enough to protect the men from the winter weather. Here they remained for four months.
The work had changed. The regiment was assigned to the Salvage Department of the Service of Supplies. Company L was assigned the area lying between Banthville, Romagne, Gesnes, Nantillolis, and Cunel. This area was to be cleared of the debris of war. Clothing, rifles, machine guns, shells, cannon, and in fact all the implements of warfare were to be found in this area.Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry
The area assigned to the 805th Pioneer Infantry comprised all of the Argonne Forest from Clermont north and the Varennes-Malancourt-Montfaucon-Romagne sections. More than 500 square miles of battlefield was included.
It was a gigantic task, and did not near completion until the first week in March, when more than 3,000 French carloads had been shipped.Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry
We don’t ever think of a military mission to salvage the scorched earth battlefield. Nor do we think of restoring those battlefields to the peaceful farm fields that they once were. But that was the ongoing mission of the 805th.
After the completion of the battlefield salvage, the regiment’s work changed once more.
Curtailment of this work was necessitated by instructions from Advance Section Headquarters to assist in every way possible the restoration of French farm lands to a point where they could be cultivated.
This meant principally the filling of trenches across fields, and upon this work the regiment entered March 15 with all its strength, except what was required for the functioning of railheads not yet closed.Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry
Can you imagine restoring this landscape?
The work continued, but now there was time for off-duty rest and relaxation.
Winter came and found the company in very comfortable quarters. Trips were made by truck to towns outside of the battle area, and additional supplies were bought. A “Y” moved into Romagne, which was only two kilometers away. This added to the comfort of the men.Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry
Entertainments were now possible, and everybody took a hand in furnishing something. Company L had a singing quartet and soon organized a jazz orchestra with homemade instruments. Soon a piano was salvaged.
In January, Tom Gallagher traveled to a dance in a nearby town to meet up with old friends stationed nearby.
In March, a baseball team was formed.
The regiment was nicknamed “Bear Cats.” Colonel Chauncey Benton Humphrey boasted that his Bear Cats had “the best Jazz band in France, the best vaudeville show in the American Expeditionary Forces, and the best baseball team of any outfit in France.”
In March, Tom Gallagher took leave to visit Ireland. It appears he was there during St. Patrick’s Day. Bet that was fun.
The company left Cunel March 27. Marching to Brieulles that afternoon, they entrained at 3:00 A.M the 28th, and that night at 10:00 P.M. arrived at Liffol-le-Grand, Vosges, France. Here a warehouse 500 feet long and 48 feet wide was turned over to the company for quarters.
During our short stay at Liffol-le-Grand, Lieut. Gallagher of Company L built up a very creditable track team, which later took part in the Advance Section Athletic Meet at Le Mans.Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry
- Quotations about 805th Pioneer Infantry and Company L – Victory – History of the 805th Pioneer Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces – Major Paul Bliss – 1919 – https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044088018890&view=1up&seq=1
- Quotations – Pioneer Infantry regiments – A Guide to the US Pioneer Infantry Regiments in WW1 – Margaret M. McMahon – 2018 – https://aweekofgenealogy.com/book-a-guide-to-the-u-s-pioneer-infantry-regiments-in-wwi/
- Newspaper articles – The Junction City Daily Union – various dates – newspapers.com
- Image – Black troops celebrating – PBS American Experience – https://kcpt.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/amex29gw-soc-africanamericans/african-americans-and-world-war-i-the-great-war/
- Image – Romagne, France Street Scene, France – U.S. Official Photographs of The World War – p. 334 – https://history.army.mil/curriculum/wwi/docs/AdditionalResources/US_Official_Pictures_of_the_World_War.pdf
- Images – Armistice negotiations – Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/November_1918
- Image – Battlefield trenches and shell holes – U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center – https://arena.usahec.org/
- Image – Battlefield wreckage – Derelict tanks lie strewn about a chaotic battlefield at Clapham Junction, Ypres, Belgium, ca. 1918 – The Atlantic – https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/04/world-war-i-in-photos-technology/507305/
- Video – Cunel ruins and dugout camp – SCENES IN THE MEUSE-ARGONNE SECTION DURING AND AFTER THE OFFENSIVE OF SEPTEMBER 26 TO NOVEMBER 11, 1918 – 111-H-1424.pdf – https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24926?objectPage=11
- Video – 805th sorts salvaged shells – ORDNANCE SALVAGE ACTIVITIES IN THE MEUSE-ARGONNE SECTOR [1918-1919] – 111-H-1485.pdf – https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24986?objectPage=10
- Video – No Man’s Land – ORDNANCE SALVAGE ACTIVITIES IN THE MEUSE-ARGONNE SECTOR [1918-1919] – 111-H-1485.pdf – https://catalog.archives.gov/id/24986?objectPage=10