• What Did You During the War, Charlie?

    by  • May 2, 2019 • Charles Ellis, Medfield, World War I • 0 Comments

    Sgt. Charles Ellis image

    Sgt. Charles F. Allen, age 28, looking confident and happy to be back in Boston in 1919.

    The historical society recently received an Allen family treasure from Ellis Allen, now of Mashpee, an arborist who served as Medfield’s tree warden for 34 years and retired some 20 years ago. His succeeded his grandfather, who was tree warden for 42 years.

    (James Allen was one of Medfield’s first settlers, and some of his descendants have lived and figured prominently in the town ever since.)

    Ellis’ father, Charles F. Allen (1891-1970) attended Bowdoin College but served in the U.S. Army in The Great War, which was renamed World War I after Hitler launched his attacks on his neighbors.  World War I (1914-18) could easily have been avoided, but instead hotter heads prevailed, with over 15 million military and civilian deaths.

    Back home, Charlie Allen was a machinist who worked at Harvard Apparatus for 40 years; as a hobby he operated YD (as in Yankee Division) Gardens on North Street, Medfield.  Charlie also made the special cheese-cutting tool the historical society still uses to slice cheese wheels into wedges at the annual Peak House Pantry Sale.

    Charlie kept a meticulously handwritten and highly legible (such penmanship is a lost art) diary of his wartime experiences in France, which his son Ellis kept until very recently, when he donated it to the historical society.

    Random samples from Charlie Allen’s diary:

     

    Enlistment and discharge papers image

    Sgt. Charles Allen’s enlistment record.

    Sgt. Allen's honorable discharge papers image

    Sgt. Charles Allen’s honorable discharge… both handwritten with a fountain pen!

    Monday, May 6, 1918

    It being foggy and rainy, “No Man’s Land” was a very desolate-looking place, with all the trees shot to pieces.  We picked our trench, which was hardly wide enough to walk in, to 3 ft. wide and 4 ft. deep. Very rocky and hard working in the dark….A few machine gun shots, but outside of that it was very quiet. Everyone was about wet and cold and hungry when we quit work about 3 am. and started homeward. Arrived home about 5 am, mess ¼ hour later, then to bed.

    Saturday, Aug. 10, 1918

    Was called out of formation ce matin and asked if I would like a pass to Paris. No question about it! Quite a bunch of us took train at 10:06 am, arriving in Paris about 12:30 pm. Fare 1f 75ct, 2d class. Took cab to Hotel Pavillion. Had fine dinner of eggs, chops, mashed potato, string beans, bread and cocoa for about 5f. Bought tickets for Follies Bergère. Walked down by the Opéra, visited Madeline, Place de la Concorde & Obelisque, Jardin des Tuillieries, then walked up Champs Elysées to Arc de Triomphe, then thru Palais de Trocadero to Tour Eiffel. Returned to hotel and Follies at 8:30. Very good show if one could understand more French. Retired on real bed at 12:00.

    Thursday, Sept. 12, 1918

    We shifted back and forth in trench so much that we could not sleep. Firing started at 1 am continuing thru to 8 when we went over on the fourth wave under a heavy barrage. Our artillery had certainly shot the wire and trenches to pieces. About 25 Austrians in the 1st line trench threw up their hands. Many snipers and machine guns about. Also shells. Proceeded thru woods, then thru valley and trench to right of field and into open again. Ran into machine gun fire again in field and had to hug the ground for quite a while. More rain. Went to woods on right where we had beaucoup blackberries.

    Monday, Nov. 11, 1918

    Very quiet morning, troops coming and going, very foggy. Beaucoup ammunition brought in for 75s. Went to bunk after morning mess. Light shelling this morning until about 10:45 am, when all our guns big and small along the road opened up. Believe me, land must have been well dug up. A few seconds before 11 am all firing ceased. Everyone very jubilant! Got a helmet to send home. Went to see Martin’s brother who had been sent to hospital again. Fellows up from naval guns up gathering souvenirs. Band came up. Big celebration, with flares and various colored rockets shooting up from all the hills. Fellows sitting around campfires talking over experiences. This is the day of days we have looked forward to!

    About

    Tim Flaherty, a lifelong Medfield resident, served in the Peace Corps in Africa and in Central America. He has published numerous articles and is nearing completion of his second novel.

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