If you’re interested in getting a first-hand look at what life was like for American soldiers in Europe during World War I, try browsing through Fold3′s collection of Officer Experience Reports. More than simply giving summaries of the dates, places, and technical aspects of the men’s service, these reports by engineering officers of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) are personal narratives that allow us a very human view of situations and events in the war.
These AEF engineers engaged in variety of tasks overseas, like building and maintaining roads, running sawmills and lumber operations, operating narrow-gauge railways, and working on construction projects—just to name a few. Engineers often served near the front lines—as well as farther back—in the course of their duties, frequently while under fire from German artillery or while battling nature. Though individuals’ experiences varied widely, as did attitudes, many of the engineers were proud of their service.
Below are some selected Officer Experience Reports you may enjoy, though they are just the tip of the iceberg.
• 1st Lieutenant James Metzger’s account of his men’s “constant battle with mud and rain” while building a road in France. He felt his experience was “none of the spectacular, but plenty of hard work.”
• Captain O.B. Martin’s account of building and running a successful sawmill in France with men who, though inexperienced, rose to the occasion. Low on all supplies at first, including horses, they built a stable by hauling poles from a forest a mile away with “American soldiers hitched to borrowed French wagons.”
• Captain William Millard’s account of building, maintaining, and operating narrow-gauge railways in France to carry supplies to the British. He also recounts being shelled by the Germans and a battle in which several detachments of engineers took part out of necessity.
• 2nd Lieutenant J.E. Morelock’s account of being an inspector for the Engineer Purchasing Office. Denied a transfer to a combat regiment, Morelock finished his service disillusioned with his role in the war.
• 1st Lieutenant Lewis Edwards’ and 2nd Lieutenant August Barreau’s accounts of the Spanish flu epidemic, which hit the men on board their transport ships across the Atlantic.
These accounts are just the beginning. You can find many more in Fold3’s WWI Officer Experience Reports.