A Young Soldier’s Diary

Carl Albert Janowski Goes To War and Back
78th Division - 309th Company F
The Lightning Division

By Diane Janowski
©Copyright 2007 All rights reserved by author

 

My grandfather was drafted into the United States Army in the 4th year of World War I, almost a year after the U.S. announced its involvement. He was enlisted in the 78th Division (the Lightning Division) Company F, 309th Infantry and sent to France in May 1918.

I researched my paternal grandfather’s journey after finding a June 24, 1916 photograph of a group of soldiers, including my grandfather, taken just before they went to Mexico to take part in General John J. Pershing’s expedition against Pancho Villa. My grandfather’s name, however, was not on the list of those men who actually went the day after the photo was taken. His presence in the photo is a mystery to my family as my grandfather never mentioned Mexico.

From what I have pieced together - the dated Company L photo was taken at the corner of Church and State Streets in Elmira, New York on a Sunday, June 24, 1916. On June 25, 1916, the Elmira Star-Gazette reported that our church (the German Evangelical Church - now the First United Church of Christ) had discussed a call for soldiers that Sunday morning. This could explain my grandfather’s zeal to enlist, but it does not explain his change of mind later in the day. From what I can guess, Grampa joined the army after church, had his photo taken with the group in the early afternoon (judging from the direction of the sun) and then something happened that made him un-enlist. I have a feeling that his mother may have changed his mind for him. Grampa was one of three brothers who ran our farm after his father died. Running a farm was one of several reasons that one could be excused from military duty.

Grampa did finally go to war two years later in 1918. It was an interesting situation because he was American-born of immigrant German parents and went to France to fight against Germans. This included by German-born maternal grandfather who was in the German army, and also stationed in France fighting Americans and English. My maternal grandfather lived through World War I and II in Germany before bringing his family to live in American.

At 8:00AM, on the rainy morning of April 3,1918, Carl Albert Janowski and fifty-eight brave Elmirans reported for roll call at Elmira’s Armory building, and then to the steps of nearby City Hall to have a group photo taken by the Star-Gazette. The Star-Gazette reported that at 10:00AM the Red Cross distributed “komfort kits” containing sweaters and socks for their journey. Then a seventeen-piece band, the Home Defense Unit, two boy scout troups, Mayor Hoffman, and a great parade of hundreds of Elmirans followed the new soldiers to the Lackawanna Station. As they boarded the special train, the crowd sang “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” The train left exactly on schedule at 12:05PM bound for Fort Dix, New Jersey. Not a person in the crowd ceased shouting until the train had passed out of sight.

On April 15 the Star-Gazette had reported that, “The last contigents of Elmira’s drafted soldiers are in quarantine in Fort Dix. They have been assigned to the 309th Infantry, Company F, one of the best regiments in the entire division composed mostly of Buffalo [New York] men. The Elmira boys were the finest lot seen since September.” By this time in the Great War, the Allied forces were ready to break the stalemate along the Western Front in France.

In the following accounts, I have illustrated my paternal grandfather’s army days through his daily diary accounts, his hospital records, and through excerpts from the book A History of the 310th Infantry, whose travels mirrored my grandfather’s unit, the 309th Infantry.

CAJ (Carl Albert Janowski) denotes my grandfather’s words.
Words in italics are from The History of the 310th Infantry.

 

May 20, 1918
History of the 310th: [at Camp Dix, NJ] “The hour was at hand. We knew it was a matter of hours. Orders followed all ‘secret and confidential.’ Part of the regiment was to embark at Philadelphia and the remainder at New York. Last minute details disposed of our baggage and policing of the area, and we were off.
CAJ: Left Camp Dix at 4:30AM. [Left] New York at 8:00PM.

 

May 24

History of the 310th: “Who will ever forget. Halifax, the assembling of the convoy and those gray days or the daily fire and sub drills?”
CAJ: Left Halifax [on the shop] KIA ORA.

June 1
CAJ: Met 8 destroyers at 6:30PM.

June 2
History of the 310th: “A morning came when we [saw] a sausage balloon [dirigible] and a British Destroyer, and almost instantly a dozen or more little ships, and we knew we were in the Danger Zone at last.”

CAJ: Met 1 dirigible and 1 airplane (Sunday at 6:30PM). Met 5 subs, destroyed 3.

June 3
CAJ: Met 1 more dirigible.

June 4
CAJ: Arrived in Southhampton [England] at 3:30AM, Folkestone [England] at 8:30PM.

History of the 310th: “Rail transport was waiting for us and a few hours brought us to Folkestone for 5 days rest from the rocking swells of the Atlantic.”
 

June 5
CAJ: Visited Folkestone which is a summer resort.

June 5 - 9
CAJ: Take hike every morning and have the rest of the time to ourselves. We go around the city.

June 11
CAJ: Left Folkestone at 11:55AM, arrived at Calais [France] at 3PM. Camping in tents in sand fields. Ship ARUNDEL.

 

June 13
CAJ: Left Calais and are camping somewhere in France. Hiked 9 miles to camp in barn. 21 miles from the Ypres Front at the village of Journy. Air raid at Calais. Walked from Cambrai to Journy.

June 14
History of the 310th: “Schools of every degree abounded, for both officers and enlisted men, from elementary map reading to staff work [also gas defense training, musketry, and bombing]; there seemed no end to the learning we must acquire to fit us for service.”

June 26
CAJ: Sent to bombing school at Meckeleghem [Merckeghem].

June 29
CAJ: Air raid on Meckeghem [Merckeghem] at 11:50PM. It sounded like the 4th of July for about 15 minutes. Aircraft gun and machine guns.


 

 

Sources:

Elmira, New York Herald, April 1918

Elmira, New York, Star-Gazette, April  1918

Association of the 310th Army. A History of the 310th Infantry, Seventy-Eighth Division, USA. New York City: The Schilling Press, 1919.

Janowski, Carl Albert. Diary. May 20, 1918 - February 12, 1919.

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© 2019 by Diane Janowski. All rights reserved.