Miss Linnie Leckrone, "the heart of a true nurse," WWI
November 24, 2016 updated December 4, 2016 with input from Linnie's daughter, Mary Jane Bolles Reed
I have done a series of stories “Medevacs & Medics, Angels of Mercy, ‘Angels with faces - a most noble calling’” highlighting military medical evacuations since the 1940s. I now want to dig back even farther to World War I (WWI).
There is not a lot of information available publicly about Miss Leckrone. However, I did get to speak with one of her daughters, Mary Jane Bolles Reed, and was able to fill in some squares.
Linnie Leckrone was one of the many heroines of this war, caring for so many of the soldiers whose daily companions were death, stench, rot and futility. I can only give you a taste of these horrors, and supreme valor, backbone and spirit.
My objective here is to try to imagine what they experienced, and therefore what Miss Leckrone might have experienced. So I am going to focus a lot on WWI as it affected her and her colleagues, and we'll try to better understand some of the major medical challenges they faced.
"I casually remarked to (a curator) that a common type of debris removed from the flesh of wounded men by surgeons in the gunpowder age was broken bone and teeth from neighbours in the ranks. He had simply never considered what was the effect of the weapons about which he knew so much, as artifacts, on the bodies of the soldiers who used them … Reticence in discussing violence is particularly unfortunate in the case of the Great War, for one important characteristic of this four-and-a-half-year conflict is its unprecedented levels of violence --- among combatants, against prisoners and, last but not least, against civilians."
For those of us who did not know or have forgotten, this will be a good primer on a portion of World War I.
- If there is a war, Germany will have to fight France and Russia.
- Defeating France will be easy.
- Russia was strong but would be slow to react.
Schlieffen Plan for France
The Schlieffen Plan actually was a plan for attack. Because of events to the east with Austria-Hungary vs. Serbia, the Russians mobilized and invaded German enclave of East Prussia and Galicia, a Austro-Hungarian province. That meant Germany had to mobilize as well, to wit, implement the Schlieffen Plan. But the idea was to attack, to strike at Paris using nearly the entire German army, remove France from the war, and then send forces to fight Russia. On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia, and on August 3 on France. German forces immediately began marching toward France and invaded Belgium and Luxembourg on August 4, 1914. That brought in the British Empire that same day.
In early August 1914 French and British forces moved to the border area with Belgium and a series of battles known as the Battles of the Frontiers ensued between German forces in Belgium and French, British and Belgian forces in France during the period August 14-24, 1914. The net result was German forces were able to invade northern France.
The Allies included the British Empire, France and the Russian Empire against the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Italy, the US and Japan joined the Allies while the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria joined the Central Powers. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history, nearly 10 million or more worldwide having died as a result, of which about 8.5 million were military people.
The Germans immediately ran into problems with the Russian invasions in the East. For starters, Russia employed two armies, while the Germans had only one army there. As the result of the Battle of Gumbinnen on August 20, 1914, the Germans were forced to retreat. This resulted among other things in the Germans having to send two corps and a cavalry division from the Western Front to the Eastern Front as reinforcements. That of course impacted Germany's invasions of Belgium and France.
There were three fronts: Western, Central, and Eastern.
I will concentrate in this story on the Western Front.
American volunteers began streaming to France in 1914 to care for the wounded soldiers and refugees. This included American women. Shortly after the outbreak of war, staff at the American Hospital of Paris opened a military hospital (also referred to as an “ambulance”) to accommodate a growing number of patients coming back from the Front. It was known as American Military Base Hospital No. 1, Paris, and is shown here.
She served in a French field hospital a few kilometers away from the front in Belgium in the year 1916, and was confronted with the horrors of trench warfare. She saw soldiers for hours, days, weeks, suffering and dying.
She nursed in an evacuation hospital unit just behind the front trenches in Belgium where the staff expected 30% of the men she nursed to die.
Borden was proud that the unit’s mortality rate was only 19%.
And the list goes on, and I should say it included doctors, ambulance drivers, a host of sanitary or, shall I say, medical professions.
By April 1915 American ambulance drivers started going closer to the front lines of battle. Some Americans went to fight alongside the French on the ground and in the air as part of the Escadrille Américaine. Many carried munitions and supplies.
The Germans were within spitting distance of Paris by September 1914. However the Schlieffen Plan began to fall apart. The French and British forced the Germans to fall back to a line in France west of Belgium. And, as I mentioned earlier, the Germans had to send considerable forces to the Eastern Front to fight against Russia.
The net results was that both sides dug in and fought hard, back and forth, but fundamentally the line remained rather static. This map shows the static line, known as the trench line, running from the North Sea to Switzerland. I have used a red circle to highlight where Linnie Leckrone would find herself later in the war, in the area of the Marne River and Château-Thierry.
Aerial reconnaissance photograph showing a landscape scarred by trench lines and artillery craters.
Thus began the long horror of trench warfare. The French preferred to attack with speed and surprise, the British lacked a real plan, and the Germans relied in firepower employing howitzers and machine guns, as well as air bombardment, seen as a form of artillery warfare at the time.
The trench warfare in WWI lasted from mid-September 1914 through March 21, 1918, about three-and-one-half years. In effect, the lines held steady throughout this period, though many men fought and died trying to rush the other side or simply falling victim to intense artillery bombardment.
Rushing the other side was very dangerous work. There was always a stretch of land between the two lines known as "No Man's Land," heavily struck by artillery from both sides, well within machine-gun range, and cluttered wit barbed wire to impede the rush. This photo shows a section of no-man's land in France.
In wet weather a mass of mud and large pools of water filled artillery blast sites, making it even more difficult to cross "no-man's land."
President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on April 2, 1917. The Congress did so on August 6. So now the US Army, deliberately kept small at about 98,000, faced an immediate requirement to send an Expeditionary Force to Europe to fight against Germany. All males between the ages of 21 and 30 were required to register for military service. However, the US did not officially join the Allies. It cooperated closely militarily but worked independently diplomatically, at least at the start.
I want to show you two more maps.
I'm showing this map to help tell our story about Miss Leckrone. Note the location of Neufchâteau and Château-Thierry. I will tell you later that Miss Leckrone was assigned to Base Hospital No. 66 at Neufchâteau. I will also tell you Base Hospitals are far behind the lines of combat. I'll then tell you that she volunteered to go to a Field Hospital which was close to the combat lines, in this case the Battle of Château-Thierry. The red line on the map shows the static trench line in which the combatants had found themselves for a long period of time. But in 1918 you'll see the Germans conducted a surprise offensive, but it was not through the region of Neufchâteau but instead Château-Thierry. The reason the Germans attacked there was they wanted to get to Paris and Château-Thierry was much closer. Please keep this in mind when you get to those sections of this story.
This map underscores what I just said. The area of the hashed red lines shows the area occupied by the German advance of July 1918 following its Spring Offensive. Note that Château-Thierry is on the south-eastern portion of the German advance, the scene of heavy fighting and eventually the cause of a German withdrawal and ultimately an armistice. I'll talk more about all this later.
The point I wish to make at the outset is Miss Leckrone was close to the heat of a very important battle that would mark the end the German Spring Offensive and by November 1918 the war, but be costly in terms of lives lost and maimed.
Here come the Americans
The Red Cross Department of Military Relief decided to organize and equip 50 base hospitals, 500 beds each. Experience on the ground once they deployed to France was that they would become 1,000 bed hospitals, often rising to 2,500 beds.
The US Army knew it needed thousands of nurses in Europe, but did not know how to integrate them into the military rank structure. The general belief was they ought to have officer status, but the Army did not know how to do that and frankly did not have the time, you might even say the desire, to work the problem at that point in time. So the Army decided they would be called “Miss” or “Nurse.” Miss was their rank.
As an aside, the Army had similar problems with the doctors, often bestowing Army rank that was technically unofficial. I should note that a 32nd “Red Arrow” Veteran Association publication said, “ transcripts of (Leckrone’s) citation list (her) rank as WO3,” or Warrant Officer 03. As a point of interest, W03s are addressed as “Mister” or “Mrs., Miss, or Ms.” I like Miss so I will stick with that.
As I’ll reiterate a bit later, the medical teams and base hospitals arrived before US combat forces. WWI was a driving force in the rapid development and expansion of the American Red Cross. The total overseas bed capacity in July 1918 was 50,000. That increased to 250,000 by November of that same year, a figure which could have risen to 300,000 if "push came to shove." The war ended in November 1918 so that did not happen.
When WWI began, there was no uniform for nurses. But by 1918 they were starting to fashion a uniform, wearing stripes, service and gallantry medals on new field uniforms —- “badges of honor.” I've seen multiple uniforms: outdoor, indoor ward, operating room and I suspect others.
Base Hospital No. 4. was the first unit of the United States Army to reach Europe. It was part of the overall AEF, even though the AEF combatants had not yet arrived. The photo shows King George V and Queen Mary welcoming the Lakeside Nursing Unit at Buckingham Palace on May 18, 1917. Base Hospital No. 4 was organized at Lakeside Hospital, Cleveland, Ohio, during August, 1916, and was mobilized at Cleveland about May 5, 1917.
The unit left Cleveland on May 6, 1917, arrived at New York and embarked on the Orduna (shown here) May 7, 1917. It sailed for Europe on May 8, 1917, arriving at Liverpool May 17. It deployed to Rouen, France on May 25, 1917, Colonel Harry L. Gilchrist, M.C. (Medical Corps), in command.
General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing commanded the AEF on the Western Front. This photo shows General Pershing arriving in France on June 13, 1917. His first task was to organize his command. As an aside, Pershing served as an instructor at West Point. The cadets did not like him because of his strictness and rigidity. He had served with the 10th Cavalry Regiment, a unit formed as a segregated African-American unit. The cadets began calling him "Nigger Jack" as a result. However, because the word "nigger" was an ethnic slur, it began to fade away from popular culture so he ended up being called "Black Jack" Pershing.
The first American AEF troops, about 14,000 strong, landed at St. Nazaire, France on June 26, 1917. This photo shows the AEF troops landing at St. Nazaire. These men would not to go into battle until October 1917, when the 1st Division fired the first American shell of the war toward German lines. That however was a minor engagement.
One of the reasons the troops took that long to get to Europe and took so long to get in the fight was because Pershing insisted they be well trained, and he wanted to build up his forces first. His goal was to be self-sufficient, independent, well-trained and self-contained. He refused to have his forces used for filler where the French and British were weak, and he refused to place them under foreign command. As I indicated would have to alter that position later.. He set up training camps in France, along with communications and supply networks. This photo shows members of the 18th Infantry, 1st Division, training with the Hotchkiss machine gun in Gondrecourt France.
AEF forces fought their first major offensive action on May 28, 1918, and another at Belleau Wood beginning on June 6 followed by the Battle of Château-Thierry. They fought their first offensive action with British forces while serving with the Australian Imperial Forces during the Battle of Hamel on July 4, 1918, something the Americans had hoped they would not have to do, subordinate themselves to a foreign unit. The AEF grew to over one million by May 1918. By June 1918 Americans were arriving at the rate of 10,000 per day. The first American-only offensive was the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, beginning September 12, 1918.
Prior to WWI the US Army was small and not well trained. In 1914 the United States Army comprised 98,000 men, of whom some 45,000 were stationed overseas. The regular army was backed up by the 27,000 troops in the National Guard. The AEF would build to about two million during WWI. The Germans suddenly found themselves outnumbered.
The concept was for the nurses to work in the rear, but that did not last long. Small specialty teams were organized to get closer to the troops and the female nurses went in, close to the battle. This was especially true to care for those wounded by gas and shock from explosives. Hemorrhagic shock from explosive was a huge threat. You will see Miss Leckrone served up forward.
“Despite doctrine that attempted to keep women away from the front lines, they are among the many Army Nurse Corps members of World War I who distinguished themselves in action.”
In their writing, “The overlooked heroines: three Silver Star nurses of World War I,” Lt. Colonel Richard M. Prior and William Sanders Marble said this:
“Despite every intention to keep hospitals and women out of harm’s way, the circumstances of war and the practice of medicine brought nurses under the maelstrom of World War I artillery bombardments.”
The Stars & Stripes said:
“Nurses, smack up in the combat zone, will hold the ‘frontest front’ record for American women.”
Joshua S. Goldstein, writing War and Gender: How gender shapes the war system and vice versa, wrote:
"Army efforts to keep women to the rear proved difficult. 'Women kept ignoring orders to leave the troops they were looking after, and bobbing up again after they had been sent to the rear.' Some of the US women became 'horrifyingly bloodthirsty' in response to atrocity stories and exposure to the effects of combat."
The medical chain
Briefly, on the medical side of the house, the US Army in France employed regimental aid posts, dressing stations, Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS), Field Hospitals and Base Hospitals.
Just a few notes on the stretcher bearer.
John Campbell, writing “WWI: Medicine on the battlefield,” talks about the stretcher bearers. He wrote the following:
Canadian stretcher Bearers in Flanders Fields carrying wounded
“Lieutenant Andrew Green wrote to friends in Raleigh praising the stretcher-bearers who carried him over one mile through enemy shell fire after he was wounded in the leg.
“Private Clarence C. Moore related that he ‘was a stretcher bearer in the Hindenburg Line for about half a day. We had to step on these dead soldiers to keep from going in the water and mud so deep and throwing the [wounded] off the stretcher. . . . ‘“
Spartacus Educational had this to say:
This photo shows stretcher bearers using farm carts to move their wounded, perhaps at a location where horse-drawn or motorized ambulances were not available.
The regimental aid station and dressing station were fundamentally first aid stations, usually the first point in the medical chain, still close to the combat area. Of course, wounded soldiers needed prompt medical attention. The problem was getting them off the battlefield. That could take hours, even days. Sidney George Stanfield (Stan) of the Wellington Infantry Battalion, New Zealand, was interviewed, and a transcript was published by New Zealand History. He was a stretcher bearer and described what that was like and what it was like at these first stations:
“It rained and rained and bloody rained, and rained and rained, see. Just like here in the autumn time, when it comes to rain and it was cold. And we were picking them up from a gathering point as a regimental aid post. Well there were hundreds of men laying out, around. You couldn’t get them inside, it was an old German concrete emplacement and you couldn't get them all inside, but the doctors were working inside. And they were just laying around where they’d been dumped by the stretcher-bearers from off the field and at one period I believe there were 600 stretcher cases laying round the place in the wet and cold, just dying there where they were dumped off. They weren’t even laying on stretchers, just laying on the ground with an oil sheet tied over them if anyone thought to do that, or if one of their mates could do it. Just laying there, because the stretchers were used for picking up other men, you see, there couldn’t be a stretcher for every stretcher case. We just carried till you couldn’t carry more. You just went until you couldn’t walk really, you just went until you couldn’t walk.
“Safety in the dressing stations was relative. Some at Passchendaele provided little protection. Men lay in agony for days in the mud and rain; some died of exposure or were shelled while waiting for help.”
Australian Dressing Station
A. Carbery, author of The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914–1918, 1924, said this:
“At Waterloo Farm the situation was desperate. This long, ugly, grey mass of concrete, pierced with openings, so close to the ground that a man must crouch to crawl in, was packed with wounded, and yet more came in all day that had to be placed about the walls outside and in the rear of the structure, where they lay exposed to rain, bursting shells, and occasional machine gun bullets."
British CCS, men on stretchers waiting to get in
Yet more wait at another, some dead, some alive
The Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) was one step up, usually just beyond the range of enemy artillery, and often near a rail line so the wounded could be moved out by rail. The more serious cases were brought here by ambulance from the dressing station. The CCS received battlefield casualties from regimental aid posts located in the combat zone. Casualties that could not be adequately treated in the CCS were stabilized there before being transported to a field hospital or military hospital.
Once again, referring to Spartacus International, we learn this about the CCS:
“Harold Chapin worked in a Casualty Clearing Station. In a letter written on 15th April 1915 to his wife he described one of the operations he took part in: ‘I had a nasty spell last Monday, stood by at a long (hour and a half) operation on the skull and braintrephining it is called (cutting a hole in the skull). I nearly fainted twice but pulled myself together and went back as soon as I had got a breath of fresh air and a drink of water outside the room. The blood did not affect me at all. The infernal snoring and groaning of the poor devil under the anesthetic seemed to hypnotise me. Moreover the room was very hot and I was holding a bowl of Mentholated spirit - the smell from which is no help to a faint-feeling man. It was touch and go with the man. A piece of shell and some fragments had penetrated the skull. After the operation hope was expressed that he would be only paralysed. The next morning he was reading ‘Punch’ ! I felt better than I've felt for years when I saw him holding the paper in both hands.”
Helen Fairchild, I suspect a nurse, wrote her mother about the CCS:
“I am with an operating team about 100 miles from our own Base Hospital, closer to the fighting lines. I'll sure have a lot to tell about this experience when I get home. I have been here three weeks and see no signs of going back yet, although when we came we only expected to be here a few days. Of course, I didn't bring much with me. Had two white dresses and two aprons, and two combinations. Now can you imagine trying to keep decent with that much clothing in a place where it rains nearly every day.
“We all live in tents and wade through mud to and from the operating room where we stand in mud higher than our ankles. It was some task, but dear old Major Harte, who I am up here with, got a car and a man to go down to our hospital and get us some things. He brought me six clean uniforms and aprons, beside heaps of notes from all the nurses, letters from home and all kinds of fruit and cake.
British soldiers pushing a motor ambulance through the mud
“We made the trip up to this place in an auto-ambulance 100 miles through France. Oh I shall have books to tell when I get home.”
Ida Downs, also a nurse, said this:
German barrage artillery attack, but you get the idea
“The casualty clearing stations were frequently the scene of the most distressing sight which human eye can witness, that is the re-wounding and killing of already wounded men by an enemy's bomb dropped suddenly in the dead of night. There was hardly a moonlight night that the Hun did not visit our neighborhood and drop bombs. We dug below the level of the ground to form shallow graves, two by six, by eighteen inches deep, which were dug through the floor of our tents, and when the anti-aircraft guns were shooting and particles of the exploded shells were falling, we partly closed over a section of the floor of the tent which was hinged and which had a piece of sheet iron nailed on the underside.
“I was impressed with the bravery and fortitude of the women nurses. Night bombing is a terrifying thing, and those who are not disturbed by it possess unusual qualities. I believe the nurses showed less fear than anyone. In 1920 I had the opportunity to visit this casualty clearing station area again, where I found only a few of the metal huts standing, but was able to locate the nurses dug-out, and the holes in the ground where they slept.”
Marc Depin, writing From the Trenches, said this about the conditions:
"The work in the resuscitation ward was indescribable. The butchery of those precious lives — men of such splendid physique! To watch them dying in such numbers was ghastly. Their frightful condition was appalling: clothes saturated; faces caked with mud; the conscious ones smiling grimly, glad to be wounded and out of it. It was after midnight when matron (nurse) insisted on the day staff going to bed for a few hours rest. The orderlies refused to go to bed. Matron (Miss O'Dwyer) herself rarely, if ever, went to bed before the early hours She watched over staff; or would be found writing letters to the relatives of the 'dangerously ill,' or to those whose loved ones passed away — a colossal task."
Veterans Affairs Canada published this:
"We were having a trying time from air raids one night when we were working at high pressure. Fritz came nosing about overhead, his machine flying so low that he seemed to be just above our tent. Everyone was deathly quiet, staring at each other, not daring to ask what we were thinking. It was an awful strain on the surgeons, with their close and critical work, and no decent sleep for weeks. But they worked on as calmly and quietly as though the menace in the sky did not exist; and when the bombs exploded with a deafening roar, making our heads pound and throb, we breathed a sigh of relief that the operating tent had escaped, and our work could go on."
Keep these latter three stories in mind. They most surely relate to what Miss Linnie Leckrone experienced and help explain the valor she demonstrated.
I want to briefly go on to the Field Hospital. Jennifer Marx, writing “Description of the Role of the Nurses and Field Hospitals in WWI,” described the Field Hospital as follows:
“Field hospitals in WWI were situated close to major battles, within sound of weaponry and sometimes prone to enemy action, according to the U.S. Army Nurses website. Wounded would typically be transported to the hospital from the front by volunteer ambulance drivers. Hospitals were typically staffed by army medics, surgeons, nurse aides and trained nurses. Nurse Ellen N. La Motte described the operating rooms as crowded and hot, with the ward beds always full of dirty, groaning men.”
A U.S. Army field hospital inside the ruins of a church in France, 1918
I will tell you that looking at photography from WWI, you will see these facilities took all forms, ranging from digging large ditches and putting a sheet over the top to care for the wounded, to improvising in battle damaged churches, to whole facilities that were not in terrible shape. The better the facility, the more wounded they had.
Base Hospital at Mars Sur Allier, France WW1, west end of camp
American base hospitals were often organized by university schools of medicine, the Red Cross and the Army itself. They often organized back in the US, and trained there as well. They were usually located in permanent buildings, a wide variety of buildings I might say. Base Hospitals were far to the rear and wounded soldiers making it this far had a reasonable chance of survival. They were usually located near the army’s principal bases and would have a rather large staff. For example, one had 32 Medical Officers, three Chaplains, seventy three female Nurses and 206 troops acting as orderlies. Donna Bingham Munger described one unique one this way:
“The permanent buildings of the racetrack, such as the pavilions, paddocks and cafe, had been put to use, but for administrative purposes rather than patient care. The hospital office was located in the racetrack office, the laboratory in the Post de Police, the office of the commanding officer in a Vestarie under a pavilion and the officers’ mess in the Salon. The medical officers had established quarters outside the pavilions in small bell tents, similar to those used for the wounded. The racing turf remained free of buildings until later in the war. With a surrounding line of trees, it gave a picturesque appearance to the hospital and served as an excellent ground for tennis, cricket and other ball games, as well as drills and parades. Grass covered the ground between the tents and flowers bloomed here and there. The British attempted to make the surroundings in all military hospitals as pleasant and attractive as possible. Thoughtfully given special attention, the nurses were ensconced in wooden huts located inside the protective barrier of the paddock fence.”
I would like to briefly focus on the ambulances as they, like the stretcher bearers, were critical to getting the wounded to medical care as fast as possible.
The US Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History, has said this about ambulance service in WWI:
"American doctrine was based on speed of evacuation … The AEF evacuation system moved serious cases as quickly as possible to the rear after the patients had been appropriately stabilized for further movement. AEF evacuation hospitals essentially served as clearinghouses. Surgery was performed only as necessary to enable further evacuation of the casualties, and patients were held only until they could be safely moved.
"The Army organized a new ambulance corps for that purpose …
"When the AEF deployed to France for its lengthy period of organization and training, General Pershing found that the volunteer organizations had set up a good ambulance system. The AEF worked to bring that system wholesale into the USAAS, and the volunteers were offered the opportunity to join the U.S. Army."
I urge you to do an internet search on "WWI ambulances" and you will quickly see the wide variety put in use. I do know that Ford, Fiat, Peugeot, Rolls-Royce and General Motors Company all put ambulances in the field. Here are a few examples:
Standard Ford Ambulance with Curtains
Model T Ford Ambulance
General Motors Ambulance
I am compelled to show you a few more examples that were not "motorized." GI ingenuity at its best.
Horse Drawn Ambulance
Light and Standard Gauge Rail Ambulance
Horse-Drawn Rail Ambulance
Light Rail Medical Transport
Artist rendition of horse drawn sledge
Dog Drawn Ambulance
Incredibly a bicycle drawn ambulance, one soldier bicyclist just hit with a bullet
Busses were employed as ambulances as well
And trains were used as ambulances too
If you wanted to have some fun, you could really explore this topic in great depth, along with the stretcher bearers. They were central to medical care for the wounded and sick.
With regard to the sick, there were thousands of ways to become sick as a soldier in WWI. We've talked about the water, the trenches, the dirt and filth etc. I should also remark that there was an influenza pandemic affecting some 500 million people worldwide. The War Department estimated that 26 percent of the US Army was affected, and some 30,000 died before they ever got to France. In 1918, some 340,000 AEF soldiers were hospitalized with influenza, while 227,000 were hospitalized for wounds in battle.
I haven't even begun to talk about the sanitary services. Some of the diseases encountered by the soldiers in WWI associated with poor sanitation included cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, malaria, Mediterranean fever, Plague, scurvy, TB, and yellow fever. I'll leave it at that.
Miss Linnie Leckrone, US ANC
I wanted to present all that background first to help you understand the environment she and all the medical people faced while caring for the wounded. I'll be providing even more as we go on. My own conclusion is they the nurses of all countries involved had a vital and most gruesome, stressful task. It struck me looking at all the photography while researching this story how composed these nurses were, sometimes even bright and smiling, all the while knowing the appalling things they must have experienced. These were incredible people to be sure.
The BBC News Magazine of April 2, 2014 says it well:
"The war produced medical issues largely unknown in civilian life and not previously experienced by doctors or nurses. Most common were wound infections, contracted when men riddled by machine gun bullets had bits of uniform and the polluted mud of the trenches driven into their abdomens and internal organs. There were no antibiotics, of course, and disinfectants were crude and insufficiently supplied … The work itself (was) exhausting, unending and sometimes disgusting."
While at Wesley, she worked the floors on 12 hour shifts, at first earning about two dollars per month, then raised to three dollars per month. She graduated in 1916. Her wages working the floor were certainly low, but it appears that working there also helped pay her tuition. I would like to note that she was very good friends with Irene "Robe" Robar and graduated with her. Remember that name — Irene Robar. I will highlight her again later.
Patricia Jernigan, writing for the Summer 2007 edition of The Flagpole, the newsletter of the US Army Women's Foundation, said Leckrone and Robar joined the ANC in May 1917 and were sent to France in January 1918 to serve with Base Hospital No. 66, a hospital to the rear, in Neufchâteau, France.
After reading Linnie's diary of events, her dight, Mary Jane Bolles Reed, alerted me that the Red Cross called Linnie on June 12, 1917, though we're not sure why, perhaps an offer. Our information is, however, that Linnie had already joined the Army ANC. On July 25 she was notified that she might be called up for duty. Then, on October 31 she was informed she was going to France. She had been working at Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago, bu on November 5, had to leave to pack her bags. She made her way too Union Station in New York on November 8. She and Robar left Union Station on November 9 at 10 am, and at 4 pm hopped a boat to Ellis Island. Linnie noted that they were assigned to a dorm with 24 beds.
This is interesting because Hospital No. 66 was organized on November 6, 1917 at Camp Merritt, New Jersey from officers and enlisted men of the Regular Army, Colonel H.C. Maddux, MC, in command. It was the first base hospital organized from the Regular Army. Camp Merritt was the main training base for medical personnel in the US.
Beginning on June 15, 1917 Ellis Island served as a nurses' mobilization station. You will recall the US entered WWI in April 1917. You will also recall the Army was not all together prepared for handling nurses, so mobilization centers made sense.
Ellis Island originally was one island, known as Island No. 1, shown to the right on the graphic, "The original size of the island." It was built up and the buildings received additional floors. This entire area was mainly for receiving and processing the immigrants. Using additional landfills, Islands 2 and 3 were built up.
The US Army Depart of Medicine has reported:
"The buildings on Ellis Island had been used by the Bureau of Immigration, principally, but partly by the United States Public Health Service (My guess is Leckrone and Robar were there in the early days of a major transition. They arrived in France in January 1918.) On February 2, 1918 the Secretary of Labor, in a letter to the Secretary of War, agreed to the partial use of the buildings by the Medical Department of the Army and designated portions of the group that were available … The following use was made of the portions of Ellis Island transferred to Army control: Island No. 1 was used primarily as quarters for the enlisted men on duty at the hospital, and for 260 patients; island No. 2, used as the administrative center, contained wards for 280 patients of a surgical character; and island No. 3 was used for 500 patients, in separate wards, located in buildings of one or two stories each. The officers on duty at the hospital were quartered in the buildings of island No. 3, while the nurses were quartered on the third floor of the building on island No. 2."
Knowing the US government, the military probably had advance word of these plans while Leckrone and Robar were there, but I do not know where the nurses mobilized for deployment were housed. I am also not exactly sure how long they were there. They got there on November 6. I have seen nursing diaries which said they stayed at Ellis only for a week or two, which does not synchronize with my timetable that has both nurses arriving in France in January. No need to dwell on this.
So what were these nurses' mobilization centers? The US Army Medical Department has described them:
"Mobilization as applied to members of the Army Nurse Corps, consisted in assembling the nurse personnel of the units destined for overseas, which were for the most part scattered among several cantonments; equipping these women with uniforms; the preparation of pay accounts, insurance and allotment papers, passports, and identification cards. Upon the Office of the Surgeon General devolved the duty of arranging for suitable mobilization stations and of ordering nurses to such stations, but to the chief nurses of these mobilization centers fell the task of the detailed paper work, keeping track of the large groups of women under their supervision, and the instruction of new chief nurses in regard to Army Regulations, Army customs, and the conduct of all the affairs of these large groups of women who, for the most part, so recently had become a part of the Army Nurse Corps and for whose affairs there naturally existed different business methods.
"Days spent at the mobilization stations were full of interest and intense excitement. Every morning each nurse had to be present at roll call, followed by military drill.124 After the matter of passports, inoculations, uniform, and equipment had been attended to, there were the rounds of shopping and sightseeing. It should be noted here, however, that nurses were never allowed to stay away from the mobilization station over night and only for a few hours at a time during the day, because it was never known when sailing orders for a unit might arrive."
Mobilized nurses aboard ship ready to go to Europe
I believe Leckrone took her oath of allegiance and was sworn in to the Army and the ANC, probably while at Wesley. I believe she then went to the Ellis Island Nurses' Mobilization Station for her training on "Army life and protocol" and not to Camp Merritt with Hospital No. 66. She did not sail with Hospital No. 66.
Linnie and Robar along with two other nurses sailed for France on December 11, 1917. We believe she sailed on Road Mail Ship (RMS) Adriatic, shown here. They both joined up with Hospital No. 66 on January 27, 1918 at Neufchâteau in northeastern France.
Rebeval Barracks - main barracks off to the left, three story
Within six months after the US entered the war, perhaps by October 1917, approximately 1,100 nurses had sailed overseas and many more were on their way, Leckrone included. The Base Hospital No. 66 unit trained at Camp Merritt for one month, left port on December 18, 1917 and arrived in France on January 18, 1918, after multiple stops and rest periods. No. 66 left Le Havre by train on January 18, 1918 and arrived at Neufchâteau, housed in the French Rebeval Barracks. These barracks were typical old French kasernes, unsuitable for hospitalization. They were constructed by the Germans during their occupation of France following the Franco-Prussian War. They were made from stone, brick and cement with stone floors. They had been used as a veterinary hospital from early 1917 for the horses. When Base Hospital No. 66 arrived, the two shared the same inclosure.
A horse is restrained while it is attended to at a veterinary hospital
A veterinary hospital you say? Yes, just a quick note on horses.
It is incredible the numbers of horses that served and variety of roles in which they served. They often had to be cared for by veterinary hospitals. The British brought 25,000, the US 20,000. They were essential to pull heavy guns, transport weapons and supplies, carry the wounded and dying to hospital and mount cavalry charges. They had to be replenished constantly. An estimated one-half million horses were transported across the Atlantic from the US in horse convoys, some 1,000 each day. Their losses on the battlefield frankly were horrifying, exceeding the losses of men by great measure. An estimated eight million horses, donkeys and dogs died in WWI. This would be a fascinating though heart pounding study.
Dogs you say? Oh yes, dogs were also used. While this one is dragging a machine gun, many were used to carry messages. I have seen one with a spool attached to a harness for laying out a new electric wire in a very dangerous location, some used as Red Cross dogs carrying first aid equipment, and others used to search for wounded soldiers under the rubble I have seen pigeons used to carry messages, an elephant taken from a zoo to knock down trees.
Hospital No. 66 took over a 500-bed hospital at the Rebeval Barracks from two hospitals of the 26th Division. Shortly after arriving, its capacity increased to 2,600 beds. Prior to June 1918 it received very few battle casualties, but that would change. It ceased operations on December 3, 1918 and returned to the US. It had three commanders, Colonel H.C. Maddux, MC, Capt. Blaise Cole, MC and Major Robert B. Hill, MC.
Leckrone was not going to stay at this Base Hospital for long.
Jernigan then wrote:
“In July an urgent call was received for two nurses to serve on a shock team with Field Hospital No. 127 supporting the 32d Infantry Division at Château-Thierry. Nurses Leckrone (left) and Irene Robar (right), both good friends, volunteered for this dangerous duty. With thousands of casualties per day streaming through the hospital, the work was extremely intense and conditions were difficult. The hospital was close to the front, and the staff often worked on the wounded under incoming artillery fire.
A hospital ward hit by a German air attack
"Nurses Leckrone and Robar were cited for ‘attending to the wounded during artillery bombardment’ on Jul 29th. Leckrone returned to Base Hospital 66 in September; in February 1919 both Leckrone and Robar returned to the States.”
Another writer said:
“On July 29, 1918, field nurse Linnie Leckrone jumped on a truck headed for the front as part of Gas and Shock Team 134 to help those in the battle of the Château-Thierry northeast of Paris during the Great War.”
She said that it was always raining. One time, when she walked at night from the hospital area to her tent, she fell into a water filled shell hole. She said she was so tired, she just sat there and cried, and then pressed on. This was nothing like Hospital No. 66, where lights were kept on all night, as opposed to using candle light, and they got to enjoy ice cream three times a day.
July 29, the day for which both Leckrone and Robar were awarded the Citation Star for gallantry, was their first day on duty at No. 127. They were working a 12 hours shift. No. 127 received artillery fire that day, but both nurses just kept on working. They were, after all, fairly close to the Front.
The Military Medicine publication 173, 5:493 of 2008 said this about field hospitals:
“In the schema of medical care during World War I, field hospitals were intended to be closest to the front line. Although nurses were initially not assigned duty in a field hospital, an unknown number of them were temporarily attached as members of specialty teams that augmented hospitals in times of need. The categories of common specialty teams included shock, splint or orthopedic, and surgical or operating teams.”
Field Hospitals in WWI usually followed advancing and retreating troops in combat. When combat was heavy, they moved frequently. The US Army Medical History wrote:
"(However, the reality was) there was no doctrinal bases for how to supply medical care to an advancing unit. The ambulance companies advanced with it, setting up dressing stations in a leap frog fashion where one company runs a dressing station while the other moves ahead."
Leckrone would write:
“I felt lucky to have been picked. Our work was with shock cases, the ones who lost so much blood. We lost more than half of them.”
She told her daughter on one occasion about holding a young badly wounded soldier in her arms:
“He was just a boy, no more than 16 years old. He called me 'Mom.' He died the next morning.”
John Campbell, writing “WWI: Medicine on the Battlefield,” said there were four kinds of cases that had to be sorted out: gas injuries, shell shock, diseases, and wounds. He wrote:
Gassed patients treat at 326th Field Hospital near Royaumeix, France, August 19, 1918. The hospital was not large enough to accommodate the large number of patients.
Marek Pruszewicz wrote: "mustard gas, could kill by blistering the lungs and throat if inhaled in large quantities. Its effect on masked soldiers, however, was to produce terrible blisters all over the body as it soaked into their woollen uniforms. Contaminated uniforms had to be stripped off as fast as possible and washed - not exactly easy for men under attack on the front line."
British soldier in his water-mud ridden trench
I mentioned earlier that Hemorrhagic shock from explosives was a huge threat, and Leckrone mentioned having to deal with it.
Hemorrhagic shock is a life-threatening condition that results when one loses more than 20 percent (one-fifth) of his-her body's blood or fluid supply. This severe fluid loss makes it impossible for the heart to pump a sufficient amount of blood to the body. Speaking in generalities, explosions, especially high energy explosions, are a primary cause of Hemorrhagic shock because of the impact of over-pressurization waves hitting the body’s surfaces.
In WWI, artillery bombardments were the most common cause of high energy explosions. Soldiers first feel the concussive force of the explosion, often referred to as overpressure. They feel like the air is sucked out of them. Very shortly after the overpressure strikes and radiates outward, shock waves create a vacuum, oxygen is pushed out, sucked back in, and immediately pushed out again. Among other things, blood is forced out of organs and arteries upwards toward the brain, to wit, hemorrhaging.
The nurses of course had to be “Jacks of all trades.” I have read that one of those trades for Leckrone at the front was triage.
Triage simply means treating the wounded according to the seriousness of their injuries and urgency of need for medical care, regardless of their rank or nationality, a procedure used today. Baron Dominique Jean Larrey wrote:
“'The best plan that can be adopted in such emergencies, to prevent the evil consequences of leaving soldiers who are severely wounded without assistance, is to place the ambulances as near as possible to the line of the battle, and to establish headquarters, to which all the wounded, who require delicate operations, shall be collected to be operated upon by the surgeon-general. Those who are dangerously wounded should receive the first attention, without regard to rank or distinction.”
Badly wounded soldiers would be moved to a safe area where an ambulance was positioned to upload them and get them out of there. Then other centers could conduct surgery and move the patient on up the chain to hospitals for further care and treatment. This photo shows stretcher bearers and wounded soldiers at the Triage.
Much of the time Leckrone's first action was to treat hypotension, or low blood pressure. In the case of WWI, it was the result of excessive bleeding largely from Hemorrhagic shock from explosives and massive wounds from machine-gun fire.
In their paper, “The overlooked heroines: three Silver Star nurses of World War I,” Lt. Colonel Richard M. Prior and William Sanders Marble provide some insights to Field Hospital 127 and the shock team on which Leckrone served:
"The primary function of shock teams was the resuscitation of wounded soldiers who were hypotensive secondary to
blood loss, usually as a result of a femur fracture or multiple trauma, and therefore too ill to survive immediate surgery.
Those soldiers suffering from significant hypotension were placed in a segregated area known as the shock ward. Typically, a patient with a blood pressure below 100 systolic was triaged to the shock ward where a team of specially trained physicians, nurses, and enlisted men attempted to stabilize them. The therapies used were primarily warming and intravenous fluids, which included either citrated blood or use of 'gum' solution, a plasma expander. Their efforts
predated the type and cross-match of blood products. Occasionally, a patient who deteriorated while undergoing surgery had to be removed from the operating room and transferred to the shock ward to be stabilized before the
surgery could resume.
"Little is known about the activities of Field 127 on July 29, 1918, in support of the Aisne-Marne Offensive or the exact
circumstances under which Leckrone and Robar would be awarded the Citation Star. From June 25 to July 20, Field 127 was executing its mission at Massevaux, Alsace. With the crisis in front of Paris, the division was moved to the Marne sector and Field 127 moved 450 kilometers to the Ecole Jean Mace at Chateau-Thierry where they operated a 500-bed hospital for the seriously wounded from July 28 to August 3. The hospital occupied the second floor of the large, old school located 22 kilometers behind the front line of the 32nd Division, close enough for regular shellfire and occasional bombing raids since the city was a communications hub (the first floor was occupied by Field 166 of the 42nd Division.) During the same period, Field 127 received 113 wounded
patients and operated on 21 of them."
In the Report of the Surgeon-General, United States Army to the Secretary of War, Vil. II, 1919," the authors commented on Field Hospital 127:
"On July 28, Field Hospitals No. 125 and 127 were established at Ecole Jean Mace at Château-Thierry, one for gas and one for non-transportable wounded."
Later in this report, the Surgeon-General said Field Hospital No. 127 was mainly used for triage and advanced surgery.
This is most interesting. Miss Leckrone's daughter, Mary Jane, told me that Miss Leckrone arrived at Ecole Jean Mace at Château-Thierry, which is the exact day it was set up, and the day before it was hit with artillery, the day for which Miss Leckrone was honored with the Citation Star.
Christoper H. Lee, MD, wrote about “Disaster and Mass Casualty Triage in WWI." He described the priority list:
“A color-coded tagging method to categorize disaster victims in the field has been almost universally adopted and incorporated into existing triage systems.
- "Red Triage Tag (“Immediate” or T1 or Priority 1): Patients whose lives are in immediate danger and who require immediate treatment;
- "Yellow Triage Tag (“Delayed” or T2 or Priority 2): Patients whose lives are not in immediate danger and who will require urgent, not immediate, medical care;
- "Green Triage Tag (“Minimal” or T3 or Priority 3): Patients with minor injuries who will eventually require treatment;
- "Black Triage Tag (“Expectant” or No Priority): Patients who are either dead or who have such extensive injuries that they can not be saved with the limited resources available."
While it may seem to conflict with this priority order, there always was a desire to save those who could be returned to the front lines.
While nearly 10 million soldiers died in WWI, that number would have been far higher had it not been for triage. The US alone suffered more than 318,000 casualties in the first year, of whom 120,000 died. The British, overwhelmed by the number of casualties, treated soldiers deemed too wounded to save as last priority.
Red Cross nurse writes down last words of a British soldier
Leckrone, all the nurses, saw it all, wounds, cuts, broken bones, bullet wounds and bodies torn open by shrapnel. She was surrounded with blood and death.
The History of American Red Cross Nursing addressed the experience for nurses at Château-Thierry:
"American troops went into action at Château-Thierry and the wards of all American sanitary formations were crowded with wounded men. Nurses, surgeons and orderlies … worked until they could work no more. Discouraged by apparently futile efforts to improve conditions, exhausted by the herculean labor demanded of them, in many cases harried by constant bombardments and bewildered by the sight and suffering of the disfigured men, the nurses were sobered and numbed by fatigue and horror into silence and disillusionment. War no longer appeared to be a fine, a brave, a heroic thing."
I canvassed for a few stories from or about WWI nurses to underscore what they experienced:
Very many badly shattered ... All we can do is feed them and dress their wounds.
The heat and the flies are terrible here (Greece)." Matron Grace Wilson, Australia
Miss Leckrone and Miss Robar came home after the war. She worked one year as a school and county nurse in Colorado, met her husband, Ralph B. Bolles, and married him in 1922 at age 29.. They settled on a farm and raised a family of four, two boys and two girls. While she retired officially form nursing, she kept on nursing in her community. She would walk to farms and visit patients. There were always accidents and illnesses in the community for her to tend to. That was in addition to working on the farm and raising four children. Furthermore, her in-laws moved in with children and she cared for them as well.
Her daughter Mary Jane described her as conscientious, calm, patient, skillful, and creative. She cooked what the farm produced, including titles and rabbits that were caught or shot. Mary Jane said her mother was an industrious hard-worker. She would wash the clothes and hang them outside to dry, scrub the windows and walls. Se would tell her children to go outside and play — "I'll take care of this." She was resourceful as well, repairing hand-me-down clothes for the children and making dresses for the girls.
In addition to all that, Linnie Bolles managed a cucumber and pickle receiving station on the farm every summer. Try Jane commented that Linnie knew how to charm the farmers, who would get irate over the money they were paid for the loads of cucumbers. She was assertive, tough and persuasive — one guy said she was the "boss." Mary Jane said Linnie rarely complained and failed to realize when perhaps she was being manipulated. She enjoyed having fun, played a lot of canasta, and was a gracious and hospitable hostess and entertainer, a cheerful woman.
Both of Linnie's sons joined the military and served during WWII. John was with the Army Corps of Engineers in Europe while Robert joined the Marines, attending Officer Training School. He did not go overseas. Both made it through the war unscathed. Both became engineers. Robert worked in the aerospace missile business and worked with Wernher von Braun, who was a German and later American aerospace engineer. Von Braun invented the German V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany and the Saturn V rocket for the US. The Saturn V propelled the Apollo spacecraft to the Moon.
At the end of the day, Linnie Leckrone Bolles was a nurse all her life, courageous and unflappable.
On the light side, Mary Jane asked her mother if she met any man while over in France, if she dated. Her mom replied, "I had no time to flirt!"
As an editorial comment, and as a retired USAF officer who was married to an Emergency Room nurse, I bet Linnie was "sassy."
Linnie died in 1989 and was buried at the Hillcrest Cemetery in Rocky Ford, Colorado. H
American Nurses receiving the Distinguished Service Cross
I want to acknowledge that a group of nurses received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the second highest military award that can be given to a member of the United States Army.
Miss MacDonald was the first American to be seriously injured in the war.
It is important, given the brevity of the write-ups for the DSC that I have presented, to imagine some of the following: doctors and nurses busy at work during an air raid or during an artillery barrage, inserting tubes, cutting flesh open or apart, tackling intricate blood vessels and nerves, pulling out shrapnel, trying to set bones, all the while trying to keep the patient alive, and without the modern technologies of today.
Attaching a 100 kg bomb to a German airplane.
“Fritz” as the German bombadier was known, would fly overhead, often quite low, and everyone involved with the patients would stare at each other and stare back at their work. Then Fritz started strafing, the medical facility would lapse into precautionary darkness, then the whistle of bombs falling. Imagine the intense strain as they try to work calmly and quietly as though the bombers were not there.
And then a bomb hits close by, the concussion rages through their facility, some are hurt, some patients, doctors and nurses are killed or badly wounded, and the ones who survived and are still able to work, press ahead and do their work as best they can. Following that, a few hours later, the Germans return and do it all over again. Working through all this is a mighty tall order. I am certain these women deserved the DSC, perhaps even the Medal of Honor (MOH).
The Citation Star and Silver Star, Miss Linnie Leckrone
Citation Star for Miss Linnie Leckrone, signed by General Pershing
During WWI, commanders down to the company level could cite individuals for “Gallantry in Action.” A general officer would have to sign a citation that would be published in orders authorizing an individual to wear the 3/16 in. silver Citation Star on their Victory Ribbon, shown here. Note the official date of award is November 27, 1919, a year after the war had ended and Leckrone had returned to the US. Also note the Army was not prepared to make such awards to women. The administrators had to mark out "his" and hand-write in "her." It reads as follows:
"Miss Linnie E. Leckrone, Army Nurse Corps, for distinguished and exceptional gallantry at Château-Thierry on 29 July 1918 in operations of the American Expeditionary Forces in testimony thereof, and as an expression of appreciation of her valor, I award her this Citation.
"Awarded on 27 November 1919, John J. Pershing, Commander-In-Chief."
However, in this case, those individuals who had received the Citation Star had to contact the War Department to request the Silver Star medal. This is why Leckrone and the other two received their Silver Stars so many years after WWI. Miss Leckrone never knew she received it. Alison S. Fell and Christine E. Hallet said in a footnote to First Wold War Nursing: New Perspectives, it was also likely she did not know she received the Citation Star since it was not affixed to her Victory Medal.
On July 31, 2007, Major General Gale S. Pollock (left), acting Army surgeon general and chief of the Army Nurse Corps, presented the Silver Star (posthumous) in lieu of the Citation Star to Mary Jane Bolles Reed (right), Leckrone’s daughter.
Battle at Château-Thierry
We have certainly covered a lot of ground. We should talk a bit about the Battle of Château-Thierry for which Miss Leckrone's actions were commended by the Citation Star, eventually converted to the Silver Star.
The war started in 1914, but I'll fast-forward to March 1918. The Russians, who first invaded East Prussia and Galicia, requiring German reinforcements from the Western Front, surrendered in March 18, 1918. As things turned out, it was not because Russian soldiers were not brave.
The Russian October Revolution of November 1917 brought down the Russian government. The Bolsheviks took control. There was incredible turmoil within Russia, and among its military forces. The revolution dismantled the Tsarist autocracy and led to the eventual rise of the Soviet Union.
The Russian Empire collapsed with the abdication of Emperor Nicholas II, shown here. The Bolsheviks wanted to withdraw from the war to pursue their other domestic objectives and negotiated an armistice with the Germans in December 1917. But they withdrew and hostilities resumed. The Central Powers moved rapidly into Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic countries, and came perilously close to seizing Petrograd. That was enough for the Bolsheviks to settle on a permanent armistice.
On February 1918 the Central powers agreed to new terms, and the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Ottoman Empire on one side and Bolshevik Russia on the other signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, as shown here. Harken back to the Schlieffen Plan. The Germans had not intended to wage war against Russia prior to waging war with France. The Germans wanted to commit ninety-percent of their forces to France and Belgium. However, the situation with Austro-Hungarian Empire on the central front forced the Germans to send large numbers of forces to fight against Russia.
This armistice enabled Germany to get back to its numbering priority, defeating the French. Some 42 German divisions (or more depending on whose account you accept) were now freed to move over to the Western Front, and that's what they did.
As a result, the Germans launched a Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht on March 21, 1918, also called the Ludendorff Offensive. Remember that up to this time all hands were involved in static trench warfare. The Germans wanted to break out of that. To achieve their objectives of defeating France, they had to move out of trench warfare as they were getting no place. Furthermore, the Germans wanted to get the Allies to surrender before the US could get fully involved. The German plan was was to execute a series of attacks instead of a single breakthrough all along the Western Front. As a result, battles were fought up and down the line.
General Erich Ludendorff, a Prussian general (left) shared power over Germany with General Paul Von Hindenburg (right), largely because of two great victories over Russia on the Eastern Front. Hindenburg became Supreme Army Commander in 1916 and Ludendorff was his chief of staff. They developed what some have termed "a silent dictatorship," one which Kaiser Wilhelm would not challenge. The Spring Offensive hatched by the two, but led by Ludendorff, intended to launch vigorous and violent action in 1918 to regain German military spirit lost during the stalemate of attrition in static trench warfare, and to energize Germany's commitment to this war. Ludendorff and Hindenburg staked it all on this offensive. Germany's specialist stormtroopers led the offensive and pushed the Allies back about 60 miles.
The Germans began their attack on Château-Thierry town on May 27. Château-Thierry was a small town of about 15,000 on the Marne River about 55 miles northeast of Paris.
The town was important, not only because of the roads, but mainly because it served as a rail junction and was close to Paris. But the Marne was a barrier to Paris, too deep to ford. However, there were three bridges crossing it in Château-Thierry. The leading German elements reached the town by May 30. They advanced into the town on June 1, 1918, but were unable to cross the Marne. Nonetheless, the Germans were certain they had everything well in hand.
I mentioned earlier, General Pershing did not want to put American forces under Allied command. But in this case he had to. He assigned the 3rd Division to French command and sent it to Château-Thierry. The town had to be defended or the Germans would have gone on to Paris. Château-Thierry was a boundary through which the Germans could not be allowed to pass.
The Americans received one order: Hold the line. Stop them.
The 3rd Division encountered transportation issues and was a slow to get there. However, a small AEF unit, the 7th Machine Gun Battalion of the US 3rd Division rushed to the scene. It traveled 110 miles in 30 hours by motor transport. Fortunately, it had its own motor transport, which the division at large did not have. Some of the 7th's vehicles ran out of gas and suffered breakdowns, but 17 machine gun squads made it to Château-Thierry by May 31.
The Germans were still not able to cross the Marne.
This map shows how far the Germans were able to advance during their Spring Offensive. I have highlighted the location of Château-Thierry and the location of another major battle, Belleau Wood, to orient you. The German advance to the Marne River in both locations was blocked by US and French forces, the Marines at Belleau Wood, the US 7th Machine Gun Battalion reinforced by the 3rd Division and elements of the French VI Army at Château-Thierry. These areas were known as the Marne salient. Recall that a "salient" is a piece of land or fortification that juts out to form an angle.
Fighting in Belleau Wood continued to June 26. The Germans remained in and around Château-Thierry until late July, but they were still not able to cross the Marne. They were caught in a stalemate opposed largely by the 38th Regiment of the US 3rd Division and French forces. This was the key. In both locations the Germans were unable to cross the Marne.
General Pershing, in his Official Story of the American Expeditionary Forces in France wrote:
"The great force of the German Château-Thierry offensive established the deep Marne salient, but the enemy was taking chances, the the vulnerability of this pocket to attack might be turned to his disadvantage. Seizing this opportunity to support my conviction, every division with any sort of training was made available for a counteroffensive."
By July 1918, the feeling among the Allies and Americans was that the Germans were only good for one more offensive as part of the overall Spring Offensive. They assessed it would be conducted in Champagne Province, with Château-Thierry lying in its southwest on the Marne River. You will recall that in early July 1918 an urgent call was received for two nurses to serve on a shock team with Field Hospital No. 127 supporting the 32d Infantry Division at Château-Thierry. Leckrone volunteered for this dangerous duty. Miss Leckrone's field hospital was forward, quite close to where the fighting would occur in and around Château-Thierry.
The Allied assessments were correct. On July 14-15, 1918, the Germans decided to cross the Marne at a slightly different location, to the east of Château-Thierry, in what was known as the 5th Ludendorff Offensive; the previous four did not go well for the Germans, which is why the Allies figured they were only good for one more push to Paris.
In response to this 5th Ludendorff Offensive just east of Château-Thierry, General Pershing wrote:
German reserves rushing to the Front
"The Americans and French set down a rolling barrage of artillery fire against the Germans at dawn, July 18. The Germans responded by bringing up a large number of reserves and made a stubborn defense both with machine guns and artillery."
The Americans and French continued attacking, with divisions of men on both sides moving all over the battlefield.
The Germans finally evacuated Château-Thierry on July 19-20. The French took the town on July 21 with the Americans advancing with them on both sides of the city.
Besides the Marne itself, Hill 204 to the southeast presented the most formidable obstacle. It took the French and Americans five "hellish" weeks to get the Germans off that hill. This photo shows some US troops on Hill 204.
This is a Google Earth rendition of Hill 204. Just about everything around it is flat. The Château-Thierry American Monument is here, but I have blocked it out with Photoshop so you could get a good sense for the hill. It overlooks Château-Thierry and the Marne.
Château-Thierry American Monument
The article, "American Expeditionary Force at 2nd Battle of the Marne and Château-Thierry ," has posted this description of the monument:
"Now there is a wonderful expansive monument – one of the nicest war monuments in all of France and perhaps the grandest of the American monuments – on the side of Hill 204, near the crest. From the hill, which overlooks Château-Thierry, one gets a better idea of how the battle unraveled around the city. "
David Homsher wrote this about the battle:
“Those American soldiers who were in Château-Thierry during the stormy days of June, July and August recalled many scenes of needless, wanton destruction. The Germans forced open and ransacked almost every house. They even scarred many beautiful pieces of ancient furniture with their battle cry: ‘Gott mit uns!’ (God is with us).”
To many, the Battle of Château-Thierry is considered a pivotal battle if not the pivotal battle of WWI.
On July 20 the Germans ordered a retreat along the entire Western Front and the Allies began a 100-day offensive. The war was now one of movement, no longer static trench warfare.
However, retreats often are quite violent, and such was the case here. This photo shows German soldiers dug in near Château-Thierry, perhaps part of a group protecting the retreat. The Germans, with tens of thousands of troops and their equipment, had to get back to the line from which they started this offensive, known as the Hindenburg Line. The Americans and French were chasing after them. They had to fight virtually all the way back. There were some two dozen significant battles between August and October 1918. The Germans resolutely defended themselves and territory they had taken throughout, though at the end they were clearly worn out and worn down.
All that said, do to misunderstand how close the Germans came to winning. Stephen Tempest, a qualified amateur historian wrote "Why did Germany lose in World War I, published on April 8, 2014, wrote this:
"Germany's best hope of winning was a rapid knock-out blow, destroying their enemies' armies quickly and then forcing a peace. If the war bogged down in stalemate, then the Allies' greater depth of resources would allow them to grind Germany down through attrition and defeat them. In effect, that's what happened.
"Some people claim that the German offensives starting in March 1918 were also a chance of winning the war. They approached to within 50 miles of Paris, after all. They used new tactics of infiltration and hurricane bombardments that tore large gaps in the Allied front lines. However, I'm of the opinion that much of this success was illusory. The Germans quickly ran out of steam, their advances capturing large amounts of ruined muddy ground but few vital strategic positions, since these were more heavily defended.
"…by summer 1918 the German army was a beaten force … it was the fear of the US Army, rather than the US Army itself, which pushed Hindenburg and Ludendorff into making their ultimately fatal gamble in Spring 1918 to try and win the war before the Americans arrived.
"Starting in August 1918, the combined Allied armies under the command of the French marshal Foch pushed back the Germans all along the line. They had multiple advantages: fresh manpower from the United States and the British Empire; high morale; modern equipment including tanks and ground-attack aircraft, which first saw use in mass formations in this time; new tactics, such as creeping or lifting artillery barrages. The Germans, meanwhile, were reeling from the failure of their Spring offensives, and were almost out of manpower and resources."
It is worthwhile to note that it took nine American divisions, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 26th, 28th, 32nd, 42nd and 77th to clear the Germans from the Marne salient of 1918. There were 67,000 American casualties from the battles in the Marne salient.
On July 21 the US divisions pushed forward into the woods of northern Château-Thierry .
I would like to zero in on July 29, 1918 as that was the day on which Miss Leckrone served with such valor that she received the Citation Star and ultimately the Silver Star (posthumously). I'm going to jump around a bit so try to stick with it. During the period June 26-August 6, 1918, four American divisions, an infantry regiment and three French armies were involved in the offensive to push the Germans back. Just between July 18 - August 1 some nine US divisions and two French Armies fought in the salient area from Château-Thierry to Soissons, about 30 miles north.
The 32nd "Red Arrow" Division had been fighting in Alsace, but on July 26, 1918 proceeded to the region of Château-Thierry to serve with the 38th French Corps, 6th French Army, on the tip of the famous Marne salient.
After nightfall on July 29, the 127th and 128th Infantries of the 64th Brigade moved forward to relieve the 3rd Division on a one kilometer front north of Ronchères, about 11 miles northeast of Château-Thierry. At that point, the front line was on the Ourcq River in the vicinity of Ronchères where the Germans had set up a defensive line as part of their withdrawal. The 3rd Division had been fighting continuously since the German offensive began on July 15 and had made its advance to Ronchères. As a result the 3rd was exhausted attempting to overcome strong German resistance on the way.
On July 29, orders were given to the Fresh Sixth Army to pierce the German line of resistance. The Sixth did not fare well. The 32nd Division was to take over from the 3rd Division and advance. The fighting was heavy, with artillery flying back and forth. But the 32nd was able to push the Germans back and the attacks continued.
Here are two examples of the kind of fighting that was occurring between Château-Thierry and the Ourcq River on July 29, 1918.
On July 29, Corporal John M. Baker, G/4th Infantry, 3rd Division led a patrol through heavy machine-gun fire, in an attack on an enemy nest. He saw all the members of his patrol lying about, either killed or wounded, courageously continued the fire, and killed a sniper who had been inflicting severe losses. He received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
First Lt. William Baldwin, 165th Infantry, 42nd Division, found his forces held up by very heavy artillery and machine-gun fire. He went to the front and personally assisted in the capture of the machine-gun nest. His company overcame the resistance and moved across the Ourcq River.
Both men received the Distinguished Service Cross, Baldwin posthumously. Baker would receive a second DSC in October for events occurring in Cunel, France.
Yes, the Germans started their retreat from this area on July 20. However, I can tell you that the fighting in and around Château-Thierry from at least July 24 - July 30 was violent. You can go through a list of men killed in this fighting as told by men who were there. In browsing through the renditions, one sees the lethality of the enemy machine-gun, artillery shell bombardments, especially shell fragments.
David Homser, writing "Château-Thierry ," said this:
"Château-Thierry itself saw only a few days of active fighting, but a few miles east and west of it and to the north occurred some of the most bitter struggles of the war. … Either when entering the battle area or when leaving it, most of the 310,000 U.S. soldiers engaged in this great battle passed through Château-Thierry. Most of the 67,000 American casualties during their battles within the Marne salient left from the railroad station in Château-Thierry to be transported to hospitals in the rear areas."
And clearly Miss Linnie Leckrone experienced the worst of it.
A website WWIOnline, presented this about the American Red Cross and the nurses who cared for the wounded:
"Nurses were deployed to France and England at the outbreak of war in 1914. When the United States entered the war, seventeen Base Hospital Units, each supported by sixty five Red Cross nurses, were sent to France with many others held back ready for deployment. The work nurses performed in France was typically emergency work, lasting many hours in fairly poor condition. Nurses treated infections, terrible wounds, mustard gas burns and exposure, and other severe war traumas. Nurses also experienced the horrors of war first hand by not only treating casualties of war, but by giving their own lives to save fallen soldiers on the battlefield. By the end of the war, over two hundred nurses had lost their lives, many from contracting diseases when treating patients. Many were decorated for their valor and a small few were even awarded the Distinguished Service Cross."