Thursday, November 11, 2021

A letter home from WWI: 'It sure was some scrap'

Posted By on Thu, Nov 11, 2021 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge A letter home from WWI: 'It sure was some scrap'
Charlie Nintzel, circa 1918

Editor's note: My father passed along a four-page letter written by my grandfather, Charlie Nintzel, in November 1918, recounting his military experience in WWI. In honor of Veterans Day, I share it here with minor edits.

France, Nov. 24, 1918

Dear Pop:

The “army” has called this day Pop's, dad's, father’s or governor’s letter day, whichever you prefer, but I picked out “Pop” because I always called you by these three little letters. They have also given us permission to write anything we please, describe the battles, etc., which is pretty nice of them. I will try and give you the dope from the very start, that is, when we left the Wadsworth camp.

Here it goes. It will be pretty punk.

We left Spartanburg on the 6th of May and boarded a train around 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I will never forget it as it was roasting hot and with full packs, “wow,” the old sweat poured off me and we only hiked about four miles. The old “choo choo” pulled out and took a course towards north and everybody was yelling “Mineola” or “Merritt,” and then it went east passing Columbia, South Carolina, and from there we took a northern course on the Seaboard Air Laine. Everyone was sure we would go to some camp up north and we finally arrived at Philadelphia had “poke” cigarettes and eats from the Red Cross.

You know how anxious a bunch of soldiers are and naturally, a lot of the fellows questioned the trainmen where we were bound for and, of course, they all mentioned Mineola. The train pulled out past Trenton and we surely thought we would go through the tunnel. I forgot the name of the station but we went through to Jersey City. This was about 12 o'clock on the 7th (of May), mother's and George's birthdays. There wasn't any doubt we were going to Camp Mills.

We slept on the train and woke up about 8 o'clock. Finally, orders were given “everyone off the train.” We then boarded the ferry boat and someone had said if the boat turns to the left, we were going to Long Island. If it turned to the right, we would go aboard the transport, but the old boat turned right and we got off the old pier. We hung around, had coffee and some beans, then we lined up and checked off. We marched up to gangplank and my bunk was number 70 in the #4 hold. Last one, had a hell-of-a-time finding it. We hung around in the afternoon, someone started a rumor that we were to get 24-hour passes. You see that should have seen the rush to get out but nothing doing. So we all came back with a face five inches long. Then the old mess call blew and everyone dived for his mess kit.

Some fellows worked their way off by dodging a gob's uniform, and others worked by putting out a fake guard. A few lads who had a job on the lighter for the freight at Jersey City had a few days off. Some tried jumping ropes that lead down the ship, but they had a Company 22nd infantry out on guard. One lad tried to swim the river and was drowned. We laid there on the 8th and 9th (of May). Loads of people knew we were there and had all sorts of passes from all the politicians, but the Colonel could not get off himself, as the old tub was under sailing orders.

On the 10th (of May) we were given orders “everyone below deck” and at 5:10, the old ship hauled out. We were passing Sea Bright and the hook and the old sky was pitch black and I thought for sure we were going to have a storm but it cleared. Had a little rain. I know it rained as we were having mess which was great and I got wet a bit. Saturday the 11th of May was great. Sea quiet, and we were going along nice and plenty to eat. On the 12th, Sunday, we had eggs, oats, bread and coffee for breakfast.

During that time the cruiser Frederick from the Pacific Coast fleet joined us. We have 14 other transports with us. Had chicken dinner and had quite a job holding it down for I felt just funny in the stomach. The weather was great until the 16th (of May) and then it was choppy. I sure did feel it. The morning of the 17th of (May) found a torpedo destroyer with us and the way she pitched, I said to myself, poor “Hen” has my sympathy. (Editor’s note: Hen was Charlie’s brother who was in the U.S. Navy.) The next morning found about 10 more destroyers in the crowd. They sure did move around the ships

On the 20th (of May), we had to get up before dawn and stay on deck, until daybreak, and it was some breezy and it was sunny breezy. Had to do that the last three consecutive mornings. On the 23rd (of May), we landed at “Brest.” We stayed aboard until the 26th (of May) and we boarded a tugboat to get off at the dock. We were loaded like anything not human. My sack almost broke my back because I could not move an inch for about half an hour.

We hiked about four miles to an old fort erected way back in the year of 1572 and pitched tents. We had no supper that night and damn near starved the next morning. Had a regimental mess and waited until about 1 o'clock in the afternoon before we had breakfast. Had only two meals that day. Next day, the corps was the first on the mess line, but sure wished for a decent meal.

On the 29th (of May) we were paid and I drew “book” francs. Had a few debts and sure had my pencil how many francs I owed.

On Decoration Day we left Brest. Went down to the fort yard with a few other lads to get some rations. Had a big breakfast, then fixed up the first Battalion. Went out, had some wine and a big dinner for about 40 cents. We then got into a car. We were going to and Naijels. We arrived at this town about 4 o'clock and had to ransack our barrack bags. Just carry two blankets and underwear, also toilet articles. We arrived at a small British camp and put up for the night. Fritz was over that night, trying to bomb, so the anti-aircraft guns and the powerful lights were on the job. They sure did fire at him but they never brought him down.

On Monday, June 3, we were called at 3 o'clock in the morning to start on a hike for our first billets. We arrived at Millancourt around 3 o'clock that afternoon and damn near dead. Some hike. We fixed up things that we turned in for asleep. In this town, the night before we arrived, a “Jerry” plane dropped a bomb, wrecked a house.

We were all hanging around in the eats were terrible. We were getting some British rations. In fact, we still get them. But at the start, they sure were punk. Nothing doing at all in the town at all but we brought up all the eggs we could buy. I was lucky because we were paid but the majority of the lads were broke.

One Sunday saw a plane start off from the field and collided with a lorry or a truck. It had bombs for Jerry but they went off and the pilot and mechanic were burned to a crisp. We stayed at this town until about the 15th of June and started to hike. We hiked about 16 miles and wow, we were tired. That's all we did until the latter part of July, when we went into the frontline in Belgium, Kemmel Hill. Had eight days in and were relieved.

Came down for a week and went back again, this time the 2nd Battalion were in support of the front line. We went to Mecmac Form and the artillery was about 200 yards away. The Boches were continually strafing for these guns. We were there a few days and the word came that we were to advance. Went to our battle positions about 3 in the morning. Called again about 5 to go over the top. We started and the machine gun bullets whistling and dodging shells continually was no fun. We were laying in a ditch when he launched a big one but it was dead. I think we'd all still be going up if it hadn’t been. We went all around that day and at night we dug in.

The next morning around 3 o'clock we went over again and just as soon as we got out of the improvised trench we dug, (it) was shelled and ripped to hell. Lucky—I will say so. We were relieved that night and went down on a narrow-gauge railroad. We hit a small town and stayed overnight and pulled out the next morning for Doulers. We hit there right after riding some few hours. It was the best time we were in since our arrival. We stayed there 21 days. This place was occupied by some Canadian hospital unit and Fritz bombed it on Corpus Christi Day.

We slept there for trick in a line. We went up and relieved the British and held the line in front of a town called Bony which was in the hands of the Boche. Held the line for three days and then got orders we were going over the top on the 27th of September. We went over just before daylight and the barrage was wonderful. The cannon roaring, you couldn't hear yourself think. Just as soon as the barrage started, the Boche put up all sorts of lights in front of his line. The attack was successful and our outfit was relieved about 3 in the morning. We came down, reorganized the outfit and the same night went up the line again is “moppers-up” for the other units of the division.

It sure was some scrap, Pop. Wouldn't think a lad could stand and live through it all. How the devil they missed me, I don't know. But I know that yours truly was lucky.

Our Division went over and the Australians leapfrogged us and then the calvary took over from where they stopped. Took us from where they stopped. The Boche never did stop, as three days after we followed him right up. We went to Perrone three days after the Hindenburg stunt, and then back again to the line. We stayed in Perrone three days and started up until we met the Boche at St. Supelet, drove him out of the town in the next town and also some farms which were infested with some machine-gun nests. You can rest assured that none of his bullets had my name on it. Only one piece of shrapnel hit me in the right elbow, but never cut the skin, and I kept going.

There's a lot of news I could tell and write about but it would take me about a month to tell it all. I've been on my leave for seven days and had some time, a real bed, and real eats. I am now back with a unit located a small town called Bussy about 10 kilometers from Amiens.

Well, “Gov,” in as much as I've written considerably, I will “shut up.”

I'm going to enclose a few commendations. Also a small clipping from today's Daily Mail English paper and notice they all have the top “Irresistible Americans.”

There are some terrible wild rumors afloat but I think it best not to mention any as it is bad enough for me to be disappointed about discouraging you people any.

Here's wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and hope to see you before the 17th of March.

Love and best wishes.

Your son Charlie

P.S. Been in Paris and it is some city. The night the armistice was signed, I was pretty well “lit up” on champagne