”Honor the Past; Deserve the Present“

Royal C. Harper

Private, Co. H, 350th Infantry Regiment, 88th Division, U. S. Army

Contributors:  Charles Bertoli, Carson Heywood

Born in Purdy, Missouri, March 22, 1896
Died in Galt, California, August 16, 1984



Occupation

  • Independent farmer in Purdy, Missouri [Registrar's Report and Registration Card, 17 June, 1917, Barry County, Missouri]

Draft and Training

  • Drafted; inducted in Cassville, Missouri, on May 28, 1918
  • Two months training at Camp Dodge, Iowa
  • Suffered case of "Army measles"
  • Departed Camp Dodge by train for east coast on August 5, 1918
  • At Camp Upton, Long Island, New York, took on additional recruits, who would receive their first military training once arriving in France.
    • Note—About the New York recruits Harper recollected sixty-five years later, "They were Greeks, Italians, Austrians and perhaps other nationalities. Some couldn't speak English." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, p. 8]

From the U. S. to England

  • Regiment took train from Camp Upton to Hoboken, New Jersey, where the approximately 3,000 soldiers of the 350th Infantry Regiment boarded the English passenger ship Missanabie, departing the U. S. for Liverpool, England, on August 14, 1918
  • Note—Harper recollected that Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor, was on board and gave a speech [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 9]
    • Note—Harper recollected, "There were 18 ships in our convoy and all painted the craziest patterns for camouflage against submarine attack. The ships constantly changed speed. Each ship changed directions every three minutes to foil the aim of any submarine torpedoes" [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 9]
    • Note—The Missanabie, launched two months before the Great War began in Europe, was a Glasgow, Scotland-built passenger ship constructed for the Canadian Pacific Line. Three months before the end of the war she was torpedoed and sunk (with a loss of forty-five lives) by a German u-boat about fifty miles off the coast of Ireland.
  • Two days from Liverpool, a British escort joined the American convoy. Harper recollected of the British escort vessels, "They were small, fast, and very maneuverable. They pitched like a bucking horse." The escort "took up positions on all four sides of our convoy and escorted us the balance of the trip. We sure were glad, for this was the most dangerous part of the trip from submarines" [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 9]
  • The Missanabie arrived at Liverpool on August 28, 1918, after a two-week voyage from Hoboken, New Jersey.

From England to France

  • Once disembarking the regiment marched about three miles to a camp at Knotty Ash; from there a train took the regiment to South Hampton for the cross-channel voyage to Cherbourg.
    • Note—Harper recollected, "The Channel was lousy with U-Boats, so the boat ran like mad and changed direction constantly. . . . We crossed in two hours. . . ." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, p. 12]

In France

  • The regiment marched to a camp and on September 1 boarded a troop train for Semur (did Harper misidentify this location?), a place he remembered to be about eight miles from Paris. Then, according to Harper, the regiment marched to Bourbillie (did Harper mean in the vicinity of Château de Bourbilly?) where they stayed for about two weeks. The regiment then marched to Councelles (did Harper mean Saint-Julien-de-Concelles?), to unite with the rest of the battalion.
  • The next destination by train was Hericourt (did Harper mean Heubecourt-Haricourt?), and from there the regiment marched to Brevelliers (did Harper mean Bavilliers?), where the regiment drilled for two weeks
  • Next destination was Danjoutin, near Belfort. From there the regiment marched to Trabach-la-Bah (misidentified location?), which was only two kilometers behind the lines. On October 11 the regiment moved up to the front lines to relieve Co. F. [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, p. 16]
  • The 88th division was relieving the French in this area of the front, known as the Belfort sector [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, p. 17]
  • Harper notes that some Americans and French were captured by Germans. The captains of E, F, and G Companies, with French soldiers to guide them, made a tour of "no man's land" when they encountered a German patrol. Harper recollected, "The Americans were for fighting it out with the Germans. But the French, knowing the war would soon be over, were interested in keeping casualties down, surrendered to the Germans, which was probably wise, as our men were vastly outnumbered. So there was nothing for our men but do the same." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, pp. 18-19]
  • The two American captains later managed to escape, and when reunited with the regiment, Harper learned about their experience. Alluding to what he believed must have been an impressive German spy system, Harper notes that when the American captains who had been captured were interrogated—and gave only their name, rank, serial number, and date of birth—the German interrogator commented, "You probably can't tell me anything about your outfit I don't already know." The German knew they were the 88th Division and had trained at Camp Dodge. He gave the date of the regiment's departure from Camp Dodge, date of departure from the U. S., date of arrival in France, and all the towns in which the regiment had camped [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, pp. 25 and 33]
  • By early November the regiment had been moved by railroad and marching to the Toul sector of the front lines, to the town of Andilly. "Andilly was at the end of the railroad and the French had used it as an ammunition dump. Then the Germans dropped a shell into it and blew up most of the town." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, p. 26]

November 11

  • The regiment had been in Andilly only a few hours when they were given orders on November 9, 1918, to prepare for a march, which was expected to begin at nightfall. By the next morning the regiment was still in Andilly because "the motorcycle orderly who was bringing our marching orders broke down his machine and didn't arrive." Those orders were for a two-day forced march to the Metz front, which would have put the regiment at the front on November 11, the day of the Armistice. Harper later learned that "we were scheduled to go immediately into the front lines on our arrival at Metz, and would have gone 'over the top' at 5 a.m., November 11, only 7 hours before the war ended." "Wow," Harper wrote, "that was a close one!" [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 27]
    • Note—Harper later learned from someone familiar with the Metz fortress, "The Germans had their guns stacked wheel to wheel. A jackrabbit couldn't have gotten thru them." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 44 ]
    • Note—According to Harper, the 88th Division insignia was made to reflect the division's good luck. The 8s were crossed to resemble a 4-leaf clover. The division nickname was "the lucky division" because part of its time at the front was in a "quiet sector" and it was scheduled for what promised to be the biggest battle of the war against the fortress at Metz when the war came to an end. [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," August 1983, personal memoir, ts, p. 43]
  • Still in Andilly in the morning of November 11, Harper recollected that at 11:00 a.m. "the gun fire quit, the sun came out, the wind stopped blowing and the church bells in Andilly started ringing. A feeling of contentment came over us. We felt like our job in France was done and we would soon be going home." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 28]

After the Armistice

  • The regiment stayed in Andilly until November 29 when the entire division marched to winter quarters in the Gondercourt (did Harper mean Gondecourt?) area.
  • In 1983, sixty-five years after the Armistice, Harper wrote, "We had been issued Gilette [sic] safety razors at Andilly, which were a vast improvement over the Ever Ready razors we got at Dodge. By the way, I still use mine and it works fine." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 29]
  • In Morlaincourt, among the towns where the regiment rested en route to winter quarters in the Gondercourt (Gondecourt?) area, the YMCA showed movies to American soldiers in a long and narrow old French barracks. Because smoking was so common among American soldiers, the smoke in the barracks became so dense, Harper recollected, "I could scarcely see the picture." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, pp. 30-31]

Army of Occupation

  • "The army of occupation reported they were treated better by the Germans than they had been by the French." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 39]

Return to the United States

  • On May 7, 1919, the 350th Regiment began its journey home by marching to Gondercourt (Gondecourt?) to board a train to St. Nazaire, where the entire regiment would board the U. S. S. Aeolus, a former German freighter (Grosser Kurfürst) for the voyage home.
    • Note—The Grosser Kurfürst was a passenger ship launched in Danziz, Gemany, in 1899. In New York Harbor when the U. S. declared war in April 1917, the ship was seized and converted to a troop transport at the New York Navy Yard and renamed the Aeolus. [Department of the Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command, http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-a/id3005.htm]
    • Note—When the Aeolus got under way the 350th band played "Smile the While You Bid Me Sad Adieu" and then "Homeward Bound." Harper wrote, "at long last the world seemed like a good place to live. So we watched the French coast disappear over the horizon with few regrets; we also had accomplished what we came to do." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 41]
  • The Aeolus arrived at Newport News, Virginia, on May 30, 1919
  • Upon arrival a corporal commented, "I wouldn't retrace my steps of the last year for a million dollars.' Harper recalled that "that just about expressed it for all of us." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 42]

Personal Wartime Impressions

  • "Mostly, the officers in World War I were regular army men. And as a rule were a 'hard boiled' lot. Some had gained the enmity of their men and were afraid to go into the front lines with the men they had trained, where accidents could easily happen." [Roy C. Harper, "The Grand War," personal memoir, August 1983, ts, p. 34]

Post-War

  • Lived in Maricopa, Arizona
  • 1930 Census indicates his marriage to Iva
  • He became a farmer

WWII

  • Roy had to register for the draft, but he did not serve in the war

Death

  • Roy Harper died in Galt, California, of heart failure at age 88 in 1984, one year after completing his memoir on his WWI experience.
    • Note—family records do not explain Roy Harper's post-WWI experience or indicate the cause or location of his death [Conversation, Charles Bertoli with Catherine Heywood, 6 December 2009]
(rev.1.26.10)