308th Infantry, 77th Division, 92nd Division, Alsace-Lorraine, Appalachia, Bosche, Camp Greenleaf, Chateau Thierry, dentist, Edwin M. Godby, Fifth Avenue, Georgia, Germany, Gwinn Brothers & Company, Herald-Advertiser, history, Huntington, James Godby, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, Lost Battalion, United Cigar Stores, University of Cincinnati, West Virginia, World War I
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this recollection of World War I by veteran Edwin M. Godby of Huntington, WV, dated July 10, 1928:
LOGAN BOY OF LOST BATTALION LIVED THRU SIX DAYS OF HELL
Dr. E.M. Godby, Now of Huntington, One of 150 Survivors of An Outstanding Episode of World War—Graphic Account of Harrowing Experiences
It has been a little less than 10 years since the story of the Lost Battalion thrilled and horrified the American people.
It was the story of an infantry battalion which pushed its way through in an advance into the German lines while the forces on either flank were being beaten back, writes Wiatt Smith for the Herald-Advertiser.
Of the 1,000 men who went in, only a remnant lived to tell the story of six days in a literal hell. Six days during which they crouched in shell holes and dugouts, without food or water, while the shells from the guns of their own army thundered over them or broke about them and the gas and machine gun fire of a sullen enemy harassed them.
One of those survivors lives in Huntington. He is a dentist and as he goes about his professional work and social life only a slight cough serves to mark him as one who breathed the deadly poison spewed over him by the Bosche.
Dr. Edwin M. Godby, of Fifth Avenue, with offices in the United Cigar Stores building, is the man in question. He told the story to one who had first learned from others of his part in this great drama of the war. Dr. Godby was an ambulance corps man, attached to the Seventy-Seventh division and at the time assigned to Major Whittlesey’s battalion of the 308th infantry for said duty.
Left Logan in 1918
Eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. James Godby of Logan, he was a student of dentistry in the University of Cincinnati when America entered the war. He went from Logan with a draft contingent in March 1918. He trained at Camp Greenleaf, Ga., was assigned to the Medical corps, and crossed the ocean in June as a casual.
Assigned at once to the Seventy-seventh division he first saw the front at post in Alsace-Lorraine.
“There was no action here,” said Dr. Godby. “We were within one kilometer of the enemy but there seemed to be almost an understanding that we wouldn’t bother each other. There was no firing. Occasionally one side or the other would send a raiding party into the others lines, but these were rarely fired upon.
“In July our division went in to replace another division which had helped take Chateau Thierry. We continued in the drive from the Marne to the Aisne. We would advance two or three days and then dig in for perhaps four or five. This went on from July to September.
“Then we moved from the Aisne to the Argonne. One date that stays with me is that of the great barrage which marked the opening of the Argonne drive on the night of September 26.
“On October 13 or 14 we got orders to advance from our position in a 30-mile strip of woods between the headwaters of the Aisne and the Meusc. The Ninety-second division flanked us on the left and two of our regiments and two of the Ninety-second were supposed to advance.
“The advance started as planned, early in the morning, but the right and left flanks were met by such resistance that they fell back to their original positions.
“Major Whittlessey’s men tore through the resisting German line and went forward. It was late in the forenoon before we discovered that we were unsupported on either flank and cut off from the rear.
“We spend six days before we were relieved by another regiment which was almost destroyed in the effort. The battalion was virtually at war strength, having been in only a little while. Of the 1,000 who went in only 150 came back.”
Dr. Godby tells a grim story of the last days. As soon as the soldiers found their situation they began to dig in. It was every man for himself. Dr. Godby says he and two others found a shell hole. They deepened it and were comparatively safe there. But one of the three got too venturesome and raised his head too far above the rim of the crater. His comrades used his body for an additional barricade.
The surviving companion of Dr. Godby was a man named Crane, who had gone in from Pennsylvania. He told Dr. Godby that he had a sister in Huntington whose husband worked for Gwinn Bros. & Co.
“I have often thought I’d try to get race of that sister,” said Dr. Godby, “but I never have.
“We just laid there,” the dentist said, detailing his experience. “Each man had less than a quart of water and no food. After the second day I didn’t have any water. We never missed the food, but of course the thirst was torture. It was terrible, too, to have to wear our gas masks continuously for that becomes torture after the first hour.
“For the first day or two the Germans tried charging us but we were strong enough to beat them back. After that they were content to keep their machine guns turned on us and subject us to a continuous barrage of gas. At the same time we were within the range of our own batteries.
“American planes passed over us and tried to drop us food, but the Germans got it.
“For the last two or three days nothing mattered. Crane and I tried to devise means of escape. We would work out a plan and then decide it was futile. We decided to commit suicide, but changed our minds. It was simply a matter of trying to keep alive as long as we could. On the fifth night I had only intervals of consciousness. But we had determined to make a dash for freedom and life when daylight came. It would not have been a dash for life, but a dash to death.
I know this is true because we were on the slope of a ravine, the battalion being pocketed on either side of it. We could see the water in the ravine and the bodies of the men who in their desperation had gone there to drink. Not one lived to taste the water.
“But as Crane and I planned to make the final desperate dash I lost consciousness. When I revived I was on a stretcher at a base hospital at Nantes. I never saw Crane again. I have often wondered what became of him.
“Did he,” I asked myself, “live to go for his death drink or was he too rescued?
“I have never talked to anyone who was with the battalion.”
A few days after Dr. Godby revived from his unconsciousness the armistice was signed. He was in the hospital from November 1 until late in December, recovering from the effects of gas. In January 1919, he came back to the United States, received his discharge and resumed his studies. He has been practicing in Huntington two years.