With the North Dakota boys now on foreign soil, news from the front was anxiously awaited, but censorship rules had tightened. Most censored items dealt with the general movement of troops and supplies.
The new rules added casualty lists or letters indicating the name of the unit or the location of any soldiers. So, as the heavily censored letters began arriving home, most contained the words, “Somewhere in France.”
The North Dakota soldiers in the 164th had moved to the eastern side of England, near Southampton, on Christmas Day. They were then transported across the English Channel during the first week of January.
Meanwhile, another unit from North Dakota, the 116th Engineers, had already arrived in France, having bypassed England to land at Le Havre. It was here that the North Dakota troops would come face to face with their first ugly signs of war, not in combat but in the lack of accommodations and provisions. They would soon understand the tremendous toll four years of war had exacted on the French and English nations. Twelve to fourteen men were stuffed into tents made to hold six to eight men. Meals were a hunk of bread, bad coffee and a little jam.
But the worst was yet to come. On this date in 1918, the North Dakota troops boarded the French “forty and eight” railroad cars, designed to hold forty men or eight horses. They were transferred to La Courtine, located approximately two hundred miles south of Paris. Upon their arrival, almost four thousand privates from the 41st Division were transferred to the 1st Division as replacements.
The 1st Division had arrived in France in June of 1917. Quickly organized upon America’s entry into the war, it was understaffed, and now, after six months of combat, was in dire need of replacements. The original plans had been to put each division through a four month training cycle, but the need for replacements countermanded this. Entire companies of the 164th and the 116th would soon find themselves in the front line trenches. With their fighting strength greatly reduced, the 164th and the 116th Engineers were assigned to the logistical and headquarters units of the American Expeditionary Force. They were located one hundred twenty-five miles east of Paris. Unknown to the folks back home, almost four thousands members of the First and Second North Dakota Regiments sent gloriously off to war in September of 1917, and still lacking any combat training, were now scattered with front line units “somewhere in France.”
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
Citizens as Soldiers, A History of the North Dakota National Guard, North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1986.
The Bismarck Tribune, January 12, 1918
Jamestown Weekly Alert, January 10, 1918