World War I: The Forgotten War To End All Wars

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Members of the 30th Infantry Division played a major role in breaking through Germany’s Hindenburg Line near the end of World War I. Manning the unit were mostly men from North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina. Above, they are seen on one of the battlefields tending to German prisoners as British tanks rumble across the countryside in the background.Today’s Veterans Day is held in commemoration to veterans and inspired by the day the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I.
Members of the 30th Infantry Division played a major role in breaking through Germany’s Hindenburg Line near the end of World War I. Manning the unit were mostly men from North Carolina, Tennessee and South Carolina. Above, they are seen on one of the battlefields tending to German prisoners as British tanks rumble across the countryside in the background.Today’s Veterans Day is held in commemoration to veterans and inspired by the day the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I.

By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff

It was called “The War To End All Wars,” but as it turned out it was only the first of more to come.

Thanks to Arlette McNeill of Lillington — and daughter of WWI veteran Junious Pearson McLamb of Dunn — the stories along with the struggles remain to be told.

Thanks to her efforts to compile a history of her father’s unit and its struggles during the war, this story can be passed along to any who would listen.

World War I was different than any of the conflicts that followed. It was one of “trench warfare.”

For those unfamiliar, the battlefield was strewn with interconnecting trenches. Trenches that defined the battlefield itself. Inside were the men, weapons and equipment that became the ground war in Europe during the conflict.

They also spilled over into battles commonly known as “open warfare” which was used predominantly in succeeding wars such as World War II and Korea.

There were other types of fighting through the early use of tanks and aircraft, but the majority of the ground fighting came from within those trenches or advancing forward to the next.

Among those men sent to fight those bloody battles were members of the 30th Infantry Division, a division made up mainly of state militia and National Guardsmen from Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Among them were two of four infantry regiments — the 119th and 120th — plus the 113th Field Artillery and the Engineers manned mostly with North Carolinians.

The middle of the summer of 1917 is when Mr. McLamb joined the many others at Camp Sevier, S.C., for training. He had originally been assigned to Camp Jackson, S.C., but was soon moved to Camp Sevier where he became part of the 30th Infantry Division’s 45,000plus troops who served with the American Expeditionary Force.

Those 45,000 troops were among the 86,450 from North Carolina. The largest number served in the 30th Division.

From those numbers of North Carolina men put into harm’s way, 933 were killed in action or died as a result of their wounds and an additional 3,542 died from disease or other causes.

By September, training had shifted into high gear and soldiers were readied for the task that lay ahead of them.

After the full compliment of troops with the 30th Division arrived in Calais, France, in early June of 1918, they were just two months away from putting their newly-learned battle skills to use.

The first test of the division came when they were assigned to a line that extended from Ypres, France, to Voormezele, Belgium. That came in August and on Sept. 1 the division advanced 1,500 yards and captured a nearby farm as well as the town of Voormezele.

Hindenburg Line

While this was ongoing, commanders were devising a plan to attack the Germans along the heavily-fortified and armed Hindenburg Line.

The line was the last and strongest of the German Army’s defenses. It consisted of three well-defended trench systems and was built in 1917. According to multiple sources, the Hindenburg Line, structurally was a series of fortified zones linked together by defensive works stretching from the North Sea to the town of Verdun. It was also the line on which the German army would fall back to stand their ground against the advancing Allied troops.

The battle for the line was bloody and costly to both sides and involved nearly all facets of battle at the time. Allied ground forces, air forces, artillery and tanks were all utilized in what would be a lengthy attack to cripple the German Army of Kaiser Wilhelm.

By mid-September, the 30th Division had taken part in the battle of St. Mihiel, France, then moved to a position near Verdun.

It was from there they would be dispatched to take part in the battle along the Hindenburg Line, it included Dunn’s Mr. McMcLamb.

His unit was joined by the 46th British Division, the 27th Division of New York and an Australian Division.

For the men of the 30th Division the battle began near what was known as the San Quentin Tunnel. When the whistles began shrilling signifying the start of the attack, the 30th Division joined thousands of others going what was termed “over the top” or over the top of the trenches into open battlefields.

The North Carolina unit moved forward with the sounds of American tanks rumbling and groaning behind. Ahead of them were the Germans, raining machine gun fire at 100 rounds per minute and launching shells.

Metal pieces of shrapnel were rushing aimlessly causing the excruciating sight and sound of human flesh being shredded and scattered about the battlefield.

Submitted Photo - Junious Pearson McLamb, seen above, was a Dunn native who was one of the many North Carolinians who fought in World War I. He was a member of the 30th Infantry Division, which was manned mainly by men from South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Submitted Photo – Junious Pearson McLamb, seen above, was a Dunn native who was one of the many North Carolinians who fought in World War I. He was a member of the 30th Infantry Division, which was manned mainly by men from South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee. could be heard screaming and dying through the haze and the chaos.

Amidst the terror, confusion and despair, soldiers would lose track of their commanders and often be left to their own judgment.

Mr. McLamb, perhaps in a foxhole during this battle or one similar, is said to have witnessed the death of one of his fellow soldiers, a story passed on to the family by Mr. McLamb later.

He and two others were in a foxhole and the battle sounds had quieted. It would prove to be a false quiet for the one solider who dared raise his head above the ground only to receive a single, fatal bullet for his curiosity before falling dead across Mr. McLamb’s feet.

Death’s distinct stench continued to fill the air as the German Army kept launching shells and firing machine gun bullets point blank at the Americans.

Despite the resistance, by 7:45 a.m. the Americans had overrun German trenches and were beginning to cross San Quentin Canal on their way to capturing the town of Belle-Court.

The unit finally broke through the Hindenburg Line on Sept. 29 around 5:50 a.m. when members of the 119th and 120th Infantry Regiments joined by British tanks began a surge that would lead to the breakthrough.

Despite taking heavy losses, the line was broken and the Australians, who had been waiting to relieve the 30th and advance forward, took over the fight.

The victory came with a high cost to both the Germans and the Americans.

The 30th was credited with being the first unit to break through the Hindenburg Line. In addition, they captured a large cache of enemy arms and equipment, took 47 German officers and 1,432 soldiers prisoner.

The cost in lives was heavy as 3,000 casualties were reported for an advance of about 3,000 yards.

The day after their success the men of the 30th Division were pulled from the Hindenburg Line but returned to battle elsewhere on Oct. 5. They stayed in the fight for another two weeks before beginning the slow journey home on Oct. 19 when they withdrew from battlelines for the final time.

Remained As Part Of Occupation

With a reorganization of the unit underway, they remained in Germany until after the war’s end, not as a part of the occupation.

By the middle of April 1919, the last man had mustered out of the unit, including Mr. McLamb.

What reward did they receive for this sacrifice? The same as any other American who fought and lived to return home — a little red chevron on his sleeve that signified he was mustering out of the service, yellow chevrons to indicate either a wound or length of service and an honorable discharge.

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