This is Dixon Long Coulbourn's WWI autobiography
I, Dixon Long Coulbourn, was born January 27, 1899 at Wheelton,
Virginia. The name was later changed to Morattico, an Indian name. The
county is Lancaster. In 1917 I was living with my father and mother
and my younger brother Scott at Plant City, 20 miles from Tampa in
Along about May 1st, 1917, I went to Tampa to enlist in the army.
Everything was all right except for my eyes. They were 20-50, and they
should be 20-20. Well, I will fix that! So, I went to an eye-doctor.
He prescribed a pair of eye-glasses. When the glasses arrived, I went
back down to the recruiting office in Tampa and reapplied. I told the
Sergeant that I had gotten a pair of glasses . He shook his head and
said, "But you must pass without glasses."
That floored me. I went home to Plant City very much
discouraged. The next day was Saturday, June 5th, and the local company
of the Florida National Guard paraded up Main Street. I thought that I
would try to enlist in the Florida National Guard. So I went to the
Armory and applied. Everything was fine and they sent me to my doctor
for a physical. He told me that I was in good shape in every way
except that my eyes were 20-50 and should be 20-20. I was clearly
disappointed. He said, Dixon, do you really want to go?" "Why sure I
do," I said, as if there couldn't be any question about it. I still
feel the same way about my country. He said, "All right, then, and
signed the certificate. So I was inducted.We would go down to the
armory about once a week at night and do squads right, etc. My corporal
was Bunyon S. Tyner. In November, 1917, Company E was called up to go
to Bradentown, the county seat, to guard the jail. The local people
wanted to lynch one of the inmates. We were there about a week or so,
and everything had quieted down. We were ordered back to our Armory and
disbanded temporarily, as it were.
A little later we were called up again, but this time we were
sworn into Federal Service and went to Camp Wheeler, near Macon,
Georgia. We would go hiking and camped overnight, and do some War Games
About May 1918, I was picked with about a thousand others to go
overseas as replacements. We went to Hoboken, N.J. After traveling
under New York City, we embarked on the Australian Liner Euripides.
There were about 3000 of us soldiers and maybe more, but I think it was
I hadn't had a pay day since I left Camp Wheeler and although I
had very little need for money it was nice to have some. The fact was
that I was down to my last nickel, and it was a Canadian nickel––I don’t
remember how I came across that Canadian nickel. Anyhow that was all I
had. That Australian coffee smelled awfully good. So I bought a cup
of that coffee and gave them that Canadian nickel.
Well, we had just gotten to sea, and I drank that coffee. I had
just gotten that coffee down when I got seasick, and went to the
scuppers and threw it up. There went that Canadian nickel.
It took us 13 days for that Australian liner to get to England
and the city of Liverpool. As we came up the English coast, we saw the
Hills of Ireland over in the distance to our left.
We camped overnight, and the next morning we entrained for
Winchester, where we were given a handshake by a member of the Royal
Family and were given a
letter thanking us for coming over and so forth with the Royal Arms on
it, and we could write any short note on it if we wished. We were to
address the envelope to our folks back home and put our name on the
back. Then we were to return it to the Royal Family and they would see
to it that it was mailed with postage and all. When I returned home in
1919 I asked if it had arrived and I was assured that it had arrived.
After the meeting with the Royal Family, we entrained for
Southampton down on the coast. The small channel boats took us over to
Le Havre in France after waiting ten days for the transportation.
We did not stay long at Le Havre. We were quickly transferred
to the city of Le Mons receiving station. We were told to disrobe and
go to the showers. We were issued a towel and after drying off we went
to the next room where we were issued underwear and outerwear, and in
the next room we dressed and fell out and lined up outside. Then we
were taken to the ammunition building and were issued a British Enfield
and ammunition belt full of ammunition. We never saw our beloved
Springfield rifles again! Then we were loaded into French Box Cars
plainly marked “40 hommes aux 8 cheveaux.” In English that is “40 men
or 8 horses”. The supplies were in the cars––one case each of tomatoes,
hardtack, corned beef, and water. This is France, now remember.
Some time during the night we were connected to an engine and we
started on our way to the front. Then later on our train was
sidetracked so a higher priority train could get through. When we awoke
there were thirteen cars of us on this siding somewhere in France.
Finally, one of the fellows hoofed it down to the nearest railroad
station and notified them of our presence. Pretty soon an engine came
along and hitched on to us and took us to the closest American outfit,
which happened to be the US Marines Second Division, located three miles
from Paris. That was the closest I got to Paris. Those Marines
couldn’t let us rest but got us doing squads right the next morning. We
were with them about three days or a week and we were loaded up on the
train again and arrived at the 26th U. S. Army Division––Yankee
Division, and I was assigned to Co. B 104th Infantry. The Yankee
Division had just returned from Chateau Thierry and has been pretty well
shot up, and that little mishap of the siding caused me to miss that
Pretty soon our division was ordered to the front. This time it
was the St. Mihiel Sector.
The line was like this: [Note from Dixon W. Coulbourn: My dad’s typed figure
gets messed up by some software, somewhere, so I added the dots (periods) as placeholders]. Just imagine the drawing without the dots.
.............................................\ ........ /.........................................
.............U.S. & British.............\....../...........................................
Our objective was to straighten out the line. Which we did. We
rolled it up. The German Ninth Corps Headquarters was at that
particular spot, and we captured it. There happened to be a German
Brewery there so we captured it, also, and every squad had a keg of
beer. Well, I got half of my mess cup of that beer and went out to be
by myself to drink it. Well, my Mother was a teetotaler and would not
let beer or other strong drink in the house. Well, I took a swig––and
then I poured what was left on the ground. I couldn’t see how anyone
could drink it.
After that St. Mihiel victory the 26th Division was sent to the Troyon
Sector. A defensive sector. So we walked across France to the Troyon
Sector. When we arrived there we were much surprised. Our habitat
consisted of miles of underground tenches which until recently the
Germans had occupied for years. There were thousands of bunks, fully
wired electric lights and evidence that the Germans had left in a hurry.
As I said, it was a defensive sector. We were there for about a
Then we received our orders to the Meuse Argon Sector, so we walked
across France to that sector, which was definitely not a defensive
sector. There were no formal trenches. Just tremendous shell holes
that had been rained on. The dirt would have been perfectly prepared
for a flower garden. There we had to stand, looking over the tops
toward the German lines. We were given notice that those German lines
were occupied by belligerent troops. after we had taken a couple of
steps our boots were caked with that dirt the size of footballs. When
you stepped a couple of steps it was difficult to stay erect. And we
had to keep our guns immaculate as well as our hands. My current
partner was American, of course, but of German descent, but nevertheless
he exclaimed in exasperation “DAMN THEM GERMANS!”
We saw a squad of our men coming by twos. Between each two they
carried a broom stick-sized pole about seven feet long. With it they
had skewered about 15 loaves of French bread for our meals. Of course,
if they got too close to the walls of soft dirt and got some dirt on the
loaves it couldn’t be helped.
We were ordered to move up closer to the front. We had to run low
singly and hope for the best. My partner was ordered to go and he got
about 60 feet and the Bosch killed him. Then came my turn and I went
forward. No problem! That was the way it was! Thank the Lord.
A week or so later we were transferred somewhere else and I had
developed a fever. We were going by a First Aid station at a cross
roads and I fell out of line and went in to the tent and the nurse
looked at me and said “Lie on that cot.” They checked me and I had the
mumps! They transferred me to the hospital in Vichy, in southern
When I recovered and was sent back to my outfit, we were moving
along, getting ready to go into the trenches. We were strung out along
the road for miles. About 9 A.M. a dispatch rider came along and said
there would be an armistice at 11 A.M. We didn’t believe him. We
thought he was making fun of us. Then the major came along on his horse
and announced that there would be an armistice at 11A.M and to be very
careful not to fire any weapons or make a disturbance, Then we started
A halt was called and 11 A.M. came and went and the the coupçons
(rolling kitchens) rolled up and we were served PANCAKES for lunch and
they were delicious. That close to the front lines!
The Germans moved back ten miles that morning of the armistice and we
moved up and took over their positions. They had left in a hurry. That
was evident. Among other things, I found two straight razors. We were
sleeping in their trenches that night.
Along about 10 P.M. I got out of my blankets and went up on top. It
was a clear and beautiful night with all the stars out like we had at
home. I got to thinking “What if,–– just suppose those Germans took a
notion to take advantage of everyone sleeping. It would be just like
them. Pretty soon I got sleepy and went back down to my blankets.
The next day we started moving–on foot along the road toward the coast.
We moved along for a week or so and one evening we stopped at a large
empty warehouse for the night. We had supper, and the potatoes had not
been cooked enough, and I was feeling bad. The next morning I was
feeling worse. We had breakfast and started down the road. We came to a
crossroads and I saw a First Aid Station so I got out of the ranks and
went into the tent. The Nurse took my temperature. She said I had a
fever and had the influenza. It was all the rage at the time. They
sent me to the hospital which was on a hill and the railroad station was
down in the valley. It wasn’t any fun.
My brother Bill was in the tank Corps, and he found out that I was in
the hospital and he went AWOL and came to visit me. Well, the hospital
people decided that I was well enough to go back to my Company and moved
me down to a passenger car stationed at the railroad station down in
the valley. The French passenger cars are divided into compartments
with two long seats across the car and facing each other. They put me
in the last compartment in the car and it had a window missing in the
door. Thank goodness I had a blanket and this was winter and about 10
A.M. and cold. I was still weak so I wasn’t moving around very much.
There was my brother up looking around the hospital for me. We never
got to see each other. In fact, I did not know he had tried to see me
until we all got home. That’s life.
I did some traveling on my way back to my company. I went to Tours.
The St. Gatian Cathedral is there and I climbed to the top of one of the
two spires––inside by stairway, of course. I saw France on foot. I
sold the extra pair of shoes they issued me for $10. And they gave me
50 cents coffee money. To tide me over? I had not had a pay in ten
months so I felt rich and I knew how to get along without money. I knew
how to travel cheap. Let me tell you.
When I got back to my company I found out we were headed for Brest to
go home. After I found that out I didn’t wander far. I don’t believe I
even went into Brest. I stayed right in camp. The day finally came
and they loaded 5000 of us on the Kron Princessen Cecelia, a German
Liner we received in reparations and renamed the Mount Vernon. We made
the trip in five days. We were out about two days when I received a
Cablegram from Bob Barthel, my brother-in-law, welcoming me back home. I
We arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, and entrained to Camp Devans
Mass. We were each presented with a silver ring by the state of
Massachusetts. I lost it when I was swimming at Virginia Beach.
Then we were sent to Camp Gordon, near Atlanta, Georgia. We received
our discharge. I went into Atlanta and bought a gold watch. I had my
initials engraved on the back. That was April 4th 1919.