Yesterday was Veterans Day (observed) in the United States, and some people had a paid holiday. I prefer to spare a thought on the eleventh day of the eleventh month for the Armistice that ended the first great cataclysm of the 20th century: one with repercussions that echo to the present day although just a handful of soldiers from the Great War are still with us. What they endured defies description. Imagine English platoons kicking footballs ahead of the charge at the Somme to distract the men from the shells and machine guns and the 400 murderous yards they had to cross to reach the German trenches! In 1942 more than half the men being cared for in our V.A. hospitals were "shell shocked" casualties of the First World War.
Two of my Gr-great uncles were veterans of the Great War, both in the 27th (New York) Division. These medals were awarded to Sergeant Stanley Clark of Newburgh, New York, who served in one of the National Guard units that comprised the 27th Division. Others like them appear on the uniform of the soldier above, Edward "Ned Olmsted", who served from the Spanish American War until 1936 when he retired as a Brigadier General.
Ned Olmsted enlisted as a private artificer on May 17th, 1898 in the elite Squadron "A" Cavalry of the New York National Guard. These photographs were taken of him and his wife, Clementine Davidson Ladley, around the time of their marriage in 1901 when he was a corporal. He served with the cavalry as a citizen soldier while employed as an "engineer salesman" for various companies in Philadelphia and New Jersey.
During the early 1900s Olmsted advanced through the grades in the cavalry as sergeant, 1st lieutenant (as he appears at right) and finally as Captain of the 4th Troop of Squadron "A". In 1912 he was appointed as aide to Major General John F. O'Ryan, commander of the New York National Guard, and from this point on he served as a staff officer and his career was closely linked to that of the Maj. General. He is mounted at left on a regimental horse named "Brooklyn" at training excises in Fishkill, Dutchess County, New York.
In 1916 Major Ned Olmsted was Assistant Chief of Staff of the Sixth Division under General O'Ryan on the Mexican Border in the hunt for Pancho Villa. The entire national Guard was called up to patrol the Texas border while the regular army units under General Pershing rode in pursuit of Villa. Maj Olmsted and the New York troops were based at Fort McAllen, Texas. O'Ryan was a strict disciplinarian and dedicated to bringing his National Guard units up to the regular army standard. he was an early advocate of "live fire" training exercises and his methods often produced spectacular results. Far from idling away along the Rio Grande, the New York Troops were trained under conditions similar to those then prevailing in Europe where the United States was not yet a belligerent. Soon after returning from Texas, this training would be put to the test as America entered the Great War.
The New York Guard Units were reorganized in 1917 as the 27th Division. Its insignia, at left, includes a symbol representing the letters NYD for New York Division, against the stars of the constellation Orion, a clever play on the name of its commander. On August 30, 1917, the 27th Division paraded down 5th Avenue passed the New York Public Library where there was a reviewing stand for immediate families. After months of training and further reorganization they embarked for Europe in the Spring of 1918.
Edward Olmsted, still on O'Ryan's staff, had preceded them, having in the meantime graduated from the Special Course for Intelligence Officers at the Army War College in Washington, DC. He served as Major and Lt-Colonel in France and Belgium as Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1, in the 27th Division.
The 27th was initially stationed in the East Poperinghe Line, and participated in actions at Dickebusch Lake and Vierstratt Ridge during the late summer of 1918, and then in September the struggle to break the formidable German defenses of the Hindenburg Line. On September 25th, the division participated in the Somme Offensive and provided a break through of the Hindenburg Line itself forcing the Germans into general retreat. After a final confrontation with the retreating Germans at the Le Selle River the Armistice ended the fighting and the division was sent home in February of 1919, to be mustered out several months later." New York State Military Museum
Uncle Ned came home from the war with many souvenirs, including a Prussian officer's spike helmet which my grandmother remembered playing with as a girl. She who was so loathe to part with the very least of our family items - battlefield loot among them- shook her head with disapproval when recalling that his entire collection of militaria from the trenches of Europe had been given to Pingry School in Elizabeth, NJ which Uncle Ned had attended as a boy.