Unit: Company A, 102nd Machine Gun Battalion, 51st Infantry Brigade, 26th Division, Massachusetts Army National Guard
Branch of Service: Army
"I have seen just enough of the world to want to see the best of it.” (Letter to mother, November 18, 1917)
Edgar D. Andrews was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on November 26th, 1890, to George and Sarah Andrews. He enlisted in the Massachusetts National Guard and originally served as a cavalryman, deploying to the Mexican border for a few months with the Massachusetts Cavalry upon activating for the Mexican Expedition in 1916. After the United States entered World War I, his cavalry squadron was converted into the 102nd Machine Gun Battalion. It formed a part of the 26th Division, which was organized in August 1917 and nicknamed the "Yankee Division" as most of its components were National Guard units from New England states. Frank Van Pelt's unit, the 101st Field Signal Battalion, was also assigned to the 26th Division. The division deployed to France in September 1917 and joined up with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF).
After arriving in France, Andrews and the rest of the 26th Division spent several months behind the lines at Neufchateau, where they were trained in trench warfare tactics by experienced French officers and non-commissioned officers. In February 1918, the 26th Division was then inserted into quiet sectors of the Western Front. Andrews' 102nd Machine Gun Battalion got their first significant combat experience in the Battle of Seicheprey on April 20th. In late July, Andrews again saw heavy fighting during the Aisne-Marne Offensive, the last major German offensive of the war. He carefully avoided giving his family any details of the fighting, though the emotional impact that it had on him is evident. Andrews spent the last months of the war in hospital, suffering from an unclear illness he termed "rheumatism," that he said had been caused by spending long periods of time in muddy trenches.
As a National Guard soldier who had been with his unit for some time before the war, Andrews had already formed close bonds with many of the men in his unit. Not only that, but as many of the soldiers in his unit were from the Boston area also, they were well-known to his family. The correspondence between Andrews and his parents and sister offers poignant insight into the tight-knit bonds formed among the men and families of the 102nd Machine Gun Battalion.
The first letter included in Edgar Andrews' collection is one from October 1917, informing his mother that his ship has arrived safely in France. Over the next four months, he wrote often to his family, telling them much about his unit's training and preparation for life in the trenches of the Western Front. He exhibits excitement at being a part of such a momentous historical event, eagerness to see the sights of France, and determination to do his duty, but it is also evident that he misses his family—and the Boston nightlife.
In his first letter to his mother from October 1917, Andrews assured her that he had arrived safely, and admitted that he was weary of the sea. He also expressed excitement at the prospect of going ashore in France and seeing everything that the country had to offer:
"Over here everything is military and I am very anxious to get ashore and see the sights. Surely hope to see Paris before we leave France."
Andrews' letter to his mother dated November 18 highlights two contrasting themes in his correspondence: the thrill of travel and the threat of illness. Disease was a serious concern for servicemembers of the era, and in this letter Andrews discusses a bad cold he had the week prior, as well as the death of a member of his company from disease. Despite this looming threat, he maintains an upbeat attitude about the deployment to France:
"It sure is one wonderful trip and I would not miss it for anything.... I have seen just enough of the world to want to see the best of it."
In his letter to his father George on December 21, Andrews included two cartoons that he had clipped from the New York Tribune - one mocking Paul von Hindenburg, and the other one showing a boorish American "doughboy" being courted by two elegant French ladies. Andrews inscribed at the bottom of this cartoon, "It was always thus." But along with his sense of humor, Andrews also displayed his recognition of the nature of the war he was about get into. He made an allusion to William Tecumseh Sherman's admonition that "war is hell," as well as his own grandfather's negative memories of the Civil War:
"Grandfather was right. So was Sherman, but fear not it could be one-hundred times as bad as it is. If the war continues, and I'm afraid it will for some time, it surely will be worse."
During this timeframe, Andrews also wrote a letter to his younger sister Susan, with whom he had a very close relationship. Over the course of his time in France, they discussed their family, their mutual acquaintances and friends, their dating lives, and a wide variety of other subjects. In this letter, he compliments her letter-writing skills, urges her to look after her health, and tries to reassure her about his battalion's well-being in France:
"Here we have plenty of eats, plenty of sleep and plenty of drill. It must agree with us all as the boys are all getting fat but me."
Andrews and the rest of the 26th Division were inserted into the front lines in what was supposedly a quiet sector of the Western Front. This was meant to be a relatively gentle introduction to trench warfare, but while the division would see heavier fighting later in the war in other areas, the concept of a "quiet sector" of the Western Front was something of a misnomer - Andrews and his comrades saw plenty of death and destruction during their time in the Chemin des Dames sector.
The 26th Division's next assignment was to the Toul-Boucq Sector, where they spent nearly three months, and withstood heavy artillery barrages and raids by the Germans. Andrews' 102nd Machine Gun Battalion was directly involved in the Battle of Seicheprey on April 20, an attack by German Sturmtruppen launched after a 36-hour artillery barrage. The Americans repelled the German attack, but only after each side had taken more than 600 casualties. Nettie Trax's Base Hospital 18 received and treated the American casualties from this bloody battle.
"I have come to the conclusion that I never had a serious minute in my life until of late. It surely does make a fellow think some when the "big ones" are banging away over his head." (Letter to Susan Andrews, April 30, 1918)
Four days after sending the postcard to his father on May 16—and while still in a rest area behind the lines—Andrews wrote a longer letter to his father. In that letter, he conveys his hope that his father is enjoying a pipe that he gave him, and that he will have a chance to smoke it soon while listening to Edgar tell war stories:
"Will surely want to have many a good smoke in it when you and I are talking it all over. You have had a few good stories to tell yourself in the past of foreign shores. Yes! I am going to try and tell you a few interesting ones myself." (Letter to father, May 20, 1918)
In mid-July, the 102nd Machine Gun Battalion loaded onto trains that took them away from the Toul-Boucq sector and towards Paris. The soldiers were giddy at the prospect of furloughs in the "City of Light," but the trains did not stop there, but rather took them northeast again—to help put a stop to what was to turn out to be the Germans' last major offensive of the war. The 102nd and the rest of the 26th Division were thrown into counterattacks meant to destroy the salient that had formed after the German attack stalled. Andrews and the 102nd saw five days of intense fighting, from July 21-25, playing a role in what was to be an important Allied victory.
By mid-September 1918, Andrews was a patient at Base Hospital 50, suffering from an unclear illness that he termed "rheumatism" that had apparently been caused by living in damp trenches for more than six months. He would spend the rest of the war and into early 1919 at various military hospitals in France.
"Just think of it Ma, the war is won and I am still alive. You can not realize it at home, but it is wonderful. Yes! Just to be alive." (Letter to mother, November 19, 1918)
The Andrews Collection is somewhat unique in that it includes not only letters written by Edgar to his loved ones back home, but also letters to Edgar from his parents and sister. This meant that Andrews preserved these letters throughout his period of tribulations in France, and brought them back with him as valued belongings.
"It must have been terrible, something that the English language cannot express, we will have to hear you tell it when you come home. I tell Pa we must find a place in the country to live, so that you will have plenty of quiet and rest to get over all this experience...." (Letter to Edgar Andrews from Sarah Andrews, August 25, 1918)
After the war, Edgar Andrews married Margaret Nichols and had two children, George and Sarah. Andrews became a stockbroker, owning and operating his own brokerage in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He also joined the Freemasons in 1920, attaining the grade of Master Mason in 1947. He died on April 19th, 1974.