Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War


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Canada had paid a horrible price thus far on the European battlefields by reason of the dash and daring of her unconquerable legions. But with all the sadness and the bitter thoughts of what the future might have in store for the boys who were going away, nevertheless there was a brave attempt at cheerfulness, and many a mother went through the ordeal with Spartan spirit as she gave her only son to Uncle Sam. No one will ever know the heartaches and the torture which the mother suffered during the days when all these Western Pennsylvanians were leaving for the armed camps, and then on through the long days and nights until the armistice was signed and the casualty lists finally were completed.

First disease invaded the camps and death claimed many of the lads even before they had completed their training, and then when they were safely overseas the cables would commence to bring stirring accounts of battles and tell of the brilliant fighting of the Pennsylvanians. And after the news of the battles would always come those lists of sorrow for many homes. There would be a rap at the door and a messenger would quietly hand out a telegram from the War Department at Washington. That was all, and it was oftentimes the sudden end of the hope and joy of a lifetime. But there was always the consolation in knowing that he died with the bravest of the brave and for a cause in which millions of other men cheerfully gave up their lives.

And, many a home in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania had good and sufficient reason to know the casualties among the troops from this section were especially heavy. Our families suffered this toll due to the fact that our soldiers were efficient and dependable forces. Wherever the vitally important work was, where it was necessary to use soldiers who would not fail in the tasks assigned them, our boys were sent. And such work was usually found where the fighting was thickest and hottest and the enemy offering desperate resistance with picked regiments.

The unit numbered about persons and was in command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Miller. Henry S. In addition, there were hundreds of men leaving this section of the country almost daily under orders inducting them into certain special branches of the military establishment where their particular skill, along mechanical and other lines, made their services greatly desired. Some received commissions while others were inducted as privates or in various non-commissioned grades. It was this gradual filtration of the skilled men in and about the Pittsburgh industrial district which eventually helped make the new Army of the United States so proficient in almost every line of it's endeavor.

No matter where one would turn, either in this country or overseas, in aviation, quartermaster, ordnance, signal corps or in any of the many different and exacting branches of the service, Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania men could be found performing the most difficult work and gaining lasting reputations for energy, close attention to duty and as master craftsmen. The aviation service, offering as it did exceptionally hazardous opportunities, was a favorite with many of the young men of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania and hundreds of them later won the right to wear on their uniforms the wings of the graduate flying man.

Many thousands of others who offered were unable to get into the aviation camps because of the great popularity of this branch of the service and were forced to seek some other arm. But those who did gave a good account of themselves both in the air as pilots and observers or on the ground as engineers and mechanics. The tank service was another branch which was attractive for the men from this section and many hundreds were accepted and became highly proficient in manipulating these monsters of modern warfare. Chemical warfare, too, was attractive to many Pittsburghers and Western Pennsylvanians, because in this section there were many men skilled in chemistry and Uncle Sam had crying need for these experts in order to make ineffective the avalanches of gas so frequently sent over by the Hun.

If the war would have gone on much longer the Germans would have had occasion to learn even more of the work of these chemists from Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania, for they had devised gases so devilish and deadly that even the worst the enemy had to offer were mild in comparison. To enumerate all the special branches of the service in which men from Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania were engaged both at home and abroad would require a book itself. They were everywhere and doing every imaginable sort of work and in every rank and station in that great army. Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania physicians and nurses were at the front in large numbers administering to the soldier boys, and the work of men and women from this section of the country in connection with the various religious, athletic and other activities must not be forgotten.

Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania furnished many men and women who voluntarily left peaceful and happy homes to undergo the hardships of life on the battlefield so that they might assist our fighting men. Many such were striving by night and by day in connection with the YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, Salvation Army and the other agencies, and they helped materially to lighten the load of the soldier boy billeted on a foreign shore away from home and kinfolk.

The patriotic devotion of these representative men and women has given a new significance to the Golden Rule, and we owe to them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.

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In the Red Cross, too, were many men and women from the western section of Pennsylvania, and wherever there were works of mercy or relief to be performed, either among the soldiers or the civilians of devastated towns and villages, their kindly ministrations will be long remembered. Pennsylvania furnished the stupendous total of , men to the World War, according to figures obtained from the draft headquarters at Harrisburg, and estimates made from the state totals indicate that Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania alone furnished almost half this number.

Draft boards throughout the entire state furnished , men, and of this number 77, were supplied by this section of the Commonwealth. The Harrisburg draft officials estimate that in reality the state supplied , men through the draft, because there were individual inductions amounting to 7, men sent to the student army training camps and to the navy. The balance of the estimate is made up by adding delinquents and deserters and replacements for rejected men at camps. The State National Guard furnished approximately 30, men, and in the neighborhood of 50, men volunteered in the various branches of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.

Recruiting officers in charge of the Pittsburgh stations of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, and who have charge of all enlistments in Western Pennsylvania, estimate that they received into the service more than 10, men. Of this number the Army had about 3,, the Marine Corps 2, and the Navy approximately 5, Aviation and other special branches also obtained relatively large quotas here.


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Here are the draft figures for Pittsburgh and the various counties of Western Pennsylvania:. When the National Guardsmen from Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania arrived at Camp Hancock and the drafted men at Camp Lee, those who had never participated in military affairs before received their first taste of the hardships which often accompany Army life.

Especially was this so at Camp Lee, because there was a scarcity of bed clothing, no heat and the weather was anything by comfortable. The National Guardsmen had considerable equipment before they departed for the South and so were more fortunate in this respect than the selective service men, but even then there were other inconveniences with which the boys had to put up until such time as the camp was thoroughly organized and equipped. Many were the complaints of unnecessary hardships which filtered back from Camp Lee to the folks at home, and what was true of Lee was true of most every camp in the country.

A section of the trenchworks at Camp Hancock, where the 28th Division prepared for war. In undertaking to create so large an Army, Uncle Sam had many obstacles to meet and overcome, and it was no small task to provide the necessary equipment for so large a body of men in so short a time between the declaration of a State of War and the calling of the men to camp.

In addition to bedding being scarce considerable time elapsed before all the men were equipped with uniforms and other articles of clothing required to withstand the rigors of an Army camp in winter.

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There were instances of carelessness on the part of officers in exposing the new men to the elements, and no doubt much sickness was caused as a result. This carelessness most generally took the form of forcing the men to stand in line in unheated buildings to await their turn for medical examination or for various inspections, but such conditions were soon corrected by the chief military authorities. There were also some cases of neglect in properly caring for men who were ill, but these, too, were incidents due to the inexperience of the officers in handling large bodies of troops and they did not happen after the camp became thoroughly organized and in smooth running order.

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But these experiences only served to give the men an idea of what might be expected in the way of hardships under war conditions, and on the whole they bore up bravely, accepted their lot with a highly commendable spirit of patience and prepared to acquire everything offered in the school of the soldier. They later gave ample and sufficient demonstration on the battlefield that, although they learned the arts of war quickly, nevertheless they had learned their lessons thoroughly and well.

At the two camps, Hancock and Lee, where the large majority of the Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania boys were stationed, the usual courses of intensive training were commenced shortly after their arrival and continued without interruption until the divisions were declared fit to go overseas to complete their studies. Of course, the guardsmen were for the most part familiar with military discipline and the major field maneuvers, so that it was possible to start them in the advanced studies of the most modern forms of warfare within a few weeks after they went into camp.

Adelbert Cronkhite. But the selected men at Camp Lee were, with few exceptions, entirely without any previous military experience, so it was necessary to teach them the very rudiments of the camp. From the start the men at Camp Lee had one of the most successful soldiers in the Regular Army as camp commander, Major General Adelbert Cronkhite, and it was freely predicted in high Army circles in Washington that if the Pittsburghers and Western Pennsylvanians had the stuff in them to make soldiers that he would turn out one of the best divisions in the new Army. How well this prediction held out is known to the General Staff, for the 80th Division was noted as one of the most highly trained and proficient divisions of the National Army when it finally received orders to move to France.

And while the selected men at Camp Lee were going along steadily and developing into first-class soldiers, the guardsmen down at Camp Hancock were commencing to have troubles in the shape of an order for the entire reorganization of the Pennsylvania National Guard Division to conform to the new Army standards. General Pershing, after making a study of the British and French army organization standards, had worked out a plan taken from the best points of both, and the carrying into effect of this plan played havoc with the various guard units.

The strength of an infantry regiment under the new standards called for many more men and officers than under the old scheme of organization. Thus some regiments were broken up to bring others up to the new strength, and it was at this time that the stir was caused when it became known that the Old Eighteenth, of Pittsburgh, was to lose it's identity entirely by being broken up, with part of the regiment to be used as a depot brigade. Major General Charles M.


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Clements, then division commander, had arranged the scheme of reorganization and some ugly stories were circulated at the time relative to an attempt by Philadelphia politicians to save the identity of a Philadelphia regiment at the expense of the Pittsburgh unit. The citizens of Pittsburgh were indignant that the historic Duquesne Greys, upon which the regiment was founded, should be thus relegated into oblivion, and a mighty protest went up.

Delegations composed of the Pittsburgh representatives in Congress, together with Colonel E. Bliss, then Chief of Staff of the Army, to save the Eighteenth. The information was given that the reorganization was purely a matter for Major General Clements to decide.

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The Governor, Martin G. Brumbaugh, was asked to exert himself on behalf of the Eighteenth, and he even made a trip to Washington to consult with the Secretary of War. The tide of dissatisfaction was running uncurbed for a time over this controversy. As the result of some alleged irregularities, including a telegram bearing the signature of the governor, which he declared he never signed, an investigation by the War Department into the whole affair was threatened.

Congress also began to hear of the row and rumors of an investigation by the House Military Affairs Committee were rife. Later, however, and much to the relief of the citizens of Pittsburgh and the men of the Eighteenth, the plans were changed so as to allow this regiment to retain it's identity, but it had a narrow escape from not being able to add more glorious chapters to it's long history. All fair men in or out of the Pennsylvania National Guard will admit that, although considered excellent as a state militia division, this organization had much to learn about the brand of warfare being waged in Europe when it entered camp.

Politics, both internal and external, had left imprints in spots, and such imprints were considered as retarding the efficiency of the men and the units.

Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromie's Extraordinary First World War

The General Staff in Washington was well aware of these conditions and did not hesitate to clean up these spots, although taking full cognizance of the fact that such renovation would undoubtedly cause much talk and dissatisfaction in the quarters attacked. Nevertheless, to have left matters as they were would have been to needlessly jeopardize the interest of the soldiers in the division, both as regards training and leadership.


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The first and foremost consideration was capable officers throughout every branch of the organization, and today none know better than the men themselves how important, and for their interests, were the changes made at Camp Hancock. The weeding-out process removed many officers either for physical defects, age or for other reasons deemed in the interests of the service.

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Many of the officers so removed were patriotic, sincere men, who had given a lifetime of service to the guard and were loved and respected by the men of their commands, but in this war there was no room for sentiment and so some had to suffer. Before being relieved of his command, Major General Clements had also removed and shifted a number of officers, including Colonel E. Kearns, commander of the Eighteenth Regiment, of Pittsburgh.

And Major General Muir did not hesitate to carry out this policy of swinging the ax whenever he became convinced the service could be benefited. Charles Muir. A lifelong and thorough soldier, Major General Muir had not been long in command of the division before improvement was noticeable in the discipline and morale of the troops. He demanded promptness and efficiency on the part of officers and men and he did not hesitate to speak his mind when things were not to his liking. He won the admiration and confidence of the men by demanding respect for them on the part of officers as well as absolute obedience by the men.

And from that time on there was a new spirit of service, a new atmosphere about the camp reflected in every activity.

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Thus was the 28th Division re-made, and thus was it brought up to the new standard of proficiency where it stood first on the list of all the National Guard divisions of the United States. Before proceeding further with the story of the activities of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania units in the Great War, it would be well to examine somewhat the history of the guard regiments from this section of the state and also to set forth the results of the reorganization whereby these regiments may be identified in the Army of the United States.

This history will deal chiefly with the 28th and 80th Divisions, because it was in these divisions where a large majority of these men served.

Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War
Honoured By Strangers: Captain Cromies Extraordinary First World War

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