APRIL 30, 1918: “We will do our duty like true Americans and I know that Greene Co. will be proud of us and appreciate our services.”
Preparing to leave the United States for Europe and war, William Webster Throckmorton wrote these words in a letter of farewell to his family back home in Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania. He was one of 150 Greene County soldiers, members of Company K, 110th Infantry, 28th Division, who boarded a ship to Europe within the week. Read his letter.
MAY 3, 1918: On this date, 150 Greene County soldiers walked the plank ramp to board the ship that would carry them to war in France. Four ships controlled by the British Government were docked in Hoboken, New Jersey, for the transport of the regiment. These ships were the Corsican, Demosthenes, City of Calcutta, and Ausonia. Company K was assigned to the Ausonia. A total of 15 ships, including escorts, with a carrying capacity of 30,000 men from all over the United States began this transatlantic voyage headed for Liverpool, England. Spirits were high and the boys were anxious to do their part.
MAY 16, 1918: The men of Company K arrived safely at their port of call in Liverpool, England. Under generally favorable weather, the trip from New Jersey to Liverpool took 14 days with no submarines being sited along the way. A few days out from port, these ships were met by a large number of friendly destroyers, which escorted them to their final destination. During the last few days of this journey, extra precautions were taken. Garbage, cigarette butts, paper, etc, were not allowed to be thrown overboard during the day, but all materials were collected into heavy cans and thrown overboard at night hoping to leave no obvious evidence for any enemy air reconnaissance to see. No one was allowed to smoke on deck after sundown and all portholes were ordered to be closed. During these last few days at sea, each soldier was to sleep with his uniform on and life preservers within arm's reach. Immediately upon arrival, they were loaded on to trains bound for Dover on the southeastern shore of England, 300 miles away.
MAY 17, 1918: Company K soldiers arrived via train in the late night of May 16th or early morning May 17th, to Dover, England, where they were immediately transferred to a ship called the Princess Elizabeth to travel the 31 miles across the English Channel to Calais, France. As our soldiers were in the process of boarding this ship two things provided them with a hard reality that war was in their midst. First, a hospital ship was being unloaded right next to them displaying the gruesome reality of the fighting that was occurring in France and Belgium. The second was that here, for the first time they could HEAR the war, as the big artillery guns of Flanders were plainly booming off in the distance. The trip across the Channel took only two hours. They landed in Calais and immediately hiked about six miles to their first camp, English Rest Camp No. 6. By all accounts, this location was very disagreeable to the men and the chatter among them was that the name "Rest Camp" was a misnomer as there was no rest to be had due to limited space for their tents and supplies, narrow roads into, out of, and around it, as well as a type of dirt at this location that formed clouds of dust that hovered suspended in the air for long periods of time even from the smallest of foot traffic, let alone from the movement of horses and machines. It made breathing difficult and all things became covered in a layer of thick dust requiring constant attention to keep clean and battle ready.
MAY 30, 1918: Is there ever a FORTUNATE MISFORTUNE? On May 30, 1918, tragedy occurred as the torpedoes of the German U-Boat SM U-62 found their mark in the hull of the Ausonia as she was sailing westward back towards New Jersey from her recent unloading of our soldiers at Liverpool…the VERY SHIP that two weeks earlier, loaded and transported Greene County's Company K boys, in combination with hundreds of other soldiers, across the Atlantic from New Jersey to their War-bound port at Liverpool, England, was sent this day to the bottom of the sea, killing all 44 crew members. The ship had no passengers at the time. Only the crew that it took to run the operations of the ship was aboard. Had this event occurred two weeks earlier, Greene County would have lost all 150 of its Company K soldiers.
These submarines were ocean-going, diesel-powered, torpedo attack-boat class with a design first introduced in 1914. They were known as U-Boats from the German word UNTERSEEBOOT (undersea boat). The specific submarine that sunk the Ausonia was responsible for sinking 46 ships from the time it was launched on 2 August 1916 until the end of WWI on 11 November 1918.