Carroll Anair: Lively Memories of World War I – November 2014 Edition of History & Herita

Welcome to November’s edition of History & Heritage. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.

We are located in the Summer Street School building while renovations are being made before we move to our new permanent home at 421 Summer Street. The 250 Club achieved its goal making it possible to buy the property and we did just that on August 29th! Thanks go out to all who helped us achieve this milestone. It took a community along with friends and alumni to make this dream a reality. We encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. Please join us for a benefit Veteran’s Day concert on November 10th at 7:00 p.m. at the North Congregational Church. Check out our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 223, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.

The following story is one I wrote in November of 1982 for The Independent. Carroll Anair was the owner of Anair Memorials located on old Route 2 (Clay Hill), now run by his grandson Steve Lowrey. The interview stayed with me and so I am sharing it again.

Lively Memories of WWI

Enemy submarines, Germans advancing “in waves”, cold, cooties, rats, trenches, are but a few of the elements of World War I that lend truth to General Sherman’s statement in The Civil War that “war is hell”. And no one would agree with that more than Private Carroll E. Anair of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion – Company B.

Carroll recalls that he “had the fever” to join the army and ran away from his home in Greensboro Bend to do just that. “I had my mind made up about a month before – the recruiting officers was over there about a half dozen times….I took the train to St. Johnsbury and went up to the armory. I told them I was 18 (he was only 17). I weighed only 126 pounds; I think the limit was 132 you had to weigh. I told them I had the Measles and was sick – I’ll be back up to 135 -140 pounds. They took me anyway.” The date was May 8, 1917.

Fort Ethan Allen

From St. Johnsbury he went to Fort Ethan Allen in Burlington, where he got his first scare, but not on the war front. Carroll recalls “I got hit by lightning down at Fort Ethan Allen. It hit the water pipe. It was mess time and I was the fourth guy behind the guy at the faucet. We used to fill our cups there. By God that lightning came down. I saw that streak come right down the pipe. Killed the guy that was filling his cup and crippled four of us. I was in the hospital. Knocked me right out.”

Carol recovered fully and was one of 196 men and four officers from the 1st Vermont Infantry to be assigned to the 101st Machine Gun Battalion in Niantic, Conn. After weeks of suspense, October saw them bound for Montreal, where they boarded the H.M.S. Megantic headed overseas. The ship brings back rather unpleasant memories: “I always remember how sick I got coming over. We were on one of those boats that carted horses. We were down in the bottom. We were sleeping in the horse stalls.” It took 14 days to go across the waters. The only other excitement in getting to France was at the channel crossing from Southhampton, England to le Havre, France. “We landed on a reef, stuck; the wind was whacking us so hard I thought it was going to break the ship. I hung onto the pipe on deck. My feet went out from under me a half dozen times hanging onto that pipe.” After being pulled off, they made it to Mont-les-Neufchateau, where they were to be in training for the next three months.

Training

Mont-les-Neufchateau was a small French town. One of the things that caught your attention as you entered the village was the wash house made of stone. Carroll remembers: “They had this trough full of water and the women had this thing they kneeled on and they’d scrub on a board. We used to take the water out of the spigot where the water came out to go into that tub. We’d take these big cans and fill them up and take them over to the kitchen and dump them into where they had the water. I bought a washboard. I paid 10 – 15 cents and had to scrub all our uniforms. We’d put them on and they’d be all wrinkles, they’d finally smooth out after awhile.” The training was all work and no play as Carroll remembers it. “You couldn’t get a pass to go anywhere. Work, work like hell you know. They were going to the range where they used to practice shooting with machine guns. We used to go there in the snow, with them shoes on; freeze your feet. Didn’t have any clothes, didn’t have a mackinaw. All you had was that uniform.”

Battles

After their training, it was on to the front: Soissons sticks in Carroll’s memory. “I remember seeing the Germans coming in waves. We were in the trenches. We started shooting about 7:30 or 8:00 at night. The next morning when I got up we had cut off all them woods, cut the trees right off – big trees – with the machine guns. That’s how many thousands of shells we’d shoot.”

Another similar experience, not involving trees, but wheat is recalled by Carroll: “Coming down through this wheat field, German planes came over and were shooting at us as we were running through the wheat. You could see the wheat pop off where the shell hit it. We threw ourselves down in the edge of the woods. They were so low we could see the pilots. The bullets were flying all around us.”

Chateau Thierry was a place where they drove the Germans back from their advance on Paris. Carroll has a vivid memory. “I remember going into Chateau Thierry. We stopped on the way in, because the Germans were shelling the road so hard. I always remember that there was this young Smith from Hardwick. He got killed there. He was standing by a tree. The shell hit the tree and killed him. I was standing about 20 feet from the tree. Knocked me out, but didn’t hurt me.”

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive revealed another horror of war to Carroll: It was here he got gassed. “We had learned that by urinating in a handkerchief and putting it over your nose and mouth, it would save your life. That was before gas masks. That ammonia in your urine killed the gas. (Gas masks came out shortly thereafter.) You couldn’t talk –burned-I was out only about four or five days.”

Even after all these Years, the memories are vivid. “God, I can remember standing watch in those trenches. You could see them fighting way down in the front. You see the flash of the guns. Once in awhile one of those trenches would cave in. Gee, wouldn’t you jump when the dirt came caving in. I thought it would be a German, you know.” Carroll sums up his luck: “We had places where we could see the Germans coming in waves – hundreds, thousands – I’m telling you, that makes your old hair stand up cause you don’t know if you’re going to get blown up – hand grenade. I never got wounded with shrapnel – I was very lucky. I was always in the right place at the right time.”

Conditions

The conditions under which they lived and fought were oftentimes deplorable. “We used to live on corned beef and hard tack. We had hard tack most of the time. We had to soak it in water five or ten minutes before you could even chew it. It was just like eating a stone. That’s all we had for quite awhile. We had canned soup” Carroll recalls that they “had terrible weather over there; rain, rain, rain and snow. We weren’t equipped to fight in cold weather – hobnail shoes, just shoes. I suffered with the cold terribly.”

To sleep, “There were places where you went downstairs and were underground 30 or 40 feet. These places were all reinforced with logs. I can remember being in those places and they were bombing up above us. I can remember going to bed at night and waking up in the night with water dripping in my face off those damn logs. Then, rats: They were something, lay there and hear them crunching and running right across your blankets when you were in your bunks.”

As if the rats weren’t enough to contend with, there were the cooties. Carroll shudders as he remembers that “the lining of my uniform – there would be eggs the whole length of that. We suffered” He recalls one of about a dozen times the troops were deloused. “They had a big machine right by the river. They used to take us out of the front, take us down there. Take your uniform off and wrap it up with your belt and throw it into the machine. It was a steam machine; I always remember at the Seine River, we got deloused there. We had to take a bath there, then they gave us some stuff to rub on to kill them, cause you might have some eggs under your arms. You were naked, you had to wait for your uniform and then put it on wet. All wrinkled up and didn’t fit – you had to keep pulling on it to get it loose. You’d stay there naked 3or 4 hours. After about a week they were back.

They weren’t trucked around much. Their feet were their transportation. Carroll recalls, “I used to have a pack that weighed 65 to 70 pounds. I had that machine gun – 63 pounds. Used to put that gun right on top of the pack. When we used to stop and rest after chasing the Germans, I’d fall down and go to sleep. They’d have to wake me up.”

Fun

Not all Carroll’s memories are bad. “We used to play poker, we had big old wooden table.” Another good time remembered: “One place we were in the trenches, there is what they called a chateau where somebody lived. Nice big chateau, had a pond there. We’d sneak out of that trench and down across no man’s land. We’d catch trout. We didn’t have any fishing tackle, so we’d take a pin and bend it and put bait on it and throw it out there. They’d grab it. We had a lot of fun. I remember one day a shell came over and right in the pond. We got out of there!”

A luxury sought after was that of a bed to sleep in as opposed to the ground! Carroll tells us, “When we were going from one spot to another, we’d stop in a small town. They had the tents you could set up. I can remember this Shady and I used to go around to all the people in town that had houses, to try and rent a bedroom. Once in awhile we’d be lucky – I think it was 50 – 75 cents a night.”

War’s Over

All of war’s woes for the private’s pay of $30 a month! As to Carroll’s feeling when it was over: “Damn glad of it – couldn’t wait to come home.” And come home he did, entering Boston Harbor on April 7th, 1919 aboard the U.S. Transport Agamemnon. The passage of time has made it easier to talk about, but certainly WWI is a memory that won’t ever fade for Private Carroll E. Anair of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, Company B. Their sacrifices were great.

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