The Great War

I’ve been watching season 2 of Downton Abbey on PBS and it’s got me thinking about World War I. Several of my ancestors fought during the war, but like the History Channel I’m guilty of passing over their service in favor of others who fought in the Civil War and WW2. I try not to, but it happens. Both of my maternal great grandfathers fought in WW1. One, Charles Wills (who I talked about in my last entry), was a 1st Sergeant in the 2nd Pioneer Infantry. The other, Aurelio Hernandez, was a Corporal in the 302nd Engineers. I don’t know much information beyond that, but it’s certainly a great starting point.

The main reason I’m bringing the subject up, though, is because last month I came across a document from the Office of Jewish War Records. My paternal great grandfather, Frank Erlanger, had 2 brothers who fought in WW1, Edward and Julius. The document I found details Julius Erlanger’s entire military career during WW1. Anyone who’s ever tried to research a relative’s military service will know how rare and exciting (and lucky!) this find is. I could hardly believe it when I came across it!

Julius Benjamin Erlanger was born November 21, 1895 in NYC. He attended public school and worked as a drug clerk, a salesman, and a telephone installer. Telephones were first thought of decades before Julius was installing them, but their usage by the public at large was relatively recent. It must’ve been exciting to be a part of such a new, modern industry!

A telephone ad from the 1910s

The United States declared war in April of 1917 and Julius entered into service on June 6, 1917, at the age of 21. He was made a Private in the 23rd NY Infantry stationed  in Brooklyn. They were moved to Van Cortladt Park for a time and then sent to Spartanburg, SC, on September 30 and re-christened the 106th Infantry. On May 5, 1918, the 106th left SC for Hoboken, NJ. They set sail from there on May 10 on the USS President Lincoln.

A boxing match on the USS President Lincoln taken in May 1918 when my great granduncle was on board. Wonder who he rooted for?

Around May 25, Julius and the rest of the 106th reached France. At Brest they received their gas masks and helmets and were sent to wait on the Somme near Amiens. Finally they were sent to Belgium where the fought with the British in what the document describes as “minor offenses.” Julius is listed as taking part in offenses at Dickebusch and Romsey (which is a place in England not Belgium, so I’m a little confused about this) against the Hindenburg Line. The first major offensive Julius ever took part in was at Mont Kemmel in September of 1918 and it was there that he was wounded.

Mont Kemmel after the battles in 1918

Julius was hit in his left shoulder by an “explosive bullet” and gassed. He was sent to a series of field hospitals before getting shipped to a US Hospital in Dartford, England. I found him listed in several newspapers across the US as “severely wounded in action.” I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been to his family and loved ones back home to see his name listed there. I wonder if the military informed them beforehand or if Julius wrote to them? He was eventually sent to a convalescent home in Winchester, England, and left service on January 18, 1919. The rest of the 106th was sent home in March.

There are a million and one things I could say about all of this information, but I’ll leave it at that for now. I don’t want to overwhelm anyone haha. I’m really interested in doing further research, though, and perhaps talking to my dad’s aunts (Julius’ nieces) about him. Maybe I could find a picture?

Until next time!

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