Charles Edward Dilkes

Submitted by: Georgia Dilkes Harris and Virginia Dilkes {daughters}

Charles Edward DilkesCharles Edward Dilkes served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known May 1, 1917 to September 25, 1919.

 

Charles Edward Dilkes

OUR FATHER, CHARLES EDWARD DILKES, kept a DAILY DIARY of his military service. His memoir, based on this diary, begins with the night of him leaving America. He wrote: "I wish you could share my anticipation with me when on August 6, 1917, at 6:30 p.m. all men were assembled with full field equipment and at 7:00 p.m. we marched through the huge iron gates...full of spirit and hope." Finally arriving in Hoboken, New Jersey, he boarded the transport Finland, dropped down the bay off Tomkinsville, New York, while the "throbbing of engines acquainted us with our departure from the shores of America." It did not take long for the situation to change. A few weeks later on August 20, 1917, his fleet was within the danger zone. "I was coming on deck when a big explosion occurred, shaking the ship...The Captain from the bridge shouted out, "Why the hell don't you shoot that submarine!...Immediately our fore gun blazed away sending forth its deadly shell..."

When the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917, our father’s patriotic spirit rose within him; he volunteered on the 1st of May. With an engineering background, he was assigned to Company F as a combat engineer in the 1st Division of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) and fought under the command of General John J. Pershing. He earned the rank of sergeant, and was consistently called upon to lead his men to build first aid stations, communication trenches, and stables; to repair roads and parapets of the trenches; and to prepare the terrain for battle. This work was often done while he and his men were under enemy fire, which often meant putting down the shovel and picking up the rifle. His recordings of daily and significant enemy encounters stand out not only as consistent with history, but offered great personal insight into the rigors of war. He did not complain. He did not shirk his duties EVER in War, in his work, or with his family.

Sergeant Charles Edward Dilkes wrote about the Battle for Cantigny, the first of many battles in which he fought. “It was the night before, yes, and a still night—no artillery action, just a lull before a storm. Not a suspicion of the tragedy to follow dampened the apparent spirit existing among the troops. The eagerness for action with which we all were ready kept us strung to a high pitch of excitement. Not an explosion was heard, as if the artillery was busy oiling its machinery and cleaning the very muzzles of every gun.” The American army was victorious in the Battle for Cantigny and prevented the German army advance on Paris from this direction.

The second battle in which he was engaged was the Battle for Soissons, which was part of the Aisne-Marne military campaign. He wrote, “That noon we heard the Boche coming, blowing the ground up at a lively rate. The Boche seemed to think a relief was taking place so sent a barrage over to advance the attack. As we were directly behind the artillery, we felt the time for action had come. Orders were hastened to load and fix bayonets. Here for the first time I bade good-bye to my notes on this diary, burying this book alongside my trench, fearing its capture by the Germans in case of a successful attack by them. The Americans immediately counterattacked, driving the Germans to their own line of trenches. I saw nothing coming over the hills ….” The Aisne-Marne military campaign was the turning point of the war; from this point the Allied armies were on the offensive and the German army was on the defensive.Sgt Charles Edward Dilkes

Charles Dilkes and the First Division knew the Battle for the St. Mihiel salient was important and had deep undertones for the American Army, General Pershing, and President Woodrow Wilson. The American Army had command of the battlefield for the first time. The battle to capture the Saint Mihiel salient stood out in our father’s memoir. He wrote, “At 4:30 a.m. the order came for engineers over the top. Immediately we began hacking away at the barbed wire clearing four paths. How many shells exploded around us I do not know, for the excitement and roar of our own guns left us unconscious to any approach of hostile shells or explosions. We now took our position in squad column with the infantry ready to advance when the barrage for attack opened up. At five o’clock hell broke loose with the first wave sweeping toward the German lines. Shells began to break in our midst but did no damage. A little resistance was met by the first wave from machine gun fire but was overcome, and the advance went on. The first wave had gained its objective.”

After the victory at St. Mihiel, Charles Dilkes with the First Division was pulled immediately into the Meuse-Argonne operation. The strategy to clear the Argonne forest of the German army was divided in three phases. Sergeant Dilkes fought in Phase II and Phase III. In Phase II he was part of the contingent of engineers who captured Hill 269. In Phase III the engineers were under command to capture Sedan. In the march toward Sedan, he wrote: “Onward we pushed for two hours with no rest, and even now the five minutes we were given were because of the mining of the road leading through the forest. Here engineers were using all efforts to construct a bridge over these craters so our artillery and other wagons could follow. We slowly moved by this obstruction and then pushed forward at a rapid rate, many of the men falling by the wayside, and others sleeping while in a standing position. At seven o’clock on the morning of November 7th, we reached Chemery. Here we allowed the 26th Infantry to be in full command of the road, while we filed behind marching on to Chehery. We witnessed a terrific shelling of the town below us in the valley. This little village up to then was unharmed, but soon was completely wiped out.” The German Army retreated back to Germany after their defeat in the battle for the Meuse-Argonne Forest. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m., a day we still honor today. The hostilities had ended. Sergeant Dilkes enjoyed the triumphant march through the liberated countries of France and Luxembourg.

Charles Edward Dilkes was engaged with life, whether in battle, or when conversing with the local citizens. Shortly after the Armistice, he shared the time the troops were on another 20 kilometer march over the steep hills along the Moselle River when he was compelled to fall behind to take care of a lad who was completely exhausted. Invited into the home of "Herr German," after a few moments of "solace," the conversation "dwelt on the war as far as America was concerned.” He wrote, “After leaving I could not help but think of this kind hospitality given an enemy...I judged that he felt that we Americans were friends and not enemies."

The U.S. Army remained active in Germany as an army of occupation. Charles Dilkes continued his service as part of the Army of Occupation. In April 1919 he was granted a leave for ten days with a pass to Paris. Here he met his sister, Marie-Louise, who worked at the American Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Club. Upon his return to duty in Germany, he found life to be monotonous; that is until the Allied representatives to the peace talks became impatient and sent orders for immediate mobilization along the neutral border. He wrote: “Hence on June 1st we took our position along this line, presenting a continuous battlefront with our Allies across the heart of Germany. We pitched tents in an open field, and I can tell you that the feeling at this time was so intense that if the order came to advance, Germany would have experienced the bitterest warfare that ever was waged.” German representatives to the peace talks reacted to the threat, and the peace treaty was signed on June 28, 1919, and ratified by the German National Assembly on July 9, 1919. The war was officially over, and Charles Edward Dilkes could go home. He received an Honorable Discharge from the United States Army on September 25, 1919, from Camp Dix, NJ, and a final pay of $123.74, which included a Bonus Pay of $60.

The patriotism our father felt when he enlisted in the Army was reinforced in a speech by General John J. Pershing in London on July 17, 1919. “You will recall that when our 1st Division entered the battle line and fought the small though brilliant battle—the first as an independent command—at Cantigny, that the success which attended the attack not only set an example for future American divisions to follow, but really had an electrifying effect through the Allied lines and gave new hope to the armies …. The armistice stopped the First Division once; the signing of Peace stopped it a second time; German soldiers never stopped it.”

He again signed up when World War II broke out, and was put on the Old Man's list of volunteers, where his name remained for the duration of that war. It was our privilege to have our father during World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam. He prayed every night, kneeling at the head of his bed. He was a gentleman and a very loving father who challenged us to be our very best. He was honest, trusting, hard-working, intelligent, and had a clever sense of humor.

His ill health as a result of the years of fighting and the mustard gas attacks took its toll on him, preventing the publication of his memoir from becoming a reality. A concerted effort by our brothers and sisters eventually emerged culminating with the publication of his memoir in the book Remembering World War One: An Engineer’s Diary of the War by Charles Edward Dilkes,, Juliet Publishing, Atlanta, 2014. He passed on to be with the Lord December 7, 1968; we still miss him.

vad/gdh 7/27/2017

Figure 4 Enlistment Record 1 1

Figure 27 Honorable Discharge

597a8952862d0 RWWI Front Cover Image (2)