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Francis Ashley Phillips

Submitted by: Lanny Phillips

Francis Ashley Phillips 1

Francis Ashley Phillips served in World War 1 with the the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known 1917 - 1919.


These few pages are written about my grandfather, whom I admire and respect, and whose story I am proud to tell. (Written in January, 1963.)

In the wilderness of the old Illinois back country during the nineteenth century, sat a small five-room home, where George and Miranda Phillips lived with their children. This farm house and the large acreage around it had been homesteaded in Wayne County by George's parents, with a land grant given by [President] Franklin Pierce. The farm was situated halfway between Centralia and Xenia, Illinois. George, his wife, and children were primarily self-sufficient and saw little of town life other than Saturday trips to town.

There were five children in the Phillips family, all born somewhat closely together. First in line of the siblings was Charles, then Fredrick Monroe. Francis Ashley was the third child, born on November 14, 1889. He was followed by his only sister, Bessie, and his brother Eber. All have since died except Bessie and Francis.

Francis began school at the tender age of four. This may seem rather early, but was allowed as he wished to go with his older brothers. They were glad to have him along. The three boys left home at daybreak, walked two miles to school each day, rain or shine, winter or summer. The old school building was a typical one-room white schoolhouse, with few, if any windows, and logs to sit on. This particular school was very crowded with 94 students attending every day. Grades one through eight were all taught by one teacher. Contrary to our school program, a pupil did not fail or pass a grade. He moved up with the rest of the class as their knowledge increased until they graduated.

The Phillips brothers remembered well their school days and days of fun on the farm. Each tried to play devilish tricks on the others. One time the family obtained a wild bucking mule. Francis was in a tussle with his older brother, Charles. "I'll fix you," he said and threw his hat under the mule on which Charles was riding. Naturally, Charles was bucked until his teeth knocked and was finally thrown off. For weeks the two were at each other's throats.

After finishing grades one through eight, Francis took a high school examination. He passed the test, and from a one room school, he was accepted as a college applicant. Before going to college he started teaching at the same one-room school he had just attended. It is noted that Francis was teaching his cousins, who were his age, along with ninety students his age or older.

He may have continued teaching there had it not been for an event at a gathering one night. He saw a man shot to death. As the only sober witness there, Francis was wanted in court. He wanted to avoid this, so he turned in his resignation and, in his words "skipped out." Court was delayed, however, until he was found and held as a key witness.

In 1911, Francis went to Louisville, Kentucky to attend medical school for four years. He graduated from Louisville Medical School in 1915 with a degree of Doctor of Medicine. From the college in Louisville, Dr. Phillips was put in charge of the practice of a doctor on vacation. Francis remembers the first time he was called out on a case.

"I was walking along one night, thinking over my plans and my future, when a man came running up and said ‘Come quickly. There is a man atop that hill and he is badly hurt.’ I left at full speed and headed to the top of the distant hill where the accident had occurred. Upon reaching the scene, I first bandaged the bloody head wound, and then bent over the man to hear his heart beat. My own heart beat was so loud from running up the hill that I could not distinguish between the two. Finally after a good fifteen minutes of survey, I announced, ‘This man has been dead for about fifteen or twenty minutes.’ The sound of laughter came up as all the men joined in with ‘Yes, we have known that all along!’"

When the Doctor returned from his vacation, Francis left Louisville to practice medicine in a small zinc mining camp in Tennessee. He was there barely a year. The work was not very exciting, but it did offer a fair amount of opportunity since he was the only doctor in the area. In 1916 he left his post there and traveled to Memorial Hospital, a short distance. Work as an intern was all that seemed to be on the schedule. He soon moved back home to Centralia, Illinois, and set up his own practice.

Francis Ashley Phillips 4His plans were soon upset by World War I. The first day after the declaration of war with Germany in 1917, Francis enlisted and went into the service as a commissioned medical officer. He went to Denver to await his call. After waiting for some time in Denver, he was assigned to Fort Ogelthorpe in Georgia where he took medical officers training and training in tactics. After his officers training he was assigned to a company for instructions in military drill and overseas information. Finally they were given the examinations for overseas duty. After passing these overseas tests, he was shipped to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where the Army was giving men some of the most intensive overseas training of the time. It was at Allentown that Dr. Phillips became the Captain of his own medical team of Corpsmen and was later in charge of a larger group. It was this team of men who would later endanger their military careers just to serve under him during the war.

When overseas orders finally arrived, Francis and his battalion of medics went abroad as a replacement unit. The voyage was a rough and salty one of eleven days in a convoy. The ships ported in Liverpool and unloaded the multitude of American troops and medical reserves. The medical team was transported from Liverpool to South Hampton for a brief stay. New orders came to ship them across the English Channel. They departed in small P.T. boats during the blackest of nights.

He remembered how crowded those boats were. They all had on their life preservers and full packs, and the only way to have room to breathe was to curl in a corner or stand up. The small crowded boats landed at Le Havre and the men were immediately marched to Blois, France. From there they were marched into central France and to various points along the front lines where they were assigned to fight. Dr. Phillips and his eighteen corpsmen were then assigned to a camp and hospital in central France near Chateau-Thierry. He was the head of the medical center, the Chief of the Medical Department of Hospital 114, and also the evacuation officer. It was here that he worked for seventy-two hours without sleep, working on injuries from mustard gas and various other gas wounds and burns. Some of the everyday events are illustrated in these quotes, keeping in mind that these happenings were common in every area and just a quick recollection of all the hospitals and battles that Dr. Phillips was in.

"While we were in the Chateau-Thierry area, an ambulance arrived one very rainy night with one German, one Frenchman, and two Americans. The German and the Frenchman were both dead, but the Americans soon related this story. ‘The German in the lower booth reached up and stabbed the Frenchman right above him. And one American then shot the German.’"

"One day a soldier arrived at the hospital, dead, with no visible sign of injury. After a thorough autopsy, facts revealed that every organ in the man had ruptured: the diagnosis--concussion from a close bomb blast."

"We all carried cigarettes to give to the wounded boys. As I passed by one, he looked up and said ‘Hey Doc, how about a smoke?’ I reached down to give him a cigarette and saw that his skull was split wide open and his brain was pushing out of the crack; yet he was alive and acting normal."

As the original corpsmen were scattered and routed through out the Paris area, they were no longer working in direct contact with Dr. Phillips. Half of the medical group, which had originally served under him, went A.W.O.L. the first night out and returned to work under him without pay or recognition. It wasn't until months later that these men were found out and sent back to their own area to serve. In fact, it was very close to the end of the war when they were found.

The going was very rough for a few of the hospital divisions in and around Chateau-Thierry. One night an aircraft dropped three bombs on Hospital 114, wounding a nurse, several patients, and a corpsman. Before long, the entire Chateau-Thierry area was one of the centers of battle along the front. After the battle seemed to quiet down to some extent, Dr. Phillips and the rest of the hospital moved into the village of Chateau-Thierry. The village was an earthen fort at the peak of hill and used as a lookout point. Fighting was at a slackened pace, but Francis was again awake for seventy-two hours continuously due to serving as the main doctor and the person in charge of guard duty.

The hospital was moved again to the Saint Mihiel sector and arrived just in time to see a battle commencing. A temporary hospital was set up before night fall, and by 10:00 P.M. the station was filled with wounded or dead soldiers.

"It was quite a sight. There were lines of men waiting to be carried into the hospital, and inside were row after row of bunks, cots, and stretchers all filled with injured men. It was discouraging that we were not equipped to mend them. We could only clean the wounds, bandage them, and send them on to a better hospital farther behind the lines."

When all the men were cared for, and the Saint Mihiel battle had quieted down, the 19 corpsmen were moved to the Meuse-Argonne Sector. They arrived at the Fleury-sur-aisne rail head to wait further assignment and to set up a temporary hospital. Dr. Phillips was then ordered to take over a hospital from a French Division, prepare it, and wait for an American hospital unit to take it over. He then reported back to his own hospital at Fleury-sur-aisne, where 15,000 wounded men passed through in a period of two weeks.

When the flu epidemic caught up with them, the hospital was evacuated to the rear lines until the Armistice was signed. While still at war, he had a two-week vacation in Nice, which was followed by an assignment to the 5th Division at Luxembourg. While in Luxembourg, he was made regimental surgeon and remained there until July.

Dr. Phillips’ discharge came in on July 7, 1919, while he was stationed in Luxembourg, but he had to travel to Coblentz to obtain it. He passed through Brussels and other large cities and attended an Inter-Allied Parade on July 14, at which he rode in a car with other Army officers. He attended a wild celebration where a million people danced all night in the rain.

Francis Ashley Phillips 3A few days later he was requested by the Red Cross to cope with typhus in Rumania. He refused, but they insisted and he was offered the rank of Major of Medical Corps of the Red Cross. This he could not refuse. When he arrived in Rumania, he immediately opened three hospitals for the typhus fever epidemic, which eventually subsided. The hospitals were then turned over to the Rumanian government, and he was assigned to inspect all the Rumanian hospitals for their need of supplies. He would inspect the hospitals and then send them the badly needed items from his warehouse.

"My warehouse contained about one million dollars in medical supplies which were distributed as needed throughout the nation."

Queen Marie was interested in developing a child welfare program for Rumania. Dr. Phillips met with the International Red Cross and organized the program. He had a very personal interest in the project. At one of the hospitals where he was not in charge, 101 of 103 infants died from minor diseases in a short period of time. He also instituted a training program for nurses, as well as opening hospitals, orphanages, and a home for the blind. In 1920, he was given the Queen's Cross for Meritorious Service in first aid and program institution.

It was between 1917 and 1920 that Dr. Phillips became a close friend of John Phillip Sousa. He spent a full week in constant company with Sousa and his sixty-six men.

Francis's work in Rumania was completed. He spent some time in the Black Sea area, Constantinople, Naples, and Switzerland and then left for Paris and home to America. The Doctor took hospital work in Columbia and Milwaukee and then finally settled down in Centralia, his home town. In 1922 he set up his practice there, and it was there he lived for the rest of his life.

For two years he lived the life of a Doctor...late to bed and early to rise. In 1924 he met a pretty young lady, ten years younger than he. He and Dorothy Bostwick were married that same year.

Francis and Dorothy settled down in a small house on the outskirts of Centralia. Two sons were born to the marriage, Landon and Rodney. The two boys were led through life by a very fine father. Francis bought the boys a horse, built them an enormous tree house, and took them on many trips.

In 1937 Dr. Phillips was forced to retire because of arthritis. The boys were still very young, so Mrs. Phillips sold real estate as a profession to add to their income. As the years passed, Francis enjoyed bird watching, cultivated a garden of beautiful flowers, and raised and trained some of the finest field trial dogs in the country.

Doctor Phillips knew most of the residents in Centralia if they had lived in town for any amount of time. If he walked to town, he would know and greet most everyone. One day a gentleman came to the door and asked for Dr. Phillips. When he came to the door, the man gave him $84. He had owed it to Francis for almost thirty years. The man's wife had been saved in childbirth by the doctor, and the man was without a cent at the time. He said he would pay the Doctor when he could. Dr. Phillips paid for many of the medical bills out of his own pocket.