Interview with Kelly G. Gilbert, November 14, 1985

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - The draft and basic training

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Partial Transcript: We're in Frankfort, Kentucky and I'm with, uh, Mr. Kelly Gilbert who is, uh, living in Frankfort. Uh, he was born in 1895 and participated in World War I. Uh, how old were you when you went in the Army?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert talks about working on his farm when he was drafted in World War I at the age of twenty-three. He describes basic training and his deployment to France with Company I of the 51st Infantry 39th Division.

Keywords: Brest (France); Camp Beauregard (La.); Camp Taylor; Camp Zachary Taylor (Ky.); Deferment; Marseilles (France); National Guard

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918

GPS: Camp Beauregard (La.)
Map Coordinates: 31.375694, -92.389525
00:04:18 - Deployment to the trenches September 12, 1918

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Partial Transcript: And, um, how long did that last?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert describes the places where he was deployed in the trenches. He talks about his unit's assignment to guard duty and service on the front line close enough to hear the Germans. He describes trenches and trench life. He talks about celebrating his birthday on the front at the time of the armistice.

Keywords: Argonne (France); Artillery; Belleau Wood (France); Chateau Thierry (France); Flares; Sedan (France); Trenches; Verdun (France)

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918--Trench warfare--France

00:11:04 - Combat at Verdun

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Partial Transcript: Wa, wa, was your division, did it ever attack, w, while you were in it?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert describes his division's role as a reserve force. He talks about his combat experiences, including a gas attack, and his assignment as machine gunner in the infantry. He describes attacks on his position that were frequent during a three day period. Gilbert describes a night attack and the aftermath, including German casualties. Gilbert clarifies that while in France he was transferred from the 39th Division to the 6th Division, Company I, 51st Infantry Regiment.

Keywords: 6th Division Company I 51st Infantry; Belleau Wood (France); Browning automatic; Chateau Thierry (France); Cow bell; Flares; Gas alarms; Gas attacks; Gas masks; Machine guns; Trenches

Subjects: Argonne (France); United States. Army--Reserves; Verdun (France); World War, 1914-1918

GPS: Verdun (France)
Map Coordinates: 49.162, 5.3876
00:26:13 - Breaking the Hindenburg Line

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk about the, the trenches there. Are you going to be, about that time--that's about the time that they start that major, uh, offensive action--

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert describes his unit's deployment during the offensive that broke the Hindenburg Line, and the artillery barrage that preceded that attack. He states his division was in the rear and deployed by freight train and marching. He says that this was his first experience in combat.

Keywords: Artillery; Barrage; Hindenburg Line; Train

Subjects: Marseille (France); United States. Army.; World War, 1914-1918

00:36:19 - Life in the trenches

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Partial Transcript: Were you, were you in the, uh, the, the trenches that had been dug for some time in any of--

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert describes the conditions living in the trenches, including the physical conditions of the trenches, eating arrangements, and living arrangements. Gilbert says his birthday was on Armistice Day, November 11, as his division was being redeployed from the front line to the reserves.

Keywords: Army mess; Artillery; Belleau Wood (France); Cooties; Delousing; Front lines; Grease lights; Lice; Mess equipment; Reserves; Trench rats; Trenches; Verdun (France)

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.; United States. Army--Reserves; World War, 1914-1918--Trench warfare--France

00:41:49 - Incoming artillery and casualties

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Partial Transcript: Did you get shot at while you were there?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert says he was never wounded. He describes the sound of incoming artillery. He recalls seeing casualties, which is why he can't stand watching television violence.

Keywords: Artillery; Artillery burst; Casualties; Shrapnel

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918

00:43:16 - After the war ends

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Partial Transcript: When you get, when you get word that the war is over now, what do they, what do you think is going to you and what do they tell you is going to happen to you?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert describes how his unit is assigned to close order drill and tactical maneuvers eight hours per day for six months following the war. He says his unit is assigned to occupation duty in Germany, but since the unit is conscripted troops they are sent home, departing from Brest. Gilbert talks about his one pass while in the service during which he spent six days in Grenoble, France with friends but did not drink. He says he did not socialize with women in France because he was afraid of the photographs depicting venereal disease shown to him during training.

Keywords: Brest (France); Draft; Drills; Drinking; Germany; Maneuvers; Passes; Venereal diseases

Subjects: Grenoble (France); United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918--Veterans--United States

GPS: Grenoble (France)
Map Coordinates: 45.2002, 5.7222
00:47:58 - News at the beginning of the war

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Partial Transcript: When you get ready--you're farming here in Franklin--

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert describes learning about the beginning of the war and discusses his thoughts on Woodrow Wilson and the declaration of war. Gilbert gives his impression of submarine warfare and his duty to serve.

Keywords: Declaration of war; Gas; Lusitania; Newspapers; Radio; Slacker; Submarine warfare; Titanic

Subjects: United States. Army.; Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924.; World War, 1914-1918

00:51:13 - Voyage from Newport News, Virginia to Brest, France

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Partial Transcript: Alright when you get on that ship, where do you leave the United States from?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert's tells how his division sailed from Newport News to Brest on board a British cargo ship previously used to ship cattle. He says this ship is part of a convoy to avoid submarine attack. He describes how he is sea sick during most of the 14 day voyage and cannot eat white bean rations.

Keywords: Convoys; KP; Navy escorts; Rations; Rest camps; Sea sickness; Submarines; Torpedo; Zig-zagging

Subjects: Brest (France); Newport News (Va.); United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918

GPS: Brest (France)
Map Coordinates: 48.39, -4.49
00:55:46 - Army food and living in the trenches

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Partial Transcript: Well when you, when you, uh, talk about your food, uh, as you--when you're training in, in Europe, in France--

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert talks about how he was fed better while in training than when deployed to the front where he didn't get very much to eat; only canned rations. He describes sleep on a wooden bed, which is disturbed by rats and lice, but he gets used to artillery fire at night. He describes spending his nights removing lice by grease lamp light. He says troops are not able to leave the trenches even to use a latrine.

Keywords: Artillery; Beef; Canned rations; Delousing; KP; Latrines; Lice; Potatoes; Rations

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918--Trench warfare--France

00:56:47 - Life in the trenches

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Partial Transcript:

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert describes what life was like in the trenches including vermin, sleeping arrangements and latrines.

Keywords: Trench rat; artillery; cooties; delousing; grease light; lice

01:02:15 - Gilbert returns to United States

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Partial Transcript: So when you come back to the United States, where'd you land?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert talks about returning to the United States via New York Harbor to be discharged at Camp Taylor and from there he paid his own way home. He says his army pay was $1.25 per day, from which his life insurance premium cost $6.50 monthly for $10,000 coverage.

Keywords: Camp Taylor; Camp Zachary Taylor (Ky.); Cigarettes; Insurance; New York Harbor

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918--Veterans--United States

GPS: Camp Zachary Taylor (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.195556, -85.715556
01:03:32 - The shock of war

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Partial Transcript: Well when you came back you know there were a lot of people that were shell-shocked. Did you, did you see some of those?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert recalls seeing cases of shell shock and his own nervousness around loud noises. He also describes witnessing air combat, including dogfights and bombing. Gilbert recalls his eyes burning and problems with his lungs after the war that he attributes to gas attacks.

Keywords: Air war; Airplanes; Dogfights; Gas; Shell shock

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918--Veterans--United States

01:07:11 - Family life and employment after the war

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Partial Transcript: So after the war is over you come home. You weren't married before you went in the Army, were you?

Segment Synopsis: Gilbert tells of his marriage on July 4, 1923 which produces three children. He says he has been married 62 years at the time of the interview. Gilbert recalls returning to farming in Franklin County after his discharge from the Army, and also working for the state for 10 years. Gilbert says he is glad that he did his duty by serving in the military. He talks about his role in founding the local VFW post and service as commander. He recalls his Christian faith and family life. Gilbert says Oscar Slattley is the only other World War I veteran living in the area out of about 50 Franklin County residents who served in the war. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Christian; Duty; Farming; Mattie Monroe; Slacker; Stag distillery; VFW; Veterans of Foreign Wars

Subjects: Families.; World War, 1914-1918--Veterans--United States

GPS: Franklin County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.24, -84.88