The Light Railway Engineers of World War I are little known regiments composed of men initially recruited from among railroad workers. Most of the men of the Fourteenth Engineers (Rwy), my primary focus, came from the Boston MA area including New Hampshire. When war was declared in April of 1917, the United States War Department requested nine regiments to be formed to work specifically with railroads–three for operating, five for construction, and one for repair. These recruiting efforts resulted in the Eleventh Regiment from New York, NY; Twelfth Regiment from St. Louis, MO; Thirteenth Regiment from Chicago, IL; Fourteenth Regiment from Boston, MA; Fifteenth Regiment from Pittsburgh PA; Sixteenth Regiment from Detroit, Michigan; Seventeenth Regiment from Atlanta GA; Eighteenth Regiment from San Francisco, CA; and the Nineteenth Regiment from Philadelphia PA.
In the Boston area, on 8 May 1917 then-Major William Preston Wooten and then-First Lieutenant Layson E. Atkins raised and organized recruits at Barristers Hall, 25 Pemberton Square. The first enlisted man there was James F. Everett, and the second Everett E. Gardner. Heads of Railway corporations were asked to cooperate in order to obtain experienced men. Companies A, B, D and F were recruited in Boston, while Company C was recruited in Portland, Maine and E was recruited in New Haven CT. Once in Europe the 14th (and also the 12th) Engineers would maintain and operate narrow gauge railways.
The total strength of the 14th Regiment was 1153. Their regimental insignia was a winged locomotive wheel on a section of track. They trained at the former Rockingham Race Track in Salem, New Hampshire, then dubbed Camp Rockingham. [Details of the actual training and outfitting is quite extensive in the book referenced here, so I won’t repeat it in this article. SEE History of the Fourteenth Engineers (Light Railway)]. There were occasional off duty outings for the soldier-trainees to nearby Canobie Lake. On 27 July 1917 at 3:30 p.m. the 14th Engineers were aboard the ship Adriatic departing New York harbor bound for Halifax N.S., Canada where it formed a convey with three other ships. Finally, on 1 August 1917 at 6 p.m. the convoy, and the men of the Fourteenth, were bound for Europe.
The following newspaper article succinctly describes some of the Fourteenth Engineers’ history. [Editor’s note: my additional comments are in brackets.] The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth NH, 5 Feb 1919, Page 2. RAILROAD REGIMENT DAREDEVILS. Feats Among Bravest Deeds of War; But Want To Come Home —Recruited and officered almost exclusively from New England railroads, the Fourteenth Engineers, who are now in France wining up the work they began in July, 1917, feel that they are probably the most natively Boston unit in the United States Army. But since they were one of the very earliest regiments to sail for France, and since they are probably destined to be one of the last to return, they consider themselves a “lost” regiment, as far as Boston people are aware of what they have done. The Fourteenth Engineers was organized shortly after war was declared from five New England railroads: the Boston & Maine, Maine Central, Boston & Albany, Bangor & Aroostook and the New York, New Haven & Hartford. Officials of these roads became the first officers of the regiment, and the personnel were employees of the same organization. Brigadier General Wooten [William Preston Wooten, see photo above] who was at that time a colonel, drew up the organization in Barristers’ Hall, and the regiment went into active service for training at Rockingham Park, Salem, N.H. in June 1917. Lieutenant Colonel Perkins [Albert T. Perkins] was second in command. Major Guppy [Benjamin W. Guppy, bridge engineer of the B&M] from the Boston & Maine commanded the first battalion and Major Brigham [Arthur Dexter Brigham] took charge of the second. Following training of four weeks, the regiment sailed on the Adriatic for England on July 25. It then trained for four or five days in Aldershot, and had the distinction of being the first combatant troops from a foreign country to parade in London under arms for 325 years! The regiment then crossed the Channel and took up quarters in a rest camp situated on top of a high, wind-swept hill known as St. Martin’s. And from that time on, the Fourteenth Engineers took an active part in the war on the western front. The journey to the western front was made in box cars and flat cars only three days after the rest at St. Martin’s. Eventually, the organization reached Belleau Aumont, where it was split, and the first battalion took up a position at Pozières, located in a remarkable active sector between Albert and Bapaume. The English had found this section full of life and danger, and it was no less stimulating to the Fourteenth Engineers on their first big job of the war. They operated light railways there which carried ammunition and rations to the men in the line, and they built other railroads and bridges. The British had already suffered heavy casualties in that position since the men on the light railroads did not have the protection of trenches. In this section the Fourteenth Engineers participated in the battle of Cambrai and saw considerable active service. For an entire year, they worked without a day of rest. In recognition of their services, they received decorations from the British army. During this period, when the United States was pressing more heavily into the services, and the Army was becoming better organized, the Fourteen Engineers lost many of its officers through promotion and transfer. Major Brigham was sent to Pershing’s staff. Captain Morrison [Edward P. Morrison] from the Boston & Albany was promoted to major. Captain Payton [sic, Frank B. Paten] of F Company was sent to a southern sector. Colonel Wooten had been made Brigadier general and Major Guppy was promoted to Colonel. Captain Lovett [Louis deB Lovett] who had been connected with the New Haven road, left the United States as captain of E Company and rose rapidly to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the regiment. Major Ralph Bradley, who had started his military career as a private during the Mexican trouble, rose to captain. But the — work for the Fourteenth Engineers began on March 21, 1918, the date of the last German offensive. Captain Bradley, as adjutant, led the first battalion away from Belleau Aumont when the Germans were pushing hard. Men were left behind to blow up ammunition dumps, bridges, tractors, locomotives, tracks and everything that would be of use to the enemy. On this dangerous mission were Corporal Thomas Coady [Sgt Thomas F. Cody, Co D] of the Boston & Albany and Privates Mcisaacs, McSwan [George S. MacSwan, Corp. Co. D], Van Emerson [Priv. Harold F. Van Ummersen Co. D], Barrett and Sergeant Hume [Sgt 1c John T. Hume Co D] of the same road Under heavy fire these men delivered ammunition and supplies of all sorts where they were needed. During the same offensive, the first battalion was busy. Two days after the offensive had begun the position of the original first battalion camp was miles behind the new German lines, and Colonel Guppy and Colonel Lovett [Col. Louis deB Lovett] had their hands full in transporting the men to safety. Frequently the Fourteenth Engineers, in the March offensive, were the last men to leave their stations. Due to a splendid organization, they suffered few casualties. Railroading under fire was a test of a man’s nerves. For the most part, it had to be done at night under — with uncertainty as to whether the road ahead had been blown up by the enemy. With a car load of high explosives, the truck was doubly dangerous. Fireman Ricketts of the Boston & Albany [Raymond G. Ricketts PC1 Co. D] received the British Military Medal for bravery under fire. He was once driving a train that had five cars of high explosives. One of the cars caught fire, and the rest of the train crew deserted. Ricketts, however, continued for two miles when he found water with which to extinguish the blaze. Between railroading, fighting with artillery and infantry units, — recapping sometimes with picks and shovels alone, and “resting” by devoting a fourteen-hour day to construction work, the Fourteenth Engineers saw a great deal of service. There was very little sickness among the men, whose health was in charge of Captain Sheehan [Capt. Michael J. Sheahan, Medical Detachment] of the New Haven road. And at least one unit, Company D, was never hungry for long because its mess sergeant was Albert Rochfellow, [Sgt. Alfred F. Rockefeller, Co. D] dining car conductor on the Twentieth Century Limited. Now the Fourteenth Engineers are doing real service in diverse forms abroad and many of them are enjoying short furloughs of the country they have fought for.”
Heroes of 14th Engineers (Railway)
It seems that the regiment records were burned at their storage location in France during a raid. The appendix of the “History of the Fourteenth Engineers” shows a re-creation of the rosters but these do not include official lists of the wounded, so what is compiled here is probably incomplete. SEE the List of men: Officers and Regimental Roster.
Rather than transcribing that entire list, I urge you to use the links directly above to the regimental roster where you can search the book for mention of specific names. What follows here are a few biographies and sketches of New Hampshire men who were known to have served in the 14th Engineers (Rwy).
1st Sergt. Arthur L. Barrett, son of Mrs. Guy Leston & Emma Delight (Lamkin) Barrett of Ashland and Lisbon, Grafton Co., NH. Company B. Service Number 164,444. Returned from Europe board the ship Dakotan from Bordeaux, France arriving in Boston MA on 17 April 1919.
P1c Elmer Cleveland Bartlett, son of Daniel D. & Rebecca L. (Bryant) Bartlett of Cornish NH. Company A and E. Enlisted June 10, 1917. Gassed Mar. 21, 1918. Released May 2, 1919. Served 21 Months.
Edward P. Bickford, son of Edward Purington & Amanda A. (Butler) Bickford. Company A and B. Enlisted 22 May 1917; Released 2 May1919. Wife, Evelyn J. “Helen” Dunbar.
Private Hector Blow, son of Frank & Emelia (Chalifoux) Blow. Company D., married Melina Chamard; resided 111 Tolles Street, Nashua NH. Replacement Draft departed 27 Feb 1918 from Hoboken NJ to Europe.
Perley Hadley Buxton, son of Harry B. & Caroline “Carrie” (Perley) Buxton of Goffstown NH. Company B., Service Number 164,449. Returned to United States from Bordeaux, France on ship Dakotan arriving in Boston MA on 17 April 1919.
William Albert Clayburn, son of Harry & Katherine Charlotte C. (Bebbington) Clayburn of Piermont NH; Company E.; Replacement Draft left Hoboken NJ for Europe on 27 February 1918, ship 3.
Private Alexander Luther Cook, son of Luke & Fannie Cook (of Russia). Resided Portsmouth NH, married Ethel R. Rogenski. Company E. Replacement Draft. Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 27 Feb 1918 aboard Ship 3.
Private Joseph Armsbury Draper, son of Otis W. & Octavia “Alice” (Mathews) Draper of Quincy [Rumney] NH; Company E.. Replacement Draft. Departed for Europe on 27 Feb 1918 from Hoboken NJ aboard ship 3.
Pvt. Warren A. Farmer, son of Rev. George W. & Ida A. (Baldwin) Farmer [pastor St. Luke’s Church in Portsmouth and other NH parishes] of 3 Park Avenue Derry NH. Service Number 17687. Medical Officer. Returned to U.S. from Bordeaux France, arriving in Boston MA on 17 April 1919 aboard the ship Dakotan.
Private Edward Francis Gallagher, son of James C. & Margaret (Shortell) Gallagher of Woodsville, Grafton Co., NH; Company B., Service Number 164,472. Departed Bordeaux France for the U.S. aboard the ship Dakotan on 17 April 1919. He married Clara M. Trombley.
Private Lewis William Gove, son of Charles T. & Addie A. (Harris) Gove of Wentworth NH. Company D. Departed the U.S. for Europe from Hoboken NJ on 27 Feb 1918, aboard ship No. 3. He married Pearl E. (Quail) Terpening.
Private Everett Arthur Lewis “A.L.” Hall, son of Hiland G. & Agnes (Dunham) Hall of West Canaan, Grafton Co., NH. Company E. Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 27 Feb 1918.
Corporal Daniel Francis Kelley, son of Daniel J. & Mary (Welch) Kelley of 107 Cedar Street, Manchester, Hillsborough Co., NH. Company D. Departed Hoboken NJ bound for Europe on 27 February 1918. He died on ship board, near France of an intestinal obstruction (presumably in the US forces) at the start of WWI. Buried March 31, 1918 in St. Joseph Cemetery. City Employees Raise Service Flag. MANCHESTER, N.H. March 30–A service flag bearing 25 stars, one a white star in memory of private Daniel F. Kelley, who died in France from natural causes, was raised this afternoon by the employees of Public Works. The exercises included a parade by all of the employees of the department through Elm st to the city yard, where the flag was unfurled. Addresses were made by Maj. Thomas H. Madigan Jr., city solicitor, and Samuel J. Lord, director of public works.[Boston Sunday Globe, March 31, 1918]
Joseph A. Larouche, son of Thomas & Denise (Potvin) Larouche; married to Mary Ida Durivage. Wagoner, Company B. Enlisted 25 May 1917, Released 2 May 1919. Buried Mt. Calvary Cemetery, Manchester NH.
Corporal Alfred L. Luneau, son of Joseph L. & Serilda (Provencher) Luneau of Tilton NH. Company B., Service Number 164,421. Returned to U.S. from Bordeaux, France arriving Boston MA on 17 April 1919, ship Dakotan. He married Lena M. Laflame.
P1c Norman Mc Meekin, son of Mrs. William J. & Margaret (MacFarlane) McMeekin of Woodsville NH. Company B, Service Number 164,502. Departed Bordeau France arriving in Boston MA on 17 April 1919 aboard the Dakotan. He married Florence May Cole.
P1c Ralph F. Morton, son of Fred D. & Lelia J. (Smith) Morton of Lisbon NH; Company B., Service Number 164,505. Departed Bordeaux France aboard the ship Dakotan arriving in Boston MA on 17 April 1919.
Frank Opie, son of John & Mary Jane (Gienty/Geinty) Opie. Served in Co. E, 14th Engineers (Railway). Was a replacement recruit who departed for Europe on 27 Feb 1918. He died of wounds received in action on 12 April 1918. His service is credited to Boston MA though he was born in Concord NH. [See story in another article].
Wallace Elroy Rand, son of Jedediah & Edith C. (Foss) Rand of Rye NH. Died of Disease; Co. A 14th Railway Engineers, from Rye NH
Private Leland G. Riddle, son of James W. & Clara A. (Fowler) Riddle of Grafton, Grafton Co. NH. Company D, Recruit. Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 27 February 1918. He married Lois Morrill.
P1c Fred B. Severance, son of Fred Wiggin & Annie (Odell) Severance of NH. Medical Department. Service Number 17684. Departed Bordeaux France for Boston MA on 17 April 1919, aboard Dakotan. He married Eva May Swett.
Corp. Frank A. Supernor, son of John Baptist & Mary Esther (Davis) Supernor, of Andover, New Hampshire. He served in Company B, Service number was 164532. He died of disease in France on 25 February 1919. His remains were returned to the U.S. for reburial [SEE Heroes of Andover NH].
Private Alvah Benjamin Sweet, son of William A. & Estella E. (Strong) Sweet of West Lebanon NH. Company B., Service Number 164,541. Departed Bordeaux France aboard ship Dakotan, arriving in Boston MA on 17 April 1919.
Private 1c Lew Anson Wallace (Sr), son of Anson H. & Clara W. (LeGro) Wallace. During WWI he served in the U.S. Army, enlisting 20 June 1917, and honorably discharged 2 May 1919. His WWI Registration card states he was working in 1917 as a trackman for the Main Central Railroad at Columbia and Colebrook NH. He served overseas during WWI, departing from New York City for Europe aboard the ship S.S. Adriatic on 29 July 1917. He returned from Bordeaux France, arriving in Boston MA aboard the ship, Dakotan on 17 April 1919, as P1c in Co. C of the 14th Engineers, Service # 164695. He married 15 July 1926 in Canaan VT to Gladys M. Clark, daughter of David & Jennie (Plumbitt) Clark. He is buried in Columbia Bridge Cemetery, Columbia NH. [Story added 16 August 2020, in response to comment left by a descendant, see comments below].
Private Howard Elson Whitcher, son of John & Agnes (Merrill) Whitcher of Lyme, Grafton Co., NH. Company E. or F, Replacement Recruit. Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 27 Feb 1918. He married Florence May Muzzey.
Private Leon M Willey, son of Charles H. & Martha Ann “Mattie” (Willey) Willey of Milton, Strafford Co. NH; Company D. Recruit. Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 27 February 1918. He married Flora M. Downs.
Sgt. Arthur Ernest Wood, son of Henry & Margaret (Hall) Wood of Woodsville, Grafton Co., NH. Company B., Service Number 164,376. Departed Bordeau France arriving in Boston MA on 17 April 1919. He married Florence P. Wadley [Wadleigh].
—-OTHER NEW HAMPSHIRE RAILWAY ENGINEERS——-
Private Edgar H. Butterfield, son of Charles F. Butterfield of Wilton NH. Company A, 66th Engineers (Standard Gauge Railway Operating Regiment). Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 30 June 1918 aboard ship Mongolia.
Private Dana B Byam, son of Mrs. Francella Byam of Winchester NH. Co. C 39th Engineers (Railway). Service Number 1684137. Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 7 June 1918. Second Phase.
Private Leonard D. Knobbs, son of C.H. Knobbs of Laconia NH. 17th Engineers (Railway), Camp Devens Detachment. Departed St. Nazaire, France arriving in Hoboken NJ on 25 March 1919 aboard the Susquehanna. Service Number 185,030.
*The noted engineer described in the story above*
Private James E. Ricketts of 154 Tyler Street, Waco, Texas. Service Number 730427. Company A., 66th Engineers (Standard Gauge Railway Operating Regiment). Departed Hoboken NJ for Europe on 30 June 1918.
—-REUNION OF 14th RAILWAY ENGINEERS in 1919——-
The Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth NH, Saturday, 20 December 1919, page 2. FIRST REUNION OF 14th ENGINEERS. Many Boston & Maine Attend Dance in Boston. The 14th engineers, light railway, the first volunteer regiment to go to France, gave a dance Friday evening in Convention Hall, Boston, which was attended by about 500 former members of the regiment and their friends. It was the first reunion of the organization since it was mustered out and it was undertaken in the hopes that it might be the forerunner of a permanent social organization. Major Charles Henderson, first battalion commander, addressed the members. Other former officers present were Captain Frank Pelletier, H Company, now trainmaster of the B & M at Worcester; Lieut. John Brackett, crew dispatcher at the North station; Captain Charles W. Lewis and Lieut. Otis B. Ruggles of A company, both B & M men and Captain Peyton of F company, a New Haven railroad man. Dancing was given 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. with a cabaret from 10:30 to 11 p.m. Members of the regiment who took part in the cabaret included F. Archer Elms of Haverhill, “Jack” O’Leary, John Morgan and Frank Murphy all B&M employees. The affair was organized by H.M. Ramsdell, H.J. Meyers, George F. Conland and Donald Bossey, all employees or ex-employees of the B&M. The entertainment committee consisted of James hart and Joseph Dever former railroad men now in the employ of the city; Ed Shaughnessey, John Kelley and “Jack” Hughes, B&M men and Joe Christy of the New Haven.
ALSO Read another story about the Railroad Engineers — New Hampshire in WWI: The Hoptoad That Made It To France
[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I. Look here for the entire listing].