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The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

Article about: A close up of Fred in his AFS unifrom. This photo is interesting to me as it illustrates the American Field Service uniform in transition. Fred is wearing a US made M1917 uniform with French

  1. #1

    Default The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    Frederick William Kurth was born November 10, 1895 in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William and Katherine Kurth. After preparing at Roxbury Latin School, Fred enrolled at Harvard University. In early 1917 he joined the American Field Service as a volunteer ambulance driver. Upon arriving in France he along with his fellow volunteers were asked to drive supply trucks instead of ambulances. In the preceding months, the French government had appealed to the directors of the AFS for volunteers to help with the French supply service. Most of the French soldiers assigned to operate supply trucks tended to be older men who were needed to be returned to their civilian roles as farmers, mechanics and factory workers. As it was, the number of volunteers with the American Field Service had outstripped the number of available ambulances, plus the United States had finally declared war with Germany; thus removing the concern of violating the laws neutrality that would normally prevent these volunteers from actively providing military assistance.

    Fred was assigned to a truck driving school at the village of Dommiers, near the forest of Villers-Cotterets, where the new volunteers would learn the intricacies of operating a "camion".

    To quote Fred, "During the following fortnight we were trained for our work at the front. This preparation was of a double nature, for the time was divided between drill and automobile instruction. We had been issued French equipment at 21 rue Raynouard (the American Field Service headquarters in Paris); gas masks, helmet, canteen, etc., and it was an awkward picture that we made during the first days as we maneuvered to the French commands. “Arme sur le’paule droite” was a signal for a confused sound of rifles banging against helmets; and after things had quieted down a bit, no two rifles were in the same position. "
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  2. #2

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    “En ligne, face a’ gauche, “started a mix up equaled only by cattle in a round-up on our Western ranches. Some men stood still, some turned left, some turned right; and the final result was more like a riot than a military formation. But the section learned quickly, and in a remarkably short time we could drill and execute the various movements smoothly and rhythmically. This success was in part due to the fact that our instructors were familiar with Americans and had had experience with our sections – men who knew how to be military and at the same time friendly. Thus, at the end of two weeks, the result of the discipline was easily apparent, and the men ad a real military bearing.

    Needless to say, the appearance of the section was many times improved. This in spite of the fact that driver’s uniforms were different and varied – for each man had equipped himself at his own expense, and within limits to his own taste. The part of our work which I call “automobile instruction”, included, first, detailed lectures on the motor and chassis, by the French lieutenants; second, work on the trucks (washing, greasing, oiling, etc.) and practical application of the points that we had learned in the lectures; several hours each morning were spent in overalls “discovering and learning the innards”; and, third, came convoy or road work, under the guidance of old, experienced French drivers. Most of the afternoon was spent on the road. It would be too much to attempt any detailed description of the convoy rules that had to be learned.

    Suffice to say that they concerned French military traffic laws; distances between trucks to be observed in open country, through towns, up and down hills; methods of turning and backing by means of the signals of the second, or assistant driver; and numerous other things which are very important on pitch black nights near the lines, on a road carrying four lines of traffic. In addition we had to learn the simple handling of the trucks, which were five-ton Pierce Arrows. The French government had put a French T.M. (Transport Militaire) section of eighteen of these trucks with their drivers at the disposal of the camp. Most of the fellows had driven Fords, at least, but, even so, the truck proposition presented new things to learn. A truck is heavier then a touring car and more difficult to handle on the road. One cannot lie back on the seat in comfort, letting the steering wheel play in the hands, for every jounce in the road is communicated to the wheel, and a steady grip is necessary to keep the tuck from zigzagging all over the landscape. There is no self-starter on a Pierce-Arrow, and some strength and a decided knack in necessary to “turn over” the engine. So it goes – there were many things to learn, and many little difficulties to master.
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  3. #3

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    As in the case of the drilling, however, the fellows on the whole, soon acquired the skill and experience necessary to successful convoy work. Though, as I have said, we went out practically every afternoon, there were only minor accidents. A radiator was smashed because a man following the truck ahead so closely that he could not avoid a collision when the former stopped. Or trucks were temporarily ditched when drivers took too many chances while competing with the other cars in quick turning on narrow roads. On such an occasion I had the unique experience of putting my car down a ten-foot embankment backwards, stopping after snapping off a tree six inches in diameter, with my rear wheels up to the hub in a brook. The road that I left was quite a grade, and it took three trucks cabled together to pull me out.
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  4. #4

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    The crowning feature of our training and our final success was when the convoy came through its practice “night convoy”, with conditions at the front duplicated as near as possible, with trucks driven as they must be driven at the front, with practical problems met as the drivers would later meet them in everyday work, without ditching a car or smashing a radiator. It would not be fair to leave the subject of accidents without saying that Lieutenant Vincent, who usually accompanied our convoys, was extremely lenient in censuring men who were misfortunate enough to have a mischance. My own case is the best example, since my accident was the most spectacular. When I expressed pain at the awkwardness which caused me to put the truck where no respectable truck cares to go, and regret at the work and delay I was causing to get the truck back, he said simply: “Don’t let that worry you; it is nothing. Such little incidents are bound to occur. I’ve had experience with much worse.”
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  5. #5

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    The trips we made were exceedingly interesting – and especially since the type of scenery was new to us. I shall never forget my first impressions – the rolling hills covered, as far as the eye could reach, with waving fields of grain of varied shades of green; a little town, with its squat houses hidden in the corner of some purple valley; and crowning the top of the plateau, a forest of wonderful, strong, straight trees, so well cared for even in this time of stress that not a bush was growing between them. One could see through until the maze of trunks stopped the gaze. As there were six men assigned to one truck, taking turns by twos acting as drivers and second drivers, there were always four men in the body of the truck, so we had ample time to admire the landscape – and not a man but loved it at first sight. Lieutenants Vincent and Gillette arranged that we should always stop to rest in some fair sized town.
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  6. #6

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    In this way we once stopped at Chateau-Thierry. We learned to know Crepy-en-Valois; and we were soon well acquainted with Villers-Cotterets, once the home of Dumas, and, in our day, the home of the best tasting pies on this side of the ocean. The pies, I should add, were but one of the pastry products that brought joy to the Americans, and unheard of wealth to the poor woman who strove to please us – because we had come so far to fight pour la France, and because she had “a man in the war.” A third town we visited was Pierrefonds. Here there was a wonderfully restored chateau which, with its battlements and towers, at once took us back in spirit to the age of brave knights and fair ladies. This was the chateau which according to rumor, had appealed to the Kaiser’s eye. In 1914, his son, having captured the region, sent to his father for advice as to whether or not the chateau should be destroyed, and father, they say, wired: “No, No! I want that chateau for myself, to live in on my way to Paris,” or words to that effect
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  7. #7

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    It is not difficult to see that it was not these trips alone that made out training period at Chavigny almost a vacation. We had the best of officers. The two French lieutenants could not have been kinder to us or more interested in what we did. We had the quite pretty little farmhouse where we lived – there was a piano in the farmhouse, and the gardener’s daughter entertained us in the evenings. We had Longpont with its eleventh century gateway and the romantic ruins of its twelfth century abbey. It is true, on the other hand, that we had corvee work and roll-call, fixed hours, and bugle calls galore; but all of this benefitted us in the end. Thus it came to pass that, when the section left for the front, the fellows had at the same time a desire to “see action”, “to get into real work”, and a hidden pang at having to leave.

    I wish I could carry with me forever a picture of Chavigny as I had described it; but the God of War decreed it was not to be. As the months advanced he shook his huge hulk, stepped forth, planted his foot on Chavigny, andin a twinkling the tranquil little spot was changed. Gone are the stables, with nothing but an elongated pile of stones to mark their previous existence. Where the animals were kept there remains but a boggy expanse of shell holes, smashed helmets, and litter of war. One piece of wall of the chateau still stands; the rest is but a mass of crumbled masonry and broken beams. The branches are hacked from the trees as though a dull axe had been wielded against them. The trunks and stumps remaining are pierced and peppered by deadly machine-gun bullets. The field is a swamp, and on almost the exact spot where I once lay and ruminated on the new-found beauty, stands a tank, leaning giddily, it’s side torn open, it’s ripped interior exposed. There is naught here but desolation. A cold, dank mist hovers over the spot from morn till night: and the crows flying back and forth seem to deride with their strident voices the work of man.

    November, 1918

    Frederick W. Kurth
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  8. #8

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    Thanks for posting such a interesting thread. I had not heard of this unit before.

    Super grouping!

    Is the shovel a WW2 one? Looks like an M1943 pattern?

    Cheers, Ade.

  9. #9

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    Quote by Adrian Stevenson View Post
    Thanks for posting such a interesting thread. I had not heard of this unit before.

    Super grouping!

    Is the shovel a WW2 one? Looks like an M1943 pattern?

    Cheers, Ade.
    Hi Ade,

    Good Eye! Yes that is a WW2 E-tool that for some reason was included in the group. I purchased the trunk directly from the family and my guess it was put in at some point because it was military. The fez however is a french souvenir from Fred's contacts with French Algerian troops.
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  10. #10

    Default Re: The trunk grouping of Sgt. Fred Kurth of the Reserve Mallet

    Fred's attic fried French issue M2 gasmask and bag
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