Greg's Tour of France

Frank Gregory Charlton was my grandfather. He graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1915 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering. He enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1917. For the next six months he traveled around the southern and eastern United States. He was assigned to the 23d Engineers. Then he left for France.

The Lid

           Greg in France
Brest France 4/13 Bordeaux Gironde 4/19 Baccarat Moselle 5/11 Veney Moselle 5/17 Vacqueville Moselle 6/27 Clermont Meuse 9/23 Neuville Marne 9/26 Avocourt Meuse 10/4 Champigneulle Ardennes 11/3 La Guerre 11hr 11day 11mo Finis Aubreville Meuse 11/16 Rarecourt Meuse 12/21 Souilly Meuse 1/5/19

He inscribed into the lid of his mess kit the dates and place names as he arrived at each location or town. For the final six weeks of the war, Greg participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Some historians describe it as the bloodiest battle in U.S. History. He later assured my grandmother that he was not involved in combat. Luckily for him, my grandmother did not have access to the internet.

40 Hommes / 8 Chevaux

Greg was positioned in Clermont for the start of the full-scale offensive. Clermont was on a busy rail line, and I like to picture Grandaddy arriving on one of these ubiquitous boxcars that the French provided, with the sides stenciled "40 Hommes / 8 Chevaux". This is not a good marketing photo for travel.

I remember when we were in Clermont. and I am still moved by the contrasts of standing in the tiny plaza, and seeing the two amazing photographs of the little plaza that date from before and during the First World War.



Avocourt was a real grinding challenge.The traffic jams were legendary, involving horses, trucks, oxen, families, tanks, footsoldiers, anything.

Champigneulle - 03 Nov 1918

02 Nov 1918 - The U.S. 307th Light Artillery leveled Champigneulle.
03 Nov 1918 - The U.S. 23d Engineers began to prep for the infantry.
04 Nov 1918 - The U.S. 66th Infantry arrived.

Champigneulle - 03 Nov 2018

On November 3, 2018, I went with some family members, including two of my grandchildren, as we retraced Grandaddy's route through those six weeks. That put us in Champigneulle a hundred years to the day after Grandaddy arrived there.


By the time Greg saw Aubreville, the war was over.


Greg went out of his way not to talk about the war. He claimed that his ammunition belt didn't have any bullets in it, just packets of Bull Durham chewing tobacco that the army issued. He himself didn't chew, but it was great stuff for barter.

He did tell my grandmother that he only ever saw one German soldier that he could have shot at right at the end, but he didn't shoot.

He talked about his trip home, though. The only way to get from the Argonne to Le Havre was to change trains in Paris. Paris was already too full of British and American soldiers at that time, so the 23d Engineers were formed up at Gare de L'Este and told that under no circumstances could they break ranks until they were aboard the boxcars at Gare du Nord. They of course were wearing their campaign hats (Smokey Bear hats) because they had no place to store them.

Greg was 28 years old, and a bit more experienced than the others. He slipped his little folding garrison cap into his pocket. As they arrived at Gare de L'Este, Greg made a run for it. Once he got around a corner, he threw his campaign hat over a wall, turned around, put on his little garrison cap, put his hands in his pockets, and started strolling back toward the station. A couple of MPs ran around the corner and asked, "Did you see a guy in a campaign hat?" Greg pointed over his shoulder, and the MPs kept running.

When Greg ran out of money he went to the Gare du Nord and caught a boxcar to Le Havre. He figured he might never have another chance to visit Paris, and he was right.


The lid to the mess kit has been handed down twice now, eldest son to eldest son. I have put it in a frame that is lined with a piece of old army blanket. It hangs on the wall above me as I type this.