Lloyd Gibson’s WWI Paper Trail

Read the full article about Lloyd Gibson and his WWI experiences by Diana Ames in the Summer 2018 issue of Western Pennsylvania History.

Portrait of Lloyd Gibson.
Portrait of Lloyd Gibson.

Lloyd Camden Gibson was a writer of letters, a seeker of adventure, and a collector of souvenirs. Born in 1892, Lloyd grew up in West Alexander, Pa. — Pennsylvania’s westernmost town on the National Road (now U.S. 40).

In 1917, Gibson earned a degree in civil engineering from West Virginia University. When the U.S. entered the Great War, Gibson was among the first of the university’s men to offer his services, going to Pittsburgh to enlist in the Combat Engineers. He was turned down, however, due to poor eyesight. He made repeated attempts to enter different branches of the service but was rejected each time because of his bad eye.

Gibson went to work for Empire Fuel and Gas Company as a geological surveyor. While on a job in San Saba, Texas, he obtained an eye chart from a sympathetic doctor, memorized it, and was accepted for the U.S. Engineers American Expeditionary Forces on March 19, 1918. Within a few weeks his regiment, Gibson and the rest of the 4th Division embarked for France, sailing from the U.S. on the Martha Washington on April 30, 1918.

As his departure loomed, Gibson started a journal that begins with ordinary and often monotonous army life:[1]

Record of Gibson’s enlistment shows that he made six attempts before finally being accepted in March 1918.
Record of Gibson’s enlistment shows that he made six attempts before finally being accepted in March 1918.

May 12, Sunday

Submarine chased and bombed by destroyer convoy, which had been picked up preceding morning. Land sighted toward noon; steamed up Gironde; anchored for night.

May 13, Monday

Set foot on soil of France at great American docks in suburb of Bordeaux. Marched to barracks.

After two-and-a-half months of mundane activity, Gibson’s service culminated in a great battle in July, which he recalled in great detail. A small portion of his lengthy and poignant account is reproduced here:

July 17

Went to work as usual. At ten o’clock suddenly recalled to quarters. Much activity. Iron rations issued. Extra ammunition drawn. Gas masks inspected, and gas alarms distributed. Everybody sends emergency messages home and turns money and valuables over to Chaplain for safekeeping .…

At four o’clock the great barrage started. At that time, it seemed deafening, although I have heard many a greater one since. We marched through the deserted town of Gandelu and out beyond, toward the hill whose crest was held by the Germans. As we walked along the road the barrage lessened, and we had the indescribable thrill of seeing our first attacking waves moving Over the Top and up those bare hillsides….

In October 1918, Gibson enjoyed a furlough at Aix-les-Bains, the famous warm sulfur springs resort in the French Alps. Here, under the care of the YMCA, war-weary doughboys could escape the grime and gore of the trenches and savor a bit of rest and recreation. Of course, within a few weeks, the final march into Germany would lead to the Armistice. Lloyd Gibson sailed for the U.S. on April 30, 1919. He arrived home three months later and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.

Gibson’s uniform jacket. Andrew Masich collection, photo by Liz Simpson.
Gibson’s uniform jacket. Andrew Masich collection, photo by Liz Simpson.
Postcard from France with delicate embroidery on the front envelope.
Postcard from France with delicate embroidery on the front envelope.
Back of postcard from France.
Back of postcard from France.
Gibson’s gas mask, bag, and helmet. On the helmet he inscribed “WASHN” showing pride in his home of Washington County. Andrew Masich collection, photo by Liz Simpson.
Gibson’s gas mask, bag, and helmet. On the helmet he inscribed “WASHN” showing pride in his home of Washington County. Andrew Masich collection, photo by Liz Simpson.
Aix-les-Bains, France souvenir book. Lloyd enjoyed a furlough at the famous warm sulfur springs resort in the French Alps.
Aix-les-Bains, France souvenir book. Lloyd enjoyed a furlough at the famous warm sulfur springs resort in the French Alps.
Aix-les-Bains, France souvenir book. Lloyd enjoyed a furlough at the famous warm sulfur springs resort in the French Alps.
Aix-les-Bains, France souvenir book. Lloyd enjoyed a furlough at the famous warm sulfur springs resort in the French Alps.

[1] A letter to his father dated December 11, 1918, from Corporal Lloyd Camden Gibson, Company D, 4th U.S. Engineers, American Expeditionary Forces, Village of Bell, near Zell, Eighteen miles West of Rhine River, introduces his journal.

Edited by Julia Snyder, Publications Intern, Heinz History Center.

Diana Ames is a lifelong student of history and keeper of family archives (and has taken to heart Lloyd C. Gibson’s exhortation to commit family facts and stories to writing and get them into libraries). She lives in the Friendship neighborhood of Pittsburgh with her husband John Axtell, who is a grandson of Lloyd C. Gibson; Heinz History Center President and CEO Andy Masich is another of Lloyd’s grandsons.

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