Genealogical Society
of Whitley County

Letter to Mary Shaw from Ralph Elder

This is a letter received by Mary Shaw who wrote to the men of Co. E 125th Infantry, 32 Div,, Flint, Michigan, asking for information regarding the death of her son, Harry Shaw, during WWI.

From the information garnered from the letter and through research (with thanks to Mr. Merriman) the two days of battle described took place during the Second Battle of the Marne on the Western Front in France.

Jackie R. Gregg    —   [Mrs. Gregg has no connection with Whitley County.]
5860 East State Road
Hale, MI 48739-9100

Harry Shaw born March 14, 1894 in Genesee Co., Michigan died August 2, 1918 in France. He was with Co. E 125th Infantry, 32nd Division from Flint, MI. Before joining the infantry, Harry was unmarried and worked for Buick Motors in Flint. He is buried at Gracelawn Cemetery in Flint, MI.

Ralph E. Elder born 1890 died 1991.  He was a WWI veteran, in Co. E 125th Inf. 32 Div. He fought beside my uncle, Harry Shaw, during the Second Battle of the Marne in France.



Harry Shaw       —         Mary Shaw       —         Ralph Elder


Columbia City, Ind.
June 1, 1919

Dear Mrs. Shaw:-

        I am surely very glad to give you any information that I can in regard to Harry Shaw your son. Your letter arrived here several days ago, but I just arrived today so you will be a little late in getting my answer which was unavoidable.
        Harry and I were in the same squad for several weeks just before he was killed and he was one of my best friends. We slept together under the same tent, so were quite well acquainted. We were in the battle together where he was wounded. He did not die then or there, but later back in the hospital, so I was not near him when he died.
        I will give you here an account as nearly as I can explain it in writing. On July 30 we left the place in the woods about six or eight miles north of Chateau Thierry where we had been for four or five days behind the lines.
        About twelve o’clock that night we reached the front lines and took the places of other men who had been there several days and who then went back in the woods to rest. We lay in the holes in the ground that these other men had dug all the rest of the night and the forenoon of July 31. About two o’clock in the afternoon we received orders to advance towards the Germans. We started about 2:30 o’clock.
        The Germans commenced to shoot at us as soon as we started with artillery and machine guns. Our company went forward in what we call four “waves”. A wave is a line of men all marching side by side about five yards apart. Each wave marched one behind the other regulating the speed of our march so that the waves would follow each other at a distance of about fifty yards. Harry was the first man on my left so that we were separated only about five yards and we were in the third wave. We advanced down a large hill, across a valley and about half way up another hill without very many men getting wounded and only one man killed.
        The machine guns bullets then began to come so thick and fast that we were compelled to lay down on the ground or crawl in shell holes to prevent being hit. From there on we went on by short rushes, one or two of us would get up and run a short distance forward and then drop down and waited until the rest came up in the same wave. In this manner there would only be a few men exposed to the German rifle fire at one time.
        It was in one of these short bursts that Harry was hit by a machine gun bullet. The bullet hit him in the front abdomen and passed out through the middle of the back, cutting the spinal nerves and caused his lower limbs to be paralyzed. He was about forty yards behind me when he was hit.
        I called back to Lieutenant Alston Ward who then was only a few yards in front of Harry. The Lieutenant got up ran over to him, picked him up and placed him in a shell hole nearby where he would be safe from more bullets.
        A little later two stretcher carriers came up with a stretcher and carried him back to the rear, and then Lieutenant came up to where I was. It was then that I got the information from the Lieutenant as to the character of Harry’s wound. The Lieutenant also said that Harry said it did not pain him much but caused a numb feeling in his back and legs.
        I did not talk to Harry after he was wounded and the only one who did that I knew by name was the Lieutenant mentioned above. The Lieutenant left our Company soon after and returned to the United States. You could get more information likely by writing to him and could get his address from the Commander of E Co. who was John Hynan of Flint.
        Just before they carried Harry over the hill out of sight I saw him wave his hand back at us. He had a smile on his face and called something but it was too far for us to hear what he said. He was likely bidding us good by as he knew of course that they would send him immediately back to the hospital.
        One of the men who carried him back and put him in a motor ambulance told me next morning that Harry told him to tell me that he did not think he was hurt very bad and that he would be all right sometime. I suppose the wound was numbed and did not pain him much so that he did not realize how bad he was hurt.
        I heard two or three weeks later that Harry died in the hospital. I know that he did not die on the battle field, and that he was placed on an ambulance and left there for the hospital. Many soldiers who have been wounded in battle have passed through the same experience of having the wound feel numb and feel little pain. That was my experience also when I was wounded about a month later.
        I am not a very good writer, and in this letter I may not have made some things very clear. If so and there is anything that you would wish me to speak more of I will be very glad to do so.

Most Sincerely

Ralph Elder


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