Front, Aug. 9, 1918
Dear Uncle Clem:
I know you must be waiting anxiously for a letter from me and wondering why I have not written before. Ever since July 15, the day of Clem's death, and the opening of the German offensive which we turned into defeat, we have been on the go night and day, and a good share of the time have been used as infantry.
Moving as we have been doing every day or so, the days we have been permitted to write have been few and far between.
It was about 10 o'clock the morning of July 15 that Clem was killed instantly by shrapnel. I was glad he was killed instantly and did not have to suffer. His death came as a great blow to me, when, on the following evening, I learned the news from men of his company. Our friendship had grown so, starting from our meeting at Camp Mills, until July 3, the last time I saw him, that we were more like brothers than cousins.
The evening of July 4 our regiment moved from back of the lines to the front, going in just back of the infantry fellows that were in support. Our company was in the center and D on our left. We by luck drew a deep dugout, while the others did not have any near their camp. All three companies of our battalion were doing trench repair work in the second line of defense, part day and part night work.
We were on the Champaign front at the point where the allies expected the Germans to make the hardest attack on Chalons. To stop them in our sector of six kilometers, the allies had 4500 guns from 75's to eight and ten inch. The Germans not as many, so you can imagine the artillery fire.
The Germans had ten divisions on the line and fifteen in reserve, and were ordered to make Chalons by night, some 20 kilometers. The artillery fire started at midnight, the allies jumping the gun by five minutes. It lasted a little over 12 hours and I hope never to be in another one.
Clem's company, not having any dugout to go to left the camp and spent the early evening in a shallow, narrow trench that had not been completed. But at break of day left it and went into a deep, wide communicating trench that was straight, and in a direct line with a German balloon. It was then that the fire became hotter and the men just kept moving up and down, trying to outguess the shells.
Just about ten o'clock a shrapnel shell broke overhead, and a couple of pieces went through Clem's helmet, killing him instantly. He was buried with a few others a few hours later, a couple of steps from where he fell. The men who volunteered to dig the grave lost one man and two wounded.
Clem was always looking for excitement and was sorry if he was not present when something special came off. He had the time of his life at the Lorraine front going in and out of the trenches, and at night going as far into "No Man's Land" as possible. He had one desire which was denied him, and that was going over the top with the infantry. He told me once, "If I can only go over the top with the 'doughboys' I will be happy."
The last time I saw him was on the Fourth, and we spent most of the day together. It was a holiday, and we had all kind of sports.
Losing Clem is going to make a vacant place, as I will be half expecting to meet him when the two companies come together, and go off and have a good time with him.
Tell Aunt Harriet and the rest of the family they have my deepest sympathy. I am well and have hopes of going back to the front soon and get a rest.
Your loving nephew,
W.A. Thompson, Jr.
Note: W.A. Thompson, Jr served with the Rainbow Division of Engineers in France.