The Forest Regiments

 

At the start of World War I, France utterly lacked the infrastructure that would be needed to house, transport, supply and otherwise support the huge numbers of American and other Allied troops that would eventually arrive. The French forests provided an ample supply of raw material, but Europe lacked the ability to rapidly convert them into the timbers, planks, railroad ties, boards, pilings, bridge trusses, and the multitude of other forms that would be needed in the years to come - not to mention millions of cords of ordinary firewood.

Early on, Canada supplied some "forestry troops" that were already at work in France. Ten small "Sawmill Units" were organized in New England at the start of 1917, and shipped overseas in May. But when theImage United States officially entered the war on April 6, Army officials immediately recognized that an entirely new and far greater effort was required. By May 1, plans had been laid for the formation of the Tenth Engineers (Forestry), Allied Expeditionary Forces. The 10th Engineers was commanded by Major James Woodruff of the Corps of Engineers. It was recruited mainly by the US Forest Service, with help from State Foresters and lumber industry groups. Most of the officers were selected by the end of June. Two senior officers were already in France, making the necessary arrangements with the French Government. In July and August, organization and training were being conducted at Fort Myers and at a camp built at American University in Washington, DC. "Then young foresters, forest rangers, engineers, and big husky lumberjacks began to pour into camp, from every state in the Union, -- some of them so big that no Army uniforms nor shoes would fit them!"

On September 10, the regiment boarded the Cunard liner Carpathia in New York. (This was the same ship that had picked up the Titanic survivors. She was sunk by a U-boat later in the war.) They sailed to Halifax to join a convoy, then crossed the Atlantic on a northern route, arriving in Glasgow on October 2. The "Carpathians," as they came to be known, were among the first 50,000 American troops to reach France, landing at Le Havre on October 7. They went on to Nevers, in Central France, where they "first came in contact with the French people, French ways, and the notorious French mud."

Later that month the various companies went their separate ways to different parts of France, never to be reunited. Ultimately they returned to America on two ships in January and February 1919. But they were no longer the 10th Engineers. In October 1918, all of the forest units were combined into the 20th Engineers (Forestry). This was the largest regiment ever organized to that time by the War Department, with over 30,000 men stationed in France, every one of them a volunteer.

The first mill to go into operation (November 25) was a leased French mill in Levier, Doubs, in Eastern France. Next was another leased mill in Pontenx, Landes, in the southwest. The first American-built mill to start up was at Gien, Loiret. One year later, there were 81 mills in operation, producing over 2 million feet of lumber and other products daily.

George Royce Kenfield had applied for a position with one of the original ten New England Sawmill Units, but was not selected. In July, he was recruitedby Major W.B. Greeley of the 10th Engineers. Greeley was one of the first to reach France, arriving in August with a small advance party. Later he would become Chief of the Forestry Section, 20th Engineers. "We need a number of practical millwrights and mill sawyers for this regiment .... We have a few places for expert mill sawyers and millwrights ...." George Kenfield was immediately made a Sergeant, and in February 1918 was promoted to Master Engineer Jr. Grade, at the hefty pay of $84 per month. In France, he served in Company B, and after his promotion in the Headquarters Company, in Pontenx. He returned to the US aboard the battleshipNew Jersey, arriving in Newport News on February 1, 1919.

In a unit history prepared in September 1919, George is shown as living in Dade City, Florida. Presumably, he went there to visit his parents. However, by mid-1921 he was back in Vermont, where he returned to the sawmill trade and married in November.

At some point after the war, the Lane Manufacturing Company of Montpelier, Vermont, maker of portable sawmills used by the Forest Regiments, published a promotional brochure. The text of the brochure was written by Capt. John B. Woods of West Burke, Vermont. He was the Engineer Officer of George's company. According to Woods, "the millwright was a Vermont lad who had had many years' experience with LANE mills...." The millwright (also one of the company's three sawyers) was, of course, George Kenfield.

SOURCES:  Guthrie, Jno. D., White, James, Steer, Henry, & Whitlock, Harry, "The Carpathians": Tenth Engineers (Forestry), A.E.F. 1917-1919: Roster and Historical Sketch, 1940, courtesy of U.S. Army Military History Institute

History of the First Battalion Old Tenth Engineers, privately published, 1919, courtesy of U.S. Army Military History Institute

Letter from W.B. Greeley to George R. Kenfield, July 21, 1917 and other personal papers