A WWI letter home from Wyatt Smith

Photo courtesy of the Welty Collection, Berthoud Historical Society. – Following military service in World War I, Wyatt Smith returned to Berthoud and continued his life as a rancher and farmer. In the 1940s he managed the Welty ranch in the foothills near Carter Lake.

By Mark French

The Surveyor

World War I came to an official end 100 years ago on Nov. 11, 1918, when Germany signed an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railroad car outside Compiegne, France. Over the next few months soldiers from Berthoud who remained overseas continued to send letters home that were published for public consumption in the Berthoud Bulletin.

One of those soldiers was Wyatt Smith, who grew up in the Sunnyside district northeast of Berthoud. Born on the family farm in 1894 to Tom “Alphabet” Smith and his wife Minnie, Wyatt Smith was 24 years of age and a Private 1st Class in the American Expeditionary Forces when he penned a letter to his mother from Herzele, Belgium on Dec. 14, 1918. The letter appeared in the Berthoud Bulletin on Jan. 17, 1919.

Smith’s letter read: Dear Mother:  I received your letters No. 11, 13, and 14 today and will answer this morning. I also got a Christmas card from Olive W. [Wailes]. I wrote letter No. 15 just before we went into the Argonne battle, and it might have been lost before the mail was sent out. No. 18 was the last letter I wrote before we came to Belgium.

“Four of us boys are going to have our pictures taken if the sun ever shines. We got here last Sunday afternoon and the sun hasn’t shone more than two hours since we have been here. It is blowing and I expect it will be raining before noon.

“I am sending you a clipping from San Francisco Examiner telling about the second day of the drive. Joe Timmons was in the drive but he got wounded. He is going to write ten articles about the 91st Division, and you might get them all if you write to the Examiner. Keep this clipping and I can tell you lots of things that happened in some of the towns mentioned. The first platoon of L Company got 117 Boche prisoners in the town of Cheppy [Cheppy, France] the first afternoon.”

The term “Boche” used by Private Smith was a disparaging and offensive term used to refer to German soldiers during World War I.

Smith continued: “I got the November 1st Berthoud paper last Tuesday, and from the way Brian T. [Turner] writes he must have been in Belgium too. I don’t think his artillery backed us up for we went so fast that the first three days we had to wait patiently on a hillside for the artillery to come up, also for the divisions on our right and left had to wait for artillery to catch up.

“If fellows saw how we laid in the rain at the front I don’t think they would be a bit stingy about giving to the Red Cross or war funds.

“There were some Russian prisoners here yesterday. The Boche had cut the trigger fingers off of some of the men. They were held at Brussels and when the Boche left they didn’t take the Russians with them. I cut a button off of a coat for a souvenir.

“I guess we are going to Le Mons, [Le Mans]France, instead of Dunkerque as we expected. We are going to get a new outfit of clothes there. Don’t know how long we will have to stay over here, but I heard that the combat divisions would be the last to leave. If I can get mustered out in the East I will stop and see Uncle John. It is time for the K.P.’s to eat so I will close and eat dinner with them today.”

By April 1919, Wyatt Smith was back in Berthoud to be welcomed back and congratulated by friends and family at a surprise party.

Smith returned to his life as a farmer and breeder of fine Aberdeen Angus cattle along with his neighbor to the north, Roy V. Welty.  

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