(Noel B. Johnson was an Uncle of the late Martha Nuzum Greene of Andover)



U.S. Army  WW I

Transcribed by William A. Greene 2012

(not responsible for spelling of French names)

Noel Batton Johnson was fourth child of John L. & Ada Hough Johnson.  He was born in Uniontown, Fayette County, Pennsylvania on May 5, 1894 and died on Oct. 5, 1960.  This is his diary that he kept all of the time he was in the Army during and after WW I. He was sent to France just after the ending of the war.  He was attached to Company B, 550th Engineers.  Here is his story.

Noel B. Johnson

14 Lawson Ave.

Craften Branch

Pittsburgh, Pa.


May 26:  Drafted this day into the U.S. Army.  Board no. 4, Registration no. 2479

May 27:  Left Crafton at 5 PM for Union Station where we got supper and boarded train of fifteen cars for Camp A.A. Humphries, Virginia.

May 28:  Arrived at Accomack, Virginia at 8 AM and walked with bag and baggage.  I am as tired as Billy be damned, but can’t rest.  Carried cots all day.

May29: Took my examinations today and passed all O.K.  No water to drink or wash with.

May 30:  The entire company of 360 men marched to the river this evening to bath and shave, the river is two miles from here and is some like June 1st.  We did some drilling today and I just know I am not going to like it.

June 15:  My heel has a blister on it from these big shoes.

June 30:  I was made acting Corporal today, my first step towards getting to be more than a buck private.  We stood our first muster today; it rained all the time we were out.

July 1:  The Company started on the rifle range today, I am left here to take care of 19 men and the office.  I was appointed as Company Mail Clerk.

July 4: A dull day for me and the others, we had a little party in the evening.

July 9:  Nothing much doing, I am having it real easy.

Aug. 3:  Entire Company came back from the range today and were nearly all transferred to 2nd Regiment.

Aug. 16:  Just when I had a furlough in sight, I am to be transferred to 2nd Company, 6th Regiment of the M.C.O. (Movement Control Office) Training School.

Aug. 19:  After three days of hard drilling, I am now all ready to start for home sweet home on a three day furlough.

Aug. 23:  No use telling how blue I am, I had one grand rest at home.

Sept. 3:  I was transferred again today to Headquarters Company and am now acting Regimental Supply Sergeant.

Sept. 16:  Transferred today to 550th Engineers.

Oct. 8:  Received appointment today as Battalion Supply Sergeant, which is as high as I can go without being commissioned, of being offered a scholarship in Officers Pre School, but refused, I don’t want the expense.

Oct. 15:  I am fitting the men for overseas now, will not have much time to write in this book.

Nov. 2:  This is Sunday and I am all ready to leave for Camp Merritt.

Nov 3:  Arrived at Merritt at 5:30 this AM. We left Humphries at four PM yesterday.  I stayed in the officer’s car.   We were served hot coffee and buns by the Red Cross at Washington and Baltimore, we have fine quarters here and I hope we stay for a long time.

Nov. 4: We went thru our fist inspection today and the inspector tore cloths off of the men, I will have to work all night reissuing cloths.

Nov. 5:  Not much doing today, we passed our final inspection and our men are to get their hair clipped tonight.

Nov. 6:  We stayed up all night getting the men’s hair clipped which was done with a pair of horse clippers, run by a crank, the hair was knee deep on the floor, and was latter gathered up for use in upholstering, the clippers got so hot that the men would yell when they got it next to their heads.

Nov. 7:  Sergeant Schock and I went to Merritt Hall for supper and to the Liberty Theater to see “Parlor Bedroom and Bath.”

Nov. 9:  I have a pass to New York City today.

Nov. 10:  I am on the transport SS Patrice.  I had a fine time in New York.  I rode on subway and on elevator, also buses, stayed at hotel on 42nd and Broadway.  Took in a show called “Information Please”.  In going back to camp, I took the fairy to Manhattan and from there to Cantifly in a Packard and a street car from there to camp.  When I got to camp I found the organization had moved and no one knew where to.  I goes to embarkation office and was told that boat had gone and I was transferred, but I didn’t want it that way.  I got three papers, one out of camp, one thru to New York, and one onto the boat.  I then motored to Cantifly starting at 4 PM, took train from there to Jersey City, ferried to Manhattan, walked over Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn, took a car to 5th Avenue and another one to 30th Street and then walked to pier, arriving at 10:30 PM.

Nov. 11:  The Armistice was signed this morning and all the whistles are blowing, we are still at the pier, still hoping to be taken off.  I have a nice state room and eat second class; there are over 3,000 aboard including 100 Red Cross Nurses.

Nov. 12:  We are still at pier 31; most of the men on board were taken off, leaving the 550th and nurses on.  We are to sail this afternoon, we can see the Statue of Liberty from our deck.

Nov. 13:  Our day out, the water is fairly smooth, but I am beginning to feel funny down in my stomach, our meals are fair and are served in courses.

Nov. 19:  I haven’t written much for six days, I don’t feel much like writing, I can’t keep anything down.  I think I would feel better if they would only stop playing that blamed piano.

Nov. 20: Was up on deck most of the day and feel much better, made a tour of the boat and took part in a life boat drill, a number of big fish are following our ship, they are called (nothing written)

Nov. 21:  This is some large boat and can sure ride the waters.  The sea is rough today and the waves are washing all our decks, and to make things worse, our rudder is broken and we are stranded, all our convoy of mine ships have left us.

Nov. 23: Four American Destroyers met us today and will escort us in; we are using the front part of Deck “C” for a hospital.  We have a lot of sick boys.

Nov. 24:  We can see land now and expect to go ashore sometime today; everything looks so green to me after spending twelve day looking at nothing but water.

Nov. 25:  We landed in France yesterday afternoon at about 2:30 PM and were taken ashore on a small tug.  We marched to a camp outside of Brest, arriving there at six o’clock in mud up to our necks.  I feel down twice with my pack on and am a sight.  I am now in my tent sitting on my pack with a candle for light the rest of the boys have gone out to get something to eat, but I am not the least hungry.  The rain is pouring down and the mud is fierce, a good many of the boys will have to lay on the muddy ground tonight.  If this is France, I have seen all I want to see of it.  It is cold and damp and we have only three blankets, there are fourteen men in an eight man tent.

Nov. 26:  We moved today to Camp Pontanezery near Lambelzelick.  It is the flowing mud hole of France.  We have barracks of sheet material with windows of oiled paper, our bunks are canvas.

Nov. 27:  We are in sight of the old French barracks built by Napoleon many years ago; they are now being used for hospitals and storage rooms.

Nov. 28:  Went to the docks to see five captured U. Boats.  They were U139, U108, UC103, U113 and UB73, the U139 was responsible for the sinking of the Lusitania.


Feb. 2:  I have not written in this book for a month because there was nothing of interest to write about.  Today Mack and I walked to the Penfield Dam and took some pictures.  I paid a frog one Franc to pose for me.

Feb. 5:  I walked to a big dam being built by German prisoners; they have PW painted on their backs in big white letters. Some little children were sliding down a bank on the snow by sitting on their wooden shoes.

Feb. 21:  I took a ride today on a French street car, although it was as electric car, it had oil lights.  It cost four cents or 20 centimes and the conductor gave me back four fare slips, each car holds in all about 24 people.  Watched German prisoners to coal an engine.

Apr: 5:  Left Brest today at 7:40 for Paris on my 14 day leave.  I had second class passage on a special American run train.  The cars are very short, seats running across the car with doors on the side.  They ride easy and are upholstered in green whip cord, with an electric light for each passenger.  We arrived in Paris at 10 AM. Took a taxi to Pavilion Hotel, near Rue St.  Dennis took dinner in a French Café, then took in the sights of the city, starting from hotel at 1 PM took a subway ride, and then used a car, they’re mainly for the day.  I went through the Notre Dame Cathedral and many other sights of the city. After a very fine dinner, I took in the sights by night. I saw quite a few wine shops where men, women and children of all classes drink.  They have their tables on the sidewalks with bright colored umbrellas or awnings over them.  All of the statuary was protected by sandbags up until recently.  Even the big cathedral windows were removed.  The Eiffel Tower had an anti- aircraft gun on it during war time and brought down several machines. (Air planes)  We saw a number of places that were struck by bombs.  We passed up an avenue that was lined on both sides with captured German guns, standing hub to hub.  I took in Napoleons tomb which is grand.  The tomb is so placed that one has to lower their head to look at it.  The windows in there are so made that it gives the effect of sun light regardless of how dark the day.

Apr. 7:  I am writing this in the Hotel St. Nichols at St. Minehould.  This is a small town on the Marne River.  I arrived here late today from Chalons.  I came from Paris this morning.  We found Chalons badly shot up.  The Y.M.C.A. being destroyed was using a barn for their home.  There had been a lot of hand to hand fighting there.  St. Minehould was occupied by the Germans and quite a few Americans were killed there.  I saw a lot of destruction as I came up the Marne then Chateau Fiery.  Many towns are laid low with no one living in them.  All along the track we found shell holes and barbed wire entanglement.  The trenches ran beside the track, it was in this town that we were able to get our first real French pastry.

Apr. 8:  We left Minehould this AM for Verdun, where I am now, at the YMCA, which is in an old Seminary close to the Cathedral.  It is about the only building in the town that is not totally destroyed.  They have tarpaulins on the roof to keep out the rain.  The train ran very slow all way here as it had just been recently laid.  We came thru the Aregomn Forest, over the worst part of the battlefield. We passed thru towns that were in ruins, Autryville and Senrmeg being leveled to the ground.  We saw tanks here that were so badly shot up you could hardly tell what they were.  This sector was fought over during the last of Sept. 1918.  The YMCA took us on a sight seeing trip over and under the city.  We picked our way thru the street seeing horrible sights everywhere we turned, hardly a building that had four walls.  Some of the houses still contained its furniture.  Some of them were gorgeous inside.  I spent quite a lot of time late in the evening going thru some of the larger homes.  Each house had its air raid cellars.  We were in quite a number of them, very few people have returned, those that do, can not find where their homes were.  We went thru the Underground City or Citadel; it is under the city about 90 feet down and can house 50 to 60 thousand people.  It has paved streets, sewage, electric lights and a railroad in it, also big kitchens.  The Cathedral here was wonderful, but it was almost destroyed.  They started building it in the early part of the 4th century and finished 200 years before the discovery of America. It was captured in the 1600’s by the Germans and after being given back to the French, was re-captured later.  It was later partially destroyed by lightning, but rebuilt to be destroyed by the Germans.  The chimes still ring out the hour and sound like the tolling for the ones who died in the city. The ruins of the houses stand as monuments to the ones who used to dwell there.  Verdun is in a kind of a bowl and is surrounded by 36 forts, all of which were underground connections to the Cathedral.  The Cathedral has 7 kilometers of Main Street, all paved.  It is ventilated by a fan system. The city proper is surrounded by a big thick stone wall, with but two entrances with draw bridges and iron gates.  There are turnstiles all around the outside of the wall.  The Germans never captured this town, although it was continually shelled for four years even after the inhabitants moved out.

Apr. 9:  I arose early this morning to take a trip over “no-mans land”.  We had an enjoyable evening last night; we were entertained by the 804th Infantry and a concert given in front of the ruins of the Cathedral.  It seemed so out of place to hear band music, especially ragtime with such a back ground.  Nearly everyone was in tears. We took a truck out to Four Dumont, where so much of the hard fighting was done.  This fort was captured and held by the Germans for eight months.  From here we could see as far as the eye would carry and all of we could see was “no-man’s land”.  We could look right into Death Valley and on Dead Mans Hill.  We could also see the concrete dugout from which the Kiser and his son watched down thru the valley, to see his army.   At that time 8 hundred thousand Germans were killed in this Death Valley.  The ground all around us has changed hands a number of times and the ground was loosened up by 20 or 40 feet and what used to be a forest is now nothing but bare ground.  Not even a root was left to show that there had ever been any vegetation there.  But there were plenty of little yellow flowers and all though we could not see a tree, there were plenty of song birds.  The road had been kept up in good shape and was hidden from view by camouflage made up of tall poles with burlap and chicken wire stretched over it with grass tied in bunches on it.  We could not find the railroad, but we could find pieces of rail all warped and splintered.  While the Germans held this fort, they repaired it and installed electric lights, using auto motors for power.  The fort has six floors with an elevator. The dome of the big cannon has been so hot at one time that the bullets welded themselves to it.  The interior of the fort was not damaged, except for one place where a 24 inch shell went thru.  There was a museum in it containing articles picked up near there.  A track ran from this fort a distance of ten miles, into Verdun underground, over which they hauled supplies.  The Germans at one time tried to enter Verdun thru this tunnel, but the French blew up the tunnel and killed nearly 3,000.  My Captain helped to clean out the tunnel; they had to wear their gas masks.  The fort was re-taken by the French by a surprise attack, the main reason why it was not destroyed by the Germans, was that the Kiser’s house was in Liven Alums.  I walked for hours over the fields, in the trenches, down in shell holes and thru entanglements, some of the holes are 25 feet deep and we found as many as eight bodies in one hole. Quite a few bodies were still lying around Bronx Hill, we were on.  The Germans had taken and in less that two hours had killed two regiments of our men, they buried  them in their own trenches and left their guns sticking up to show where they were buried and one would follow the course of the trench by the guns.  One sees quite a few bones and articles of clothing, many skulls with gas masks on.  The telephone system is great; as many as 40 wires are stretched on small stakes buried in a trench. A great many German shells are lying around unexploded.  I found a body of a German and pulled a piece of shrapnel out of his skull.  We passed what was left of a train which was carrying troops up to the front and the Germans got a line on it and demolished it.  At one cross roads we passed there had at one time been a town, but there was not even a stone left.  There were a great many autos and tanks being around so badly damaged; one could hardly tell what they were.  I returned to Verdun late in the afternoon tired and sad, but hungry.  The YMCA gave us a good feed, then I started out on a sight seeing trip of my own, I went thru what was left of some the best houses in the town.  In many cases the people must have left in a hurry, as they had not removed anything.  The house was just as they left it.

Apr. 10:  Wandering in Paris again.  I arrived here after an all night ride and a four hours stay at Chelan’s.  After getting cleaned up and dinner, I took an American train to Marseille; it took me 16 hours to get there.

Apr. 11:  I landed early and took breakfast at the Red Cross.  It was here that I met Miss Davis again.  The country thru there is level and much like our western country.  They use the irrigation system.  As soon as I had finished breakfast, I started on a tour of the town.  I first went out the Rue De Prado to the big monument and fountain, and then to the coast, the avenue is several hundred feet wide, it has a wide sidewalk, and then a driveway, then a promenade which has three rows of sycamores, then the street proper, which is sixty feet wide.  The street seems to run right into the water and the tide comes up on it at times.  On an island to be seen from this street, is the castle around which the story of Les Miserables was written by Hugo.  There were a number of submarines tied to the coast of this island.  This is one of the main shipping ports of France.  There are a number of party homes here and the trees and flowers are grand.  Poppies grow here just like weeds.  I took a trip up the incline to the Notre Dame La Grande, which is a church up on a hill in the center of the city.  The hill is all lime stone and the church is 455 feet about the city and the only means of reaching it is by incline.  This church was dedicated during our Civil War.  I spent the afternoon with Miss Davis, seeing the town and later went to her Villa.  This is one of the prettiest French towns I have yet seen.  The population during peace time was 500,000 but now it is over two million.  There are 60,000 registered girls here.  The street car system is great; they use auto horns instead of bells for signals.  Paid $6.75 a dozen for bananas, but one could buy organs for almost nothing.

Apr. 12:  I arose late and took a walk thru the park and zoo, from there to the art gallery.  I took dinner with Miss Davis, then went to the Cathedral and then thru the slums.  I spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel and later went to a violin concert at the YMCA.

Apr: 13:  I took an early morning train to Minton, the scenery was grand.  We passed many pretty farms and country homes, also olive groves; the trees look as though they were covered with a white dust.  I landed in Minton at noon.  Minton is a place of beauty, the weather is so warm and all the trees and flowers are out in full bloom.  We traveled from Marseille, along the foot of the mountain and the shore of the sea.  We went thru many tunnels and across all kinds of bridges.  The banks along the railroad were regular flower gardens.  There were many poppies and cactuses.  I took a trip thru the palace of Prince Monte Carlo.  It sets up on a high hill overlooking Minton.  The palace is grand inside and out.  I have just come down from it and I am now writing on a terrace overlooking the sea.  The Prince owns this entire principality on the coast from Cannes to Italy.  He doesn’t sell the land but allows the people to build on it.  His income from the casino at Monte Carlo is over $400,000 a year.  He was held as prisoner on his yacht at this place when the war first broke out.  The castle was stated to be built in the 12th century and from his court yard we could see a village on the mountain started by Caesar.  I am staying at the Hotel Suisse at Monte Carlo, some swell room and some class to the hotel. The YMCA is in a big theater here, just above the casino, which is built on the waters edge, it was in this casino, that Harry K. Thaw lost a million one night and it was there he shot his first shot at Stanford White.  The hole still show’s in the wall.

Apr: 14:  I arose late and took breakfast at the YMCA, then took a car to Nice.  The WMCA here is a casino built out on the water, it is gorgeous out and inside, it is nearly all glass.  I took in a show there in the afternoon.  The rest of the evening I spent on the beach watching the children and the bathers.  Nice is one of the richest towns of the south and has more style than Paris.

Apr. 15:  We landed in St. Raphael this morning, about 1 o’clock and everyone was in bed and there were no lights, we finally got a hotel on the beach, but I did not stay here long as there was no one in the town that could comprehend English.  So we will get out of here tonight for Marseille.

Apr. 16:  We traveled here by first class and it didn’t cost us a cent. I got dinner and proceeded to hunt a hotel and after going to eleven and seeing the sign “complete”, I did get a room at the Grand Hotel Geneva, but expect to go back to Paris tomorrow.

Apr: 17:  I am in Paris now at the Paradise Hotel, it is raining and I am too tired to go out, I will leave here tomorrow night so as to get to Brest on the 19th.

June 30: Left Brest for USA on the RMS Saxonia.

July 10:  Pulled into New York at 8:30 PM.  Laid at anchor all night.

July 11:  Left boat at 8AM and took ferry down the Hudson River and up the East River to Long Island where we took train for Camp Mills, Long Island

Peculiar Things Seen In France

Floor in Bridge at Brest over the Penfield River is made of rope.

Saw man dive in a diving suit.

Saw German submarines.

Saw cemetery where over 2,000 soldiers are buried.

The people nearly all wear wooden shoes. They leave them outside when entering the house.

We found a little Belgian boy who had been cut by the Germans.  His father was dead and his mother was killed by the Germans.

Some of the beds are built into the walls; others have big canopies of fancy lace over them.

The door knobs are very large and are in the middle of the door, all key holes are upside down.

The brooms are made of small trigs and brush and round.

Each house is surrounded by a wall in fact, every thing is walls.

One never sees any wagons, when two or more horses are used, they are hitched in tandem.

A mans financial standing is judged by the size of the manure pile in front of his door.

The time is figured from 1 to 24 o’clock.

Army Buddies to Look Up

Harry Krisling                                     Leo Sossing

John Duffy                                          Edward Huth

Laurence Higgins                                Leo Castillos

Charles Worch                                     Albert Harst

George Bell                                          Ross Smith

Elmer Doyle