Friday, September 14, 2018

The B&O Railroad Goes to War

Part VI: June -- August 1918

The sixth of June is most often linked to the mighty "D-Day" landings during World War Two.  Before 1944, Americans remembered that day because of the fighting at Belleau Wood during the "Great War." 

On June 1, the Germans went on the offensive at Belleau Wood, facing off against an allied force of U.S., British, and French forces. The 5th & 6th Marines were brought up at the double quick to reinforce the French on the flank. With the Marines was 28 year-old Thomas H. Wales of Weston, West Virginia. Before the war, Wales served in the peace time force as a Marine. Before and after that stint he held a number of positions with the B&O in Weston . Once war was declared by the United States, Wales reenlisted in the Marine Corps on April 19, 1917. By August, Wales was serving in France.
The employee record for Thomas H. Wales. He first served in the Marine Corps between 1912 and 1917. Just two months after returning to the company he was back in the service. The record inaccurately lists him as returning to work in November of 1918. He was killed in action in June. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]

A young Thomas Wales before the war. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]

On June 6, 1918, elements of the 5th & 6th Marines took part in an assault on the German lines. They were met with heavy machine gun fire and engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat. By the end of the fighting that day the Marines suffered over one thousand casualties, including Wales who was killed during the assault. The B&O mourned his loss. 

Back home, the B&O continued to promote the Third Liberty Loan through public relations activities and in the Employee Magazine. Many locomotives were outfitted with American flags and painted Liberty Loan slogans.  The company also campaigned for the "Second Red Cross War Fund," which netted $13,873 from the employees in Baltimore by the beginning of August.

In the summer of 1918, Barling used his locomotive B&O #1148 to secure $9,000 worth of Liberty Loan subscriptions in the Locust Point and Riverside areas of Baltimore, Maryland. [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]

On May 25, the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) announced a wage hike for a number of railroad workers in the industry. A wage commission formed by Director-General William G. McAdoo found that the current wage levels did not match the rising cost of living. In August, the USRA made another progressive move for railroad workers. In several locations, the agency opened railroad ticket schools to train women. There were not enough men to fill this role, so the government turned to women to fill this void. Upon completion of their training they were paid the same wage as a man doing the same job. 

"Mrs. Mary Chapman, coach cleaner at Fairmont. She has been in the service for a year and is in a class all by herself when it comes to a woman doing a man's work. She can couple steam hose, test air brakes and make repairs and do any other work that is to be done on a passenger train." [B&O Railroad Museum Collection]

B&O Railroad Museum Collection.
Throughout the summer of 1918, the B&O continued to make an impact both at home and abroad. Overseas, B&O employees took part in the Allied counter offensives that would ultimately help end the war. At home, all employees gave what they had and more to the Third Liberty Loan Drive. At home, women were going above and beyond with new opportunities in the work force. 


By Harrison Van Waes
Curator, B&O Railroad Museum

The B&O Railroad Goes to War is a multi-part blog series commemorating the centennial of American involvement in World War I. Follow along with this series through November 2018.


Baltimore & Ohio Employee Magazine [June 1918 - August 1918]

Hays T. Watkins Research Library & Archives, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum