#14 in a series
Henry Andrews Babcock, WWI Army Air Corps
By Paul A. Roales
On Feb. 2, 2013 at the flea market in Tulsa, OK I bought the WW1 war diary of Henry A Babcock, with 20 letters and envelopes that he wrote home while he was in France. The diary is 7.5x10" and has 39 pages written in. It covers the period from June 18, 1917 when he applied for the Aviation Section of the Army Signal Corps, until December 15, 1918 when he sails on the SS George Washington on his way back to the states. The 18 letters were all written to his wife and some are as much as 12 pages long.
Henry Andrews Babcock was born Jul. 17, 1891 in Lebanon Springs, New York. He obtained a B.S. in 1912 and a MS in 1913 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He obtained his PhD. from Northwestern University in 1916. He married Ruth Gernon Boltwood and lived in Grand Rapids, MI. Before the war he was an Instructor in Physics at Northwestern University. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on July 5, 1917.
This is the story of Henry A Babcock’s participation in World War I told in his own words by excerpts from his diary. Comments in brackets [ ] added by me.
“Entered Ground School August 24, 1917. Univ. of Ill. Urbana, Ill. Graduated October 20, 1917. Ordered to Garden City Long island - Aviation Concentration Camp.
Friday Nov. 2, 1917. Train to New York City. Marched to Pier 59. Got aboard Red Star Str. Krooriland of New York at noon. Assigned to staterooms. Traveling 2nd. class. Sailed at 2:30 P.M. Everyone below decks. Ship “camouflaged” 4 - 4” guns. H. E. shells. 36 gunners, 2 naval officers.
Monday Nov. 19. Circling around outside of Liverpool 11 A.M. Landed at 4 PM. Shore leave.
Saturday Nov. 24. In the afternoon marched in town and went aboard fast Channel transport “Cassarea”. No quarters at all. Crossed in one of the worst gales I have seen. Nearly everyone seasick. Stayed on boat deck in lee of a deck - house until we docked at midnight. Low tide.
Sunday Nov. 25, 1917. Very heavy sea - coming over break water - boat thumping against dock. Fran Russell and I rented 2nd. Engineer’s stateroom for 10 shillings and went to bed. Went out to sea again about 8 A.M. to keep from smashing boat. Stayed out until 2 P.M. Docked and landed. Marched to Rest Camp #2 at Le Harve, France. No baggage at all. Barracks used to be horse stables.
Wednesday Nov. 28th. Arrived at Tours at 2 P.M.
[It would be several months before he started his pilot’s training. In the mean time there were other duties to perform. Most of them were routine and I have not mentioned them here.]
Jan. 28th. Monday. Transferred to Engineering Dept. under Lt. Percy H. Hollowell.
Feb. 2nd. Sent in application for non-flying commission Aviation, Engineering Sect.
[He finally had his first flight on March 27, 1918.]
"March 27th. Had my first aeroplane flight with Lt. Stone. Went up at 7:15 in a Caudron G3, Was in the air about 15 minutes. The funniest part of it was that there was NO sensation at all - and after we were once up we just seemed to be balanced up there - with a big fan blowing in our faces. Whenever the motor stopped or hesitated there was a feeling of falling which was unpleasant but not startling.
May 6th. Monday. Went up at 10 minutes to seven P.M. with Jolly. D. C. Caudron G3 for my "joy ride". Got up to 1000 meters. Did a "reversement". Made 1 landing - 20 minutes in the air.
May 9th. Thursday. Had third ride today; 15 minutes in the air; drove for 10 minutes. Had none of my previous feelings of nervousness and enjoyed it very much. Went up again at 6:20 - 25 minutes in the air. 2 landings. Practiced banks - straight flying and diving."
May 14th. Had 30 minutes in the air. D.C. - 3 landings.
June 26th, Wednesday. Took 1 ride with A.J. Jolly, moniteur and then made 4 solo hops and was lache'd to B2 solo class. Smashed two flying wires and two axles, first trip on solo field.
June 27th. Thursday. Had 7 hops at solo field, lache'd to B1 solo class.
[Meanwhile other events were occurring.]
May 3rd. Friday. Big military funeral. Lts. Mc Dowell & Cross killed at 2nd. A.I.C. May 1st. In accident with Farnman.
June 1st. Saturday. Commissioned 2nd. Lieutenant. [Service # 32595.]
June 28th. Received official orders assigning me to Engineering Department 2nd. A.I.C.
July 5th. Received my travel orders at 11 A.M. Caught the 3:33 P.M. train to Paris, arriving there at 9 P.M.
[Babcock was now officially assigned to Engineering Division, Technical Section, American Air Service in Paris, France where he worked on technical reports.]
August 5th. Monday. “Big Bertha” begins activities again.
August 23rd. Friday. Working on report of C2 H2 Liberty starter.
August 24th. Saturday. Started work on Liberty Heater.
August 31st. Saturday. Started work on “gas, oil, and water systems for airplanes”.
Sept 2nd. Started work on “engine accessories on planes.”
Sept 16th. Had an air raid, lasting 1:30A.M. - 2:30 A.M.
Oct. 10th. Major Riley wrote C.A.S. recommending me for 1st. Lieutenancy. Was given job of getting up Hispano - Suiza 300 Instruction Book. Transferred to Tech. Data Division.
Nov. 11th. Armistice signed at 11 A.M. “Finie la guerre”.
DECEMBER 1ST. SUNDAY. Received orders to go HOME. Leave Paris tonight at 8:20 P.M. for Brest.
December 2nd. Arrived at Brest at 11:30 A.M. Reported, checked luggage through to boat. Put up in comfortable barracks. Best “Rest” Camp I ever saw.
Dec. 13th. President Wilson passed through Brest today on his way to Paris to attend the Peace Conference.
Dec. 15th. Sunday. Went aboard the steamer George Washington at 10:30 A.M. Got underway at 2 P.M. This is the steamer that brought over the presidential party.”
[End of diary.]
His military records were destroyed in the 1973 fire at St. Louis, but I was able to get some reconstructed records from the National Archives. They included his Officers Service Number of 32595. They indicate his enlistment date was June 8, 1918. Since his diary lists the date as July 5, 1917 I assume the 1918 date is when he re-enlisted as an officer (although that date does not agree exactly with his diary). They also indicate that he returned to the US on December 30, 1918 and was given a Honorable Discharge on January 7, 1919 at Holboken, NJ. He was paid a Bonus of $60.00 on March 19, 1919.
After the war he taught Physics and Mathematics at Northwestern University for several years. Shortly after the birth of his second daughter in 1924 the family moved to CA and he went to work for William H. Babcock and Sons, Inc. as a real estate agent. He had three more daughters, the last being born in 1932. He rose through the ranks of the company becoming a Partner and became a famous California Real Estate Appraiser. He died Dec. 13, 1975 and is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) in Los Angeles CA.
He left his corporate papers to Cornell University where he is described as "A real estate appraiser and engineer, and a former partner of William H. Babcock and Sons, Real Estate Consultants and Valuators of Chicago, Babcock also taught finance courses at the University of Southern California and UCLA. He was involved in several studies of urban transportation problems and mass transit development, primarily in Los Angeles, California. Member, International Fraternity of Lambda Alpha, Los Angeles Chapter." His diary and letters were given to his daughter Dorothy Gernon Babcock who married Charles Lee Smith. She had moved with her husband to his home town of Tulsa in 1950. She died in Tulsa on August 13th, 2009. The diary and letters were obtained from her estate sale.
UPDATE: On July 7, 2013 I received a phone call from Henry Babcock's grandson Jeffery Smith. He had come across this web page while researching his Grandfather. He was amazed to discover that I had his Grandfather's War Diary and many of his letters. He indicated that the family was anxious to get them back and did not know how they escaped the family in the first place. I visited with him at his home and he showed me other material he had on his Grandfather and his Father, Charles Smith, who had been a P-47 pilot in Europe in WW2. It was obvious that the WW1 War Diary and letters would be treasured by Jeff and his family so I sold the material (and my research on his Grandfather) back to him for what I had originally paid for it. This material is now back in the family where it belongs.
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