Goshen's Citizens in the Great War: The trucker

Because 'an army marches on its stomach': Private Harold Thew Booth served in provision-delivering Motorized Supply Train company

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  • Private Harold Thew Booth

  • A supply truck of the Great War

By Aaron Lefkowitz

In 1913, Henry Ford developed the moving assembly line, which allowed his legendary Model T to be completed quicker than the paint could dry. This innovation in technology resulted in the mass production of automobiles to be relatively easy as well as cheap. At the same time, a new type of heavy-duty motorized vehicle would emerge, the truck, capable of moving more cargo than any car could dream of.

Motorized vehicles would first prove their value in modern warfare. They were used from the start of World War I as the most reliable method for the Germans to keep their rapidly advancing army equipped with ammunition. Unlike horses, trucks could not be frightened by the noise of the battlefield and required far less maintenance.

While far cruder than modern vehicles, including the need for a crank to just start the engine, trucks became an integral part of the modern warfare. With the need for trucks to move both men and supplies, at a far quicker pace than horse or foot, trained truckers would be invaluable in keeping the Armies ready for whatever came. Among these vital truckers was Private Harold Thew Booth, who served in Motorized Supply Train M. Truck Co. 494.

Upon filling out his registration card, Booth’s military role was a given. The 25-year-old was an automobile mechanic, making him a perfect candidate for a motorized supply train. A supply train is an antiquated term for what we now call a convoy, a group of vehicles moving together. Considering the incredible amount of supplies needed to just keep a single of one of the several Divisions, of the over 2 million American Force in France, furnished, it is not at all surprising that the number of supply trains was over 500.

Booth’s unit would train in Ithaca, an excellent training area as the rural environment and similar climate, were quite comparable to France. They would ship out to France in September 1918, just as the momentum for the final push as building up. As was the case for many young men heading to France, the Spanish flu struck Booth on this voyage, resulting in him being hospitalized in France. And like tens of thousands of other Doughboys, Booth would die from the Spanish flu. He died on Oct. 4. Once more, like tens of thousands of others, Booth would be brought back to America and interred in his family plot after the war.

First motorized forceThe American Expeditionary Force would bring 60,000 motorized vehicles to Europe, making it the first truly motorized force in the world, while the other Allies still relied heavily on horses. Not a single U.S.-made plane ever reached Europe. Keeping this massive fleet of vehicles fueled was a truly Herculean task as the concept of a fueling station had not taken off yet. At the time, Gasoline was purchased at general or hardware stores, pharmacies — and even blacksmith shops. Thanks to many Americans being swept up in the flood of patriotism, they would donate their personal motor vehicles to the A.E.F., with an estimated 294 different models serving during the war.

The United States also had a considerable number of horses, but the logistics was a nightmare. And thanks to large automotive companies like Ford, such a massive need for vehicles could be met. Horses, mules, and donkeys would still be the primary method used to haul heavy weapons like artillery cannons in areas where the roads were too muddy and decimated for automobiles to transverse. If there were no available draft animals to move these weapons, it was not uncommon for the men themselves to drag the weapons through the mud.

Goshen, Chester and Monroe connectionsBooth is an interesting fellow because three different towns, Goshen, Chester, and Monroe, all have claim to him as their citizen. While most whom served are listed on one town’s memorial, for an unknown reason, Booth is on both Monroe’s memorial as well as Goshen’s. Officially, covernment documents list him as living at 53 North Church St. in Goshen, which is now the parking lot behind Joe Fix Its, right in the heart of Goshen. However, upon further research from official military documents, Booth’s family as well as their cemetery plot is located in Monroe, making him in effect a “permanent” resident of Monroe.

As to how Chester falls into the mix, despite not listing him on their memorial, Booth lists Chester as his birthplace on his registration card.

WorkhorsesThere is a famous statement contributed to Napoleon that goes, “An army marches on its stomach.” Without the ability to get provisions to the front lines, an army cannot function, a lesson still invaluable today as it was a hundred years ago. If you ask anyone who has served in the military, they will tell you that supplies are vital to success. Ammunition, medical equipment, rations, all kinds of goods are needed daily and, at the time, needed in previously unheard-of quantities.

Despite every kind of challenge from flat tires to being attacked by German planes, the supplies necessary to win the war were delivered. In the mammoth struggle between the Germans and French during the bloody 10-month battle of Verdun, France’s victory was heavily credited to the endless convoy of supply trucks that kept the French Army equipped. A great example of a workhorse of this era, a 1915 Mack truck, stands proudly in front of LP Transportation Inc.’s headquarters in Chester, considerably smaller than its colossal successors, which pass it daily. The supply truckers did their part and were in even greater danger than infantry, as their trucks were high-priority targets for the Germans. Many advances in camouflage were made to hide them from aerial spotting.

Only the United States had the industrial capacity to produce trucks in such tremendous numbers, moving supplies more efficiently than by horse or train as the Europeans had relied on. Its industry has always been a great strength in all its conflicts, allowing the nation to achieve victory with overwhelming production capability.

Related storiesSee these related stories by Aaron Lefkowitz at chroniclenewspaper.com:

"Bronze figure of remembrance: The legacy of the Orange Blossoms"

"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The engineer"

"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The millionaire"

"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The batman"

"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The fighter"

"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The Yeomanette"

"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The Roughneck"

"Chester's citizens in the Great War: The Captain"

"Chester's Citizens in the Great War: The Flyer"

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