WWI Profile: Thedford S. Lewis 1896-1938

Source: Operations, Thirtieth Division, Old Hickory
Thedford S Lewis
Supply, Brunswick County, NC
US Army

March 21, 1918 – April 24, 1919
May 26, 1918 – April 18, 1919
Wounded: September 29, 1918
Severely Gassed

Thedford S. Lewis was born and raised in Supply. Most of his family appears to have remained in the area throughout their lives. Several are buried in Sharon United Methodist Church Cemetery in Supply, NC.

Thedford’s WWI Draft Registration card from 1917 shows he was single and working as a farmer.

Thedford was ordered to report to the Brunswick County military board on March 22, 1918, with 13 other men from Brunswick County [source:ancestry.com]. Included in this group of 14 men was Harvey Chadwick from Shallotte and Samuel Peter Cox from Bolivia. All were sent to Camp Jackson, SC. On April 24, Thedford and Harvey joined the 105th Engineers, Company D, 30th “Old Hickory” Division. Samuel joined Company A. Their very strenuous training was at Camp Sevier, SC, which was detailed in a previous post.

As the table in a previous post listed, three Brunswick County men in the NC National Guard were already members of the 105th Engineers. They were: Lawson Ballard (Company A), George Harker Hewett (Company A), and Vander L. Simmons (Company A). On May 26, 1918, Thedford boarded Talthybius to France, along with the other five Brunswick County men. After a short training period, the division was transferred to the British troops in Belgium to help construct defensive positions. This was followed by more training and offensives. Their defining battle was the assault on the Hindenburg Line, which began at 5:50am on September 29, 1918 and was the deadliest day of the war for North Carolina.

Pvt Thedford Lewis was in Company D with Pvt Harvey Chadwick. Pvt Chadwick’s veteran profile listed their company activities on September 29, 1918, the day Pvt Chadwick was KIA. Pvt Lewis was severely gassed the same day. His NC WWI Service Card lists the date October 26 as the day he was wounded. But the 105th Engineers were relaxing and planning athletic fields and rifle ranges at that time. After more research, Pvt Lewis’ name was discovered in the 105th Engineer Honor Roll and the date shows his gas injury was September 29. Here is the extension of the list that included Corporals Ballard and Hewett, gassed by enemy gas shells in the line of duty.

To understand the use of gas in the war, some background information is needed.

This photograph was taken at Fort Dix, NJ, as soldiers prepared to learn how to use their gas masks by entering trenches filled with tear gas. [Source: Library of Congress] Details were given and are shown below.

In order that these soldiers might be properly taught the necessity of having their masks adjusted, the army officers made use of this tear-gas trench where fumes that would irritate but not permanently injure the eyes, were used.

The soldier nearest to you is testing his mask to see if it is tight all about his face. With his hand he has removed the piece of rubber from his mouth and is exhaling his breath inside the mask. The mask, you can see, is inflated, proof that the edges are tight. On the mask of the third soldier you can plainly see the circular spring just below the eye piece that is used to adjust and hold the nose grip in place to prevent breath entering the lungs except through the mouth.

All of these men have their masks at the “alert,” that is, strapped high on their chests with the lower part firmly tied around their backs. You will notice too that the flaps of the case fold in toward the body, to lessen the possibility of water, dampness and dirt getting into the mask.

When these masks are adjusted the chin is inserted first and then the rest of the mask drawn over the face, being held in position by that rubber band which you can see passed over the top of the head and two rubber bands that pass around the head.

Months before the 105th Engineers went into battle, on June 16, 1918, Colonel Pratt referred to his men attending gas school, to prepare for gas attacks. Gas masks were fitted, tested, and the men went through the gas house. (Colonel Pratt’s diary was first introduced in George Harker Hewett’s profile.)

The gas mask almost gets the best of me. I nearly suffocate with it, and can hardly control myself from tearing it off. This is one of the worst phases of the war to me.

November 11, 1918, Captain Hill from the 92nd Division (referenced in previous posts) was gassed and shared the following in his diary. He was released November 20th.

…they piled us into an ambulance and rushed us to Field Hospital #366. We expected to return the next day after a good bath—but none of us realized the terrible effects of mustard gas. Shortly after reaching the hospital my eyes began to close and for two days I was unable to see even the light of day. It was then that I realized to what extent we were gassed. I lay in bed and many, many times wondered if I would ever see again and I can assure you it was anything but pleasant. On the 14th of November we were pronounced somewhat better and moved to Base Hospital #82 at Toul. There in the gas ward the sights that we necessarily saw were anything but encouraging: big fine American soldiers, blind, burnt completely over their bodies and physical wrecks—all the result of mustard & other gases. Sure was enough to take the heart out of you.

Source: CDC
Sulfur mustard or Mustard gas was used for the first time by Germans in 1917. Sulfur mustard sometimes smells like garlic, onions, or mustard and sometimes has no odor. It can be a vapor (the gaseous form of a liquid), an oily-textured liquid, or a solid.

The advantage of using it during wartime is the fact that it can have no odor or that the nose quickly adapts to it and no longer notices it. The symptoms typically take time to appear, sometimes not appearing for 24 hours. Also, it can last in the environment for days or even months under very cold conditions.

In its liquid or solid form, you can drink or eat contaminated water or food, or touch it and get it on your skin or eyes. In vapor form, you can breathe it or get it in your eyes or skin.

It can affect:

  • Skin: redness, itching, blistering, second and third degree burns and death
  • Eyes: pain, swelling, temporary or permanent blindness
  • Respiratory tract: sneezing, bloody nose, shortness of breath, chronic respiratory diseases, lung cancer
  • Digestive tract: pain, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting
  • Bone marrow: affects blood cells and platelets, leading to weakness, bleeding, and infections

After breaking the Hindenburg Line, the 105th Engineers continued to push forward. It’s unlikely that any of the gassed men from Brunswick County participated in this push. But Corporal Vander Simmons and Private Samuel Cox were unharmed and eventually Corporals Ballard and Hewett, and Pvt Lewis likely rejoined the 105th Engineers for the cleanup. Sadly, Pvt Harvey T. Chadwick had been laid to rest, although his remains were returned to Shallotte years later.

Source: The History of the 105th Engineering Regiment of Engineers
The engineers had an enormous task ahead of them. Besides supporting the infantry, the enemy was destroying everything as they retreated and repairing it was the engineers’ task.

There were also “booby” traps, and mines in buildings, churches, and trenches. These had to be found and removed by the engineers. There was also the continual search for safe and tested water, which seems to dominate many of the maps and orders located in the book.

Company A returned on USS Martha Washington, while Pvt Thedford Lewis (Company D) returned on USS Zeelandia. The troops traveled to Camp Jackson, SC, where they were mustered out. Thedford married and began raising his family.

Thedford passed away in 1938 at age 42 and was laid to rest before any of his family members. A military headstone was not requested, so no WWI honors are displayed.

Most of the information gathered was from The History of the 105th Engineering Regiment of Engineers; and Operations, Thirtieth Division, Old Hickory; as well as the incredible diary Colonel Pratt kept for his wife and son.

If you would like to help us honor Thedford S. Lewis or another Brunswick County WWI veteran, please use the following links:

Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
Click here for directions to donate and honor a veteran: How to Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran

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