WWI Profile: Robert Eugene Robbins 1895-1960

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Photo contributed by Joyce Crabtree, granddaughter
Robert Eugene Robbins
Rich Square, Northampton County, NC
US Army

April 26, 1918 – June 24, 1919
August 5, 1918 – June 18, 1919

Robert Eugene Robbins was born in Brunswick County, NC. A partial family tree is in FamilySearch. Robert’s mother died in 1910, when he was 15, and his father died in 1914, when he was 19. Sometime between 1910 and 1917, when he registered for the draft, he moved to Rich Square, NC, for work.

His Draft Registration shows he was living in Rich Square, NC, single, supporting a sister, and working as a railroader.

Robert Robbins was ordered to report for military duty on April 20, 1918 [Source: ancestry.com]. He was inducted on April 26, 1918, and began training at Camp Jackson, SC. He was initially assigned to the 534th Engineers, but on June 24, 1918, he was transferred to Company G, 324th Infantry, 81st “Wildcat” Division, which was training at Camp Sevier, SC.

The 324th Infantry left the US on August 5, 1918, several days after the 321st and 322nd.

Previous posts describe the events in France including the orders to go “over the top” during the final days of the war. Pvt Robbins’ 2nd Battalion (Companies E-H) took the position on the far right the morning of November 9.

The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. However, as mentioned in the previous post, because the 81st Division did not receive confirmation of the signing, another attack was planned the night of November 10th and executed on November 11.

At 5am, on the morning of November 11, orders were received to begin advancing at 6am. 1st Sgt Thomas Shinn described how the 321st Infantry responded to orders in his diary.

The men rubbed their eyes and tightened their belts for there was no water to wash their faces or food to fill their stomachs. The men only took it good naturally and prepared to go over the top in a few minutes. We formed our lines and got in position to advance.

The high explosive shells were falling just as tho’ it was raining them from above but we would fall flat on the ground and up again and advance a little further.

About 8:30, we struck a solid line of machine guns and they fired on us. It was a whole woods full. We fought them there for about an hour.

As the battle raged on, the men of the 321st Infantry became “lost in a fog and wading water waist deep.” They were caught in a trap and were fired on from all sides. The Captain sent orders to the soldiers in front to hold their position as they attempted to fight their way out.

We fought there for some time in the marsh up to our waist and the coldest water I ever felt.”

They were surrounded by machine guns and barbed wire, making it impossible to advance. The Germans put up a fierce barrage. The barbed wire was 3 feet high and 30 feet thick and they were unable to cut it as it was too strong. Men were killed instantly all around 1st Sgt Shinn of the 321st.

I was wet to my neck and my clothes had frozen stiff on me.

I hadn’t seen any fire or shelter for 48 hours and two days without food, water, or sleep was getting on my nerves.

We had to lay low for a half hour or more and while I lay in the shell hole one of my friends came up to me and asked me to send a man to the rear with him. He had his left arm tore off between the elbow and shoulder and he was bleeding very fast. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done to tell him that I couldn’t send a man back with him.

The Armistice was signed at 11am, but the battle was still raging 15 minutes before.

About 10:45am, the [Germans] seemed to shoot every gun they had at the same time for they kept our heads so near the ground that we got our ears full of mud.

At seven minutes to eleven, a runner came up to the Captain out of breath and handed him our orders.

Orders were given to cease fire at 11:00.

At 11am, we ceased firing and the Germans jumped up, threw their rifles down, and came running to meet us. They wanted to shake hands and talk with us but we made them go back.

The rest of the day would be spent gathering the dead and wounded. Loads of bodies were buried in a hole dug like a long ditch.

Source: NC Archives

Tuesday, Nov. 12th, 1918
We spent the day burying our dead and hunting something to eat.

In those three days fighting, there were 178 killed, nearly 800 wounded, 57 captured, and 6 missing. Of those, the 324th infantry: Killed, 2 officers and 34 men; wounded, 5 officers and 145 men; missing, 18 men. [Source: “Lest We Forget” The Record of North Carolina’s Own]

Pvt Robbins returned with his unit in June 1919. He married in August, returning to Rich Square, NC, where he raised a family and farmed the land.

Robert Eugene Robbins passed away on March 15, 1960, at age 65. He was laid to rest in Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Rich Square, NC. A military flat marker is shown.

Johnson, Clarence Walton (1919) The history of the 321st infantry, with a brief historical sketch of the 80th division, being a vivid and authentic account of the life and experiences of American soldiers in France, while they trained, worked, and fought to help win the world war. . Columbia, S.C., The R. L. Bryan co.

Thomas P. Shinn’s Wartime Diary

81st Division Summary of Operations in the World War, US Govt, 1944

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Click here for the announcement: Announcement: Honor a Brunswick County World War I Veteran
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