WWI Photo Collection – 31st Railway Engineers in France

I love collecting WWI albums and named photo groupings.  They are much harder to come by compared with the relatively plentiful single photo purchases.  In this case, I was able to come across a wonderful grouping of photos from the grandson of a WWI 31st Engineer veteran.  I promised to post the photos on the site to help raise interest in this obscure unit and help bring this man’s photos to the digital world.  Digital preservation allows thousands of viewers to enjoy images that would otherwise be relegated to the corner of a dusty upstairs closet.  I will do my best to describe what I can about the unit and share a few biographical vignettes.

Pvt. Herbert Conner posed in France

Pvt. Conner


“My grandfather was born in 1892 in Fordsville, Kentucky later the family moved to Amity Oregon and later to St Helens, Oregon. As a young man he was a prizefighter(that what they called them in those days). He was a logger for awhile later he went to work in Portland, Oregon for the railroad before the war  and after the war he continued with the railroad for over forty years as a fireman and an engineer. He never owned a car and the station was about two blocks from his house and Kelly’s Bar and the grocery store were across the street from work  so I guess he felt he didn’t need one. He passed away in 1968.

Grandpa was very proud to have served in World War 1. I do not believe he was in combat. The 31st engineers provided supplies and transported troops. The only story I can remember when he was on guard duty in France and a soldier had gone awol for the night, apparently celebrating and didn’t know the password or had forgotten it and Grandpa felt sorry for him and let him back in the camp. It has been such a long time ago there were probably other things that happened that I can’t remember right now. He must have spent some time at the French Riviera and Monte Carlo because there was a lot of postcards from that area and one postcard to his brother had him on the Italian Riviera for awhile.”

Some Guys from A Company

SS Manchuria in Port (Not the return ship for the 31st)

Hospital Train

German Prisoners

Check back for updates…………….

31 thoughts on “WWI Photo Collection – 31st Railway Engineers in France

    • My grandfather was sergent Harley C Lauer 2nd company trans corps 14th Grand Division Saumur France June 1919. I have his old roster book showing Wallie Gleason from Nebraska as well. Scary as well I was working with John Ahern who’s grandfather was William P. Ahern of Port Costa Ca. also a private in the 31st. I also have his troop billet for the U.S.S. Santa Clara and the U.S.S. Manchuria.

      • My grandfather is Wallie Homer Gleason–H. Conrad Lauer–can you point him out in the unit’s picture above and tell me anything you know about him? Thanks so much! hugs, Penny (Gleason) Roberts

      • My husbands name was Charles E. Johnson and his brothers name was Alfred Johnson both in France in WWI. I know Charles E. was involved in something to do with railroads or transport. Would he by chance appear in your roster? Also my husband (Charles E’s son) was stationed in Saumur when he was in the military in the late 1950’s early 60’s. It would be such a kick to know that both father and son were in the same locale in the military.

    • My grandfather was in company F as was Wallie Gleason so they must have worked together. George Williams was in company D and the photo above is of company A. So I think that we are all out of luck. Reading from the notes in the roster book the unit formed in March of 1918 at fort Leavenworth, they left on May 18th and arrived at St-Nazaire on the 19th of June. After that they went to Saumur (Maine-et-Loire).

      • There was no listing for a Charles E. But there is for Charles G. Johnson of San Francisco and a Charles W. of Chicago.

  1. My father, George T. Williams, was a sergeant in the 31st Railway Engineers in France, stationed in Saumur until May 1919. He and others stayed on in France after the Armistice in November 1918 to transport U.S. military personnel and equipment to the port at St. Nazaire in Bretonne, where they were loaded on to ships and returned to the U.S. Similarly, he arrived in France in 1917 to help transport U.S. soldiers and supplies via the railway line from St. Nazaire to the U.S. sector of the front lines. He was a victim of poison gas (slight) and was periodically treated at VA hospitals until his death by lung cancer in 1975 at age 86. Among his mementos are many travel pictures taken all over France after the war.

    In 1965, while my wife and I were living in France, my father came to visit us and we drove him to Saumur (in the Loire Valley) and to several of the WWI battle grounds and to the Armistice Plaza near Compienne — a very memorable journey. After his death, I became the recipient of all his pictures, etc., which I scanned so as to share with my three older siblings and interested nephews and nieces. After the war, my father apparently attended several 31st Engineer reunions held at various cities around the U.S. (so my older siblings have told me). Thanks for posting your pictures — they are so similar to the ones I have.

      • Among the mounted pictures in my father’s “official” 31st Engineers album (embossed cover has my father’s name -” George T. Williams, Company F, 31st Engineers – France, 1914 to 1919″) is a picture of a 10/12 year old boy wearing a U.S. Military uniform and pointed hat. Presumably, this is the regiment’s mascot. I have tried to attach a picture but can’t get it to paste.

      • That’s him. I have seen three photos of him but have never learned his name. It would be interesting to see what happened to him after the war. I know that other US units often set up scholarship funds for their “mascots”.

  2. I don’t know for sure, but I think my Grand Uncle Ben Franklin Biggerstaff served in this unit. His brother David may have served as well. If you have a roster their names may be on it. I have pictures to share if they belong to this unit. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ben F. Biggerstaff was in company D and listed Van Buren Arkansas as his home town. I don’t see any record for a david though. I hope this helps.

      • Thanks so much for the information Mr. Lauer. It does help! What is source where you found that roster? Is there a Guy W. Syfert listed there as well? My uncle was a railroad man before and after the war. I have an old postcard picture of him and it was trimmed for a frame, but I could make out “31st Engineer Corp” on the back. The information you provided confirms what I was hoping was true. Random question: Do you know what collar brass they wore and what color cord they wore on their campaign hats? Thanks again!

      • I belive that the roster is from a reunion in 1939 in Oakland I also have a roster from the 2nd company when it was leaving in 6/21/1919. It lists all the officers, enlisted men and those that past during the great war. My grandfather was a steamfitter with the railroad before the war and became injured sometime on the way back to america. He past away in 1948 and I never had a chance to meet him. Grandmother was a nurse in France and met him at Letterman hospital in San Francisco. Sorry but there is no listing for Mr. Syfert. As for the the collar brass and cord I have no idea but I belive that I did see the brass somewhere on the net.

      • Thank you Mr Lauer for posting this information for others to see. My mothers 1st cousin Oshea N Springer was a member of Company C 31st Engineer Corps, would that be same as this 31st Engineers? He was a fireman and later worked in Port Angeles for TheMilwaukee Rail Road. Do you have or know of any information on Company C ? Once again, thanks for sharing. Cyrus C Dodd, Silverdale, WA

  3. Capt John L. Temple was in charge of “C” company followed by 1st lieutenants Charles R. Nichols and Dwight A. Jesse as well as 2nd lieutenant John L. Strong. Oshea N. Springer was in company “C” and listed Darrington Washington as where he came from.

    • I did a quick head count, in the 31st Engineers there were 60 officers and 1642 enlisted men. Almost the entire Corp was made up of railroad men. Men from 46 states and 2 territories as well as from seven different countries made up this group. I will post more as I have time to look into more records.

  4. Does anyone have any information on a PVT Arnold J. McGrego, Co B(?), 31st Engineers. I recently found his ID Tag (Dog Tag) while on one of my scrounging trips through an old dump. Got curious about this man, and what became of him, of his family. The WWI museum in Kansas City was very helpful in providing some back ground information on the 31st but also told me that all the WWI personnel records burned in a fire in 1973. So went to the census records and found an Arnold J. McGregor, born in 1892 in Wisconsin, and who was drafted for WWI. He worked the rail roads and moved from Wisconsin to Gary, Indiana, after the birth of two sons. He retired with a rail road pension and dired in 1971. Am in the process of trying ot locate his children and grandchildren. I would like to give them this dog tag if they want it.

    • No I don’t have any record of him. I have two rosters that I have and was unable to find that name in them. Sorry for taking so long to get back to you.

  5. Trolling the amazing Internet for information on a set of dog tags from soldier in the AEF: Herman F. Cox – his unit info was obliterated and a colleague on The American Soldier in World War FB page was able to find him on a Missouri WW I Veterans list: Company “B”; 31 Engineers, apparently later the 14th Grand Division. I’m guessing the 31st Engineers is the same as the 31st Railroad Engineers…as from an obituary, he retired as a Burlington-Northern RR Engineer. Is that correct?

    I’m also a little unclear on what the “14th Grand Division” was? The 14th Division itself never went overseas and was demobilized in the USA before Armistice…so what is this 14th? Was the 31st Engineers attached to any regular division?

    In advance, thank you & appreciate your most informative and well assembled blog.
    Chelius H. Carter

    • Chelius,
      I don’t actually know the answer to this question! I’m going to have to do a bit more research on the definition of a Grand division. It appears that there were 11 of them during the war and they all appear to be rail related. Thanks for coming to my site and for the kind words. I do this as a hobby and always enjoy helping others when possible.

  6. Appreciate this information very much. My grandfather was Calvin S Leahy from California. Curious if you might have record of him? Many thanks!

      • Thanks very much for your reply. My father was adopted at infancy and passed away in 2016 at age 94. Calvin was his birth father. I saw him on the transport list as well and was mostly looking for more confirmation. The record cites that he was in A Company. Amazing to think he may be depicted in the photo above. Thanks again very much…

  7. Would also be very grateful to understand if Mr. Leahy was present in the roster for the 20 year reunion held in Oakland as that was his residence at the time. Many thanks once again…

    • I found Calvin S Leah of company A who listed his address as 828 38th avenue Oakland California in the roster as they were leaving Saumur France. Sorry for taking so long to get back to you

      Sent from my iPhone


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