Chaplain Roberts Williams in Germany
Another incredible WWI portrait photo has come across my desk via my dedicated searching regime on eBay. I bought this shot with the knowledge that the sitter was a chaplain. Chaplain shots are far and few between, and to have an ink identified example is very uncommon. In this case I was able to ply the internet and dig up some wonderful information on our sitter. Chaplain(Protestant) Roberts Williams originally enlisted as a private in the 17th Engineers but was eventually hooked up with the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division. He was awarded the Silver Star and was recommended for the Distinguished Service Crossed by his commander, Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. He was gassed and the wound chevron can be seen on his right sleeve in the above image.
Here’s a quick transcription of his war service courtesy of a post-war Princeton Alumni newsletter. Interestingly, he graduated the same year as his commander, Teddy Roosevelt Jr.
“Chaplain Robert Williams, chaplain of the 26th Infantry of the First Division, has returned home, 55 Park Ave., Wilkes-Barre, Pa., to enjoy a brief leave of absence after twenty-one months’ service in France. Mr. Williams enlisted as a private in the 17th Engineers and served ten months at St. Nazaire. This regiment was among those composed of railroad men, to be reviewed by King George in London. During May, 1918, Private Williams was commissioned a chaplain. Immediately thereafter he was sent to the trenches where with the First Division he spent fifty-four days in the fighting of the Picardy front, culminating in the capture of Cantigny, the first planned American offensive. Withdrawn for a rest, his unit was unexpectedly sent into the fray again at the pivot of Marchal Foch’s counter attack northeast towards Soissons to cut the Soissons Chateau-Thierry railroad, which supplied the Germans in the Marne Salient. During this battle Chaplain Williams was gassed and here it was that his commander cited him for bravery and recommended that the DSC be conferred upon him. Chaplain Williams also spent three months in Germany, his unit being engaged in outpost duty twenty miles from the Rhine within Hunland. He says the Germans are very hard up for raw materials and that soap is worth more than money.”
I was also able to find a transcription of a letter Chaplain Williams penned to the family of a soldier killed in action:
“His battalion had gone over the top that morning, across a great
National Highway, the Paris-Soissons Road. The German machine-gun fire
was extremely severe, and we suffered heavily.
“A detail of four soldiers was given me by Major Legge to bury Captain
Richards and Lieutenant Boone. We buried your husband where he fell
and marked the grave with a cross upon which his identification tag was
placed. His personal effects, as I found them, were removed, and later
placed in his bedding-roll. We endeavored to remove his ring, but found it
impossible to do so, so we buried it with him. Records of the location of
the grave were sent to the Adjunct General, American Expeditionary Forces,
and to the Graves Registration Service; so his grave can be readily found after the war is over.
“It was remarkable what a peaceful and spiritual expression was upon
the face of Captain Richards. It did not seem as if he had suffered greatly,
and we could fancy that he seemed well pleased to pay the supreme sacrifice
upon the field of battle.
“I have heard among the enlisted men and officers who knew your
husband many, many remarks as to Captain Richard’s ouiet thoughtfulness.
his constant care for those under his command, his unfailing cheer, and his
courage, and efficiency as a soldier and leader of men. His memory lives
with us, and inspires us to emulate his devoted service to his Country.
“We ask that you will accept our sincere sympathy for the burden of
grief you bear; but we trust that your pride and joy in your husband’s
noble life and glorious death will enable you to bear his loss with courage.
“May God strengthen and help you, and may the promise of our
Savior comfort you with the thought of meeting your husband in a better
Chaplain (Protestant), 26th Infantry.”
Williams’ Silver Star Citation