Aubrey, William E. “Billy” (P1, C2, L2)
Private William Edward “Billy” Aubrey, 21 of Owensboro, Daviess County, died in hospital at Camp Coetquidan, France on October 27 of injuries sustained in a train wreck – less than a week after his arrival in France. The wreck occurred at Gael, France on 26 October 1918. He was serving with the 113th Ammunition Train. He joined the Kentucky National Guard’s Company I, of the 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment on 28 June 1916. He entered federal active duty with his unit on April 25, 1917. On 15 October 1917, his company was re-designated as Headquarters Detachment, Horsed Section, 113th Ammunition Train, part of the 38th Infantry Division. His unit was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training. On 10 March 1918, he was promoted to Cook. They left Camp Shelby on 18 September 1918 and set sail from New York on 6 October 1918. They arrived in Liverpool England on 18 October 1918 and in Cherbourg, France on 22 October 1918. At the time of his death he was assigned to the Headquarters detachment, Horsed Section of the 113 Ammunition Train serving as a cook. Aubrey was one of 11 KYNG soldiers killed in the crash. Many more were injured. He had listed his civilian occupation as a motion picture operator before the war.
According to correspondence by Captain J. C. Hobson, Jr. of the 138th - At 8:50 P. M., October 26, 1918, while enroute from Cherbourg, France, to a training camp at Meucon, France, a train carrying the 113th Ammunition Train collided with the 138th Field Artillery, which had just stopped at the station of Gael, France. The 138th train reportedly had had mechanical difficulties in the trip up to that point. Headquarters Company of the 138th occupied the last six cars of the train — the compartment and three box. All six cars were completely demolished. Other accounts report that 14 train cars were “telescoped” in the event. There are many conflicting accounts of the incident published in newspapers at various times with variation in the numbers of injured and dead and even the location of the wreck. The location had also been reported as St. Main / Mein and Mellistroit.
The men who were killed in the wreck were buried October 28th, in the U. S. Government cemetery No. 18 at Camp Coetquidan, France. Many were returned home in the years following the war. Aubrey was laid to rest in the Rosehill Elmwood Cemetery, in Owensboro, Daviess County (Area R, Section P, Lot 121 Grave N or M). His mother Alice Hagerman Aubrey was buried there in when she died in December 1944.
According to newspaper accounts, Aubrey was one of 35 young men who had been at the Greendale State Reform School and who were pardoned at the request of Maj Thompson B. Short of the Kentucky National Guard by Governor A. O. Stanley so that they could join the military. Aubrey was sentenced to one year for “housebreaking”. A Shelvin Aubrey from Daviess County was also found in the Greendale list. He was sentenced to two years for “housebreaking”. One presumes they were related and likely both involved in the same incident but no futher documentation other than a newspaper listing of their offenses has been found to date.
Newspaper accounts say Short crawled under the wreckage in the darkness and rain to where Aubrey was pinned and he amputated one of Aubrey’s legs with a pen knife to remove him from the wreckage. It was some time before any help or trained medical personnel arrived on the scene. Reportedly wires on both sides of the station were downed in the wreck and a messenger was sent on foot to the next nearest communication point five miles away. Troops and ambulances arrived at the scene at 1 a.m. the following morning presumably with medical personnel from Camp Coetquidan some 20 miles away and all the injured and dead were removed from the scene by 3 a.m. presumably back to Camp Coetquidan. Short received a citation for his efforts in the wreck.
According to the Lexington Leader, 9 August 1919, p. 1, the citation, by command of General Connor, in general order No. 42, July 8, 1919 gives the following account of the rescue of Aubrey and the meritorious service of Major Short: “After a rear end collision of two troop trains occurred between the 113th Ammunition Train and the 138th Field Artillery and after the rescuing parties had worked for an hour, under the difficulties of darkness and rain, a soldier found pinned underneath an upturned truck wheel, upon which rested the greater part of three telescoped cars. In order to free the imprisoned soldier, it was necessary to raise the wreckage to a very dangerous angle. Major Short, Capt. Freehan, Capt. Cavanaugh and Private Sheehan, without regard to the personal danger involved, crawled thru the wreckage and in a lying and sitting position, worked against odds for three hours and succeeded in rescuing the soldier alive.”
The other members of the Kentucky National Guard Killed in the incident are: Buford G. Craig; Norbert V. Henry; Frank James; Charles Lucas; Watkins A. Moss; Walter C Nagle; Roy V. Ogle; Ralph Rose; James N. Tucker and Garland W. Wells.
A story in the 6 August 1916, edition of the Lexington Herald tells the story Aubrey, who “took a liking” to the military life-style and wanted to serve his country.
With The Kentucky Militia In Camp At Fort Thomas
Lexington Herald, 6 August 1916, p. 5. Also see, “Pathetic Figure,” The Courier-Journal, 6 August 1916, 26.
All kinds of occurrences are to be witnessed and all types of people to be seen about Fort Thomas, but the most pathetic is William Aubrey, a Greendale Reform School boy, whose acceptance as a Kentucky National Guardsman was refused by United States Army officers. A friendless waif, “Billy” thought opportunity had knocked at his door when the President called out the militia. He came to Fort Thomas and when the Reform School boys were rejected he refused to return to Owensboro, his home.
“I have no friends there, they sent me to jail. I like this life, these fellows are really pals to me,” he cried. Explanations that there was no place to keep him, no way to feed him were useless; he refused to go. No one of the officers had the heart to put him out of the reservation.
He began to help the mess sergeant of Company I, the command in which he enlisted, and in return was given his meals. He began to help other persons in the Third Battalion of the First. He was a reliable and efficient aid. His work spread and now officers in the battalion declare they can not get along without him. He sleeps just outside the quartermaster’s tent and guards the supplies. Just two things bother the boy. First, his uniform. It never was new for him and never did fit. Now it looks worse than ever. He wants a new one but there is no way to get it. The second is not so pressing. He wonders what he will do when the Kentucky Guard is ordered to the border. But the worries don’t interfere with his work, and he forgets them to smile when an officer wants some little task performed.
No record of Aubrey serving in any capacity with the Kentucky National Guard during the Mexican Border Service has been found but one imagines he would have went with them if he could have. Then again this may have been when he picked up work as a motion picture operator at a movie theater as he reported his civilian employment.
- 1911 University of Kentucky Catalogue, p. 293.
- Lexington Herald, 10 August 1919, p. 1, “Major Short Cited for Rescue of Kentucky Man Freed Imprisoned Soldier After Fatal Collision of Troop Trains in France.”
- Lexington Herald, 6 August 1916, p. 5.
- Lexington Leader, 10 July 1916, p. 8.
- Lexington Leader, 13 January 1919, p. 8.
- Lexington Leader, 15 December 1918, p. 7.
- Lexington Leader, 19 December 1918, p. 19
- Lexington Leader, 25 November 1918, p. 1.
- Lexington Leader, 5 January 1919, p. 2.
- Lexington Leader, 9 August 1919, p. 1.
- Soldiers of the Great War William Mitchell Haulsee, Frank George Howe, Alfred Cyril Doyle
- The Big Sandy News (Louisa, Ky), 10 September 1920, p. 3.
- The Courier-Journal, 10 August 1919, p. 24.
- The Courier-Journal, 15 December 918, p. 2.
- The Courier-Journal, 16 August 1920, p. 3.
- The Courier-Journal, 16 August 1920, p. 3.
- The Courier-Journal, 17 August 1917, p. 10.
- The Courier-Journal, 19 August 1920, p. 9.
- The Courier-Journal, 20 August 1920, p. 4.
- The Courier-Journal, 20 January 1919, p. 4.
- The Courier-Journal, 23 December 1918, p. 1.
- The Courier-Journal, 3 December 1918, p. 12.
- The Courier-Journal, 3 January 1919, p. 5.
- The Courier-Journal, 5 January 1919, p. 1
- The Courier-Journal, 5 January 1919, pp. 1, 9.
- The Courier-Journal, 6 August 1916, 26.
- The Jeffersonian (Jeffersontown, KY), 6 September 1946, p. 1.
- The Jeffersonian, 15 November 1946, p. 1.
- The Washington Herald, 22 August 1920, p. 5.
- Owensboro Messenger 12/15/1918
- Owensboro Messenger - p. 3 A & 1 B; soldier - US Army, corporal; residence Owensboro, KY;
- Owensboro Messenger 1919: 6/1 p. 18