Charles Smedley was born in Tacoma, Washington, on February 23, 1889. His father, Nicholas Smedley, was born in Austria and his mother, Esther Evans Smedley, in Wales. He moved to Chicago, Illinois, at some point before 1917. He was not fully educated, having only completed the eighth grade. He registered for the WWI draft in June 1917. He was a salesman at the time. Smedley would emerge onto the scene of history with hundreds of thousands of other unassuming young men of his generation in 1917, when the German Zimmerman Telegram, which urged Mexico to invade the United States, prompted the U.S. to enter the First World War. To aid his country at this time of conflict, Smedley enlisted in the Army and served in D Company, 108th Engineer Combat Battalion, 33rd Division. His service began on July 25, 1917. The 33rd Division was trained at Camp Logan in Houston, Texas, as part of the National state guard in Illinois. The first unit, the 108th Engineers, went to France in 1918, under Colonel Henry A. Allen. The First World War was an industrial scale mythic labor like that the U.S. and the great powers of Europe had never seen. By the time the United States entered the war, the European and Asian combatants had been fighting for nearly four years. A war that had begun with horse-back charges and line marching had transformed into a mechanized maelstrom of tanks, chemical weapons, and miles of entrenched fortifications. In order for the U.S. to be on equal footing with their newfound allies, the U.S. military learned the methods of industrial warfare from French advisors. Acting on the knowledge acquired from the French, Smedley was one of 240,000 combat engineers performing a variety of herculean tasks to ensure that the Army could function:Army engineers built port facilities, roads, and railroads essential to moving war materiel to the battlefront. They also harvested timber for military construction and operated searchlights in anti-aircraft defense. The engineers organized the first U.S. Army tank units and developed chemical warfare munitions and defensive equipment. Armored units and chemical warfare became so important that the Army in 1918 created a separate Tank Corps and a Chemical Warfare Service. Across the battlefields of France, Smedley and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ensured that the rest of the U.S. Army could successfully conduct war against the Central Powers. The efforts of Smedley and the American Expeditionary Forces would ultimately turn the tide of war in favor of the Allied Powers. Shortly before the U.S. forces arrived in France, the Central Powers hoped to press their numerical advantage with a last ditch attempt to seize France. The German Army conducted a campaign known as the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle), in which they hoped to wield a great army bolstered by Eastern front reinforcements as a hammer to pound the Allies back into the sea. Their crushing advance toward the Atlantic would peter out just as the bulk of the American Expeditionary Forces landed in France. U.S. troops swelled the Allied forces, and helped them to win the war:By July 1918 the AEF now numbered one million men. By November it had reached 1.8 million. During this period of the war around 10,000 American soldiers were arriving every day. Faced with a deteriorating situation and becoming more outnumbered by the day, Germany was forced onto the retreat and eventually surrendered… In real terms the AEF only spent around 200 days in actual combat during the war, but their arrival began the process of securing victory on the Western Front. The first 14,000 men to arrive were the opening trickle of an eventual flood that would threaten to wash away the German resistance in France and Belgium. The American Expeditionary Force, their efforts enabled by the technical prowess of combat engineers like Smedley, gave the Allied Powers the numbers needed to draw the grinding bloodshed of World War I to a close.
For his actions in the war, Smedley was awarded the Silver Star and Oak Leaf Cluster. Silver Star, AWARDED FOR ACTIONS, DURING World War I Service: Army – Division: 33d Division, American Expeditionary Forces GENERAL ORDERS: GHQ, American Expeditionary Forces, Citation Orders No. 4 (June 3, 1919)CITATION:By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved July 9, 1918 (Bul. No. 43, W.D., 1918), Private Charles Smedley (ASN: 1393648), United States Army, is cited by the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces, for gallantry in action and a silver star may be placed upon the ribbon of the Victory Medals awarded him. Private Smedley distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with Company D, 108th Engineer Regiment, 33d Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in action at Raffecourt Mill, France, 26 September 1918, while constructing a passerelle under terrific shell and machine gun fire.
Smedley was still in France on the last day of December 1918. After the end of the war, Smedley returned home to Chicago. He was discharged in June 1919. He married Edith Holschemacher in Cook County in June 1920. She had been a music teacher in her home for at least 10 years. Edith’s father was born in Germany and her mother in Norway. In 1930, Smedley was a salesman of moth products and Edith was a presser at a cleaners. They had a daughter, Margaret Arline, who was 7 years of age in 1930. In 1940, he and his family were living in the 8th Ward of the city. He was an apron agent in the pawn business. Margaret buffed lenses for glasses for Sun Glass Manufacturing. She was 17 years of age. In 1942, at that time he registered for the WWII draft at the age of 53, he was unemployed. In 1950, he was living at the Acme Hotel. He was separated from Edith and was unable to work. Smedley passed away on November 20, 1966, at the age of 77.
“Charles Smedley in the 1940 United States Federal Census.” Ancestry, 2012.
“Charles Smedley in the U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.” Ancestry, 2010.
Hendricks, Charles. “Combat and Construction: U.S. Army Engineers in World War I.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters Website. U.S. Army, August 22, 2013.
Kempshall, Chris. “American Soldiers Arrive in France.” WW1 East Sussex. Accessed July 22, 2022.
“Voices of the First World War: The German Spring Offensive.” Imperial War Museums. Accessed July 22, 2022.