Monday, January 24, 2011

Military Monday: Andrew Lee Brittain in WWI

Andrew Lee Brittain, wagoner, in WWI France, c. 1918

Yesterday, I posted an obituary for my Great Grandma Brittain. Today, for Military Monday, I honor her husband, my great grandfather, Andrew Lee Brittain. Andrew was born to Frederick Harmon Brittain and Mary Jane Rooks on February 26, 1888, in Omaha, Boone County, Arkansas. Shortly after that, the family moved to Indian Territory (what is now Oklahoma).

On June 5, 1917, at the ripe age of 29, Andrew registered for the draft, and reported for duty on February 25, 1918. He was a wagoner in Company C, 110th Infantry, 28th Division, which fought in Vichy, France, for nearly a year, returning to Philadelphia in May 1919. He was presented with the Croix de Guerre, which was issued to military commands who performed heroic deeds in combat during WWI. Andrew Lee Brittain was honorably discharged from military service upon his return on May 11, 1919.

I don't know much about my great grandfather's tour of duty in France, other than he was a wagoner. From his military papers, however, I was able to glean a few personal tidbits about him, including:
  • He had gray eyes and brown hair
  • He was a farmer
  • He had pin-up girl tattoos on his arms (now we know where I got my penchant for ink!)
  • His character was listed as "Excellent"
  • He had a $10,000 life insurance policy

Another relic of his time in the war, however, showed that he was also a bit of a poet, and quite in love with a girl back home: Jessie Luetta Halstead, who would become his wife shortly after his return from France. Here's the poem that he wrote for my Great Grandma Brittain while he was pining for her overseas. It tells of the brutal hardships he faced as a soldier, and how her love kept him strong through his ordeals:

There is a little girl I am loving,
in the land across the sea,
through the softness of the twighlight
she comes creeping close to me.

I can almost feel her handclasp,
I can see her tender eyes,
As they glow across the darkness
with a light that never dies.

Yes a hard day lies behind me,
there is a bitter dawn ahead,
the man next to me is moaning,
and my bunkmate is dead.

But she is coming through the darkness
and her glance is misty bright
and I know her love is near me,
through the horror of the night.

Yes she gave me to our country
when she might have made me stay
and she kissed me, smiling bravely
as I brushed the tears away.

And her voice rings past the moaning,
past the battle raging near
And she says be true and fearless
just because I love you dear.

And I made myself a promise
that I will justify her plan,
the ideal that she set me
of a soldier, and a man.

Andrew and Jessie raised four children (Woodie, Audrie, Pauline and Evelyn). The family moved to California in 1940, and Andrew died on January 22, 1954, in Hayward, California.

You can read more about the 110th Infantry here.


  1. I cried! That was a beautiful poem written by a man in a time when we don't think of men as expressive. It must have touched her heart and strengthened her resolve in her wait for his return. Keep it coming Wendy I'm addicted!

  2. What a beautifully written poem! How sweet. How did you come across that? Was it written in a letter to her or has the family passed it down?

  3. Thanks, Vikki and Jennifer. I found the poem in my Grandma Edith's files. It was typed up on a piece of paper, and I don't know who has the original copy. My dad always spoke fondly of his grandpa -- it sounds like he was just a lovely man.

  4. Great story, Wendy! It is so nice to see reflections from WWI. You should send a copy of that to the National WWI museum in Kansas City, I bet they would love that in their collection.

  5. Thanks, Heather! And thanks for the tip on the WWI museum. I'll have to get in touch with them.

  6. Hey Cousin, stumbled across this post. Very well done. My Folks from long ago came from Boone County and landed in Oklahoma as well. Thank you for sharing, I love the poem.