Finding Aid for the Lee McFadden First World War correspondence and photographs 2019.072.w.r

Andrew Harman
Center for American War Letters Archives
Leatherby Libraries
Chapman University
Orange, CA 92866

Contributing Institution: Center for American War Letters Archives
Title: Lee McFadden First World War correspondence and photographs
source: McFadden Shani , Ruth
Creator: McFadden, Robert Lee, Sr. , 1896-1977
Identifier/Call Number: 2019.072.w.r
Physical Description: 0.02 Linear Feet (1 folder)
Date (inclusive): 1918 November 25 - 1919
Abstract: This collection contains one correspondence, six front and back pages, from PFC. Robert Lee McFadden, Sr., AEF to his father during the First World War. Also included is one blank, embroidered postcard, and five photographs, one in a newspaper clipping.
Language of Material: English .
Container: WWI 10
Container: 10
Container: 1

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ruth McFadden Shani


This collection is arranged by material type.

Biographical / Historical

PFC. Robert Lee McFadden, Sr., American Expeditionary Force (7/29/1896 - 8/17/1977) was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania to Joseph Henry McFadden and Arpia Drucilla McFadden. He had an older sister, Grace and a younger sister, Katherine. He attended McKeesport High School before serving with Company F, 15th US Engineers from May 10, 1917 to May 15, 1919. He deployed overseas on July 9, 1917 and served in engaegements in France including the St. Mihiel Offensive and the Meuse Argonne Offensive. McFadden returned to the United States on April 27, 1919 and was honorably discharged at Camp Sherman, Ohio. (source: Veteran's Compensation APplication,
Before the war, "Lee" met Ida Lake Conklin and they married after he returned, February 10, 1920. The two of them had several children, Robert Lee, Jr. (b. 10/8/1921), daughter Jean (b. 1923), Kenneth (b. 2/10/1924), and another daughter Ruth (b. 1927). McFadden owned and operated a dry cleaning business during and after the Great Depression until his retirement. In 1959, he and Ida retired to Twentynine Palms, California where he died in 1977 at the age of 81, preceding Ida by eight years. He was a Rotarian 42 years, a Mason, and a Shriner. He and Ida were square dancers, members of the Twentynine Palms Camera Club, and active members of the First Baptist Church. Robert Lee McFadden, Sr. is interred at Mount Vernon Cemetery, Elizabeth, PA just down the river from his hometown.
Robert Lee McFadden, Jr. served during the Second World War from July 1, 1943 to April 16, 1946 having never served overseas. He was discharged from active service at the Officers Separation Center in Seattle, Washington. (source: Veteran Compensation Application,
Kenneth Conklin McFadden also served during the Second World War, joining the military just before the war broke out, from September 30, 1941 to February 22, 1947 where he was discharged in San Pedro, California. According to the source, Veteran Compensation Application on, he may have served overseas but the dates are written as "unknown," as opposed to none or left blank.

Preferred Citation

[Item title / description; Box "n" / Folder "n"], Lee McFadden First World War correspondence and photographs (2019.072.w.r), Center for American War Letters Archives, Chapman University, CA.
For the benefit of current and future researchers, please cite any additional information about sources consulted in this collection, including permanent URLs, item or folder descriptions, and box/folder locations.

Content Description

This collection contains one correspondence, six front and back pages, from PFC. Robert Lee McFadden, Sr., AEF to his father during the First World War. Also included is one blank, embroidered postcard, and five photographs, one in a newspaper clipping.
Added 2/28/2020: 1 letter, photocopy, from McFadden to friends dated September 21, 1917, as well as one photocopied chapter (first two pages) of the unit history of his unit.
There is one portrait on carte de visite mount of McFadden in uniform with glasses, as well as one photograph of McFadden standing in uniform, one with five other soldiers, and one unit photograph of Company F, 15th Engineers in La Fresne near Boedeaux, France in 1919 (McFadden is sixth from the right, front row). There is also one clipping included with a copy of a photo of the 15th Engineers returning home, marching down 5th Avenue near Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh. McFadden is in the photo somewhere. The clipping appears to be from the end of the twentieth century.
Also included is one French postcard with a knitted side that says "Souvenir from France," a common handkerchief embroidering from after the war, and it was sent to McFadden's later wife, Ida L. Conklin.
The correspondence is dated November 25, 1918 and is intended to be "dad's Christmas letter," intended to be written a day prior but waited when he found out that censorship had been lifted so he may write a longer story of his experience with Company F, 15th Engineers.
McFadden landed in Liverpool, England on the RSM Baltic, by way of New York Harbor, and traveled to a camp near Aldershot and then Southampton to cross the channel on a "very small boat" called the Viper, landing at Le Havre, France. He explained to his father that he was among the first Americans there except for General John J. Pershing and a few Marines.
They arrived at Rest Camp #1 and the next day took a twenty hour train to Vierzon Cher in the center of France. On August 5, 1917 McFadden left for Gièvres about 30 kilometers away and spent 8 months there working with the American supplies and a large ice plant. They finally left for General Headquarters in Jonchery about six kilometers from Chaumont where they stayed a couple months, and during a messenger mission to Langres he got to see "Robbie," a relative of his and son of "Aunt Grace" (according to a note by the donor). Ten soldiers including McFadden then left on a survey party to Pagny (Côte-d'Or) south of Dijon, then Is-sur-Tille north of Dijon, where he meat Conrad Anderson and Orval [sic] Hough.
The survey reunited with their company and headed for the front, landing at Tilly-sur-Meuse, near St. Mihiel, where they worked on the railroad and prepared for the drive to the front. By the time they arrived, they were in abandoned German, "Bosche," trenches where he says the Germans retreated and many prisoners were taken. He then described the trenches as "wonderful," and made of brick, cement, comfortable bunks, and even a swimming pond with diving board. His friend Dan Marsh jested, "Gee those hounds sure had a miserable life," sarcasm to which McFadden added that they lived like kings. They saw the liberated city of St. Mihiel and the people there, meeting a man named Dave Williams on the way, and assured his father that his unit does not "go over the top," that their work brings up lines of communication and he works on the railroads, though he says, "I'll assure you it isn't any light work."
The unit then marched 60 kilometers to Clermont [Clermont-en-Argonne]. The fighting began with a "heavy barrage" and the unit began working on bringing up the railroad, putting in twelve miles of railroad in three weeks. They then stationed at Varennes [Varennes-en-Argonne] and Exermont[?] and then moved up to Verdun. At the time of writing this (on page 3) he says he is at Étain where they saw Allied prisoners returning from Germany, where they had been since the beginning of the war. He then says he is lucky and in the Argonne they saw some dangerous spots, including artillery, aerial bombings, then describing the difference between the front and the rear, with only Companies B and F at the front.
When McFadden mentions his relative "Robbie" on page four he calls his unit "rookies" because they stayed in the rear at Liffel Le Grande [Liffol-le-Grand] near Neuf Chateau [Neufchâteau]. He then wrote that his unit was in every big American drive except one, near Chateau Thierry, and that is where someone named Bert Foster was killed.
McFadden then spends some time discussing traveling on furlough to Aix-les-Bains, Leon [Lyon], Marseilles, Nice, Monte Carlo, Dijon, "and many other southern French towns." He also hoped to take another trip to Paris and see some of Germany before returning, but since the war is over he prefers to take the next furlough in America. He asks his father to help him find a job and closes the letter with preparing for his return. He and "the old bunch" are still together in France at this point, including Dan Marsh, "Rod," Cock, and Joe Knight. Some other soldiers are mentioned, but their names are not entirely clear and they are in separate units and locations. He signs the letter, "With Love, Your Son, Lee."

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this material except where previously copyrighted material is concerned. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain all permissions.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

World War (1914-1918)
World War (1914-1918) -- France
Correspondence -- World War, 1914-1918
World War (1914-1918) -- Pictorial works
McFadden Shani , Ruth