World War I at Oakland Technical

Front Line Accounts

World War I Facts

  • General Woodruff, a veteran of the Civil War and an “Indian fighter,” spoke at Oakland Tech.
  • Students were asked to send names of enlisted men, so The Scribe could be sent to them.
  • Mechanical drawing classes made drawings for the Oakland shipyards.
  • Military education was made compulsory for boys 17 and older by the Oakland Board of Education.
  • Military education included sham attacks on dummies, battalion drills and hikes.
  • 125 drafted men were housed at Oakland Tech. They trained in Tech’s shops.
  • Scribe News added “From the Barracks,” a column to which the soldiers housed at Tech could contribute.
  • Tech teachers served during World War I.
  • Eleven Tech students perished in the war.

Letter from the Trenches

From “somewhere in France,” a second lieutenant in a German army corps, has recently written to one of his friends, who is a student of this school. An extract of the letter containing a vivid description of trench warfare follows:

Our quarter, which we have constructed out of the cellars of a former village, lies in numerous shelters at a country road, situated parallel to our trenches. It takes about twenty minutes from my home to reach the first trench. One detachment of soldiers is constantly in this first one, while the other one lies as reserve in the shelters. To reach the trenches one has to pass first through narrow, field roads, father through a little meadow, then though a small forest where very second tree is splintered and at last through numerous zigzag roads. There the real quarter of the infantry is situated. The trenches are rather narrow, dressed with smooth wood, and furnished with a thousand different kinds of material for attack and defense. In front of the trenches are various obstacles including steel barbed-wire fences, “wolf dens,” and “Spanish riders.”

During the day not much fighting occurs, however, there is more at night. Then, too, hard work is done repairing barbed wire fences and shelters, while searchlights and sky rockets rattle on the enemy’s side, and reflect their dazzling lights on us, so that everything around seems in daylight. A second later, like thunder and lightening, the grenades and bomb shells break around us. But, in the meantime, we all lie flat on the ground or jump into the next trench. There nobody moves and a death-like silence rules over all. The enemy shoots wherever he supposes or discovers a movement. After fifteen minutes we advance again quietly creeping forward like cats, and then the old work is taken up again at the barbed wire fences; the labor is done quickly and noiselessly. At dawn there is much firing again, and then there is generally “peace” till about eleven o’clock.

Yesterday at the end of a violent bombardment my chum was killed. Instantly a troup of soldiers under my command buried him. The band played beautiful, solemn chords and even the enemy stopped shooting and listened with devotion. Our cemetery lies right behind the trenches; consequently the enemy can clearly hear the music. More and more of our dear ones are taken away. Hourly, death asks for new sacrifices.  (Scribe News October 3, 1918)

Battlefield Experiences

The following excerpts are Technite Lawrence Miller’s account of his battlefield experiences in France in World War I at Verdun, St. Mihiel, and the Argonne Forest where he was gassed. After his service, he returned to Tech and his account appeared in the June, 1919 Scribe Annual.

We pulled into port about 6 o’clock in the morning after an all night ride across the Channel. We made the trip on an English cattle boat which would hold comfortably about 300 persons. We had in the neighborhood of 1500 on board…

We had expected to have some training in France before getting to the front, but they shot us right through… They were just about to pull off the Soissons drive at that time… There was an air raid every night that it didn’t rain.

We pulled up on the St. Mihiel front into a woods that was about ten or twelve miles from the front lines, and on that front was where the hard work started for the artillery… “The roads were in awful condition. They were shiny with mud and water two or three feet deep in some places. We went out every afternoon starting about three. We would ride to an ammunition dump anywhere from ten to fifteen kilometers away, load up with ammunition and make the run up to the front line and back. The battery position… was about 800 yards from the front line trenches. We had to pull up there once in broad daylight, in plain sight of the German front line trenches…

At last we arrived at the battery position… It happened that there was a kind of low hanging mist that night and I guess it was all that saved us as it was broad daylight when we pulled out. If it hadn’t been for that mist, they would have blown us all to nothing. We started at a gallup up the hill, the shells coming faster. The horses just stretched out their legs and didn’t seem to touch the ground… We made the twelve kilos back to the horse line in about nothing flat, and those muddy woods sure looked like home, sweet home. It was a pretty close call for all of us…

After about a week, we left St. Mihiel and pulled over on the Verdun front, and got up into the Argonne Woods about October 1st… taking our position outside of a town named Very. On the way up there, we stopped for about two hours on a crossroad, which anybody who has been to France will tell you is the worst place to stop… the crossroads are shelled continuously… I have been scared in my life, but I don’t think I was ever so frightened as I was that night. You might as well say that there was no chance at all. My guardian angel was sure with me that night …

It as just about daylight when we got our orders to move up to another position, but as I was busy, and sore, and wet and disgusted, I didn’t notice when we rode into a pocket of gas. It was too late, when we did hit it, for me to get off the gloves and get the gas masks out. But the time did get around to where I could put it on, we were out of it, but had enough to knock me out. I started to vomit almost immediately, but I stuck to the team for about twenty-six hours… The next afternoon, I dropped off the team. I woke up on a wagon, way back on the horse line. Now gas isn’t a very pleasant thing, and personally I would rather get shot in the arm or let or most any place in the body than get gassed. You get so weak that you are just all in.

I was sent to a hospital where there [was] a German prisoner in the tent. The German had been shot through the left lung… He looked like only a kid… When they found him, all he had [over his lung] was apiece of court plaster. Every time he breathed you could hear the wind through the lung and all he asked for was coffee. It was fed to him through a rubber tube… He told the medial man that he had lain out in No Man’s Land for five days without anything to eat or drink.

I was finally sent to another hospital where I stayed until about two days after Christmas. I went from 108 to 164 pounds in three weeks. Believe me the grub was good… About two days after Christmas, I was drying a dish when the ward-master came up to me and said, ‘Miller, put down that dish. You are going home.’ I didn’t have to be told twice. That was my Christmas present.

We had a rough trip back. It took us twelve days to come back… We had seven days of the roughest weather I ever want to experience… I stayed up all night to greet Miss Liberty and I wasn’t the only one, either. Many of those fellows had never expected to see it [the Statue of Liberty] again.

When we reached Oakland we were met by the canteen workers with clam chowder and cheers. We went from here right to a hospital at Camp Fremont, where we were discharged.”  (Technite Lawrence Miller’s account, which appeared in the June 1919 Scribe Annual)

World War I Casualties

This bronze plaque, honoring the Oakland Technical High School students who served in World War I, hangs to this day in the school’s front lobby.

In February of 1921, in an elaborately choreographed ceremony which included speeches, song, and a honor guard of Tech cadets, the bronze plaque which hangs in Tech’s front lobby to this day honoring the eleven Tech students who perished in the war, was unveiled when the curtains in front of it were pulled back by two 3-year-old children of two of the fallen soldiers. It was the first such ceremony in California. The plaque, weighing 650 pounds, was designed by Tech’s art teacher, Goddard Gale and cast by Tech alum Louis de Rome. Students raised the $600 needed for the bronze. The names of the Tech boys who served in the “Great World War” and “made the supreme sacrifice” are:

Herbert Dickey
Hugh Fulton
Clarence Hammel
William Hatch
Paul Herriot
Lloyd MacDonald
Carlton Obenauer
Harold Rubin
Kenneth Reid
Rufus Timm
Earl Anderson

 Armistice Day

On November 10, 1919, graduates of Central, Poly, Manual Training and Commercial High, and Oakland Technical all joined in a celebration of Armistice Day. During this reunion, a plaque from France was presented to the school in remembrance of those Technites who had died during the war.