Amputation by Pocketknife
the story of Pvt. Charles R. Doe,
Co. A, 310th Engineers, 85th Division, U.S. Army
by Mike Grobbel

All of Charles Doe's military records, family information and photos (except where noted) were provided
by Cynthia Doe Wineman and Lyle W. Doe , the grandchildren of Charles Doe.


Pvt. Charles Rowley Doe
Company A, 310th Engineers (2031417)

Charles Rowley Doe was born to Dennis and Catherine (Hewitt) Doe on March 21, 1892 in Coffin Township, near Bruce Mines, Algoma County, Ontario, Canada [birth registration].


Dennis and Catherine Doe with their family, circa 1894 at Bruce Mines, Ontario, Canada.
Clockwise, from left: Charles (sitting on his father's lap), Dennis, William,
Catherine, Lilly Maude, Jenny and Mabel.

Dennis Doe and his wife and family moved to the United States in 1897. Charles became a U.S. citizen in 1905. At the time of the United States' entry into the Great War, he resided with his parents on their farm in Brimley, Michigan [draft registration card]. Charles was drafted into the U.S. Army on November 21,1917 and was sent for basic training to Camp Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan, where he was assigned to Company A of the 310th Engineers.

Camp Custer was the training cantonment for the U.S. Army's 85th Division, which was also nicknamed the Custer Division. In July 1918, the entire 85th Division shipped out for England, where they continued to drill and train in preparation for deployment to the Western Front in France. However, once they arrived in England, the 339th Infantry Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the 310th Engineers were given orders to prepare for deployment to Archangel, Russia. Back home, Dennis Doe died on August 18, 1918, exactly one week before his son and the rest of the American North Russia Expeditionary Force broke camp and departed England for Archangel, Russia.

 


Some of the men of Company A, 310th Engineers at Camp Custer, Winter 1917-18
Pvt. Charles Doe is at right, rear (under arrow)
.

Shortly after arriving in Archangel, the 310th Engineers debarked from their troop ship on September 7th and were immediately quartered in nearby Bakaritza. Company A of the 310th Engineers was soon ordered to the front lines while Companies B and C were kept in the Archangel vicinity to operate sawmills, streetcars, power plants and to also construct warehouses and barracks. Company A was split up as follows:  

Pvt. Doe's military discharge papers state that he arrived on the Dvina River Front on September 24th. He was most likely quartered in Bereznik for a few days before being sent to work on fortification projects near the front lines. At that time, the Company B of the 339th Infantry Regiment was still chasing the retreating Bolsheviks and they were located near the village of Seltso, about 50 miles up the Dvina from Bereznik. Seltso was the scene of fighting on Sept. 19th and 20th and again on Oct. 10th through the 14th [map and summary info.] . Pvt. Doe was severely wounded in the lower right leg by a high explosive (HE) artillery shell on Oct. 14th, the last day of the second battle of Seltso.  


Seltso, after the second battle.
(photo from the author's collection)

In Chapter III, the authors of "The American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki" described the events in Seltso:

The ensuing week we spent in Seltso, the Bolos occupying trenches around the upper part of our defenses.  They had gunboats and naval guns on rafts and made it quite uncomfortable for us with their shelling, although the only American casualties were in the  detachment of [Company A] 310th Engineers.... On the afternoon of Oct. 14th, the second and third platoons of Company B [339th Infantry Regiment] were occupying the blockhouse when the Bolos made an attack, which was easily repelled. As we were under artillery fire with no means of replying, the British commander decided to evacuate that night.

Sgt. Silver K. Parrish of Co. B, 339th Infantry Regiment, was at Seltso and many years later he recounted his experiences there in Chapter 30 of the book "Quartered in Hell":

On Oct. 14th we took the enemy outposts.  They started bombarding us in Seltso from gunboats and field pieces, and the enemy snipers were busy all the time throughout the day.  At 4 p.m. they attacked 8 and 9 post.  I was in charge and that was my first go at a Vickers [machine] gun, and they are some gun.  We gave them a good lickin', killing over a hundred and wounding 150.  Our losses were 4 Americans killed and 10 wounded.  The English platoon got 7 wounded.  The enemy had to retire even though they did have 2,000 troops.   But their gunboats and field pieces made us leave that town.

Chapter XI of "The American Expedition Fighting the Bolsheviki" gives us some insight on the state of medical care given the wounded and sick in North Russia :

Some things the doughboy and officer from America will never have grace enough in his forgiving heart to ever forgive. Those were the outrageous things that happened to the wounded and sick in that North Russian campaign. Of course much was done and in fact everything was meant to be done possible for the comfort of the luckless wounded and the men who, from exposure and malnutrition, fell sick. But there were altogether too many things that might have been avoided..... Lieut. Lennon of "L" Company reports that during the first action of his Company on the Kodish Front in the fall, there was no medical officer with the unit in action. The American medical officer was miles in rear. Wounded men were bandaged on the field with first aid and carried back twenty-six versts. And he relates further that one man on the field suffered the amputation of his leg that day with a pocket knife.


Members of the 339th Medical Detachment transporting a patient. Sgt. Paul A. Bandemer is at far right.
(Photo courtesy of Karen Moore, granddaughter of Paul Bandemer)

That "one man on the field" was actually Pvt. Doe. The shrapnel from the artillery shell had damaged his right foot and lower leg beyond repair. According to his obituary which appeared in the December 25, 1941 edition of the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News:

His right foot was shot off on October 14, 1918, by shrapnel ..... He was on outpost duty and no surgical equipment was available. His leg was amputated piece by piece, the doctor using a jackknife and another amputation was necessary when he was finally brought to a hospital in Archangel two weeks after being wounded.

Based on Lt. Lennon's recollections, which were written in 1920, and Charles' need for a subsequent amputation procedure, it's doubtful that the field amputation was performed by a doctor (meaning a medical officer from the 337th Field Hospital Company).

UPDATE - Feb. 1, 2010: The definitive details of what actually happened on October 14th at Seltso have emerged from the typewritten recollections of Cpl. Howard A. French, Company A, 310th Engineers, courtesy of his son, Wayne French of Crystal Falls, MI. After his return home, Howard French wrote:

On Oct. 14th, I had some of the men making machine-gun emplacements. These were made to revolve so that the machine gunner could shoot from all of the different loop holes in the blockhouse. Our headquarters were at a big log house, where we had two 2-wheeled tool wagons and what tools we had to work with. They were of English make. We also had a dug-out which was supported by heavy timbers and covered with dirt. We had built several blockhouses & surrounded them with concertina, which was barbed wire rolled loosely around poles.

The Bolsheviks started shelling us with 6" naval guns. I was outside of the house working with the men when the first shell hit ths house. Master Engr. Chas. French, Sgt. Wm. Ziegenbein, and Pvt. Myron Assire were inside of the building at the time. They came right out and Chas. French got a piece of shrapnel between his hand and elbow. Myron Assire leaned up against the building and all of the other boys rushed with me to help them get into the dug-out, when the next shell exploded.

I has Assire with my arms in under his, trying to drag him to the dug-out when that shell exploded. When I came to, my head was against the felly of the tool wagon [wheel] that had three spokes gone. Most of Assire's head was shot off. Sgt. Ziegenbein got a piece of shrapnel just below his heart and lived about an hour. Chas. Doe had his right leg, between the knee and hip, practically shot off, which I had to finish chopping it off and applied a tourniquet. Rudolph Pullman had his leg broken between foot and knee. August Lashinsky lost his left hand and part of his arm. Col. Lytell [Cpl. Lyttle] had internal injuries and lived six days after that.

There was a disorderly retreat at this time, by the infantry. It was almost dark, as I recall. I told the engineering boys that we were leaving and to take off. It was dark and raining and I got two Russian ponies and using two poles with cross pieces, that we used for hauling sand bags, I tied Chas. Doe, Lashinsky, and Lytell on them and started back in the rain. During the night some time, I heard a side-wheeler on the Dvina River and I rushed over to the bank and kept yelling the counter-sign, and somebody heard me. It was the hospital boat that was going to the front to pick up the wounded. I informed them of the retreat from Seltso and that I had three wounded men with me. They sent a small boat over and picked up the wounded men. They didn't take me as they were crowded with wounded men and didn't have room, so I went on alone through the dark and rain until I came to the next town, Astrovia, where I found what engineers that were left and they were sleeping in a hay-stack. [source]

Pvt. Doe finally received the better medical treatment he deserved once he arrived in Archangel, where he continued convalescing during the winter of 1918-1919.

On May 15, 1919, Special Orders No. 25 were issued by Brigadier General Wilds Richardson, which found Pvt. Doe and many others to be "unfit for further active service in North Russia" and ordered them transferred to London, England via the H.M.H.S. Kaylan.

[ Special Orders No. 25: page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4 (310th Eng.), page 5 ]


Hospital ship Kalyan (British) which wintered in Archangel.  The picture shows the
ship fast in the thick ice of the Dvina River.  American sick and wounded coming
back from the front are sometimes cared for on board this ship. 
339th Inf., 85th Div., Archangel, Russia. March 8, 1919.
(U.S. Army Signal Corps official photo and caption)

Pvt. Doe returned to the U.S. on July 8, 1919 and was admitted to the Polyclinic Hospital in New York City. He was later transferred to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he remained until he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army on March 10, 1920 with a 60% permanent disability.

Charles was now on his own for the first time in almost seventeen months, eleven days short of his 28th birthday and with a government-purchased train ticket that would take him to Sault Ste. Marie and back to his mother's farm in Brimley.

On October 11, 1922, Charles married Flossie Mae Wynn. Both were 30 years old at the time and they soon settled in Gardenville, MI, just south of Sault Ste. Marie. Here they proceeded to raise their three children, Lillian Mae (1925-1989), Nelson Charles (1926-1970) and William Russel (1928-1979). 

Charles and Flossie mourned the death of their unnamed infant in September 1929 and Charles' mother, Catherine, passed away almost three years later.

1935 would bring even more difficulties and sorrow into the life of Charles Doe. On January 25th, Charles had to leave his pregnant wife and travel to Chicago, Illinois for medical treatment. He was admitted to the Hines Veterans Administration Hospital, where he was treated and released four weeks later on February 23rd.

Charles returned home in time to help his wife during the late stages of her pregnancy. However, on May 24th, Flossie went into labor and both she and her baby died during the attempted delivery, leaving Charles to raise his three young children alone.  His success during the 1935 deer hunting season prompted this headline in the Nov. 26th edition of the Escanaba Daily Press: "Doe Kills Large Buck in Peninsula".

Perhaps reminded of his own mortality, Charles drafted a will, which among other things, stipulated that his wife's nephew in Lapeer, Michigan should become the guardian of his minor children upon the event of his death.


Charles Doe at home sometime in the 1930s.

Little did he know that within a few short years, his final wishes would have to be carried out. In December 1941, Charles suffered a heart attack and then contracted pneumonia. He passed away at 1:45 a.m. on Christmas Day and was buried alongside his wife and parents in Block E, Lot 26E of Pine Grove Cemetery.


An exact transcription of his obituary which contains four known errors:
1) Charles was actually wounded at Seltso,
2) he additionally served in England (not France),
3) his sister's married name was spelled "Therry", not "Sherry",
4) the name of the VFW Post is "Welsh-McKenna".

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