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Kentucky National Guard Memorial

Honoring Their Sacrifice

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Aubrey, William E. aubrey headstone(P1, C2, L2)

Private William Edward “Billy” Aubrey, 20 of Owensboro, Daviess County, died in hospital at Camp Coetquidan, France on October 27 of injuries sustained in a train wreck – less than a week after his arrival in France. The wreck occurred at Gael, France on 26 October 1918. He was serving with the 113th Ammunition Train. He joined the Kentucky National Guard’s Company I, of the 1st Kentucky Infantry Regiment on 28 June 1916. He entered federal active duty with his unit on April 25, 1917. On 15 October 1917, his company was re-designated as Headquarters Detachment, Horsed Section, 113th Ammunition Train, part of the 38th Infantry Division. His unit was sent to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for training. On 10 March 1918, he was promoted to Cook. They left Camp Shelby on 18 September 1918 and set sail from New York on 6 October 1918. They arrived in Liverpool England on 18 October 1918 and in Cherbourg, France on 22 October 1918. At the time of his death he was assigned to the Headquarters detachment, Horsed Section of the 113 Ammunition Train serving as a cook. Aubrey was one of 11 KYNG soldiers killed in the crash. Many more were injured. He had listed his civilian occupation as a motion picture operator before the war.

According to correspondence by Captain J. C. Hobson, Jr. of the 138th - At 8:50 P. M., October 26, 1918, while enroute from Cherbourg, France, to a training camp at Meucon, France, a train carrying the 113th Ammunition Train collided with the 138th Field Artillery, which had just stopped at the station of Gael, France. The 138th train reportedly had had mechanical difficulties in the trip up to that point.   Headquarters Company of the 138th occupied the last six cars of the train - the compartment and three box.  All six cars were completely demolished.  Other accounts report that 14 train cars were “telescoped” in the event. There are many conflicting accounts of the incident published in newspapers at various times with variation in the numbers of injured and dead and even the location of the wreck. The location had also been reported as St. Main / Mein and Mellistroit.

The men who were killed in the wreck were buried October 28th, in the U. S. Government cemetery No. 18 at Camp Coetquidan, France. Many were returned home in the years following the war. Aubrey was laid to rest in the Rosehill Elmwood Cemetery, in Owensboro, Daviess County (Area R, Section P, Lot 121 Grave N or M). His mother Alice Hagerman Aubrey was buried there when she died in December 1944.

According to newspaper accounts, Aubrey was one of 35 young men who had been at the Greendale State Reform School and who were pardoned at the request of Maj Thompson B. Short of the Kentucky National Guard by Governor A. O. Stanley so that they could join the military. Aubrey was sentenced to one year for “housebreaking”. A Shelvin Aubrey from Daviess County was also found in the Greendale list. He was sentenced to two years for “housebreaking”.

Additional newspaper accounts regarding Aubrey have been found.

    Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, KY), 12 January 1916, p. 1.

    The grand jury returned the following indictments:  William Aubrey, petit larceny, two cases. . .

    Confesses to Thefts

    The Owensboro Messenger (Owensboro, KY), 18 January 1916, p. 5. Also see, Messenger-Inquirer, 18 January 1916, p. 7.

    Will Aubrey, under indictment in circuit court on a charge of grand larceny, was captured Monday afternoon by Officer Fred Ambrose at the West Ninth-street loose leaf house.  Aubrey was indicted in connection with James Duggins, upon whose premises a variety of personal effects were found, and afterwards identified by numerous owners.  Aubrey had just returned from Basket, where he had been sojourning since learning of the arrest of Duggins some weeks ago.

    Aubrey virtually confessed to the stealing of several of the articles, not excusing himself and undertaking to unload the whole work on Duggins.  He told the officers that with Duggins’ wagon and team he and Duggins went to the house of A. M. Roberts, in Park Avenue, and carried off a lot of feed, etc.  He also told the officers of other robberies which he said he and Duggins had committed.

    One Year Sentence In House of reform Is Given William Aubrey

    The Owensboro Messenger, 18 March 1916, p. 3.

    Besides receiving the reports of his many wards in juvenile court, Judge Lancaster had but one case for serious consideration.  William E. Aubrey, a sixteen-year-old lad that had been in jail since the first of the year, gave no promise of improvement under the court rules.  As a last resort the judge concluded to commit him to the house of reform for a year and see what that would do for him.

    Aubrey will be removed to the house of reform in a few days, the surroundings at the county jail, because of the large number of more aged criminals, not helping affairs out, in the opinion of the court.

    Taken To Greendale

    Messenger-Inquirer, 20 March 1916, p. 2.  Also see The Owensboro Messenger, 21 March 1916, p. 12.

        Deputy Sheriff Ernest Howell left this morning for Greendale, having in custody William E. Aubrey, who was sentenced to the house of reform for one year by Judge Lancaster one day last week.

    Given Paroles and Join State Guard

    The Owensboro Messenger, 4 July 1916, p. 3.

    Due to paroles granted by the prison commission three Daviess County boys who have been in the house of reform have enlisted in the Kentucky National Guard.  Shelvin Aubrey, aged eighteen years, was serving a sentence of two years for housebreaking; William Aubrey had been sentenced to one year for housebreaking, and Clifton Harrison two years for obtaining money under false pretenses.  The prison commission has paroled thirty-six inmates of the house of reform at Greendale in order that they may join the state militia.

    Sends Soldiers Clothes

    Messenger-Inquirer, 8 April 1917, p. 7.

    Mrs. Alice Aubrey received a box Friday morning, evidently from her son, William Aubrey, who has been with the army on the Mexican border for the past nine months.  The box contained a suit of civilian's clothes, a soldier's uniform and a pair of socks.  No letter accompanied the box, or any information as to why the clothes were sent here.  Mrs. Aubrey lives on Walnut Street.

    Young Aubrey was sent to the House of Reform from this county about three years ago.  Last August he was released, and upon going to Ft. Thomas joined a military company and was sent to the border.  Mrs. Aubrey has received letters from her son, but none of recent date.  She does not seem to be alarmed, and is awaiting a letter explaining the shipment.

    List of Recruits.

    The Courier-Journal, 28 April 1917, p. 5.

    The recent recruits to the First Kentucky [Louisville Legion], termed “The Honor Roll” by Col. Colston, are as follows: … Aubrey, William E., 420 Walnut Street, Owensboro, Ky. …

    William Aubrey Victim of Wreck

    Owensboro Boy Dies In Hospital In France As Result Of His Injuries

    The Owensboro Messenger, 15 December 1918, p. 11.  Also see, The Twice-A-Week Messenger, 18 December 1918, p. 5.

    Mrs. Alice Aubrey, 420 Walnut Street, has received a letter from Leo Medley, commanding officer, Headquarters Detachment, Horse Bn., 113 Am. Tn., A. E. F., in regard to the death of her son William Aubrey, who was killed in the railroad wreck in France.  The letter follows:

    “Until now, it has not been my privilege to write you the circumstances surrounding the death of your son.  I was absent from my organization when the railroad wreck in which the accident causing his death occurred.  He was caught with four others, company companions, and many others of other organizations.  I can not express to you my sorrow at learning of their death and I have made careful inquiries to ascertain the exact cause.  Your son suffered an injury that necessitated the amputation of his right foot and other injuries internal.  He was hurried to the base hospital where he was given every attention and his death came to him at a time when he was in full possession of consciousness and without suffering.

    “He was buried in an American cemetery at Coitquedon, France, with those others who had come to death in the same accident.  The record of your son as a soldier expresses better than any words I might write, his splendid conduct at all times and his conduct, on the night of the accident, was an inspiration to all who had known and loved him.  There was in him a greatness to please and help and he was slow to ask a favor of any one.  He is mourned by us as one of the best loved men in the regiment and I assure you that I join you with my whole heart, in grief.”

    Mrs. Aubrey will receive her son's $10,000 army insurance.

    Sunday List

    Messenger-Inquirer, 15 December 1918, p. 2.  Also see, The Courier-Journal, 15 December 1918, p. 20.

    Died of Wounds - Cook William Edward Aubrey, Owensboro.

    The Owensboro Messenger, 20 February 1919, p. 3.

    Alice Aubrey, who married William T. Aubrey on December 21, 1892, has now filed a petition in circuit court asking to be given release from the matrimonial bonds with him.  She claims that he abandoned her in 1900, and is now living at Popular Bluff, Mo.  She also asks that a warning order be issued to him from the court, to appear in this court and state reasons why the divorce should not be granted to Mrs. Aubrey.

    Maj. T. B. Short Rescues Ward; Given Citation

    Honored By Brig. Gen. Conner For Heroism At Gael, France.

    The Courier-Journal, 09 August 1919, p. 3.  Also see, Messenger-Inquirer, 10 August 1919, p. 3.

    Lexington, Ky., Aug. 8. - Maj. Thompson B. Short is here to-night for a few days’ leave before he is discharged.  It was learned coincidently with his arrival that he had been cited for meritorious service by Brig. Gen. Connor.

    The citation grew out of work done by Maj. Short and other officers last October, when two troop trains collided at Gael, France, killing twenty-six soldiers and wounding many more.

    Several Louisville boys were among the victims as well as others from over the State, including Bufford C. Craig and W. N. Neagle, Lexington.

    Maj. Short crawled under the wreck, where William Aubrey, Owensboro, was pinned and, with others rescued Aubrey alive, being forced, however, to amputate one of the legs with penknives.

    Aubrey was one of the thirty-five State Reform School inmates pardoned by Gov. Stanley at Maj. Short's request, that they might join the army.

    To Honor 83 of Daviess County's Heroes Feb. 22

    American Legion Will Present French Memorial Certificates to Next of Kin

    The Owensboro Messenger, 08 February 1920, p. 8.  Also see, Messenger-Inquirer, 08 February 1920, p. 3.  For program see, The Owensboro Messenger, 22 February 1920, p. 11.

    Arrangements are being made by the Daviess County post of the American Legion to make the big mass meeting on Washington's birthday when the next of kin of the eighty-three Daviess County men, who gave their lives for their country will be presented with memorial certificates given by the French government, one of the most memorable occasions in the history of the county. . .  William Edward Aubrey . . .

    22 War Dead Arrive Here

    Bodies of Nurse, Captain and 22 Privates Reach City From France.

    The Courier-Journal, 24 August 1920, p. 4.

    Bodies of a nurse, a captain and twenty privates of the A. E. F. arrived at Central Station at noon yesterday. . .Private William E. Aubrey, Owensboro, Ky. . .

    Bodies Of Two World War Veterans Brought Back For Burial Here

    The Owensboro Messenger, 25 August 1920, p. 6.  Also see, Messenger-Inquirer, 25 August 1920, p. 8.

    The body of William E. Aubrey, who was killed in a railroad accident near Cortedron, France, last year, while he was serving in the American Expeditionary Forces, arrived from overseas at noon Tuesday and was taken to Rose Hill cemetery for burial.  Private Aubrey is survived by his mother, Mrs. Alice Aubrey, who resides at 520 Walnut Street. . .

Newspaper accounts say Short crawled under the wreckage in the darkness and rain to where Aubrey was pinned and he amputated one of Aubrey’s legs with a pen knife to remove him from the wreckage. It was some time before any help or trained medical personnel arrived on the scene. Reportedly wires on both sides of the station were downed in the wreck and a messenger was sent on foot to the next nearest communication point five miles away.  Troops and ambulances arrived at the scene at 1 a.m. the following morning presumably with medical personnel from Camp Coetquidan some 20 miles away and all the injured and dead were removed from the scene by 3 a.m. presumably back to Camp Coetquidan. Short received a citation for his efforts in the wreck.

According to the Lexington Leader, 9 August 1919, p. 1, the citation, by command of General Connor, in general order No. 42, July 8, 1919 gives the following account of the rescue of Aubrey and the meritorious service of Major Short: “After a rear end collision of two troop trains occurred between the 113th Ammunition Train and the 138th Field Artillery and after the rescuing parties had worked for an hour, under the difficulties of darkness and rain, a soldier found pinned underneath an upturned truck wheel, upon which rested the greater part of three telescoped cars.  In order to free the imprisoned soldier, it was necessary to raise the wreckage to a very dangerous angle.  Major Short, Capt. Freehan, Capt. Cavanaugh and Private Sheehan, without regard to the personal danger involved, crawled thru the wreckage and in a lying and sitting position, worked against odds for three hours and succeeded in rescuing the soldier alive.”

The other members of the Kentucky National Guard Killed in the incident are: Buford G. Craig; Norbert V. Henry; Charles Lucas; Watkins A. Moss; Walter C Neagle; Roy V. Ogle; Ralph Rose; James N. Tucker and Garland W. Wells.

A story in the 6 August 1916, edition of the Lexington Herald tells the story of Aubrey, who “took a liking” to the military life-style and wanted to serve his country. 

    With The Kentucky Militia In Camp At Fort Thomas

    Lexington Herald, 6 August 1916, p. 5.  Also see, “Pathetic Figure,” The Courier-Journal, 6 August 1916, 26.

    All kinds of occurrences are to be witnessed and all types of people to be seen about Fort Thomas, but the most pathetic is William Aubrey, a Greendale Reform School boy, whose acceptance as a Kentucky National Guardsman was refused by United States Army officers.  A friendless waif, “Billy” thought opportunity had knocked at his door when the President called out the militia.  He came to Fort Thomas and when the Reform School boys were rejected he refused to return to Owensboro, his home.

    “I have no friends there, they sent me to jail.  I like this life, these fellows are really pals to me,” he cried.  Explanations that there was no place to keep him, no way to feed him were useless; he refused to go.  No one of the officers had the heart to put him out of the reservation.

    He began to help the mess sergeant of Company I, the command in which he enlisted, and in return was given his meals.  He began to help other persons in the Third Battalion of the First.  He was a reliable and efficient aid.  His work spread and now officers in the battalion declare they can not get along without him.  He sleeps just outside the quartermaster's tent and guards the supplies.  Just two things bother the boy.  First, his uniform.  It never was new for him and never did fit.  Now it looks worse than ever.  He wants a new one but there is no way to get it.  The second is not so pressing.  He wonders what he will do when the Kentucky Guard is ordered to the border.  But the worries don't interfere with his work, and he forgets them to smile when an officer wants some little task performed.

    No record of Aubrey serving in any capacity with the Kentucky National Guard during the Mexican Border Service has been found but one imagines he would have went with them if he could have. Then again this may have been when he picked up work as a motion picture operator at a movie theater as he reported his civilian employment.


1911 University of Kentucky Catalogue, p. 293.
Lexington Herald, 10 August 1919, p. 1, “Major Short Cited for Rescue of Kentucky Man Freed Imprisoned Soldier After Fatal Collision of Troop Trains in France.”
Lexington Herald, 6 August 1916, p. 5. 
Lexington Leader, 10 July 1916, p. 8.
Lexington Leader, 13 January 1919, p. 8.
Lexington Leader, 15 December 1918, p. 7.
Lexington Leader, 19 December 1918, p. 19
Lexington Leader, 25 November 1918, p. 1. 
Lexington Leader, 5 January 1919, p. 2.
Lexington Leader, 9 August 1919, p. 1. 
Soldiers of the Great War William Mitchell Haulsee, Frank George Howe, Alfred Cyril Doyle
The Big Sandy News (Louisa, Ky), 10 September 1920, p. 3.
The Courier-Journal, 10 August 1919, p. 24.
The Courier-Journal, 15 December 918, p. 2.
The Courier-Journal, 16 August 1920, p. 3.
The Courier-Journal, 16 August 1920, p. 3.
The Courier-Journal, 17 August 1917, p. 10.
The Courier-Journal, 19 August 1920, p. 9.
The Courier-Journal, 20 August 1920, p. 4.
The Courier-Journal, 20 January 1919, p. 4.
The Courier-Journal, 23 December 1918, p. 1.
The Courier-Journal, 3 December 1918, p. 12.
The Courier-Journal, 3 January 1919, p. 5.
The Courier-Journal, 5 January 1919, p. 1
The Courier-Journal, 5 January 1919, pp. 1, 9.
The Courier-Journal, 6 August 1916, 26.
The Jeffersonian (Jeffersontown, KY), 6 September 1946, p. 1. 
The Jeffersonian, 15 November 1946, p. 1.
The Washington Herald, 22 August 1920, p. 5.
Owensboro Messenger 12/15/1918
Owensboro Messenger - p. 3 A & 1 B; soldier - US Army, corporal; residence Owensboro, KY;
Owensboro Messenger 1919: 6/1 p. 18

The Kentucky National Guard Memorial Fund, Inc., is a recognized 501(c)(3). EIN 26-3705273

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