The Great War in Europe was not the only prelonged conflict in the early twentieth century. War had been endemic between Mexico and the United States for decades, and in 1916, before the US officially joined the European war, it was very much business as usual.
In March 1916 the rebel Mexican General Francisco ‘Pancho’ Villa attacked the US army near Columbus, destroying the border town in the process. President Woodrow Wilson sent out an expeditionary force to apprehend the General, which nearly led to another war between the two countries. Later known as the Pancho Villa Expedition, this was in many ways a pivotal moment in the Great War as well, since a full-blown conflict with Mexico would have prevented the much-needed influx of US troops on the Western Front in 1917. Indeed, the now infamous Zimmerman Telegram of January 1917 actually proposed an alliance between Germany and Mexico, designed to keep the US out of the war in return for generous financial support for a Mexican reconquest of territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
In our up-coming Great War catalogue, due to be released in the summer, we have an intriguing scrapbook made by the family of one of the National Guardsmen sent out on this expedition.
The brilliantly named ‘Hunk’ Hevenor left his family home in Albany, NY, in June 1916. Aged just 21, he was given a few weeks of basic training before being sent down to New Mexico to take part in the expedition. At this point his family appears to have started a scrapbook about the conflict and his part in it. There is a map of Mexico and a number of newspaper articles relating to the activities of ‘B Troop’ pasted in at the beginning, along with some photographs of Hunk and other soldiers in the troop. Later, letters and postcards sent home by Hunk appear, addressed to his sisters Edna and Margaret and his father, ‘Benj’.
Having survived the Mexican Border War unscathed, Hunk was called up once more with the 6th Division to fight in France in July 1917. By October the Division had been reorganised as the 27th Infantry Division under John F. O’Ryan, who leant his name to the design of the new shoulder insignia (see below). Hunk’s has been cut out and inserted into the scrapbook, along with his Private’s chevron.
Strangely, there are just two letters home from this period featured in the book – one from 1917 and another from 1918. Whether there were more letters which have now been lost, we shall never know. What is most interesting is that the Hevenor family clearly considered the Pancho Villa Expedition a far more significant event than the distant war in Europe.
Hunk’s discharge papers are here too, dated 2nd May 1921. He is listed as being wounded in July 1918 during an air-raid, but left the army in good health, returning to his regular employment as an advertising writer.
In sum, the scrapbook tells a compelling personal story from the Great War period, consising mainly of letters back home not from Northern France, but from the Mexican border, where the stakes were just as high.
James Murray, 05/02/15