Rabb Forest Mobley with wife Irma Hollywood from grandson Robert WilsonRabb Forest Mobley, pictured with his wife Irma, after World War I. (Photo courtesy of Robert Wilson, Mobley's grandson.) 

The World War I Diary of Private Rabb Forest Mobley 

By Mike Forster
Special to the Doughboy Foundation web site

In the late 1980s, my wife found a notepad of lined paper on a sidewalk in Menlo Park, California. The notepad was misplaced in our home for a decade, rediscovered in 2001, packed again into a box, and found again in 2017. The notepad appears to be the diary of an American World War I Doughboy, from June 28th through October 3, 1918.

Mike ForsterMike ForsterI had more time available after my retirement, a lifelong interest in history, and enjoyment in researching unusual situations. So, I decided to investigate to determine the author, and to see if I could find a family member that would like to have this memento.

The investigation concluded that the diary's author was a Private Rabb Forest Mobley. This diary was not just the story of great battles and heroism. I felt as if I were walking alongside the Private Mobley as he experienced day-to-day life in the army, crossing the Atlantic and in the French theater.

Private Mobley includes observation such as:

"Have been passing through some beautiful country – reminds me of California. But everything is so far behind the times. The French people are still using oxen to ploug with and 2 wheel carts are all the go – if they use 2 horses they are always drove in tandem."

" Had supper with a French family and had a great time showing the French girl how to make hot cakes."

But the diary also reminds us that our World War I American Expeditionary Force of front-line troops were heroes. They risked their lives just crossing the Atlantic, with encounters with German submarines that could have sunk them at any moment. They could be killed at any moment by enemy artillery shells hitting their encampments. And despite the risks, they carried through on their missions, such as repairing railroads. These missions might seem mundane compared with front-line fighting, but just as necessary for victory.

Once Rabb Forest Mobley was determined to be the author of the diary, the hunt for his relatives began. Ancestry.com was a very useful resource in this quest. Rabb married Irma Smith in 1924, and they had one daughter in 1925, Barbara Helene Mobley. She married Robert Dean Wilson, and had three children. This story about the discovery and investigation of the diary was emailed to those three descendants. The original physical diary was mailed to one of these grandchildren, Robert D. Wilson. A scanned copy of the original is available.

This diary was not just the story of great battles and heroism. I felt as if I were walking alongside the Private Mobley as he experienced day-to-day life in the army, crossing the Atlantic and in the French theater.

But the diary also reminds us that our World War I American Expeditionary Force of front-line troops were heroes. They risked their lives just crossing the Atlantic, with encounters with German submarines that could have sunk them at any moment. They could be killed at any moment by enemy artillery shells hitting their encampments. And despite the risks, they carried through on their missions, such as repairing railroads. These missions might seem mundane compared with front-line fighting, but just as necessary for victory.

Who Was the Diary's Author? - An Investigation

This account is titled, “My experience in France in Worlds War From June 28th to Nov 11th 1918”. This may indicate that this is a copy of a previous diary, not the original, or that the author left space to enter the end date later. This diary ends on October 3, with no explanation of why. This diary also includes references to dates in 1920 in a list of names at the end of the diary.

diary page

Private Rabb Forest Mobley is the author of this diary. No one else in the 27th Engineers, Company C, has the connections and coincidences listed here.

Here are key notes and hints indicating Rabb Mobley is the author. Details and references are described in a later section.

1 Author was in Company B or C (June 28, July 2).
Rabb Forest Mobley was in Company C (History of the 27th Engineers, U.S.A., 1917-1919).

2 Author mentions "Wilson" a few times.
There is a Wilson, Noah W. listed in Company C in the History of the 27th Engineers.

3 Author was likely in Company C.
In addition to Wilson, many men are mentioned at the end of the diary, most of whom were in Company C (History of the 27th Engineers, U.S.A., 1917-1919). Rabb Forest Mobley was in Company C (History of the 27th Engineers, U.S.A., 1917-1919).

4 Author mentions missing El Paso and Douglas (Aug. 5).
Rabb Forest Mobley listed El Paso as his residence on his draft registration card. Douglas is a town in Arizona, close to Bisbee and somewhat close to Morenci, Arizona, where Mobley had worked.

5 Author mentions Bisbee (Aug 7).
Bisbee is a town in Arizona, 27 miles from Douglas.

6 Author mentions Captain Greenway, from Bisbee (Aug 7).
Mobley and Greenway were both listed in the Bisbee City Directory in 1917. Both entries mention "C Q", very likely referring to the Copper Queen Hotel, perhaps where they resided or at least where they could be contacted. They likely knew each other from that common meeting place, or perhaps even worked together on a mining project.

7 Author knew Robert Tyler, an infantryman (Sept. 30).
One Robert Tyler, son of Robert Marion Tyler, was a public school student at least until the age of 20 in February 1915 in Webb, Cochise County, Arizona. Webb was a town near Bisbee, Arizona. Robert Tyler was born in 1895, the same year as Rabb Mobley; perhaps these two young men knew each other in the small town of Bisbee.

Robert Marion Tyler, Jr. completed his draft card on June 5, 1917, in Webb precinct, Cochise, Arizona on June 5, 1917 (the same date as Rabb Forest Mobley completed his in Precinct 44, El Paso, Texas).

Excerpts from the Diary

Included here are a few excerpts from the diary, giving a flavor for what combat was like in late 1918.

(June 28th [1918]) Left Camp Meade at 4.30 P.M. Co’s B & C with full Over Sea Equipment, Full Packs, Rifles and etc. etc. for over Sea duty.
Traveled all night. 2 Co’s of the 28th Engineers also left with us.

(June 29th) Arrived at Jersey City at 6.30 a.m. loaded on Ferry boat and taken to Government Docks and loaded on U.S. Transport Syboney at 10.30 a.m.
Put in good nights sleep. Neighborhood 4000 troops aboard.

(July 1st ) 5 p.m. Had a fine sea. Lots of the boys sick and some feeding the fish, some wants to die and others don’t care if the boat sinks or not.
I am enjoying the trip fine. Waves are about 10 to 12 ft. high. There is between 55000 and 60000 troops in convoy. Well guarded with 6 sub chasers, 1 cruiser and 2 Battle Ships. Also 2 HydroPlanes hovering right over us. Have life belts on at all times. This is the largest shipment of troops across the Atlantic in Worlds History – 18 transports, 3 freight boats.
8 pm A German sub came to the surfaee of the water, right then our gunners got busy firing 4 deep sea charges; also 5 or 6 from 8 in gun. Almost certain the sub was sunk. As the surface of the water was all covered with oil. We were all called to life boats. All the boys quite no excitement.

(July 12) 1.30 P.M. Destroyers were very busy guarding us. Also the sub chasers sighted out first land at 6.30 P.M. It sure looked great. Crossed Mouth of English Channel and arrived at Brest, France at 9.30 P.M. Every man in high spirits but pretty well wore out. I guess we don’t leave the boat till morning.

(July 17) Was up this morning at 3.30 A.M. and made up packs. We then hiked to Depot. Loaded up in stock cars which holds (40 Hommes or 8 Chavieux) or rather 40 men or 8 horses. Nothing but a little straw in bottom of cars. Pretty hard riding.
Left Brest at 9.30 A.M. Have been passing through some beautiful country – reminds me of California. But everything is so far behind the times. The French people are still using oxen to ploug with and 2 wheel carts are all the go – if they use 2 horses they are always drove in tandem. Trains are very small and make about 15 miles per hour.

(July 21 ) 2 P.M. Just got up and will try and eat a little breakfast - just as it is corn willie and hard tack but it sure tastes good at that. Shells are bursting all around us but I guess we will have to take her as she comes.
It is reported the Crown Prince's army is retreating; by all signs and indications they are making a quick get away and I don't blame them. Because we sure have them on the run.

(July 23) We left from where we was camped at 7 A.M. Advanced 7 kilos - awful heavy walking and raining pitch forks. Packs all soaked and weight about a ton more or less. My shoulders are nearly raw. (I think Sherman was right.)
Arrived at 26 Division and are attached to them. We are camped in heavy oak woods and are under shell fire and they are sure falling thick and fast. One landed about 3 ft from our tent. But thank the Lord it was a dud or this diary would have come to an end.
Many of the boys are having very close calls. But all are in good spirits considering that we ain't used to this kind of a reception.
Every body wearing gas masks at alert. Capt. Norcross claims our masks are our passports home and I believe it by the looks of some poor fellows that have been gassed by mustard gas. It is a thing to dread.

(August 3) Have had another day of rest - not quite so sore. Had supper with a French family and had a great time showing the French girl how to make hot cakes. It is the first I had since I been in France and they sure tasted good. As a rule, they say French women are very good cooks - will see later.

(August 11) Have been working today on Rail road, which is literally torn up. By our shells and believe me it is some wreck. No wonder Fritz's boy had to move the depot. Building is a total wreck as is also the town of Fere-En-Tardonois.
The Huns sent over some gas shells today but we was quick with our masks so there was no-body hurt.
Took 300 Huns Prisoners today and they were sure a hard looking lot. They claim they have been in the war 4 years and they sure looked it. They are crazing about chewing and smoking tobacco. Wanted to trade us anything they have for some. But as we are pretty short ourselves, the Huns are out of luck till they are sent back of the lines.

(August 15) Nine men an my self were sent up to very near no mans land under the cover of darkness to repair a bridge on the Asine River so the dough boys could cross. Pretty risky business. All returned safely but one out of our bunch. He was struck by a piece of high explosive - wounded pretty bad.
Our artillery are sure putting over some shells - about 10 to 1 of the Huns. Germans sure have a strong position behind a hill but if ever we do get Mr. Fritz started we will give them a merry chase as they have about 10 miles of open country to cross and the French cavalry are waiting to help them along.
Raining all day long - I am wet to the skin.

(August 22) I left camp with 7 men to do some blasting for the 14th Engineers at a quarrie. We traveled 35 miles in a truck and camped at 3rd Army Corp. headquarters for the night as it is raining steady all day.
The Officers sure treated us fine. We have eat six times today at different camps on our way. We have a piece of pie at one mess kitchen and it sure tasted fine - the first since we left the good old U.S.A. It seems kind of strange to be out of shell fire. These boys are sure having a good time of it. I am sure glad somebody has it easy.

(August 29) A very bad accident happened today at Chery 1 mile away. The Red Cross building was hit by a shell just as there was a bunch of our boys lining up to get tobacco and etc. The shell killed 9 and wounded 27.
I go on night duty tonight at 9 P.M. on road. I guess she will be a long hard one as it is raining and pitch dark.
I climbed a tree to get some plums today and the limb broke and I hit the ground pretty hard. I am sure sore.

(Sept 2) One or our observation balloons was burned up by an enemy plane today at 4 P.M. The observer escaped with his life after dropping about 800 in his parachute. The basket from the balloon dropped a few hundred feet from where we were standing. The German plane got back to German lines safely.

(Sept 5) Quite a number of German prisoners passed through here today. We were talking to several of them and most of them say the German people are ready to quit and by the looks of them they sure look as though they are glad to be taken prisoners.
We are working on bridges today and am sure tired.

(Sept 10) Left Dormans at 3.30 A.M. Loaded into box cars. Traveled all night. Arrived at the village of Appercourt near Verdun. It is sure sloppy rainy weather. Have not had my clothes dry for a week – sure feel cold. We are sleeping in barns and chicken house. And not a sign of a fire.

(Sept 15) Left the town of Souilly at 4 A.M. Advanced 5 miles to the town of Serrocourt. Billeted in barns and chicken houses. The fleas are as big as grasshoppers and bite like bulldogs. We are right behind the observations balloons.
Our Army is taken several German big guns today along this front. Also several machine guns and some prisoners.

(Sept 24) Fritz shelled all around us but did no damage last night outside of tearing up roads. Went back to depot at 7 A.M. and got through at 12.30 P.M. We have the afternoon off for shaving and resting up a bit.
Our officers say we are going to make the biggest drive that was ever known in a day or two. And then we will be ordered right up ahead of the light artillery to connect our narrow gauge road to the German lines if we are successful in our drive.

(Sept 28) We all went to work building a narrow gauge R.R. across no mans land to connect with the German R.R.
The Battling is sure going on in the forest right ahead of us. Machine guns sure talking. I guess our losses will be heavy.
Every effort put on our work as this rail road is badly needed for supplies and ammunitions. Boys are tying in night and day. There is also 2 companys of the 22 Eng working also.

(Oct 2) At least we have traffic going over the road, but having a hard time as the road bed is so soft. Engines and cars sink. So we have to push them by Man Power. We have all so connected up with the German R.R.
It is still raining cats and dogs.

(Oct 4) On this page, instead of an entry for Oct 4, this address is entered: 516 Stanford Ave, Room 9.

 A complete transcription of the Diary is available here:

"What a discovery!"

Mobley's grandson, Robert D. Wilson, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, answered some questions about receiving the long-lost diary from his grandfather's service in World War I.

Q:Robert WIlson in Navy during Viet Nam warRobert Wilson, pictured in his U.S. Navy uniform during the Vietnam War. What was your first response when Mike got in touch with you about his discovery?

A: "I was shocked, happy, and surprised. What a discovery!"

Q: Did you have a relationship with your grandfather? If so, did he ever talk about his service in WWI?

A: "He never talked about his service during the war. He and I were close. He died while I was in Vietnam. I wore a medallion he wore during WW1, but it was stolen from me."

Q: How much did you know about your grandfather’s service in WWI before you received the diary?

A: "Nothing."

Q: What were your thoughts, impressions, and feelings when you read the diary written by your grandfather?

A: "It helped me to better understand a very private man. His father was an ambassador to Mexico and Cuba under Grover Cleveland, I had been told. Talked to Pancho villa when Pancho was in a New Mexico jail."

Q: What impact on your perspective on WWI has receiving and reading the diary made?

A: "It gave insight and deepened respect. Mike’s discovery was nothing short of a miracle. And to have it discovered by a patriot who took the time to find me and share it! I cannot thank him enough."