The “40 and 8″

May 11, 1918 – Full diary entry:

“Packed up ready to leave Camp No. 1. We do not know where to.

Marched 5 miles to Havre Station, entrained.

Old coaches and boxcars. Very crowded but we are tired and will sleep.”

Robert may not have known where they were going, but Chaplain Edwards says in From Doniphan to Verdun: The Official History of the 140th Infantry:

In two days our outfitting was completed. Our friends gave as their parting salutation the magic words we had seen and heard so often in England “With the best of luck.” And on May the eleventh we boarded French trains for Eu. The French trains are smaller, dirtier and far more disreputable looking than the English. The box cars for the men were marked “Cheveaux 8, Hommes 40.” This was a sign with which we were to become very familiar, and signified that the car had been used up to this time to carry eight horses or cattle, and that now it was supposed to furnish luxurious accommodation for forty men. In many of the cars evidence of previous service was still visible. The men were crowded uncomfortably, and had not sufficient room. Cars for the officers contained no conveniences of any kind. There were no lights anywhere and candles were forbidden. 

Once started, we began to appreciate the British trains. A French military train only moves about ten kilometres an hour, frequently changing its mind and running backwards for a time. They measure the distance in kilometres, because a kilometre is a little over half a mile, and it sounds faster.

How about Chaplain Edwards, with a little 1918 snark? I really enjoyed this passage. Here’s the chaplain, by the way:


Corporal Phillips had a similar experience in War in Words:

When the day came to move, we hiked through Le Harvre to the railroad yards. This time we did not find coaches. We were by now in the horse class, having to be satisfied with box cars. Painted on every car just above the door were the words and figures in French, “8 Horses or 40 Men.” The proper numbers were crowded into each car. This box car idea was quite a novelty, since it was our first such experience. The novelty became well worn-out to reach our northern destination some 600 kilometers.

It turns out the “40 and 8″ was a very well-known conveyance at the time. From the World War 1 Centennial Commission:

Without a doubt, it is certain that every infantryman in the A.E.F. (American Expeditionary Force) rode a 40 and 8 boxcar at least once. It was a well-appreciated mode of transport because the alternative meant sore feet, and wearing out a pair of shoes too soon since trucks and automobiles were uncommon. Thus, the Doughboys grew fond of the little boxcars.

Wait, it gets better! After the war, members of the American Legion created a new, exclusive level of the organization called – you guessed it – La Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux (The Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses). It is still an active charitable group today.


Where was Robert today? See the timeline.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s