Florida Fallen Stories

Photo courtesy of Mark Krancer

Peter (Pete) Giles


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Peter Giles was born in Hopkinsville, Kentucky on January 13, 1892. By 1900, he had moved to Tampa, Florida, where his father, John Manson Giles (1856-1948), was a citrus grower. He was the youngest of seven children, with three sisters and one brother, George Jesse Giles (1881-1966), living to adulthood. His mother dying when he was two years old, Giles was cared for by his sisters. His oldest sister, Mary Lou Giles (1879-1948), married John Samuel McAteer, a stock farmer near Ocala. Another sister, Ruth (1886-1958), wed Arthur W. Dennis, a printer in Jacksonville. And his youngest sister, Susie (1888-1979), married Robert Fleming Persons, who served as postmaster at Fort White, Florida.



Pete appears to have been a cadet at Georgia Military Academy in Milledgeville, as shown by a photo belonging to his oldest sister. In 1910, at age 18, he worked as a salesman in Reuben L. Law’s grocery in Tampa. He also worked in the Bentley-Gray Dry Goods Company, one of the leading wholesale dry goods firms in the state. In 1916, Giles was a clerk for the Peninsular & Occidental Steamship Co. in Jacksonville. The following year, he was a stenographer for Standard Oil Company. While in Jacksonville he resided with his sister, Ruth, and her husband, Arthur Dennis, who lived at 1643 Boulevard Street. Giles used this address as his official residence when he volunteered for the armed services.



On May 31, 1917, Giles enlisted in the 7th Regiment US Reserve Engineers in Jacksonville. Reporting for duty in Atlanta, he transferred to Company A, 17th Engineers (Railway), with headquarters at nearby Fort McPherson.

Railway operations were originally established by the United States Army to provide support to France and Great Britain after the United States entered the war. The Army organized and deployed different types of railway regiments and battalions. As operations progressed, the railway units were used to support the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) as well. U.S. rail regiments moved both troops and supplies for the AEF and for the allies from the seaports to the front. The Army sent nine railway regiments, all filled with volunteers from all over the country: five construction regiments, three operations regiments, and one shop regiment. Giles’s unit was a standard gauge railway construction regiment. Organized at Atlanta, the Seventeenth moved to the port of embarkation, Hoboken, New Jersey beginning in late July 1917, and overseas as Services of Supply (S.O.S.) troops in early August 1917, among the first Americans sent “Over There.” After about a month in England, the Seventeenth arrived in France, disembarking first at Le Havre before winding up at Saint Nazaire, a port city in Brittany on the central eastern coast.

Their assignment was to oversee the rebuilding of the docks, wharves, barges and piers not only at Saint Nazaire, but also Montoir, Nantes and La Rochelle, put in a water supply system, cold storage facilities, and electrical light plants, construct roads and streets, erect barracks, hospitals, warehouses, and railyards, complete with roundhouses and switches, among a myriad of other projects. Over 25,000 civilian and military workers, including German prisoners, were assigned to do the heavy labor. Soon American trains operated by American crews were rushing supplies on American-made tracks from the docks to the trenches at the front. And those same trains brought back wounded men by the hundreds who were admitted to the hospitals at AEF Base No. 1, which the Seventeenth had built.

In late October 1917, Giles wrote the following letter to his oldest sister, Mary Lou McAteer. The letter was published in the December 11 issue of the Ocala Evening Star.



On September 7, 1918, Corporal Giles, now over a year in France, died of lobar pneumonia at Saint Nazaire, a victim of the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918-19. Originally buried in the American Cemetery at Saint Nazaire, in September 1922 his body was disinterred and he was reburied in the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, some 70 miles northeast of Paris, which today contains the remains of 6,012 U.S. war dead.



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