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Source: April 1979 Volume 17 Number 2, Pages 43–46

When the Marine Corps Had a Training Camp in Tredyffrin

Bob Goshorn; Thomas R. Plummer

Page 43

From May 1913 to November 1918 Camp Edward G. Fuller, in Tredyffrin, was the home and training camp for the Marine Corps' newly-organized Field Signal Battalion. The unit, commanded by Major James J. Meade, was formed to supply the Corps with trained signalmen.

Prior to the establishment of the battalion, the Marines had only one company of trained signal personnel, about sixty men scattered throughout the Atlantic fleet. With the increasing importance of signal communication in the first World War, in 1917 the company's personnel was brought back to the Philadelphia Navy Yard and divided into the cadre for three companies, with new personnel and recruits added to bring the unit up to battalion strength.

By early 1918 additional space was needed at the Navy Yard for the Officers' Candidate School. A new home was therefore sought for the Signal Battalion, which now comprised the 3d, 87th, and 147th companies. Although based in Philadelphia, small groups had been sent to Valley Forge for signal practice, the hills there offering an ideal location for such exercises. It was decided to look in that area for a site for the Battalion's new home.

In the spring of 1918 the site for the camp was selected by Major Meade and his staff: the 37-acre property of Dr. A. A. 0'Daniels, of Tredyffrin, located on the west side of North Cedar Hollow Road between the Trenton Cut-Off of the then-Pennsylvania Railroad and the tracks of the branch line of the Reading through the Chester Valley.

The camp was named in honor of Sergeant Edward C. Fuller, who had been killed, in France shortly before the camp's establishment. Sgt. Fuller was also the son of Colonel Benjamin Fuller, the Commanding Officer of the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Page 44

The camp was laid out in streets of thirty tents each, fifteen on either side of the street. The streets were graded to prevent flooding, and were lined with uniform gutters that were whitewashed daily.

The tents along the street were mounted on pine wood floors or decks, which were raised at regular intervals and sprayed with lime and other disinfectants. Later, wooden "strong-boards" were also built for all the tents; these too were whitewashed daily. The sides of the tents were also raised during the day to air the tent's contents.

In each tent were cots for two (or, occasionally, three) men. The tents were described "as roomy and homelike, and in leisure hours afforded comfortable quarters for reading and friendly gatherings".

Three frame mess halls, one for each company, were also constructed, each with its "buzzey-cots" or stoves, with an ice-box built into the side of a bank. Taking advantage of the produce from nearby farms and dairies to augment the issued rations, the food was certainly well above the average, and even described as "exceptional": the baked beans and apple pie (made from local apples) of one mess sergeant are still remembered as about the best ever served! Each company had its own Company Fund and mess account to maintain its mess hall.

Lavatories, a large shower bath, and a sick bay, a complete unit in itself with a regular staff of doctors, pharmacists, and a dental de­partment on duty, completed the camp. Where necessary, electric lighting was installed, but generally illumination was by candle and lantern, as there was not sufficient machinery to provide a complete electric lighting system for the camp.

The number of Marines stationed at Camp Fuller at any one time ranged between 500 and 700. The Battalion was a training unit, with drills and instruction in semaphore, the "wig-wag" and Morse code, helio­graphs and night lamps, and work in radio, telephone, and telegraph, as well as the more routine hiking, digging of trenches, laying wire, setting up and climbing poles, and infantry tactics applicable for trench warfare. Each company, in addition to its basic training, also specialized in a particular area, the 3d Company in radio, the 147th Company in telephone, and the 87th Company in wire operations. The troops continued to use Valley Forge for signal practice, with the telephone training conducted on the camp site.

The Battalion was also trained in a new signalling technique known as "T.P.S" (telegraph par soil), a method of communication developed to prevent the enemy from intercepting messages, "Unfortunately," Tom Plummer, one of the camp's cadre, recalls, "neither could the Americans. It was good for only about a mile in loam. Sandy soil was not a good conductor. And in rocky soil, the message simply followed the seams in the rocks and was never received."

Page 45

Recruits for the Battalion came from all parts of the United States, by way of either Quantico, Virginia, or the Mare Island Navy Yard in California. Upon arrival in Philadelphia, they were met at the old Broad Street Station and marched out to the camp, with a lunch stop at about noon on the grass of the campus of Villanova College. Their baggage, however, was hauled out by truck from the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the trucks also making daily trips between the camp and the Navy Yard for needed supplies and rations.

The Battalion also had a couple of F-W-D trucks that had been brought back from Cuba, Haiti or San Domingo with the reassembly of the com­pany, three motorcycles, and a few cars privately owned by officers, but the principal mode of transportation was by foot!

No sooner was Camp Fuller established than provision was made in Paoli for the diversion and entertainment of the troops. In their history of the Marine Corps written in 1919, John Leonard and Fred Chitty ob­served, "Immediately it was known the place of Paoli had been decided on as a camp site the Y.M.C.A. proceeded to make preparations for the looking after the boys during leisure hours. The Red Cross lent their aid as well, and a home in the town of Paoli was soon in readiness for the resting place of the boys. There a rest room, card room, sleeping quarters and shower baths, with an unlimited supply of hot water was at all times at the command of the Marines. Good books, good music and entertainment every night brought to the boys a sense of homelike­ness seldom duplicated. In addition, a canteen under the direction of a few ladies, headed by Mrs. [Thomas] Reath, opened a nearby cottage for the use of the Marines to spend their spare time in. The latest magazines, books, pool tables, and the charming society of the thoughtful ladies of the neighborhood, was constantly at the call of the Marines. Besides this, the Y.M.C.A. opened a tent directly connected with the camp for the use of the boys, to do their writing in, and there every night or two moving pictures, lectures and public speak­ing passed the time between mess call and taps. The neighbors were continually placing their resources at the call of the boys. Dances, teas, entertainments, automobile parties, and weekend homes. Nothing seemed to be overlooked for the convenience of the Battalion."

(Incidentally,, although most references to the camp connect it with Paoli, the official address of Camp Fuller was not Paoli, but Tredyffrin, Chester County, the Tredyffrin post office at that time being located in the Cedar Hollow station of the Reading Railroad.)

Leonard and Chitty also reported that the entire complement of Camp Fuller "conducted itself in such orderly fashion that not one complaint was lodged against the camp by any of its neighbors". The fine record of the Battalion was also commented upon by the Battalion Commander shortly after the Armistice, with the observation that during the six months of the camp's existence "there were no General Court Martials [sic], two Summary Court Martials, three Deck Court Martials and five Commanding Officers' punishments... Quite an exceptional record..."

Page 46

Since the Battalion itself was a training unit, its personnel, aside from the training cadre, kept changing as signal detachments were sent out to various units — to the Fifth Regiment that won fame at Chateau Thierry, to the headquarters of the Fifth Brigade in France, and to other outfits.

In early November, Camp Edward C. Fuller was closed down, the Battalion returning to the Philadelphia Navy Yard preparatory to going overseas to a new camp near Nice in France. A part of its baggage was already on board ship when news of the Armistice was received, ending hostilities. As a result, the Battaliom itself never went to France.

It is interesting to note that following their discharge from the Corps, at least four of the men assigned to Camp Fuller in Tredyffrin remained in the area, including Ed Kehoe, who settled in Berwyn; Minor Vail, in Paoli; Joe Annear, in Malvern, where he was at one time the Burgess; and Tom Plummer, who lived at various times in Malvern, Berwyn and Paoli and was for a number of years a Justice of the Peace,



Recollections of Thomas R. Plummer, Paoli

Leonard and Chitty: The Story of the United States' Marines 1740-1919. New York: The, U.S. Marine Corps Publicity Bureau.


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