A Rainbow Division Lieutenant in France
The World War I Diary of John H. Tabor
John H. Tabor and edited by Stephen H. Tabor
McFarland, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2015, 224 pages
Book Review published on: July 14, 2017
John Tabor’s A Rainbow Division Lieutenant in France: The World War I Diary is an interesting and unique look at World War I through the eyes of a junior officer. Tabor’s second cousin, Stephen H. Tabor, edited his diary for publication in 2015 to renew an interest in the people that fought in World War I. His personal story starts as he sets sail for Europe in the fall of 1917, takes him through the battlefields in France, and ends as he arrives back in the United States in the spring of 1919.
John Tabor graduated from Columbia University in 1917 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant through the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Later that summer, he was assigned to the 42nd Infantry Division, known as the “Rainbow Division.” Throughout his tour of duty, he served with Company K, 168th Infantry Regiment, Iowa National Guard. There are interesting passages describing the challenges of a U.S. Army Reserve officer serving in a National Guard unit. While in France, he was assigned to work on parts of the official 168th Infantry Regiment’s regimental history. He relied on his diary, other notes, and communication with others in the unit to produce the real time history of the 168th Infantry Regiment. Tabor published the official history in 1925.
This book takes the reader into the life of a young officer in World War I. I enjoyed the personal descriptions of the towns, countryside, and people. The author alludes to duty in the trenches, but his narration is more about his life and struggles than the war in which he experiences them. Tabor describes the deeply personal interactions between him and his men, the people of France, and his fellow officers. His insights highlight the differences that may surprise the casual historian between how U.S. Army lives and fight today and how it lived and fought during World War I.
Since this book is an edited diary, Tabor writes about his daily life and the movement of his unit as a reminder to himself and not to describe the events to others. Therefore, if readers are less familiar with France and its towns, the descriptions in the diary may leave them confused as to the location of Tabor and his unit. The editor could have inserted maps to help a reader follow the movement of Tabor through France. Even without maps, the book draws the reader to the ordinary in an extraordinary way.
Tabor’s diary really brings the reader back to the individuals that fought in the trenches of World War I. This book would be of interest to anyone looking for a soldier’s story of World War I. Also, Army professionals will find it a unique look at war that is completely different than the one they may have experienced themselves.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Kurt W. Roberts, U.S. Army, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas