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Profiles from the Archives: Robert W. Winston Jr.

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Robert Watson Winston Jr. was born on December 17, 1891, in the city of Oxford in Granville County, N.C., to Robert Watson and Sophronia Horner Winston. Robert Winston Sr. was a well-respected lawyer, state senator, superior court circuit judge, and later author. By 1900, the Winston family was living in Durham, N.C.; by 1910, the family was living in Raleigh, N.C. Robert Winston Jr. attended Horner Military School in Oxford, N.C., for his preparatory education from 1905 to 1908. Robert’s grandfather founded and ran the school, and Robert’s father attended the school prior to it becoming a military school. After Horner, Winston Jr. became an instructor for one year at the Bingham Military School in Oxford, N.C.

Robert Winston Jr. attended and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1912 with an A.B. degree. While attending the UNC, he served as captain of the football team, and was a star of the track team. Robert is given credit for having been one of the first people to run the 100-yard dash in ten seconds. After graduation, Robert Winston became a lawyer. He ran for and was elected as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives from Wake County, N.C.

When the United States entered World War I in the spring of 1917, Winston resigned his seat in the state House of Representatives. He served in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and attended the ROTC camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia in the summer of 1917. Robert Winston Jr. was called into active federal military service from the reserves as a Captain in a field artillery unit on August 15, 1917. He was assigned to Company E, 316th Field Artillery, 81st Division, U.S. Army, at Camp Jackson, S.C. Winston attended three months of artillery training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.  

Between April and June 1918, Robert’s father attempted to get his son transferred to the 30th Division, to be assigned as a Supply Captain in the 113th Field Artillery (Light) under the command of Col. Albert Cox. Winston Sr. indicated that his son wanted to serve his country on the front lines in France earlier than he would by waiting for the 81st Division to be called overseas—with the 30th Division being in Europe sooner. There was also the interest by the Winston’s for Robert Winston Jr. to serve under a largely North Carolina’s unit with men he knew from school and the community. Robert Winston Sr. wrote letters to the following friends who were North Carolina politicians and public officials in Washington, D.C., in order to obtain this objective: U.S. Representative Furnifold M. Simmons; U.S. Representative Edward W. Pou; and U.S. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

On May 30, 1918, the U.S. War Department through Secretary of War Newton D. Baker’s office provided a memorandum on the Winston matter, authored by D. H. Allen, that noted that the War Department was advising not to allow the transfer of Winston to the 113th Field Artillery. They gave the following reasons: 1) the War Department typically keeps officers in their original command for the purpose of familiarity with subordinates; 2) officers transferred from the National Army to a National Guard regiment converted to federal service would mean accepting a lower rank; 3) it would create an extra officer in Colonel Cox’s organization that was not needed; and 4) a mutual transfer of an officer from the National Guard to the National Army would be required for this to even be a possibility.

Robert Winston Jr. remained in the 81st Division, and went with them to Camp Mills in New York prior to being sent to Europe. Winston Jr. and his unit left the United States on August 5, 1918, to serve overseas in Europe, and remained until he left France in late July 1919. Upon returning to the U.S. from France, Winston Jr. was processed out through Camp Dix, New Jersey. Robert Winston Jr. was honorably discharge from the U.S. Army on August 16, 1919, at Camp Lee, Virginia.

After the war, Winston Jr. would study at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. He lived in Washington, D.C., as of 1923, apparently working as a lawyer with or under North Carolina’s U.S. Senator Lee Overman. Winston Jr. would return to Raleigh, N.C., working as a lawyer. Later in the 1920s, he would marry to Anne McKimmon, a widow who had been married to Donald F. Ray, a captain on the staff of the 156th Artillery Brigade, 81st Division. who died in WWI. By 1940, the Winstons were living in Raleigh, and Robert was still working as a lawyer. Anne Winston died during World War II on June 30, 1944.

By 1948, Robert Winston Jr. had remarried to a Helyn Britt Winston, and was working in real estate and investments (a path his descendants would remain in as major real estate entrepreneurs in the state and country). It is known that Winston Jr. was the chairman of the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board from 1951 to 1953, when he resigned from the position. Robert W. Winston Jr. died on August 10, 1970, and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, N.C.

To learn more about Robert W. Winston Jr.’s WWI service, check out the Robert W. Winston Jr. Papers (WWI 78) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.