President Wilson and Dreams of Peace

“Most every morn someone will say I dreamed of home last night. And it is true as I know from experience and especially since the little peace talk started,” Grandpa wrote October 12, 1918.

In Grandpa’s letters, I find simple truths like this to be profound, that peace kindled a soldier’s dream. He and his buddies, understandably, were homesick. When Grandpa wrote this letter, he’d been in the army for one year, in Europe four months, and in the war zone 70 days. Of course, they longed for an end to the misery. But a soldier’s dream ran through the much larger and hugely complex desires of politicians trying to secure world peace.

“Now Monday morn,” he wrote on October 14. “We got the big news this morn that Germany had accepted all of Wilsons peace terms, so we had to read the papers through and through.”

Whatever papers they read didn’t tell the whole story. Yes, Germany had reached out to President Wilson on October 4, seeking an armistice. But peace wouldn’t materialize until all the Allies were on board, and they wouldn’t come to the table with Germany for another month.

This overture of peace came after heavy German losses in September. Some of the German leaders, seeing the costs of battle and the unlikely prospect of victory, considered the “14 Points” (conditions of peace) Wilson had announced to Congress on January 8, 1918. (1) But others refused to imagine a truce that would erase their territorial gains. As for Wilson, he had, by this time, convinced himself that the German people had a right to decide their future; he insisted that Germany replace imperial rule with a democratic state. The war continued.

And as it did, what opinions were my grandparents and their families forming? Did they support Wilson? Did they understand the magnitude of the moment, of how the ideas Wilson espoused might change the role of America on the international stage?

They all read newspapers, especially the King City Chronicle. Grandpa received it at Camp Funston and also in France. This weekly newspaper with its small rural readership regularly published news from the war, including letters from soldiers. They also ran, as did many papers across America, the full texts of presidential speeches.

Wilson

Headline, Chronicle, October 4, 1918, p. 3.

On October 4, the Chronicle published the text of a speech Wilson gave in New York City, on September 27. In a nutshell, Wilson spoke of a certain “clarity” that had come to him during the long years of war, how he could now see the war as a “peoples’ war,” whose voices demanded, he believed, a new world order.

Peace would only come, he argued, when all nations—small and large—agreed to interact as equals. The powerful few, Wilson believed, had no right to rule over the weak. Only a league of nations could prevent another world war. As for this one, he concluded his speech, no terms would end it, only “the final triumph of justice and fair dealing.” (2)

This idealism came, as we know today, from a president who supported segregation and opposed women’s suffrage. But in the days of the war, did Americans consider those ideas problematic? My grandparents never spoke directly about World War 1, but they did call themselves “Missouri Democrats,” the party of Wilson. And a few years after the end of the war, in 1924, Grandma’s older sister, my great Aunt Mattie, visited Europe. Her traveling companion (a friend and mentor name Trix) wrote about Wilson in a letter home.

“Coming thru Annecy (France) this a.m. we discovered that the most beautiful street was the Pres. Wilson. We met a Dutchman who said, ‘Fighting is so stupid.’ He also said if the U.S. had come in as it should when Pres. Wilson had all Europe thinking his way, most of the troubles would now be over; and if we would come in now it would give the people of Europe so much hope that all the little nations would rally around the U.S. and England and then the world could soon be put right. That is the feeling I have constantly encountered.” (3)

After the war, Americans rejected Wilson’s program for a league of nations, choosing isolationism instead. I sense in Trix’s note, with her mention of the “beautiful street” named after Wilson, that she (and I’m certain my great aunt) disagreed with that decision.

And Grandpa? In the final weeks of the war, in October 1918, I imagine he hoped Wilson would succeed, if that meant the end of fighting. In the meantime, he too busy with the daily matters of war—cooking, writing letters, waiting for orders, and moving—in the mud and rain—from one spot to the next, under nearly constant enemy fire. He also, as you’ll read, engaged in a bit of looting, which the army strictly forbade. But Grandpa thought Grandma would like a “Boche” (German) apron he’d found in a town they’d captured.

 

Notes

(1) http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/wilson14.asp (full list) and https://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/fourteen-points (summary)

(2) https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1918Supp01v01/d258

(3) Letter by Beatrice “Trix” Ford, August 16, 1924. Courtesy of the Archives at Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, Missouri

 

This letter is actually a running letter written on three separate days: October 12, 14, and 18, enclosed in an envelope with a postmark of October 26.

October 12, 1918

Some place in France

My Dear Inis, Now almost three weeks since I have written you, but never the less I have my mind toward you and ever my dreams. It is amusing to listen to the boys. Most every morn someone will say I dreamed of home last night. And it is true as I know from experience and especially since the little peace talk started. But during this three weeks I have saw and hear so awfully much I hardly know what to write.

We moved back of the line about twelve miles a few nights ago and only stayed over night and got orders to go to another front. I didn’t go with the co. [company]. Stayed to go with the stove, so we are still here as they haven’t came after it yet and this makes four days. There is eight of us here so we are having it pretty soft. Got plenty to eat.

We boiled two quarters of beef (4) and made about a thousand doughnuts so as to have them ready when we got to the co and we are still here and don’t know where the rest is.

So all we can do is to stay until they send for us.

We are in a small town but only two miles from a large town. I have been over there yesterday and today also. They have several civilians there.

We were on the front line about a month and this makes over seventy days we have been in the war zone. But being as we are in the forth army chore [4th Army Corps] I suppose they will give us plenty do. We had lots of mud and rain to contend with all the time we were on the front.

Just about the time we would get dug in here would come a rain and run us out of holes, so you can imagine how we slept with that and plenty of shelling to boot but I have got so that the shells don’t bother me much at all. I figure if they don’t hit me they don’t hurt and if they do I am unfortunate.

I am feeling fine and weigh as much as I ever did I think. I was just looking over my bunch of pictures. They are sure interesting, the last letter I had from you had the little picture of yourself. It was good.

I have a little Boche Lady’s apron I got out of a store in a town we captured. I am going to try and send you, but we have an awfull poor chance for anything like that.

I read the letter that Mary (5) wrote Key Ring. Well as they are doing so awfull much talking I will quit and write more later.

(October 14)

Now Monday morn and we are still in the same place and haven’t heard from our co yet.

But we got the big news this morn that Germany had accepted all of Wilson’s peace terms, so we had to read the papers through and through.

Key Ring, I, and a couple more boys walked over to another town for a while last night but after we have saw one French town we have saw them all as they are all alike, only the ones close to the line where there is nothing but the Ruins. On the big drive after artillery would finish shelling one of the German towns they would turn their own artillery on them. I sure have saw some destroyed property but I think it is to an end.

I saw Jack Spence one morning about a couple of weeks ago. He is a first aid man in the 342 Machine Gun Battallion Sanitary detachment. So I went on down to the next town and saw Chris Cummins and told him so he went up and found Jack and we moved out of the timber [?] one night about a week ago and was relieved by the second Bat. They had hardly got in when the Germans started shelling and Gassing them and they suffered heavy. Co. E alone had 64 casualties and I heard that Co. J. had more than that.

We have been awful lucky. Have had no gas at all only two small attacks but not effective.

(October 18)

Well it is now Oct 18 and we have got to the co. Got here a couple of days ago and they were sure glad to see us. All are fine and I am better than that but we are sure having some rain and mud. Tell my parents that I haven’t time to write them now will write soon so I close with love & Kisses

Thos. W. Alderson

Co C. 356

American E.F.

Via New York

 

Notes

(4) A quarter of beef is roughly 85-100 pounds.

(5) Mary is, I presume, Grandma’s younger sister Mary.

10:12, 14, 18 (1)10:12,14, 18 (2)10:12,14,18 (3)10:12,14,18 (4)10:12,14,18 (5)10:12,14,18 (6)10:12,14,18 (7)10:12,14,18 envelope

 

 

 

Another Home Heart Broken

Battle image

From Grandpa’s “My Soldier’s Record” booklet.

As September came to an end, in 1918, Grandpa had learned to live with the misery that now defined his life. In a landscape marked with shell craters, many made in the opening months of the war, he endured explosions, day and night. He drew breaths of air that combined the wretched smells of battle—decaying bodies left on the field, toxic chemicals, smoke, all clinched together in the dampness that hung in the grey French skies. Charred stubs of trees. Ruined and deserted villages. Barbed wire. Trenches. Abandoned dugouts. Mud. Rain. Soggy fields that doubled as beds at night and battlefields by day.

But there was mail. These three letters refer to mail he’d received, including copies of the King City Chronicle and photographs. The act of staying in touch was probably as important as the limited news that was shared with his loved ones back home. I’ve included these three in one post, as he wrote them in a cluster. He wouldn’t write again until the middle of October.

Where was Grandpa at the end of September? On the march north, from St. Mihiel toward Verdun. He belonged to a million-man American force, led by General Pershing. Over 47 days, between September 26 and November 11, they would fight to win the war in an offensive called the Meuse-Argonne, named after the wide plain of the River Meuse and the heavily wooded Argonne Forest. This was the southernmost part of a battle line that stretched to the North Sea, along which the French, British and Belgian armies forced the Germans into retreat.

The first two letters below were sent in one envelope. Both seem to refer to the earlier battle at St. Mihiel (September 12-16), but the story of a “miracle” probably refers to a battle in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. So does the death of his buddy, Rolla, on September 27, which he writes about in the third letter.

9-25,26 (envelope)

Sept 25, 1918

Some place in France

My Dear,

Now over two weeks since I written you but I have not had a chance as I presume you have heard of the big drive that was started here about the twelfth. You have heard of going over the top. I have been over twice. The first day we advanced about ten miles having the enemy in full retreat. And I am sure you read in the papers of the great success. Although it was some hard job. Of course I cant tell you how many men we lost but our Major was killed the first day which I was awfully sorry as he was a good man. One thing we had to work against was the weather. It rained every day and every night. And we stayed right out in it where ever we may be, some times we found dug outs and some times we didn’t.

I slept several nights laying right out in the rain but after a person gets so tired he can sleep most any place.

We got our mail pretty regular while were up there and those letters were great. Gim Sanders(?) our supply Serj saw most all the old bunch a few days ago such as Rob, Laverne, Frank Veale and about twenty more he mentioned. Laverne and Rob both told him to have me write them but I haven’t had time yet.

There was a miracle happened to our Co in a big raid the other morn.

A boy by the name of Frank Hootman, one of the boys home on our trip, was among the dead and was left on the field dead. And tonight at supper time he walked in without a scratch. I tell you the crowd sure was glad to see him. He was stunned by a shell.*

Well my dear I must close on account of time

so with Love & Kisses, Tom

Thos W Alderson Co C. 356 Inf.

*Like Grandpa, Frank Hootman was a member of Company C, 356th Infantry, 89th Division. Although he survived this time, he would die on November 11, 1918, hours before the Armistice was signed.

9-25 (1)

9-25 (2)9-25 (3)

Sept 26, 1918

My Dear—here I am again. I had to come to a close last night for several different reasons, one was that the shells was getting pretty close around and another I had to eat supper. I haven’t cooked any since the big drive started. I was right with the boys all the time and the whole bunch had plenty to do. I am in a dugout now, Key Ring is here with me. We had breakfast a few minutes ago. Things were real exciting here all night but no damage to our co.

Mother told me in her last letter that she thought they would move to town, and I am glad as that is what I wanted them to do before I left.

I see in the last paper where Jack Call was to go to training. I supose Ruby is taking it pretty hard but that is what war causes.

Every time I see an American soldier dead I say to myself there is another home heart broken.

But I think it is all for the best in the long run.

I am sending you enclosed a piece of German money that was among a bunch we taken off of some prisoners. The bunch sure had a lot of soveneer’s but we were unable to carry all of them. But the German people are pretty well fixed. I was in a few of their towns just after they were driven out and it was quite a sight.

If I fail to answer your questions in your last few letters the reason is that I lost all of them on the front.

But you know I am and will do my best. I look at the pictures real often and they are new each and every time.

Well my love I will again close

With lots of love & kisses

Tom.

Thos. W. Alderson

Co C 356 Inf

American E.F.

Via New York

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Sept 28, 1918

Some place in France

Dear Inis, I should say some place in Germany as we are in a land that the Germans took away from France in 1861,* and as I told you in the other letter they are anyhow well fortified. I was in a dugout this afternoon that was at least twenty feet below the top of the [portion cut out] up to a town [portion cut out] all of their towns are practically torn down and no civilians at all, but when they left it the left lots of stuff.

I have our dugout all decorated up about right and right over the entrance I have a frame with your picture and mine in it.

img006

Undated photo of Grandma as a young woman. I don’t know which pictures Grandpa had in France.

So it with the rest of my pictures causes some comment. But I don’t think we will be here long as you know an advancing army cant stay long in one place.

They have given our Division a nick name (The Wild Cat Div) and I guess by the talk we have made some reputations.

I guess you [portion cut out] same Rolla** was in D I used to see him almost every day but it as some doings the morning we went over in the raid, I was with the first wave, and there sure was some resistance. We were under heavy artillery and machine gun fire all the way to the Germans line but we didn’t stop. Went right in on them. Although our Battalion had [portion cut out] it was a success, but if you ever get a chance to talk to Mr Tunks** [portion cut out] there [portion cut out] in an awful hard fought battle and I looked for half our Battalion to go.

We got paid this afternoon, drawed two months pay and nothing to spend it for. It is a nice day today and I sure am enjoying it as we have had so awfull much rain and mud. But I have several nights good sleep so am feeling quite a lot better. Ferris was to see me a few minuts ago also last night. He’s fine also Gim Parks [portion cut out] are here the King City boys had pretty good luck in this fight only [portion cut out] Ketchum. I helped take him back, also Joe Henson was wounded the same time. That is the Swede boy that your neighbor wrote to. Well there is a boy wanting me to cut his hair so I will close and do it for him and write more tonight.

So I close with love & Kisses

Tom

Thos. W. Alderson.

Co. C. 356 Inf.

American E. F.

Via New York.

*Did he mean 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War, when German seized much of this area?

* *Rolla was Rolla Newton Tunks, the son of Mr. Tunks that Grandpa mentions. Rolla was killed on September 27, 1918.

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Bombs Bursting in Air

St Miheil cannon

Capturing St. Mihiel Salient- 3 soldiers operating a cannon- pile of empty cannon shell casings in foreground. , 1918. [Sept] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016650684/.

September 12, 1918.

St. Mihiel, France.

Weather: Heavy driving wind and rain.

At 1 a.m. Grandpa woke up (if he’d slept at all) to the sights and sounds of the first major battle fought—and won—by American forces. The artillery used 3,000 pieces of heavy equipment to fire more than a million shells. They lit up the night sky and caused, in eye-witness descriptions, a deafening rumble that felt like an earthquake.* For the next four hours, until 5 a.m, Grandpa and the other soldiers—nearly half a million—stood ready in dark, mud-filled trenches, their clothes soaked from days of constant rain, waiting for the command to “go over the top,” the term for leaving the trenches and running, guns blazing, into the no-man’s land that was the Western Front.

The battle of St. Mihiel lasted five days. The goal was to claim back an area held by the Germans since the opening weeks of the war in 1914. The area, or salient, was a triangle, with the Meuse River and the town of St. Mihiel at the western point, Haudiomont (near Verdun) at the far north, and Pont-à-Mousson, near the Moselle River, on the east.

Salient

My bad map makes another appearance, with a detail of the St. Mihiel Salient. Grandpa’s group, the 89th, moved from the south.

Forests and rivers cut through low hills, occasionally creating broad plains. The Germans had transformed the landscape into a warren of deep trenches, long barriers of barbed wire and hidden machine-gun nests.

On that morning of September 12, Pershing led the American First Army (including the 89th Division), which attacked from the southern side, and the French forces, who moved from the eastern side. The French and British also participated from the air, with 1400 aircraft forming the largest air force to date.

General Pershing had long argued the strategic value on taking this area (which the French had tried and failed to do), as a way to approach Germany, and take the important rail center at Metz. He also convinced the Allied command that an independent American force was up to the challenge. The battle became critically important to prove Pershing’s confidence.

Pershing succeeded, and in part because the Germans had already anticipated this offensive and begun to withdraw from the area. A letter found on a German solider suggested low morale may have been a factor. “The men are so embittered that they have no interest in anything,” the German wrote, “and they only want the war to end, no matter how.” (1)

George English, a member of the 89thDivision, and author of its history, described the final night of September 16. “The advance through the gathering dusk and the deep night, though devoid of excitement, was stirring to the emotions of every participant. The weather had cleared and brilliant stars were looking down upon the field of battle. The continuous roar of the artillery and the rattle of small arms had ceased.” (2)

 

September 12, 1918.

King City, Missouri.

Weather: Fair.

Thousands of miles away from the war, Grandma awoke that same Thursday to a nice autumn day. The local newspapers reported “fair weather,” meaning mostly sunny but cool. She and her family started their day early, tending animals and having breakfast before working in the fields or the yard or the house, or going to town for supplies. Since March, they had followed President Wilson’s wartime program of daylight saving time, meaning their days no longer followed the sun, but the clock. Some farmers objected to this (and led the effort the next year to abolish it) and felt like a precious morning hour was being stolen from them.

I doubt Grandma’s family fussed over this. They were a hardy, no-nonsense bunch. If there was work to do, they did it.

Farm, Chickens

From a family album, probably around 1915.

But on this September morning, when Grandma headed outside for morning chores, dew clinging to the hem of her dress and patches of fog lazing over the fields, I wonder if she let herself daydream about Grandpa. Did she have an inkling that he’d been moved from the safety of his cook’s job and sent to the front lines? And I wonder, too, what she knew of war. Both her grandfathers had been in the Civil War, one fighting for the Confederacy and the other on desk assignment for the Union. Did they ever share their experiences, or their opinions of war?

Grandpa Martin (as they called their mother’s dad) died in March, 1918. He was a favorite and might have shared stories. But if he did, the stories didn’t survive into my generation. Nor did those known to Grandfather Dykes (father’s side), who lived with them in King City until his death in 1901. Grandma was only nine when he died, and may have been too young to have heard (or understood) his war stories. Aunt Mattie, Grandma’s older sister, wrote in her 1971 diary, on a day spent researching family history, “Oh how I wish I had asked Grandfather Dykes about his war service.”

The events of World War 1 were slow to make their way back home. The King City Chronicle, which only published on Fridays, ran stories a week or two after major events. On September 20, under a headline of “Verdun Freed by Americans,” they wrote, “Official dispatches were still delayed and the full scope of the victory won by the Americans in their first independent action could not be gauged.” They also ran a photograph (as did many American papers, all using the same caption) of a French village liberated by the Americans in August. The unnamed photographer focused on the women and children walking in the ruins.

Newspaper Thierry

King City Chronicle, 10 September 1918, p. 7.

Letters took 2-4 weeks to cross the Atlantic. In the meantime, I suspect Grandma did wonder and worry about Grandpa. She would have to wait for the first letters to arrive in October to hear about his experiences during the St. Mihiel Offensive; I’ll post those next week. While she waited, Grandma carried on with her chores.

Thursday towel

From a set of tea towels my sister and I have, probably wedding gifts from Grandma. Monday, wash. Tuesday, iron. Wednesday, sew. Thursday, market. Friday, clean. Saturday, bake.

*This summary is pulled from many sources, all agreeing on the major points.

(1) Coffman, Edward M. The War to End All Wars. The University Press of Kentucky, 1998: 280.

(2) English, George H. History of the 89th Division. The War Society of the 89th Division, 1920: 109.

 

 

 

 

Write Home! That’s an Order!

DSC03948

Grandma kept the letters from Grandpa in a shoe box. Envelopes marked with “Soldiers Mail” (upper right corner) identified mail from France, which didn’t require postage. Photo (c) Charlene Reichert.

The army encouraged soldiers to write letters, lots of letters. Staying in touch with folks back home would keep up a soldier’s morale, the argument went, and also maintain the public’s support for the war. Over the summer of 1918, as more and more soldiers were deployed to the Western Front—including my grandfather, newspapers across the country ran General Pershing’s official order to “write home often.” The New York Times ran the full order, a portion of which read:

Duty to one’s country does not end on the parade ground, nor even on the battlefield, but consists in doing everything in one’s power to help win the war. To write home frequently and regularly, to keep in constant touch with family and friends, is one of the soldier’s most important duties. (1)

Service organizations like the Y.M.C.A., Red Cross, and the Knights of Columbus, provided writing paper and envelopes to soldiers, both in military training camps and also overseas. Postage was waived for all mail sent from Europe.

The army provided rules and advice. For example, once they boarded a ship, soldiers could not mention specific details of location or troop movement, the numbers of troops, and, later, the numbers of wounded and killed in battle. That information, if it fell into the hands of the enemy, posed a danger.

Of course, for this danger to present itself, soldiers had to carry letters with them. And they did. Grandpa once apologized for not answering some of Grandma’s questions, explaining that he’d lost her letters on the front.

Friends and family also received advice. Trench and Camp, the weekly military newspaper, often ran advice columns for the public. In one, the author recommended keeping letters “hopeful” as a way to counteract a prevailing notion that most soldiers would die.

Do not get the idea that our boys are “going over the top” to die. Ninety-three in each hundred will return. Do not let the “Well, if I do not see you again, good luck and God bless you” farewell send a man off with a stone where his heart should be. Keep this idea out of your letters and their thoughts. To be victorious they must be hopeful. (2)

Keep the letters newsy–with stories about neighbors and happenings at home. This would help remind the soldier of the life awaiting him after the war.

Don’t use letters to explore any misgivings about the war. Criticism was seen as unpatriotic and, in extreme cases, illegal. The federal government, under the direction of President Wilson, enforced the 1917 Espionage Act and 1918 Sedition Act against pacifists and dissenters, or anyone it deemed disloyal. (3) These acts were seen at the time as violations against free speech, and parts (though not all) of these acts were repealed after the war. But their role in the national effort to keep things positive, maintain high morale, and support the war that would end all wars . . . informed the public conversation, including private letters written to and by soldiers. Grandpa sometimes mentioned that he was supposed to keep his letters cheery, and in one poignant example from the battlefield, he remarked,

You know we all write home and send the bright side, although you know we are not having a snap. (from a letter I’ll post in October)

The War Department stepped in with restrictions on second-class mail, especially packages. Cargo ships were needed for military equipment and personnel exclusively, not gift packages from home. Also, these packages slowed down the delivery in France of first-class mail–those all important letters.

TC Puzzle Letter

Published in Trench and Camp, January 5, 1918. Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

“A letter is a gift that is always timely and never in the way,” appeared in another column published in Trench and Camp. The letters need not be fancy, the author noted. “Literary quality isn’t the thing most needful in them, of course.” (4)

This may explain the quality of a poem Grandpa included in the letter I’m posting below, which he wrote in early September. The poem had been written (or copied?) by a girl “back home” and sent to one of Grandpa’s buddies. The rhyming is forced at times, but the ending makes it worth the read!

(1) “Asks Men to Write Home.” New York Times. 9 June 1918: 9.

(2) “Rules and Suggestions Regarding Soldier Mail.” Trench and Camp. 12 January 1918: 3.

(3) For full discussion, see Patricia O’Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made. New York, 2018: 290-301.

(4) “Home Letters Revivify Soldiers and Play Important Part in War.” Trench and Camp. 23 March 1918: 3.

 

Sept 1, 1918

Some place in France.

My Dear Girl.

Almost a week has past since I written you although I have thought of you quite a bit of time. I got three letters from you last night, one from Marshall and one from Mother. So you see I was pretty well fixed for a while. One of yours had the pictures of your dogs Jack loving Ruby and the others and a few days ago I got the other one with the pictures. They were sure gladly received even if they were not extra good. So keep the good work going as the letters are the best thing we get over here.

I haven’t been working so hard for the last week as we have been in reserve. But I think we will go up again soon. I am feeling fine. The weather has begun to get cooler here already. I sure am scringing* for this winter as France is a great deal cooler than Mo. But every thing looks bright so far. We have had four men promoted for their bravery already. Rube Dunlap was made Sergeant, for one, and Clyde Findly made Corporal and a couple more. This event of bravery was while the bunch was under the heavy artillery fire I told you in the other letter. So I guess Mr. Moulton was right when he said there was some in this bunch that could give good account of himself.

Ferris showed me a letter with some pictures he received the other day from Loretta. They composed of her and another girl dressed in bathing suits so you know they were keen. Well My Dear there isn’t much I can tell you only that I am sending with this an extra amount of love and kisses being as it is Sunday afternoon.

So I close

Lovingly Tom.

Thos. W. Alderson

Co. C. 356 Inf

American E. F.

P.S. Below is a couple verses of poetry that a boy in our co received from his girl in Omaha Neb.

*scringing is likely cringing, as in dreading the upcoming winter. In 19th-century American folk language, scringe was often used for cringe.

 

To My Soldier Boy

I’m feeling pretty worried over all the things I hear.

Of the Shrapnel and the canons that are roaring around you Dear.

Of the Zeppelins and aeroplanes and the sneaky (?) submarines.

But the worst of all the things I fear

That nearly turns me green

Is the fear of all the damsels you’ll be meeting over there

The Parisiennes and the Belgian Maids with fascinating hair.

So be loyal Honey, don’t forsake the girl back home.

No matter how they smile on you,

Don’t let your fancy roam,

For the French girls are so pretty and the nurses are so kind

But do not be a traitor to the girl you left behind.

 

I know that you are Loyal to the old Red White and blue.

And I hope you’ll be loyal to your little girl, too.

Against the Hun’s they spell with “U” you’ll hold your own I know.

But I fear you may be ambushed by the huns they spell with “O.”

Stand guard against temptations

Don’t surrender to their charms.

And wait until you get back home before presenting arms.

Leave the French Girls to the French men and the Nurses for the Doc’s.

And the soldier in Kaki for the girl who knits his socks.

Tho the French girls may be pretty and the nurses may be kind

Oh do not be a traitor to the girl you left behind.

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Summer Reading Update: John McCain and Hemingway

Farewell to Arms

From the many tributes to John McCain, I learned his favorite book was Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. But one quote, offered by Paul Ryan, came from A Farewell to Arms. In chapter 34, Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

Ryan intended this to mean McCain had grown stronger after his brutal captivity in Vietnam. Hemingway may have thought the same of soldiers he knew in World War 1. He may have considered, as a witness to war’s brutality, the meaning of suffering and death. The passage with the statement holds all this ambiguity in a gentle rumination on love.

One night, Hemingway’s character, Frederic Henry, muses on the love he shares with Catherine, who was pregnant with their child. After their daring escape from the war zone of Italy and arrival in Switzerland, he thinks about the nature of being alone together, of not feeling lonely when they are together. “We were never lonely and never afraid when we were together.” He gathers his thoughts, as she sleeps, ending here:

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

 

(2014 edition, p. 216)

Fried Chicken on the Front

By the end of August, Grandpa had seen his first battle and (for unknown reasons) spent time in a field hospital. He was back with his group, resting behind the lines, when he wrote Grandma from a “nice little town with fair accommidations” on August 26. That’s when he fried up some chicken.

Chicken

August 26, 1918 letter to Grandma

Fried chicken is something I remember from my childhood, especially for Sunday dinners in Effingham. But I picture Grandma as the cook. She took the chicken by the neck, chopped off its head on the stump in the backyard (a vivid memory, for sure), plucked the feathers, cut up the parts, and then prepped it for cooking. She put the chicken parts in a paper grocery bag with flour and her special seasonings, and shook the whole bag until she knew every surface was coated. Then into an old cast iron skillet for browning before it went into the oven to finish. It was perfect.

Did Grandpa use this same system in wartime France? He’d been a farmer before the war and certainly knew his way around farm animals (and home cooking). Here’s what he offered for sale before he left for training at Camp Funston in 1917.

1917 farm sale

And, after the war, he and Grandma ran a grocery store in King City, Missouri. My mother remembers hearing stories of how they’d go home for lunch, butcher meat for special orders, and then return to the grocery store in the afternoon. I found a notice in the local newspaper that seems to confirm this family tale.

grocery meat ad

An ad that ran in the November, 1923 King City Chronicle.

When I first started reading his letters, I became curious about how Grandpa was selected and trained to be an army cook. Was it his farm experience? I wondered, too, if it was common to train cooks to be combatants, and, in Grandpa’s case, barbers, too? I haven’t found answers to these questions, not in military histories or online. I wrote to NARA, the National Archives and Records Administration, which holds military records. The archivist wrote back, “Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate any information about the use of cooks as combatants in any of the works in our library’s collection.” He did provide three links.

1916 Manual for Army Cooks at https://archive.org/details/manualforarmycoo1917unit.  This publication, with its detailed descriptions of calories and cuts of meat, etc., seems to have been written for the professionals who trained Grandpa. His job was to get the food on the table.

Two videos show cooks at work during World War 1. Both are available on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQJPQ4YGv4M and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_8kv691fjU .

I’m left to form a picture in my mind of Grandpa cooking along the Western Front, and, on that August day in France, as a man who could put fried chicken on the table like a pro.

Here’s the full letter, punctuation changed but misspellings included. Notes: This is the first letter that has a portion cut out by the censors, perhaps the name of his group. He mentions how he’s getting Grandma’s letters, but wonders if his aren’t getting through.

Uncle Marshall

Grandpa’s younger brother Marshall.

And then he mentions his younger brother Marshall, a man known to all of us as a character, or as Grandpa writes, a “funny boy.”

Aug 26, 1918

Some place in France.

My Dear Inis.

You can see by the date that you are attending the Chautauqua now. Any how it is the time. How are you? I am fine, back to the co feeling a little tired this afternoon as we got up a little early this morn. Our [section cut out by censor] moved back for a week’s rest. We are at a nice little town with fair accomidations. Our boys are all in good shape. They sure were under some artillary Barage one hour last week. The captain made a little talk night before last and complimented the men highly on the way they stood it. I tell you we are lucky to not even have a man wounded.

I got a couple of your letters a few days ago. The one with the pictures was great. I showed it to several of the boys. They all thought it a great letter. The other one was the one you [section cut out by censor] the 4thof July and up untill that you hadn’t yet got any of my letters. I sure think it funny. I am getting all your mail and at a reasonable length of time.

I am going to have fried chicken for supper. A boy brought a couple and I picked and cut them up since noon. And at six oclock, I am going and fry them so you see we will have something unusual in the army. I am at the Y.M.C.A. now. The boys are lining up to buy the candies and tobaccos that they can get, but they don’t have a great deal.

You ask me if Marshall ever mentions Aline. He does not. He never went with her any more after she was up the last time. I sure think he is making a mistake as she is fine. But you know he is a funny boy. Well my dear, news are scarce so I will close for this time sending lots of love and kisses.

Your loving Tom.

 

Thos. W. Alderson

Co. C 356 Inf

American E. F.

Via New York.

8:26 (1)8:26 (2)8:26 (3)8.26 (4)

First Hospitalization: Toul Sector

8:19 (envelope)

For reasons he didn’t say, Grandpa was taken to a field hospital on August 15.

Came here Thursday night. Didn’t want to come very bad but they thought it best so I have had it pretty quite here. They gave me my clothes this morn. I got up, dressed, then went for a bath and shave which made me feel quite a lot better. So I think I will be able to go back in a couple of days. I am a little weak yet but am anxious to get back as the Germans threw a barage at our men for about an hour about three oclock this morn and I know they will have lots to tell me.

This letter, from August 19, sent me reading “between the lines.” What caused his illness?

The first clue is his placement at a field hospital. The U.S. Army typically set up five arenas for medical care, according to the National World War 1 Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. Here’s a summary from their exhibit:

Trenches, on the front line. Medical personnel immediately treated some of the soldiers and returned them to battle. They also sent others to the next location, if they needed additional medical attention.

Advanced Dressing Stations, 400 yards away from the fighting. The wounded were stabilized (bleeding stopped, medications given, broken bones set). As needed, the soldiers were moved again.

Field Hospital, 1 ½ miles away. Emergency operations were performed here, and diseases like pneumonia and influenza were treated.

Evacuation Hospital, 8-13 miles away. For the more serious operations (e.g. spinal injuries, head injuries).

Base Hospital, 23-38 miles away. Patients stayed here for convalescence and physical therapy.

A respiratory ailment—something that Grandpa had at Camp Funston, several times—seems a likely reason for his hospitalization, at a place that specifically treated infectious diseases like pneumonia and influenza. One of these could have been on the mild side, explaining his comment “didn’t want to come very bad but they thought it best.” Also, a week’s stay matches the care of those illnesses. So does his admission that he feels weak.

He didn’t have a physical injury, it seems, because in the next letter he writes, “I tell you we are lucky to not even have a man wounded.” This leads me down another path: Where was he when he took ill? His group was in the Toul Sector, having been in battle to win back an area earlier seized by the Germans. Grandpa was cooking during this activity, meaning he was some distance back from the front lines (I presume). Since several groups in the 89thDivision were stationed throughout the Toul area, it’s hard to know where exactly Grandpa was during the heavy bombardment, described in the History of the 89thDivision.

“On the night of the 7th-8thof August, the front line battalions . . . were subjected to a most severe bombardment of gas shells. The first attack started at 10:30 in the evening and continued until midnight. The shelling then ceased until about 1 o’clock and was then resumed for nearly two hours more. Between 9,000 and 10,000 shells were fired during the bombardment. About 95 per cent of the shells were of mustard gas and phosgene, interspersed with many high explosives.” (published in 1920, p. 71)

Some of the field hospitals near Toul took “gassed cases,” according to the Army’s official history of the war: http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwi/fieldoperations/chapter18.html

I asked my chemist husband about the effects of that exposure and whether it might have caused Grandpa to take ill and remain “weak” days after the attack. “No,” he said initially, “mustard gas typically burned the skin, and also, in bad cases, air passages.” Then, when I reported that contemporary accounts named phosgene as the second gas used in the Toul offensive, he said, “Well, then, maybe,” adding that exposure would depend on the winds and where they transported the gas, on the presence of rain (to neutralize it). Also in the History of the 89thDivision, p. 73, I found the observation that some soldiers “removed their masks when the shelling was over, and others next morning went to their kitchens in the low ground, in ignorance of that property of the gas which causes it to vaporize again at the rising of the sun.”

The last clue in his letter–“They gave me my clothes this morn”–might suggest his clothes were initially removed to be decontaminated from gas, or from the ever-present lice, or for general cleaning. It’s one clue among several in this letter that begs the question, Why was Grandpa hospitalized? Here’s the full letter, punctuation changed to make it easier to read. I’ve kept his spelling. The scanned original follows the transcription.

Notes: He mentions some buddies from home–Chester Marshall and Clyde Shearer. The reference to “bunch of men going to the service now” confirms what the King City Chronicle would announce in a September 6 headline, “13,000,000 Men Called by War Department to Register September 12. 18 to 45 Age Limits.” The term “Chau” is Grandpa’s abbreviation for the big festival called Chautauqua. Mr. Stanton preached at the King City Christian Church. Grandpa mentions the cook shack; more on his duties as a cook in the next post.

August 19, 1918

Some place in France

My Dear Inis

Here I am and Sunday afternoon and you can imagine what I am thinking. Although I am at a field hospital. Came here Thursday night. Didn’t want to come very bad but they thought it best so I have had it pretty quite here. They gave me my clothes this morn. I got up, dressed, then went for a bath and shave which made me feel quite a lot better. So I think I will be able to go back in a couple of days. I am a little weak yet but am anxious to get back as the Germans threw a barage at our men for about an hour about three oclock this morn and I know they will have lots to tell me.

We are with Co B now, I mean in the same cook shack. You ask me in one of your letters about Chester. We are still together. We have out side of the few, the same bunch we left Funston with. Machine Gun co. is on the line at the same place we are.

I had quite a long talk with Clyde Shearer a few nights ago. He told me he had only gotten one letter from Edna since he landed in France. So you see I am leading all the boys in mail so far, but I know the reason. I was glad to hear of your wonderfull washing machine. I want you to be an expert at it as you know I have told you I don’t like to wash, but say I am a cat at the cooking stunt.

I see by the last paper that there sure is a bunch of men going to the service now. I only think what goes now in reserve army. I don’t think this will last forever although it is a big thing now. I suppose your Chau will be over by the time this reaches you and hope you have had a good time. I often think I must write to the church as I promised Mr Stanton I would but you know there is always plenty more places I want to write worse so you can tell Mr Stanton that I think of them often and will write soon. So give my best regards to all, and I close as ever with lots of love and kisses

Your loving Tom.

Thos. W. Alderson

Co. C. 356 Inf

American E. F.

Via New York

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The Greatest Men and Nation on Earth

Grandpa rarely mentioned patriotism in his letters. But in the letter he wrote on August 10, after he had finally entered into battle, he wrote, “I tell you we have by far the greatest Men and Nation on Earth.”

Old Glory, Effingham

This framed print, about 7″ x 13″, has a copyright date of 1942. I don’t remember it, by Mother tells me it hung in my grandparents’ home in Effingham, Kansas, in the hall between their kitchen and dining room.

His letters from the front (and I have nine) don’t mention place names. Certainly, the Allies were active along the Western Front in early August. The National WW1 Museum and Memorial notes on their blog that “The Hundred Days Offensive,” beginning on August 8, saw the British near Amiens and the Americans further south, around St. Mihiel. These 100 days would mark the final chapter of the war. American soldiers played a central role in the victory celebrated with the Armistice on November 11. Unlike the demoralized and exhausted British and French troops, and the equally dispirited Germans, the American soldiers were rested and ready for battle.

In Grandpa’s “My Soldier’s Record,” a booklet describing his service, he names the Toul Sector as the place he was “first under fire.” This lines up with the account detailed in History of the 89th Division, p. 55. “On August 3 and 4, 1918, the 89th Division loaded itself into trucks and started for a front line sector north of Toul.” Their mission was to seize part of the salient (or “bulge” into French territory) held by the Germans. Noteworthy, according to the History, was how this was “the first American division ever permitted to enter the line as a unit and without having been previously brigaded with French or British troops.” (p. 56) It also established a routine, with a third of the troops on the front line, another third behind to provide support (and food prepared by cooks like Grandpa) and the final group well back in reserve, “resting, refitting and training,” according to History, p. 76.

The mission in the Toul Sector successfully ended on August 10, the date of Grandpa’s letter. Here is that letter, his first from the front, transcribed. I’ve changed the punctuation to help with reading, but kept his spelling. Below it is a scan of the letter. A couple of notes: Grandpa refers to an enclosed note “written some days ago,” which I don’t have. Marshall is his younger brother. He mentions the headquarters, which History names as Raulecourt (halfway between Toul and St. Mihiel), p. 58. The Chronicle he received is the King City, Missouri newspaper.  He calls the night the “busy time,” because the Germans often attacked during the night and early morning hours. Through it all, there was time for doughnuts, as you’ll see!

 

August 10, 1918

Some place in France

My Dear Girl.

I have now an opportunity to write you as I have not for the last two weeks, although I am sending one tonight also that I written some days ago. We have made some move since I written you last and you can guess where we were are at, but all is well, but things are real exciting at times. I got ten letters yesterday most of them were from my true loved one, two from Mother also one from Marshall stating he had moved to Denver. The latest from you was written July the eleventh. I sure think you a dear one to write me so often and only wish I could return as many, but I am thinking of you just the same.

I am sure seeing some great experience and wish I was able to tell you all but you know there is a day and days where I won’t have to write can only talk to you, and you know I am good at that. Ha Ha. When you write me tell me anything you wish as the incoming mail is not censored at all.

The Y.M.C.A. men are on the job here also the Salvation Army. They are right in the trenches doing their bit and and bringing stuff to the boys. I tell you we have by far the greatest Men and Nation on Earth and as our Slogan goes Hell Heaven or Hoboken by Xmas is being carried through daily.

Mother writes real cheerfull and it is as you said in one letter, makes it a whole lot better for me to do my bit as I have always done. Head Quarters Co. is real close to us. The band plays every night and I tell you it sure sounds fine. I am in the cook shack now also Key Ring and Barcuss is here writing. We have our work done for today. I got a couple of copies of the Chronicle a few days ago, the first second class mail since we got here. Well my dear it is now time for me to go to bed so I will close as usual with lots of love & kisses,

Tom

Thos W Alderson

Co. C. 356 Inf

American E.F.

 

Sunday afternoon.

Another day is here and a nice one and I am enjoying the same. I am at the Y.M.C.A. hut now. Quite a few of the boys are writing. Things are quite today but of course we cant tell about tonight as that is the busy time. I am sure enjoying my experience. Clyde Black was at our kitchen to see me a few minutes this morn. He is looking good. We had a good dinner today. I rolled out over five hundred doughnuts while the other boys ran them. We are drawing lots to eat. Well my dear I will close again having in mind this is Sunday afternoon and I will have to send more than usual amount of love & kisses,

Tom

Thos W. Alderson

Co C 356 A.E.F.

8-10-18:18-10-18:28-10-18:38-10-18:4

On the Move

Of the many things I’ve learned as I blog about Grandpa’s WW1 experience, here’s an obvious one: I can’t make a good map with legends! I’ve relied on contemporary maps from Putnam’s Handy Volume Atlas of The World, 1921, as a template, adding notes to follow Grandpa’s journey to the battlefields in France.

He often wrote that he and his group were “on the move,” not being able to tell Grandma details of when they were moving, or where. I’ve been able, using various histories of the 89th Division, to imagine his journeys.

Journey 1-editJourney 2-editJourney 3-editIn Europe, Grandpa wasn’t permitted to give any details of place or movement. What I’ll provide here remains a best guess. To get a lay of the land, have a look for the famous sites of war events on this map.Eruope mapStarting in the lower right corner, you can see Sarajevo below the “s” of Yugoslavia. This was the site of the assassination that many historians mark as the beginning of the war. The northern border of Italy with Austria was the front described in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Above, the tiny state of Luxembourg shares borders with France, Germany, and Belgium. Much of Grandpa’s war activities took place in this area.

Look for Paris and then locate the town on Brest on the Atlantic coast. Grandpa was hospitalized near Paris. And on his birthday–March 11, 1919–he sailed home from Brest.

But back to his journeys from the British Isles to the Western Front.Europe journeysHere’s the same journey shown in colored lines.Europe, linesFrom Liverpool, he was transported, I believed by train, to Southampton (along the purple line). He made the (rough) Channel crossing by small boat from Southampton to Le Havre (yellow line). From there, and along a route I don’t know, he was transported at night by train, following the blue line.

Over thousands of miles and lasting many weeks from late May to August, the long journey brought Grandpa (as well as many of the American forces) to a small area between Toul and Verdun, a distance I calculate to be about 50 miles. For Grandpa, the battlefields occupied an area only slightly larger than the familiar distance he knew back home, along country roads between the farm and the next biggest town of St. Joe, Missouri.

And now, as promised, my attempt (with apologies) at rendering a map. Grandpa fought in battles at Toul, St. Mihiel, and Verdun, where he was injured. The next blog posts will feature letters related to each of these battles.

Battlefields

Battlefields where Grandpa fought during the late summer and fall months of 1918.

If you enjoy maps and want to see how the professionals map out the various fronts and battles of World War 1, here’s a link I recommend: “40 maps that explain World War 1” @ http://www.vox.com/a/world-war-i-maps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Musical Tribute

Some of you know I play violin in a small community orchestra. We perform at local rest homes. Our concert mistress has arranged two World War 1-era songs to mark the 100th anniversary of the war’s end. We premiered the songs today. I provided some background info, which I’ll share here, along with links to hear the songs performed (by professionals!).

Liberty Bell was written in 1917 for voice and piano.  Here’s what I told our audience.

This song refers to the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. When the American government decided to enter the war—and that decision came in 1917, a committee put together a big marketing campaign to get people involved, to feel patriotic, and to give money. The Liberty Bell was part of that campaign. On Flag Day—June 14, 1917—the mayor of Philadelphia rang the Liberty Bell at noon. And at the same moment, all over the country, people rang bells at schools and churches and fire stations.  Part of the lyrics to the song includes this call to action, “It’s time to sing again, it’s time to ring again, for liberty.” Americans believed liberty was the compelling reason to go to war.

Here’s a great old recording of Liberty Bell, which includes a link to the sheet music, if you want to read the lyrics:

https://archive.org/details/78_liberty-bell-its-time-to-ring-again_peerless-quartet-joe-goodwin-halsey-k.-mohr_gbia0013538a

My Donut Girl was written in 1919, after the war. My notes to the audience.

This song honors the women of the Salvation Army who went to France. They famously made donuts near the front lines. It’s hard for me to imagine—but they made up the dough, shaped the treats (often rolling them out with wine bottles) and fried them in skillets over crude camp stoves. And they made THOUSANDS—yes, thousands—in a single day, and handed them out to soldiers, along with a hot cup of coffee.

Here’s a nice photo essay with the song being performed: