Summer Reading Update (1)

In France, in 1918, Grandpa continued to train as he waited for “the move” into battle zones along the Western Front. He certainly had heard about what to expect, but could he really picture what lay ahead?

Gpa, framed, dark (date?)

Grandpa in uniform. Undated family photo.

A hundred years later, I’m watching movies and reading books to imagine what he would soon know, the unspeakable horrors of that war.

The 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front was based on the 1929 novel written by Remarque, a German veteran of the war. Remarque’s main character is Paul Bäumer, a young man convinced by his teacher to join the army and defend the German fatherland. The war he fights has little to do with national pride or any other lofty ideals, he learns. Instead, it is a daily struggle to stay alive, to find food and to avoid death. When he goes home on leave, he is horrified that civilians don’t understand the war. He quickly returns to the front, to a place that now feels like home. The last scene shows Paul smiling at the sight of a butterfly. He reaches for it, and in that instant takes a bullet and dies.

The subject of war’s futility and violence shows up in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929. I last read this in college. All these years later, I am still captivated by the way Hemingway uses snippets of dialogue and terse descriptions to tell a story. Based on his experiences as a Red Cross ambulance driver, Hemingway’s main character drives wounded soldiers to hospitals along the front in Italy, in the mountains that separate it from Austria. He meets men who see no purpose in the war and show no obvious heroism. Desertion becomes the ticket out for Hemingway’s double, a decision that makes sense (to me) in a situation that seems devoid of reason.

Both of these first-hand accounts lead to the same place: common men, often very young men, don’t know why they’re fighting.

Pat Barker’s three books, forming her Regeneration trilogy, date from the 1990s. My friend (and neighbor) recommended I read these, and she also chose the trilogy for her book club. We met up last week to share ideas. As background, Barker’s work weaves together the experiences of historical figures involved in the war with fictional characters. We meet Dr. Rivers, a medical doctor who practices a kind of talk therapy to “regenerate” soldiers (with what we now call PTSD) and send them back to the front. This creates a horrifying juxtaposition between healing and harm, we all agreed. We talked about Pat Barker’s use of historical fiction (instead of nonfiction) to explore the war. It gave her the freedom to create characters and new relationships to the conditions of the war, we thought. And it provided, some of us thought, a way for us to look at our own notions of war and violence and sexuality through the lens of WW1.

I’ve just started listening to Good-bye to All That, 1929, a memoir and war commentary by the British poet Robert Graves. He shows up in Barker’s book as one of the historical figures who opposed the war.

As an aside, and especially for my family, Graves’s father was also a poet. Our great Aunt Mattie—one of Grandma’s sisters—visited the elder Graves, Alfred Perceval Graves, at his home in Harlech, Wales in 1931, shortly after his son wrote Good-bye to All That. She was spending a study year in London working on advanced studies in English literature. Aunt Mattie sought out Graves to help her understand a poet she was researching, but first Graves had to set the record straight on his son.

Aunt Mattie, 1920s?

My great Aunt Mattie, Grandma’s sister. Undated photo, 1920s?

In her diary, Aunt Mattie wrote, “His son Robert Graves had written Goodby to All That, a war book and his own life story. The father and mother were greatly hurt by it. They say that he has been unfair to them. ‘I don’t see how Robert could have done it,’ his mother said. The father felt that he must present the other side, and so wrote his autobiography. The editor of the Athenaeum suggested the title; and his publisher said, ‘By all means.’ So it was that To Return to All That came out when Mr. Graves was eighty-four.”


The Great War forced nations and people to take sides. Even after it ended, fathers and sons, like those in the Graves family, couldn’t agree on central questions. Just why was it fought? To what end? Who holds the answer? Families? Historians? Authors?




Gun Wipes and Pinafores

Gun wipes and pinafores? Yes, and petticoats and a single scarf. These were all part of Grandma’s summer, in 1918, along with the harvest and annual Chautauqua. Grandpa wanted this kind of news, but wasn’t getting mail or newspapers as often as he had at Camp Funston. In the letter he wrote on July 14, from France, he told Grandma he had just received her letter from nearly a month earlier on June 17.

Grandma had enclosed a photograph, which he proudly showed off to his buddies. I don’t know which picture she mailed. Nothing she sent survived the trenches. Here’s one from an old family album, probably taken in the years before the war. I remember my grandmother’s full cheeks, made even rounder when she broke into her sweet smile.

Gma photos, 12 detail of Gma?

Grandma in undated photo found in an old family album.

Grandpa’s July letters seem nostalgic to me. He wrote about “Dear Old Missouri” and wondered about what was going on back home.

July 8. “I guess the threshing machines are harvesting around home by now.” 

Harvesting brought their small farming community together. Neighbors pitched in to help in the fields. Children and women brought water and meals. Itinerant workers came in to complete the jobs before rain set in, ruining ripened grain. Here’s a rare picture of Grandpa helping with the harvest of blue grass on the Bilby Ranch near Skidmore, Missouri. The bags held the seed stripped from the chaff.

Bluegrass harvest cropped

Grandma remembered the threshing machines used to harvest grain. She described the process in an interview my father taped in the 1970s.

Al Vaughn had a big steam engine to operate the threshing machine. It was so heavy that when he crossed a bridge, they had to put planks down first. The kids watched for that and were on hand to get a turn of climbing up on the engine and blowing the whistle a couple of times. Neighbor helped neighbor, so they might be working for several days. Some came with hayrack to haul the bundles from the field to the machine, there were others who pitched the bundles on the racks. Some had wagons to haul the grain to the bins. Women went from place to place helping each other in preparing meals. To feed a big crew, was no small job—and I might add, they were always well fed.

That summer in France, in 1918, when Grandpa couldn’t farm, he took note of how the French farmers brought in their crops.

July 8. The largest implement I have seen is a mowing machine. They haul hay and wood all the time, and milk the cows three times a day and one of the handiest things is that they can open a door from the kitchen and be in the cow barn and all built under the same roof and there is no farm house at all. The people all live in the towns and villages two or three miles apart and go out in the country to farm. I haven’t saw but one farm house since I have been here.

July 31. The people here are harvesting their wheat now. They use cradles and tie it by hand.

As Grandpa thought about home, and what he would be doing this time of year, he mentioned how he would miss being with Grandma at the Chautauqua.

July 23. I suppose by the time this reaches you, you will be attending the Chautauqua. I wish I was there to be with you.

In 1918, the big event was held from August 25-September 1. Famous speakers were brought in, along with popular musical performers. Events were offered all day, and many businesses closed for the duration of the event.


Dressed in their best, some arriving by automobile, people crowd into a tent to attend a lecture or musical performance. Printed in the August 11, 1916 issue of the King City Chronicle.

Again from her 1970s interview, Grandma described the event.

The King City Chautauqua was one of the nicest things we had. When it first started, it ran for ten days. As time went on it was cut to eight and finally to six days, before it folded.

King City hosted its first Chautauqua in 1907, and its last in 1930.

We tented on the grounds several years, and that was so much fun. One year there were forty tents on the ground.

Chautauqua tent?

A Chautauqua tent? Grandma sits by the post, her grandfather A.S. Martin to her side. Her younger sister Mary stands, one hand on her father’s shoulder. In front of her is their brother Charley. Grandfather Martin died in March 1918, dating this photo to 1917 or earlier.

For a small place we really had some good talent. We were in a circuit and the talent moved from place to place. One night William Jennings Bryan was to speak. Because of a heavy rain, and dirt roads, he did not get there until late at night. By the time his lecture was over, it was nearly midnight. Very few, if any, left before the lecture. We always had several musical groups. One that was always there was Maupin’s Band from St. Joseph. The very popular piece for Maupin’s was The Stars and Stripes Forever. If they did not play it, then there was a request for it.

Plans were made weeks ahead, and one of the things was, that we have a different dress to wear each day. Those were the good old days.

The war made an appearance at the 1918 Chautauqua. A wounded soldier gave a talk. And this movie was shown.

Wake Up America

Advertisement in the August 16, 1918 issue of the King City Chronicle. No additional information was provided on that “rich lady in the east.”

Grandpa could picture the Chautauqua and the harvest. But he had to imagine Grandma doing something new this year–working for the Red Cross.

July 23. You spoke of the Red Cross work you were doing. Keep it up, it sure will be needed here this winter as they say it is an awful cold country and it must be when we sleep cold in July, so tell every one that they will do a great lot by helping with the war by knitting and try to get in early.

In fact, Grandma, her sister Mary, and their mother were making a range of items  requested by their local Red Cross chapter. And they did this work during the busy harvest season, as noted below. Those “refugee dresses?” They were made for Europeans displaced by the war, many in France and Belgium.

Red Cross garments cropped

August 2, 1918, King City Chronicle

I don’t understand why the Red Cross sent out garments “to make them up,” unless they were gathering old garments to repurpose. In any case, one thing is clear to me. My grandmother, her sister and mother must have understood the full horror of war. In making gun wipes and pinafores, they recognized the needs of both the soldiers and the defenseless victims of their violence. The war may have been thousands of miles away, but it wasn’t far from their minds or their busy hands that summer on the farm.

Gma photos, detail of Gma Dykes on porch?

My great-grandmother, Mrs. S.J. Dykes, front porch of the King City farm around 1915.


Gooseberry Pie and the 4th of July

Grandpa spent the 4th of July, 1918, “somewhere in France.”

France, 7-3:1 cropped 2

Letter to Grandma, written July 3, 1918.

He went on to explain that it wasn’t really a holiday for him, since the cooks still had to feed the troops. But he seemed happy to report that “some of the boys went out and gathered some gooseberries so made some pies. They were good. The gooseberries here are large, about like our plums and it don’t take long to get enough for a few pies.”



Gooseberry bushes, outside my mother’s apartment in Kansas.

Honestly, I don’t remember gooseberry pie from my childhood. Grandma made the best raspberry pie, so I know she (and my grandfather) could make the perfect crust and the perfect filling. But nothing fancy. Here’s the recipe for gooseberry pie Mother got from Grandma.

Gooseberry, 2Just where was Grandpa in France? He couldn’t tell Grandma. But I’ve been able to learn locations from later accounts, especially in George English’s History of the 89th Division, 1920. After leaving England (from Southampton, across the English Channel to Le Havre) in late June, the troops moved under the cover of darkness in box cars, a miserable train journey to what English called “unknown destinations.” They arrived near Reynel, and Grandpa’s group–the 356th Infantry–stayed with families in two villages, Liffol-le-Grand and Villouxel, both in the northeastern part of France, not far from the front. (pp. 42-44)

In this same letter from July 3, Grandpa explained his location, generally.

town in France

The reference to the little girl made me smile at a very special memory. In Effingham, Kansas, where I enjoyed summers with my grandparents, I was walking with Grandpa to their big garden. Just as we crossed the alley, a little boy came running, a big smile on his face, “Hi, Grandpa!” I was indignant and yelled right back, “He’s not your grandfather! He’s my grandfather!” Grandpa laughed. He loved telling that story. And so I can imagine a little French girl having the same affection for a man many of us thought of as Grandpa.

This one letter, written at a time between difficult travels and more difficult battles ahead, seems relaxed to me. Grandpa’s handwriting is neat and even. He covers four pages (a long letter for him) with details that remind me of letters my brother, sister and I wrote home from our trips in Europe. “There is lots of Cathedrals here,” he wrote. “I hear several bells ringing now.”

Back in King City, where Grandma celebrated the 4th of July, there was a daylong program of events, along with pies and refreshments and music. The local newspaper, the Chronicle, noted that a special feature would be included: “Bat the Kaiser in the Eye.” I’m not sure what that meant (a piñata? hit with a baseball bat?), but I do know that the people of  King City, and presumably of many American towns, spent some of their summer days raising money for a knock-out punch. Here’s an ad that ran the last week in June, featuring that target of the Kaiser’s eye.

Paste the Kaiser

King City Chronicle, June 28, 1918, page 3.

On this day in 2018, on the 4th of July, I’ll end where I started, with pies. Here’s my homage to Grandma, a raspberry-peach pie. And following that, a cartoon that captures the special fondness American soldiers had for pies, apparently never getting enough!

Pie on the 4th

Seconds on Pie

From Camp Funston’s newspaper, Trench and Camp, May 11, 1918. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Happy 4th!

Baseball. . . Somewhere in France

Summer, time to read, time to watch baseball. I found this story in Trench and Camp and loved the picture painted by the sports writer. At a baseball game behind the front lines in France, he described fans cheering the game and the aerial combat overhead. Grandpa wasn’t in this crowd, but I bet he would have enjoyed the action!

In case these terms are new to you (they were to me): Archie refers to anti-aircraft fire, boche to German, and poilus to French soldiers.

Baseball game, france (1) headline

Headline of story that ran in Trench and Camp, May 11, 1918. Used here with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.


With the American Army in France, May 2–The big league baseball teams in the spring training camps at home have nothing on the American soldiers, so far as limbering up the old wing and priming the batting eye is concerned.

It is the spring training season over here too.

Back of the lines, in the rest camps or along the roadside, you can hear the thump of the ball in the mitt, the crack of the bat and all the familiar baseball sounds–as well as a few war sounds thrown in.

A game of “old cat” was broken up recently by an airplane-anti-aircraft scrap overhead. The game was being played in the middle of the public square at Luneville (about ten miles from the German border and nine miles back of the front lines.) There was a good bleacher crowd of mixed poilus and dough boys. The sun was beaming down from a cloudless sky and the war seemed a thousand miles away.

“Archie” Butted In.

But just then an “Archie” spoke and everyone looked skyward. There was the boche. Gun after gun came into action. Fluffy white wings broke all about him. He dodged and twisted and turned.

Within a few minutes the guns had put a complete circle of bursting shells about the plane. Then American rooting began.

“Attaboy! Get him kid! That was a close one. Now, just once more,” were some of the cries that went up.

Everyone was bending back, shading his eyes and watching the sight. The airplane got thru the circle of “cream puffs” safely and darted back toward home, an occasional shell bursting behind him.

“Foller him up, kid, foller him up!” was the encouragement shouted from the American rooters. But the boche out-legged the guns and disappeared.

“Who’s at bat and who’s on base” a sergeant yelled, as the machine disappeared. A minuter later the ball game was on again.




Summer Reading

I’ve been collecting books about the war to read over the summer.

Summer reading 2

My summer reading, next to the boxes holding the letters.

I decided, at the beginning of this project, to hold off on reading historical material on the war. I wanted to follow my grandfather’s experience through his eyes as long as I could (keeping the opinions of historians and authors at bay). His letters from Camp Funston provided day-to-day accounts of his life in training. But once he arrived in Europe, that level of detail changed dramatically. He wasn’t allow to write about place, tactics, or even his feelings.

From now on–through the battles, his injury, recovery and homecoming–I have to rely more heavily on the accounts of others, of historians, authors, and filmmakers, to better understand Grandpa’s experience.

You’ll see from my collection of books, that I’m drawn to literary accounts. These authors don’t use the war as a backdrop–although the horrors live on the page–but seem to do what I’m struggling to do: make meaning of an experience that was largely incomprehensible to those who endured it, my grandfather among them.

Send along other titles for me to consider. That scrap of paper on my desk holds the title of a book coming out this summer. It was recommended by a well-read cashier at my favorite indie bookstore in Pasadena, at Vroman’s.

England: Rest Camp at Knotty Ash

One hundred years ago today, on June 16, 1918, Grandpa disembarked the Caronia, one of nine ships in a convoy that carried American troops across the Atlantic.

Arrival, 2

After 12 days at sea, his boat landed on Sunday, June 16, 1918.

Where had they landed? On the other side of the card, the postmark provides a clue.

Arrival notice“Old Swan LV” was a neighborhood in Liverpool, one of the busiest ports accepting American soldiers during the war. In the History of the 89th Division, the author confirms Liverpool as the port, p. 40. He also names the army’s rest camp as Knotty Ash.

Both the Red Cross and the American Y.M.C.A. had facilities at the camp. They organized music and sporting events, along with places to write letters home. The arrival postcard includes the Red Cross logo, as well as “Soldiers’ Mail” and “No Postage Necessary,” denoting official army correspondence.

The nature and content of Grandpa’s letters changed when he arrived “overseas.” He couldn’t identify where he was or provide any details that might reveal place or military activities. He was “some place in England,” or “somewhere in France.”

He wrote two letters on June 16, the same day he addressed the postcard. The first one described the trip over, and how he’d been sick “a couple or three days after leaving the States.” He ended with an explanation of why he couldn’t say more, . . .

England 6-17 letter

June 16, 1918 letter to Grandma.

The second letter offered a bit more information. “We have tents to stay in but they are good ones,” he wrote. And then on a personal, perhaps homesick note, he mused, “I supose every one is busy at home farming. I haven’t saw any thing in the farm line here, only a potato patch. Well, my Dear, I can’t write much so will close.”

Once they arrived in Europe, soldiers couldn’t “write much” and they knew each card, each letter, would be read and approved by censors (who could cut out portions or refuse to send the mail). Every envelope I have included some kind of official stamp and a handwritten signature of the censor.

England 6-22, envelope

Grandpa wrote “Soldiers Mail” in the top right corner of envelope that held his June 16 letter.

The postcard and first two letters from England open a new chapter in the correspondence I’m sharing here. The number of letters Grandpa wrote—and received—decreased. At times, he worried that his mail from home has been lost. I have no way of knowing if Grandma wrote less often, or if her letters did get lost in the mail. I only know that he eagerly awaited them. “Keep on writing I will get them some day,” he wrote that first day he landed on foreign soil.


A group of letters carrying the marks and names of official censors. Photo (c) Charlene Reichert.





Into the Open Sea

June 4, 1918. New York Harbor. Nine vessels loaded with American troops set sail for England. George English, a member of the 89th Division and also its historian, described the event in his 1920 History of the 89th Division, U.S.A.

“In the blazing light of a midday of June, the vessels forming the convoy swung out from the various docks, steamed down the harbor of New York and took up their voyage to those lands towards which the Goddess of Liberty from her pedestal seemed to turn a wistful gaze. Nine great vessels, striped with the bizarre patterns of their camouflage, crowded with those fighting men who formed part of the hope of civilization, swept down the channel and, without pause, into the open sea.” (p. 39)

Grandpa sailed in the Caronia. I found this picture and a page of the ship’s manifest on ancestry. com.

6:4 ship

6:4 manifest

Some of the members of Grandpa’s group, Company C, 356th Infantry, 89th Division.

English continued his description:

“The course taken was far to the north of the usual lines of ocean travel. On approaching the danger zone off the coast of Ireland, a number of British torpedo boats appeared to escort the convoy and the habitual course of the ships became a series of sharp zigzags. No submarine attack occurred and the convoy reached Liverpool safely on the 16th of June, twelve days out of New York.” (p. 40)


“Letters are the best thing I have”

Last June envelope front rotated

Grandpa would sail on June 4, so this postmark records the day the letter was processed.

When Grandpa wrote this letter on June 1, three days before the departure, he sensed his correspondence would change. There would be fewer letters, and his would be censored. But he also knew, and reminded Grandma, that her letters were the best thing he had, and to keep them coming. Here’s the complete letter, the last one he wrote from the U.S.

Last June-1Last June-2Last June-3Last June-4

last June envelope back rotated

Back of envelope. “Received June 8, 1918” seems to be in Grandma’s handwriting.

Road Trip!

Spirits were high, Grandpa reported, as the troops left Camp Funston, May 23. They spent five days on the train, stopping along the way to march in towns and listen to patriotic speeches. Grandpa sent a map to Grandma, on which he marked the places they stopped. You may be able to blow up this map (which was one side of a train schedule) and see the “x’s” he wrote in pencil.

Train to NY, partial schedule

Detail of map. New York, the destination, is on the right. On the left is the border of Illinois, which they crossed on Day 2, Friday May 24.

Day 1, Thursday May 23


First card from the road, May 23.

By 9 pm, they were moving through Kansas City. “Every one jolly” he scribbled on this card.

Day 2, Friday May 24

Just leaving Hannibal, crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. “The boys have a little slogan like this (is Company C downhearted)–then all yell (Hell, no!).” They rode in Pullman cars, “lots better than I thought,” Grandpa wrote. About that writing–not easy on a moving train.

train rolling

May 24.

Later that day, he sent this postcard.

NY-springfield image

NY-Springfield, note

Another letter from that day included this: “The way we mail our letters is to hand them to someone along the side. We are not allowed to get off.” Also along the side of the train tracks were people who came waving flags, some handing them candy and tobacco. Red Cross volunteers also showed up with coffee and refreshments.

In Springfield, they brought a stray dog on board.

Day 3, Saturday May 25

Approaching Detroit. “I am feeling fine also enjoying myself.” And a favor, “When you talk to Mother tell her how to address my mail.”

Later, they crossed Lake Erie on a boat.

Sounds like the troops were a bit punchy by Day 3. They started yelling out the train window at startled passersby. A sergeant put an end to that.

NY-hollering out the window

Seems like good advice, to “quit hollering out the window.”

Day 4, Sunday May 26

Nearing New York, and it was raining, a lot. But the views were nice. “We had some fine scenery coming through the mountains.”

That dog from Springfield, well, they lost it. “We got another one, a big bull dog. When we go through the towns he gets up and looks out the window.”

“We will get to camp some time tonight, and I hope they have some water there as I and all the rest are getting dirty as can be.”

Day 5, Monday, May 27

“We are sixteen miles from New York city.” When they arrived at Camp Mills, Grandpa received some mail. “Mother talks real reconciled in her letter and it makes it a whole lot better on me when she is. Of course she will worry some. I don’t want you to worry but to think I am doing a noble thing as I could have been exempted if I had tried as hard as some of the rest. But wear your star of honor.”

Camp Mills, Long Island

After they settled into camp, their tents and spirits withstanding days of rain and mud, the troops awaited the ship that would transport them abroad. “We might be here 25 days yet,” Grandpa wrote. In fact, they would leave the next week.

But that week in New York held some pleasures. They went into the “big” city. “It would take me a year to tell you what I saw,” he wrote on May 31, including “most of the large buildings.” He’d been there the day before, on May 30, which was what Grandpa knew as Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day. “The crowds of people on the streets were something awful. I never saw as many children and never will again. They were like bees . . . ” (Readers, any ideas on the word describing those bee-like children?)like bees

Finally, Grandpa wrote about something remarkable, “aeroplanes.” “They are just like birds flying over our head. The factory where they are built is only about a mile from us.”

And through it all, the train trip and the stay in New York, Grandpa found comfort in the company of a dog. “We still have the dog, he sure is a dandy, we are going to try to take him to France.” That plan changed the next day, when the dog ran off. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine an army company smuggling a dog on the ship. Then again, it’s hard for me to imagine any of this, the crazy lead-up to being shipped off to war.

NY-Co C stamp




June 1 is National Donut Day!

donuts croppedIf you love donuts, and love free donuts, look for specials in your town this Friday, June 1 (2018). And remember my grandfather, who made donuts for the troops in World War 1–both at Camp Funston and in France. Remember the Salvation Army women, too, who bravely served along the front lines in France, serving up donuts and coffee to American soldiers who were exhausted and homesick for something familiar–like a donut.

Donut Girl cropped

Poster designed by J. Allen St. John, 1918(?). Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, WW1 Posters, [LC-USZC4-3172].

While you’re at it, remembering what deserves remembering, think about the Chicago chapter of the Salvation Army. In 1938, during the dark days of the Depression, when many Americans needed comfort and a helping hand, they started National Donut Day to raise money for their social programs. Here’s a link to their site, should you want to dig into the history of Donut Day as you dig into your free donut:

And for more reading, I really recommend this book, which refers to the donut story (and much more): Diane Winston, Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of the Salvation Army.