Friday, January 19, 2018

One Soldier's Experience: Camp Life

I don't know much about camp life other than what I described in one of my previous posts but here are a group of photos showing what the camp looked like and the condition it was in. The above picture and most of the pictures show lots of mud around so 1918 must have been a fairly wet year for that area.

I'm guessing the above is a picture of the "motor pool".

Drilling grounds or airfield or perhaps both.

There are literally a dozen or more pictures showing soldiers lined up for meals carrying they utensils. I'm not sure if they had to wait in line for a specific moment or there was just that many of them that the line quickly backed up. But judging from the number of photos, my great grandfather wasn't near the front of many lines because he was off taking pictures of them.

I don't know which picture represents my great grandfather's quarters but I suspect it was the upper one based on the last picture of this post. It shows just a single cot which I assume is the one my great grandfather slept in because I can't imagine why someone would take a picture of someone else's cot. The picture below I'm guessing was on the actual base itself and appears to be much more densely packed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

One Soldier's Experience: Tam O the Scoots

When I was scanning the pictures of my great grandfather album from the Great War, I was surprised to see around a dozen pictures of a dog. I had no idea what the dog's name was but new from the pictures that it must have been special to my great grandfather for some reason.

 Later as I was processing the pictures to crop them and digitally adjust for fading and such, I remembered a history booklet of my great grandfather's squadron that I inherited after the death of my great uncle, his oldest son. At the time, the history booklet didn't mean much to me but in light of these pictures, I decided to re-read it and in the process of doing so, found a paragraph on this dog.

According to the booklet, soon after the American soldiers arrived at the aviation field they adopted two dogs as camp mascots assuming they were strays. They named them "Tam O the Scoots" and the other "Comme Ca."

"Tam O the Scoots and Comme Ca"
They later were discovered to belong to the lady who ran the Cafe de l'Aviation who tried several times unsuccessfully to convince them to stay home. I'm guessing they were well fed during their stay with the Americans and earned their food doing tricks. I'm not sure which one was which as far as names go but the dog with the dark ears was clearly my great grandfather's favorite since the above picture is the only picture showing the other dog. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

One Soldier's Experience: Camp Coetquidan

Farman airplane also known as a "Galloping Goose"
The arrival into Camp Coetquidan was met with relief of finally being at their home away from home only to be met with disappointment as they told the airfield was several kilometers furthers.  When the 800th Repair Squadron finally arrived they found some old wooden barracks with "bacon can" stoves for heat.

Since the camp had been one of the largest artillery camps since the times of Napoleon the Third and it was in rough shape so the initial days of camp were spent fixing up everything from the airfield to as basic as sanitation. The camp history says every man wore out two picks and shovels before work was finally complete. In trying to dig up information on the camp, I did find online a picture of Captain Harry S. Truman at the camp during World War I with an artillery regiment. It is neat to think my great grandfather many have crossed paths with him.

There were six "ancient" Farman airplanes in camp when my great grandfather's squadron arrived and after their work was done, every man was given a ride in the "Galloping Geese" as they were known. Evidently their air worthiness was much in the air because it is said that after every man landed, they broke out in cold sweat at the thought of doing so again. Soon with the help of training, the men were put in charge of maintaining these planes until all the pilots said they were in excellent shape.

A nosed in Sopwith 1A2
In spring, a new artillary observation school was begun in Mueson about 45 miles west of Coetquidan and my great grandfather was one of the soldiers sent there to get it up and running. My great grandfather was a sergeant in charge of ordering supplies so no doubt he was kept very busy getting everything required to start up another camp.

By summer, the Spanish flu hit the camp and within a matter of weeks, only five men were reported as fit for duty. Eventually all the men recovered and soon more airplanes were being trained and trucked into camp for assembly and later maintenance.

The squadron history book contains lots of information about Flight A or the headquarters flight but not much about Flights B and C. Mostly I am left with the pictures my great grandfather took to infer about what camp life was like on a day to day basis. I will post more of those pictures in the next posts.

Curtis JN4 airplanes

Friday, January 12, 2018

One Soldier's Experience: Heading to the War Front

My great grandfather Victor ended up at Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas once he got through all the paperwork and other requirements for enlisting in the war. For many, the hot mid August sun in Texas was too much for their systems and much of the time was spent acclimatizing to their new world. Most of their days were spent either doing long hikes or drills.

 Finally at the end of October, orders came through and my great grandfather's squadron boarded a train and spent five days in transit to Aviation Field in Garden City, New York. From the writings, it sounds like it was the southerns turn to suffer in the cold temperatures as the lodged in barracks without heat. They stayed in New York until December 7th when order came to proceed to France and once again the soldier boarded a train for a ride to New Jersey, or so they were led to believe. However it wasn't until three days later that they finally got off the train in St. Johns,  New Brunswick. There they immediately boarded the RMS Tunisian which I believe is shown in the pictures below.

RMS Tunisian

RMS Tunisian

Soldiers boarding the RMS Tunisian heading for France
The RMS Tunisian left port later that evening and headed up to a bay near Halifax, Nova Scotia arriving just five days after one of the most horrific accidents ever to occur and which I wrote about in this blog post some time ago. My great grandfather finally arrived off the shores of Liverpool, England on Christmas day and was treated to a Christmas dinner of tripe, marmalade and tea. (No mention was made about why they were obviously being punished!)

The following day they disembarked the ship and boarded a train for a ride across England to Southampton where they boarded a side wheeler named the Mona's Queen for the trip across the English Channel. Finally they arrived in La Havre, France at the mouth of the Seine on December 30th where they marched inland to a rest camp comprised of little round tents that house 12 soldiers each. They stayed there until January 1rst when they boarded another train for St. Maxient (Deux-Sevres) which they arrived at the following day. This time they were housed on the third floor of the Presbytere Barracks.

Rest Camp near La Havre, France
My great grandfather's letters describe that during meal times soldiers lined up and went through the food tent and then found a place to sit where ever they could.
This group of men were some of the first Americans in town and so were treated well. They spent the next couple months drilling and training repeatedly and were known as being the best drilled squadron in France at the time. They did have some off time because below is a picture of a football game between them and the Foreign Detachment Cadets which resulted in a 7-7 tie.

January 27, 1918 Football Game
The squadrons were reorganized during this time and eventually became the 800th Aero Repair Squadron which was further divided into three flights and sent to other places in France on February 26, 1918. My great grandfather Victor was assigned to Flight B and sent to Camp Coetquidan.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

One Soldier's Experience: Before the War

My great grandfather after the Great War
Having received the priceless treasure that is my great grandfather Victor's war album of his time during World War I, I can't help but post some of the pictures for others to enjoy. They are a wealth of information about life and conditions during the war. Some show the graphic realities of the brutality of war, others show the lighter side of life in the camps. Many photos I would like to research more to fully understand what it is I am seeing. Others, I know exactly what they represent. But before I do any of that, I need to post a little about my great grandfather Victor before he went to war.

My great grandfather was born in 1895 most likely on the farm of my 2nd great grandfather but possibly in town. My 2nd great grandfather had an acreage and possibly farmed but I think the records show he was much more involved in running one of several businesses he owned over the course of his life. My great grandfather Victor was the oldest child and would soon have a younger sister. I've never known why in an age when many had huge families, this family stopped with two children but it did. 

Although my grandfather has no memories or knowledge of the explosion mentioned in the above newspaper clipping, I think this event played a pivotal part in my great grandfather's life when the Great War began. In another article posted towards the end of this post, it mentions that my great grandfather tried to enlist for the war four times unsuccessfully. The article doesn't mention why but I wonder if his hand injury had something to do with this. My earliest memories of my great grandfather are after he had his stroke and was moved to a nursing home in Iowa from his retirement home in Florida. Although I remember my visits with him, I have no memories of the conditions of his hand.

My grandfather was 21 years old when America's involvement in the Great War began and it would be six months after the draft before my great grandfather was allowed to enlist.  I don't have exact dates because the clippings in this post are all from the scrapbook of my 2nd great grandmother and dates or locations of where they were published were not included. Unfortunately, most of the records from World War I were destroyed in a fire so I have no specifics of my great grandfather's time in the war except for newspaper clippings, a synopsis of his regiment and his photo album. The newspaper clippings are mostly about daily life in the camps. The synopsis of his regiment covers his whereabouts in a very general sense. The recently discovered photo album helps me fill in many of the blanks. I have asked my still living grandfather, my parents and uncle if my great grandfather Victor ever talked about the war but evidently to them, he did not. So I am left to piece together his story from these sources available to me.

After the war my great grandfather came home, married and had a family. The wealth from his very successful ancestors passed down to him were completely lost in the run-up and during the Great Recession and this branch of the family fell down the economic ladder almost to the bottom. Eventually he was able to recoup enough for a comfortable retirement in Florida in the last years of his life. I never knew him as a soldier until my great uncle died and I inherited some of his things. He was just always my great grandfather, the only one I have memories. I don't know if he did anything heroic in battle other than serve his country which is heroic enough, but I do know now, he had a very interesting military career. Stayed tuned.