Monday, January 22, 2018

One Solider's Experience: Front Lines

I don't know if my great grandfather every saw action on the front lines of the war. There are lots of pictures of the front lines, or what I suspect were "old" front lines as the war moved back to the east. They show total devastation to the land around them. The squadron history book makes no mention of trips to the front lines but I'm guessing that was certainly possible. Whatever the case, I have picked this selection of photos and have added any labels attached as they were worded.

Foald In Iowa, Raise in France by Big Bertha

Interior of opera at Rheims

Ufuhrur(spelling is very hard to read) residence demolished

Interior view of cathedral

Familiar views of front

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.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Nick of Time

Between the aquarium and our dinner date, we tried to visit a art museum but the kids and especially my mother-in-law were just too tired. So we tried again the following day. It was more successful but about half way through the experience, I made the mistake of checking my social media while letting the girls rest on a bench in a gallery. I instantly saw reports of bad weather back home and felt that we should probably cut our day short. I don't like driving at night in winter anyway but when it is precipitating, I dislike it even more. Fortunately my wife agreed and after we got everyone found from the various galleries, we started for home.

About halfway back, we ran into a freezing drizzle. Almost immediately afterward, even though the roads were not slick yet, things went south. Due to the cold winds, our defrost, along with just about everyone else defrost, could not keep up with the freezing drizzle. My view of the road was only the bottom eight inches of the front windshield. The rest was just a sheet of ice that I occasionally thawed out with massive squirts of windshield washer fluid every few minutes. Much of the last half of our journey is on small two lane roads and I found going through towns where the wind was blocked and our speeds were much slower, the windshield would gradually clear of ice but as soon as we reached the outskirts of town and got up over around 30 mph, the ice would again freeze on the windshield blocking our view.

The roads never did get really slick but by the time we got to town, the front of our car was a sheet of ice except for a hole right above the defrost vents. We made one stop at the grocery store for a few supplies which allowed the windshield to thaw and a hole to melt in front of the headlights but other than that, our van looks as it did.

I was really glad to be home but felt we left some things "on the table" in Kansas City. But that is okay with me because it gives us an excuse for another mini-vacation sometime down the road.

Friday, January 5, 2018

4 Courses!

I suppose everyone has a bucket list in their mind if not written down. Many have places they would like to visit or things they would like to see. I do too. But one of mine was to eat at an honest to goodness restaurant where I would be served a four course meal. So after dumping my mother-in-law and kids off at the hotel, my wife and I went on a date to Affare and I had my first four course meal ever, complete with wine pairings.

The experience was heavenly and worth every penny. I've been to plenty of nice restaurants and eaten lots of very outstanding food but the quality of the food I ate here were several notches above any that I have eaten previously. Although outstanding, the venison pate was probably my least favorite of the four courses. The red (I assume Cumberland) sauce was tasty enough I wish I had a bottle of it in my back pocket for special occasions.

Black squid ink pasta in a dimly lit restaurant is hard to capture and I was feeling ashamed as it were to be photographing my food like a tourist that I didn't want to call even more attention to myself by using the flash. It was my first experience with squid ink pasta (and venison pate for that matter) and I enjoyed it immensely. This was my second favorite course of the evening. The mussels were perfectly cooked and had been detached from the shell so one could easily eat them with the utensils. One of my biggest gripes is being served mussels still attached to the shell with only a spoon and my fingers to scrape them loose so I can eat them.

The star dish for the night was definitely the third course of duck breast and vegetables but oddly the star of the dish were the oyster mushrooms and orange gastrique. The duck breat was quite good but just kind of sat in the background of the tastes of the mushrooms and sauce. I told my wife at that point that had they just served me four courses of the mushrooms, I would have been just as happy. I thought it was kind of unique to be served on a piece of slate which ended up being quite messy as the juices ran down onto the table but the staff didn't seem to mind.

Our final course was a "traditional cookie plate" which didn't seem very traditional at least where I come from. The various cookies served with fruit and cream were all very tasty but if given the choice of this or the venison pate, it was have been a hard choice. I'm glad I was given both but I had to give this one the edge as my third favorite dish of the night.

Other thoughts:

I'm not a wine drinker by any means. I drink some and like a few that I drink but for the most part feel that I'm choking most of the wines down to just be polite. I just don't have the taste for it I guess, especially the dry wines. It seems the fruitier the better for me which doesn't lend itself to sophistication among the wine lovers. Up until this experience, I never really believed pairing could make food taste better. While I still don't believe that, I am now a believer that the food can make the wine taste better. Two of the wines I didn't particularly enjoy when taking a sip when it was served to us but when drinking it after eating some of the served course, both tasted much much better to my palate and were quite enjoyable. I'm learning, little at a time.

Being this was my first four course experience, I wasn't sure what to do with my silverware between courses. During our gourmet club meals, we use the appropriate utensil for that dish and then clear it away before the next course but we start with enough utensils for the entire meal at the beginning. Here we just had a knife and a fork. I saved my utensils after the first course but then noticed all the other people in the restaurant were getting new utensils given to them between courses and so I let mine be cleared from then on out. I immediately felt guilty going through three sets of utensils in one meal (you can take the boy from the farm but not the farm from the boy) but I set my mind at ease by telling myself that the washing of extra utensils was covered in the price of the meal, which was worth every penny and then some.

I hope to experience something similar again someday even though it is now off my bucket list. Maybe next time I will go for a similar meal at a place with a Michelan star... or three.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Sea Life

Not sure what these are but similar to Angel Fish
 Every year, we try to do a few mini-vacations where we just get away from the stresses of home life for a night or two and experience some culture. This year since my grandparents are living across town and not across the country in Florida, we didn't take a long vacation between Christmas and New Year as we have done. So we decided to do a mini vacation to Kansas City and see some of the things we wished we had explored the last couple times we have been there but didn't get too. The first on our list was Sea Life Aquarium.

Jelly Fish
 I love photography and aquariums, especially if the tank glass has been cleaned fairly recently. So many of them are just caked with oil and grime that last were cleaned a decade ago when the place was build but at this particular aquarium, the glass was almost immaculate, especially considering we were there in the afternoon well after it had been open for hours.

Giant Spider Crab that probably spanned an area longer than I am tall
 The kids enjoyed looking at all the creatures as well as us adults and we can now cross the aquarium off our list. Perhaps the best part of the experience were the "Fin Facts" written randomly on the walls in-between the tanks. I learned a lot of trivia information that I may use to my advantage if we have a water world based category at our next charity trivia event.

Clown Fish

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Gift of the Magi

The short story of the same name by O'Henry is one that has stuck with me these 35+ years since I first read it. I always think about it around this time of year as gifts are given, especially within my immediate family. My grandparents, parents and sibling are all successful people who are financially secure enough to be able to buy whatever they need or want as they need or want it. So often are gifts center around consumables such as gift certificates to their favorite restaurant or in my case, hardware store. I love these gift certificates and always think of those that gave them to me as I use them and I'm sure that is the case of those whom I have gifted the same.

But this Christmas, I received a present that has topped all the presents I have received over the last couple decades of my life. My uncle who came to my house for Christmas, brought my great grandfather's World War I photo album that I only found out it existed just a couple months ago. I learned of it while talking with my grandparents and one of them made a casual remark about a picture in that album. When I asked where it was and learned that it had been given to my great uncle and passed onto my uncle, I made a note to ask him about it the next time I saw him.

[Side note here. I inherited a number of World War I pictures of my great grandfather from my great uncle (grandfather's brother) upon his death and have always cherished those pictures greatly. But I thought those dozen pictures were all that existed... that is until recently.]

This Christmas with my grandparents in town, we were selected to host the Christmas gathering and my uncle was going to come down as well. I was planning on asking him about the album during that time however he arrived with the album already in possession. I had to take a few deep breaths because it was much larger than I had anticipated and full of pictures of World War I and my great grandfather. My uncle left the album with me to digitize so that I can pass those pictures on to others in my family and with the promise that I will return the album back to him when finished.

I am overjoyed and ecstatic. It is kind of like winning the lottery. I feel like I have just received a beautiful gold chain for my prized pocket watch as in the Gift of the Magi. I am itching to start scanning those photos and digesting them one at a time like a thrilling book and I'm sure many might make it onto this blog. But for the immediate future, it must wait as other more pressing things occupy my time. Hopefully soon in this new year I can dig into this labor of love.

One of my favorite pictures of my great grandfather during World War I that I inherited from my great uncle.