WW1 Daybook

collections up close Blog

Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

See Collections Up Close Blog Archive

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

 Subscribe in a reader

WW1 Daybook

Gold Star Roll of Alan Nichols

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 17, 2018

Ensign Alan Nichols of Saint Paul died in a plane accident on this date in Turin, Italy, when three motors stalled on the plane he was piloting. Nichols was killed instantly when the plane went beyond control and nose-dived to the ground. The Commanding Officer of the United States Army Air Station in Turin sent a letter to Nichols' father providing more details about his son's death and burial. Nichols was given a complete military funeral in Turin, Italy, and buried there, but his body was removed on May 18th, 1920. Today, Nichols is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Saint Paul.


Torino, Italy
January 26, 1919.
[...] Dear Sir:-
[...] I do not know whether the details of the death of your boy have ever been communicated to you. I am the Commanding Officer of the Army Air Station in Turin, and am in possession of some of the facts. Your boy, with Ensign Hugh Terres, had flown a Caproni 600-horse-power airplane bearing the Navy number B-13, from the Caproni Field at Taliedo, Milan, to the Aviation Field of Mirafiori, Turin, which was the first stopping place for Caproni airplanes which were being ferried from Milan, Italy, to Dunkirk, France. At about five o'clock in the afternoon of August 17, 1918, the plane was declared ready for flight across the Alps, and was mounted by your boy, Ensign Hugh Terres and Machinist A.F. Hartle. When they had reached the height of about sixty metres the three motors stalled contemporaneously. The pilot had then a choice of crashing it into the hanger ahead of him and causing damage to it and to the machine, or of turning around and making a landing on the field, thus saving the machine. He apparently took the latter course, for the machine was seen to turn to the right in an attempt to make a landing, but owing to the lack of power the machine went beyond control and nose-dived to the ground a complete wreck. Your boy and Ensign Terres was killed instantly while the mechanic died on the way to the hospital.

Citation: "Nichols, Alan L." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.5B

Organization of a Mobile Hospital on the Front Lines

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 16, 2018

In a letter to her family, Red Cross nurse Marion Backus, who was stationed on the front lines in France, describes the logistics of working in a mobile hospital. She mentions that it takes time to get the hospital organized initially and it is possible that they will have to move (to follow the front line) before they actually get any patients. Backus states that it will be faster getting set up once they move locations after the initial organization is complete.


Aug 16, 1918
Dear Folks:
[…] We are still here in our tent hospital but have not as yet had a patient. Of course it takes a little while to organize an institution like this and get things together and now there is talk that by the time it is organized the line will have moved so far away that we will have to move too[.] of course that is the object of having it a mobile unit so we can go where we are most needed, and of course the next move can be made in a very short time after we get everything together. […]

Marion Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1356


Gold Star Roll of Scott Johnston

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 15, 2018

United States Marine Corps Second Lieutenant Scott M. Johnston was highly decorated for his brave actions on multiple occasions. He received the Distinguished Service Cross, Croix de Guerre and a certificate of citation in Army Orders. Johnston was sent to the American Red Cross Military Hospital in Paris, France on July 21st, 1918 due to gunshot wounds to the head and chest that he had received in battle on July 19th, 1918 in Vierzy, France with the 76th Company. He died on August 15th, 1918 from septicemia.


[...] "During the attack of July 19, 1918 at Vierzy, he charged a nest of machine guns at the head of a small detachment and captured a gun which was causing heavy losses in our lines. Altho [sic] seriously wounded, he remained with his men until the Company commander gave orders that he be taken to the rear."

Citation: "Johnston, Scott M." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.4F.

YMCA in Italy

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 14, 2018

While stationed in Rome with the YMCA, Paul Thompson sent this letter home to his sister Ruth. He writes that he is teaching some of the men at one hospital how to play baseball - and that he has been asked to do the same at the barracks. He is also teaching English to some Italian medical officers. Thompson seems excited to teach these men things and is excited to be traveling, but he is also ready to return to the U.S. as soon as the war is over.


Letter no. 25- 4 postals enclosed
Aug, 12-18
Dear Ruth,-
[…] For two days last week there was an extra rush. Wary Americans coming from somewhere and going elsewhere spent two days in Rome. They had travelled 8 days continuously in 3rd class coaches and got their first night in bed in Rome. The Amer. canteen which is now in this office worked overtime. They were a fine bunch of boys and praised the YMCA for helping them out here. […] The papers say something about men being drafted up to the age of 45. They give us details as to proposed law. If it passes I suppose consults will be sent copies. If it passes, see that I am properly registered. I am ready any time I am needed but I think I ought to be allowed to come home and take an examination for a commission or go to an officers training school. I am teaching the men in our hospital to play baseball by easy stages. Have also been asked to teach some of the soldiers in the barracks. And am starting to teach English to a few medical officers who already speak a little. […] You can be sure that I will be mighty glad to get home when the war is over and to get there mighty quick, but still there’s a fasciation about this country.[…]
Your loving brother,
Paul J. Thompson

Citation: Paul Thompson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/T475 4/19-8/19

"French are Driving to Flank Roye on Two Sides; Somme Battle on Again" and "American Fists Too Hard Hitting for German Foe" - Bemidji Daily Pioneer. August 13, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 13, 2018

Doctor's Canvas Trunk

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 12, 2018

This canvas trunk belonged to Justus Ohage Jr. of St. Paul, Minnesota, who served as a 1st Lieutenant in the Medical Corps. It is 14 inches tall, 28 inches wide and 18 1/2 inches deep. He carried this trunk with him until he was discharged on this date. This day also marks the end of the Battle of Amiens, known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which is widely considered to be the "beginning of the end" of World War I. This battle marked the end of trench warfare on the Western Front, with the fighting now back to being mobile, allowing progress to be made.


Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 1998.347.1.

"I Sure Am Homesick For A Letter"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 11, 2018

Private Carl Williams wrote a letter home to his family on this day. He talks about how he has recently landed in France and hopes to receive a letter from someone soon. Williams was instantly killed in action on September 15th, 1918 a little over a month after this letter was written.


Dun. Aug. 11-18
Dear Cousin-
[…] We are stopping in an old French village now which must have been a beautiful place before the war but the inhabitants have left and some of the buildings are destroyed. France is sure a pretty country in summer, the harvest in on here now but you would laugh to see how it is done, mostly by hand tho [sic] I have seen a few binders and mowers. I suppose you are harvesting also by this time. […] I wrote you just after I landed in France but so far have not had a letter from you or anyone. I sure am homesick for a letter from someone so please write soon as it takes a long time to get here. […]
Greet everyone from me and please write soon your cousin
Pvt. C. O. Williams

Citation: "Williams, Carl O." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.7.1B

"British Break Teuton Forces in Two Drives" and "Gaining Ground on Vesle River" - The Daily People's Press. August 10, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 10, 2018

Travelling to Europe with the Red Cross

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 9, 2018

In this letter for her family, Helen Scriver writes about the steamer that she rode overseas. She says that this particular steamer is superior to all of the other steamers she has been on and mentions the immigrants that she has met from riding on the steamer. Scriver also mentions the woman who is in charge of her group, a Mrs. Fisher, who she describes as efficient and non-interfering. Scriver gives details about her uniform and a story of the officer at the entrance of the boat forgetting to check of her name causing confusion on board.


August 9, 1918 [...] Our accomodations are excellent. Being a traveler, and knowing this steamer is superior to either of the two which carried me to and from Europe in 1914. [...] The lady in charge of our group is a Mrs. Fisher from Santa Barba, California. If I had had the appointment to make I too would have chosen Mrs. Fisher. She is splendid efficient, and non interfering. [...] Quite a few of our do not seem to have the slightest comprehension of what not wearing jewelry might be thought to mean. One girl, whose uniform will be ready in Paris came on in a georgette waist and a string of large gold beads around her neck. It looked rather silly when the rest of us were choking in high collars and military uniforms with the thermometer up over 100.[...]
Wishing that you all might be along,

Citation: Helen Scriver Papers Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P362

"Where the Houses Have No Roofs and the German Helmets are Lying on the Ground"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 8, 2018

In this letter home to her parents, Marion Backus tells of the new place she is heading to in France. She describes it as the place where the homes have no roofs and where the German helmets are lying around everywhere on the ground. She also writes about her excitement to work/give aid to patients that she can talk to and understand what they want. Backus is following the front and is able to give aid to wounded American soldiers.


Aug 8- 1918
Dear Folks
We are traveling again today always on the move. We are going up where the houses have no roofs and where the german helmets are lying around on the ground we expect to camp in a barnyard […] We will live in tents and be among Americans only it is going to such [sic] a relief to not have to work with people that you can't talk to or know what they want. [...]
Love to all,

Citation: Marion Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1356


Subscribe to RSS - WW1 Daybook