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.
"World War is Formally Ended with Signing of Treaty with the Germans" - The Duluth Herald. June 28, 1919
Occupational therapy was a common treatment for wounded soldiers returning home from World War I. MNHS houses numerous items created at the United States General Hospital #29 located at Fort Snelling.
- Toy dog made of painted wood with movable limbs, tail, ears, and head. Maker unknown.
- Hammered brass cufflinks made by V.C. Parsons of the US Army 108th Ambulance Train, Company D.
- Woven raffia purse made by Carl B. Trove of the US Army 1st Division, 26th Infantry, Company B
Minnesota Historical Society Collections.
"Negro Editor Blames Mayor for Race Riot" and "Fires of Hate Slowly Burn Out in Chicago" - The People's Press. August 1, 1919
This letter from Bernard Gallagher, written on January 12, 1919, details the events that occurred while he was a prisoner in a German POW camp. Even though he had been released in November, Gallagher explains he waited until this date to write about his experiences because he was "so steeped in the bitterness and depression which that experience brings upon nearly everyone who goes thru it, that it was impossible for me to write about it in anything like a sane manner." This letter provides eye opening first hand accounts of what Gallagher saw and experienced behind enemy lines. The German army had dirty, understaffed medical facilities that caused most of the men to develop infections. Very little food was provided, and what was offered was generally moldy. The horses that Gallagher saw were very skinny and he notes that the Germans lacked supplies overall in almost every department. By the end of the letter, Gallagher comments, "A gun for me next time, if I must go to war."
London, January 12, 1919
Dear Mother and All:
[…] In a letter a few weeks ago from France I told you briefly of the main places where I had been and some of the most interesting events up to the evening of March 28th. At the time of writing that letter I was still living in the shadow of the 8 months captivity in Germany and was so steeped in the bitterness and depression which that experience brings upon nearly everyone who goes thru it, that it was impossible for me to write about it in anything like a sane manner. Now, I have been out of it for six weeks, living among friends who are flushed with victory, and in direct touch with home by cable and letter so that most of my bitterness has gone and I look back upon the whole experience only as an unpleasant memory and am able now perhaps to tell you something about it in a reasonable way. The twenty (or thereabouts) wounded men who were still with me and unable to be gotten away when the Germans came in upon us were on stretchers on the floor in four or five little French cellars […] The German officers were decent enough when they saw the nature of the place and said that in the morning ambulances would come and take the men away. Morning came but no ambulances and the following morning came and still no ambulances. The British were now shelling the village heavily and it was hardly possible to get in or out of the celler [...] Meanwhile, of course, nothing in the nature of food or drink was provided. Finally, as the third night was approching and two or three men had already died I protested bitterly to some German officers and one of them came back with 6 or 7 men, we found some more old French vehicles and wheeled the men back to some kind of an Advanced Dressing Station from which place they were taken back 3 or 4 miles further in Ambulances to what was called a Field Hospital. It was the worst place I have ever seen and men died there by the score due to infection and lack of care. It consisted simply of some French Army huts along the roadside and not enough of them at that and the men lay on the floors packed like sardines and simply crawling with vermin. There were about 50 British there—all heavily wounded, and 300 German wounded were received there in 6 days. Of course it was intended only for emergency treatment- hasty amputations etc. […] Nearly every case was infected of course but unless a man developed a temperature of about 103 degrees not much attention was paid to him and by that time it was probably necessary to amputate a limb if indeed not too late to do anything. […] Spent 5 days at Carlsruhe and then, with 2 other American Officers they had there was taken to Villigen on May 22nd or 23rd. Of course, all this time we were closely guarded and locked up and had nothing to eat but what the Germans gave us- a small ration of bread and the inevitable soup which now consisted mostly of carrots. […] The attitude of the Germans in the spring when they thought they were winning was rather arrogant. […] We studied and read to kill time and 2 or 3 times a week could go for a walk outside the gates after giving our word of honor, which the Germans expects others to respect even if the treaty is a “scrap of paper”. […]
Love to all,
Bernard Gallagher and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P487
This letter from Paul Thompson, a Y.M.C.A. secretary stationed in Rome, describes the shows he and the other secretaries put on for the wounded soldiers over Christmas. The group travelled to different hospitals performing and provided patients with a letter that had a postage already on it so that it could be sent home. Thompson writes that one man who was close to death would use this postage Christmas present from them to write his last words to his wife. Along with this letter it also includes a document titled "The Work of the American Y.M.C.A. in Rome with the Italian Army." It is a copy of the letter that was sent to the Ripon Press and lists some of the jobs/accomplishments of the Y.M.C.A. in Rome. In Thompson's opinion, these accomplishments strengthen "the bonds of friendship between Italy and America."
Roma, li December 29, 1918
Dear Father, Ruth and William,-
[…] We started our Xmas program the Saturday before at one of the tuberculosis hospitals. Gave them a slight of hand show, an orange apiece and a postcard of the Y.M.C.A. all stamped in advance so that they could write home for Xmas. One poor fellow wrote to his wife the last greeting he will ever send on one of these cards as he is near death. […] There were over 300 soldiers, many of them badly injured waiting for the shows to begin & The [sic] professor was sure he couldn’t sing without a piano. Finally one of the head nurses discovered an old melodeon and they brought it out. His maestro (pianist) nearly fell over with laughter when he saw it. “Coraggio” (courage) I whispered to him. “Cuore di ferro” (a heart of iron) he whispered back and then they started. They both got to laughing so that they had hard work to start but it amused the soldiers more than if the piano had been there. This was followed by the sleigh [sic] of hand show and later by a distribution of oranges and postcards. […]
Happy New Year,
Paul J. Thompson
Paul Thompson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. A/T475
This bulletin was sent out by the Headquarters of the 88th Division on this date to inform discharged soldiers that gas masks authorized as souvenirs are designed towards gases used in warfare, not gases found in civilian life such as natural gas, carbon monoxide, or gasoline fumes. Discharged soldiers with these masks should take caution if they decide to use them as more than a souvenir. The bulletin also announces that medical officers will be designated as Delousing and Bathing Officers. The medical officers designated to this new position would have been in charge of ridding the men of any lice that may be on them, their clothes or their bedding. Lice carry disease, specifically typhus and trench fever which reached epidemic levels in the trenches throughout this war. It was easily spread because of the close proximity of all the men.
26 December, 1918.
[...] In view of the fact that respirators may be authorized for retention by all troops as souvenirs, the following instructions should be widely distributed. The respirator is perfect protection against all concentrations of warfare gases encountered on the battlefield. It is not proof, however, against such gases as:
(a) Coal, water or natural gas used for heating and lighting.
(b) Carbon Monoxide, encountered mainly as mine gas.
(c) Oxides of nitrogen, such as laughing gas and products of explosions.
(d) Fumes of gasoline, benzine, alchol [sic], etc. [...]
U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th
This decorative Christmas card with the original envelope is addressed to Lieutenant Donald F. Bigelow in Paris France, 1918. Bigelow was from Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 2002.160.345.A,B
Victor Johnson describes a very luxurious feast that he and the other soldiers were given for the Christmas holiday. They were given exactly what they had requested to eat for breakfast and for dinner. After they had finished their dinner meal, each of the men also received a bar of chocolate, a cigar, 2 packages of cigarettes, a package of lemon snops (sic), and two cans of tobacco. The dinner and gifts had been just what Johnson had wanted and needed. He seemed to be very excited and thankful for the feast since he went on to write out a menu diagram, as well as listing off everything that he had eaten. After the celebrations it was back to work as usual. Johnson writes that after supper he “went on guard for the next 24 hours”.
Merry Christmas. Today we got up at 8:00 am, and had breakfast at 9:00 am, which consisted of pancakes and syrup and coffee all we wanted to eat. (That was something new because we never got enough of them before.) I put nine big ones away myself so felt just in saying I did my share to down the jacks. Then we had Dinner at 2:00p.m, which consisted of as follows. (All we wanted to eat.) Turkey, mashed potatoes, cellery (sic), grave (sic), nuted Fruit salad, a big piece of pie, nuts and hot chocolat. (sic) […]
Victor O. Johnson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1987
Ruth Cutler was an American Red Cross nurse in France throughout WW1. She died of an pneumonia, complications of Influenza on this date in Paris, France. Her family received a telegram 5 days later on December 28th, 1918 telling them of their daughter's death. This post also includes Cutler's passport, which was stamped "Cancelled" on January 24, 1919, after her death.
[...] Deeply regret to inform you cable from Paris just received[.] olds states Ruth died midnight December 23rd double pneumonia [. ] Probably contracted coming through England [.] Every possible care extra nurses American specialists and best professional skill employed prudden with her constantly[.] Arranging funeral thursday afternoon[.] Deepest sympathy[...]
Ruth Cutler and family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 144.G.5.2F