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

Target Practice and a Plane Crash

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 6, 2017

As his military training continues, David Backus describes a day of still and moving target practice. The days seems fairly uneventful, except for the description of a plane crash and injuries sustained by one of his comrades. Lewis, he says, will live, but this incident highlights the danger these men faced even before seeing combat.


Backus diary page

Thursday Dec. 6-17.
Cold again. Well we; that is french waiting for 18 meter & 15 meter- Solo went down to the Rifle Range in trucks. Glorious autumn day- crisp & clear as a hell. Well I was high man (out of the 22 of us) 31 - out of 47 - at moving targets, shooting 2 to 5 shots at a time. Lewis Gun Vernon in aerobatic class got smashed up - in hospital. wing slip at 100 meters on turn. Cut about the head, ribs etc. will live - not dangerous[.] in the afternoon we went to the traps and shot clay pigeons. Got a good start 5 out of 8 then blew up - first score 7 out of 25 at that was third high out of 17 men, but that was rotton shooting should have broken ten to 12 anyway. Walked up to village got my laundry- had omlet and chocolate.

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

"Wilson Favors War on Austria" and "Fighting Stops on Russ Front" - The Daily People's Press. December 5, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 5, 2017

"War With Austria-Hungary" and "Armistice Between Russ, Austrians and Germans is in Force" - The Duluth Herald. December 4, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 4, 2017

David H. Backus is appointed 1st Lieutenant of the U.S. Air Force

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 3, 2017

On this day in 1917, David Backus recieved his offical appointment to the U.S. Air Force as a 1st Lieutenant. Though a significant acheivement, it was only a step in Backus' journey from ambulance volunteer to combat pilot. The appointment barely makes his diary, with only a mention that he is now a Lieutenant, as his training for the front lines continues. Backus had prevously trained in Tours, France and recieved his pilots licence, and would go on to be credited with the destruction of four enemy aircraft during his service in World War I.


Backus First Lieutenant

Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His Life in the War Zone, France

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 2, 2017

When Edward Gilkey was stuck and killed by a high explosive shell in July 1918, his commanding officer First Sergeant Clifford Brundage found his diary on his body and returned it to his parents. His parents later had the diary published in memory of their son. The diary is an almost daily account of Gilkey's life with the 6th Engineers from the day he left for France, December 2, 1917, to his last entry on the day he died July 20, 1918. Through this diary we learn of the daily life and trials of soldiers on and near the Front. This entry, the first in Gilkey's diary, relates the day of his departure from Washington, D.C. with his fellow troops as they begin their journey to France.


Washington, D. C.
Sunday, December 2nd, 1917. -- Received orders at noon to hand in cots and strike tents. Lined us up with full packs, stood retreat. Dorothy Deitrich and friend down to see us off. She took my picture, promised to send me one. Said goodbye. Waited around with full packs 'til 9:00p.m. Escorted by band to gate. Girls sang "Goodby Broadway, Hello France." That which left the most impression "Goodby Sweethearts, Wives and Mothers, etc." Gave us a fine send-off. Marched to the train which was stationsed at Bureau of Engraving. Two trains, one battalion to a train. Dosed off and on, Woke up at Philadelphia.

Citation: Gilkey, Edward. Edward Norman Gilkey: His Diary of His LIfe in the War Zone, France. Minnesota Historical Society. 114.D.4.3B

Keeping Secrets: Military Secrecy in World War I

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 1, 2017

This memorandum from the papers of the 350th Infantry Regiment was given to officers training at Fort Dodge, Iowa. It addresses the security of troops and instructs officers not to grant interviews to the press on military matters, as that is the job of intelligence officers. The memorandum also lists specific topics not to be discussed with the public, including troop movements, supplies or equipment, training methods or degree of training, and supply contracts. Though today we take for granted the necessity of military secrecy for the safety of troops, this idea was new for many people in the World War I era.

December 1, 1917.
I. Officers, other than those specifically designated by the Commanding General, will not grant interviews on military matters to representatives of the press.
II. Press representatives will be received at certain stated times by the Intelligence Officer, who will give out available information. Reporters will respect the office hours of the officers of this Division.
III. Under no circumstances will information involving the following subjects be given out for publication:
(a) Movements of troops to or from this Division, or of individuals ot Europe.
(b) Supplies or equipment. Thie (sic) includes news regarding the amount of materials on hand or their receipt; e.g. rifles, artillery pieces, blankets.
(c) Contracts for military supplies; e.g. airship fabrics, overcoats, gas masks, etc.
(d) Special training in modern methods. Degree of training of our troops.
(e) Shipping or transports or whereabouts of aviation schools.
(f) Social entertainments in honor of departing oficers or soldiers.
(g) Casualty lists that will show organization to which soldier belonged; or letters from any soldier which would indicate his unit.
By command of Brigadier General Getty:

Citation: U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th

"Germans Accept Russ Proposals" and "Rainbows Are Across The Sea" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. November 30, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 30, 2017

Thanksgiving in Paris

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 29, 2017

This entry in David Backus's diary describes his Thanksgiving celebrations over seas in France. According the Backus, his commrades had just gotten paid their commissions and were using the holiday to spend their pay. They were also treated to "some dinner," with all the comforts of a classic American Thanksgiving meal.

Backus diary page

Thursday Nov. 29
Thanksgiving. Inspection. Cleaned up. Read. Several large crap games in progress. Read. Well last night, 72 of the fellows swore in got their commission. [...] Well after several false alarms, we had dinner at 4 o'clock, some dinner. Turkey, stuffing, jelly, white bread, gravy, celery bread + coffee + cake.

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

"Ready to Draft Aliens in Army" and "Allies' Break With Russ Near" - The Daily People's Press. November 28, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 28, 2017

"Desperate Efforts of Huns To Drive British From Their New Positions End In Failure" and "U.S. Sailors Save Germans" - The Duluth Herald. November 27, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | November 27, 2017


Subscribe to RSS - WW1 Daybook