WW1 Daybook

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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.

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WW1 Daybook

"British Fighting for Lens" and "To Teach Germans Humility" - The Daily People's Press. July 1, 1917

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

Gold Star Roll: Private Dwight R. Smithson - June 30, 1917

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

Today marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Private Dwight R. Smithson’s death while serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in France. A native of Stillwater, Minnesota, Smithson immigrated to Saskatchewan, Canada as an adult. At the outbreak of war, he volunteered to serve in the CEF along with the British Expeditionary Forces. In addition to being passionate about nature, Smithson was quite musically talented, and he even played in the 96th Battalion’s band before being transferred to another unit. At the time of his death, Smithson was serving in the 15th Battalion near Martincourt in Northeastern France. His squad of seven attempted to move to a post closer to the front, but they came under enemy fire, and Smithson was killed along with five other members of his squad. Smithson’s Gold Star Roll description paints him as a quiet but friendly individual with strong convictions. The description ends, “He was very peace-loving and enlisted reluctantly, but it is said by his comrades, he was afraid of nothing.”


"U.S. Soldiers Land at Port in France Eager for Action" and "Scathing Report Places Blame for Failure of Drive" - The Daily People's Press. June 28, 1917

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

"U.S. Troops are Landed in France" and "All Fear of Russians Making Separate Peace is Eliminated" - The Duluth Herald. June 27, 1917.

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

"German Infantry Repulsed" and "Recruiting for Regular Forces Active This Week" - The Daily People's Press. June 26, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 26, 2017

US Army Model 1917 steel helmet - June 25, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 25, 2017

In Twenty-First Century Minnesota, the term “doughboy” is probably more often associated with the Pillsbury mascot than the First World War. But during that conflict, the slang term “doughboy” in fact referred to army soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces. Leonard W. Melander wore the 1917 Model helmet while serving in the 351st Field Artillery Headquarters. Its design is simple: a shallow, olive drab bowl with a small, symmetrically flared brim. Its liner consists of black oilcloth sewn to a supporting band of leather, and the interior features a course felt pad and a leather strap.


Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 66.78

Celebrity Ambulance Drivers to Arrive at David Backus's Division - June 24, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 24, 2017

Still behind the Front, ambulance driver David Backus continues to enjoy himself and to report on the happenings within the Norton-Harjes ambulance division. On this particular day, Backus and others found time to play two full baseball games between their assignments. In his diary, Backus happily reports that he scored the winning run in the ninth inning of both games. Later that afternoon, the Norton-Harjes received word that multiple celebrities are to join the division as volunteer ambulance drivers. These new recruits include the leading actor from the 1915 play Fair and Warmer, two unnamed actors, and a “famous dancer” named Maurice. Backus likely refers not to the dancer, but rather to the French ballet composer Maurice Ravel, who is known to have volunteered as an ambulance driver during the First World War. Whatever the exact identities of these new celebrities, David Backus doubts their ability to perform in combat, noting slyly that it will be “fun to see how these chaps act under fire.”


Sunday June 24
Out nine - shaved - cleaned up. [...] played 2 - 9 inning games of ball. in both games we were tied with two down in the ninth & fortunately I was lucky each time and brought in the winning run. [...] There are eleven new men coming out here [...] & among them - Maurice - the famous dancer who has given 30 thousand francs & six cars to this Norton-harjes. Also - Vernon Castles brother-in-law, the leading man Hill from Fair&Warmer & two other actors. [...] Will be fun to see how these chaps act under fire. [...]

Citation: David H. Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]

"Teuton Offensive is Broken Down by Advance of Allies" and "Volunteers in Demand to Aid Red Cross Work" - The Daily People's Press. June 23, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 23, 2017

"Intense Attacks Continued by German Artillery after Infantry Fails to Advance" and "Six Big British General Field Hospitals are Taken Over by American Units of Red Cross" - The Duluth Herald. June 22, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 22, 2017

American Red Cross Button - June 21, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 21, 2017

The American Red Cross held a substantial presence overseas during the First World War, eventually establishing over fifty hospitals and sending nearly 20,000 nurses to active duty. Meanwhile, on the homefront the Red Cross mobilized an extensive network of 8.1 million volunteers, who solicited donations, provided entertainment to wounded veterans at military hospitals, and assisted in the production of garments and medical supplies. Today’s artifact, a 1¾-inch button which reads “Collector” and features a Red Cross symbol in the center, was likely worn by a Minnesotan Red Cross volunteer soliciting donations in their community. The button was worn approximately one hundred years ago today, during the week of June 18-25, 1917.
(Statistics from the American Red Cross website, “WWI and the American Red Cross,” http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/WWI. Statistics are likely reproduced from Henry P. Davison, The American Red Cross in the Great War. New York: Macmillan, 1919.)


Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 8581.67


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