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.
Sergeant First Class Ernest B.L. Eckberg of Minneapolis, Minnesota, served with the U.S. Army’s 79th Division during World War I. His soldier’s uniform consisted of four parts: a coat, trousers, belt, and hat. The belt is made of brown cloth, while the coat, trousers, and hat are made from green wool, which is quite brown in appearance. Eckberg’s coat features a name pin on the right breast pocket, and its arms are embellished with a number of patches: a military chevron on each sleeve and a 79th Division patch, a cross of Lorraine, on the left shoulder. The breech style trousers, which feature buttons along the calves, match the color of the coat.
Philip Longyear of Excelsior, Minnesota again writes to his family from his Medical Corps training camp in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He tells his mother that the past few days have been more relaxed than he anticipated, and recruits have had ample opportunity to see concerts downtown and entertain themselves inside their camp. Recently, the Pasadena unit used their German Red Cross dogs as entertainment for the other recruits. In their demonstration, one man would volunteer to run a great distance and lie down in the field. Then, the German dogs would be given an article of that man’s clothing, and in a matter of minutes, they would locate the “wounded” man. These dogs were to be used in the “no-man’s land” between enemy trenches. At the end of his letter, Longyear returns to more serious considerations of his military duties, and he confesses his worry that he will be too squeamish to provide first-aid at the front.
Allentown, Pa., July 2, 1917.
[...] Yesterday there must have been 10,000 people out here seeing the sights. The Pasadena unit, which has a couple German red cross dogs, got them out working for entertainment. They are the most wonderful trained animals I ever saw. One of the men would hold the dogs at one end of the half mile race track and another man would sneak away up to the other end and lie down in the grass with his hat beside him. Then the first man would let the dogs smell some article which the other had touched and say, "Go get", pointing in the direction. Off they would go, zigzagging till one of them would sight the fallen man and rush toward him. The dog would grab the man's hat and carry it back to the first man, put his paws on his chest and hand him the hat. They are to be used in No-man's land. They look just like a pair of wolves. [...] Our lecture this morning was how to treat burns, etc. It looks as though we might have to do some of that first aid work. I don't think I will shine too much at it or find it too agreeable. [...]
Lots of love,
"British Fighting for Lens" and "To Teach Germans Humility" - The Daily People's Press. July 1, 1917
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
"U.S. Troops are Landed in France" and "All Fear of Russians Making Separate Peace is Eliminated" - The Duluth Herald. June 27, 1917.
"German Infantry Repulsed" and "Recruiting for Regular Forces Active This Week" - The Daily People's Press. June 26, 1917
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
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]