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

German Crimes Calendar

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | January 1, 2018

A paper 1918 calendar that reads, "GERMAN CRIMES CALENDAR" across the top. It consists of six pages, with a calendar for the months of January through June on the front of each page, and July through December on the back. Each page also features an image and a description of crimes committed by the German Army. There are two holes in the tops of the pages with pieces of string tied through to hold the pages together. This calendar is a prime exampe of the anti-German sentiment that was rampant during WWI in America. Individuals were very distrustful of their German neighbors, and prejudice was at an all time high. Items like this were not uncommon, and were not seen as offensive during this time period.

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 12WM.90

Midnight in Coetquidan, France

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 31, 2017

William K Fraser was a Private First Class in the 151st Field Artillary, part of the U.S. Army 42nd Infantry ("Rainbow Division") and the same regiment we have seen through the eyes of George Leech. Fraser recived this diary for Christmas in 1917, and wrote entries consistently until July 1918.

Fraser's New Year's Eve was a bit uneventful, until it came time for midnight celebrations. It seems that others in Fraser's company did not appreciate his celebrations, as he had "hobnail shoes" thrown at him. Hobnail shoes are boots with small blunt metal projections on the soles for traction and durability.


December 31, 1917.
Nothing much. Stayed up till midnight. Then went thru company barracks with a crowd of fellows beating cans and awaking them up. Had our helmets on. Many hobnail shoes came after us. Bed 12:45 p.m.


"U-Boat Sunk; 4 Captured by U.S." and "To Appeal to Allies" - The Daily People's Press. December 30, 1917

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

"Japan Wants to Aid Allies" and "Peace Offer Will Go Before Allies" - The Twin City Star. December 29, 1918

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

The American Jewish World: On the Altar of Democracy

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

First Class Private Milton S. Mark of St. Paul died in France on December 17, 2017 from an illness that developed during his Atlantic crossing. He was 19 years old, and attended Central High School before serving in the military. Mark was featured on the cover of The Jewish American World newspaper on December 28, 1917 as the first St. Paul boy to die in U.S. Military service.

[...] Milton Marks, of St. Paul, a young Jew, was among those who went - and will not return. He is the first great sacrifice offering of St. Paul upon the altar of democracy. [...] The Jews of St. Paul will grieve at this loss. But if death had to come they will be proud that they were the first to make the great offering unto a freer world.

"Mark, Milton S." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.4F


David Backus Describes Christmas at War

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

This lengthy letter from David Backus to his mother, dated 28 December 1917, contains a variety of information. He recounts his Christmas festivities of decorating trees and stockings (which they filled themselves), as well as how he and his comrades spent their day off for the holiday. After expressing strong feelings about the Y.M.C.A., Backus comments on the dangers of pneumonia, though his mother shouldn't worry about him.


France, Dec. 28 1917
Dearest Mother:
Well Xmas is over we had a two day holiday but as the camp was in quarantine I could not get down to [Biarritz]. You will notice that I am a first lieutanant now. The weather certainly has been cold, have had snow on the ground for over two weeks and it snowed yesterday + again today. I am quite well and happy. Should send Father a check or via Wells Fargo for 55.00 to reimburse him for my Insurance, which he so kindly paid for me. [...] Yes we all donated in our barracks had two Xmas Trees [...] trimmed ours up, very well indeed. We each had a stocking hung on our bunk in the black hours, with our name on it filled with candy, nuts, apples + figs that we bought. Had three foot-ball games in the afternoon + a Minstral Show in the evening. Please don't subscribe anything to the Y.M.C.A. they charge about two prices more than the store even for things we are not liked, here at any rate. The Red Cross does more good in one day than the Y. does in a month. Pneumonia is very prevelant and a lot of fellows have died with it, oh don't worry. I have a corking sleeping bag, & 8 blankets, most of the poor fellows only have three & four then one and I take very good care of my feet. Wet feet I am afraid cause most of the [trembls] & cold, coowee! Tell Clinton to be sure & carry or take that sheepskin bag of mind, it will be a treasure and give him a lot of satisfaction. [...]
With Love your son

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

First U.S. Risk Holder Dies

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

On December 26, 1917, Private Edwin Peterson died in Illinois after a train accident. Peterson's death was well publicized because he was the first U.S. Risk Holder to receive the benefits of his policy. Newspapers transcribed for his file report that he had made one payment, of $6.50, on his insurance policy and that his mother recieved $10,000.


Citation: "Peterson, Edwin A.R." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.5B

Christmas Day Overseas

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

First Class Private Harry J. Madsen's Gold Star Roll file includes this letter to his family from his new camp in England on Christmas Day. He spent the day at the YMCA, and the letter is on YMCA H.M. Forces on Active Service stationary. He writes about Christmas there, wishes his family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and describes his journey to England.

Madsen was killed in action on July 19, 1918 in France.


England Dec 25 1917.
My Dear Mother,
To day is Christmas and I arrived at my new camp this morning. I have already had my dinner. We had our Christmas dinner on the boat. I'm well and getting along fine. I hope this letter will find yous all well as it leaves me. And heres hoping you's all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year. I'm today enjoying myself in the Y.M.C.A. I'm enjoying a good smoke I got a box of cigars as chirstmas present from my wife. have you heard from her[?] She said that she was going to write to you. Don't worry about me mother because I'm getting along fine and I expect to be back home in a short time. We had no trouble at all in getting across the water we enjoyed the trip all the way. We had no storm at all. [...] Please ans[wer] soon and write often. Best love & wishes to all. As ever your son,
Harry J. Madsen

Citation: "Madsen, Harry J." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.4F

Christmas Eve Dinner: David Backus At Training Camp

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

In his diary on December 24, 1917, David Backus recounts his Christmas Eve dinner with friends in town. During war time on the front, decadent food was rare and meals beyond the basics were reserved for special occasions, like the holiday season. Backus and other writers in the MNHS archives almost always recount their holiday dinners.


Backus diary page

Monday Dec. 24-17.
Recieved a letter from Ed + two from Mother. No flying, today, peach of a day though a little cloudy. Well Percy Pyne John Young, Corverse, Box, Stuffy + I all walked over Paudy, 3 miles ordered dinner, which we ate at 6 P.M. Some dinner soup, broiled chicken, potatoes, French Fried toast jam, [...] custard, [...] red wine + champagne. Home two rolled in.

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

"Italians Drive Teuton Army" and "Enemy Masses Starve" - The Daily People's Press. December 23, 1917

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


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