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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 Troops Penetrate Teuton Lines for a Mile" and "Entire Structure of German Plotting in U.S. May Be Revealed" - The Duluth Herald. October 4, 1917

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

I Was A U.S. Marine at 17

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


Percey Christianson here describes, in retrospect, his journey to enlist in the Marines. Christian initially tried to join the Navy after hearing that a family friend had lost his life on the front lines. He felt that he should take his friend's place in the military, and convinced his mother to give him permission to join, but was rejected from the Navy because he had a "rupture that would interfere with active duty in the Navy." Christian returned home and had an operation to repair the rupture, and two weeks later went back to Chicago to attempt enlist in the Marines. Christian's story echoes those of many young people, inspired by patriotism and a sense of duty to take action and do their part in the war effort.

 


One morning in the year 1917, during World War One, the news came thru that that Clinton Glidden had been killed in the battle of Belle Woods in France. [...] This same morning of 1917, I asked my Mother if she thought it was right that this dear friend of our family had lost his life in France and we were doing nothing to help. She was puzzeled [sic] as to what I meant. I explained that I felt it my duty to enlist in the service. She replied that I was too young and they would not take me for military service. I explained to her, that if she would sign the papers to let me join the service, they would except [sic] me. It took time and effort to get my mother to agree to do this. I kept telling her of Clinton Glidden and how I felt that it was my duty to take his place where he had fallen in Belle Wood, France. She finally consented, and I left for Chicago to enlist in the Navy.
The Navy turned me down. The examining board of doctors explained that I had a rupture that would interfere with active duty in the Navy. [...] I told my Mother that I wanted to enter the DeKalb Hospital and be operated on at once and return to Chicago to try and enlist again. [...] Two weeks after the operation, I again left for Chicago to enlist. This time, feeling I should be physically perfect, I decided to enlist in the Marine Corp. I was broken hearted when the examining doctor told me that he did no think that he could pass me for service. His explaination was that the incision made at the time of the operation was not healed enough so that it was safe to go through any excessive strain. I told him about my try for the Navy and what I had done to correct it. After consultation with other doctors they decided that by the time I would get into active hard training the incision would be healed enough to take the strain. They inducted me as U.S. Marine right then and there. I was the proudest guy in the world. [...]

Citation: Percy B. Christianson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2371 Box 1

Letters From the Front

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


William W. Bartlett of Minneapolis wrote to Senator Knute Nelson about his sons, Walter and Marshall, who were serving with other Minnesota men overseas in France, in a section of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps (the American volunteer ambulance corps). He describes the awards and casualties of some of the sections with mostly Minnesotan members, and says he has only heard of one Minnesota boy who quit the service and returned home.

William Bartlett also included a transcribed letter from one of his sons, Walter Bartlett. Walter describes the scene where his section is currently serving, at an advance post. The scene on the Verdun front is mostly one of devastation with shell holes and destroyed wagons littering the woods, but his description remains upbeat, as their movement into this area means that the front line is advancing. He also describes a meeting with his superiors, where he and his section were informed that their service was complete, and they could return home or extend their volunteer service under American authority. Walter says he has decided to stay.
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William W. Bartlett of Minneapolis wrote to Senator Knute Nelson about his sons, Walter and Marshall, who were serving with other Minnesota men overseas in France, in a section of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps (the American volunteer ambulance corps). He describes the awards and casualties of some of the sections with mostly Minnesotan members, and says he has only heard of one Minnesota boy who quit the service and returned home.

William Bartlett also included a transcribed letter from one of his sons, Walter Bartlett. Walter describes the scene where his section is currently serving, at an advance post. The scene on the Verdun front is mostly one of devastation with shell holes and destroyed wagons littering the woods, but his description remains upbeat, as their movement into this area means that the front line is advancing. He also describes a meeting with his superiors, where he and his section were informed that their service was complete, and they could return home or extend their volunteer service under American authority. Walter says he has decided to stay.


October 1st, 1917.
Honorable Knute Nelson,
Washington, D.C.
Dear Senator:

[...] There are, to the best of my information, some fifty or more Minnesota men in the Norton-Harjes sections alone. These sections are made up of forty-five men each. Section 62, in which my two sons are members, is called the Minnesota Section, because twenty-seven of the members are from the state, and most of them from the University of Minnesota. Sections 61, 62, and 63 are largely composed of Minnesota men [...]. They are a bunch of fine fellows, and have rendered splendid service. Several have already won the Cross du Guerre, and the enthusiastic commendation of the French authorities, while two of our Minnesota boys, one in Section 61, the other in Section 62, have been killed, during the last month, and two others severely wounded. These casualties came after the time when the sections were officially disbanded, and the boys given permission to return home. They elected to continue in the service, still as volunteers, until the United States could send men to take their places. [...]

The letter [from my son Walter] bears date September 1st, and reads as follows:
"We are back on duty at the same old front. Of course, we have moved our advance post a kilometer, so as to follow the French in their advance in this district. The brother [Marshall] and I are the only ones up at this advance post, and when we get a load we send another car up. This advance has been great. Every where in the woods are shell holes, and also the roads are all filled up holes. The Germans sure hit this wood in their attempt to get the French guns. I walked up to the edge of the wood, where all the land is clear and the trees all shot down, further than ever before and it is a terrible sight. The shell holes, six feet deep and teen feet across touch each other; horses with their harness still on hitched to their smashed up wagons on the road side. On either side of this road, are coils of wire, piles of shells, empty and good, hand grenades, picks and shovels, milk cans, gunny sacks and torn down phone wres. We are now about five kilometers from the Boche lines, and through some glasses I could see a wood that they hold, and that we want. An officer who has a battery of 75s here, said that the Hill 304, has been leveled like a table. He never saw anything before like it, absolutely everything is down, and no stone lies whole; they are all broken up in bits and are sand again. [...] Mr. Norton said we could jump the job now, as it would be permissible, as they had broken their part of the contract, or that we could wait until the United States had men to replace us, (which they expect to do, 2-6 weeks;) or that we could sign up in this work for the duration of the war, and they would be glad to have experienced men break the new comers. In the second case, if we stayed our six months, or until we were replaced, we would be doing France a great favor. As we came primarily to help her, I feel like staying as long as I can continue to aid this suffering nation."

I am confident that what my son writes, reflects the concensus [sic] of opinion of all of the young men in the sections, with which he is closely in touch. Thus far, I have heard of but one Minnesota boy, who availed himself of the privilege of quitting.
[...]
With best regards, I am,
Very truly yours,
W.W. Bartlett

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26

"Meant to Seize U.S. Industries" and "Fail to Reach London" - The Daily People's Press. September 30, 1917

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

"To Commandeer American Craft" and "Germans are Hard Pressed by Allies" - The Twin City Star. September 29, 1917

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

The Danger Zone!: William W. Dean Crosses the Atlantic

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


As the RMS Carmania reached the most dangerous part of its journey across the Atlantic, delivering American soldiers to the front lines, William W. Dean described the atmosphere on the ship in his diary. Cautionary measures reached their height in anticipation of potential torpedo attacks, and strict rules were enforced to keep panic from igniting in the soldiers quarters. Dean also reflected on the false sense of security that having a gun gave him.

 

Dean letter


Friday, September 28th:
"We have reached the danger zone! Life belts are to be worn all the time and used as a pillow at night. We are to sleep in our clothes, extra guards have been placed both above and below decks to prevent the slightest violation of any orders and to prevent and quell any panic starters. Any man who violates a regulation or any sentry who permits the slightest violation of any order will probably be punished by death. The officers carry loaded sidearms and in case the whistle blows five times he is not to hesitate to use his pistol on any panic starter. So spoke the commanding officers, Colonel Hunt...It is strange what confidence a loaded pistol gives a man. In an emergency I think I would rather lose my life belt than my pistol...This sure is a nice little pleasure trip."

Citation: William Blake Dean and Family. Papers. P1444 Box 3

Senator LaFollette: Free Speech During Wartime Controversy

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


This report, sent to Senator Frank B. Kellogg by the Minnesota Commission for public safety, discusses whether the Governor of Minnesota can remove elected officials from office for "seditious utterances" against the war, in reference to Civil War records. The Commission also included a Secret Service report from a citizen who witnessed "Germans" from a rural community near Pipestone, Minnesota discussing their disapproval for the war after hearing a speech given in St. Paul by Senator LaFollette of Wisconsin, the elected official under consideration. The witness reports, "they lauded LaFollette to the skies, and with him knocked the President, Congress, the Government, our part in the War, in fact, everything but the Germans." Senator LaFollette was a vocal opponent of the war, and advocate for free speech during wartime. The Commission petitioned the Senate to expel LaFollette for his inflammatory speech, but press reports indicating that he had "justified the sinking of the Lusitania," as discussed by the group observed by the witness, turned out to be false. The letter from the commission expresses concerns about the effects of LaFollette's (purported) speech "on the Pro-German mind." This report and the ensuing controversy in the Senate are prime examples of the censorship that certain government agencies advocated for during the war. (source: https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/expulsion_cases/101RobertLaFollette_expulsion.htm)

 

Nelson report
Nelson report
Nelson report


Sept. 28 1917.
Hon. F.B. Kellogg,
United States Senate,
Washington, D.C.
My dear Senator:-
You have doubtless received by this time official copies of the Commission's resolution regarding Senator LaFollette. I enclose herewith for your information a Secret Service report which shows very plainly the affect of LaFollette's speech on the pro-German mind. This report from a little country community near Pipestone is just a squall that shows the way in which that wind blows. [...]

With sincere regard,
Yours truly,
[C.W. Ames]

[Enclosed:]
"An observer writes from the Southwestern part of the State, September 23:
"I stayed to see if the Germans were going to have a meeting last night out at their country hall, found out that they were and attended it. The young people had a dance from eight to ten-thirty, to hide the real nature of the gathering. After this the old fellows, about thirty in number, decided that the coast was clear, so they got together and began to talk:
"Now that Lafollette had justified the sinking of the Lusitania, they might as well say that it was right in public. They knew now that moneyed men and that Englishman Wilson caused the War, and they must get together to stop it. That they would wait now for further action until Townley came to speak. He would speak at Slayton the 12th and at Marshall the 13th of October. They lauded LaFollette to the skies, and with him knocked the President, Congress, the Government, our part in the War, in fact, everything but the Germans."

[Brief]
BRIEF WITH RESPECT TO AUTHORITY TO REMOVE PUBLIC OFFICERS MAKING SEDITIOUS SPEECHES.
The question for determination in the present case is whether or not the Governor of Minnesota, on the advice of the Commission of Public Safety, has power to remove from office any officer other than the so-called "constitutional officers" of the State, where they in public addresses and also in private conversation make statements denouncing the War in which the Government of the United States is now engaged as unjust and countenancing and in fact encouraging resistance to the draft act by picturing the men who are drafted as martyrs engaged in an unholy cause. The particular officials whose removal is now under consideration are the Mayor and City Attorney of New Ulm and the County Auditor of Brown County. The City Attorney, in a prepared speech, used language of extreme violence. It appears that a copy of this speech is in the hands of the Commission, and according to the Commission's report to the Governor, he, among other things, inquired of his audience to know why our young men should be sent abroad to fight against the German army "as murderers engaged to murder". He suggested to them that before such foreign service was required some way could be found to avoid it.

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26

"French Repel Enemy Assault" and "Soldiers Will Be Escorted To The Train" - The Daily People's Press. September 26, 1917

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

"Double Air Raid Made Over England by Zeppelins and Airplanes; Fifteen Killed" and "American Soldiers in France Want Tobacco Like They Had at Home" - The Duluth Herald. September 25, 1917

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

US Army Trench Whistle

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


Trench whistles were often used for signaling at the Front. This whistle was used by Norman F. Claussen of St. Paul, Minnesota, during his service in the Field Artillery in both the Mexican Border War and World War I. This type of U.S. Army whistle was used widely by commissioned and non-commissioned officers alike. It is somewhat simply designed, made from brass and covered with a layer of brown finish, then attached to the carrying ring by a brass chain and hook. A cork ball inside allows it to produce noise, and an engraving of “Horstman, Phila” specifies the company and location in which it was produced. The Claussen arrived in Liverpool, England, to begin his military service on September 23rd, 1917.

 

Trench whistle

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 1999.74.12

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