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.
"Entire Country to be Dry Year From Today" and "Peace Delegates at Full Speed" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. January 16, 1919
Many soldiers expected to be discharged and sent home after the signing of the Armistice, and were therefore surprised and disheartened when they were forced to remain abroad. In this letter from May 3rd, 1919, nearly six months after the war ended, Lee Beckman writes that the men have little desire to work since the Armistice had been signed. They feel there is no use in working if they will all be paid just as much and will still be discharged at the same time. Beckman says that since it costs him a little more than a dollar a day to stay in France he is going to enjoy the time he has left instead of spending it working.
Goudre Court, France
May 3 1919
[…] I’m supposed to be working on the road this afternoon with four other fellows, but I sneaked away, and when I got here at the “Y”, I found the other four reading magazines. As far as work is concerned no one has done anything over here since the Armistice. All the work I’ve done since then, I could do in ten days if it was necessary. Do you suppose I'll be so lazy when I get Discharged? I know I won't. This isn't really laziness tho. But whats (sic) the use of working when it does you no good. Get just as much pay, and get home just as quick. Whether we work or not. […]
With all my love and kisses and hoping to see you soon. I am yours, yours, yours.
Lee Beckman, Letters Home from France. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2353
In this letter written to the staff at the Minnesota Historical Society on February 2nd, 1919, Raymon Bowers explains that there are many men left abroad who are eager to get home. Some men are doing anything they can to get moved farther up the list to be sent home sooner. Bowers says he recently heard that being a farmer would move him up the list, so he changed his information so that he was also a farmer. Says that if a man dressed as a farmer shows up to the Historical Society building, they should double check that it isn’t him before they kick him out, as in he would be dressed to fit the part.
Feb. 2 1919
Dear Mr. Talman,
[…] It’s nearly two weeks since I landed + every thing [sic] remains the same, as when I arrived. Six hundred men had left, Twelve hundred were ready- and still are waiting. Some dude was foolish enough to develop the flu and since they have been under quarantine. I'm surprised that more haven't got it. Doubtless it is due to the fact that the health of the boys is very good on arrival. For a while many had hopes of leaving soon for home; but the way things have moved since I arrived; it doesn't look that way. There is much talk as to what is necessary in order to get on the evacuation list. The latest being- if you’re a farmer “tout de suit”. I’m a farmer now: + should you in the distant future see some seed float into the Hist. Soc. with number twenty shoes, overalls, a corncob pipe pipe [sic] in one corner of the mouth and a plug of tabacco in the other- well take a good look before kicking him out for it may be me. […] Uncle Sam certainly planned for a long war + would have handed the Hun some awful doses of medicine this spring, if the war would have lasted. Until you have seen what has been accomplished over here; you can never fully realize what has been really done. Uncle Sam made up his mind + went to it with a vim and vigor almost superhuman. […]
Raymon James Bowers Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P111
This bulletin was sent out by the Headquarters of the Second Army, informing officers on how to protect their troops against the cold. Shelter, fires, winter clothing and best ways of drying clothing are addressed, with the intent of keeping the soldiers healthy. The bulletin makes it clear that people should avoid crowding together for warmth, as this causes influenza and pneumonia to spread faster. Other cold weather hazards include trench foot and freezing to death.
December 9, 1918
THE CAMPAIGN AGAINST WINTER
The troops of the American Expeditionary Forces are entering upon a winter campaign. Cold takes heat and strength from the body. If the cold is sufficiently intense and there is but little protection against it, the soldier will be frozen to death in a short time. This may happen during severe weather. The slow effects of less severe cold though less obvious are more dangerous. By long exposure the soldier becomes weakened so that he falls victim to any sort of infection which may be present. Disasters from cold are not necessary. They come from neglect of duty on the part of the Supply Officers Unit Commanders or individual soldiers. [...]
U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th
Oscar Mather was born in Detroit, Michigan. In 1918, he volunteered for wartime foreign service with the American Red Cross and ended up with the Swiss and Rumanian Red Cross commissions charged with conveying ARC relief supplies from Berne to Berlin and Warsaw. In this account he wrote in 1927, Mather describes the day he arrived in Belin. It seems he had high expectations for the people and sights that he would see, but in the end "the people did not impress as being any different from those of other foreign countries." Mather’s group was responsible for delivering the first truck load of ARC supplies to a Russian prison camp near Berlin, where the wooden barracks reminded him of "the lumber camps of Northern Minnesota."
[...] At four in the afternoon on Friday we arrived at the suburbs of Berlin and great rejoycing took place in our humble coach. Grips were packed, shoes were shined and there was a general picking up and cleaning up. Visions of rolling into our destination, Hamburg Lehrter Bahnhof, in time to call the A.R.C. before the offices closed, being met with an auto and conveyed to a good hotel in time for dinner, floated thru our minds. But alas! Going into Berlin on a freight train and going in on a passenger train our [sic] two very different operations. Our merry progress came to a stop. [...] On the whole the people [Germans] did not impress me as being any different from those of other foreign countries. There were many well dressed, sleek, fat persons and also many who looked far from prosperous.There were four hundred U.S. troops in Berlin and vicinity, most of whom were out at the Russian prison camps. We visited one of these camps at Rhulaben, five miles out of Berlin. There were about 1850 Russian prisoners confined there at that time; they were living inwooden [sic] barracks, the interior of which reminded me of the lumber camps of Northern Minnesota. The men were sitting around, usually visiting or playing cards. They all looked pale and their flesh seemed soft and flabby but they did not look hungry. To these Russian prisoners we had the distinction of taking the first truck load of supplies delivered by the American Red Cross. [...]
Oscar Lord Mathers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P2256
Agnes Martin was a Red Cross nurse stationed in France and Germany with the American Expeditionary Forces. In this letter to her family dated February 15, Martin describes traveling through France and into Germany after the armistice was signed, saying that the devastated areas she had seen before had now been cleaned up, and families that had been evacuated were beginning to return to their homes. Martin also writes about her continuing duties as a nurse and provides information about how nurses are to act around enlisted soldiers. For example, nurses are to not allowed to go out or receive any calls from enlisted men.
Feb. 15 1919
Dear Uncle Sam + Aunt Connie and Monica if she is there.
[…] It was an interesting experience tho [sic] to get up here quite soon after the Armistice as we came thru [sic] a lot of the devastated area before it got all clened [sic] away. […] Many of the villages into which we passed would have scarcely a light so you would know they had been evacuated because of shell fire and had not returned. They were beginning to get back as our train was quite crowded and whole families would disembark at the various stations. […] My star patient went home today and I miss you very much. He was an electrician the highest non-commissioned officer in the army. Come from Jeun and was the funniest man we all liked him so much. Last night he was thanking me for what I had done for him and said he had not realized before he came how much he missed talking to girls not that he had talked more to me than he had to all the American women he had come in contact with over here, and that when he saw an officer with a nurse it was the only time he wished he was an officer. You see we are not allowed to go out or receive calls from enlisted men and the really nice ones miss it very much. […]
Affectionately your niece,
Agnes J. Martin
Agnes J. Martin Letters. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P121
The end of the war meant freedom for many captured prisoners. The letter was written over the course of several days by military doctor Bernard Gallagher of Wilton, Minnesota, who had been a German prisoner of war since March, 1918. The letter is addressed to a Sister Marie Frances, who apparently wrote to Gallagher during his time at the prison camp. He says the letters he received gave him pleasure through his anxious days at the camp and he is sorry that he wasn't able to respond to her sooner. Gallagher writes that he is happy to be free and doesn't want to think about all of the days and nights he spent as a prisoner.
Minnesota Base Hospital Unit 26
Allerey France, Dec. 6- 1918
Dear Sr. [sister] Marie Frances:
Several of your letters, probably not all, reached me in Germany during the long and anxious days there and it is needless for me to say the pleasure they gave me. I was very sorry not to be able to write to all of you often but found it necessary to confine my very limited outgoing correspondence to the folks at home. I'm sure they suffered much more acutely than I did during all this miserable experience and my heart aches to think of their sorrowing days and nights. But war at last is a cruel game and I'm sure it is the people at home in all countries who suffer the most. […]
A wide variety of medals and medallions were created after the conclusion of World War I to honor people for their actions. Perhaps the most widely recognized was the Victory Medal, created in the US in 1919 and awarded to any person who performed military service from April 6, 1917, to November 11, 1918. This Victory Medal was awarded to Tela Burt, an African American from Minnesota who completed a tour of duty in France as a supply sergeant with the 809th Regiment of Pioneer Infantry, (see post from August 2nd).
The second medal is the Purple Heart, which is awarded to members of the United States armed forces who are wounded or killed during combat with the enemy. While this medal wasn't issued until 1932, it was retroactively awarded to anyone serving on or after April 5, 1917. This Purple Heart was awarded to Private Harold Berlin of Red Wing, Minnesota, for actions during World War I.
The Croix du Guerre was a French military decoration created in 1915 and awarded to individuals or units who distinguished themselves in combat with the enemy. This Croix du Guerre was awarded to Captain Charles P. Clark of Saint Paul, who served with the French Army.
The Serbian Cross of Mercy medal was given to officers of medical units, doctors and nurses who treated sick and wounded soldiers. This medal was awarded to Pearl Canfield Trisko of Saint Paul, Minnesota, a member of the Red Cross who served overseas.
Minnesota Historical Society Collections.
Victory Medal 1999.343.3
Purple Heart 74.80.4.A
Croix du Guerre 6996.2
Cross of Mercy 9908.1
Chapter VI of the American Red Cross' Department of Civilian Relief pamphlet Home Service in Town and Country addresses Home Service responsibility to people of other nations and races. It mentions giving publicity to soldiers of foreign birth who performed acts of heroism during the war, saying Home Service workers ought to be open minded about different customs and remember that African Americans and immigrants are also fighting for the same country and being loyal to it. It goes on to encourage the organizing of cultural events.
Chapter VI. Home Service responsibility to those of other races and nations
Our brotherhood with the Foreign born. Services such as those just described should by no means be rendered only to Americans by right of birth. The war is creating a new feeling of brotherhood for the foreign born. […] Many Americans are still so sure that their way of living and of doing things is the only right one that they fail to value the genuine ideals and beautiful meanings that lie behind their neighbors’ customs. In their visits Home Service workers find families which need help, they should before they try to teach them American ways, learn something about the history and traditions of these races.
American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781