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

Minnesota Death in the Torpedoing of the U.S.S. Ticonderoga

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 30, 2018

Second Class Seaman Merton Kay enlisted into the Navy in April of 1917. Kay was serving aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, which was torpedoed by a German submarine on this day. He was only seventeen years old. Of the 237 crew and passengers aboard the Ticonderoga, only 24 survived the attack.


[...] Made three trips to France and was 1700 miles out from New York on fourth trip. Attacked by enemy submarine 5:20 am September 30th, 1918. Sub first sighted 200 yard off port bow. Capt attempted ram submarine missing her by approximately 35 yds at which close range sub opened fire on the 2 guns of Ticonderoga sweeping her deck with shrapnel putting out commission forward gun and slightly disabling after gun. Interior firing caused sub to submerge, reappearing after an interval of 15 mins at distance of 2 mile on starboard quarter. At this distance firing continued until about 7:30 am when a torpedo struck Ticonderoga (illegible) ships sinking her about 7:45 am. [...]

"Kay, Merton E." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.4F


"Germans Staggering in Greatest Battle of War" and "Carrier Pigeons Prove Worth in Champagne Battle" - The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. September 29, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 29, 2018

The Men are Required to Shower

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 28, 2018

This circular of regulations was given out by the Headquarters of the 88th Division, then stationed in France, with the purpose of reducing sickness among the men within the division. Measures that were to be taken involved trying to dry clothes and air bedding whenever possible, as well as provide warm bath water to a certain number of men each night. As the notice states, "It is reported that some of the men have not had a bath since leaving Camp Dodge [the training camp in Iowa]." These regulations having to be made entails that health and hygiene were not as high on the commanders lists for their men as other things were.


France, 28th Sept. 1918
Sanitary Regulations and Care of Health
The prevalence of sickness in this Division appears in many instances to be due in large measure to the lack of proper care on the part of organization commanders. For the purpose of eradicating this condition, the following steps will be taken at once throughout this command:
[...] It is reported that some of the men have not had a bath since leaving Camp Dodge. This condition will be remedied at once and will not be repeated. Organization commanders will personally see to the bathing of their men and will personally responsible [sic] for the cleanliness of thei [sic] their commands. [...]

U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th


Marion Backus Runs the Wards

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 27, 2018

Marion Backus was a Red Cross nurse from Minnesota serving in France. This letter she wrote to her family and friends on November 26th, 1918, mentions the events that started on September 26th ,1918 which brought her to where she is in France now. She described her very long journey from Paris to the front lines and arriving at the new hospital. Backus didn't know where she was, but was ready to help any of the boys who needed her. She explains how she is capable of running three wards of ether patients (with 30 to 45 patients per ward), a feat she never would have imagined prior to service.


Nov 26, 1918
Dear Family- And I might say and Friends-
[…] We started from Paris on Friday morning, I think Sept. 26- for some place- as usual we knew not where. […] When we got to the hospital, which is made up of about 50 long narrow barracks- such as they have built in the Cantonments,- part occupied by the French and the rest by us. Here the doctors and Corp boys with the aid of a few nurses from other hospitals were holding forth, for a rush had come and nothing of course was ready. […] The first week I ran one, two, or three wards as the case might be, all full of ether patients, with just the help of the corps boys, one to a ward. If anybody had told me that I could take care of more than two ether patients before I came here I would have laughed and thought them joking. But now I can watch 45 in one ward, 36 in the next (each separate buildings) and 30 in the next and never wink an eye. […]

Citation: Marion Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1356

David Backus Goes Beyond the Call of Duty to Help Fellow Pilot

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 26, 2018

After flying with the French Air Squadron C. 21, Saint Paul native David Backus was recalled into the American Air Force. Upon completing yet another round of training, he was assigned to the 49th Aero Squadron and he re-entered combat in late March of 1918. During this second phase of combat, Backus completed two military actions for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the first of which occurred on September 26, 1918. That day, Backus and four other monoplanes were patrolling near Etain in northeastern France when nine German planes suddenly attacked Backus’s patrol. Knowing they were outnumbered, the patrol leader signaled for them to retreat. All nine enemy planes followed in close pursuit, and one of Backus’s patrol fell dangerously behind. Even though Backus himself was beyond danger, he turned around and attacked the enemy planes just as they dove upon his fellow pilot. He succeeded in destroying one and causing the others to flee. Due to Backus’s bravery, all five American pilots returned safely from their patrol.


Thursday Sept. 26th 1918
Well Big Show is ON. They called us at 4 a.m. Truck took us up to Camp breakfast. Went out on 6:15 patrol, awfully heavy fog could not see river or Verdun artillery sure was active could see very plainly. two small towns also on fire. [...] Hugh Bridgare and Jo Nazero to [Chattlion-Archer], near got us north of Verdun they sure were good shots[.] Nine Hun Follkens followed us - seven of us for six minutes had altitude waiting for a straggler. Cannot understand why they did not attack us, as we were fifteen kilometers in Germany. Three dropped out of our formation on way back after we passed North of Verdun toward Etain. E. of Chattlion seven Follkens came down. Hugh evidently did not see them, came nearer & nearer, tried to catch up to him, no luck. Mack [...] saw them wiggled wings they would not look around. Well three of them dove on poor Roth, down he went other four stayed up, a single dove on Mack. motor trouble he zigzagged down. I dove on the 3rd who went down on Roth. fired about 120 rounds both guns jammed chased him to 1500 meters jammed up. Well Hughie, [Hieben] & Huns were chasing the two farthest away, the top three dove on me both guns jammed made for the line they were shooting and darn near got me[.] [...] Landed at a French aerodome. Back to Camp. [...]

David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.5B


"The biggest and bloodiest"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 25, 2018

George Hogenson was a part of the Thirty-Fifth division of the 129th Machine Gun Battalion. Hogenson's last letter home was written to his brother Edwin on this day, two days before his death on September 27th in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Hogenson writes that there are "thousands of things to write about if only [he] could write about them." He believes that "you (his brother) will see by the papers of what is going to happen here in the next few days. They expect it to be the biggest and bloodiest battle of the war." And he was right. Unfortunately, Hogenson's letter never reached his brother, as Edwin died of influenza in October, before the letter could get to him.


Somewhere in France, Sept. 25, 1918
Dear Brother Edwin:
Will drop you a few lines as it is hard telling when I may get another chance to write. I really have not got anything to write about, that is of course there are thousand of things to write about if I only could write about them. But the reason I am writing is that it might be my last chance to write as we are about to go into the real thing. By the way, Ed, if I do not return from this trip, I hope you will help mother about my insurance and other things. If I must die in this great battle I will die as a man, doing my duty for our country. But in case I do get out of this, I will sure let you know at once. […] Expect that you will see by the papers of what is going to happen here in the next few days. They expect it to be the biggest and bloodiest battle of the war.
With best wishes for your future and best regards to all and may God bless you all. I remain your loving brother,

"Hogenson, George." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.4F


"Enemy Attacks are Repulsed" and "Yankee Raiders Annoying Enemy" - Rochester Daily Post and Record. September 24, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 24, 2018

Defense Against Gas

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 24, 2018

This bulletin from the Headquarters of the 88th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces describes the "Standing Orders For Troops For Defense Against Gas", vital knowledge for any doughboy. The main points of the bulletin are how vital it is to have your gas mask on in time and how important it is to keep the gas mask on, even if it feels uncomfortable. It notes that in case of a gas attack “Stop all work and sit quietly, If you have gotten your respirator on in time, you are safe.”


U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th

On the Way to France!

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 24, 2018

This diary entry from James Thomas Hughes marks the beginning of his journey to France. Hughes mentions passing the Statue of Liberty and the number of other ships that sailed with them on their passage. He would be in France until July 16th, 1919. For his courageous efforts in France Hughes received the Bronze Victory Medal, which is known today as the WW1 Victory Medal.


September 22 Left Camp Upton 4 a.m to Hoboken. Climbed aboard U.S.N.T. No 75, “Magnolia,” Sailed at 12:30 P.M. Down East River past “Statue of Liberty” with convoy. 8 ships + 4 protectors, Gun boats, aviation, ect.

Citation: James Thomas Hughes Diary. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. D640.H84

The Role of a YMCA Secretary

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 24, 2018

Alonzo Carlyle served in France as a YMCA secretary with the American Expeditionary Forces. In letters to his family on this day, Carlyle describes his work as a YMCA secretary and the asset his work is to the soldiers in his regiment. Carlyle wrote about the duties he performs on a daily basis for the men, how happy he is with his living requirements and mentioned that he stays with the men at all times to give them anything that they may need or desire like smokes, sweets or water when they are fighting. Over the time of his service Carlyle distributed numerous packages of cigarettes, chocolates and cookies. He also held many services on Sunday for the men and was available to talk about anything personal regarding religion.


Sept 22nd, 1918
Dear Burt:
[…] Just now I am located in a dugout on the top of a high hill and can look down upon the valley and the boche lines. There is shelling going on both night and day and we can see their shells land as well as our own, it is a wonderful sight. Many things of much importance happens daily but I am not allowed to write regarding them. […] I have done everything the men do except go over the top or make a raid. As I am writing boche shells are bursting within three and four blocks but I am quite safe in a good dugout. […] I do not like to talk up my own work but we surely are a big asset to the army, and if you could hear a few of the good things said about us it would make you feel very proud to belong to such an organization. I have had men and officers say repeatedly that they do not know what they would do without me. The same is said of our other secretaries. The different units which are without secretaries complain about it all the time. […] We stay with the men at all times and give them smokes and sweets- when they are fighting in the lines. We also hold services on Sun. and act like a brother to the men […]
With love to sister and yourself.
Your brother,

Citation: Alonzo Carlyle Letters. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P127


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