Baseball. . . Somewhere in France

Summer, time to read, time to watch baseball. I found this story in Trench and Camp and loved the picture painted by the sports writer. At a baseball game behind the front lines in France, he described fans cheering the game and the aerial combat overhead. Grandpa wasn’t in this crowd, but I bet he would have enjoyed the action!

In case these terms are new to you (they were to me): Archie refers to anti-aircraft fire, boche to German, and poilus to French soldiers.

Baseball game, france (1) headline

Headline of story that ran in Trench and Camp, May 11, 1918. Used here with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society. Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.


With the American Army in France, May 2–The big league baseball teams in the spring training camps at home have nothing on the American soldiers, so far as limbering up the old wing and priming the batting eye is concerned.

It is the spring training season over here too.

Back of the lines, in the rest camps or along the roadside, you can hear the thump of the ball in the mitt, the crack of the bat and all the familiar baseball sounds–as well as a few war sounds thrown in.

A game of “old cat” was broken up recently by an airplane-anti-aircraft scrap overhead. The game was being played in the middle of the public square at Luneville (about ten miles from the German border and nine miles back of the front lines.) There was a good bleacher crowd of mixed poilus and dough boys. The sun was beaming down from a cloudless sky and the war seemed a thousand miles away.

“Archie” Butted In.

But just then an “Archie” spoke and everyone looked skyward. There was the boche. Gun after gun came into action. Fluffy white wings broke all about him. He dodged and twisted and turned.

Within a few minutes the guns had put a complete circle of bursting shells about the plane. Then American rooting began.

“Attaboy! Get him kid! That was a close one. Now, just once more,” were some of the cries that went up.

Everyone was bending back, shading his eyes and watching the sight. The airplane got thru the circle of “cream puffs” safely and darted back toward home, an occasional shell bursting behind him.

“Foller him up, kid, foller him up!” was the encouragement shouted from the American rooters. But the boche out-legged the guns and disappeared.

“Who’s at bat and who’s on base” a sergeant yelled, as the machine disappeared. A minuter later the ball game was on again.




Summer Reading

I’ve been collecting books about the war to read over the summer.

Summer reading 2

My summer reading, next to the boxes holding the letters.

I decided, at the beginning of this project, to hold off on reading historical material on the war. I wanted to follow my grandfather’s experience through his eyes as long as I could (keeping the opinions of historians and authors at bay). His letters from Camp Funston provided day-to-day accounts of his life in training. But once he arrived in Europe, that level of detail changed dramatically. He wasn’t allow to write about place, tactics, or even his feelings.

From now on–through the battles, his injury, recovery and homecoming–I have to rely more heavily on the accounts of others, of historians, authors, and filmmakers, to better understand Grandpa’s experience.

You’ll see from my collection of books, that I’m drawn to literary accounts. These authors don’t use the war as a backdrop–although the horrors live on the page–but seem to do what I’m struggling to do: make meaning of an experience that was largely incomprehensible to those who endured it, my grandfather among them.

Send along other titles for me to consider. That scrap of paper on my desk holds the title of a book coming out this summer. It was recommended by a well-read cashier at my favorite indie bookstore in Pasadena, at Vroman’s.

England: Rest Camp at Knotty Ash

One hundred years ago today, on June 16, 1918, Grandpa disembarked the Caronia, one of nine ships in a convoy that carried American troops across the Atlantic.

Arrival, 2

After 12 days at sea, his boat landed on Sunday, June 16, 1918.

Where had they landed? On the other side of the card, the postmark provides a clue.

Arrival notice“Old Swan LV” was a neighborhood in Liverpool, one of the busiest ports accepting American soldiers during the war. In the History of the 89th Division, the author confirms Liverpool as the port, p. 40. He also names the army’s rest camp as Knotty Ash.

Both the Red Cross and the American Y.M.C.A. had facilities at the camp. They organized music and sporting events, along with places to write letters home. The arrival postcard includes the Red Cross logo, as well as “Soldiers’ Mail” and “No Postage Necessary,” denoting official army correspondence.

The nature and content of Grandpa’s letters changed when he arrived “overseas.” He couldn’t identify where he was or provide any details that might reveal place or military activities. He was “some place in England,” or “somewhere in France.”

He wrote two letters on June 16, the same day he addressed the postcard. The first one described the trip over, and how he’d been sick “a couple or three days after leaving the States.” He ended with an explanation of why he couldn’t say more, . . .

England 6-17 letter

June 16, 1918 letter to Grandma.

The second letter offered a bit more information. “We have tents to stay in but they are good ones,” he wrote. And then on a personal, perhaps homesick note, he mused, “I supose every one is busy at home farming. I haven’t saw any thing in the farm line here, only a potato patch. Well, my Dear, I can’t write much so will close.”

Once they arrived in Europe, soldiers couldn’t “write much” and they knew each card, each letter, would be read and approved by censors (who could cut out portions or refuse to send the mail). Every envelope I have included some kind of official stamp and a handwritten signature of the censor.

England 6-22, envelope

Grandpa wrote “Soldiers Mail” in the top right corner of envelope that held his June 16 letter.

The postcard and first two letters from England open a new chapter in the correspondence I’m sharing here. The number of letters Grandpa wrote—and received—decreased. At times, he worried that his mail from home has been lost. I have no way of knowing if Grandma wrote less often, or if her letters did get lost in the mail. I only know that he eagerly awaited them. “Keep on writing I will get them some day,” he wrote that first day he landed on foreign soil.


A group of letters carrying the marks and names of official censors. Photo (c) Charlene Reichert.





Into the Open Sea

June 4, 1918. New York Harbor. Nine vessels loaded with American troops set sail for England. George English, a member of the 89th Division and also its historian, described the event in his 1920 History of the 89th Division, U.S.A.

“In the blazing light of a midday of June, the vessels forming the convoy swung out from the various docks, steamed down the harbor of New York and took up their voyage to those lands towards which the Goddess of Liberty from her pedestal seemed to turn a wistful gaze. Nine great vessels, striped with the bizarre patterns of their camouflage, crowded with those fighting men who formed part of the hope of civilization, swept down the channel and, without pause, into the open sea.” (p. 39)

Grandpa sailed in the Caronia. I found this picture and a page of the ship’s manifest on ancestry. com.

6:4 ship

6:4 manifest

Some of the members of Grandpa’s group, Company C, 356th Infantry, 89th Division.

English continued his description:

“The course taken was far to the north of the usual lines of ocean travel. On approaching the danger zone off the coast of Ireland, a number of British torpedo boats appeared to escort the convoy and the habitual course of the ships became a series of sharp zigzags. No submarine attack occurred and the convoy reached Liverpool safely on the 16th of June, twelve days out of New York.” (p. 40)


“Letters are the best thing I have”

Last June envelope front rotated

Grandpa would sail on June 4, so this postmark records the day the letter was processed.

When Grandpa wrote this letter on June 1, three days before the departure, he sensed his correspondence would change. There would be fewer letters, and his would be censored. But he also knew, and reminded Grandma, that her letters were the best thing he had, and to keep them coming. Here’s the complete letter, the last one he wrote from the U.S.

Last June-1Last June-2Last June-3Last June-4

last June envelope back rotated

Back of envelope. “Received June 8, 1918” seems to be in Grandma’s handwriting.