A Musical Tribute

Some of you know I play violin in a small community orchestra. We perform at local rest homes. Our concert mistress has arranged two World War 1-era songs to mark the 100th anniversary of the war’s end. We premiered the songs today. I provided some background info, which I’ll share here, along with links to hear the songs performed (by professionals!).

Liberty Bell was written in 1917 for voice and piano.  Here’s what I told our audience.

This song refers to the famous Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. When the American government decided to enter the war—and that decision came in 1917, a committee put together a big marketing campaign to get people involved, to feel patriotic, and to give money. The Liberty Bell was part of that campaign. On Flag Day—June 14, 1917—the mayor of Philadelphia rang the Liberty Bell at noon. And at the same moment, all over the country, people rang bells at schools and churches and fire stations.  Part of the lyrics to the song includes this call to action, “It’s time to sing again, it’s time to ring again, for liberty.” Americans believed liberty was the compelling reason to go to war.

Here’s a great old recording of Liberty Bell, which includes a link to the sheet music, if you want to read the lyrics:


My Donut Girl was written in 1919, after the war. My notes to the audience.

This song honors the women of the Salvation Army who went to France. They famously made donuts near the front lines. It’s hard for me to imagine—but they made up the dough, shaped the treats (often rolling them out with wine bottles) and fried them in skillets over crude camp stoves. And they made THOUSANDS—yes, thousands—in a single day, and handed them out to soldiers, along with a hot cup of coffee.

Here’s a nice photo essay with the song being performed:

Summer Reading Update (1)

In France, in 1918, Grandpa continued to train as he waited for “the move” into battle zones along the Western Front. He certainly had heard about what to expect, but could he really picture what lay ahead?

Gpa, framed, dark (date?)

Grandpa in uniform. Undated family photo.

A hundred years later, I’m watching movies and reading books to imagine what he would soon know, the unspeakable horrors of that war.

The 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front was based on the 1929 novel written by Remarque, a German veteran of the war. Remarque’s main character is Paul Bäumer, a young man convinced by his teacher to join the army and defend the German fatherland. The war he fights has little to do with national pride or any other lofty ideals, he learns. Instead, it is a daily struggle to stay alive, to find food and to avoid death. When he goes home on leave, he is horrified that civilians don’t understand the war. He quickly returns to the front, to a place that now feels like home. The last scene shows Paul smiling at the sight of a butterfly. He reaches for it, and in that instant takes a bullet and dies.

The subject of war’s futility and violence shows up in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, published in 1929. I last read this in college. All these years later, I am still captivated by the way Hemingway uses snippets of dialogue and terse descriptions to tell a story. Based on his experiences as a Red Cross ambulance driver, Hemingway’s main character drives wounded soldiers to hospitals along the front in Italy, in the mountains that separate it from Austria. He meets men who see no purpose in the war and show no obvious heroism. Desertion becomes the ticket out for Hemingway’s double, a decision that makes sense (to me) in a situation that seems devoid of reason.

Both of these first-hand accounts lead to the same place: common men, often very young men, don’t know why they’re fighting.

Pat Barker’s three books, forming her Regeneration trilogy, date from the 1990s. My friend (and neighbor) recommended I read these, and she also chose the trilogy for her book club. We met up last week to share ideas. As background, Barker’s work weaves together the experiences of historical figures involved in the war with fictional characters. We meet Dr. Rivers, a medical doctor who practices a kind of talk therapy to “regenerate” soldiers (with what we now call PTSD) and send them back to the front. This creates a horrifying juxtaposition between healing and harm, we all agreed. We talked about Pat Barker’s use of historical fiction (instead of nonfiction) to explore the war. It gave her the freedom to create characters and new relationships to the conditions of the war, we thought. And it provided, some of us thought, a way for us to look at our own notions of war and violence and sexuality through the lens of WW1.

I’ve just started listening to Good-bye to All That, 1929, a memoir and war commentary by the British poet Robert Graves. He shows up in Barker’s book as one of the historical figures who opposed the war.

As an aside, and especially for my family, Graves’s father was also a poet. Our great Aunt Mattie—one of Grandma’s sisters—visited the elder Graves, Alfred Perceval Graves, at his home in Harlech, Wales in 1931, shortly after his son wrote Good-bye to All That. She was spending a study year in London working on advanced studies in English literature. Aunt Mattie sought out Graves to help her understand a poet she was researching, but first Graves had to set the record straight on his son.

Aunt Mattie, 1920s?

My great Aunt Mattie, Grandma’s sister. Undated photo, 1920s?

In her diary, Aunt Mattie wrote, “His son Robert Graves had written Goodby to All That, a war book and his own life story. The father and mother were greatly hurt by it. They say that he has been unfair to them. ‘I don’t see how Robert could have done it,’ his mother said. The father felt that he must present the other side, and so wrote his autobiography. The editor of the Athenaeum suggested the title; and his publisher said, ‘By all means.’ So it was that To Return to All That came out when Mr. Graves was eighty-four.”


The Great War forced nations and people to take sides. Even after it ended, fathers and sons, like those in the Graves family, couldn’t agree on central questions. Just why was it fought? To what end? Who holds the answer? Families? Historians? Authors?




Gun Wipes and Pinafores

Gun wipes and pinafores? Yes, and petticoats and a single scarf. These were all part of Grandma’s summer, in 1918, along with the harvest and annual Chautauqua. Grandpa wanted this kind of news, but wasn’t getting mail or newspapers as often as he had at Camp Funston. In the letter he wrote on July 14, from France, he told Grandma he had just received her letter from nearly a month earlier on June 17.

Grandma had enclosed a photograph, which he proudly showed off to his buddies. I don’t know which picture she mailed. Nothing she sent survived the trenches. Here’s one from an old family album, probably taken in the years before the war. I remember my grandmother’s full cheeks, made even rounder when she broke into her sweet smile.

Gma photos, 12 detail of Gma?

Grandma in undated photo found in an old family album.

Grandpa’s July letters seem nostalgic to me. He wrote about “Dear Old Missouri” and wondered about what was going on back home.

July 8. “I guess the threshing machines are harvesting around home by now.” 

Harvesting brought their small farming community together. Neighbors pitched in to help in the fields. Children and women brought water and meals. Itinerant workers came in to complete the jobs before rain set in, ruining ripened grain. Here’s a rare picture of Grandpa helping with the harvest of blue grass on the Bilby Ranch near Skidmore, Missouri. The bags held the seed stripped from the chaff.

Bluegrass harvest cropped

Grandma remembered the threshing machines used to harvest grain. She described the process in an interview my father taped in the 1970s.

Al Vaughn had a big steam engine to operate the threshing machine. It was so heavy that when he crossed a bridge, they had to put planks down first. The kids watched for that and were on hand to get a turn of climbing up on the engine and blowing the whistle a couple of times. Neighbor helped neighbor, so they might be working for several days. Some came with hayrack to haul the bundles from the field to the machine, there were others who pitched the bundles on the racks. Some had wagons to haul the grain to the bins. Women went from place to place helping each other in preparing meals. To feed a big crew, was no small job—and I might add, they were always well fed.

That summer in France, in 1918, when Grandpa couldn’t farm, he took note of how the French farmers brought in their crops.

July 8. The largest implement I have seen is a mowing machine. They haul hay and wood all the time, and milk the cows three times a day and one of the handiest things is that they can open a door from the kitchen and be in the cow barn and all built under the same roof and there is no farm house at all. The people all live in the towns and villages two or three miles apart and go out in the country to farm. I haven’t saw but one farm house since I have been here.

July 31. The people here are harvesting their wheat now. They use cradles and tie it by hand.

As Grandpa thought about home, and what he would be doing this time of year, he mentioned how he would miss being with Grandma at the Chautauqua.

July 23. I suppose by the time this reaches you, you will be attending the Chautauqua. I wish I was there to be with you.

In 1918, the big event was held from August 25-September 1. Famous speakers were brought in, along with popular musical performers. Events were offered all day, and many businesses closed for the duration of the event.


Dressed in their best, some arriving by automobile, people crowd into a tent to attend a lecture or musical performance. Printed in the August 11, 1916 issue of the King City Chronicle.

Again from her 1970s interview, Grandma described the event.

The King City Chautauqua was one of the nicest things we had. When it first started, it ran for ten days. As time went on it was cut to eight and finally to six days, before it folded.

King City hosted its first Chautauqua in 1907, and its last in 1930.

We tented on the grounds several years, and that was so much fun. One year there were forty tents on the ground.

Chautauqua tent?

A Chautauqua tent? Grandma sits by the post, her grandfather A.S. Martin to her side. Her younger sister Mary stands, one hand on her father’s shoulder. In front of her is their brother Charley. Grandfather Martin died in March 1918, dating this photo to 1917 or earlier.

For a small place we really had some good talent. We were in a circuit and the talent moved from place to place. One night William Jennings Bryan was to speak. Because of a heavy rain, and dirt roads, he did not get there until late at night. By the time his lecture was over, it was nearly midnight. Very few, if any, left before the lecture. We always had several musical groups. One that was always there was Maupin’s Band from St. Joseph. The very popular piece for Maupin’s was The Stars and Stripes Forever. If they did not play it, then there was a request for it.

Plans were made weeks ahead, and one of the things was, that we have a different dress to wear each day. Those were the good old days.

The war made an appearance at the 1918 Chautauqua. A wounded soldier gave a talk. And this movie was shown.

Wake Up America

Advertisement in the August 16, 1918 issue of the King City Chronicle. No additional information was provided on that “rich lady in the east.”

Grandpa could picture the Chautauqua and the harvest. But he had to imagine Grandma doing something new this year–working for the Red Cross.

July 23. You spoke of the Red Cross work you were doing. Keep it up, it sure will be needed here this winter as they say it is an awful cold country and it must be when we sleep cold in July, so tell every one that they will do a great lot by helping with the war by knitting and try to get in early.

In fact, Grandma, her sister Mary, and their mother were making a range of items  requested by their local Red Cross chapter. And they did this work during the busy harvest season, as noted below. Those “refugee dresses?” They were made for Europeans displaced by the war, many in France and Belgium.

Red Cross garments cropped

August 2, 1918, King City Chronicle

I don’t understand why the Red Cross sent out garments “to make them up,” unless they were gathering old garments to repurpose. In any case, one thing is clear to me. My grandmother, her sister and mother must have understood the full horror of war. In making gun wipes and pinafores, they recognized the needs of both the soldiers and the defenseless victims of their violence. The war may have been thousands of miles away, but it wasn’t far from their minds or their busy hands that summer on the farm.

Gma photos, detail of Gma Dykes on porch?

My great-grandmother, Mrs. S.J. Dykes, front porch of the King City farm around 1915.


Gooseberry Pie and the 4th of July

Grandpa spent the 4th of July, 1918, “somewhere in France.”

France, 7-3:1 cropped 2

Letter to Grandma, written July 3, 1918.

He went on to explain that it wasn’t really a holiday for him, since the cooks still had to feed the troops. But he seemed happy to report that “some of the boys went out and gathered some gooseberries so made some pies. They were good. The gooseberries here are large, about like our plums and it don’t take long to get enough for a few pies.”



Gooseberry bushes, outside my mother’s apartment in Kansas.

Honestly, I don’t remember gooseberry pie from my childhood. Grandma made the best raspberry pie, so I know she (and my grandfather) could make the perfect crust and the perfect filling. But nothing fancy. Here’s the recipe for gooseberry pie Mother got from Grandma.

Gooseberry, 2Just where was Grandpa in France? He couldn’t tell Grandma. But I’ve been able to learn locations from later accounts, especially in George English’s History of the 89th Division, 1920. After leaving England (from Southampton, across the English Channel to Le Havre) in late June, the troops moved under the cover of darkness in box cars, a miserable train journey to what English called “unknown destinations.” They arrived near Reynel, and Grandpa’s group–the 356th Infantry–stayed with families in two villages, Liffol-le-Grand and Villouxel, both in the northeastern part of France, not far from the front. (pp. 42-44)

In this same letter from July 3, Grandpa explained his location, generally.

town in France

The reference to the little girl made me smile at a very special memory. In Effingham, Kansas, where I enjoyed summers with my grandparents, I was walking with Grandpa to their big garden. Just as we crossed the alley, a little boy came running, a big smile on his face, “Hi, Grandpa!” I was indignant and yelled right back, “He’s not your grandfather! He’s my grandfather!” Grandpa laughed. He loved telling that story. And so I can imagine a little French girl having the same affection for a man many of us thought of as Grandpa.

This one letter, written at a time between difficult travels and more difficult battles ahead, seems relaxed to me. Grandpa’s handwriting is neat and even. He covers four pages (a long letter for him) with details that remind me of letters my brother, sister and I wrote home from our trips in Europe. “There is lots of Cathedrals here,” he wrote. “I hear several bells ringing now.”

Back in King City, where Grandma celebrated the 4th of July, there was a daylong program of events, along with pies and refreshments and music. The local newspaper, the Chronicle, noted that a special feature would be included: “Bat the Kaiser in the Eye.” I’m not sure what that meant (a piñata? hit with a baseball bat?), but I do know that the people of  King City, and presumably of many American towns, spent some of their summer days raising money for a knock-out punch. Here’s an ad that ran the last week in June, featuring that target of the Kaiser’s eye.

Paste the Kaiser

King City Chronicle, June 28, 1918, page 3.

On this day in 2018, on the 4th of July, I’ll end where I started, with pies. Here’s my homage to Grandma, a raspberry-peach pie. And following that, a cartoon that captures the special fondness American soldiers had for pies, apparently never getting enough!

Pie on the 4th

Seconds on Pie

From Camp Funston’s newspaper, Trench and Camp, May 11, 1918. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Happy 4th!