Thursday, September 13, 2012

The War Diary

I often see war-related items at estate sales.  Recently I found a battered small notebook that served as the diary of a serviceman from World War One.  (It was a dollar.  I couldn't leave it there.) 

The soldier, Brennan A. Mitchell, was a member of Battery B, 139th Field Artillery, American Expeditionary Forces in France.   With the diary was a photograph of soldiers in front of a building with a Red Cross sign.

A man of few words, this soldier from Sherman, Texas was part of history in 1918, even if he was often bored and had a little trouble with spelling as he recounted his adventures:

July 17 Arived in NY.

July 22 AWOL three days sent to hospital.  AWOL ever night till Sept.17.

Sept. 19-20 Met Miss Zachary splendid time made the City ever other day till Sept. 29.

Sept. 30 Goldbricked till left on Oct. 6.  [ I had to refresh my memory on this term.  "Goldbricking" is slacking off at work while pretending to be busy.]

After reading through his diary and looking at a number of websites online, I came to the conclusion that Mitchell went to war on the HMS Cedric out of Long Island:

Set sail [to Liverpool] Oct. 6 enjoyed trip until night of 16 Wed. [at] 10:55 ship struck by torpedo or depth bomb. All was in an uproar until we found out we could make port.

Oct. 17, 1918 Thursday we landed in Liverpool Endland. Had a glorious reception by all. Red Cross served coffee.  Hiked through city to camp arrived 1:45 after a two mile hike with full pack. 
Up next morn Oct. 18 7 o’clock took bath walked around camp saw first German prisoners also New Zealand soldiers wer in a English camp.
Oct. 20 Sunday Up early washed went to church.  After, went up to vilage with [indecipherable other soldiers' names] drank lots of beer.  Real quaint village.

Shortly after that, Mitchell and his comrades took a train to Southampton and then sailed to Cherbourg, France.
Oct. 23 Left Cherbough in box cars 8 horses or 40 men 50 in our car…rode all night arrived in Aldmans [?] had supper. Arived in Plorenel [Ploermel?] France 12:30 a.m. bed. 
Apparently they ended up in the ancient city of Vannes, where he bought two postcards.

Oct. 25 Up early after a very bad rest on floor in old Catholic convent built in 1400 and 1689 a very interesting building still occupied by French peasants. Went to town drank first French wine no good.

Nov. 8 Same things so I wrot nothing. 

Nov. 9 Up early left for Camp De Meucon [American artillery training camp a few kilometers outside Vannes] road 16 miles in trucks hiked 15 miles with full pack. 

Nov. 10 Up early ate washed went to church.  After ran around camp.  Saw captured German guns.

Nov. 11 Up early.  Made gunner so practiced hard all day.  Bed early.

Note the date:  November 11, 1918.  They finally gave him something useful to do, on the day the war ended.

Nov. 12 Same schedule gun practice.  Awful happy heard armisti was signed war won drank too much wine that night had to tie my bed down.

Nov. 13 & 14  Went out to the guns in morning came back was made Battery tailor excused from all formations.  Went to Y. can show came back turned in.

I hadn't realized that the YMCA was involved in serving soldiers during The Great War.  But they were.

Nov. 15 PAY DAY Nothing special only word was that we would leave for US soon.

Nov. 20 Went to range fired four shots.  Nothing else but tailor work.

Nov. 28 Nothing of importance since Nov. 20 only Y.M.C.A shows and some tailor work. Tonight we have orders to leave tomorrow ever one happy.

Only they didn’t leave France for several weeks.  Something of importance finally happened to him a few days later.  I’ll continue in my next blog post…

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Priceless Papers

I always look for old books when I go to estate sales.   I have a habit of feeling sorry for the old book that no one else seems to want, and I end up bringing it home with me.

That was the case at a recent estate sale, when I found a hardback copy of a King James Bible published in the mid-1930s.  This Bible was different than most, though; it was printed without the (man-made) chapter and verse breaks, so it could be read as literature.

This sale was professionally managed by a Russian immigrant woman and her family. I asked her the price.

"The Bible is priceless," she replied, with her beautiful accent.  "But for you, five bucks."

At another recent sale in an old historic neighborhood, I spotted a very old book with a faded cover that no one else had touched.  It's called The Children's Bread.  No author was listed; it was published by Dana and Company, NY.

The Children's Bread is poems and Bible verses, such as, "Little children, walk in love" and "O that it were my chief delight / To do the things I ought / Then let me try with all my might / To mind what I am taught."   Then I looked at the flyleaf:

That's less than two months after the Civil War began. 

For two dollars, I couldn't leave it there.

Sometimes I find things tucked inside old books that really should not be sold.  That happened at an estate sale a couple of days ago.  Inside a scruffy, nondescript self-help paperback (which I didn't buy; it had no character) I discovered some old letters, a marriage certificate from 1934, and a folded square of paper with a large red cross at the top.  The message was sent by the Red Cross in Geneva, operating inside Nazi Germany.  It was addressed to someone in New York City, and was dated December 1942.  On the back a message, in German, was typed. 

I showed the paper to the woman putting on the sale, and asked her not to sell it.  She and I worked out the message from the sender:

Happy Christmas.  We are well.  Please don't worry about us.  Many hugs and kisses.  Grandma. 

The date the message was received in New York was stamped on the front:   February 1946.  Grandma's family didn't get the message until after the war was over.  (Had she been a prisoner of the Nazis?  Did she survive?  There was no one to ask.)

"Oh, my,"  the estate sale manager.  She was quiet for  a moment.  "I'll send this to the family.  You're right.  It shouldn't be sold."