Tag Archives: World War I

Over Here and Over There: World War I Songs

Patriotic recruitment song published in Louisville, KY.

In The Piano in America, 1890-1940, Craig Roell states that by 1915 the majority of white middle-class urban families had pianos. With such a large market, it is not surprising that author Bernard Parker located over 9500 patriotic songs published in the United States between 1914 and 1920.
WKU Library Special Collections currently has a total of 4,438 pieces of sheet music. Our World War I holdings include titles that show the many facets of the war experience. Probably the best known hit patriotic song written for troop recruitment was George M. Cohan’s “Over There.” Louisville, Kentucky, musicians did their part with Clarence Zollinger and Billy Smythe’s rallying recruitment song, “Fight for the Flag We Love.”
Tucked among many love songs is the title “I Wish I had Someone to Say Goodbye To.” Children of soldiers are represented by “Don’t Leave Me Daddy,” “I Miss Daddy’s Goodnight Kiss,” and “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy Over There).” Loved ones left stateside were admonished not to let their tears add to the soldiers’ hardship in “Keep the Home-Fires Burning (‘Till the Boys Come Home).”
Soldiers’ experiences vary from “Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” to “When Yankee Doodle Learns to ‘Parlez Vous Francais’.” A lyric that also speaks to the world experience gained in France appears within “Johnny’s In Town:” “he’s been aroun’, He knows French and ev’rything, You should hear him when he goes ‘Ooo-la-la-la.’” A father’s concern about the Paris exposure is expressed in the well known “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm.”

Popular WWI songs often spoke of the gaiety of Paris.

Due to the generosity of numerous donors, including Mary Clyde Huntsman, Drucilla Jones, and Bob and Carol Crowe Carraco, WKU is fortunate to have a good representation of the songs of World War I.

For additional reading, see: Bernard Parker, World War I Sheet Music: 9,670 Patriotic Songs Published in the United States, 1914-1920, with More Than 600 Covers Illustrated. Jefferson, N. C.: McFarland, 2007; Vogel, Frederick G., World War I Songs: A History and Dictionary of Popular American Patriotic Times with over 300 Complete Lyrics. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1995; Watkins, Glenn.. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2003.

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Camp Zachary Taylor

Barracks at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky

Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville, Kentucky

“Some things I’ve seen here I [wouldn’t] believe if I hadn’t seem them.”  So declared an awestruck soldier on finding himself in Louisville, Kentucky, for military training at Camp Zachary Taylor.

After the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Camp Taylor (named for the U.S. president and former Louisville resident) materialized in a mere 90 days.  The largest of 16 such camps across the country, it grew to the size of a small city, with more than 2,000 buildings and a population of as many as 47,000 troops.  As they passed through the camp, soldiers wrote to family and friends with their impressions, and the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections holds many such letters.

Some noted the rigors of their training.  “We hiked about three miles with all of our equipment,” wrote “Mack” Muncy, “and I have been tired ever since.”  Arthur Miller, an enlistee from Connecticut, complained of “the nervous tension” resulting from a three-month crash course in artillery.  But other aspects of military life drew more frequent comment as young men were ushered into a new world of routine and regimentation.  Part of their “processing” ordeal was receiving vaccinations, which left many of them light-headed, sore-armed and sick.  Of his two shots, Wilson Sprowl wrote “that first Doce [dose] made some [of] the Boys sick and some fa[i]nted.”  Several of his mates, confirmed Grant Sorgen, “laid down from the vaccination, but I got thru O.K.”  Contagious illness, nevertheless, plagued this large group of assembled humanity from all parts of the country.  Fay Alexander found himself part of a quarantine “because one of the fellows got awake with the measels.”  Jim Grinstead had already had measles, but was worried that if too many of his fellow soldiers fell ill, “they will keep all of us in and that will give me hell” for “I have a date with my girl.”

Soldiers training at Camp Taylor

Soldiers training at Camp Taylor

Other aspects of camp life were more satisfying.  From most accounts, the food was tasty and plentiful.  “This morning we had coffee, biscuits, fried potatoes, cream of wheat and bacon,” wrote Fay Alexander.  “They sure do eat up the grub.”  Grant Sorgen was happy with “a fine shower bath to-day and three good meals.  So far, ‘This is the life,’” he declared, “but may not last long.”  Just as memorable was the hospitality of the local citizenry.  Arthur Miller enjoyed regular Saturday entertainment at the “Hawaiian Gardens” dance hall, courtesy of “numerous, sweet and innocent southern maidens.”  Mack Muncy concurred: “Yes the girls are pretty free with us boys it is no trouble to get acquainted down here; if a fellow hasn’t got a girl it is his fault I am shure.”

On September 9, 1918, Private Ivan Wilson arrived at Camp Taylor.  Wilson, who would go on to a long teaching career in WKU’s art department, was a diminutive 5 feet 4-1/2 inches and just over 100 pounds.  Nevertheless, the gentle Calloway County native resolved to meet the challenge.  Though consigned to clerical duties, he found the Army “thrilling”: “When I really did get my uniform on,” he wrote in his diary, “I knew that Germany would soon surrender.”  And Germany did.  On February 24, 1919, Wilson was discharged from Camp Taylor a “150% better man than when I came.  I am going back into civilian life much better prepared to face the issues of life: to pass things which formerly have depressed me and has caused me to pine my life away in vain.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  In this centennial year of the U.S.’s entry into World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for more of our war collections.

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World War I Resources in WKU Archives

WKU Barracks, 1918

WKU Barracks, 1918

WKU Archives is located in the Kentucky Building and is open Monday-Friday 9 AM – 4 PM.

Canon, E.H. Oral History, 1977

Cherry, Henry. Lost Sheep in the Army, 1918

Cherry, Henry. Personal Papers

Cherry, Henry & Earl Sullenger. Correspondence, 1918

Diddle, E.A. Interview, nd

Grise, Mary. Oral History, 1977

Orendorf, Jo. Oral History, 1978

Poteet, James. Oral History, 1975 Continue reading

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It’s Over at Last

John Potter's Armistice ribbon

John Potter’s Armistice ribbon

The world was overjoyed when hostilities in the Great War, after inflicting some 37 million casualties, ceased with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.

Simpson County native James Lambert would later share his memories of the event.  “In the evening of that day, I was in London,” he recalled.  No vehicles could move, as “rejoicing men, women and children” crammed the downtown streets.  He marveled at the democratic nature of the celebration.  Men carried women on their shoulders, and girls kissed soldiers “right on the streets.  They were not women of questionable character either,” observed Lambert, “but some of the best and fairest ladies of the realm.”  Indeed, citizens of every age, class and occupation had turned out “with uplifted hands, with upturned faces, and with tears running down their cheeks, thanking Almighty God for peace.”

Serving aboard the troop ship USS Powhatan, Thomas O. Helm reported to his mother in Bowling Green that his ship had docked at Brest, and he “certainly did enjoy being in a French port when they signed the Armistice.”  Like Lambert, he remarked on the inclusive nature of the festivities.  The streets were full of parading citizens, singing and linking arms “regardless of whom they were.”  At night, “the harbor was beautiful,” wrote Helm.  “There were 25 transports and at least that many destroyers playing their search lights over the harbor. . . it was like riding down Broadway.”

Back in St. Charles, Missouri, Annie Raus described the local celebrations to the family of her cousin, Private Clem Phillips, then recovering in France from wounds.  “Everybody is so happy we were all so excited we didn’t know if we should laugh or cry.”  The noisy parades passing by had interrupted her washing day and made it impossible to “stay at the tub.”

And in Bowling Green, Martha Potter took out her scrapbook of son John’s overseas Army service and carefully added the red, white and blue ribbon he had worn on his coat the night the Armistice was signed.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more on the end of World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“Dad”

image of clipping and tag regarding Fred Gorham

Fred J. Gorham, 1878-1918

When the U.S. entered World War I, Fred J. Gorham was a 40-year-old bank officer in Henderson, Kentucky, with a wife and young daughter.  But Gorham had also served as a cavalry officer in the Spanish-American War, and believed that his experience would help the Army in training recruits.

After obtaining special permission from the U.S. Army Adjutant General, Gorham re-enlisted in July 1918 as a private.  He was donning the uniform once more, he wrote his aunt, “to render what service I can in the behalf of Democracy against Autocracy, and quell the oppression of violence and outrage against the women and children of the smaller nations of the world.”  He hoped to go overseas, he wrote his brother, and “if I am allowed to ‘Go Over the Top’ once, then I won’t care what happens or where they send me.”

After reporting to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Gorham’s next stop was an Army base in Columbus, New Mexico.  “Dad,” as his younger comrades called him, quickly earned the respect of the troops as he led them in exercises like target practice.  “You could tell who the Kentucky boys were,” he wrote his mother, “by the way they could shoot.”

But twelve days after that letter, and having assured both his wife and mother that the camp was healthy, Gorham was dead of pneumonia following an attack of influenza.  This veteran of one war and volunteer for another was the victim of a pandemic that, over the next two years, would kill millions worldwide.

Gorham’s remains were interred in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery and his name added to the honor roll of Henderson County’s “Immortal Dead.”  The Henderson Daily Gleaner‘s list, in fact showed more of the county’s sons losing their lives to disease than to battle wounds.

Fred Gorham’s letters and papers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more Spanish-American War and World War I collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“They are too many”

Paris at peace; Verdun, 1918

Paris at peace; Verdun, 1918

It was originally called Decoration Day, a time to place flowers on the graves of the war dead.  Now, as Memorial Day, it also marks a long weekend, store sales, and the beginning of summer, and the public is often indifferent to the  solemnity of the occasion.

For James Knox Polk Lambert, its meaning was fresh.  In Paris on May 30, 1919–Decoration Day–the Kentucky native was on duty with the YMCA, ministering to soldiers awaiting repatriation after World War I.  “Delightful weather,” he observed in his diary, “and charming scenes–bright sunshine, a clear sky, soft atmosphere, rich blooming flowers, sweet singing birds and throngs of well dressed people from all parts of the world.”

But the contrast between that lovely spring day, and the past year spent touring a country shattered by war, immediately clouded his thoughts.  Wrenched back to all that he had seen during his time overseas, he continued:

It is not possible to decorate with flowers all the graves of this war’s dead.  They are too many, too widely scattered; in France, Belgium, Italy; in the Balkans, the Gallipoli peninsula, Mesopotamia; in Russia and the Far East; in unmarked graves and in the fathomless ocean, but wherever they are, sleeping in great cemeteries or still in lonely graves hard by their rendezvous with death, they are not forgotten.

James Lambert’s diary is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For other war collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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General Pershing’s Teeth

After graduation from the Louisville College of Dentistry, Edward Wallace Barr (1887-1962) joined his father’s practice in his home town of Bowling Green, Kentucky.  When the U.S. entered World War I, however, Barr was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Dental Corps and sent to France.  As a member of the Sixth Heavy Artillery, he was considered the first dentist to “go into the trenches,” but in November 1917 was put in charge of the dental offices at the general headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces in Chaumont, France.  There, his patients included Commanding General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.

E. Wallace Barr's Army ID

E. Wallace Barr’s Army ID

As his appointment book showed, Dr. Barr treated many servicemen until his discharge early in 1919, but perhaps it was only General Pershing who merited a discussion between Barr and Pershing’s former dentist, Colonel Ross T. Oliver of the Chief Surgeon’s Office.  “I am glad you found that upper bridge in good condition,” he wrote Barr.  As to the gum disease affecting the General’s lower molars, “that condition has existed for a number of years.”  His recall of one particularly troublesome tooth that had “such a loss of substance that we could easily run an instrument through the bifurcation” suggested, nevertheless, that Pershing could look forward to many more happy hours in the dentist’s chair.

Records and correspondence relating to E. Wallace Barr’s service in the U.S. Army Dental Corps are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections about medical professionals, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“I have seen enough”

Verdun, 1918

Verdun, 1918

In May 1918, Simpson County, Kentucky native James Knox Polk Lambert (1864-1960) left his Chicago law practice to volunteer with the YMCA in ministering to American soldiers fighting overseas.  During his 15-month tour in England and France, Lambert witnessed the transformation of Europe: a last-ditch German offensive, the Armistice, the wild celebrations following successful negotiation of a peace treaty, and the appalling destruction left behind by the war.  He kept a diary of his activities, and reflected on his experiences in a lengthier journal.  Both are now part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.

After the U.S. entered the war, the YMCA was charged with bolstering the welfare and morale of American soldiers with entertainment, educational, religious and other programs.  The end of hostilities, however, did not signal the end of the YMCA’s mandate.  Millions of weary servicemen now turned their eyes toward home, and James Lambert and his colleagues faced the daunting task of keeping them emotionally, spiritually and recreationally occupied as they endured the logistic and bureaucratic trials of mass demobilization.

In addition to the ruin the war brought to the French countryside, Lambert was most struck by the ferocious impatience of the soldiers awaiting repatriation.  “The months of January, February and March [1919],” he wrote, “were marked by the most intense agitation of the boys to go home.”  He found most soldiers he encountered “in the grip of that mania,” unreconciled to the fact that, even at an exit rate of 300,000 men per month, it would take 7 months to get everyone home.  Some of the men, observed Lambert, were obsessed with a rumor that the government was secretly plotting to keep them in the Army for life; so high was the level of anxiety that General John J. Pershing, Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, actually feared a mutiny.  When Lambert suggested that the men spend their time sightseeing and enjoying some postwar tourism courtesy of the YMCA, the reply was predictable: “I have seen enough.  I never want to see this country again.”  For all he had seen, however, James Lambert’s experiences at the close of the Great War marked the beginning of a lifelong fascination with European history and culture.

Touring the battlefields

Touring the battlefields

Click here to access a finding aid for the James Lambert Collection.  For other collections about World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Great War Centennial

John Pleasant Potter, and a flower he picked near French soldiers' graves at Chateau-Thierry

John Pleasant Potter, and a flower he picked near French soldiers’ graves at Chateau-Thierry

A recent biography calls him “the trigger”: 19-year-old south Slav nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, fired his pistol at Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and (though he claimed it was unintentional) at the Archduke’s wife Sophie.  Both died almost instantly.  A month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the rest of Europe, for various geo-political reasons, followed them into the abyss of World War I.

Here in Kentucky, Bowling Green lawyer Clarence McElroy learned of the widening conflict from clients living abroad.  In letters from Surrey, England, Margaret Whitehead Robertson’s reactions ranged from uncertainty to defiance to resignation.  Having recently sold a house, she asked McElroy in August 1914 to invest the proceeds at home rather than overseas, “as no one is sure about the war.  Of course, we all hope England & her allies will win but the war may last 2 or 3 years.”  A few weeks later: “This war is such a dreadful calamity, and everybody I know thinks Kaiser Wilhelm II will have a great deal to answer for, for bringing about a European war.  The Allies are doing splendidly, and we are all disgusted with German atrocities and their terrible military system, which wants to rule the world.”

By October, Margaret was recovering from the initial upheaval.  Vacationing in Eastbourne with her sister Charlotte, who was knitting socks for the soldiers, she noted that the area was enjoying a prosperous autumn “to make up for the bad summer season when people were afraid to come to the seaside at the beginning of the war.”  But after Christmas, rumor had again unsettled her.  She wanted to escape wet and snowy England for Switzerland, but had heard that if Italy entered the war, the food supply to Switzerland might be cut off.  “These are horrible times,” she observed, “and I do wish the war were over.”

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library holds many other World War I-era collections, especially relating to the period after the United States entered the war in 1917.  For example: a scrapbook chronicling the military service of Bowling Green’s John Pleasant Potter, lovingly kept by his mother; letters from Victor Strahm, the son of WKU music director Franz Strahm and a much-decorated air ace; letters of Simpson County native George DeWitt Harris, who died of battle wounds suffered in France; as well as patriotic speeches, poems and postcards.  For other collections about World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Military Resources in WKU Archives

1917 saw the creation of the Army ROTC program at Western under the National Defense Act of 1916.  In 1918, the Board of Regents allowed for the formation of the Student’s Army Training Corps.  Barracks were provided for participating students.  In January 1919, this group became the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.

During World War II the 321st Army Air Force Cadet Training Detachment took up residence on campus. From 1943 through 1944 the group published a newsletter The Open Post, which has been digitized and is now available TopScholar.

A Military Bibliography of primary and secondary sources in WKU Archives has been created.  It documents WKU student military units such as the Pershing Rifles and Scabbard & Blade.  There is information regarding veterans, World War II, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War as well.

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