100 Years Ago This Week: Poppa’s 27th Birthday

Background:  In September of 1917 My grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, who we later called ‘Poppa’, joined the United States Army.  He was assigned to the 20th Engineers whose primary purpose was to mill lumber and build the wooden structures needed by the soldiers. In November he sailed to St. Nazaire, France aboard a troop transport ship.  He is assigned to the headquarters unit of Company A and is now based at a camp set up inside a bull ring in Dax, France.  The company has been recently struck by the sudden death of their commanding officer Major Edward E. Hartwick, of meningitis  On March 31st, 1918.


From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday April 28, 1918– A very fine day.  Took a walk this morning, read in the P.M. and had supper at the White Horse.  Took some pictures today.

Monday April 29Drawing map today.  Three letters from home written on Easter.  Shorty is scratching

Tuesday April 30– An event worthy of mention: The weather is now such that Moore takes off his shirt when going to bed.

Wednesday May 1– All French people are wearing a small bunch of May flowers today.  We now have a shower bath connected by means of engine and pump to hot water spring.  By the time the water reaches us it is at a fine temperature.

Thursday May 2– Both Companies A and C started their big 20 M mills today.

Friday May 3– Received my birthday presents today in the nature of letters.  Two from Marion, two from home and one from Ernie.

Saturday May 4– Spent birthday rather quietly, – Went to picture show at casino.


Lighthearted posts?

On Monday, April 29th Poppa wrote that “Shorty is scratching” and on April 30th he wrote “The weather is now such that Moore takes off his shirt when going to bed”.  I’m assuming that Poppa had formed friendships with other soldiers and like soldiers everywhere there was teasing involved.    I can find no other reference to the soldier named Moore.  However in a previous post Poppa wrote that “John and Shorty cannot play billiards”. Presumably these posts refer to characteristics of his colleagues that warranted teasing.  I wonder how these other soldiers would describe Poppa if we could ask them?  

Wednesday May 1– All French people are wearing a small bunch of May flowers today.  We now have a shower bath connected by means of engine and pump to hot water spring.  By the time the water reaches us it is at a fine temperature.

May Day

In  France today the first of May apparently represents 2 holidays:  May day and Labour day.   It has long been a French tradition to give those you love flowers on May first. In giving these flowers you are also wishing that person happiness and good luck in celebration of the arrival of spring.  Apparently it did not come to also represent Labour day until 1919 so what Poppa experienced in 1918  was the traditional celebration of love that the French observe on May 1st.

Hot Showers

Poppa is with the Headquarters unit of company A of the 30th Engineers which is stationed in Dax, France.  Dax has long been known for it’s hot springs which come from the ground at a temperature of 147 degrees F and had  been thought  to cure rheumatism since Roman times.  Poppa had previously written that he could go to the public baths in Dax and get a bath for 30 cents.  It appears now that they have rigged a system to bring the hot water to their camp instead of going to town and paying for a bath.

Thursday May 2– Both Co.s A and C started their big 20 M mills today.

One main purpose of the 20th engineers in France was to produce lumber.  That is why they were sent to the Dax area which is in the edge of a large forest. In previous posts Poppa had expressed frustration with how little they seemed to be contributing to the war effort.  This frustration may have been due, at least in part, to the fact that they had inferior equipment.  Once in France the original plan was that they would shortly receive powerful sawmills from America.  These were delayed so the engineers used available French mills which they perceived as being inferior.  Based on Poppa’s journal it appears that the companies finally received their larger mills and got them up and running on May 2nd 1918.

There were three main types of sawmills.  The 20 M type that Poppa referred as the largest and was powered by a permanent steam power plant.  It was rated as being able to produce 20,000 board feet of lumber in 10 hours although the soldiers took pride in exceeding that rating regularly.  The lumber produced by one shift with one of these mills,  put end-to-end would stretch for four miles.  Imagine how much lumber was produced by the 20th Engineers during the rest of the war once they had the big mills operating!  The smaller mills were rated at 10 M and 5 M and could be powered by a gas engine or a tractor.  Although these mills produced fewer boards in a day they were much more portable and could be moved around relatively easily (by the same engine that provided their power).  This was a very important feature to those units which were closer to the front lines (Thanks to Michel Boquet for providing me with information about the saw mills.)

This is a picture of the smaller French mill initially used by 1st Co. in Mees, France
This is the larger 20M Sawmill used by the  1st Co. in Mees.  This mill apparently did not get up and running until May 2, 1918, almost 6 months after the soldiers arrived in Mees.

Saturday May 4– Spent birthday rather quietly, – Went to picture show at casino.

Poppa turned 27 on May 4th 1918.

Poppa was born in 1892. Here is a picture of him, his brother, and cousins circa 1896 (?). He is standing in upper right leaning against the column.
This picture of Poppa from the the family photo album is labelled “1908-High School Grad”. Did he really graduate at the age of 17 or was there a mistake in labelling it?

More pictures of Poppa are here

Next Week:  The River is Very High!

Sources:

Woolsey. “Studies in French Forestry, by Theodore S. Woolsey, Jr. with Two Chapters by William B. Greeley.” HathiTrust. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2018.

 

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