100 Years Ago This Week: Drilling in Rain and Mud

 Background:  It is mid-December of 1918 and WWI has been over for more than a month.   My grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, who we called ‘Poppa’, had enlisted in the United States Army’s 20th Engineers in 1917.  He sailed to France aboard a troop transport ship and was assigned to the headquarters unit of Company A based at a camp set up inside a bull ring in Dax, France.  However, on November 7, 1918 he traveled to Langres France and enrolled in Engineers Candidate School.   Here are the journal entries he wrote one hundred years ago this week.


From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday December 15, 1918– A beautiful day, spent all the time cleaning up, writing letters, and being entertained by the stews coming in just before taps.  

Monday December 16– Rain again today.  Drilling in rain and mud.

Tuesday December 17– Mining problem at Fort this a.m. Kraft gets letter from McKeen telling him that unit leaves Jan 1st.  Hope we can get back soon.

Wednesday December 18– Sent a wire today to Major Brooking to find out if 1st BN 20th was going home.  

Thursday December 19– Some of the old October mail that never came showed up today.  Glad to get it. Mining examination today. Not very bad.

Friday December 20– Started camouflage class today.  All afternoon on “Duck Pond” doing doughboy.

Saturday  December 21– Rainy day,  half day of camouflage, inspection and dismissed. Lots of mail. Christmas box came today.

Poppa had the misfortune to be accepted into engineers officers training just as the war was ending.  His soldier buddies back in Dax are preparing to return home but Poppa has no information about when he will be able to leave.   Although he finds some of the training interesting he would prefer go home as soon as possible rather than finish training and receive his commission.

When he wrote on December 15 that he was being “entertained by the stews coming in just before taps”  he likely is referring to the soldiers returning at the last minute after imbibing too much in town.  According to urban dictionary  someone who is “stewed” is under the influence of alcohol.

In the back of Poppa’s  journal there is a pass that authorizes him to leave camp on December 15th.  Although he doesn’t mention it maybe he was one of the “Stews” coming in right before taps.


On December 18th he sent a wire to “Major Brooking to find out if 1st BN 20th was going home“.  He is likely referring to Major Walter D. Brookings.  

Like many of the other officers in the 20th engineers Walter Brookings was involved in the lumber business before joining the army.  In 1899 Brooking’s family owned a logging business in San Bernardino County in the southern part of California.  They used clear cut methods which left the land bare and so, in 1912 when their timber supply dried up,  they moved to Oregon.  They started the Brookings lumber and Townsite Company which bought 30,000 acres of timber in Oregon.  They started the community of Brookings, Oregon to attract workers and built a railway.

Brookings Oregon was started by the Brookings family in 1908 and had a population of 6,300 in 2010.

According to a website maintained by Eldon Gossett the 30 something Walter Brookings was named vice president of the company.  Gossett wrote that Because of Walter’s temper and poor judgment his father put him in charge of the San Fransisco California office which was quite a distance from headquarters and, therefore, out of his hair.

Walter’s uncle was Robert Brookings, a very successful business man who, after retiring, went on to build up Washington University in St. Louis and start the Brookings Institution for Government Research in  Washington D.C.  He was highly regarded and served as a consultant to President WIlson.

This is a picture of Robert Brookings, the influential uncle of Major Walter D. Brookings

When Walter received a notice from the U.S. government in 1917 that he would be drafted into the army he contacted his uncle Robert Brookings and asked him to use his influence to keep him out of the army.  It is apparently a measure of what his uncle thought of him that he refused to intervene.  The army offered Walter a commission as a captain but Walter wanted to enter the army as major.  Again uncle Robert refused to intervene and Walter was inducted into the army as a captain.

Captain Walter Brookings sailed to France in November of 1917 on the same troop ship as Poppa and  was placed in charge of forestry operations in the Dax district in April of 1918.  He was promoted to Major on September 21, 1918.  He was discharged from the army on October 8, 1918.

Later in life Walter moved to Virginia where one of his hobbies was raising Germans Shepherd dogs for the “Seeing Eye” Organization.  He died in 1950 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Next Week: President Wilson Reviews the Troops on Christmas Day


“Quality. Independence. Impact.” Brookings.edu, The Brookings Institution, 7 Dec. 2018, www.brookings.edu/. Accessed 12 Dec. 2018.

“Robert S. Brookings.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 Dec. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_S._Brookings. Accessed 12 Dec. 2018.

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