100 Years ago this week: Looks as though we are in for a long trip.

Background:  WWI  has been over for 5 months and the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force are being sent home from France.  After a year and a half stationed  in the forests of southern France the 20th Engineers have begun the journey home.   My grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, who we later called ‘Poppa’, has spent the past few weeks in various camps near Bordeaux , France.  He has just received orders to sail home with the other soldiers of the 20th Engineers and they have boarded the transport ship the USS Roanoke, but have not left port.  Here are the journal entries he wrote one hundred years ago this week.


From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday April 6, 1919– Left Bordeaux at 8:00 A.M. Pulling down the river reaching the green salt water at 2:00 P.M.  Boat very crowded with poor accommodations. We are in the (?) at very rear. Slightly better than Madawaska.

Monday  April 7– The Roanoke was formerly a mine layer in the North Sea with the British.  This is its first trip across with troops. Weather so far has been very good. Slightly rough this A.M. Enough to make some of us a little sick.  

Tuesday April 8 – Rather good all A.M. but grew rough this P.M.  Boat can make but thirteen knots at its best, in rough weather not over ten.  Looks as though we are in for a long trip.

Wednesday April 9– Very rough today but still going very well.  Many sea sick last night.

Thursday April 10– Stormy all of A.M. and half of P.M.  Going very slowly. In evening weather cleared slightly but still cloudy.  Made better speed.

Friday – April 11 – Still a little rough this A.M. but are now making good time.  Very little distance made in last 24 hours due to the storm. Have been sea sick nearly all the time until today.  Most meals have been a sandwich.

Saturday April 12 – Appetite has fully returned.  Weather is fine, sea smooth. Made 307 miles in last 24 hours.  Best run we have made yet. Spend most of my time reading, sitting, lying or standing around deck but always on deck.  

Setting Sail for America

Poppa and the other soldiers of the 20th Engineers have finally started for home aboard the USS Roanoke.

The Roanoke was originally built in in 1901 by a shipping company.   It was  acquired by the navy in 1917 and converted to use as a mine layer.

This picture shows the Roanoke and other minelayers in formation placing mines in 1918. The camouflage painted on these ships was not intended to make the ships harder to see.  Rather it was to make it difficult for enemy submarine crew to determine factors such as the direction and speed of the ship, data needed in order to launch torpedoes successfully.

This journey is the first of 3 across the Atlantic the Roanoke would make repurposed as a transport to bring soldiers home from Europe.  Poppa wrote that this ship is “slightly better than Madawaska”  which was the ship that brought him to France in 1917.  Although he doesn’t mention it,  the mood of soldiers on the Roanoke must be different than that on the trip on the Madawaska.  They are now returning home victorious and don’t have the constant threat of German submarines that hung over them on the trip over.  

During the middle of the week the weather was bad, progress was slow and many soldiers were seasick.  By the end of the week both the weather and the soldiers’ moods had improved.  As the week ends they find themselves making irritatingly slow progress toward America somewhere in the middle of the  Atlantic ocean.

Here is a page from the Passenger list of the Roanoke. Private First Class John Rodney Jamieson is number 17 on this list. Edward Kraft (#12) is crossed off with the note “did not sail”.   Unlike Poppa, Kraft opted to stay in France to receive his officers commission.

Next Week: Happiest Afternoon of My Life!

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