100 Years ago This Week: Leaving on the Q.T. for an Unknown Location

Background:  More than one month after arriving at the American University in Washington, D.C. My grandfather and other soldiers of the 20th Engineers are packed up and ready to move.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Nov. 11th, 1917 – Everything packed up.  Left American Univ.  At 5. P.M. Marched to Rotin (?) yard.  Everything done on the Q.T.  Rode all night.

Monday Nov 12thArrived Jersey City 6 A.M.  Took ferry to transport Madawaska  formerly Koenig Wilhelm II.  Confined to quarters not allowed on deck.

Tuesday Nov. 13– Very quiet day.  Slightly seasick could not eat anything.  New York Harbor great sight last night

Wednesday Nov. 14We are escorted by one Battle cruiser and two torpedo Boat destroyers.  One other transport.  Weather fine.

Thursday Nov. 15– Acting as orderly for Maj. Hartwick  I am getting very well acquainted with the boat (?) weather still fine.

Friday Nov. 16 – Very rough sea today.  Everybody seasick.  Meals are served at 7AM. 11:30 AM and 4:P.M.  No one eats much.

Saturday Nov. 17Several still seasick.  My appetite has been lost altogether.  I certainly will be glad to get to land.

In a family album this picture is labelled “JRJ in Uniform in 1917”

On Sunday, November 11th, 1917  my grandfather, along with the other soldiers of the First and Second Battalions of the 20th engineers, left Camp American University where he had been since since October 4th.  Imagine what the soldiers must have been feeling as they left camp “on the Q.T.” .  They did not know where they were going but they must have suspected that they were about to join the war in Europe.

Sometimes it is difficult to read his handwriting in his journal.  It appears that he writes they marched to “Rotin” yard.  Here is a copy of that entry.

Journal entry for 11/11/. What is “Rotin Yard”?

Since they “Rode all Night” I assume they were on a train. But what is the “Rotin yard”?.  Do you have a better reading of the phrase?

Update:  Mystery solved!  Thank you to Michel Boquet for pointing out that in the book Twentieth Engineers, France 1917-1919 it was reported  that other units which trained at American University left from Roslyn (not Rotin).

Rosslyn Virginia is about 3.5 miles from the camp at American University and just across the Potomac River.  It seems reasonable that the soldiers might march that distance to board a train for Jersey City.  Although it doesn’t look like Poppa was trying to write Rosslyn it is likely that was their departure point.   Possibly he did not know the name of the place, or had not heard it correctly.

Monday November 12, 1917– Jersey City, New Jersey is 222 miles from Washington, D.C. and across the Hudson from New York City.  In nearby Hoboken there is a memorial ‘boulder’ commemorating the city’s role as an embarkation point for WWI service men and the three million troops passed through the port.

The Hoboken Memorial Boulder
The Hoboken Memorial Boulder

The Madawaska had previously been the German liner “Konig Wilhelm II.”  According to Wikipedia she was a steel-hulled screw steamer launched on 20 July 1907 at Stettin, Germany.   It was built by Germany for the transatlantic passenger trade, and travelled  between Germany, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, until the outset of World War I in 1914. Voluntarily interned at Hoboken, New Jersey, to avoid being captured by the Royal Navy, the passenger liner was seized after the United States entered the war on 6 April 1917, as were all other German vessels in American ports.

Before agents of the U.S. federal government took possession of the ship, her German crew attempted to render her unusable by cracking her main steam cylinders with hydraulic jacks. Following repairs to the damaged machinery, Konig Wilhelm II was commissioned on 27 August 1917.

The Madawaska

She was renamed Madawaska on 1 September, 1917.   During World War I, she conducted 10 transatlantic voyages in which she carried nearly 12,000 men to Europe. After the armistice of 11 November 1918, Madawaska made seven more voyages, bringing 17,000 men home from the European theater.

It appears that Poppa travelled across the Atlantic on what was built as a passenger ship.  Do you think it was more comfortable than other troop carriers?

Thursday November 15– Major Edward E Hartwick was commander of the First battalion of the 20th engineers.

Major Edward E. Hartwick


Next Week: Watching for German Submarines


Thanks to Michel B for pointing out errors in a draft of this episode


Gobetz, Wally. “NJ – Hoboken: World War I American Expeditionary Forces Memorial Boulder.” Flickr. Yahoo!, 10 June 2006. Web. 09 Nov. 2017.


100 Years ago this Week: Ready to Go to War

Background:  The 20th Engineers including my grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, are training in anticipation of being sent overseas to participate in World War I.  Having arrived in Washington, D. C. on October 4th, 1917,  they have been training, getting equipped and staying in tents on the campus of American University.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Nov. 4th, 1917 – Have pass uptown today.  Spent A.M. in long walk.  P.M. at Keith’s Vaudeville,  On fire duty tonight.

Monday Nov. 5th– Pay day.  Everybody is happy as nearly everyone is broke.  Camp is guarded tonight no one leaves.

Tuesday Nov. 6th– Looks as though we will leave before long now.

Wednesday Nov. 7th– Weather is fine.  Nothing special doing.  No one allowed passes.

Thursday Nov. 8th– All supplies are packed and loaded.  A sure “go” this time.

Friday Nov. 9th– Inspection of both battalions today in full marching order.

Saturday Nov. 10th – In full marching order.  We were reviewed by War Dept. in front of War building.  Trip about ten miles everyone stiff & tired. (Note- according to google maps it is 4.9 miles from American University to 1650 Pennsylvania Ave.)


Here is a picture of the 20th Engineers on the campus of American University taken in October, 1917.  Presumably, my grandfather is in this picture somewhere.

“European War Mobilization – 20th Regiment Engineers (Forestry) Camp American University, Washington, D.C. – Oct. 1917”


B. F. Keith Theatre stage

Sunday November 4th–  Poppa wrote that he spend the  P.M. at Keith’s Vaudeville.  B. F. Keith opened a Vaudeville theatre in 1913 on the corner of 15th and G in Washington.  Keith was known as the ‘King of Vaudeville because he had 30 theaters and was worth $50 million.  According to the publication Vaudeville and Other High Drama at 15th and G, Keith’s Theatre was only a block from the White House and President Wilson rarely missed a Saturday night show there.

This theatre was about 4 miles from The American University where the soldiers stayed.  Did they walk to the theatre or was there some other form of transportation?

Monday November 5th– Pay day.  Apparently during WWI privates were paid $15.00 per month.

Friday November 9th– Poppa indicated that both battalions were inspected.  According to a website  “...the 20th Engineers was the largest regiment ever to exist in the United States Army. formed in 1917 it grew to over 500 officers and 30,000 soldiers by Armistice Day in 1918. The organization included 14 battalions deployed to France, with another 14 battalions and additional company-sized units attached, and 15 more battalions still organizing in the United States. Its missions were among the most diverse of the American Expeditionary Forces, from operating within direct combat range of German forces, to units scattered along the Spanish border; its soldiers were among the first to arrive in France, and among the last to return home. The primary function of the 20th Engineers was forestry–to produce lumber and timber for Allied forces–but its flexibility and command structure allowed for a wide range of other engineer missions.”  Although the organization grew to 14 battalions by the end of WWI my grandfather was in the First or Second battalion.  The first battalion, originally authorized to be 600 men strong grew to 800.  The article didn’t report the size of the second battalion.

The 20th engineers spent September and October of 1917 training in military things such as close order drill, interior guard, and physical exercise. However, the same article noted that none of the recruits was trained in the forestry skills that were to be central to their unit’s functioning because they were assumed to have brought these  skills from civilian life.  My grandfather fit the bill since he came from a lumbering family.

Saturday November 10th– My grandfather indicated that they were reviewed in front of the War Building and that they marched 10 miles that day. His estimate that they marched 10 miles is pretty accurate as Google Maps now indicates that it is 4.9 miles from American University to the address of the War Building.

Here is a picture to document the event! Poppa must be in there somewhere.

The handwritten label at the bottom says: “REVIEW OF 20TH ENGINEERS, BY SECT’ Y OF WAR BAKER AT THE STATE, WAR AND NAVY BIDG. WASHINGTON, D.C. NOVEMBER 10, 1917.”

The War Building  is located across the street from the White House in Washington, D.C.but is now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and houses a majority of offices for White House staff. It was originally built for the State, War and Navy Departments between 1871 and 1888.

The war building must also be in the same neighborhood as the other building Poppa visited this week; Keith’s Vaudeville.


Next Week:  Leaving on the Q.T. for an unknown location



“Vaudeville and Other High Drama at 15th and G.” Streets of Washington. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2017.

“WWI Army Pay Card.” Currach. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2017.

20thEngineers.com – World War 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2017.

“Eisenhower Executive Office Building.” The White House. The United States Government, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 27 Oct. 2017.

20thEngineers.com – World War 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2017.


100 Years ago this Week: Sleeping on a shelf in the Supply House

Background:  A train load of soldiers including my grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson arrived in Washington, D. C. on October 4th, 1917.  They have been staying in tents on the campus of American University ever since.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Oct 21st– Half a day off.  Am uptown? now to get filled up.  Went to Church.  Presbyterian Church

Monday Oct 22nd– Was transferred to sleep in supply house.  Sleeping on shelves and all over floor.

Tuesday Oct. 23rd– Slept well on shelf last night.  Big day with supplies, everyone nearly equipped.  No one allowed to leave camp.

Wednesday Oct 24th– Did not get out last night as was expected.  Everything quiet today.  Two packages of candy today.

Thursday Oct 25th– Very little to do today.  Loafing around stove.  Two more packages of candy today

Friday Oct 26th– Still loafing and eating candy.  Hope they will put ? me to work soon.  Good news from Tampa ?

Saturday Oct. 27th– Feeling rather ‘indisposed” today.  Have a good cold and sore throat.  Good hot shower at Y.M. tonight.

Is sleeping on a shelf in the supply house more desirable than a tent?

It appears that my grandfather was busy with supplies this week.  Mobilizing an army to send overseas must have been an enormous job. Here is a picture of a US solider typically equipped for WWI.

Typically equipped WWI soldier
John Rodney Jamieson in uniform


Here is a picture of the equipment that would have been assigned to a British soldier in 1916. Although it’s not American I like the picture.

Equipment of a British soldier circa 1916


Although Poppa appeared bored with the soldier’s life stateside the war was becoming real to America as on October 21st, 1917  American soldiers entered combat for the first time on the Western front under French command.

Next Week: Prohibition Begins in Washington, D.C.


100 Years ago this week: Figuring out the job

Background:  A train load of soldiers including my grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson arrived in Washington, D. C. on October 4th, 1917.  They have been staying in tents on the campus of American University ever since.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Oct 14th, 1917– Spent all day waiting for a little equipment at headquarters.  Spent evening at Y.M.C.A. in Washington

Monday Oct 15th– Everything going well.  Worked in storehouse most of day.  Y.M.C.A. gives farewell reception.  I had to work did not go.  

Tuesday Oct 16th– Working in supply room all day and night.  Very busy

Wednesday Oct 17th-Acting as supply clerk for Hq. co  Still busy am at Washington Y.MCA tonight.  Have had a good bath.

Thursday Oct 18th– Working on supplies today. and late tonight.  This job might be easier.

Friday Oct 19th– Jefferson O. Barracks placed under quarantine for Diphtheria.  Glad I was transferred before.

Saturday Oct 20th– Am getting my job better in hand and straightened out.  Met Roy Thomas today.  He is assigned to Co. F


Monday, Oct. 15– Poppa recorded in his journal that the YMCA gave a farewell reception.  During WWI the YMCA was a different organization than we think of today.  According to The History of the YMCA in WWI the ‘Y’ provided 90% of the welfare services available to the military both at home and overseas.  The Red Cross and USO were not yet the organizations we think of today and when American needed to quickly build an army to fight overseas the YMCA also mobilized.  During the ‘Great War’ 35,000 YMCA volunteers worked to meet the welfare of our forces overseas.  Of the men and women working with the YMCA there were 286 casualties during the war.








The YMCA building in Washington, D.C.











Friday October 19th- Just days after leaving Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. Poppa learned that that camp had been quarantined because of an outbreak of diphtheria.  Diphtheria was a stubborn disease to control and by the 1920s there were between 100,000 and 200,000 cases reported in the US.  Although a vaccine was developed in 1924 thousands of cases were reported in Europe during WWII.  There were zero cases reported in the US in 2015.

Next Week:  Sleeping on a Shelf in the Supply House



The History of the YMCA in World War I. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Sept. 2017.

“Diphtheria.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Sept. 2017. Web. 01 Oct. 2017.

100 Years ago this week: A Rainy Week in Washington, D.C.

Background: Two weeks after leaving home in Poynette, Wisconsin and joining the army my grandfather finds himself living in an army camp on the grounds of the American University in Washington, D.C.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Oct 7th, 1917- Have day off today,  Arm still sore.  Visited Washington including White House, Capital, Wash. Monument, etc.

Monday Oct 8th–  Am on guard tonight.  Weather dank and wet.  This is what you get for joining the army. ? ? today.

Tuesday Oct 9thStill on guard until 4:30 P.M.  Weather wet? still ? today.  Feet wet tonight with no change of shoes.  

Wednesday Oct 10th– Rec’d pack equipment today.  Getting ready to go.  Transferred to Headquarters today.

Thursday Oct 11thInspection or false start today.  First drill with packs on back.  

Friday Oct 12th– Not much doing as it is raining.  Drill this A.M. but started raining at noon.

Saturday Oct 13th- Worked in supply storehouse today.  Inspection of barracks at 1:00 P.M. Went to vaudeville show at night.


Sunday Oct. 7th- At the time that Poppa visited the White House in 1917 women did not yet have the right to vote.  It’s possible that there were women protesting in front of the famous building at the time he was there.  Although brought there by their desire to vote, some also protested America’s involvement in the ‘Great War’.   Voting rights for women was not an issue that President Wilson supported but apparently the women protesting for the vote in front of the White House helped change his mind.  After some of the women were arrested and sent to jail they went on a hunger strike.  Fearing negative publicity President Wilson agreed to support the movement and on August 18th 1920 the 19th amendment was ratified giving women the right to vote.

Saturday night Oct. 13th-  Poppa  went to the Vaudeville show, likely with some other soldiers.

Vaudeville sheet music from 1917



Note:  My grandfather wrote in a small day calendar.  At places it is hard to read his writing.  When I was unable to decipher what was written I substituted a ‘?’.  Here is the journal page for the first part of October 2017.  Remember he didn’t have a pocket calendar for 2017 so he used one from 2013 and wrote in the correct day of the week. What do you think he wrote on Monday, October 8th and on Tuesday the 9th?


Copy of Journal from October, 1917
























Next Week:  Figuring Out the Job


“President Woodrow Wilson Picketed by Women Suffragists.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2017.

http://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/19th-amendment”The American Vaudeville Museum Archive.”

The American Vaudeville Archive Special Collections. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2017.

100 Years Ago This Week: Working in the Mess Hall

Background:  On  September 24th, 1917 my grandfather traveled to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and joined the US army.  Less than 24 hours later he was on a train to Jefferson Barracks in Missouri.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday, Sept. 30th, 1917- Still in the Mess House from 5:00 A.M. until 7:00 P.M. with but 2 hours off.  Amy Thomas called today caught me in ? ? clothes.

Monday Oct 1st- Relieved from Mess House today at 2:30 P.M.  Glad to get out.  Orders to pack up today and leave for Washington D.C. Wed.

Tuesday Oct. 2nd– Received equipment for trip east today.   Busy day taking examinations, getting instructions, & equipment.

Wednesday Oct. 3rd– Started in train for Washington.  Spent 2 hrs in St.Louis, left at noon on  Penn. train good sleep in sleeper.

Thursday Oct 4th– On board train, 1 ½ hrs. late.  Arrived in Washington at 8:00 P.M.  Direct to American University grounds.  

Friday Oct 5th– Started training with 20th Engineers.  Looks as though they will leave here soon.

Saturday Oct 6th– On kitchen police today also received “shot in the arm”. Like mess house-not- Nearly sick tonight account of arm.

It appears that Poppa spent much of his first week in the army working in the mess hall.  He did apparently have a visit from Amy Thomas.  Thomas was his grandmother’s maiden name so presumable Amy was a relative.

However, less than one week after arriving at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri Poppa was on the move again when he boarded another train for Washington, D.C.  The trip lasted from about noon on October 3rd until 8:00 PM the next day, a span of about 32 hours.  Sounds like he was able to sleep on the train and presumably arrived well rested.

Although his handwriting can be difficult to read it appears that he rode on the ‘Penn. train’.  The Pennsylvania railroad had grown rapidly by acquiring smaller railroad companies and by the late 1890s had established a route from St. Louis to New York.  Therefore it is possible that Poppa was indicating that he travelled on the Pennsylvania railroad.

Upon arriving in nation’s capital the soldiers went directly to the campus of American University.

During WWI The Army set up camp on the grounds of the American University in Washington, D.C.

American University opened in 1914.  Less than three years later and only 24 days after the United States declared war in 1917 American University offered it’s property to the war effort. Apparently the university only had 28 students enrolled at the time so the president of the university contacted Woodrow Wilson and offered the university property to the government to use as they saw fit.  During the the first world war (as well as during WWII) soldiers lived and trained on the campus of American University.  The army also used the property as a laboratory for developing and testing chemical weapons.  Apparently at the end of the WWI excess munitions were buried in one corner of the university property.  Some of these were accidentally uncovered by workers in the 1990s.  Imagine how dangerous it would have been if poisonous gas were to be accidentally released in an urban area such as Washington DC.  Wikipedia reported that it took until 2009 and cost $170 million for all of these chemicals to be found and cleaned up.  A book on this topic has recently been published.

At any rate it appears that once he settled in to the new camp he went back to working in the mess hall.

Next Week:  A rainy week in Washington, D.C.


“Camp American University.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Aug. 2017. Web. 12 Sept. 2017.

“American University Once Had A Chemical Warfare Center.” Architect of the Capital. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2017.

100 Years Ago This Week: Poppa Joins the Army

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Monday, Sept. 24th, 1917 –Enlisted at Milwaukee in the 20th Engineers. Rode all night in car of rough necks to St. Louis.

Tuesday, Sept. 25th –Arrived at Jefferson Barracks.  Took shower bath. Spent day rather quietly.  No sleep last night.

Wednesday, Sept. 26th –Took medical exam and got “shot in the arm”  Mighty sore tonight.  Barracks beds are fine.

Thursday, Sept. 27th –Got our uniforms today, assigned to 16th Recruit Co.  Arm still sore.

Friday, Sept. 28th –First day of drill.  Feet sore by noon.  First mail from home today.

Saturday, Sept. 29th –First day of work in the Mess House.  Stringing beans and waiting on table.



A Red Cross worker hands out care packages to soldiers departing from Milwaukee. This picture is from the book by Kevin J. Abing called “The Crowded Hour Milwaukee During the Great War 1917-1018. The author of the book used the picture with permission of the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

My grandfather was 28 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army on Sept 24th, 1917.  According to his diary he travelled to Milwaukee to enlist.  He lived about 100 miles away in Poynette at the time but he doesn’t say how he got to Milwaukee.  By the next day he had arrived by train at Jefferson Barracks in Lemay, Missouri which is located on the Mississippi River just south of St. Louis.  The Jefferson Barracks Military Post was built in 1826 and was used in the Mexican American War and the Civil War (by both sides) prior to becoming a training sight for WWI soldiers.

In the entry for September 24th he indicated that he enlisted in the 20th Engineers.  This was a regiment of forestry engineers.  The government realized that going to war in Europe would require the building and maintenance of great deal of infrastructure from docks to bridges to barracks to outhouses.  Lumber was needed for all of these and that was the job of the 20th engineers.  Poppa was the third generation of his family to own a lumberyard in Poynette, WI so choosing to join a regiment of lumbermen makes sense.

On September 26th he indicated that he got a shot in the arm.  According to a book entitled World War I by Jennifer D. Keene soldiers enlisting in the Army in 1917 received a vaccine for tetanus, typhoid and small pox.  For many soldiers this may have been the first vaccination they had ever received.


Soldiers receiving vaccinations in WWI




A picture of Jefferson Barracks from Wikipedia

Next Week: Working in the Mess Hall



“Jefferson Barracks Military Post.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Aug. 2017. Web. 29 Aug. 2017.

“20th Engineer Brigade (United States).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Aug. 2017. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Davies, Alfred H. “Twentieth Engineers, France, 1917-1918-1919 : Davies, Alfred H : Free Download & Streaming.” Internet Archive. Portland, Ore., Twentieth Engineers Publishing Assn, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

“World War I.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Imgur. “American Troops Receiving Typhoid Vaccinations during World War 1.”Imgur. N.p., 29 Jan. 2015. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Abing, Kevin J. “A Crowded Hour: Milwaukee During the Great War 1917-1918.  America Through Time 2017