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!

100 Years ago This Week: Spending Mother’s Day in France

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.  Poppa has just celebrated his 27th birthday.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday May 12, 1918– River very high yet.  This is Mother’s Day. All have written to their mothers.  Co A played 6th Bn team today. Winning 1 to 0.

Monday May 13– The water was so high on Sat and Sun that the pigs were isolated on an island.  We made a raft and took food to them in Thoms hat.

Tuesday May 14– Weather is again warm and very delightful.  Many French girls “Prommanade” in park every evening.

Wednesday May 15– With Lloyd today repairing telephone to Mees.  Eleven letters today. About time some were coming.  

Thursday May 16– Received check/ draft for fifty from home yesterday.  It came at a very welcome time.

Friday May 17 – Eight sailors came here today with six trucks to haul gravel from pit to depot for (?) station somewhere near Bordeaux

 Saturday May 18– Made some purchases today including socks, handkerchief, etc. to take place of laundry washwoman  did not return


Week of May 12-18, 1918

Based on Poppa’s journal entries it was a quiet week in his camp in Dax, France.  Soldiers, aware that Mothers Day was being observed back in the states, were likely longing to be home with their families.

A formal picture of Poppa’s mother, Eliza Duff Jamieson (1864-1943)

Other than high water and improving weather it appears that he had little to report on.  However, two things of interest did happen back in the states during this week.

On May 15th, 1918 the United States post office implemented a new type of delivery called Airmail.  The first Airmail delivery route was between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York.  An Airmail stamp cost 24 cents.

On May 16th the Sedition Act was enacted by the United States Congress.  It forbade the use of “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces or that caused others to view the American government or its institutions with contempt. 

 Next Week: Not much work to do for me

“Sedition Act of 1918.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2018. Web. 11 May 2018.


100 Years ago This Week: President Wilson’s Conditions of Peace

Background:  In September 1917 My grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, who we later called ‘Poppa’, joined the 20th Engineers regiment of the United States Army.  In November he sailed to St. Nazaire, France aboard a troop transport ship.  They are now based at a camp set up inside a bull ring in Dax, France.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Jan 6, 1918 – Attended football game today, much different than U.S. games.  Went to casino, pictures show also.

Monday Jan 7– It’s very easy to do our laundry with plenty of hot water.  Women will do it very cheaply for me.

Tuesday Jan 8– Have been working for the last week with ‘Shorty” on posting books in the supply room.

Wednesday Jan 9– On clear days we can see Pyrenees Mountains about 35 miles distant.  Very pretty sight.

Thursday Jan 10– Mail today.  Five letters from home, all of them six weeks old.  Mail service is not very good.

Friday Jan 11– Hope to get through of this job in supply room soon, book work is rotten.

Saturday Jan 12– Every Sat at 1 p.m. we have inspection.  Did some tracing today  Better job.  Fine feed tonight.


A contemporary view of the Pyrenees Mountains

Jan 9, 1918– Poppa mentions that he could see the Pyrenees Mountains.   A blog describes them this way: The Pyrenees are a magnificent mountain range in the southwest of France that form a natural border between Spain in France.  These mountains span over 300 miles and reach heights over 11,000 ft. 

This  travel site has a more detailed description of the mountains.

January 8th, 1918-Back in the USA on  President Wilson gave a speech to a joint session of Congress on ‘Conditions of Peace’.

Major Edward E. Hartwick was Poppa’s commanding officer.  His biography by Gordon K. Miller contained the text of a letter Hartwick wrote to his family in January of 1918.  Here is what he said about President Wilson’s speech:

Yesterday the French on the train were all enthusiastic over Mr Wilson’s address to our Congress, wherein he enumerated the fourteen conditions for peace.  Of course, the condition calling for the return of Alsace and Lorraine pleases them- and also the reference to Belgium.  Quite often I am asked by them:  “How long do you the war will last?”  and “How many soldiers will America have over here this spring?” and they are disappointed when I shrug my shoulders and answer “Je ne sais pas” [I do not know].   It is a gigantic job and we are preparing it on a huge scale.  At a supply camp that is now built where I was yesterday the main side track is eight miles long and we are building a huge ice plant there, etc.  My hands are so cold I can hardly write- no heat in this room – I must get ready for the train.\

President Woodrow Wilson Addresses Congress in 1916.

Next Week: Some Think we Have No Business Here


“Why You Should Visit the Pyrenees in France.” RoarLoud. N.p., 13 May 2017. Web. 27 Dec. 2017.
“The Pyrenees Mountain Range Divides France and Spain.” TripSavvy. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Dec. 2017.
Bethune, Brian. “How 1916 Set the Stage for America to Enter WWI.” Macleans.ca. N.p., 22 Nov. 2016. Web. 27 Dec. 2017.
“A Biographical Sketch of Major Edward E. Hartwick.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2017.


100 Years ago this Week: Watching for German Submarines

Background: My Grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, and other soldiers of the 20th Engineers quietly left Camp American University in Washington, D.C. on November 11, 1917 aboard a train.  Upon arriving in New Jersey they boarded the Ship Madawaska for parts unknown.  The voyage continues.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Nov. 18, 1917 – Much better today.  Weather better and appetite fair.  I am sick of a transport.  Hope I can go back in a better manner.

Monday Nov. 19 – Still going.  We have no lights on this ship on account of danger.  Go to bed at about 6:30 P.M.  and get up at 6:30 A.M.  Weather rather rough.

Tuesday Nov. 20 – We have made very slow time throughout.  Today we have been going very slowly in a circle.  Looks like we are waiting for something.  

Wednesday Nov. 21We were met today by supply boats with convoys who gave our destroyers oil and during the night we started forward.  One destroyer crippled.

Thursday November 22– Quiet weather good going.  No subs yet.  One destroyer towed by cruiser.  Stood still all night.  

Friday Nov 23 -At 6:30 this morning we were met by 6 more destroyers as escorts.  Weather is ideal for submarines.  We are very carefully guarded.

Saturday, Nov 24– Very carefully and steadily we have moved forward all day through the heart of the danger zone.  Weather excellent.


Poppa indicated that he and other soldiers  did not have a good appetite due to seasickness.

Here is the kitchen (galley) of the Madawaska. Maybe these cooks weren’t very busy because no one was hungry due to sea sickness?

On Monday November 19, 1917 my grandfather reported that they were going slowly with no lights on “on account of danger”.  Presumably they are worried about German submarines since he mentions them again on November 22nd and 23rd.  They were correct to be concerned.

Although submarines were used before before World War I the Great War was the turning point where submarine warfare took place on a global scale.

Two years earlier on May 7th, 1915, the British liner Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine.  Nearly 1,200 people died including 128 Americans when the skip sank. Within a year the U.S. would become involved in the war.

Prior to 1915 Germany had agreed to adhere to rules of submarine attacks.  Since freighters and tankers were not military boats and the crew were usually not military, the submarines were to come to the surface, search the ship, give the merchantmen the option to leave via lifeboat, and then sink the ship.

However, earlier in 1917, Germany announced a new policy known as unrestricted submarine warfare. As the name implies, this meant the German Navy was going to sink any and all ships it deemed threatening without warning.

German Submarine U-14


Poppa indicated that they were escorted by a cruiser and 2 destroyers.  The Cruiser was the USS San Diego.  The San Diego was built in 1907 and originally named the USS California.  She made several trips across the Atlantic safely escorting US soldiers to Europe. It was sunk on 18 July 1918.  Officially it was determined that it hit an underwater mine laid by the germans although the captain believed it was struck by a torpedo.


The notation on this picture says it is the Madawaska in a convoy in November 1917. Was my grandfather on the ship when this picture was taken?

The Madawaska went on to serve the military through both WWI and WWII.  It was sold for scrap in 1948.  Other transport ships were not as lucky.  Another ship that transported soldiers on the same route was the President Lincoln.  This ship made five voyages from New York to France safely delivering over 23,000 soldiers.  She was sunk on May 30th, 1918 while returning to the US.  26 of the 700 men on board were lost.

Next Week:  Our Destination is Finally Revealed


“U-boat Campaign (World War I).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Oct. 2017. Web. 09 Nov. 2017.

“Submarine Warfare – WWI Unconventional Naval Strikes.” Totally History Submarine Warfare Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2017.

20thEngineers.com – World War 1 – 1st Battalion. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2017.


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: 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.