100 Years ago this Week: Some soldiers leave for the front

Background:  December 1917:  The soldiers of the 20th Engineers including my grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, have traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and are staying temporarily at the American camp 2 miles outside of St. Nazaire France.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Dec 9- A case of scarlet fever developed yesterday in Co. C.  If nothing more develops we may get out of quarantine soon.

Monday Dec 10- Some of the boys went to town today as a result the night was rather noisy.

Tuesday Dec 11– About 8000 more troops arrived today.  I am very busy at supply house.  Tonight “Mock Trial” (?)

Wednesday Dec 12 – Co D, of HG 2nd/Bn (?) and ½ of ba F left today for near the front.

Thursday Dec 13– CO B & ½ bo H (?) left today.  Have been in town all day working.

Friday Dec 14The weather has been very good since we have been here .  Humidity is so great clothes all moldy.

Saturday Dec 15– This has been a very happy day.  Mail came last night bringing me 7 letters.  2-Marion 2-home (?) & Uncle Will.

Note:  My grandfather wrote his daily entries in pencil in a small pocket journal.  When I was unable to decipher what he wrote I entered a (?) in my transcription of his writing.  This is a picture of his diary for this week.  On Tuesday December 11 it appears that he wrote Tonight “Mock Trial”.  I don’t know what that refers to.  Any ideas?

John Rodney Jamieson’s Journal entry for December 8-13, 1917

Wednesday Dec 12, 1917-  In his journal Poppa noted that some units were sent to other locations.  Here is a map of where in France the different battalions and companies of the 20th engineers were eventually stationed.

Poppa wrote that among the units going to a location near the front was the Second battalion Headquarters.  Battalion headquarters are identified with a diamond shape.  Note the diamond with the number 2 in it in the upper right (Northeast) section of the map.  It appears to be very near the border with Germany.  According to the 20th Engineers website this is the Vosges area of France.  Many WWI battles had already been fought in this area of the Border of France and Belgium before America joined the war.  Although the main purpose of the 20th Engineers was to produce lumber and timber for Allied forces the 2nd battalion would find itself immediately behind the front lines of battle.

On Saturday, Dec 15th Poppa indicated that mail arrived and he received 7 letters. Two of those letters were from Marion Clarkson Brown who had recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  Here is a page from her yearbook. Although they were just courting in 1917 (Spoiler alert) Marion was my grandmother.  Marion grew up in Webster Groves MO.  It appears that she attended a year of college at University of Washington in St. Louis before transferring to the University of Wisconsin.  Family legend says that Marion wanted to go to medical school but in those days women were not encouraged to be physicians.  Apparently after graduation Marion was qualified to teach high school science.  In his journal Poppa had a mailing address for Marion which was in Webster Groves.  Apparently Marion returned there to live with her family after college graduation in 1917.

He also received mail from ‘Uncle Will’.  William Wallace Jamieson was his uncle and would have been about 62 years old in 1917.

William Wallace Jamieson (1855-1947)


Next week: Moving to a New Camp




20thEngineers.com – World War 1 – 2nd Battalion. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2017.The University of Wisconsin Collection: The Badger (Volume XXXI): Classes. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Dec. 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.