Background: November 1917: The 20th Engineers including my grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, are traveling across the Atlantic Ocean on the Madawaska, a passenger ship originally built by Germans but confiscated by americans when the war started. They haven’t been told yet where the ship is going.
From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson
Sunday Nov 25, 1917 – Rough weather today made us feel rather safe. We expect to land tomorrow but know one knows where.
Monday Nov 26th– A pleasant day Pretty scenery accompanied first view of land. Arrived at Saint Nazaire France at 4:30. No one allowed to leave boat.
Tuesday Nov 27– All day spent on board ship. Due to 7 cases of spinal Meningitis (?) and measles. We are having trouble in landing.
Wednesday Nov 28 –This A.M we unloaded and sent to a camp 2 miles from boat. We are quarantined and assigned to a certain section.
Thursday Nov 29 –Spent Thanksgiving under quarantine working in supply room.
Friday Nov 30– Our barracks are fairly comfortable except we have no floor or cots. Sleeping close to nature.
Saturday Dec 1– This is a large camp but we have only a very small part of it and closely guarded. Weather is fine.
The soldiers and crew of the USS Madawaska must have felt relieved to finally reach the relative safety of a harbor after many days of traveling under the constant danger of attack from German submarines. But soldiers continue to get sick and for the third time in as many months my grandfather and his comrades are placed in quarantine.
Major Edward E. Hartwick was the commander of the 20th engineers and was onboard the Madawaska with his soldiers. Here is what he wrote in his journal on November 26th, 1917:
“Land sighted at 6 :35 a.m. Sea smooth and weather clear. We were met by three yachts flying the American flag all mounting guns forward and aft. Also two French biplanes came out and hovered over us having the tricolor and stripes on the lower plane and on the tail also. At each end of the lower plane a tri colored target circle and we could see mounted forward a large machine gun pointed downward Also a dirigible balloon was flying over the harbor. Our fleet formation was changed to column formation our escort of destroyers falling in behind us and we were piloted in by one yacht the other two sailing along on our starboard.”
St. Nazaire, France
St. Nazaire is a community where the Loire river flows into the Atlantic.
In 1917 St. Nazaire was a small town but has grown considerably due to industrialization and ship building.
Here is a Youtube video of what St. Naizaire appears in modern times.
This picture, from the 1917-1919 photo album of Donald R. Cochran, shows the Madawaska in port at St. Nazaire in 1919.
This picture was reportedly taken on June 25th, 1917 and shows the first group of soldiers to arrive in St. Nazaire, France. This would be five months before Poppa’s arrival but the photo likely reflects conditions similar to what he experienced.
Wednesday, November 28, 1917
Poppa reported that they left the ship and went to a camp two miles away. He had spent his whole life in Wisconsin and now, three months after joining the army, he set foot on foreign soil, just in time for Thanksgiving. What must he have been feeling?
Here is a picture of the U. S. army camp near St. Nazaire in 1919. This was 2 years after Poppa arrived. Maybe it was smaller and less efficient in 1917?
According to his biography, the commander of the 20th engineers, Major Hartwick, received this letter from the captain of the Madawaska:
“So noteworthy has been the conduct discipline and bearing of the troops under your command while embarked in this vessel that it calls for some expression from me as Commanding Officer of the ship. Your men have distinguished themselves by orderly quietness and promptness at abandon ship drill and at all other times by keeping their quarters washrooms and latrines scrupulously clean and by standing an earnest interested and excellent lookout. They have won the admiration and liking of the officers and men of this ship who have been proud and glad to be associated with them and feel sure that in the future they will render an excellent account of themselves.
A monument commemorating the US troops in St. Nazaire was unveiled on the 10th anniversary of their arrival in 1927. The monument was destroyed in 1941 by the German army but was rebuilt in 1989. Here is a picture of the monument.
Next Week: Quarantined in France