100 Years ago This Week: A Visit from Col. Mitchell

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 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.

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From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Mar 17– Expect Col. Mitchell today.  Did not come.  Joe and I took a long walk (about 10 miles) into the country.  Saw some pretty country and came home very tired.  

Monday Mar 18 – We are building a small mess hall which will be well screened in this summer making a very fine place to eat.

Tuesday Mar 19 – The Col.  arrived in camp this morning and everybody was on the job while he was here.  

Wednesday Mar 20 – Nothing in particular tonight from jumping the rope indoor baseball etc. which was played after supper.

Thursday Mar 21– Our companies each have a French mill but so far no American mill yet.  Everything is moving so very slowly that it seems as though a lot of money and men have been wasted (?) by this outfit.

Friday Mar 22– Many of the men are dissatisfied and about half have asked for transfers.

Saturday Mar 23– The Big offensive started today. Much excitement in town due to bombardment of Paris from unknown cause.


Colonel Mitchell Tuesday Mar 19 – “The Col.  arrived in camp this morning and everybody was on the job while he was here.  “

Col. W. A. Mitchell was the commanding officer of the 20th engineers.  Not to be confused with the famous aviator W. L.”Billy” Mitchell.

When America entered the war in  1917 one thing that the allies requested to help the war effort was  trained lumberman because of the constant need for timber and wood structures in military operations.  For example, It was reported that the French Army Corps made use 30,000 tress in one day.  Experienced lumbermen were recruited with the help of the U.S. Forest Service, and lumber associations.

A article in the January, 15, 1918 edition of the New York Lumber Trade Association describes the AEF’s need for experienced lumbermen.  Did Poppa enlist in the 20th engineers because he saw an article similar to this?

The new recruits were eventually formed  formed into the 20th Engineers (Forestry), under the command of Col. W.A. Mitchell.  Mitchell was a graduate of West Point.

Thursday Mar 21– “Our companies each have a French mill but so far no American mill yet.  Everything is moving so very slowly that it seems as though a lot of money and men have been wasted (?) by this outfit.”

When the 20 engineers began their operations in France they initially planned to bring American style lumber mills with them.  However, the arrival of the mills was delayed and so they used existing French sawmills which apparently were smaller and inferior to American mills.  American mills were ordered and eventually shipped to France.  Apparently they had not been received yet by Poppa’s unit.

Poppa, seemed frustrated by the lack of progress that they had made by htis point.  However, by the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918  the 20th Engineers were operating 81 sawmills and producing 2,000,000 board feet of lumber products daily. As of Dec first 1918, they had cut 272,500,000 feet of lumber including 2,728,000 railroad ties.

Saturday Mar 23– “The Big offensive started today. Much excitement in town due to bombardment of Paris from unknown cause.”

Apparently Poppa is referring to the first attack by a new German gun that occurred at 7:20 in the morning of March 23rd in the Place de la Republique in Paris.

The Pariskanone, or Paris gun, as it came to be known, had  a 118-foot-long barrel, and could fire a shell  25 miles into the air. Three of them fired on Paris that day from a gun site 74 miles away.

 

 

Next Week:  We are Due for a Furlough

Sources:

“World War I: 10th and 20th Forestry Engineers.” Forest History Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2018.

“The Pariskanone.” The Pariskanone |. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2018.

“Unit History.” 20th Engineer Battalion (CBT). N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2018.

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