100 Years ago this week: Christmas in the Bull pen

Background:  In September 1917 My grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, who we later called ‘Poppa’, joined the 20th Engineers regiment of the United States Army.  After training at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri and on the grounds of the American University in Washington, D.C. he sailed to St. Nazaire, France aboard a troop transport ship.  After spending some time at a camp outside St. Nazaire they have now set up camp inside a bull ring in Dax, France.

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From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Dec 23, 1917Very busy day getting supplies from Depot.  Building tent floors and erecting tents.  Have two tents with stoves.

Monday Dec 24 – Working hard to get tents up and arranged.  Spent Christmas eve in city at picture show and in seeing town.

Tuesday Dec 25– “Christmas day in the “Bull Pen”  Had a fine dinner of turkey, dates, nuts.  No work today.

Wednesday Dec 26– Mail today 1-home 1-Marion 2-Uncle Will 1 Ora.  Had travellers checks cashed at Banque de Franca.

Thursday Dec 27– Today was payday.  Nearly everyone has been broke for some time.

Friday Dec 28 – There is plenty of hot water here as hot springs are found all over town.  Big night tonight.

Saturday Dec 29 – Ground covered with snow. Very cold (about 23 degrees above)  for this place.  Dinner party this night  First “grand eats” for some time


Here is a description of contemporary Dax, France from the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

“Dax is in the Landes District of southwestern France. It lies on the left bank of the Adour River, 88 miles (142 km) southwest of Bordeaux and 50 miles (80 km) north of the Pyrenees frontier with Spain. The town is a spa resort whose thermal springs and mud baths have been noted for the cure of rheumatism since Roman times, when it was known as Aquae Tarbellicae. Situated on the edge of the Landes Forest, it is also a tourist centre. The remains of its Gallo-Roman walls have been made into a promenade. At the Place de la Fontaine Chaude, near the Roman wall, there are hot springs, the waters of which gush out at a temperature of 147 °F (64 °C). Near the river is a park with a bull ring. Small-scale woodworking and leatherworking are local industries. Pop. (1999) 19,515; (2014 est.) 20,485.”

Sunday, December 23, 1917- As the week begins Poppa and the other soldiers of the Headquarters unit have been in Dax, France for only 36 hours and they are working to set up camp inside a bull fighting ring.  I don’t think many veterans can say they were stationed in a bull ring!

The existence of a bull ring, not a typical feature in France, was due to the close proximity of Dax to the Spanish border.

Major Edward Hartwick was Poppa’s commanding officer.  Here is how he described the bull ring camp in a letter to his family in Michigan:

“The headquarters detachment about forty men are encamped- where do you think- well I got permission to pitch our tents in the Arena a Spanish bull ring surrounded with raised seats all constructed of concrete similar to our ball park except the diameter of the ring is only about 150 feet but is the best camping place we will ever get.  Under the concrete raised benches are rooms where we store our baggage.  Also toilet rooms and where they kept the bulls and horses we are going to keep our horses, pigs, auto trucks, automobile and the best of all one of the hot springs is but a few feet from the entrance.  A circular concrete wall with only two entrances encloses the place. A most admirable place for a little camp. When we shut the big door we are hidden from the curious though friendly public which has been flocking to look at us so much that I had the mayor put up a notice that it was forbidden to enter the arena without permission from him.  Soon we shall have the arena connected with electric light and our own telephone to the two camps and then we will be settled.”

The Dax bullring was built in 1913.

 

In his photo album this picture is labelled: John Rodney Jamieson Dax, France 1917.

20th Engineers– The 20th Engineers battalion was established to mill and provide lumber products for the army’s use in building bridges, roads buildings, etc.  Poppa, like most of the other soldiers of the 20th had experience in the lumber business.  Before (and after) his service in the army he worked for his father and uncles at Jamieson Brothers lumber yard in Poynette, Wisconsin.

Dax was chosen as one of the camps of the 20th Engineers because of the areas abundance of forests.  Major Hartwick wrote the following about the trees in the area:

“One hundred or so years ago this country was a wide expanse of sand and sandy moraiss a desert but about that time experiments were made with a view of growing a forest of pine and after years of trial and discouragement the successful methods were found so that the woods are of trees from fifty to seventy years a species of pine resembling in appearance our jack pine but growing fifty to sixty feet high and with limbs about thirty feet from the ground.”

Christmas Day 1917– Poppa reported that he had the day off and had a nice meal.

December 26– Poppa received mail from Marion Brown (who would become his wife and my grandmother) and Ora Hopkins, who was his cousin, daughter of his aunt Samantha Janet (Jamieson) and Uncle Edgar Hinkson.

The grave marker of Ora Hinkson Hopkins in the Hillside Cemetery, Poynette, WI

Next Week:  Starting the New Year in France

Sources:

“A Biographical Sketch of Major Edward E. Hartwick.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2017.
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Dax.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 09 June 2017. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.

 

100 Years ago this Week: Moving to a New Camp

Background:  In September 1917 My grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, who we later called ‘Poppa’, joined the 20th Engineers regiment of the United States Army.  After training at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri and on the grounds of the American University in Washington, D.C. he sailed to St. Nazaire, France aboard a troop transport ship.  Some soldiers have recently been sent to northeastern France near the front line.  However, Poppa and other soldiers of the first battalion of the 20th Engineers remain at the American camp 2 miles outside of St. Nazaire.


From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Dec 16, 1917 – Have not had a Sunday for a long time.  Every day is the same in the army.  Spent day at warehouse in St. Nazaire

Monday Dec 17– Nearly every day the band of the 116th Engineers at neighboring  camp plays “On Wisconsin”.

Tuesday Dec 18– Through Hourgines (?) good work I succeeded in Getting a pass up town and “took in” St. Nazaire. Sent souvenirs to family.

Wednesday Dec 19- Very quiet day but mighty noisy night.   Hill and Lloyd have much wedding and raise h-l till Midnight.  (?)

Thursday Dec 20– Arose at 4:00 A.M. packed and left St. Nazaire at noon.  Rode in box car with no heat.  Very crowded night.

Friday Dec 21– Rode South all day in boxcar.  Arrived at 4:00 PM Dax all marched out but slept in car.

Saturday Dec 22– We are assigned quarters in an arena previously used for bull fighting.  Spent night under grandstand.


Dax France –  At the start of the week Poppa and the rest of the first battalion of the 20th engineers were living and working  in the US Army camp outside of St. Nazaire, France.  By the end of the week they had travelled about 350 miles south by train to Dax.  They must have been surprised to find that their new living quarters were inside a bull ring.

Modern picture of the Dax Bull Ring

 

The bull ring was built in 1913.

A picture postcard of the Dax bull ring from the early part of the 20th century.

According to the internet bull fighting is not a common activity in France.  However,  Dax, France is only about 50 miles from the border with Spain so it appears that the bullfighting tradition spills over the Spanish border.

Major Edward E. Hartwick was Poppa’s commanding officer.  According to Gordon K. Miller, author of a biography of Hartwick here is what Hartwick wrote to his family regarding their new camp:

I have my headquarters in the town and one company on one side about four miles away and the other on another side about five miles distant The headquarters detachment about forty men are encamped- where do you think- well I got permission to pitch our tents in the “Arena”- a Spanish bull ring surrounded with raised seats all constructed of concrete similar to our ball park except the diameter of the ring is only about 150 feet but is the best camping place we will ever get.  Under the concrete raised benches are rooms where we store our baggage, also toilet rooms; and where they kept the bulls and horses we are going to keep our horses, pigs, auto, trucks automobile and the best of all- one of the hot springs is but a few feet from the entrance. A circular concrete wall with only two entrances encloses the place – a most admirable place for a little camp. When we shut the big door we are hidden from the curious, though friendly, public which has been flocking to look at us so much that I had the mayor put up a notice that it was forbidden to enter the arena without permission from him. Soon we shall have the arena connected with electric light and our own telephone to the two camps and then we will be settled.

December 17th, 1917  – “On Wisconsin” was written in 1909 and is both the state song of Wisconsin and the fight song for the University of Wisconsin.  For a young American man stationed in a country at war hearing the song of his alma mater must have provided some comfort.

The cover of “On Wisconsin” second edition from the archives of the University of Wisconsin

 

Meanwhile, back in America–  On December 18, 1917 The United States congress passed the ‘Prohibition amendment’ It was then sent to the states for ratification.  In a previous episode of this blog Poppa reported that he had experienced the beginning of prohibition in Washington, D.C.  Prohibition was implemented as a result of the 18th amendment which didn’t pass until 1919.  However, state governments were encouraged to implement their own laws outlawing alcohol prior to the amendment passing.  Washington, D.C, was not a state and was governed by Congress.  So Congress decided that the city would be dry choosing November, 1st 1917 as the day that alcohol became illegal.

December 19th- Sometimes I have trouble reading Poppa’s handwritten journal.  I don’t understand what he meant by Hill and Lloyd have much wedding and raise h-l till Midnight.  What do you think he actually wrote for December 19th, 1917? 

Remember, Poppa used a pocket calendar from 1913 as his 1917 journal. He just changed the day of the week!

In the back of Poppa’s journal there is a list of names with dollar amounts after them.  One entry said Lloyd $10.00.  Poppa’s father and grandfather were bankers.  Do you think this is how Poppa kept track of who he lent money to?  Or maybe who he borrowed money from?  Is the Lloyd listed here the same one who, along with Hill “raised h–l all night”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Week: Christmas in the Bull Pen!

Sources:

“The Song and Controversies.” UW Archives and Records Management. N.p., 23 June 2015. Web. 13 Dec. 2017.

https://www.britannica.com/place/Dax

“A Biographical Sketch of Major Edward E. Hartwick.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2017.

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

 

 

Sources:

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.

Sources:

“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.