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: Quarantined in France

Background:  The 20th Engineers including my grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, travelled across the Atlantic Ocean on the USS Madawaska, They recently docked in St. Nazaire, France.  They are staying in a nearby camp but are now under quarantine.

From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson

Sunday Dec 2, 1917– Working in supply room issuing rations.  Would not know it was Sunday.  Another death (no. 2) last night at hospital.  

Monday Dec 3The weather is rather cool but very good.  We sleep on the ground , have very good mess.  Will be glad to be allowed a little freedom.   

Tuesday Dec 4– The spirit in this camp is very good considering the quarantine. Another death reported (3).

Wednesday Dec 5– A big shipment of Red Cross sweaters, etc were received today.  The Red Cross deserves a lot of praise & credit.

Thursday Dec 6– We are all getting tired of this quarantine and hope to be able to get out soon.

Friday Dec 7Every evening we sing, play cards and have a jolly good time while we are shut in.

Saturday Dec 8I am still working every day in supply room.  We are getting everything to the companies.


Soldiers dying in quarantine.  

It appears that my grandfather kept count of the soldiers in his unit that passed away by putting a number inside ().  So far he is aware of three.


The Red Cross

Poppa was complimentary of the Red Cross because the soldiers received “a big shipment of sweaters, etc” on December 5th.

In the summer of 1917 the Read Cross urgently requested knitted goods and hospital supplies and thousands of Americans responded.  The boots worn by the soldiers had seams that tore out easily and metal studs on the bottom so wet and cold feet were a big problem.  The socks knitted by the Red Cross volunteers were highly valued by the soldiers on the front, many of whom were in trenches.





Getting Organized

The 20th Engineers are in St. Nazaire, France, getting organized before moving on to their unknown destination.  Edward E. Hartwick was a major in the 20th engineers and my grandfather’s commanding officer.  His biography includes entries in his diary and letters home to his wife.  Here is some of what Major Hartwick wrote after they arrived at St. Nazaire:

Major Edward E. Hartwick

This is a very quaint old town (St. Nazaire), most substantially built. As you may imagine, the streets are very narrow, but kept thoroughly clean (only the main streets). Also bought some picture postcards, but the censor regulations will not permit me to send them by mail. I am dictating this while I have a little time after breakfast, waiting for the office of the transportation officer to open, as I want to get an automobile and look over our camp before we go to it.


Type of truck used by the military in WWI

The sick were taken off the ship yesterday, … Have been unable to get permission to cable and everyone on the ship is very much disappointed that we cannot cable our safe arrival. I find that people here are more in the dark as to news of the war than are the folks at home, as it seems that what news they receive here comes from New York, Washington, London and Paris, and of course it is all censored. At this writing do not know where we are to go, except that we are to go by train; the little dinky cars and engines would certainly make Robert laugh if he could see them. For example, we moved our entire command and baggage on the American train in thirty-six cars, but will have to have seventy-two cars on this French rail road. The locomotive looks like a model of the first engine ever built.

Here is a fuzzy picture of a trainload of U.S. soldiers near St. Nazaire France
Here is a fuzzy picture of a trainload of U.S. soldiers near St. Nazaire France.


We … are quartered in buildings similar to the buildings at Camp American University, except that there are no floors in the buildings and the men are all sleeping on straw in their bedsocks, spread on the ground. Almost hustled my legs off that day getting rations, fuel and ovens, etc., so the men could have hot coffee and a warm supper. Our lunch we brought with us off the boat. The men were a happy lot, to get their feet on solid ground. Everything is very scarce here and we are striving to economize. I should not say everything, as food seems to be plentiful. But wood, coal, paper, milk and clothing are scarce. We had no heat for warming until today, when I managed to secure one stove for each barracks, heated by a “slack” coal and only heated evenings. We are in quarantine and have most stringent regulations to keep all officers and men in camp, except when I give permission for them to leave on duty — or with me. We are in a camp commanded by an officer of marines — and several other organizations are here. Our sick list is improving and we hope to be out of quarantine by December 10th. Winter weather here; seems to be about like late October in Detroit, only more dampness or fog in the morning.

 Based on the journals of both my grandfather and major Hartwick it appears that supplies of most things are in short supply.  The soldiers are sleeping on the ground and can only heat their quarters at night.  The term ‘slack coal’ refers to small pieces of coal or even coal dust.

Sunday December 2nd, 1917

Poppa reported in his journal that on Sunday, Dec. 2nd he was working in the supply room.  Major Hartwick also made an entry for that day:  Here is some of what he recorded:

Sunday Morning,December 2nd: This is a beautiful Sunday morning and I have come down to the town near the dock, as we have our impedimenta in a warehouse and are moving it by motor trucks, so as to divide it up among the detachments that I am to send to their stations. Our boat is still at the dock unloading cargo, and I took the opportunity to get one more good fresh-water shower bath. Am now writing this in the “salon” of the Hotel Bretagne — a room about ten by fourteen, containing a writing table and piano, which, with a few chairs and fireplace, completely fill it. … It was so cold my toothpaste was frozen or at least so cold it would not squeeze out till I warmed it at the cook-fire. … Last Thursday — Thanksgiving day — Major Greeley arrived at camp and surprised me, as I had talked with him from Paris on the telephone the day before. He is on the staff of the general officer at the head of the forestry department. The general officer was stationed in Detroit a year ago. You have heard me speak of him as my former instructor at West Point, General M. M. Patrick.

General Mason Mathews Patrick (16 Dec 1863- 29 Jan. 1942) A US transport ship was named after him and launched in June 1944.

He was so glad to learn that these two battalions had arrived that he sent Major Greeley to learn all about us, our equipment, etc. Our army is really in desperate need of lumber, fuel (wood), poles, railroad ties, bridge timber, etc. One campaign here was stopped for lack of certain wooden products. Well, he gave me my orders; so as soon as we are out of quarantine I am to send the various detachments out and will be in charge of a “district” as district commander. We will begin work at once getting out logs, building camps, roads, cutting up the limbs for fuel — even the twigs are saved here. Thanksgiving day was not much of a celebration here.  Worked all day, but that evening was invited to a 7:00 p. m. dinner with Major Greeley and Major Johnson, given by the “casual officers” on board our ship to us and to Captain Watson and Lieutenant McCauley of the navy. We had a good time, but it was a poor substitute for the table with you and the boys. Thanksgiving afternoon our men and officers were addressed briefly by Chaplain Talbott of the 17th Engineers, an Episcopalian. After his talk I took the opportunity to say a few words to our men and for once in my life must have made a good one, as both the officers and men afterwards spoke of it. We are forbidden to talk among ourselves or with civilians as to events of the war, our station, our moves, our numbers, etc., so there is very little I can write about such… Our men are feeling better and we have several ball games every afternoon — baseball and football. The sick are improving, though we lost another soldier last night of pneumonia. 



Next week:  Some Soldiers Move Toward the Front 


“HistoryLink.org.” Knitting for Victory — World War I – HistoryLink.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2017.

“A Biographical Sketch of Major Edward E. Hartwick.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2017.


“Mason Patrick.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Nov. 2017. Web. 30 Nov. 2017.


100 Years ago this Week. Our Destination is Finally Revealed

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 28This A.M we unloaded and sent to a camp 2 miles from boat.  We are quarantined and assigned to a certain section.  

Thursday Nov 29Spent 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.”

A french bi-plane circa 1917. Note the forward mounted machine gun pointing down as described by Major Hartwick

St. Nazaire, France

St. Nazaire is a community where the Loire river flows into the Atlantic.

St. Nazaire indicated by the red pin on this map


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.

The caption under this picture says U.S.S. “Madawaska” at St Nazaire May 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.

Picture of the first contingent of American ‘Doughboys’ to arrive in France in 1917. They are assembled on a pier in St. Nazaire before marching to their camps.

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?

The caption says “The big mess and the headquarters St. Nazaire, France 1919.’


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.

Edward Watson”


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


“Saint-Nazaire.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Nov. 2017. Web. 22 Nov. 2017.
“Where Is Saint Nazaire on Map France.” World Easy Guides. N.p., 29 Mar. 2016. Web. 22 Nov. 2017.
Donald R. Cochran’s Photo Album, 1917-1919 — Pages 9-16. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2017.
“”Lafayette, We Are Here” – WW I American Soldiers Arrive in France on June 25, 1917.” TeeJaw Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2017.A Biographical Sketch of Major Edward E. Hartwick By Gordon K. Miller