Background: WWI is over and the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force are being sent home from France. My grandfather, John Rodney Jamieson, who we later called ‘Poppa’, enlisted in the United States Army’s 20th Engineers and in November, 1917 he sailed to France aboard a troop transport ship. He was assigned to the headquarters unit of Company A based at a camp set up inside a bull ring in Dax, France. He is anxiously awaiting his orders to head home. Here are the journal entries he wrote one hundred years ago this week.
From the Journal of John Rodney Jamieson
Sunday February 16, 1919– Wrote a few letters, cleaned up and am going out to Cafe St. Pierre for supper. We are all getting fine treatment at that place now. Tough piece of luck this P.M. when I broke my pipe. Can get it repaired soon in U.S.A.
Monday February 17 – Old Co E of 2nd Bn now fifth company arrived today. They have been up quite close to the front all the time since they left us at ST. Nazaire. The band started practicing today. Our schedule is for every afternoon 1:30 to 4:30. I drive the bunch out from headquarters in my Dodge to 2nd CO Y.M.C.A.
Tuesday February 18 – Driving all A.M. Band practice all P.M. and show practice in the evening. What a glorious life.
Wednesday February 19– Had a nice ride to Arengosse this A.M. The band practices playing and marching this P.M. I am a sick woman tonight don’t know what is the trouble. Haven’t had a drink and feel as drunk or seasick as I had a good one.
Thursday February 20– (No entry)
Friday February 21– Feel much better today still not good enough to go to band practice this P.M. Full rehearsal of show at casino tonight. I’ll be there to pound the bass drum. Relieved from further work today. Left out the 20th
Saturday February 22– Drove Dodge on various trips to Cos most of the day. Trucks are moving 1st co from Pontex back to their old camp. Officers dance at the casino is the principal event of the day. Jazz orchestra played for the dance. Much champaign put the orchestra in best of form. The dance a great success and orchestra wonderful (!)
Units of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) continue to be moved around France in preparation for being sent home. The soldiers of the fifth company had traveled to France on the same ship as Poppa but were stationed closer to the front. On February 16th Poppa wrote that the Fifth CO. has now rejoined him in Dax.
Poppa was sick for several days during the week of February 16, 1919. He doesn’t report the cause of his illness. However, in early 1919 the world was still experiencing what is thought to be the second biggest epidemic in world history: the Spanish flu outbreak. In the month of October, 1918 alone 195,000 Americans died from the disease. Because of improvements in transportation and because of the mobility of soldiers the flu spread rapidly around the world. Some experts say that more America soldiers were lost during WWI to the flu than to the fighting.
In previous journal entries Poppa wrote that some of his colleagues were hospitalized because of the flu but it doesn’t appear that Poppa’s illness was severe enough to require hospitalization.
Michel Boquet is a retired French engineer who is an expert on the history of forestry in France in WWI. He has acquired the journal of a US army physician who was treating soldiers in the area of Poppa’ camp. Michel noticed the following entry: “Saw Pvt (possibly Lt) Jamison from St avit for acute appendicitis”.
However, this entry was labelled January 19, 1919, almost a month before Poppa’s illness.
On February 22nd Poppa wrote that “Officers dance at the casino is the principal event of the day. Jazz orchestra played for the dance. Much champaign put the orchestra in best of form. The dance a great success and orchestra wonderful (!)”
Poppa did not write whether his band was part of the entertainment but his enthusiastic description suggests that they might have been. The same physician who treated private Jamison for appendicitis attended the officers’ dance and made this journal entry:
“Washington’s birthday. We engaged Casino and gave a party. Band music and invited all our friends. Enormous success. Nobody wanted to go home. Dancing and songs.”
Next Week: The show was a big success!