Read about the story of a late 19th century Dutch immigrant family to the Chicago area, and their struggle to make good in America in the latest issue of the Joint Archives Quarterly.
Read about the story of a late 19th century Dutch immigrant family to the Chicago area, and their struggle to make good in America in the latest issue of the Joint Archives Quarterly.
Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France and thoughts on the end of The Great War from November 11-12, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments and a summary of his life after the war.
Monday, Nov. 11:
● “We finally found our organization back again…in the woods in German barracks somewhere between St. Mihiel and Metn. We left Vertusey… at about 7:30 AM and were on the way hiking all day and it was getting dark when we got here. We marched slow this time and so it was not so very hard but our pack was getting pretty heavy on our back and shoulders. We were lucky we did not have our Lt. Col. to set the pace. We heard many rumors about the armistice being signed and the Frenchman we met all said too “le Guerre finis” but we could hardly believe it yet as we could hear the big guns still pounding away but we then were told they were to stop at 11 A.M. so we watched for it to stop at that time and they ceased firing too at two minutes to eleven we heard afterwards and the guns sure raised hell proper the last few minutes the barrage was the heaviest at the last moment when they all suddenly ceased. I did not have a watch myself going and the watches some of the other fellows had must have been a little fast as it was past eleven already and we still heard the barrage going worse than ever so we were still a little in doubt at first but we soon met more Americans telling us the fighting had ended. It sure made us feel good. Smiles on everybody’s face, the French not the least. This made our pack feel lighter too….after dark many bonfires and lots of cheering going on. Everybody happy in spite of being tired from hiking and more hiking to come probably at anytime too. But it may be quite a while yet before the final peace agreements are settled and we may have to go to the front yet or take positions at German forts and strongholds.
● Comments: Vander Veen and his companions from the leave found their company again and set out from the main division camp. The men had heard that the armistice was supposed to signed, but were confused by the fact that the barrages continued up until the last possible minute. However, after hearing that the war was actually over, everyone was happy. Vander Veen noted that the French soldiers were especially happy, which is understandable as they had been fighting for much longer than the American soldiers and were fighting in their own country. Even though the war was over, Vander Veen was realistic with his expectations of what the next step would be, because his predictions that they would have to go to the front or take positions were very possible.
Tuesday, Nov. 12:
● “Today the official formal conditions of the armistice were received in our Co. and posted up. Our Co. has been moving around back and forth, hiking most of the time while we were on pass. Am not a bit sorry I missed it. Lt. Flynn made Capt. of our Co. Capt. Chase back too and in charge of A Co. Lt. McKinley now Capt. of B Co. Capt. George in charge of Co. D.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s company officially received the armistice and its conditions on this day. This was Vander Veen’s last entry in his diary. Vander Veen’s account of the last months of the war are an insight into what a soldier on the front was doing, thinking, and feeling on a daily basis and provide a personal story for readers to connect with in trying to understand what World War I was like.
After the War
When the war ended, Vander Veen decided to visit his parents and siblings in the Netherlands. He had not gotten permission for a military leave, but he thought, since the war had ended, he would go regardless. He got caught at the Belgium border. This could have been a Court Marshall offense, but since the war had ended and because of his accomplishments as a messenger during his tour of duty, they let the matter pass.
He came back to the America after the war and worked as a common laborer for farmers. He would often travel across the country by train, traveling with the hobos because it didn’t cost anything. He would always search out and end up in Dutch communities. His brother Gus, a brother who had joined him prior to the war, returned to the Netherlands when the war broke out, served in the Dutch Army, married, had two small children and immigrated to the America in 1921. They settled in the small town of Thomson, Ill. along the Mississippi River near the city of Fulton, Ill. They farmed there for a number of years and they worked together.
Between the late l920s and early 1930s little is known about Vander Veen. By 1934 he was living in the Delavan, Wisconsin area where both he and Gus were living. He owned a couple of small farms in that area of Wisconsin where he raised onions and potatoes, cucumbers, and sweet corn. In the 1950’s, he married for the first time in his life and sold both farms and moved to Marissa, Illinois. There his wife Elsa passed away about 1956.
He remained in Marrisa, Illinois till the late 1970s making frequent trips to the Delavan, Wisconsin area to visit relatives until passing away on May 29, 1980. He is interred in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Delavan, Wisconsin next to family.
Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France from November 1-10, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Friday, Nov. 1:
● “Today was our third day of our vacation and a fine day it was, like the last two days, nice and sunny. We are very lucky in that as lately it had been colder and rainy and there even was a foot of snow on the highest peak around here as the “Y” men told me. Today, Koetye and I and 13 others went out with the “Y” men, in rigs, to Lake du Guéry, and we sure had a fine trip and saw some beautiful scenery. We started out shortly after 10 A.M. taking our lunch with us. We arrived at the lake at about 12:30. It was all up grade and we had to go slow. We stopped on the way to look at a waterfall. Grand scenery everywhere. The lake is about 4000 feet above sea level and is about 8 KM from Mont Dore, it is not very large, it is said to be an old time crater and the mountains ground are of volcanic formations but do not contain many minerals. We left the wagons at the hill and proceeded on foot farther beyond and did some mountain climbing up to the top of a great massive rock. Great scenery from that point although the air was a little hazy. Pretty cool way up there. The climbing tired me out a little as I am not in a condition yet to do these things much. After a little while we went back to our Rendezvous at the Lake Hotel. Had a little boatride on the lake with a couple of other fellows before leaving for home. We arrived in town again before 5 P.M. The trip cost us 4 Fr. a head, but we sure had our money’s worth.”
● Comments: Vander Veen chose to go on an excursion as part of his leave and explore the scenery around Mont Dore. Lake du Guéry, in French spelled Lac de Guéry, is still a popular hiking and fishing spot in the Auvergnes mountains. The soldiers’ leaves were meant to be like vacations and many soldiers took advantage of the time to explore parts of France that they would not have seen if not for the war.
Wednesday, Nov. 6:
● “We left Mont Dore on Wednesday morning about 7 A.M. and went some 10 miles to Laqueuille and then we were sent back again to Mont Dore for some reason or other. We don’t know what but we did not care anyway. We all were willing to go back to Mont Dore again and all cheered coming in again. But we did not remain there long though, only one day…”
● Comments: Laqueueille is a town about 10 miles from Mont Dore that is also known for tourism. Vander Veen went on day trip there and then back to Mont Dore.
Thursday, Nov. 7:
● “…we left again Thursday at 11 A.M. Niggers coming in on furlough to take our place.”
● Comments: Vander Veen left Mont Dore on this day.
Saturday, Nov. 9:
● “On the train we are on the way back from our vacation, but at the rate we are going it may take us a week yet before finding our Co. again. Since about 6 P.M. last night we have gone only about 20 K.M. We have been here stopping now for several hours. We were in Is sur Tille last night for a long time. We were served hot coffee there by the Am. Red Cross. Copped some more jam there too…. We have been going nearly 2 days now and are only about two thirds the way to Nanay, but we may not go there as we hear our division has moved again. We also hear a lot about peace but we have not been able yet to find out anything definite about the news that armistice has been signed with Germany. But from what we can get out of the papers it seems to be very near. We are all hoping it will be true. We had a fine vacation at Mont Dore and all hated to leave. I did not feel very good the first days but improved a whole lot since and except for a little cold yet am O.K. now. Have a good appetite now and I sure proved it too on the table in the hotel. We have so far good to eat here too on the train bits of good bread and I managed to get a couple of pails of good jam at Clermont and it goes good with bread. We are having fine weather, very mild for this time of the year. I had bad luck at Mont Dore as my pocket book with all the money I had, about 80 francs was stolen from me by somebody in our Co. Either Cirus or Pooks or Jim Maretti. I suspect Maretti and I think he also stole my pair of glasses and sold them. He is a regular New York crook anyway. It left me completely broke and I had to borrow 40 franc from Koetye to get around. Soldier who owes me 25 franc has gone to the hospital in Mont Dore and could not pay me as he had his money turned in. We meet American soldiers all over the country in the towns and they have it pretty soft here by what we had at the front. So far we have been going the same way back as we came up on. Some of the towns we passed through are Clermont, Cannal, Gilly, Moet Chandon, Dijon, Is sur Tille.”
● Comments: As Vander Veen and his companions left their leave, they stopped in different cities along the way as they had on the way to Mont Dore. Vander Veen’s trouble with the theft of his wallet was fairly common in the AEF, even though there were rules against it that were enforceable by the Military Police.
Sunday, Nov. 10:
● “After being on the train yet all day yesterday and all night we got off this morning at about 6 A.M. Almost 3 days and nights on the train. We did not ride much last night stood still most of time. Passed Charmont in afternoon yesterday, from there went North first and some said we were going to St. Dizier, but we branched off again at Joinville and went east and this morning when we woke up we were at Sorcy depot. We got off the train there and hiked to Siray where we had a little for breakfast, started out again but we did not go far, changed riders came in and we finally ended up in Vertusey only a couple of miles south. Got here in afternoon, billeted in farms which were pretty good outfitted for the purpose with bunks. Our Co.’s somewhere around but I don’t know just where. From what we hear our Division had been started toward the lines again about 3 or 4 days ago, but they just came back again or are on the way back, now with all the peace negotiations going on. Seems to be certain peace is very near and according to latest reports tonight the Germans have signed the terms of the armistice and down before them by Gen. Foch they had till tomorrow 11 A.M. to sign them and if they have not signed them yet I think they will sign them alright. Revolution is going on in Germany and it is not possible for them to fight successfully any longer and the German Empire is liable to be all split up. And the Kaiser and the rest of the Hohenzollern are done for too! We got only one meal today, this evening at 7, but I rounded up enough eats at the ration dumps here to give me and some of the others a good feed. We may stay here a couple of days and then I hope we can go to a good town farther to the rear. We all hope anyway peace has been declared by that time.”
● Comments: Vander Veen finally reached the place where the Fourth Division was stationed, which was in the rear. The Divisions were very big, with about 28,000 men in each. Therefore, it would have been difficult for Vander Veen to find his specific company within that many people. At this point the end of the war was very near, as all the German government had to do was sign the armistice before 11:00 AM the next day. There seemed to be many rumors going through the camp about the conditions in Germany concerning revolution. Vander Veen’s spirits seemed to be up as the war seemed to him and the rest of the men to be drawing to a close.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.
Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 28-30, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Monday, Oct. 28:
● “We left next morning and hiked all the way to Jony, after waiting there for more than an hour we finally left on trucks. I was not feeling very good. Weak from diarrhea and a bad cold and that waiting and riding on those trucks made it still worse because it got awful foggy and misty and we had to doubletime to get to Jouey and I was wet from sweat. That waiting part in the army is always a nuisance. We passed through Foul and arrived in Nancy shortly after noon. Swell place, big YMCA there with all kinds of entertainments and lots of good things to sell. Which things that the men way back of the lines get most of the benefits of the YMCA etc. We were outfitted with new clothes for the most part and also got paid for 2 months. We had not been paid for 3 months as we still have 1 months pay coming when we go back. I drew 287 francs. We left in afternoon at about 4 on the train. Got more iron rations on the trait in addition to what we had taken along from camp. We traveled all night and the next day on the train, although the train stopped every once in a while.”
● Comments: Vander Veen was chosen to participate in a leave, which was like a vacation. Leaves were when commanders would “grant seven days of leave every four months for officers and men ‘of good standing’ in their units.” The YMCA would help organize these trips and men would be able to go on a vacation to tourist spots around France and relax for a few days in appreciation of their good service. They received other benefits besides the trip itself during their leave, such as money and clothes, as Vander Veen experienced. Leaves were supposed to help boost morale within the AEF.
Tuesday, Oct. 29:
● “We traveled all night and the next day on the train, although the train stopped every once in a while. We passed through some very nice and good farming country. It was a fine day and the country looked indeed very pretty. Everything looks more neat and clean and up to date than the villages in the northern part of France. Cattle in this part of country all white without a black spot on them. We arrived here in Mont Dore at about midnight but had to hang around for about 8 hours before we finally were checked off and had passed the medical inspection.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s leave took place in Mont Dore in the southern part of France. Mont Dore was a resort village known for the mountain scenery and activities such as thermal springs and hiking. Now, it is still a tourist destination, especially for winter sports like skiing.
Wednesday, Oct. 30:
● “This is quite a change here by what we have been used to for the last months. Instead of marching every day or laying in holes to duck shells. I am here now in a famous resort living the life of a gentleman at leisure. The change came very sudden and unexpected…. Most of us in C men were assigned to Hotel Bardel and we were marched to the place and assigned to our rooms there. Swell place, dandy rooms. Occupy a room with Cirus the cook. Feather beds and unknown led in after we had breakfast at almost 11 this morning. But I did not sleep very good, am still feeling punk today, got an awful cold and headache and I haven’t got much pep left as me. But I guess I will straighten out soon after being here for a couple of days. Swell place this town is, although not very big and busy. It is one of many towns here in this Auvergne resort district. We have lodging and board and transportation on trains free. The YMCA has a swell big building with casino where all kinds of entertainments are given free also and we can buy candy and drink etc. there at small cost.”
● Comments: This was Vander Veen’s first day getting to explore Mont Dore and what it had to offer, even though he was feeling sick still. Soldiers from all over France had come to Mont Dore on leave.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.
Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 21-28, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Monday, Oct. 21:
● “We sure are a hiking outfit lately. “Join the army and see the world” is a familiar expression in the army and it sure is true enough but we are doing it mostly on our hobnails at government expense is another way for it, but we do under own power. We started out again Oct 21 from the big dugouts near Monneville but we hiked only in the afternoon about 7 miles or so to the barracks in the woods near Sivry la Perche.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company continued to move through France and away from the front.
Tuesday, Oct. 22:
● “Next morning, Tuesday, started out again for about 12 miles or more that day to barracks south of Sorilly. Me and Reehl slipped one over and rode on the truck with our rolls. Passed then Souilly, Gen. Pershing’s HQ. German prisoners camp located there too.”
● Comments: Vander Veen passed General Pershing and the general headquarters of the American Expeditionary Force that were located in Souilly, France towards the end of the war. Pershing and the AEF took over the Souilly town hall on September 21, 1918 and were stationed there until the end of the war.
Wednesday, Oct. 23:
● “Wednesday another hike again about 10 miles or so to Long Champs, billeted in barns there. Was lucky to get place in hayloft, soft bed.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company continued their trek across France and away from the front.
Thursday, Oct. 24:
● “Today, Thursday, another 12 miles or so to Dagonville. General direction about south from our front. I can stand the hike pretty good lately and feel a lot better than a few days ago. Diarrhea not so bad anymore. But a lot of fellows have it pretty hard with all this hiking, more men every day with sore feet or sick, about 25 went on sick call this afternoon after the hike from our Co. alone. We may have a chance to stay over for a day here. Everybody hoping so. We get good to eat lately and with copping a fair little extras like milk or tomato etc it is just fine. I’ve been pretty lucky the last days to get some of these little things. It is here in the army, grab whatever you can get away with. I have found that out and I am going to do it too. We are having fine weather for our hiking that is one good thing of it.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s condition improved as he moved farther away from the front, even though they were hiking long distances every day. The availability of better food seemed to make a difference to his health.
Friday, Oct. 25:
● “…we ended up in Lirneville. Hiked about 12 miles…”
● Comments: Vander Veen continued to move through France away from the front.
Saturday, Oct. 26:
● “…gain about the same distance ending up here in the woods around Hanlacourt….”
● Comments: Vander Veen and the rest of his company trekked through France and away from the fighting at the front.
Sunday, Oct. 27:
● “Today is a day of some rest and ease and we certainly need it too. Every day more men go on sickcall and to the hospital and I ought to go myself too, worse than some fellows I think but I stuck to it this far, although I am feeling punk and weak the two days again from diarrhea and a bad cold. My legs are sure tired…. It is not a very good place this time of the year, low and damp, big marshes in close neighborhood. We don’t know how long we will stay here, perhaps two or three days or so and what comes then is hard to tell but runners do not sound very encouraging. Orders were at one time we would go to south. France or so for a long rest, but it has all been changed a couple of days ago and now everything points to it that we will have to go another intense period of training and go to the front again in about 4 weeks or so from now. That seems to be the kind of surprise Gen. Pershing had for us but it is a bad surprise. From here we can hear the constant booming of the big guns on the front. We have seen some very nice scenery lately, the only trouble was we were moving too fast as a rule to take notice of the scenery or our nose was too close to the ground dragging our weary bodies along. Some spots we came through was good farming country and at many places the farmers putting new crops in or had done so, already. The last two days the country was more wooded and hilly again. The woods are taking on all different tints or colors as the leaves are dying and falling. There are many different kinds of trees in the woods here in France. At our present place there are a good many oak and the acorns are dropping. Also many beechnut, elm and else. Today is a very nice day and the sun finally came through this forenoon to wake us up and cheer us up a little. We also had an YMCA vaudeville entertainment here in the open this forenoon what also added to bring back a little good cheer after the boys are all pretty well tired out and weary from all this marching lately. But the entertainment was really good for a change and was well appreciated by the men although the crowd could have been lots bigger. One lady was making a speech first and she really was a very talented talker, although I considered much of her talk about the American democracy and our fighting for it and our ideals as Americans as the ideal a lot of BS however good she meant it and ably she made her address. There was also some singing done by two men accompanied by piano music. Pretty good it was, especially some parodies they had on some well-known songs or tunes, some in reference to the show or slum or to cooties and the Serge Major. And the jokes they told were also good and mostly new too, one of a very sentimental pair sitting on a lonely country road as farmers. The girl listening to the sounds of the churchahtie practicing in the distance and he listening to the field. Another story was about a man ready to commit suicide but hearing a very funny sermon charged madly in a church about hymnbooks for sale and babies for 2 r ct. it gave him such a laugh he changed his mind. Another was a cootie story where a top sgt. had the Co lined up and ordered those that had cooties to step forward and he had to give the command by hall! Because the whole Co. was stepping forward. The entertainment was free but that is about the only thing the YMCA service is giving us free too except for a little candy and smokes sometimes when we are in the frontline in action, but it really is not very much, and otherwise we get to pay for everything. Only very little writing paper is issued to us sometimes too but not near enough for the needs of all the men. Where all that money is going to that has been contributed to the YMCA I don’t know but we here profit very little from it that is sure. There seems to be a lot of grate in that too. We read in the paper that there were thousands upon thousands of tons of candies and smokes etc. at the ports but it all disappears before it gets here near the front where the men deserve it most. The government furnishes fine transportation all the way and no revenues or duties to pay on it either. Lt. Weist of LA, who was wounded near St. Thibouils on Aug 4 came back to us again Thursday evening. Also Lt. Fitzgerald came back that day, he was wounded slightly on the second day of our drive near Liphar woods. Got 2 letters and a card from Holland yesterday but nothing from Grace.”
● Vander Veen then wrote in his entry that this had happened after he finished writing his entry on October 27: “Late Sunday night the order came in to send 10 men on a 7 day vacation to leave there next morning at 5 and to report at dawn. The men who had been exposed to fire most were picked out first. Most of the rear of the Co will probably have a chance too after us.”
● Comments: The YMCA played a major role in supporting the AEF in World War I. Vander Veen in his comments commended the entertainment that the YMCA provided for the men. The YMCA was one of the principle organizations that provided many services to the soldiers. This was officially sanctioned by the AEF in August of 1918 with the issuing of General Orders 26, which said the YMCA would “provide for the amusement and recreation by the means of its social, educational, physical and religious activities.” This meant that the YMCA provided entertainment and religious services, but it also ran the canteen stores for men to buy goods that the army quartermaster had bought for the men. The men however, did not know of this arrangement and often resented the YMCA, because they thought the YMCA was selling donated goods to them instead of the goods from the quartermaster. This could explain some of Vander Veen’s frustration with having to pay for items from the YMCA and not receiving much of the donated items that were supposed to be reaching the soldiers.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.
Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 15-20, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Tuesday, Oct. 15: (talking about current conditions and feelings in Septsanges)
● “Although our place here is not much under shellfire lately it is a very disagreeable place to stay. A regular mud hole. I don’t see why they keep us here any longer, but some runners say we may have to go up again, although I can hardly believe it as we are not fit. The whole bunch is sick or getting sick here. The cooties or ticks are eating us alive and almost run away with us and no means to get rid of them, almost no water around here. All that bragging in the American papers of Uncle Sam taking care so well of his boys on the firing line is a great farce, a damned lie. Even the Germans with all the reported lack of food and clothing etc. take better care of their men as was evidenced by all the good eats that was left behind by them in their retreat. They got something else than only canned bully beef and hardtack or dry bread, they have lots of good jams and jellies etc. and they also get their beer too. But the last couple of days we have been getting better eats too. There is a lot of peace talk and placerunners in the air or in the papers lately. We all hope they may prove true although it seems too good to be true. However it seems as though there is to be an end of this war before very long. But I hope they take us out of this hole to a good place in the rear pretty soon. With so many American troops in France now (in Sept. alone over 300,000 arrived) I can’t see why they don’t relieve us and send some of these new men up to the line.”
● Comments: By this point, Vander Veen’s company had been on the front or in reserve near the front since September 26, which was about twenty days of fighting, barrages, and being hit by enemy barrages. After this constant stress and danger, the company was struggling with disease, insects, and harsh weather along with the dangers of war. The morale in the company was understandably low after such a long time on the front or in reserve.
Friday, Oct. 18:
● “We left there [Septsanges] Friday evening at about 10 PM and got here at our present camping place at about 4 AM next morning. Very difficult and tiresome hike. Roads muddy. Came over Dead Man’s Hill all shellfire. Hike was too much for me on account of my weakened condition from diarrhea and I finally dropped out on the side of the road. Having Roahl with me. Many more had dropped out before already. We all found the Co. next morning.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company finally left the reserve to move to the rear. Many of the men were in a weakened state because of the fighting and illness, including Vander Veen.
Sunday, Oct. 20:
● “Today is my birthday but a very dreary disagreeable day for a birthday anniversary. It has been raining all day so far and no let up yet. Started to rain last evening and we get a little wet as well. Slept out in the open without pitching tent. But we had to pitch tent today in order not to get soaking wet all through. The only good thing is we are no more in our billets in Septsanges woods where everything was mud and still were under shellfire…. Most all Co. in dugouts. Many dugouts here dug by the French. Some dugouts hold hundreds of men’s bunks in them etc but it does not appeal to me, damp, dark and many rats in them. I rather stayed outside, rain or no rain. We stand muster this morning and we all got good and cold standing there of course for a long long time. Millman has deserted once again and also Harris the medical man. Some say they had robbed dead bodies of Americans of money and valuables and beat it over the hill with it. The 3rd Div. came back from the lines just as we pulled out of Septsanges Woods. They done pretty good work. But the 5th Div. is a disgrace to the army. From what we heard they deserted or ran back by hundreds. Whole companies. M.P. and others got to take them back to the lines again every day, and many have been put in prison enclosures. Our 4th Div is one of the best divisions and praised generally and even we have many yellow streaked men among us as some only in bar lost action. The much heralding and bragging of Yankee fighting spirits is a lot of hot air. I think we will leave here pretty soon, but where we go we can’t find out, although one hears all kinds of rumors, but I hope there is something good in store for us.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were still moving away from the front at this point. His thoughts on the different divisions and desertion are an interesting insight into the dynamics between different divisions of the AEF. Each division apparently had its own reputation based on bravery and desertion and this seemed to be common knowledge throughout the AEF. He also raised attention to the fact that the way the American soldiers were described in the news was often different than the reality of the front.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.
Today we read about Thomas Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 9-14, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Wednesday, Oct. 9:
● “We were fooled more than ever last week. Instead of being relieved and sent to the rear for a rest as we all hoped for and as was the sole topic among the boys, we were sent up again to the lines. We started out Wed. morning Oct 9 under protection of a heavy fog. However we did not go very far that day, but took up positions in some woods. We were under quite a bit of shelling there and our Lts. Heller and Huntress were wounded there, also some of our men. Lt. Flynn, Co. commander only officer left. In evening we moved up again to take up final positions to go over the top next morning. Some heavy shelling on us during night. Very uncomfortable, no protection. Dark in those woods and roads and everything muddy. We just dropped down on ground. But very cold and nasty. Many men killed in these woods, dead bodies of Americans everywhere.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were sent back to the front instead of going to the rear as he wanted. The woods around the front were a difficult terrain to navigate and were one of the reasons that the German troops were able to keep up their defense as long as they did.
Thursday, Oct. 10:
● “Next morning barrage opened up at 7 AM under protection of barrage the boys went over the top at 7:30. Objective about 2 mile but only about 1 mile was gained during Thursday. Difficult grounds, wooded and hilly. Many casualties from shelling and machine gun fire. Couple of open stretches to cross, very dangerous. I was not with Co. Thursday, was sent back to rear with message and report, found Co. back next day, but difficult to breath in woods.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s special duties as a messenger meant he separated from his company that day to deliver a message to the rear. The woods would have made it very difficult to navigate between the front and the rear. This was the start of the days for which he received a Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts.
Friday, Oct. 11:
● “Our troops advanced again on Friday gaining their objective on north edge of Bois de Foret. Pomerey taken prisoner by Germans that day. He must have been a little careless, believed the Germans he saw wanted to surrender as they motioned to come to them. He walked up to them and when near them they pointed their guns at him and took him prisoner. Harke and couple of other fellows got away in time. Bugaard, Gardly and Baoseliar killed from shrapnel shells. Basseleen badly wounded, shot himself through head. No first aid man around and no stretchers. Bugaard badly wounded too but died in short time. One of my best pals he was and I sure cried when I heard of his death. It seems as though it is always the best fellows most liked in the Co. that get killed. Several more men in our Co. got wounded. Was bringing messages back and forth between our Co. and Batt P. C. farther back in woods several times Friday and Saturday. Pretty dangerous from shell fire and snipers, many snipers left in woods doing much damage to runners, etc. Extra men were sent with me sometimes to forward the message if I was bumped off, but they never got me, although coming mighty close.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company dealt with very personal loss on this day. This entry especially shows the danger the soldiers faced daily and the costs that came with that. Vander Veen’s job was so treacherous that replacement messengers were sent with him to ensure that the message was received if he was shot.
Saturday, Oct. 12:
● “On Sat. we were due to be relieved and we deserved it too but it was called off again as the relieving troops did not arrive in time giving to much shellfire etc. Co. gradually dwindling, some wounded, some sick and many others that simply fell back and turned yellow.”
● Comments: After being on the front since October 9, Vander Veen’s company was splintering as the fighting dragged on.
Sunday, Oct. 13:
● “Sunday morning we got relief at last and arrived here at our old billets in Septsanges woods in afternoon. When we left the frontline only 39 men were left of us there, all told, but when we got here and the roll was called there were 89 so many had ran back but of them claiming sickness or being lost but some were up to the frontline and never attempted to find the Co. And then their papers say the Americans are so brave and always eager to fight. But if those people back in the States could hear the men here now they would probably think differently. They are all sick of it and hoping their damnest the war will end soon and that we leave this place here as soon as possible and get a real seat back to civilization. Considering the circumstances and the trying conditions we had to go through we have not lost so very many of our Co.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were relieved from the front and moved farther back. However, they were still close enough to the front to be possibly moved to the front again. Vander Veen in this entry criticized the men in his company who had left when the company was on the frontline and then joined it again in time for roll call once it was back in reserve. This was a fairly common problem in the American Expeditionary Force during the war, and these men would probably have been classified as stragglers. Straggling was a type of desertion that the AEF defined as someone wandering away from the rest of the troops for reasons of “cowardice or … lack of physical and moral stamina to endure great hardships or death itself.” However, it is understandable that these men would be scared for their lives with the dangers they faced, especially if they had been drafted and did not enlist themselves.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.
For the next six weeks we will continue to post the transcribed version of Thomas Vander Veen’s World War I journal entries. Today we read about Vander Veen’s military activities in France from October 3-7, 1918 along with Natalie Fulk’s comments.
Thursday, Oct. 3:
● “Entered service of Uncle Sam’s army one year ago today. Quite a difference now. Occasional shellfire today altho not very much still uncomfortable. Shelling also during past night, at about 3:30 AM woke up from shell exploding nearby. Shell fragments and dirt coming down on roof. Jumped out of bed and beat it for safety dugout. Crowded in there. Just three other shells exploded nearby wounding some 8 men or so of our Co, they were sleeping in shallow holes around there. We remained in the dugout for rest of night. 1 mule also killed of our train during night. Packed up couple of times already and ready to move out at any time, but we are still here. All hope we will go to rear although nothing certain. Bulgaria and Turkey too reported quit fighting. Everybody glad of the news. Weather getting milder, although still cloudy. Had letter from Br. Pieter last night.”
● Comments: Vander Veen was in the immediate reserves, but his company was still near the front. The front was extremely dangerous no matter what time of day, as Vander Veen showed in his dash to a dugout in the middle of the night. There was no safe time for Vander Veen and his company as they waited anxiously to be moved farther back.
Friday, Oct. 4:
● “Still here in reserve, ready to go up any time. Very intense barrage by our guns early this morning, guns just back of us. Enemies’ reply rather weak. Our troops went over the top this morning under protection of barrage. Advanced some KM, don’t know yet how far. Some Germ. aeroplanes brought down.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s company in reserve at the front was waiting to see whether it would go to the very front of the attack or to the rear. His description of the troops going “over the top” was the start of the second main advance of the Allied troops in the Meuse-Argonne offensive.
Sunday, Oct. 6:
● “But not a Sunday like peacefulness, instead of church chimes, we had the steady pounding of our big guns and the explosion of Borche shells dropping around here every once in a while and making us rush for the dugouts. 1 shell just before dinner today killed 7 men and wounding some men. 9 of our Co. also many horses and mules killed. Shell landed near kitchens. Expect to move to the rear tonight and be relieved. Hope so, mighty dangerous staying around here. Shells playing havoc all over woods.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company continued to hope to move back to the rear as German shells rained down on them near the front. Even though the men in the company were not going over the front at this moment, they were still in constant danger from these shells and other defensive efforts by the German troops.
Monday, Oct. 7:
● “Although all packed up last night and ready to move out any minute according to orders, we were fooled once more and stayed here after all. It sure is disgusting as we can not take chance to unroll pack and go to sleep. Little shelling by evening during night or today, but one shell killed more animals again at same spot as yesterday. More from our Company. Everybody questioned to go out of this hall and be relieved and all are sick and have their belly full from war notwithstanding all the bragging and humbug going in those lieing (lying) papers about the Americans so eager to fight. Bool. However the morale is good and all are confident of victory. Good news coming in from the front daily. Had good feed today, some potatoes and syrup in addition to our canned beef and hardtack or bread, which had been our meals for almost two weeks steady. For dinner we even had a little after. Although all kinds of jams, jellies, condensed milk, potatoes, etc. are sent from the States it hardly ever gets as far as the firing line as it has to go through many hands before it gets here, the troops way back of the lines and those coffee coolers get it all or what little is left when it gets here is for the officers and for the cooks they like. The same thing applies to the Y.M.C.A. service and the tobacco. Although we read in the papers of thousands of tons of sweets etc. arrived, we have been able only once to get a bar of chocolate each and a few pieces of chewing gum. The poor shell dodger on the front always gets the worst end of it always, no matter at all the trash they put in the papers. Weather fairly good but cloudy.”
● Comments: Vander Veen and his company were still on reserve and morale was low as they had to stay outside without even unrolling their packs to sleep so they could move at any moment. This almost definitely exacerbated the sickness that was common throughout the company and all troops on the front. The most deadly disease was influenza, which in the years of 1918 to 1919 was an epidemic that struck the world. It especially raged through the AEF troops in France between around September 15 to November 15 of 1918. Vander Veen faced many other frustrations that he listed in this entry, such as the lack of good food, sweets, tobacco, etc. His complaint about the good food not reaching the front was probably accurate. It was more difficult to move food, especially food that did not stay fresh for long, to and along the front. Therefore, soldiers at the front were given rations that were more mobile.
For earlier journal entries visit the Joint Archives of Holland.
Thomas Vander Veen was a Dutch-American soldier in World War 1 who fought on the Western Front in France. His main job was as a messenger and he carried messages between his company commander at the front and the Post Commander at the rear. He wrote a journal of his experiences in the war which starts on September 22, 1918 and ends with the armistice at the end of the war on November 12, 1918. After the war ended, he earned a Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery in delivering messages, specifically in battle from October 10-13, 1918. His journal is an extraordinary first-person account of the end of World War I and provides a personal narrative of one man fighting on the Western Front. According to his nephew, Gus Vander Veen, Thomas Vander Veen immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands sometime before the beginning of World War I and was living in California. When the war broke out in Europe in 1914, the Netherlands called back its citizens who were residing abroad to join the Dutch army in preparation for potential conflict. However, Vander Veen decided not to go, and was drafted instead by the United States Army when he was 30 years old. Through the process of being in the army, Vander Veen gained his American citizenship.
This blog will share Vander Veen’s experiences with readers exactly 100 years after they happened and give a day-by-day depiction of what Vander Veen and his fellow soldiers went through at the end of World War I. The blog posts will contain Vander Veen’s journal entry about a specific day. He did not write every day, but often compiled many days into one entry, but these entries have been split into separate days to give the reader a sense of the passage of time and the events of each individual day. The blog posts will also include comments from the compilator, Natalie Fulk, on the historical context of his experiences. Fulk is a 2018 Hope College alum.
Sunday, Sept. 22:
● “After camping in woods South W. of Verdun for couple of days we left there on Sunday evening Sept. 23 at about 8:30 PM. Hiked to about 2 AM next morning. Bad weather, lots of rain, got soaking wet. Wrenched my back by getting up with my pack on when we were laying alongside of road waiting. Could not get up unaided, gradually getting better, could ride but walked all the way on own accord, but had my pack put on limbers. Landed in village Fury la Perche and assigned to billets there. Almost 5 mile from front line. Stayed there 2 nights…”
● Comments: While Vander Veen started writing his diary on October 2nd, 1918, he began describing events on September 22nd, which he thought was the 23rd. He says at the start of his diary before beginning to describe the events of Sept. 22, “Wednesday Oct. 2 or Thursday Oct. 3: I don’t know which, opinion is divided, it’s hard to keep track of the days and dates, events have passed and crowded each other so much. By figuring it all out, I have come to the conclusion it must be Wed. Oct. 2.” It must have been very difficult to keep track of the date while hiking in the woods in France with little contact with the outside world. He was stationed in France with Company C of the Fourth Division of the American Expeditionary Force. Vander Veen and his company would stay in La Perche for two nights before leaving for the front lines.
Wednesday, Sept. 25:
● “…left for the front on Wednesday night, leaving our blankets all there underground. Had my back bandaged and about OK again.”
● Comments: The company spent two nights about 5 miles away from the front line of the conflict in France before moving out. Vander Veen and his company were on their way to the front line to join the Meuse-Argonne offensive, a battle on the Western Front between the Allies and German troops.The Allied force was made up of American, British, and French troops. The main objective of the Meuse-Argonne offensive was to drive German troops out of the Meuse-Argonne region, where they were heavily entrenched. The Germans used the Meuse River and the Argonne Forest to their advantage to create strong defensive positions.
Thursday, Sept. 26:
● “Arrived at front line at about 2:30 AM Thursday to the North of Esnes on north slope of hill 304 and left of Dead Man’s hill for which positions the Germans battled so hard for 3 years ago in their drive in Verdun and lost thousands of men there. Ground all shell holes and everything showing the marks of awful destruction. Our artillery forage started at 2:30 AM. Our divisional front 2 K.M. wide and according to our Commander Lt. Humphrey only 1 Reg. of Germ. there. I think he was badly mistaken. 300,000 Am. and 300,000 French in this big offensive on a wide front telling up. Also that objective was about 14 KM but that it would take us only about 2 days and lots of fresh troops behind us to relieve us. Guess the officers like to tell us all such stories to keep up the courage. Morale of troops OK. Big barrage artillery and machine gun fire started at 5:20AM. Weak supply of Germ. Morning misty and hazy, excellent for attack. A and D Co going over the top shortly after barrage with some inf. of 39th and 47th C and B in support following later. Batches of prisoners coming in soon. Most of them glad to get out of it, I think. Some declaring German “partehl and kapush.” Rapid advance during day till in afternoon. More resistance encountered in evening about 9 KM from start. Dug in for night, so far no heavy casualties. Quiet night. Lack of first aid and stretcher bearers getting evident. Some wounded laying out in open all night without cover… Cold all night.”
● Comments: Vander Veen’s company arrived just as the Meuse-Argonne offensive was beginning. The Allies meant to drive the German troops out of their holdings in the area. Vander Veen’s guess that the offensive was larger and would take longer than his commander said was accurate, as his division was one of nine AEF divisions that were involved in the attack.
Friday, Sept. 27:
● “Rain next morning, started out again about half mile under machine gun fire. C and B Co. also on front line now. Germans opening heavy barrage of artillery fire and machine gun fire, front flank, on us. Lost many men there. Had to retreat short ways taking cover in short railroad cut, but many men kept running back to the rear notably inf. Men. Officers trying to stop them and dig in. Colonel Boles of 39th cussing and raising hell with his majors and captains for not having the men better under control. But it was an ordeal of fire, hard to stand up under it. Was as summer attached to Col. Boles for a while. Col. walking all over hills in plain view and eventually wounded too. Lt. Col. Holiday killed there also our Lts. Humphrey and Fitzgerald. Lt. Flaym in command of Lt. Captain Chase confined sick in hospital before offensive. We remained there in about same position all day. Own artillery opening fire on us couple of times, causing more disaster, but aeroplane got our position and more of it was avoided. Some Germ observer plane came down about 100 yds from us. All in flames. Shot down by 2 of our scouting planes. Great sight and causing great stir. Lots of cheers and hurrahs. Saw one shot down by M G five day previous. But also some of our planes were shot down by Germans and 2 balloons also. In evening we retreated about half mile to woods and had to reorganize. Some sections gone astray. About half the Co. there. Went up again at dark and dug in. I went to Big HQ that night, came back next morning.”
● Comments: Vander Veen was acting as a messenger for his colonel during the battle and stayed by his side. Seeing the German observer plane downed was very encouraging to the men even though the company had a hard day of battling and retreating. Any sort of victory was a morale boost to the soldiers.
Saturday, Sept. 28:
● “Found major in Septsarges woods. Our troops advancing again about 1 mile or more. Our Batt. with them also. I was attached to major and we followed the Co. up in afternoon. Germans making fierce resistance and counter attacks at points and our advance slows. Stayed in German dugout in woods for the night, also part of our Co.’s snipers fell in woods taking potshots with mg on our troops. They are a real nuisance.”
● Comments: Vander Veen was now attached to an unidentified major as his company moved forward again. It was difficult for the American forces to attack the German defenses for many reasons. The Germans used trenches, barbed wire, artillery, mortars, and machine guns, such as the ones used on this day on the snipers, to keep the Americans at bay.
Sunday, Sept. 29:
● Next morning, Sat., the 8th Brigade relieved us and we went back about a mile or so in put as immediate reserve. At first many men were missing when roll was called, but gradually they came in.”
● Comments: While Vander Veen thought it was Saturday, according to a calendar from 1918 and his description of events until this point, it was actually Sunday. Vander Veen’s company had been fighting at the front for several days before being relieved to reserve. After this entry, Vander Veen did not write until four days later on Thursday, October 3.
HOLLAND — The Holland Area Historical Society will host a program titled “We All Must Do Our Utmost: Holland, Michigan in World War I” on Tuesday, October 9 at 7:30 p.m. The presentation will be held in the Maas Auditorium, Maas Conference Center, Hope College, Holland, Michigan.
Maas Auditorium is located at 264 Columbia Avenue on the Hope College campus. The public is invited, and admission is free.
The Great War had raged since July 1914, starting as a European conflict which spiraled outward to engulf what felt like the entire world. As men from Hope College and Holland enlisted, those on the home front decided to “do their utmost” in the great cause for America. Join Hope College students Aine O’Conner and Avery Lowe as they present their research on this important conflict.
The Holland Area Historical Society sponsors historically themed programs, primarily concerning Holland and West Michigan, monthly except during May, July, August, and January. The programs are funded through dues paid by the society’s members. Membership is paid annually, and costs $15 for individuals, $20 for families, and $10 for senior citizens and $5 for students. The society also has rates for non-profit institutions, corporations and life memberships).
Subsequent presentations will be “Promoting Michigan for 100 Years: A History of the West Michigan Tourist Association” (November 20), “150 Years of Grace: Grace Episcopal Church and Christmas Dessert” (December 11), “How Much Dutch: The Linguistic Landscape of Holland, Michigan” (February 12), “History of Design at Herman Miller” (March 12), “Big Red Lighthouse: Aid to Navigation to Local Icon” (April 9), and “For Better, For Worse: Stories of the Lives of Early CRC Pastors” (June 11).
Additional information concerning the Holland Area Historical Society may be obtained by calling (616) 395-7798.