World War I Soldier’s Journal-October 21-28, 1918

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.

World War I Soldier’s Journal-October 15-20, 1918

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.

World War I Soldier’s Journal-October 9-13, 1918


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.

Michigan Shipwrecks Topic of Program

The Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) will present its annual Mysteries & Histories Beneath the Inland Seas on Saturday, March 24, 2018 from 7:00 PM to 9:30 PM (EDT), in the Jack H. Miller Auditorium at Hope College, 221 Columbia Avenue, Holland, MI 49423.

For more information visit the website at Mysteries & Histories Beneath the Inland Seas-2018.

Virtual Tour of the Public Art in Holland

Did you know that there are more than 68 works of public art just in Holland? Come find out what those pieces of art are, their history, and where to find them through images and comments from Lorma Freestone, executive director of the Holland Area Arts Council. The Holland Area Historical Society will host this event on Tuesday, June 20, 2017, at 7:30 p.m., at the Maas Center Auditorium, at Hope College, 264 Columbia Avenue, Holland. This event is free to the public.

The Poor Farm: A Documentary

The Poor Farm: A Documentary film will premiere at the Park Theatre on River Street in Holland on May 24 at 6:00. There will be beer, wine, and snacks and a fabulous silent auction with lots of experiential items. Music provided by Ruth and Max Bloomquist of “Michigan Girl” fame.

Advanced tickets can BEST be secured by calling 616-738-4810 or 616-786-4847, online, or purchased at the door for $10 each.

Much of the research completed for the making of this film came from Joint Archives of Holland, Hope College, archival collection of the same name and we are a proud supporter of this event.