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.