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.

World War I Soldier’s Journal-October 3-7, 1918

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.

World War I Soldier’s Journal-Day by Day

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 and Hope College During World War I

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.

History of Tulip City Airport Presentation

The Holland Area Historical Society will host a program titled “Ascent: The 75-Year History of the Tulip City Airport” on Tuesday, September 11 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.

From its founding as a grass landing strip in 1942 to its opening as a major airport business center and terminal in 2016, the Tulip City Airport has played a key role in the transportation history of the Holland area. Join local author Myron Kukla as he documents the ascent of this regional transportation link, now known as West Michigan Regional Airport.

History of Ottawa County Railroads Presentation

The Holland Area Historical Society will host a program titled “Railroads of Ottawa County” on Tuesday, April 10 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.

Ottawa County was a major railroad center for more than 80 years. Local historian Paul Trap will present a summary of the 70 plus railroad companies associated with Ottawa County, like the Detroit & Milwaukee and the Pere Marquette as well as two local interurban lines.

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.

Answering the Call: Company K Sharpshooters in the Civil War

The Holland Area Historical Society will be hosting the presentation “Answering the Call: Company K Sharpshooters in the Civil War” on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., in the Maas Center Auditorium, Hope College, 264 Columbia Avenue, Holland.

Maas Auditorium is located at 264 Columbia Avenue on the Hope College campus. The public is invited, and admission is free.

Company K of the First Michigan Sharpshooters regiment was composed primarily of Native Americans of the United States, especially members of the Ojibwa, Odawa, and Potawatomi nations. Communications professor and filmmaker Dr. David Schock will illustrate, through images and historical accounts, the history of this famous Civil War fighting group.