“All the coal crackers are here together” – Lykens Soldiers Write Home in December 1917

Throughout the First World War, the Lykens Standard of Northern Dauphin County published letters and accounts from local soldiers serving overseas.

In the December 21, 1917 edition of the Standard, three letters were published from the “Boys in Camp.” Two were written from Camp Gordon, near Augusta Georgia, and another from Camp Meade on the outskirts of Baltimore, Maryland.

Standard

These letters relate the experiences of local soldier as they trained for war. “Am in good health,” wrote Robert Schreffler on December 13, “altho [sic] nearly all the boys are suffering with severe colds and sore throat.” He watched a young man collapse from pneumonia only the day before. After spending his Thanksgiving on duty digging ditches as punishment, Schreffler wrote: “Such is army life. I am used to anything now.”

“We have been drilling every day regardless of weather and it surely is a test to all the boys to be out in this snow and ice,” wrote S. Roy Stanley from Camp Gordon. “We are now learning to make charges will the machine guns at imaginary enemy.”

Stanley also described his growing sense of unease as he trained to head over there. “This war looks very serious to me just now and especially right here, as they are working very hard to get all the men trained,” he wrote, before turning his thoughts to his home in Lykens. “I miss our little town very much; also, the privileges I had, but I realize that I am serving my country and must put myself out for those whom we love at home.”

A letter written by a group of Lykens and Wiconisco men training in Camp Meade spent some time describing their camp and the recruits within. “All the “coal crackers” here from Williams Valley are together,” they wrote after noting that “the Lykens and Wiconisco boys digging, as they know how to buck the rib and handle the pick and shovel are not stuck when it comes to [trenches].”

The boys in Camp Meade were disappointed, as were other letter writers that December, that they were unable to make the train ride home to Lykens for the holidays. “We all expected to spend Xmas at home,” they wrote, “and our names were taken Friday morning for the purpose of securing transportation. The next morning, however, our fond hope of meeting our home friends were blasted when we were informed that the camp was placed under quarantine on account of measles.”

These notes from the American training camps of World War I provide insights into the daily lives of soldiers, their activities, and their training regimens. But they also open a window in their minds:  fears, disappointments, and their motivations to fight.

Read the full letters below:

Letters from the Boys in Camp

While the relatives and a few friends, perhaps, of the boys from this section in training at the various camps, are kept informed of their experiences and welfare, the general public learns little about them, and for this reason we request that anything in their letters that would please our readers, be given us for publication.

Following are a few letters received this week:

From Bob Shreffler

Camp Gordon, Ga.

Dec. 13, 1917.

 

Am in good health altho nearly all the boys are suffering with severe colds and sore throat. Monday night I came across a fellow sitting at a stove in the toilet and shaking like a leaf. I sent him to the kitchen to get a hot lemonade and when he entered there fell to the floor. A doctor was summoned who sent him to the hospital and next day the poor fellow died. Quite a number of deaths from pneumonia have occurred here.

Sunday, while in the barracks reading a book, Wm. Harman and a comrade from Williamstown came marching in and believe me I was glad to see them. They took me to Ray Stanley, Miller, Nutt, and Mark Kilraine. Now we get together and have great talks about Lykens and relating our experiences.

I had to dig ditch Thanksgiving Day, but it was not my fault, some fellow in the bunch told a sergeant to go to… well a warmer climate and of course old Bob was blamed for it, but I didn’t mind it and dug away. Such is army life. I am used to anything now. I nearly died laughing at Ray Stanley. He said this is a deuce of a place to send a fellow to, and the other boys expressed themselves similarly, but in a more emphatic tone. But we are the way I look at it, and I don’t care in it and must still till the end, that’s if I go to France tomorrow.

The entire Lykens bunch is going to Stone Mountain on Sunday. This reminds one of the scene back this is the only mountain in this [section].

I can picture Hal Bowman and Allen Row – they will know what life is when they get inside a khaki suit, they won’t always be fixing their clothes now.

Talk about “The Sunny South!”

The section is experiencing the most severe winter in 40 years, snow, lots of it, and rain and mud.

Hope you all enjoy a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, is my sincere wish.

Robert Shreffler, 328th Inf.

Supply Co., Camp Gordon, Ga.


Camp Meade, MD

Dec. 16, 1917.

In reading last week’s Standard we found letters from almost all of the boys in the service from Lykens and Wiconisco, except from those stationed at Camp Meade; therefore, we will do our bit toward keeping our friends at home informed as to our condition, etc. We all expected to spend Xmas at home and our names were taken Friday morning for the purpose of securing transportation. The next morning, however, our fond hope of meeting our home friends were blasted when we were informed that the camp was placed under quarantine on account of measles. The quarantine is on for 8 days, but will not interfere with our duties.

The Lykens and Wiconisco boys digging, as they know how to buck the rib and handle the pick and shovel are not stuck when it comes to [trenches]. We enjoy camp life, but a present it is just a little bit too cold outside for comfort. After taps all windows in the barracks are opened and the fresh air is doing its bit in making us ready for “over there.” We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the other boys coming to this camp and are well prepared to receive them.

All the “coal crackers” here from Williams Valley are together; but we are sorry that some of the boys on the 10th inst. Were sent to Southern camps to fill in vacancies. We have fine officers in our company who treat us as a soldier should be treated.

As to the cooks – we have them all from our home towns and they have their pedigree read to them when there are no “seconds.”

Sergt. Goldberger has a very busy time. Around the precinct of the store room, stands a patient waiting line, pestering him for hats and hat cords, breeches, blouses, shirts, and shows. Olive drab their chosen color, but he hands them Union blue.

There’s Prvt. O’Gorek, he’s a wonder with those “booms.” God have mercy on the Germans, they are already in their tombs. Of discipline he’s a wrecker, of his nerve he should be proud; regardless of all regulations, after taps he snores out loud.

There’s a private named Kocher, and if Heaven’s gates were one step nearer and St. Peter hollered … I believe poor Ted would lose his step.

Private Kelly is game and gritty, tho of rather weak physique; to him we are kind, generous, tho he does most bunk fatigue.

Private Calnon is very religious, he is thinking of the righteous. Every night he reads a chapter, then at taps he hits the hay.

We have a Private Watkeys and his nerve we all admire, wanted a pass for all the holidays, but to his home he’ll come no nearer.

But now, dear reader, we think it’s best to give our crazy pen a rest, and if the boys should read this rhyme, we hope they’ll come in double time and help to break the German line.

We think it best to close our letter giving regards to all our friends and thanking the L & W Red Cross Auxiliary for their well met promises.

Corp. John H. Deitrich,

Cook Jos. A. Harman,

Cook Leo. A. Smich,

Cook George J. Yanoschock


From S. Ray Stanley

 

EDITOR STANDARD: I am getting along very nicely, but at present have a very bad cold, as have nearly all the men. I was somewhat disappointed with the climate as we had a week of very cold weather. Last Sunday we had zero temperature and it hasn’t moderated very much yet. We have about two inches of snow and ice here and it just keeps one busy to keep on his feet as it is frozen hard. WE have been drilling every day regardless of weather and it surely is a test to all the boys to be out in this snow and ice. We drill nine hours a day now, including a hike of about three or four miles. At first we took a big hike every Friday of about 15 miles, but this was a little bit too much for some of the men, so they decided to give them a short walk every day. We are now learning to make charges will the machine guns at imaginary enemy. It looks as though we soon will be sent across unless something should turn up with the Germans, which would please all the boys in camp. We will not be able to come home for Christmas as no passes will be issued to any of the men and I tell you a great many were disappointed, but we will have to make the best of it and hope by next Christmas we will all be home again. This war looks very serious to me just now and especially right here, as they are working very hard to get all the men trained. We had a very find Thanksgiving dinner – everything that goes with turkey. We are promised a good Christmas dinner also. I miss our little town very much; also, the privileges I had, but I realize that I am serving my country and must put myself out for those whom we love at home. I am willing to go to France and do my bit. Of course, I want to be trained to perfection before I go.

Will close by wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.

Ray Stanley,

Co. C., 320 M.G. Battalion, Camp Gordon, Ga.


Featured Image: Camp Meade, Maryland, 1917 (Library of Congress)

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