Great Uncle Ray’s World War I Diary

Transcription and [Comments] by
Larry Pearce, grand-nephew
2/9/03

[Several events coincided several years ago that made this story possible: The researching and publication of a family reunion book entitled “The History and Genealogy of the Descendants of Thomas Campbell,” by the Campbell cousins in 1996 (see highlights at E-Gen: Campbell), and the death of one of the writers, my Aunt Edna Ione Gray (1920-1997). The book made me aware of the fascinating lives of my mother Ruth Elizabeth [Gray] Pearce’s ancestors, including my Great Uncle Ray. Aunt Edna’s death allowed the release and inspection of many artifacts relating to our family. One afternoon while visiting my Uncle Merle and Aunt Betty I came across a box containing Uncle Ray’s tattered World War I diary. One of the related pieces, which can’t be explained, is a cardboard tag with his name and assignment written on one side as “Private Raymond W. Campbell, 1st Army Ammunition Train, A.P.O. 784, A.E.F. (American Post Overseas and American European Forces)” and a mysterious, typewritten note on the other that reads: “These articles salvaged after sinking of the S.S. America, October, 1918.” The diary couldn’t have been saved from the doomed ship because it continues through February 15, 1919, after the sinking of the America. We may never know where the tag came from, but the brown envelope containing the dairy indicates that Aunt Edna received the contents from her mother, my Grandmother Bertha Ione [Campbell] Gray (1893-1980), in late1979 after the death of Uncle Ray’s wife Ruth and the settlement of the estate earlier that year. Other items in the envelope were his New Testament, which he had received prior to the war, and several pictures.]

[Before we look at the diary, let me relate a very brief biography of Uncle Ray. His last residence was in the same northern Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel that his three generations of Scotch-Irish ancestors had settled, farmed, and lived in. He was a successful real estate agent and with his wife Ruth Dittrich belonged to the Emory Methodist Church across the Allegheny River in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. Like his brother Clifford (see “Memories of my Great Uncles”), Ray visited his parents in West Deer Township almost every weekend, taking food and supplies and helping with the farm chores. On Saturdays he would delivery fresh produce from the farm to regular customers in the Pittsburgh area. Though he and his wife never raised any children of their own, my mother believes that Aunt Ruth may have had a stillborn. They were always very kind and generous to his sister Bertha’s twelve children, according to my mother and other family members.]

[Here then are the highlights of Uncle Ray’s handwritten diary, which measures approximately 3 inches by 5 inches. (I will make comments and explanations as appropriate). The outside of the front cover contains several words that are indiscernible, the outside of the back cover contains nothing, but inside the front and back are lists of belongings. I have tried to maintain exact spellings and capitalizations]:
Barracks Bag
1 Blue denims
2 Bed sox
3 wool undershirts
4 field shoes
5 light underwear
6 small articles in bag
7 blouse
8 overcoat
9 blankets
Person[al]
Breeches OD Shirt
Belt waist Field Shoes
Hat chord wool sox
Summer drawers 2 tags & tape
“ undershirt
Hat Leggins [corner torn]
Pack [inside back cover, probably field items including rations]
H 1 Bacon can H 1 Razor
P 1 Web belt P 1 OD Shirt
P 1 Canteen H 2 Soap
P 1 Canteen cover H 2 Wool sox
H 1 Condiment Can P 1 Tent
P 1 Cup H 1 Tooth brush
H1 Fork H 1 “ paste
H1 Knife H 1 Towel
P 1 Pack Carrier P 1 undershirt
P 1 F.A. Pack
H 1 Packet food powder per squad
H 1 Spoon
1 Haversack
P 2 OD Blanket
H 1 Brush shaving
H 1 Comb
P 1 Summer drawers
H 1 Hair brush
H 1 mirror
P 5 tent pins
P 1 pole
H 1 Pole

[The first nine pages of the tablet, both front and back, contain 89 names and addresses of men, probably in his company, written, for the most part, in their own handwriting. Some write in large, fancy script, while others print in tiny letters. They represent many states and Canada. The actual daybook recordings begin on page 10:]
Diary Beginning 9-1-18
9-1-18 Worked in a.m. building barracks. P.M., issued gas masks, drill following
9-2-18 A.M. Loafed, shaved etc. P.M. took inventory of small arms ammunition.
9-3-18 A.M. Piled barbed wire and unloaded sheet iron. P.M., unloaded powder from cars
9-4-18 Unloaded small arms ammunition all day
9-5-18 Served on K.P.
9-6-18 Carried materials for barracks. P.M. covered ammunition with tarpolean, rained.
9-7-18 Unloaded revolver ammunition from cars and covered various piles with tarpolean.
P.M. Helped engineers on erecting barracks. Called out at 11 p.m. to load trucks,
Saw 42nd N.Y. div. enrout to the [smudged?] Toul of ___ Aravilad sight.
9-8-18 Sunday a.m.no work. P.M. Took a walk & picked some blackberries, also saw some fortifications. P.M. Loaded ammunition.
9-9-18 A.M. no work until 10:30, helped build barracks and load a truck with sheet iron. P.M. Loaded large shells 40 to a truck. Called out at 7:30 p.m. and worked till 1 o’clock loading narrow guage with small arms ammunition.
9-10-18 Unloaded truck that was stuck in the mud. Helped the chap out. Came back to the billets till noon. Volunteered for this work. P.M. rained like hell. Our company dismissed. I went to the Y, bot some cakes, & came back to our billets. Got supper and went to work at 5:45 p.m., worked till 5 a.m. Wednesday loading powder on French trucks 20 boxes to a truck, two trucks stuck in the mud. Some job helping the frogs out. 10 hrs. work no eats till we quit and then slice of bread, cup of coffee, & salmon.
9-11-18 Slept till noon. Eat mess, returned to our quarters for further orders. Mess 6 P.M. after which we were called to load fuses from cars to trucks. I and three other men were detailed to load oil barrels on truck. Some job rolling barrels thru the mud. Returned to our quarters and slept all night till the heavy guns woke us up, not certain but we think it is the beginning of the long talked of drive. Truck drivers tell us that 40 divs. Of 45000 men each are on the front.
9-12-18 Unloaded militrouse [?] ammunition from cars to trucks. 30 to a truck. P.M. assigned to a new compound: 25 men to a company after which we helped to load French 75’s. No supper till 7 p.m. Areoplane [new to warfare, and probably novel to Uncle Ray] landed in field. Pilot lost his bearing. No work at night.
9-13-18 A.M. breakfast & returned to our billets, packed up. Got dinner which was very good for a change. P.M. left Domgerman [?] at 1 o’clock on a truck for Toul, we hung around all afternoon. Visited the Red Cross for cocoa & sandwitches. Saw 4000 German prisoners being marches through Toul by American doe boys [doughboys were infantrymen]. A very sorrowful looking bunch of soldiers. Some boys not more than 15 & men of 60 made up their ragged ranks. We boarded the narrow guage [smaller track railroad] about dark. The cars were filled high with powder. There were 4 cars on the train & we had some time finding a place to sit. We changed trains during the night & having no overcoats we shivered all night. We came to a small place call Sorcy where the QM [Quartermaster Corps?] have erected immense warehouses. 24 hours going about 15 or 20 kilometers [approximately 10 to 15 miles].
9-14-18 Stayed at Sorcy till about 6 p.m. We then boarded the narrow guage and finally arrived at a town called Mauvages where we were assigned to barracks. The best place we have found since arriving in France. [In the margin he writes “P.S. Saw the famous Marne River the 1st time.”]
9-15-18 Sunday & all is well. We rested after our tiresome trip. We had a good mess and every man is pleased with the prospects. A fine days rest and everybody happy. I wrote some letters, had a little walk in quest of apples. Small success.
9-16-18 Starter to work with lots of pep. The American Army was doing big things at the front. We unloaded 9 cars of salvage ammunition and empty cases. Also grenades. We worked hard all day. After mess in the evening 50 men were called to load and unload ammunition from trucks. They worked till 1 a.m. I did not happen to be one of the 50 for which I was indeed grateful.
9-17-18 Our detail was shifted to the dump back from the town. We were sorting ammunition and unloading some from trucks. We were also cleaning rust from 3 in Stokes, a dangerous job for a careless man.
9-18-18 Helped to unload trucks and fill bandoleers with small arms ammunition. It rained all day so we had a nice inside job.
9-19-18 Filled bandoleers [broad belts worn over the shoulder and around the waist containing bullets] with small arms ammunition and packed same in boxes. Another rainy day but we worked inside.
9-20-18 Rained and made things in general unpleasant. We worked all day packing small arms ammunition.
9-21-18 Very cold and I disagreeable but old Ray as usual was on the job. Burling Joe and I myself drew the old job packing bandoleers. A good job for the kind of day.
9-22-18 We all lined up after breakfast. The sergeant called half the company to work. So I worked with the bunch that was called. In the A.M. we rearranged a pile of grenades and I unloaded some 75 [?]. P.M. we worked on the road around the dump. A fleet of 30 American trucks came in with captured German ammunition of all kinds. They unloaded their own trucks. We quit at 4 bells on account of it being Sunday.
9-23-18 Got up and I marched down to mess in a pouring rain. We worked inside on small arms ammunition all day.
9-24-18 The heavy guns could be heard very plainly all night. A nice day and back on the old job of packing and piling small arms ammunition.
[Here he writes, “9-25 to 28 inc.”] Packing bandoleers. Nothing important only the S.O.S. (same old stuff).
9-29 [He omits the year] The long looked for day off has arrived. About 10 of us go to Gondercourt where we spent the day and also some of our money. We visit the Y’s & Salvation Army. We had diner in the café, the only one in town. After dinner we bummed around until we bumped into some doe boys. They told us about us coming into England and the reception they goave them. They told us the Leviathan had been sunk. We saw a bunch of wounded doe boys. They told some of their experiences.
9-30 Packed bandoleers all day. We hear that the war will be over in 20 days. We all work harder.
10-1 The first frost of the season. We all woke up cold having only two blankets but happy. We went to Gondercourt in two trucks to attend Lieut. Hayden’s funeral in the afternoon. Came back and I unloaded a car of rifles and I quit for the day.
10-2 Anotheer frosty morning. We started the day by packing bandoleers. At 8:15 we were transferred to the station and I unloaded 11 cars of various kinds of ammunition. 5 o’clock and we have finished unloading and are called to pile some tin and salvage shells along the narrow guage tracks. We saw two fleets of areoplanes, 13 and 15 respectfully. The boys are all jubilant over the report that Bulgaria asks for peace. The guns have been active all day at the front. A bunch of engineers come in and tell about their trip across.
10-3 Thursday and all is well. The guns are making a tremendous noise. We spend the day packing bandoleers. A beautiful day and great things are impending at the front.
10-4 Another nice day although cloudy. The usual work until we are detailed to unload some narrow guage cars. We then send some ammunition out on the narrow guage.
10-5 Small arms ammunition all day. Nothing exciting.
10-6 Our Sunday to work. We follow a truck all day loading and unloading all kinds of salvage from the cars. Oh yess, the first day of the new time. The clock is set back one hour.
10-7 We get up and start to work on the new time. Burling takes charge, Segt. Holmes having left for his seven day leave. We learn thru rumors that the Central powers have accepted Wilson’s peace terms. Also that firing has ceased on the front but nothing confirmed. John L. and I pay a visit to Susan. [Page turn here, and Ray seems to be writing bigger and more legibly.] She cheers us by her smiles and of course we go to quarters just a bit happier.
10-8 A cold rainy day but we work inside all day on small arms.
10-9 Another full day on small arms.
10-10 A heavy frost. We hear a Boche machine. [Originally French slang for the hard, square head of a German soldier, so this may be a captured German vehicle.] We all crowd out to see what is going to happen. Nothing develops. One hour on small arms and we are transferred to the station to unload 27 cars. We witness an air battle in the far distance. Could not determine the results. I learn that Cliff’s [his brother] division is on the Metz front. 6 of us, Brown, Burling, Sparks, Bossart, Campbell and myself go to the café and have a bottle of beer and a cheese sandwitch.
10-11 Small arms all day.
10-12 Small arms 1 hr in a.m. Balance of day unloading ammunition, 27 cars of German. In the evening 29 more come in of the same stuff.
10-13 Our day off. I spent the day writing letters and sewing my gloves. We learn that the Kaiser [German King] abdicates and that the Crown prince commits suicide. 25 more cars of captured stuff comes in. A big day ahead.
[He combines 10-14 thru 31 using a smeary pencil – hard to read] The same old stuff. Loading and unloading ammunition. Wet [?] days and dry days but we never stop for triffles. Nothing particular important. Only the nine of us fellows in our barracks have a six course dinner at a little place downtown: roast goose, French fried, vin blanc [white wine?] salad, dressing and everything that goes with it. We all had a good time and everyone enjoyed our first banquet in France. This happened Halloween night.

[He combines Nov. 1 to 12] Still at the same old job slinging ammunition. Mud up to the eyes, no boots, no underware, no gloves, no socks, no overcoat, but privates have nothing to say. Austria signs the armitice. The fellows all look forward for an early ending of the war. We hear reports and all kinds of rumors about our return back to the states. Tuesday noon. A new split is made in the company. I happen to be away just at the time but upon returning find that I am still on the same old job inspecting boxes and as usual see some interesting things in the boxes such as loose bandoleers. Towards evening Victor and I are not feeling the best so we decide to call on the medical sergeant. He is not on the job so we go up and turn in. Supper over and the medical sergeant takes our temperature and discovers me and about 25 others have a high fever. We are immediately sent to Gondercourt Hospital in a truck. It was one awful ride sitting on the bottom of a muddy truck. This all happened on Tuesday. We are diagnosed as influenza victims and stay in the hospital till Sunday noon when we are dismissed. Our sickness was the result of moving all the old company into one barracks and we sleep there all night without any open windows. We are expecting the new bunch. They finally come Thursday the 7th while we are at the hospital. We are very sick the first night but we have the advantages of the first real bed since leaving home and I enjoy a much needed rest. We take in the sights of Gondercourt, movies, etc. beside our little detail work, peeling potatoes, turnips, sweeping out our ward, changing the sheets and making the beds, keeping the fire up, arguing, shooting the crap, playing checkers, reading magazines, etc. Boche [German] prisoners are around everywhere sawing wood, scrubbing floors, etc. Several aresick in the ward where we are and of course we all get around while one of our fellows who talks German pumps him for news. He says the Americans are great soldiers. He dislikes the French and loathes the English. He says his whole division was captured by the French and our doe boys. Sunday the 10th P.M. Bosart, Brown and myself decide to walk home. Brown backs out until we learn that an ambulance is going as far as Abenville. We jump in and ride and walk the rest of the way. French troops are on the march. Their 75 caissons [two-wheeled wagons for transporting ammunition, but were probably the big guns themselves as in the traditional Army song] pass us on the road. Everyone is expectant about the result of the Armistice. We reach our barracks about 3:30 and immediately move into the other place [where they were reassigned before] and I ask no questions.
11/11/18 The great day has come and Germany signs the armistice. The boys are all in high spirits with the one question in mind, “When are we going home?” The French everywhere hail the Americans as their deliverers and nothing is too good for an American. The church bells are ringing, the tri-color entwined with the stars and stripes are floating everywhere, little children are waving flags, everyone is filled with joy. Gee, how I would like to see a Pgh. Post [his local newspaper].

This concludes Part I of my Great Uncle Raymond’s World War I diary. We have a sense of the routine duties of the men behind the lines. We have listened in on their rumors of peace and overheard their outspoken desires to go home. Though the “Great Day” of armistice has come and brought “high spirits” to all the boys, we’ll see in the next installment, Part II, that each day to follow brings more of the same dread and boredom present before the surrender. While some of the Americans, including Uncle Ray, are granted “vacations,” some literally die waiting to go home. The ammunition dump is a very dangerous place.

2 Responses to Great Uncle Ray’s World War I Diary

  1. momina says:

    Is Uncle Raymond American or British? Is it possible to describe him to a British Soldier in my novel about ‘WW1’?

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