Great Uncle Ray Campbell’s World War I Diary: Part III

Transcription, Introduction, and Comments
Larry Pearce, grand-nephew

Return to Part I: September 1 – November 11, 1918

My Great uncle Raymond Norman Campbell’s (1892-1978) World War I diary, Part II,  ended on Christmas Day, 1918, in France. Shortly after the signing of the armistice six weeks earlier, on November 11, he and nine fellow soldiers were given leaves from their job in the ammunition dump to tour their host country. They enjoyed themselves immensely, but many found themselves sick with colds and flu when work resumed. Perhaps it was the continuous rainy, cold weather, their lack of warm, dry clothing, or their despondency over having to continue their tiresome and dangerous job even after the formal end of the war. But, upon receiving orders to begin blowing up stockpiled ammunition and powder, they believed that the end was in sight and that they would soon be going home. The combination of the “fireworks” and a scrumptious Christmas feast brought renewed strength and hope to all, despite the gloomy weather, but tragedy was never far away, as we’ll learn as we continue with the final portion of Ray’s diary, which runs from December 26, 1918, to February 15, 1919:

12-26 to 31 It rained everyday and our coats never get a chance to get dried out. The boys come back from their vacation after having a wild time. New Years Eve and we expect a big time. We have Joe Baumer on trial for illicit association with women in Paris. We find Joe guilty and the ______ [word crossed out] is administered [obviously a mock trial]. Doc is prosecuting attorney, Garroway judge, Dauby counsel for the defendant. After the trial Gary recites some poetry, “The shooting of Dan McGrew.” Killings, Gongadin [?]. The night passed away and no one was busted [?] even tho the 45s [revolver?] were in use.
Jan 1, 1919 New Years and a good day the first since Dec. 1st. We work all day cleaning up and getting things in shape. Nothing special for dinner.
Jan 2 to 4 Rain as usual but rain never stops us so we plug away. The 4th was my “birthday” and we were to have a little champaign party but nobody would go after the champaign so the party was off
1-5 Rain again but a little more rain don’t matter because the dump is like a swamp anyhow. The artillerymen help us but they are a hard bunch to keep busy.
1-6 to 8 Three dry days. This is a very remarkable thing and more is accomplished. The rumors are flying that we will soon be leaving for home so we work just a little bit harder. Tuesday the 7th we have our first casualty. Harley Burling is severly burned while five of us are exploding gun cotton. Griffin, Smith, Barney, Meisner, Burling and myself make up the detail. I took Burling down to the infirmary and he gets bandaged up. From there we go to the barracks. Dock sends him to the hospital tonight.
1-8 Work as usual. I don not work in the afternoon but go on sick call with a severe cold.
1-9 Rain as usual in the afternoon. The artillerymen are called off. Our details are all split up so we all quit at 3:15. Berly is seriously injured by exploding grenades. He is taken to the hospital.
1-10 Working as usual with nothing special to report.
1-11 We start to move the junk in the lower cars in the dump. We leave this however and proceed to take out powder charges.
1-12 Sunday and we get a day off, the first for a month. I stay around the barracks all day. It snows all day but melts as it falls. I go to church with Victor Basehart. This is my first time in a cathedral church. I take a German [bomb] fuse apart in the evening.
1-13 Working away as usual with the aid of the artillerymen.
1-12 to 15 [He seems to confuse the days.] We are switched down to the canal to work for Bruce. We finish piling a few shells and then start policing up. We are told the Colonel is coming to look the place over. He does come but never looks at the dump. We continue policing and taking powder charges out. Noon on the 15th, I and six others are called out of line to help make room down at the office for a bunch of new men.
1-16 to 18 We continue with our carpenter detail building bunks and rustling lumber from the station. I secure a German helmet on the 17th from a car in the yards. Mike Chumerka is severly burned on the 17th by powder while trying to blow up some German ammunition.
1-19 Sunday and we are allowed a holiday. Barley fixes a sink in our barracks in the morning and we all take a walk in the afternoon through a large forest near here. I write letters in the evening.
1-20 We fall out on Pewee’s carpenter detail. Dryer and Armstrong are sick and do not work in the morning. A terrible wreck occurs at Maurages on the broad guage. A Red Cross train is smashed to pieces killing 15 Algerian soldiers and wounding a large number. They all wear the Crois de Guerre having come through four years of the war. It is a terrible sight. The wreckage catches fire and burns several wounded soldiers to death. I see them all strung out in the field below and an artilleryman brings out the last body burned to a crisp. It is the worst wreck I ever saw. Campaign in one of the cars catches fire and burned three or four cars. In the P.M. we all go back to the dump and help clean up the rubbish piles.
1-21 We all go out to the dump. Smith, Pewee and King go and get some lumber to finish the bunks. P.M. A bunch of us go and get some firewood on the truck. We load three narrow guage cars and ride back. It is very cold. It had not rained for three days. The wind blows from the east.
1-22 We go back on the carpenter detail and work all day. A bunch of fellows start looting the cars of YMCA supplies and campaign. It is an awful orgy. Men carry champaign away by the sackfull. Cohen, H and Berkawitz get pinched. Sparks gets drunk and we have quite a time with him.
1-23 We work as usual burning bandoleers. P.M. we go again on the wood detail and load three cars. We walk back and arrive in time for supper.
1-24 Friday and all is well. I work all day burning 30s. The new bunch of men come in about 9 o’clock P.M. They number 84 and come in motor trucks from near Verdun.
1-25 I work until about 10 o’clock at the dump but am called away to chop wood at the bath house. The new men have cooties [lice] so they get a bath.
1-26 Sunday and we are off duty. I spend the day in the barracks. It snows a bit in the evening.
1-27 We all line up including the new men. We are arranged in details and sent to the dump. Nothing special.
1-28 We go to work cleaning up the lower corner of the dump. One of our men Carl Breinstein is killed on the grenade blow up detail. A German minnewaifer [?] drops from the box and explodes killing him and severly wounding an artillery horse nearby.
1-29 Our detail goes down to the station and unloads four cars of small arms ammunition. We also load three of these cars with ordnance [artillery] property sent down from the dump. P.M. We go out to the dump and help destroy 30s.
1-30 All day cleaning up 30s.
1-31 Same as the day before. We start today at 2:30 to load German ammunition to ship out.
2-1 Morris and his detail finish up the small arms while the rest of the gang load cars.
2-2 A holiday. I air my blankets, chop wood, sleep and write letters.
2-3 Go to work helping to police the dump. This is our day’s work.
2-4 Load one car and build a fire where we all sit around till Bill Colbath orders us to fall in. He tells us we are off till noon because no cars come into the station. He says when we have cars, we work. No cars, no work. We go to the station and load three cars after which we are dismissed for the day.
2-5 We work all day loading cars at the station. We load 9 broad guage. It starts snowing about 3 o’clock and snows about 3 inches. It starts raining in the evening.

[After skipping a line, Ray writes his final entry 10 days later:]
2-15 Bailey and all the fellows in our room are detailed to build some more bunks for 60 more men, pioneer infantrymen. The men come in the afternoon before we get through. We finish up about 4:45. Bill Coalbath tells us to lay in tomorrow a.m. (Sunday).

The diary ends here, but after skipping two lines, the list of names and addresses of his fellow soldiers and others he met in France continues. Could he have recorded these both from the front and the back of the tablet and simply have run out of room to continue his journal? We are left with the question of whether he may have continued in another notebook through the time when he was discharged from the Army. At this time, we don’t know exactly when that was. For that matter, we don’t know when he began his tour of duty either. Perhaps he began writing when he began serving, no doubt before the September 1, 1918 date on which this diary began. Research continues as we contact other members of Ray’s family for more personal information on our Great uncle and to see if additional writings exist.

But, in conclusion, we have learned much about Raymond Norman Campbell, World War I, France, and the other American soldiers who served overseas. On a personal note, in transcribing this text, I often felt as if Great uncle Ray was talking directly to me. He impressed me as a gentle and moral man, anxious to follow orders and serve his country, despite the danger that his work in the ammunition dump posed. But, at the same time, he loved to use his infrequent days off and vacations to jump on the train and tour the countryside and large cities. He obeyed his superiors and avoided trouble, but he laughed with his buddies and took part in the celebrations. His language was modest, his descriptions understated. Above all, he was a wonderful storyteller, and thank God he took the time to record his experiences so that we can understand and enjoy them today, some 85 years later. He has made a lasting contribution, not only to our family heritage, but to American history as well.

RETURN TO PART I – September 1 through November 11, 1918

RETURN TO PART II – November 12 through December 25, 1918


Last revised 6/11/18

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