Letters Home: A Glimpse of World War I

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Helping prepare a program for my Monday (reader’s) Club prompted me to dig out the correspondence my family has saved over the years. Although I knew there were letters, little did I expect so great a volume of memorabilia packed in the cedar chest in Dad’s bedroom. More than 75 letters, out of their envelopes, flattened, and arranged in chronological order, had been stored in a black, Vassar union suit box, looking frayed at the corners and fragile.
Written by my mother’s father to his mother and dad and sister Nina, the letters are dated from spring 1918 to nearly a year later, after WW I had ended. The envelopes had been stacked underneath, all addressed to their home in Uhrichsville, Ohio.
I never knew my Grandpa Parry; he died two months before I was born, but I’m always pleased when I’m told what a fair minded person he was. I’ve heard that he spoke to the hired farm workers with the same care and respect he’d have shown to a prominent dignitary. I can only hope that I follow his example.
Part of our annual family ritual takes in the rolling hills of Harrison County as we visit his grave site in Deersville, Ohio, in time for Decoration Day so it’s fitting that I share one of his letters in time for the memorial holiday.
England, 1918
Dear Mother and Dad,
“Here I am on land once more and mighty glad of it. We had fine weather for our trip over, and a calm sea all of the way. I enjoyed the experience very much, that is after I got my sea legs, but by the time we came in sight of land, the life had become rather monotonous.
“I became seasick inside of four hours after leaving harbor. I have read a lot about seasickness, but never [anything] that does the malady justice. I [believe] that some fellows would welcome death itself as a relief … A YMCA man came along with us from Sherman to Mills*, [their] tents were on the job at Camp Mills, and now I’m writing in a YMCA tent in merry old England.
“You will be wondering whether we had any submarine scares. We did not. Although for the time we were in the danger zone, I served on a special guard which kept a sharp look out for subs. I never saw anything that in the least resembled a periscope. We either dodged them completely or they were afraid to tackle us.
“We arrived on English soil in the evening. Always before that the ship had been darkened early, but that night, we celebrated and remained on deck until nearly midnight, watching the lights on the shore. The regimented band was with us and gave a concert, and led in some singing. We docked that night but did not leave the ship until next morning. It felt very strange to go to sleep without the roll of the ship on the waves. We were at liberty to undress too, for the first time for several days. In fact, I slept in my clothes, shoes and all, all of the way over. I didn’t intend to be caught napping in case there was a sudden summons to the life boats, and I did not want to spend much time on a life boat half dressed. We carried our life belts with us all of the time and carried our canteens filled with water so we were always ready for emergencies.
“We had frequent boat drills on the voyage, which taught every man his … place in case of danger. If we had been torpedoed, there was no reason why every man, not injured by the explosion of the torpedo, should not have made his escape from the ship. …
“Everywhere we went the people greeted us with cheers and American flags. Sometimes our flags were rather odd looking. One woman waved rigorously a flag with the stars in the lower left hand corner, others waved flags with seven stars only. Some had flags which were a cross between the English Union Jack, and Old Glory. I guess they were glad to see the ‘Bloody Yanks’ come. …
“I don’t know how soon we shall get mail from home. I do know that we are all mighty anxious to get some word. We watched for the mail closely at Sherman, but not nearly as closely as we shall watch here. …
Love to all,
Roy

*Camps in Chillicothe, Ohio, and Hempstead, N.Y., respectively

In my grandfather’s memory, I salute him and all others who have served and are serving in our armed forces. Have a happy and safe Memorial Day holiday.

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