Thursday, December 29, 2016

Courting Miss Nora - December 1918 - "I am having a very good time"

Despite being hospitalized in France for 3 months, Tom writes that he is having a very good time.  He never mentions his wounds, but is eager to return home, and to hear news of his brother John.  Tom also has not received any letters from home since he was wounded.

[Dec 1918 – not dated – no envelope]
Base Hospital #17
 A.P.O. #721
    American E. F.

Hello! Miss Nora,
Will write you a short note tonight as I am in a hurry.  I am hoping you the very best of health and plenty of fun.  I am having a very good time but nothing like if I was with you. "Ha" Say have you gotten any of the letters and cards I've written you. Listen I have never seen one of yours yet -Ha- and no one else. They have my mail somewhere in my regiment and I've not seen it. Say have you heard from John recently. Hope you have. I haven’t.  I have got something real nice to tell you when I come home. Hope to see you real soon.  Will write you more the next time.  Pardon me this time.  Hope you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.  I am with much love your true friend
    Mech. W. T. Snyder

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Courting Miss Nora - December 11, 1918 - From Base Hospital 17, France

Tom wrote while recovering from his battle wounds.

Wednesday Night P.M.
Dec. 11_18
Base Hospital #17
    A.P.O. #721
        American E. F.

Dear Miss Nora,
How are you getting long, fine I hope.  I am well and enjoying life fine. They was lots of the boys left today for the States.  Wish I could have been in the bunch but I didn’t happen to that good luck.  But maybe my time will come soon.  I hope at least it will any way for I want to come home now. I haven’t got a single letter from any one since I have been in France. My mail hasn’t caught me yet, don’t guess. Say are you still at home yet?  Hope to see you real soon. I haven’t seen John yet.

[December 11, 1918 - page 2]

I am coming to see you when I come home this time for I have got lots for to tell you. Prepare yourself to take French. "Ha" Say did you get those cards I sent you.  Hope you did any way for they was French cards. So hope to hear from you real soon.  Also wish you a Merry Xmas and a "Happy New Year.  I am with much "Love, your true friend.
Mech. W. T. Snyder.

[Censor mark:]
Ok  Robt. F. Penn, 1st Lt USA

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Courting Miss Nora - French Christmas Card 1918

Tom's prior letter was a postcard from France, dated September 1, 1918.  On September 14, his unit headed out for the front lines.  Clarence Johnson wrote:

On the night of September 19, under the cover of darkness, we took up our positions on the Raon l’Etape sector in the Vosges Mountains, north of St. Die. This sector was held by the 321st from September 19 to October 17...The companies took their turn in the front line trenches, serving from 10 to 20 days each. This was our first experience under shell fire.

Conditions on the battle field were bad. Johnson described the experience vividly:

Among the things of which we will ever have a vivid recollection are “Cooties” [lice], rats, mud, water, sleepless nights, endless guard duty, talking in a whisper, leaky, bunkless, overcrowded dugouts without light or heat. But nothing will be remembered with more vividness than the shells that came shrieking and flying through the air day and night, many of which played havoc with our trenches and dugouts. There is nothing that can more successfully divert the mind from the physical discomforts of guard duty in a muddy trench during a cold, rainy night than a Boche 77 that has your range and is placing a high explosive within a few yards of you every few minutes.

Soon after they arrived on the front, Tom was severely wounded. His discharge papers said it happened on September 21; his service card  in the North Carolina archives said it was September 23. I could find no mention of any specific battles on either of those dates for his company so evidently, it was just everyday shell fire. According to his daughter Kathy, he was wounded in the right shoulder during the night and had to wait until the next day for help. His medical report says, “gunshot wound, right shoulder acromion and scapula,” and “peripheral nerve injury resulting in atrophy right shoulder girdle and arm.”  The initial report was 40% incapacitated.

Tom wrote cards and letters, including two from Base Hospital #17, in Dijon, France. He never mentioned his injuries. Note that the fighting ended on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.

Here is the fancy French Christmas card he sent, presumably in December 1918.

Hello! Miss Nora
Hope you are in the very best of health and still single.  I am coming home as soon as they will send us back. Am coming to see you just as soon as I get home. So be real good.  I am yours Sincerely,
W. T. Snider
The front of the postcard has an embroidered fabric flap.  The upper part lifts up and two cards were inserted into the pocket formed by the lower part of the design.  "Heureux Noel" literally means Happy Christmas.

The back side of each card has a short message.
Hope to see you real soon. I am real anxious to see you. I am well and having a very good time. Hope to see you soon.

Mech W. T. Snyder
My Best Wishes to you. I remain yours.

  • Pension file for W. T. Snyder, file no. C 156 599; World War I pension files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  • Clarence Walton Johnson, The History of the 321st Infantry with a Brief Historical Sketch of the 81st Division (Columbia, South Carolina: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1919).

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Courting Miss Nora - September 1, 1918 - “I am ok and liking France fine.”

Tom's last letter was a postcard from Camp Upton New York on July 24.  He spent the next few weeks in transit.  His unit road a train to Hoboken, New Jersey, and on July 31, boarded a ship to cross the Atlantic. The 321st Infantry took the SS Walmer Castle, an old English passenger ship. From various accounts, these ships were awful.  Clarence Walton Johnson wrote, in his regimental history of the 321st Infantry:

The pages of this history should not be darkened by a detailed description of life on these troop ships. Certainly nothing about these boats, the mess and the crews in particular, improved upon acquaintance. The boats had a smell of their own... The odors from the kitchen were positively nauseating.

It took about ten days to reach England. The 1st Battalion went to a rest camp at Winnall Downs, southwest of London, for a few days.  On August 16, 1918, the 1st Battalion crossed the English Channel to Le Havre, France.  They boarded a French railroad to take them closer to the front in eastern France. The railroad cars were called “40-8s", because each car could hold 40 men standing up, or eight horses. Johnson recalled

We were counted off in groups of 40 and packed into these small rough box cars (about half the size of the American box car), which bore unmistakable signs, which were equally distinguishable by sight and smell, of a recent cargo of cows.

The 1st Battalion was billeted in the small French town of Percey, southeast of Paris, from August 21 to September 14, 1918.  They went through intensive training with emphasis on extended order formations and bayonet practice.  Tom sent a photograph labeled “at the trenches.” It appears that these were training trenches.  X marks Tom in the photo.

The first letter Tom wrote from France was on September 1, 1918. 

The red marks are the censor's approval.  The postmark is September 8, Bordeaux, France. 

Sept 1-18

Dear Miss Nora.
Guess you think I am never going to write you any more.  How are you getting long anyway?  I am ok and liking France fine.  So guess you are going to the big meetings long now. Wish I was there to go with you. Ha".  Well I am coming back soon as the war is over and I don’t think that will be many years longer.  You write me long letter and tell me all the news.  Will write you again.  I am with Best wishes your friend
 Mech. Wiley T. Snyder

[red censor markings - Ok]

Tom enclosed a poem from a newspaper.

Clarence Walton Johnson, The History of the 321st Infantry with a Brief Historical Sketch of the 81st Division (Columbia, South Carolina: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1919).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Courting Miss Nora - July 24, 1918 - Last letter from U.S.

In July 1918, the 321st Infantry was sent to France, which took several weeks of travel time. First they took a train from Camp Sevier near Greenville, S.C., to Camp Upton, New York, where they stayed two weeks. Tom wrote a postcard to Nora (see below). 

Tom’s service record shows he served overseas from July 31, 1918 to January 25, 1919.  That means he boarded a ship to Europe on July 31 and returned to American soil on January 25, which is 5 months and 25 days.

[Postmark:]  July 24, 1918  Brooklyn, N.Y   Upton Branch

Miss Nora McNiell, Millers Creek, N.C.

Dear Nora
              Guess you think I am not going to ans. I really haven’t had time. I am ok. Hope you are well. I am in “Long” Island N: York, Camp Upton. Write me.  I remain your true friend (a short while) W.T. Snider