7. Bryan and King George V

I usually put a link to the great documents available at Footnote.com at the beginning of each post in this series. I try to find something pertinent to link to, such as collections from World War I. Today I was stunned (happily) to find that the folks at Footnote have placed documents of the US Expeditionary Forces to Russia online! Where did these come from? I hadn’t seen them yesterday! How exciting! So after you read this latest post, I hope you’ll join me in reading about the ANREF at Footnote!

The letter to Bryan’s parents below and Robbins oral history hint that the troops of the 339th Infantry may have enjoyed some time in London to see the sights before heading north to Newcastle-on-Tyne for their ship to Russia during WWI. While in England, it seems that every American soldier received the following letter of greeting from King George V. Obviously, he would not have personally hand-written thousands of letters, although the greeting most assuredly was dictated by him. The reason there is a portion of the letter image missing is that in the original scan which my aunt sent me, there was a clipping next to and slightly on top of it from a history or nostalgia magazine which showed another copy of this letter and an inquiry by someone as to the history behind these letters. I have “whited” this out, so as not to detract from the letter itself:

WINDSOR CASTLE

Soldiers of the United States, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the Armies of many Nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom.

The Allies will gain new heart & spirit in your company.

I wish that I could shake the hand of each one of you & bid you God speed on your mission.

George R.I.

April 1918

On the reverse of this letter, Bryan scribbled a note to his family:

Somewhere in England

Dear Mother and all,

We are all feeling fine. This is a greeting from his Majesty King George. This sure beats everything that I ever took in. There is no end of new and queer sights. I would like to write the name of the cities that we see but can not. It would be censured. This is sure some city believe me. The band is playing american pieces it makes a fellow lonesome for America.

Will write the next chance. Bryan

Co I 339 Inf
American Expeditionary Forces

We settle and move so often that we hardly know where we are But write according to my address above. Every thing looks favorable. That is all I can say. Now mother do not worry. For we get plenty to eat and feel good. Will have worlds to tell you some day.

With love

The signature in the bottom left corner is “Dwight Fistler, 2nd Lieut”. It also appears on the front of the envelope’s face, seen below. Unfortunately, this envelope was scanned with part of the magazine article sitting on top of it. All these pieces were being stored in sleeves, and that is how they were scanned.

You can see in lieu of postage, the words “Soldiers [sic] Letter” appear in the upper right corner of the envelope’s face. I suppose the return address probably said something along the lines of “A Message to You from His Majesty King George Vth.” Directly below Bryan has written once again his address. The addressee is “A[ngelo] M[errick] Robbins, 1612 Mystic Ave, Muskegon Hts, Mich, USA,” Bryan’s father.

Bryan’s comment that “this is sure some city” makes me wonder if this was written from London. A family story has been handed down through the generations, from Bryan to my grandfather Bob, to my dad (also named Bryan) who told it to me: Apparently Bryan and a buddy were out and about seeing the sights of the city when a commotion was heard. “The King is coming!” “Bow, the King is coming!” Down the street came the King (was he in a carriage or a motorcar?). Bryan and his friend knew that Americans bow to no king; however, they wished to be respectful and were in uniform, so as the regent approached, they saluted. King George V leaned out his window and returned the salute to the young men!

Truth or legend? While we’ll probably never know for sure, I’m fairly certain there was some sort of truth at the base of it. There usually are in family stories.

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie – A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
6. Getting “Over There”
8. To Russia, With Influenza
9. A Letter from Mother – 25 Sep 1918
10. A Letter from Father – 7 Oct 1918

6. Getting "Over There"

View American Milestone Documents for free at Footnote.com.

“We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back ’til it’s over Over There.”
[Click here for the lyrics and melody of George M. Cohan’s famous WWI song.]

In late July 1918, the 339th Infantry, to which Bryan was assigned, was sent by train from Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan to Camp Mills in Nassau County, Long Island, New York. Second Lt. Hugh McPhail of Company A (Bryan was in Company I) shared in his memoirs that the train first stopped in St. Thomas, Ontario for a much-needed stretch of the legs and beef sandwiches and coffee. Swinging by Niagara Falls, the troops went on to Hoboken, New Jersey and took a ferry across to Long Island, arriving at the camp in the late evening (whether this was a one- or two-day trip is not clear).

According to an excellent historical website on Camp Mills, it was one of four staging areas for the Port of Hoboken. The other three were Camps Dix, Merritt, and Upton. Today, Camps Mills and Merritt (Bergen County, New Jersey) are housing developments, and Upton (Suffolk County, Long Island, New York) is Brookhaven National Labs. Camp Dix later became Fort Dix (Burlington County, New Jersey), still continuing in operation. Upon arrival, Bryan would have been fed, and given a card to fill out and mail home, assuring his family that he had arrived safely. For obvious intelligence reasons, no information would be given to the soldiers about where they were headed.

On Sunday morning, July 21st, the troops were marched down to the ferry and then embarked on the U. S. S. Plattsburg, a merchant ship that had been commissioned for troop transport. Originally christened the Harvard, she had been built in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland. She had already served a commission with the U.S. military during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then, she’d been decommissioned, refitted with new engines, and then recommissioned by the U.S. Navy for use until 1919. In 1922, she was renamed the New York, but was scrapped in Genoa in 1923. Originally, she probably looked like this depiction in a photo postcard, but probably had this camouflaged painting as shown here, during her troop transport service. Once on board, the troops were ordered belowdecks, where they were to remain until the ship was out to sea and out of sight of land. For two weeks they zigzagged across the Atlantic, avoiding enemy submarines, until they arrived in Liverpool on August 3rd.

From Liverpool, they rode by train over 200 miles to Camp Aldershot (nicknamed “Camp Cowshot” by the Yanks) in Hampshire (the south of England), where they stayed for three weeks. According to Lt. McPhail, it rained nearly every single day. It was here the men of the 339th got whiff of a rumor that, instead of going to France to fight the Huns, they might get shipped to North Russia, as being Midwesterners, “they were used to the cold, anyway.” By now, it was mid-August and someone decided to clothe the soldiers in good long-john underwear in preparation for the cold Russian winter ahead. They were taken out on one of the few sunny warm days for a ten-mile hike, which must have been loads of fun wearing long underwear in the humid English climate!

I know that many readers tend not to click on links in blogs, but I highly recommend that you do so on this post. I found fascinating descriptions of the history of the places mentioned, along with historical photos and postcards, all of which I would have loved to use to illustrate this post. Copyright prevents me from doing so, so please check out the links. They will give you a better overview than what I’ve been able to do of the sights and experiences the men of the 339th–many of whom had never until then left their home communities–would have had on their trip from Michigan to England.

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie – A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
7. Bryan and King George V
8. To Russia, With Influenza
9. A Letter from Mother – 25 Sep 1918
10. A Letter from Father – 7 Oct 1918

6. Getting "Over There"

View American Milestone Documents for free at Footnote.com.

“We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back ’til it’s over Over There.”
[Click here for the lyrics and melody of George M. Cohan’s famous WWI song.]

In late July 1918, the 339th Infantry, to which Bryan was assigned, was sent by train from Camp Custer, Battle Creek, Michigan to Camp Mills in Nassau County, Long Island, New York. Second Lt. Hugh McPhail of Company A (Bryan was in Company I) shared in his memoirs that the train first stopped in St. Thomas, Ontario for a much-needed stretch of the legs and beef sandwiches and coffee. Swinging by Niagara Falls, the troops went on to Hoboken, New Jersey and took a ferry across to Long Island, arriving at the camp in the late evening (whether this was a one- or two-day trip is not clear).

According to an excellent historical website on Camp Mills, it was one of four staging areas for the Port of Hoboken. The other three were Camps Dix, Merritt, and Upton. Today, Camps Mills and Merritt (Bergen County, New Jersey) are housing developments, and Upton (Suffolk County, Long Island, New York) is Brookhaven National Labs. Camp Dix later became Fort Dix (Burlington County, New Jersey), still continuing in operation. Upon arrival, Bryan would have been fed, and given a card to fill out and mail home, assuring his family that he had arrived safely. For obvious intelligence reasons, no information would be given to the soldiers about where they were headed.

On Sunday morning, July 21st, the troops were marched down to the ferry and then embarked on the U. S. S. Plattsburg, a merchant ship that had been commissioned for troop transport. Originally christened the Harvard, she had been built in 1888 in Glasgow, Scotland. She had already served a commission with the U.S. military during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Since then, she’d been decommissioned, refitted with new engines, and then recommissioned by the U.S. Navy for use until 1919. In 1922, she was renamed the New York, but was scrapped in Genoa in 1923. Originally, she probably looked like this depiction in a photo postcard, but probably had this camouflaged painting as shown here, during her troop transport service. Once on board, the troops were ordered belowdecks, where they were to remain until the ship was out to sea and out of sight of land. For two weeks they zigzagged across the Atlantic, avoiding enemy submarines, until they arrived in Liverpool on August 3rd.

From Liverpool, they rode by train over 200 miles to Camp Aldershot (nicknamed “Camp Cowshot” by the Yanks) in Hampshire (the south of England), where they stayed for three weeks. According to Lt. McPhail, it rained nearly every single day. It was here the men of the 339th got whiff of a rumor that, instead of going to France to fight the Huns, they might get shipped to North Russia, as being Midwesterners, “they were used to the cold, anyway.” By now, it was mid-August and someone decided to clothe the soldiers in good long-john underwear in preparation for the cold Russian winter ahead. They were taken out on one of the few sunny warm days for a ten-mile hike, which must have been loads of fun wearing long underwear in the humid English climate!

I know that many readers tend not to click on links in blogs, but I highly recommend that you do so on this post. I found fascinating descriptions of the history of the places mentioned, along with historical photos and postcards, all of which I would have loved to use to illustrate this post. Copyright prevents me from doing so, so please check out the links. They will give you a better overview than what I’ve been able to do of the sights and experiences the men of the 339th–many of whom had never until then left their home communities–would have had on their trip from Michigan to England.

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie – A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
7. Bryan and King George V
8. To Russia, With Influenza
9. A Letter from Mother – 25 Sep 1918
10. A Letter from Father – 7 Oct 1918

Report on July Scanfest

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable three hours online in the company of Jasia and the footnoteMaven, while we busily scanned photos for Scanfest. Jasia was scanning family photos from her childhood, Maven was scanning orphan (unidentified) photos found at antique stores, and I scanned about a third of the black-and-white photos in one of my wedding albums, in preparation for my Wedding Memory Book to be published by MemoryPress.

Although Craig wasn’t able to join us, he did mention in his last post that he had his own personal Scanfest going. It’s nice to know that Scanfest is inspiring people to get their precious family and ancestral photos and documents scanned and preserved.

I hope you can join us for the next one, Sunday, August 26 from 11 AM – 2 PM, Pacific Daylight Time.

Report on July Scanfest

Yesterday I spent an enjoyable three hours online in the company of Jasia and the footnoteMaven, while we busily scanned photos for Scanfest. Jasia was scanning family photos from her childhood, Maven was scanning orphan (unidentified) photos found at antique stores, and I scanned about a third of the black-and-white photos in one of my wedding albums, in preparation for my Wedding Memory Book to be published by MemoryPress.

Although Craig wasn’t able to join us, he did mention in his last post that he had his own personal Scanfest going. It’s nice to know that Scanfest is inspiring people to get their precious family and ancestral photos and documents scanned and preserved.

I hope you can join us for the next one, Sunday, August 26 from 11 AM – 2 PM, Pacific Daylight Time.

Muskegon County, Michigan Family Histories Wanted

DearMYRTLE highlighted an article in today’s Muskegon Chronicle which encourages those of us with Muskegon County, Michigan roots to share our family stories for the publication of a county history being created by the Muskegon County Genealogical Society.

With ten ancestral–and dozens more collateral–surnames of my family tree taking residence in Muskegon County from at least 1879 to the present, I could submit a ton of information! However, only one family history of no more than 400 words and one photo are allowed free entry into the book. There’s no information on the costs involved if you would like to submit more than one family history. Let’s see, I could do the following groupings and submit five family histories (if they allow this): HOLST/GUSTAVSON/CONCIDINE; ROBBINS/KIMBALL; LEWIS/VREELAND; HOEKSTRA; and WILKINSON/SAYERS. Wonder how much that’ll cost me?

I’m off to e-mail the genealogy society…!

Muskegon County, Michigan Family Histories Wanted

DearMYRTLE highlighted an article in today’s Muskegon Chronicle which encourages those of us with Muskegon County, Michigan roots to share our family stories for the publication of a county history being created by the Muskegon County Genealogical Society.

With ten ancestral–and dozens more collateral–surnames of my family tree taking residence in Muskegon County from at least 1879 to the present, I could submit a ton of information! However, only one family history of no more than 400 words and one photo are allowed free entry into the book. There’s no information on the costs involved if you would like to submit more than one family history. Let’s see, I could do the following groupings and submit five family histories (if they allow this): HOLST/GUSTAVSON/CONCIDINE; ROBBINS/KIMBALL; LEWIS/VREELAND; HOEKSTRA; and WILKINSON/SAYERS. Wonder how much that’ll cost me?

I’m off to e-mail the genealogy society…!