Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stumbling on to World War I -- Part II --Details Make The Story, Stories Make History

I want to continue with the things we've stumbled on about World War I. 
I just watched the movie "War Horse" which takes place during this war. As I watched the fighting depicted on the big screen, I kept hearing Sheldon Axelson's letter home say,  "War is Hell." (See previous post--click on the orange text or scroll down)

Jimmy Jeffs in World War I
Last year when we were interviewing Arlene Callahan for an oral history. She shared some of her photographs with us, which brought us to another connection with World War I. She had taken care of her uncle James "Jimmy" Jeffs the last few years of his life, and he had given her all of his photographs and letters from the war. Most of the letters mention something about home, rather than what he was going through. They say, "I can't tell you much about what is going on here." 

  He brought home lots of post cards from the war that are so interesting. The post cards provided some amazing details to the history of that war and those times. Did you know the women of The Salvation Army set up a kitchen-station right there on the front lines in France to make donuts for the soldiers? I didn't--until I read those cards! Now that's what I call "supporting your troops!" I was amazed at the pictures so I looked it all up on line and found more information about it. The American soldiers developed a love for doughnuts and that is why we now have doughnuts in America. 
Salvation Army frying doughnuts on the front lines for the troops! Find the historic doughnut recipe by clicking here
If you have a couple of minutes view this youtube video about the Salvation Army women who made these doughnuts.

Jimmy Jeffs was among those soldiers who benefited from this sweet service. He came home safely through that war that was touted "the most horrible war in history." Great Britain lost a whole generation of young men, and America lost a great many. It was called "The Great War, or the "War to End All Wars." That is until we had another horrible war that included so many countries--at that time the "Great War"  was renamed "World War I" because we were in the middle of "World War II."

Another connection to World War I came from one of my assistants, Bernice Payne. She brought in the history of her grandfather who had been drafted into that war. His story was different from, but still similar to Jimmy's or Sheldon's.

George McMullin had just written to his mother in September telling her that it was
"impossible to get writing materials because they weren't allowed to carry it and they couldn't get it (letter) censored because the officers were too busy." He said there were more "air birds around here thicker than blackbirds in the spring at home." 
That was the last letter she received from him.

He was fighting in the Argonne Forest in France, where so many men were killed.  His mother received a telegram in November just as the war ended.

(The war ended November 11th 1918. The Emery County Progress reported that Emery County was celebrating the signing of the Armistice "which ended the most horrible war.")
George D. McMullin Killed in Action

  On November 23, 1918 the Progress ran articles about Corporal George D. McMullin's death.
"First Cleveland Lad to Lose Life at the Front...A shadow of gloom, all the more intense for the rejoicing on account of peace, was thrown over Emery County as a whole and the town of Cleveland in particular, by the receipt of a telegram by Flora Davis of Cleveland, saying that her son had been killed on October 24, 1918.  No particulars have been forthcoming and the grief-stricken mother still clings to hope that some mistake was made. Many friends of the family gathered at the home to offer consolation. Memorial services will likely be held as soon as public gatherings are permitted."
  The next week, the headlines were that Sheldon Axelson from Elmo had been killed, also in the last days of the war in the Argonne Forest.

George D. McMullin Prisoner of War
But then on December 28, 1918, the Progress announced the happy news that Mrs. Davis had received another telegram telling her that her son was wounded and then taken prisoner by the Germans, but was still alive!

I'm sure that had to be the dream and hope of every telegram-receiving mother in those times--that a mistake had been made and her son would be coming home! He didn't come home until the next May, but he DID come home. It is so sad that the Axelsons didn't get the same joyful telegram. But like Sheldon said, "War is Hell!" It ends badly for many, many families.

These stories become human and interesting when we learn the details. Details from journals, letters, postcards, pictures and newspapers make the stories; the stories make history.

  • Come visit Emery County Archives for details about history! 
  • If you have a World War I story email me at or comment on this blog.
 For some more details about World War I--Click here.

The following words were first used in the trenches of WWI, and are still used today!


Over the Top, 
Trench Coat, 
Pushing up the Daisies, 
Red Tape, 
Tune Up, 
In the Pink, 
Zero Hour, 
Busted ,
Ticked Off,
Put a Sock in it,
Hit the Deck, 
Coffin nail, 
Fed Up, 
Rise & Shine, 
Pipe down, 
Mess up, 
Get knocked off, 
Kick the Bucket, 
Rank & File, 
Chow Down, 
Missed the Bus, 
Basket Case

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stumbing Upon World War I -- Part I

Oral histories are really the life blood of the Archives. As we talk to people and get their life histories, we get extraneous information as well, which  stimulates curiosity, research and connection. Connection is what I want to write about today.

Sheldon Axelson died in World War I
One of our oral history projects centered on Life On The Homefront During World War II. We gathered histories mostly from women in Emery County who had stayed at home and carried on while their husbands were at war. In one such interview Velma Allred told us about her Uncle Sheldon Axelson who died in World War I. She had never known him, but was impacted by stories told about him and the pictures she had seen of him. She said that he had died in the "closing days of the war in the Argonne Forest in France." In her albums and histories that she shared with us, there were pictures and a history of Sheldon. We scanned his photograph into the computer as we created a file in our Personal Histories  for Velma Allred. We also created a file for Sheldon Axelson.

In his file there is his history and a newspaper article telling about his death. He died in the last month of the war. The newspaper also included a letter he sent before leaving for France after completing his training:
I am feeling fine and glad I am able to do and do my share, and when in the trenches, I will always think of the ones behind...I hope Mother can stand it alright...I am keeping myself clean from women and whiskey so I can have good health and stand some hardships.
In the letter after his first experience on the battlefield he said,
I was just down and had a bath--the first time we have had a chance for one month--I feel so good to get clean....Last night I had a shave and washed my face and hands for the first time in ten days. We do well to get water to drink, say nothing about washing when on the line...if you heard the big guns shoot a few times you would think it was hell instead of war, but since war is hell, there is no difference...

Velma connected us to Sheldon Axelson's history, which connected us to World War I and that Sheldon was in on the bitterest fighting in that war which happened the last few days in the Argonne Forest in France, soon after the Armistice was signed and the war was over. This connection reminded us that war so long ago and so far away had an impact on Emery County and then we ran into another connection:

Orlan Mortensen driving a CCC truck 1936
A couple of years later we were interviewing Orlan Mortensen in Ferron about his experiences in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps.) In the process he asked a favor of the interviewer, Trinadee, concerning a memory from his childhood. He said that when he was a young boy living in Elmo, there was a soldier that was killed on the last days of World War I. He remembered that there was a procession going down the street for this soldier's funeral. There were beautiful, white horses pulling a wagon with his casket on it draped with a flag and most of the town following it. It was a spectacular sight in his memory. He knew the man's name was Sheldon Axelson, and he had seen his headstone and knew when he was killed, but he didn't know when the soldier was brought home to be buried. He wondered if we could research that date for him. He knew that it took a while to get the bodies of soldiers home from the war for burial back in WWI. He had often wondered about Sheldon as a person, and also wondered how old he, Orlan, was when this funeral parade was set into his memory.
Memorial Services in Elmo April 6, 1919  for Sheldon Axelson.
"A large crowd attended, many from neighboring towns."
When my assistant Trinadee told me his request, I immediately remembered Velma Allred's story about her uncle who had died during WWI and was buried in Elmo. We found his death date and began researching in the newspapers to find his burial date. We found the article telling exactly when he came home and a little bit about the event! We are always excited when we find information people are seeking. We copied the newspaper article for him; contacted Velma and asked if she were interested in talking with him about her uncle. She was so happy to talk to someone who wanted to know someone who remembered anything about her Uncle Sheldon funeral! We took him the article and that answered his questions. He realized from the date of burial, that he had only been three years old when he was so impressed with Sheldon's funeral procession. We connected him with Velma,and they talked about Sheldon.She was thrilled to hear his memory of the matched pair of white horses and the beautiful wagon. She had not been told those details.

Both people brought new elements to our county archives, and the connections to other histories expanded our interests and our fundamental historical value to the community.