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

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