World War I Chronicles of Private Will Coleman
52 Pioneer Infantry Company D
Transcribed by Sara E. Campbell, 12/25/2005
Thomas William Coleman was born on 17 November 1889 in Middlefield, Otsego County, New York.† He was the second child and only son of Horace Colman and Margaret Gilgun.† His sister Bessie was 5 years older than Will, as he was called.
Willís sixth grade report card is in our archives.† His subjects in 1901-2 included reading, spelling, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, drawing, history and physiology.† Geography was his nemesis, with two failing grades in eight marking periods.† A short course in physiology yielded grades of 90 and 98.
Will, or Bill as he was known to his friends, had an active social life.† Before the days of telephones, he received many penny post-cards from friends.
He left home about 1909 and traveled across the country for about 4 years.††
WWI began in Europe in 1914.† In the Spring of 1917 the United States joined the War and began a draft.† Back in the Cooperstown area, he was registered for the draft on 14 June 1917.† He passed his physical on 15 February 1918.† His occupation was recorded as a salesman.† Bill reported to the Cooperstown Court House on 27 May 1918 for induction in to the Army.† He was 29 years old.
The letters that follow provide a personal look at the life of a soldier from the viewpoint of this young man.† They were all written in pencil, and most on stationery provided by the YMCA or Knights of Columbus.†
May 30, 1918
We landed here at half past three this morning and they brought us out to the camp in big motor trucks, then they signed us up, gave us our mess kits, and bedding, and a suit of blue overalls.† Then we had breakfast of pork and beans, bread and coffee.† We are to sleep in tents, nine in each tent.† Harry Rathburn has charge of our tent and Charlie King and three other fellows I know are in with us.† We are quarantined in for two weeks.† That means that we must not go off from our own street.† This is sure some place.† They say there is room here for seventy five thousand men. We had a pretty good trip down and lots of fun.† I made three dollars playing penny ante.† I have felt fine ever since I left home and think that I will like it here.† That was some bunch at the train that morning to see us off and we were the most orderly bunch on the whole eight cars.† Every other bunch had at least three or four drunks in the crowd and there was not one of our bunch that showed a sign of drink. †Well I guess that is all for now and I want to sleep for a little while as we have nothing to do till after dinner.
††††††††††† Love to you and Ma,
††††††††††† Private W. Coleman
††††††††††† 52 Pioneer Infantry
††††††††††† Co. D
††††††††††† Camp Wodsworth
††††††††††† Spartansburg, S.C.
June 8, 1918
††††††††††† Received your letter and was glad to hear from you and that everything is alright at home.† I am getting along alright and have felt good so far since I have been here.† We are drilling eight hours a day now and is is pretty hot some of the company has to fall out every day.† The food is gotten better and is pretty good now.† We have not gotten our uniforms yet, but has been measured and expect them any day.† It has rained here three or four times since we were here, and talk about thunder an lightening.† You had ought to see it.†
I have not seen Larry yet, as we have been in quarantine and could not get out only when we were marching.† After tomorrow that will be off and then we can go anywhere in the camp.† Arvis Johnson is in the next Company below us Co. E.† Paul Clark got the paper so there is no use of you sending it to me.†
I took out the insurance for $10,000 made to mother and they said if I sent $15.00 to her they would send $10.00 more, which would make $25.00.† If they do you can send the extra ten back to me.† I think I will go to military Mass Sunday.† They have it here every Sunday.†
What kind of soap was that for washing clothes? It works alright so when that is gone I want to get some more.† We have lots of fun here and I like the life fine so far.† There is a band concert every night and it is some band too, believe me not much like pimpie Allieís.† Well I guess that is all for this time so I will quit with love to Ma and you.
June 22, 1918
††††††††††† Received your letter and was glad to hear from you and to know that everything is alright at home.† I am feeling fine and getting along alright.† I have had had four inoculations and one vaccination so I suppose I am proof against everything now.† I have seen Larry three or four times.† He is getting a little thinner.†
Did you get the insurance papers yet?† They are to be sent from Washington, I think.† I am going over to see Raymond Harvey this afternoon.† We donít have to drill Saturday afternoons and they are leaving here for Hoboken Monday, expecting to go across in about a week.† I have part of my equipment: a pair of shoes, two shirts, three pair of socks, a hat, two towels, brush and comb, rifle, haversack; everything but pants, legging and a coat.†
I had a letter from Pierce (Coleman) and he said that the Carpenters Union had sent me a box of tobacco, card and cigarettes, but I have not received it yet.† I donít know anything that I need and I will send my suitcase and things home.† It has rained quite a little here this week, so it has not been quite so hot.† I have not been on guard duty yet but probably will be about next week.† It is only about one day out of each month that we get it.† The meals have not been as good this week, but I can stand it if the rest can.† Well, I guess that is all for this time so I will quit with love to Ma and you.
June 30, 1918
††††††††††† Received your letter and was glad to hear from you and that you were better after your cold.† I am alright although I have been in the hospital for two days.† I was trying to get up here for two weeks and finally made it work.† We had a six mile hike Friday and when we got back my stomach was a little off so I got them to send me up here.† But they wonít keep me over four or five days because that is what everybody wants here to get into the hospital, for there is no drilling and the food is much better than the other so I am going to work them just as long as I can which wonít be very long.† Thanks of the two dollar bill it will come in handy but I was not short yet as I had two dollars out of what I brought with me.†
††††††††††† They say now that we will go over about the first of August but you canít believe anything that you hear around this place.† That may be a great box that the union sent, but I have not got it yet.† I expect it this week as they say it takes about three weeks to come.† It is so slow now.† My address will be just the same so write and let me know how everything is .† I guess that is all.† With love to mother and you from Will.
July 17, 1918
††††††††††† Received your letter this morning and am answering right back.† I donít see how you have written two letters to my one as I have answered every one I got from you.
††††††††††† I did not have any operation.† They gave me pills and they sure hit the spot.† I am feeling fine and expect to get out of the hospital next week.† I will go to the causily regiment for a week or two and then be transferred to some new regiment.†
I wonder how Weasel will get along with the girls.† I donít think there is much chance of his making a hit with any of them.
††††††††††† The weather has been fine here lately, no rain and not so hot.† I did not get the farmer yet, but it will probably be along after a while.† I wrote to Doc Pitcher about a week ago and told him that I was a little short just to see what he would do.† He answered right back and sent a five dollar bill and said any time I was short again to let him know so old Doc is not so bad after all.† Did Bundy ever do anything with that land over by the hill?† Is Miss Luly still rooming there?† The regiment that I was with expect to go from here next week so there is no chance of going with them.† Who is sending me another box?† I have not got half of the other one smoked up yet.† They say that you wonít get any more from the government until about the first of August.† My number is 3,186,536.† You may have to know that to get it.† I guess that is all for this time, so I will close with love to you and mother.†††††
P.S.† Address the same, Base H. Ward 1A and if I have left they will forward it to me.
July 27, 1918
††††††††††† Received your letter this morning and was glad to hear from you and that everything is alright at home.† I got the other letter to that must be some colt.† It probably will be quite good sized by the time I see it.†
††††††††††† I got out of the hospital this morning and am feeling fine.† They say that they donít do much drilling in this company and there is talk of sending a bunch from here north for guard duty.† I donít think I will ever go across anyway and I donít care much whether I do or not.† I wish I was there to talk to Tibbits.† I bet I would tell him where he got off at.† I did not get the box yet and probably never will if I move around much more.
††††††††††† I saw Withy two or three times while I was in the hospital.† He looked pretty bad and he may get discharged from the army.† I asked him what was the matter with him and he said everything so I donít know what it is.† I go the Farmer alright last week.† If I knew Wes Knoltonís address† I would send him a card.† If you see his mother you might get it for me.† The company that I was with are going for sure this week so maybe it is just as well I am not with them now.† Well I guess that is all for this time.† With love to you and mother.
August 6, 1918
††††††††††† I am writing you again as I will probably not get your letter for some time as I have been transferred again to the 3rd Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun Co., and they expect to leave here tomorrow or the next day for the north to some embarcation port, where we will probably be for a week or ten days before going over.† It may be like it was before though and I may not get even started from here.† I will write again as soon as I find out or from wherever we go to.†
With love to mother and you,
August 9, 1918
††††††††††† Received your letter the night before we left Spartanburg and was glad to get it before leaving.† I sent you a card while we were on the way here.† I also sent my suitcase home.† I donít know whether you will ever get it or not, but I will send the key in this letter anyway.† We left Spartanburg at about twelve oíclock Thursday and got here this morning, Friday, at about eleven.† We donít know where we are going or anything.† We all expected to go to some camp near New York City and I thought then maybe I could get home for a day or two, but I guess that is all off now.†
I will tell you how I came to get with this bunch.† Last Sunday one of the Captains of this outfit came over to the casual and asked for twenty four volunteers to go with this bunch.† Of course I stepped out with forty seven more and I was the first one he picked out.† We donít carry any rifles only a revolver and when we get to France, if we go there, we have guns on motor trucks and chase airplanes.† I received the two dollars alright and thanks for the same, but I am alright anyway for I am going to get my last monthís pay and had about fifteen dollars anyway, but I might touch up Doc again.†
Well I guess that will be all for this time.† With love to mother and you,†††††††
††††††††††† Address:††††††††† A Co 3rd Anti Aircraft
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Machine Gun BT.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Camp Stuart
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Newport News
August 12, 1918
††††††††††† I have not heard from you yet, but they say we are leaving tomorrow so I am writing again.† We have all of our overseas equipment and you ought to see the hat. If I ever get a chance I will have a picture taken.† If you have already written I will get it anyway.† Our mail will follow us wherever we go.† I am feeling fine so donít worry and tell ma not to.† I am glad to get out of this place.† It is hotter than South Carolina and it was a hundred and twenty in the shade there the day before we left.† They gave us a band concert and entertainment the night before we left, and I am sending you the programme in this letter.† I think I got all of the mail that you sent me down there but never received the second box.† We might not go tomorrow, but it sure looks like it as all of our boxed went to the ship this afternoon.† I got my pay alirght so have got twenty four dollars now.† I wrote to Doc and told him I was short again.† I donít know whether he will come across again or not, but I have enough whether he does or not.† It is funny you donít hear anything from that allotment for it is taken out of my pay each time.†
Well that is all I can think of now so I will stop with love to you and Mother,†
The letters that follow do not have stamps on the envelopes, because they were sent from the war.† The envelopes are marked with a stamp that says they were checked by the censors.
Somewhere in France
††††††††††† This is just a few lines to let you know that I arrived safely and am feeling fine.† We had a very good trip across and I was not a bit seasick.† The country here what I have seen of it looks pretty good, but everything is old and about fifty years behind the times.† My address is the same as in the corner of this envelope.†
There are lots of things I will tell you wen I get home, which I hope will be soon.† If you wrote to me at Camp Stuart it will follow me here.† I hope everything is all right at home.† You might send me the paper now as I donít see any of the bunch from home anymore.† The Anti Aircraft is one of the best branches in the service and I like it much better than the other regiments I have been in. Answer this right away as it seems a long time since I heard from home.† I guess that will be all for this time, so I will close with love to you and mother
P.S. Enclosed you will find that programme that I forgot to put in the other letter.
September 18. 1918
††††††††††† I have not heard from you yet but I am writing again to let you know that I am well and getting along alright.† Did you write to me when we were at Camp Stuart?† If you did I have never received it yet.†
I have seen quite a bit of France now and it is a very beautiful country.† The people dress very funny.† Most of them wear wooden shoes and are very poor.† The women do most all of the work as all the able-bodied men are in the army.† They are only allowed a certain amount of bread each day.† We can get wine over here but it is very poor stuff, the most of it.† I saw in the casual list where Steve Johnson was killed in action.
††††††††††† There will be no use to send me anything for I will not get it except mail and paper.† I hope everything is all right at home and will be very glad when I hear from you.† I guess that is all for this time so I will close with love to you and mother.
Letter No. 4
September 29, 1918
††††††††††† Received the letter that you sent to Camp Stuart with the money in and the one that you mailed Aug. 29. Was very glad to hear from you and to know that everything is alright at home.† I have not received any paper yet.† I got a letter from Joe Lurant and one from Doc Pitcher with five dollars more in it.† I guess he will get me paid up after a while.
††††††††††† I wish I was home to help eat some of that corn and tomatoes although we are getting very good food here now.† We drill pretty near every day but have Saturday afternoon and Sunday off.† Hollister was made Sergeant before they left the other side, I think.† I donít know much about any of the fellows as I have not seen any of them since before we left the States
††††††††††† Pierce must of had some time.† When you see him tell him to have then all out (teeth?) and then they wonít take him in the army.† Find out Joeís address and send it to me, and maybe I can see him over here, for this is not such a big country, you know.
††††††††††† There is not much I can write but I will have lots to tell when I get home.† Write often and let me know how everything is.† With love to mother and you,
The address is the same and thanks for the five.
Letter No 5
October 14, 1918
††††††††††† Received the letter that you wrote September 1 and was glad to hear from you and to know that everything is alright at home.† In the letter before that you said that mother got the allotment alright, but did not say how much it was when you write again let me know.††
The news here now is that the war is about over and I hope it is and that we will get back to the States again some day.† Have you sent me the paper? I have not gotten it since we were over here.† The weather is bad here now, rain most every day and cold nights with some heavy frosts.
How is the price of things over there?† Everything is high here: eggs eighty cents a dozen, cheese sixty cents a pound and everything else according.
There canít be many fellows left in the old town anymore.† I was sick for a couple of days last week but am alright again now.
Well I canít think of much of anything to write this time, so I will stop for this time hoping to hear from you soon.
With love, Will
Letter No. 6
October 16, 1918
††††††††††† Received your letter No. five and was glad to hear that everything is alright at home.† I have not seen McGinly or Clark or any of the other fellows since we arrived in France, but they are in the infantry and I donít even know where they are.† What are Pierce and Fanny gong to do in the Arms plant?† Isnít there any work around home?
††††††††††† I have not seen any cooties yet, but may before I get through.† I donít think Dan will be taken the draft, his eyes are so bad.† If I had Joeís address I could write to him here and maybe see him.† You need not worry about H.B. enlisting, although I think he could get a commission if he would.
I had a letter from Sarah (Meeneghan?) last night and she had been home on her vacation.† She says there is nobody left around there anymore at all.† Her mother fell and hurt herself quite badly so she expects to stay home for some time.
I am alright and feeling pretty good although the weather is very disagreeable.† I like the Anti Aircraft much better than I did the infantry.† The work is more interesting.† Unless things change it looks as if the war is about over and I wonít be mad if it is so we can get back to the States by sometime next Spring in time for me to beat the rugs for mother anyway.
Well I guess that is all for this time so I will close for this time with love to you and mother.
Cousin Joe Coleman died November 25, 1918 of influenza in a military hospital in France.
Letter No. 6
October 21, 1019
I have not heard from you since I wrote before but I will write a short letter to let you know that I am still alive an kicking.† I have not been feeling very good for the last few days.† My stomach has been on the bum again, but I am better now and will be alright again in a couple of days.†
I sent you my Christmas coupon in the last letter but did not say what I wanted.† The only things I can think of is a jack knife and a cheap watch.† My wrist watch is broke.† One of those small Ingersall is alright.† There is no use paying much for it because they donít last long.† I donít mean a wrist watch.
The only thing I can send you and mother is some little souvenirs of some kind.† I hope I will be home for Christmas next year and then we wonít have any trouble about the size of the package we can get.
We are still bittaled at the same place but do not know how long we will be here.† It looks as though the peace terms are not going to come off after all.† Well I guess that will be all for this time so I will close hoping to hear from you soon. With love to you and mother,
Letter No. 7
Received two more letters, one mailed on the seventh and the other on the twenty eighth and that telegram came this morning.† I donít see what you sent that for, it scared me most to death.† I though somebody was dead of that something had happened.† I guess I have received all of your letters up to date.†
I would not mind if I was back at the dryer again a little of that jelly would go good. I suppose the old town is closed up for the winter, now here canít be many fellows left there any more.† It is funny I donít get the papers but I will after a while, maybe all to once.† That was the second time old Tabor was hit by the street car you know, it nearly killed him once before.† Steve must be a great kid now. He will be quite a boy by the time I get home.
I suppose Marshall at Springfield will do some business for the next year.† I wonder when this war is going to be over.† I am getting very tired of it.† I think by the looks of things it will be over by Christmas and if it is we will be home in the spring or summer.† How is everything coming in the Iroquois Farm?† I wonder if Mike will give me a job when I get back.†
Well I guess that is all for this time so I will close with love to you and mother,
Letter No. 7
November 4, 1918
I did not hear from you this week, but I will write just the same, although there is not much to write about.† I am alright, the same as usual, and hope that you and mother are the same.† I received one paper so far.† The weather is very bad over here now. It rains nearly every day.† We are still at the same place but expect to move soon.† I have been transferred from A to B Co, but do not change the address of my mail as I expect to go back to A Co. again soon.†
It begins to look as though the war would not last much longer.† Turkey has quit and Austria is ready to and I expect Germany will be next.† I donít suppose we will get home for three or four months even after peace is declared, but I will be glad to get there whenever it is.† I had a letter from Dan last week.† It was some letter, seven pages.† He says if it lasts much longer, he will have to go.†
How is business?† (her hat shop) The season must be about over by now.† Well this is not much of a letter, but there is not much that I can write, so I will close with love to you and mother.
November 19, 1918
Received the letter that you wrote October 27 today and was very glad to hear that everything was alright at home.† I am alright, the same as usual and I guess the war is sure all over this time, so I will be home someday, although it will probably be two or three months yet before I get there.†
They must be having an awful run of influenza in the states.† We have moved but not very far from where we were before.† I am going to write Joe a letter and see how he is getting along.†
I read a couple of the papers, but they come through the mail much slower than the letters.† The weather has been pretty cold here and it snowed a little for the first time today.† I guess that is all I have to say this time except that I hope to get home soon and find things the same as when I left.† So I will stop with love to you and mother.
November 24, 1918
I have not heard from you since I wrote before but I will write again anyway to let you know that I am alright.† The war is over this time alright and I expect to be home sometime right after the first of the new year.† We hear all kinds of rumors of when we are going.† Some say that we will be home for Christmas.† I wish that we could, but I donít hardly think that we can make it that soon.
Enclosed you will find a couple of souvenirs of France.† I think that they are rather pretty.
I suppose if we start for the states we will have one more ride in the cars marked forty cheveaux or eight homes.† They are great, just like a Pullman in the states.
The weather has been fine here for the past two weeks, clear and cold.† It snowed a little one day.
Well, I guess that is all for this time so I swill close hoping to hear from you soon again with love to you and mother.
December 1, 1918
I am still here and donít know how much longer I will be.† Some say we are leaving before the fifteenth for home, which I hope is true, and then again I heard that we were liable to be here for six months.†
I had a letter from Pierce the other day.† He said that he is making big pay and expects to stay in Ilion for some time.† I have gotten all of your letters except maybe two that were mailed in October, and I will get them in time.† I wrote to Joe but have not heard from him yet.† I am back with A Co. again so donít change the address.† We thought at one time that we would be home for Christmas, but I guess that is all off now.†
My friend Sarah is taking care of Clarkís baby at Westbury, if she stays there I won't have to go far to see her next summer.
I am feeling pretty good and hope you and mother are the same.†† I guess that is all for this time so I will close, with love,
December 6, 1918
Received your letter of October 7 with the money and the pin.† I think I have received all of the letters that you have written now.† We are still hearing rumors of when we are going home, but I donít think that we will get there now before about the first of February.† I have seen several K of C hats over here.† We have no chapter in this battalion.† I have never seen anyone from home over here yet.† The eats are pretty good now, but when I get home I will be able to eat anything.† I received the money that you sent to Camp Stuart alright and have gotten some of the paper that you sent.
That must be some dead town with everything closed up.† I had a letter from Joe Levanti last night and he says it is.† I wrote to Dr. Pitcher again but have not heard anything from him yet.† He still owes me seventy dollars.† He sent me five dollars at Camp Stuart.† We left there on the 12th of August and sailed on the Martha Washington from Norfolk the 14th; we landed at Breast France the 25th of August, stayed there a week, then traveled for four days in box cars to a place called Langers, which was about fifty miles behind the line.† We trained in a small village about four miles from there.† Our company was at the front for a month and now we are at a place called Perrogney waiting to go home.† I guess that is all for this time, so I will close with love to you and mother.
††††††††††† From† W.
December 13, 1918
Received your letters of the 4th and 16th of November and was surprised and sorry to hear of all that have died with the influenza.†
I wish that I had been home for that chicken dinner.† We will have to have one when I get home.† We had a good dinner Thanksgiving day, Roast lamb, mashed potatoes, mashed turnips, creamed carrots, vegetable salad, pumpkin pie, cake, biscuits, bread, butter, jam, coffee, cigars and cigarettes.† That was pretty good for the army.† They must have had some time celebrating over there.† I did not celebrate yet. I am going to wait until I get back to the States before I do.†
I will be looking for my Christmas box.† I sent you and mother a couple of souvenirs from here.† We are still at the same place but expect to leave most any time.† We have a new song here it goes like this:
Good old U.S.A.
I long for you both night and day.
France may be sunny and Paris is gay,
But none can compare with good old Broadway.
England and Italy,
Places of great renown they say,
But put them all in a race
And none can take the place
Of the dear old U.S.A.
Well I guess that is all for this time so I will quit with love to you and mother
††††††††††††††††††††††† From Will
††††††††††† Address same as before
††††††††††† P.S. Today is payday.† I suppose there will be a big time tonight.
December 30, 1918
††††††††††† I have moved again and am at a place called Hyeres.† It is away down in southern France.† My stomach got bad again and I went to the hospital in Langers and was there for about ten days.† I got some better and was sent down here.† We are staying at a big hotel and the weather is just like summer.† We are only a little way from Monte Carlo.† Donít write to me anymore for I will not get the mail.† I may be sent home from here.† I did ot get the Christmas box and probably never will now, so I hope that you did not spend much money on it.† I got socks, candy, nuts and cigarettes from the Red Cross and we had a turkey dinner at the hospital.† It sure is fine here.† It reminds me so of Los Angeles, it is only a bout a half mile from the Mediterranean Sea.† We left Langers on Friday, stayed that night at Dijon, the next at Lyon, and last night at Marseilles, so I have seen all of the large cities in France except Paris.† I will write again soon and let you know how I am getting along.† With love to you and Mother,
P.S. Donít write unless I send you an address.
January 10, 1918
††††††††††† I am still here at Hyers but expect to leave here Saturday. Our names were called out today to leave here for Bordeaux, which is a seaport, and they say we are to go home from there.† I am feeling a little better and have enjoyed my stay here very much, although it has rained quite a lot since we have been here.† I am going to church in the morning.† I have not heard from you for quite a while now, but hope everything is all right at home.
I am not going to write much this time so I will stop for this time with love to you and mother.
Well I am back in the States again and it sure seems good to be here.† Twenty three of us came across on a freighter and it took us eighteen days but the weather was fairly good so we did not mind it so much.† I think we are to be transferred to some other camp from here and I probably will be home in a month or six weeks.† I hope everything is alright at home.† I have not received any mail since December 8th.† If I get to some place where you can write me I will send my address.† It would do no good to write here because we are not assigned to any regular outfit we came across as casuals.† Well this will let you know that I am alright so I will close with love to you and mother.
Private Thomas William Coleman was honorably
discharged from Camp Upton, NY on 25 February 1919. He married his Ďfriendí
Sarah Meeneghan in 1923.