November 1917, somewhere over there

Sandy Vasko

    As Thanksgiving approached, families all over the area had one less for dinner. Young men and boys were finishing up at training camps and heading somewhere over there. Times were hard, food was scarce and the whole world was getting colder.
    Ronald Jardine, who had enlisted early and was stationed with the British Expeditionary Forces in France, wrote home often.
    In early November he wrote, “Dear Mother, my letter is a little late this week, but I guess you know why - my ward has been very heavy for several weeks; now I wish it would let up soon. We have enough to do with ward work. If that was all we had to do it wouldn't be so bad, but day and night stretcher bearing, inspections and night guards add a very great deal to one's work
    “At present, we have five men in the ward with fractured femurs. They have been fixed up very nicely so that the legs won't grow short. A frame is put over the bed and from it the splint, in which the leg is swung is suspended by a pulley. The major has put ice tongs in the femur, in fact, clear through the bone.
    “A string with a weight on one end is run over a pully on the standard at the foot of the bed and tied to these ice tongs. The weight keeps the bone from growing together too rapidly and the leg from growing short. The poor fellows have to lie with their legs strung up this way for nine weeks. You would be surprised how little they complain.
    “Across the side we have about six fellows whose legs are strung up somewhat similarly. They are knee cases. Tubes have been inserted for the purpose of drainage. Every three or four hours they have to be turned upside down to let the puss drain away; these fellows have great pain.”
    At home every red blooded man, woman and child were involved in the war effort. The Red Cross was busy sending packages. We read on Nov. 9, “The Red Cross, Wilmington Branch, Will County Chapter, Thursday last sent out its fourth box. It contained 600 9x9 compressors, 65 pair of socks, 23 mufflers, 2 pair of wristlets, 6 suits of pajamas, 3 1/2 dozen bed shirts and forty-three sweaters. In addition to the above there has been twenty-three sweaters sent direct to Wilmington soldier boys, and preparations are being made to supply all the boys from here with sweaters.”
    And the following week, “The Red Cross committee on Xmas boxes for the Sammies sent 14 boxes last week to our boys who are across the water. Wilmington boys who were remembered are Ronald Jardine and Edward Gooding. The committee wishes to thank those who made donations, and are now soliciting a fund for boxes to be sent to the 29 boys from this vicinity who are in training in U. S. Camps.”
    “They wish also to thank the merchants who so generously cut prices on all goods for the Xmas boxes. Donations to date are as follows: Mrs. Marcia Ward Clarence Ward and Miss Anna Maile, each gave a box and contents; Mrs. H. M. Burton, M. F. Hennebry, Master George Carlin, Mrs. Nettie McGowan, Miss Eyre, Mrs. H. W. Lee and H. W. Lee, $1.25 (about $25 today) each; Mr. and Mrs. D. Barret, $1.50; Messrs. C. Markert and E. P. Barry, $1.25; Catherine Hayden 50 cents; 4th grade of school, $1.25 and the second grade of school donated a box.”
    In the same paper we read that even social gatherings were actually war related. “A large crowd - 123 couples - attended the dance given by the Social Dancing Club at the Opera House last Friday night. The music furnished by Sweet's orchestra was most certainly fine. The above club will give another one of their dances at the Opera house Monday evening. The proceeds will be given to the Red Cross.”
    Rationing like the country had never seen was in effect. Meatless and wheatless days were the rule. We read at the end of November, “Saving on Dining Cars - Chicago, Nov. 20 - Over 5,000 pounds of meat, costing about $250,000, are being saved annually for our soldiers and sailors and the fighting men of our allies, by not serving it on Tuesdays in railroad dining cars and restaurants. This estimate is based on the report made by 41 railroads.”
    Thanksgiving at home would be a very sparse meal. But at the front Ronald Jardine wrote, “I promised to tell you what we had for Thanksgiving. All of the orderlies were excused from the wards from 12:30 to 2 p.m. When I arrived at the mess hall at 12:30 there was a line about a mile long (more or less). When the mess call was blown the cheering mob pushed its way inside and was seated. After the chaplain had offered prayer, the mess sergeant followed by our orchestra, marched down one aisle and up another with a big turkey decorated with holly. It was a “very impressive appetizer”.
    “We had oyster soup and crackers, pickles, roast turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, green peas, apple sauce, celery, crab salad, tomato catsup, bread and butter, pumpkin pie, mixed nuts, coffee and cheese.”