Posts Tagged ‘Ambulance Corps WWI’

I will give my great uncle this: he had ambition. He was also very intelligent and a quick study, and it frustrated him no end to be commanded by people who were not on the same level.

Camp Lewis, Oct. 28, ’17

Dear Mother & Dad,

     Well, it is beginning to be sort of wintry out here too. We had a heavy frost last night and it is always cold in the morning. The wind blows the dust around a lot in the day time. It hasn’t rained much though and we can stand the wind and cold better than rain while we are drilling.

     The company went to Tacoma yesterday to see the football game between the Ambulance Cos and the 91st division teams. neither side scored but it would have been was a fine game anyway.

     I came back this morning but some of them are not back yet. This will be about the last time off I guess for most of us. We have orders to issue no more passes and I guess that means a closed camp.

     The base hospital force is to leave here about the 15th of December. That means that we go soon too, because as soon as the hospital is established the ambulances and field hospitals come before the main body of Troops. The draft comes in February and we must be out of here before then anyway.

    I haven’t seen either of those fellows from Montana but there are so many here that no one could be found with a fine tooth comb unless you go through headquarters and that is too much trouble. I’ll send you a picture of part of the camp soon to give you some idea of its size.

    I had some pictures taken but they did not suit me and I made the photographer refund my money. I intend to get some soon though and I’ll send you a half dozen or so.

    I just left off writing to watch an aeroplane fly over. I bet I won’t leave off writing to watch a little thing like that in a year from now.

    French keeps on as usual and I intend to start a German class this coming week at one of the Y.M.C.A. buildings (you know there are about 8 buildings in camp).

    There is to be an officer’s training camp opened here and I am going to try and apply on the strength of my French and German as well as my other experience. I don’t expect to make it but I’ll give myself all the exposure possible. I don’t figure on anything anymore, but will just keep on bulling along and it won’t hurt me any to work when there is nothing else to do in the Army but work, eat and sleep.

    After Nov. 1st it will cost us poor soldiers a cent more on all our letters. The soldiers get the bad end of it all the time. The business men prey on them, they are pestered to buy Liberty Bonds, and I don’t know what all. Above all, they are expected <to be> and are, for the most part, a bunch of rough necks.

    Well, that is enough for this time, I guess. It is the same old round here only a bit fiercer than it was a while ago.

    I have some ties and a civilian hat that I’ll send to John if he wants them. The ties need a little pressing but are all right.

Your son


~~~~Dale is correct about the postage being a burden on soldiers. After the war, in 1919, the rates dropped back down to two cents.

For some reason, there are no more letters in October and none at all in November. Dale’s next missive is dated in December:

Camp Lewis, Dec 2, 1917

Dear Mother and Dad,

     The winter has begun I guess. It snowed some last night and has been raining hard ever since Thanksgiving. We are in for it from now on.

     I inquired about my application for Officer’s Training Camp and found that it has gone on above this company. I don’t know what they said about it but to know that it has gone on is some consolation. If it gets high enough it may go through because it will strike the place where they have been told of my knowledge of French and German. I want to get out of here somewhere into the regular line. All the stuff they are teaching us here is so simple that I could learn it all in two weeks of study. In fact I knew most of it before. I don’t want to stay under command of men who know so little about commanding us as our officers do. Our new captain is the only man of them that knows anything about military things and he doesn’t have much to do with us.

    Some of our company had been moved into a different building because we were crowded in to much in the regular building. I like the new place pretty well because I have a corner and more room on the shelves, etc. I am still teaching French to the sergeants and to the class at the Y.M.C.A. Ww are getting along pretty well now. I use a lot of French in the class and make them answer in French. They know how to ask for food and handle money, ask their way and a few simple tings like that already.

    Well, there is not much to tell this time. I’ll close now. The real address is the one on the outside of this envelope but anything will get me.

Your son



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001American Lake Camp

The photo is from a news clipping in my great-grandmother’s scrap book.

Eugene,Ore. Sept. 4, ’17

Dear Mother and Dad,

      We got orders yesterday to report at Eugene immediately and so we came down last night. We found that we are to leave here about Thursday morning for some training camp. We don’t  know where but we think it is American Lake, Wash. which is just a little distance from Tacoma.

     I didn’t get to see anyone in Portland while I was there except a few fellows I met on the street.

     I sent my blanket and the comfort to you this morning by Parcel Post. I would not be allowed to take any baggage with me except a few things like towels and soap etc. so I couldn’t take the blanket.

    I paid the premium on the Insurance and will send it to you to take care of for me. The amount of the premium is stamped on the outside of the policy and is due in February and August. I you send my February premium, send it to Eugene. You won’t have to do that is I am in this country, but if I am not, I wish you would keep it up, because it may be hard to get money to this country.

      I will write more next time when I am in Camp and can tell you about conditions there.

Your son

Dale D.


That insurance policy was the smartest thing Dale did in his short life!


Camp Lewis, Wash. Sept 6, ’17

Dear Mother and Dad,

      We left Eugene at 4:30 this morning. We ate breakfast in Portland and got up here about 2:30 this afternoon. We have got one meal and have signed a receipt for one cot, one canvas and two blankets.

      We are quartered in large two story buildings, the lower floor is used for mess and assemblies and the upper one is for sleeping. About a hundred men are on single cots in ours. We haven’t had our uniforms issued yet but probably will have them in a few days.

     This camp is over nine miles long. There will be 15000 men here before Sunday for the drafted Army.

     I don’t think conditions will be half bad. We have a fine bunch of fellows. The grub is not as bad as it was in lots of camps I have been in. The sleeping quarters are airy and are roomy enough. But thn I’ll tell you more about it later on. The only bad thing about the place is the black dust and that will soon be taken care of because it is raining tonight a little.

    You write soon and let me know how you all are coming

Your son

Dale Melrose

Camp Lewis Wash

c/o Ambulance Corps #14


Because those are such short missives, I have opted to transcribe a third one which describes life at Camp Lewis a little. In this one, Dale mentions a “housewife”. I knew what he meant, but did a little search on the internet to see if I could find a good definition for the reader, and came across a little blog on the subject by The Costume Historian. I can only assume the young lady mentioned is Norma – but that is an assumption based on the letters I possess. I do not know for certain who he means (but when I get to the letter of 1944, I think the Reader will agree with me).

Camp Lewis, Oct 20 ’17

Dear Mother and Dad

       I am sorry that you didn’t get the letter that week because I know what it is like not to hear from people <from whom> you are in the habit of getting word regularly. I am not doing anything now but teaching French. The study of French was made compulsory in this company last week. That makes me teacher of over 100 men here besdie about 30 at the Y.M.C.A. The Director of Ambulances, a Major Southmayde asked me a few days ago if I would teach a class for officers. I told him that I would do so. It seems that I ought to be able to get something better than the job of a common “buck” private. I may use that as a card later on to draw a transfer with.

     Pruett has been sent over here and has his bed right beside me. He is in Tacoma tonight seeing his wife who has come this far with him. This draft does work a good many hardships in cases like that. Pruett doesn’t look forward to our leaving with a great deal of enthusiasm.

     I dont know whether we have had all of our shots yet or not, but I think we may have for the present. We may get more before we leave for the front.

    I wish I were a sergeant or something so that I could afford to take a trip down to Eugene and around before we leave, but it would cost me two thirds of a month’s wages to make it. “Scotty” has gone down to Eugene on a 72 hour pass.

    I was surprised to get a housewife in the mail the other day. I still have the one you made for me when I came out here, but this new one wraps up and has a fine pair of scissors, pins needles, buttons, and a lot of junk. It was from the one that wanted me to marry her a while ago. She sends me magazines all the time too. She is a valuable possession.

   Have you had any snow yet? I hope you dont have as hard a winter as you had last winter.

   I had some pictures taken yesterday and as soon as I get them I’ll send you some. They ,ay mot be very good, but they are cheap.

   I’ll quit writing for this time and go to bed.

Your son



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My great uncle must have been one patient man, what with all the draftees heading out to war, and his unit hasn’t even called him up yet! The 20th of July came and went, and he’s no wiser about when he’ll go as he was when he enlisted.


The photo is not of Dale or anyone he know, but is from the US Archives of a soldier saying farewell, circa 1917.

Eugene, Ore. July 30, ’17

Dear Mother and Dad,

       Well, I expect your letter will be coming this afternoon but I will begin this letter now anyway. I will finish it after yours comes.

      I am going out to some logging camp next week I guess. I have picked up quite a bit of French and I can’t do any more with military work and First Aid until I have something to work with. I am confident that I am capable of passing any examination they may give for non coms. I know as much or more about this work than any of the other sergeants. I think I will make it in a month or so at camp anyway.

      The two companies of Coast Artillery left here yesterday for Fort Stevens near Astoria, where they will train. Bob Case and lots of University men were in it. In fact, one whole company was University men. The whole town went down to the train to see them leave, and all of the kissing of sweethearts and mothers, weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth that went on I never saw the like. Some of the boys were badly cut up. I tried to joke with them and get them out of the dumps but they would laugh hysterically and then put on a face a yard long. Some of the boys had been in my German class and I knew them pretty well. I suppose we have been in the class room together for the last time though now. Sometimes I think Sherman owes an apology to Hell for saying that war was the same thing. It is worse.

      I must go down to the student store and see if I can get a French dictionary. The French professor here, who is an Irishman is getting me a book with all the military language in it. We are treated fine for sure. We are given a;; kinds of dinners, dances, picnics, etc. –

     Well, I couldn’t get one. I guess I’ll wait till I get east and then I can get one. I guess we’ll go before long. I heard tonight that 1000 men have left Allentown and that we will probably be there by the 10th or 15th of August. I hope it is true.

     I must go to bed now. This letter is a little late this week but I waited to get your. So – long.

Your son

Dale D.


<sigh> Times were different then, and the use of racial slurs too common. But, I am looking back through history and cannot put this letter in context of what I know and believe in there here and now. Dale is wrong about a lot of things, including how vicious the war is and when it will end.

Eugene, Ore. Aug 10, ’17

Dear Mother and Dad,

      Scotty and I have been working on a paving job for the past three days but it is finished now for a while. We got $3.00 for 8 hours, and the work wasn’t bad. We shoveled the “hot stuff”. There was a Coon on the job that I worked with in Newberg when the paving was put in there. Mrs. Sparks boarded the coons here as she did in Newberg.

      The boss of the job said that he would let us know by the first of the week whether he gets his job on the road or not, and if he does, he wants Scotty and I to work till we are called. I think we will do that if we don’t get something else.

      Three more weeks ought to see some development in things concerning this Corps. If nothing happens by that time, I’ll try to get a transfer. I am sick of this fooling around.

     I think Montrose is not far from Edinburgh on the east coast of Scotland.

    I wonder where Hall Wallace gets all of his information about the war. There is nothing to make the war stop before 1920. I don’t think it will either. Of course it is to be hoped that it will end before then but not to be expected.

    I got me a French dictionary today from the professor of French and Italian here. He is an absent minded old Irishman!

     I got a letter from Andy a day or two ago. He and his brother Ray were called into training last Wednesday. He is in the Naval Militia and his bunch is training on the U. of W. campus in Seattle. He was hoping that this Ambulance Unit would go to American Lake for a while so that we would get a chance to say “Hello” before we leave for parts unknown. Andy will have it pretty good as far as an easy time is concerned but he won’t be able to tell yarns about France, etc. that I will. I wouldn’t care a snap about enlisting unless I figured on getting something out of it.

     Was Frankie taken in the first drawing? The Army would do him a lot of good, wouldn’t it? How about Chet and Harry? Uncle Harry says he is going to try to make a visit down at Meridian and Rock Falls when he gets back to Minneapolis.

     Well, I guess I’ll close now. Maybe I’ll be able to report some news next time.

Au revoir!



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006Eugene, June 8, 1917

Dear Mother and Dad,

        As you have learned by the telegram I sent yesterday, I am into it. It came somewhat suddenly but I do not regret it except on account of the way you folks look at it. I was sure of the draft though and you will have to admit that this is better than the trenches.

       You know, in the registration about 600 registered in Eugene and over 400 claimed exemption. That would fix us who claimed none, because those who want exemption very badly will find some way to get it. I was disgusted when I found out how things would go.

    The Ambulance Corps was filling up fast so I thought I would look out for Number One and get in to it. I know nearly all of the boys in it. They are U. students and are a much better bunch than I will would find in the Conscript Army. There is very little danger in the Ambulance work, as I said before. Only 5 out of 450 Americans havebeen killed since the war began. There is a better chance to see things than in the Trenches and a fellow will learn more. We get $36.00 per month, and, of course, food and clothing. We are enlisted under the U.S. Army but are really a part of the Red Cross.

    I talked with president Campbell and he said that my job would be waiting for me when I come back and everything possible would be done to help me when the war is over. They will hire someone temporarily to take my place, and will discharge him or her when I return. That is very good of them, I think.

    I am to be sworn in Tomorrow morning and then we are free till we are called to active service which we expect to be about two ir three weeks from to-morrow. I want to get out and make some money before we are called because it all will come in handy.

     I would like to spend a few days in Newberg before we leave too, so I must get busy at all my stuff or I wont get it all done.

     Above all things I don’t want you folks to worry about me. I will write every week as usual and the letters will get out someway. Of course after we get to France the mail service may be irregular, but it will work after a fashion I know. I think I told you before that the Corps goes to Allentown, Pa. to train. I think we stay there about a month.

     I would like very much to come home, but you folks know that all of us would seel worse if I did. A good-bye of any kind is hard on a person, and the way things are I can keep on writing just like I have been, and it will be much better all around. Don’t you think so?

     The one thing I like about this Ambulance work is the fact that I am to help save life instead of destroying it. The French are said to almost worship the Americans, and always want the American Ambulances to take care of them. A man was here a while ago who had been on the front and he said that a person would be surprised at the way the French treat the Americans.

     When I get to France I am going to study the language for all I am worth, and to take care of the German prisoners. Knowing their language, I can do much better than those who cannot talk to them.

     Of course, if the Asthma should get me I would be no good and would have to be sent home again. If it does, all right, but I told the examining board about it and they put me through a close examination and said that there was nothing wrong with me that would keep me out of the Army. I expected that anyway, and so I was not much surprised.

     This step of mine makes me feel much more at ease. Before I did it I was all knocked out. The draft axe was swinging over my head and I couldn’t get down to business at all. All the boys were going, and you can imagine how I felt, and was made to feel. the only thing about it is the fear that you folks will worry.


Courage, compassion for the enemy. According to the Registration Card, he was #9 to register that day. My great-grandparents must have been heart-sick, but Dale was so sure of his decision.

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