Friday, December 11, 2015

Part V: Mudder's World War I diary

September 5
Took a trip to Nancy, had a dandy time. Bought a few things, came home in an ambulance. A date at night, a Calvary officer. 

September 6 

A date in the evening with Lt. B, nothing exciting to report. 

September 7 

To the Officer’s Club for breakfast, hot waffles gee but they are good. A big dance tonight. The dance was a great success, almost eighteen couples, a coon* band and they sure could play. We all went up in a big truck; had loads of fun. 

September 8 

Horseback riding in the afternoon, my second experience, I did enjoy it so much, went with Captain Taylor, Lieutenant Peabody and K. Afterwards, we went to dinner, had a short ride in a flier with four officers. 

September 9 

Felt just a little stiff this am but I did enjoy the ride so much. Went machine riding in the afternoon. At night, a date with an infantry lieutenant. 

September 10 

To the dentist in the a.m., sure did hurt me too. Miss Martin, two officers and I went out for dinner, had a dandy time. 

September 11 

Miss Martin and I got up a dance, and it sure was a success. Cleaned one of the wards, fixed the floors, had the best sandwiches and lemonade. Two of the boys played for us, one the violin, the other the piano, which we borrowed next door. I think everyone had a real good time. Met Captain Thomas, who knows a lot of people I know from the University of Maryland. 

September 12 

I imagine our pleasure is at an end for a while as the guns kept up the whole night, so look out for patients. I really thought we were going to be killed, the guns illuminated the whole sky, and someone said they thought it was an ammunition dump destroyed. Did do some work today, the patients just rolled in, poor boys, they are ready to go back to lines again. 

September 13 

Nothing of importance, I was sick all day, feeling rotten. Beaucoup patients arriving, hear that Mt. Seu has been taken. A letter from the major today, delighted I’ll say. 

September 14 

Feeling better today but not on duty, callers in the evening. War news is very encouraging. 

September 15 

On duty again, and some work to do, believe me. Had a date with Captain D at night. 

September 16 

Served with K today, she peeves me occasionally. Rumors of us moving, it is about time, we have been here in Toul longer than any place. 

September 17 

We are to move, no more patients are to be admitted, talk of a dance tomorrow night, I hope so. Made up with K, we are just as happy. 

September 18 

Packing up to move, got to dinner with K and two officers. In the afternoon we (K and I) went over to one of the officer’s homes. There were 2 French officers there, one of our boys played and we had the best time dancing. The French didn’t dance like we do but they will learn. 

September 19 

Oh we had a wonderful time at the dance last night, the best band and refreshments. Sure am tired today. The nurses are going over to #45 and the men are going on. We will join them soon. 

September 20 

Evac #14 gave us a dance last night; I went but am sure sick today, influenza. 

September 21 


September 22 


September 23 


September 24 

Much better, went out to Evac #1, Goldie had lots of mail for me, one from Percy, dear old soul. Steve is near here, we all took a walk last night, went for a short joy ride. To bed early. 

*Definition of coon as in “coon band” comes from the Slang Dictionary: “offensive term for a black person; (racist) dark-skinned person, as a Negro or Aborigine (originally US slang (mid-19th C.); shortening of raccoon).” 

My sister and I were a bit shocked to find this term in our grandmother’s diary, since we never heard her say anything similar during her lifetime. We thought it deserved a definition. An explanation? Florence Green was a woman of her times. She grew up among white people in Baltimore which was drawing a large number of black immigrants from the traditional South, an immigration tide that would only accelerate after the two world wars, as African-American soldiers returned home and found better opportunities and, possibly, better treatment, “up north.” Thing is, Baltimore and the entire state of Maryland are located south of the Mason-Dixon line. Its racist past recently grabbed headlines with the Freddie Gray murder and police over-reaction. 

One question I had: Why was a black band playing for a dance for a hospital unit in Toul, France? What I found both surprised and amazed me. Twenty-seven African-American regiments from the U.S. served in World War I. Of these, all had regimental bands. Young jazz musicians were recruited from Chicago, New York, New Orleans and elsewhere. Some were drafted as Selective Service began in 1917 and blacks and whites were put into segregated units, with black soldiers doing all the heavy lifting. Here’s a great resource: Black US Army Bands and Their Bandmasters in World War I by Peter M. Lefferts, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Quote from the manuscript: 
By the time of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, the regiments had been abroad for anywhere from one to eleven months, and in some cases their bands had never left the side of the troops. After the Armistice, the majority of bandsmen faced an additional three months or more of camp life in mud and rain alongside all the other doughboys, with boredom, pneumonia, and the flu epidemic as unpleasant companions, before transport home. 
Lefferts writes that 
much of their wartime activity is extremely hard to trace. In the combat zone, when they were playing at all rather than ducking artillery shells and helping the wounded, they were not going to get much if any press due to a news blackout on account of the need for secrecy about unit whereabouts “Somewhere in France.” Such accounts as do turn up in the US press could be printed months after the fact due to censorship and transportation delays for mail. An article in the New York Herald (Paris ed.), quoted in a New Jersey paper after the Armistice, reveals how band activities could be sensitive news: “The appearance of the band of the 350th Field Artillery Regiment in Nancy for a concert was the first notice here that the only brigade of negro artillery every organized had been defending Nancy by holding the Marbache sector, south of Metz.”
My grandmother could have been dancing to the 350th. Or maybe it was the 368th:
And we know that the band of the 368th played concerts “in Toul, Saizerais, Nancy, Brest, Le Mans and other places,” but also had to put down their instruments to become stretcher bearers in the Argonne fighting in September. 
Or maybe it was the Baltimore’s own 808th: 
Baltimore's 808th Pioneer Infantry band under Native American “Chief” Wheelock was proclaimed for bringing ”the real America Jazz, as it should be played, over here,” to France and was celebrated for staying close to the troops: "This band of colored musicians has indeed upheld the tradition of its race, for their music contributes much to make the name of the 808th Pioneer Infantry popular at the front. To begin with, they are right at the front being only a few kilometers behind the line, and although in danger of attracting the attention of hostile forces, they realize that the spirit of the boys must be kept cheerful and refreshed. So, often they assemble in a well- protected spot and play for the constant line of khaki as it moves along the road toward the enemy." After the Armistice, when the bands of the black combat regiments had embarked for home, Wheelock’s unit remained in camp and garnered all the prizes: the band of the 808th was judged the best infantry band in the A.E.F., white or black, in a contest held at Camp Pontanezen, Brest, France, on June 2, 1919. Additionally, it won the signal honor of playing for President Wilson's departure for home from Brest on June 29, 1919.
Whichever band played at Mudder's dance, many black musicians came back to the States and embarked on music careers: 
The new jazz was the special thing most distinguishing these bands musically, and everyone claimed it as their own. It was not just Jim Europe's band [369th Infantry Regiment, “Harlem Hell Fighters”] that brought jazz to the continent; rather, it was something on the order of two dozen bands. Moreover, they played the jazz of Kansas City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington as well as of New York City. Upon the return of the bands from the war, touring back in the States brought the new jazz music to dozens of smaller cities and towns, and to white audiences who had never before heard these exotic, lively sounds. The response was strong and positive. By one report, “Since the return of colored military bands from France to these shores the country simply has gone wild about jazz music.”
This map provides some perspective as to where the action was as the war drew to a close. The town of Toul, which Mudder visited often, is located just to the west of Nancy, not far from the offensives of St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne in Sept.-Nov. 1918.
803rd Pioneer Infantry Band, A.E.F.

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