200 Plus

Draftees Get Down to Business

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Sep 13, 2017

In September 1917, the 20,000 New Jersey civilians drafted into President Wilson’s national Army began reporting to Camp Dix. On the fifth, the Official Bulletin published by the United States government tried to prepare the men for their transition from civilians into soldiers.

“Since suit cases and hand bags will not be allowed for permanent use at the mobilization camps, articles may be carried in bundles if so desired.

“Civilian clothes will not be retained after arrival at mobilization camps and may be returned by express or otherwise to the homes … it is better to appear in civilian clothes which it is not worth while to keep.

“To insure quick communication with his family, the recruit is advised to provide himself with post cards or stamped envelopes.

“It is of the highest importance that every recruit from the outset should implicitly obey these orders, which are for the protection of his own health and the health of his comrades.”

The next day the Trenton Times told the story of the first hours spent in the Army for the new arrivals.

“The first quota for the National Army turned out at 5:45 o’clock today for their initial lessons in the life of a soldier.

“All slept soundly last night from the physical fatigue which followed their day of activity in Trenton and their journey to the cantonment. It was 7 o’clock before the men reached their barracks after their tramp across the fields from the railroad station and their physical inspection by the doctors. They then received their tin plates and cups for the evening mess. Their next step was to line up for blankets and fill their sacks with straw for a mattress. Taps were sounded at 10 o’clock.

“‘Right face, left face’ drills were gone through by the men this morning and this afternoon they will take their physical examinations. Uniforms may be doled out later in the day.

“The aroma of the South Jersey pines, renowned for their health-giving properties, swept through the camp today and helped to increase the appetite of the rookies for the breakfast made ready for them. All did justice to the corn flakes and cream, orange, fried bacon, potatoes and gravy, bread, butter and coffee.”

On Sept. 11, the OB published rules to govern a soldier’s life.

“The discipline of the Army is just and impersonal. You will be treated with fairness. Your rights will be respected. On your part you must respect the rights and authority conferred upon others.

“The American flag carried by a regiment is known as the ‘colors.’ It is the symbol of the Nation and is treated always with the deepest respect.”

The instructions went beyond, saying, “Similar rules of respect apply whenever the Star-Spangled Banner is played. Officers and enlisted men not in formation stand at attention, facing toward the music when they face toward the flag. They salute at the first note of the anthem, retaining the position of salute until the last note.

“Every citizen of the United States whether a civilian or a soldier, should give expression of his loyalty and devotion to his country by showing proper marks of respect for the colors and for the national anthem.

“The common habit of rising slowly, standing in a slouching attitude, and sometimes even carrying on conversation, when the national anthem is played, is an indication of gross ignorance or ill breeding.

“It goes without saying that disrespect to the American flag can not be tolerated.”

The same day, the Trenton paper reported from Camp Dix.

“Every variety of attire was discarded by the rookies for the clothes which the government handed to them after a delay which caused them to appreciate the bite in the South Jersey atmosphere. They had followed the advice given them and traveled as light as possible.

“Each soldier was allowed one waist belt, two pairs cotton breeches, three pairs drawers, one service hat and cord, one pair leggings, two olive drab flannel shirts, two pairs marching shoes, four pairs of stockings, one cotton coat, three undershirts.

“The boys had their first marching work today, a five-mile hike to Wrightstown and back.”

The first arrivals were to form the nucleus of the newly formed 78th infantry division, which would become home for most of the men from New Jersey. Thomas Meehan wrote in the official history of the division, “The thrill of the afternoon of September 20th will never be forgotten. From the porch of Division Headquarters building were seen about 2,000 New Jersey men, destined for the 156th Brigade who appeared on the road passing by Headquarters, on the Hill, and leading toward the 311th and 312th Infantry. They were indeed a motley crew. The heterogeneous and in some cases the tatterdemalion character of the clothes, each man carrying a hand bag or a bundle, slung upon a stick over his shoulder and straggling along in columns of fours, which they attempted to maintain.

“The Division Commander was called to witness the first great influx of his men. … He looked into their faces, observed the set of their shoulders, the manner in which they carried themselves and looking, voiced his sentiments – ‘One sees determination and purpose depicted there and seeing, one feels safe in leaving the future of America in their care.’”

The Trenton reporter reminded his readers there would be more to the training of the men than just marching.

“Further training will reproduce as minutely as possible the actual conditions found on the European battlefields. The drudgery part of the lessons must be gone through by the soldiers at first and the scientific but more interesting features will soon follow.

“Skirmishing ranks have already been practiced. The trench life with all its aspects will be reproduced to insure the men for every eventuality.

“Use of gas masks, to escape the poisoning which had such fatal effects before the Allies were prepared to frustrate the attacks, will be drilled into the men.

“‘This parading up and down is not done to impress the public nor to have the men look nice,’ an officer remarked for the information of some civilians who were commenting upon the drilling of the Camp Dix men. Soldiers must move as a unit to be effective. They must learn to coordinate the activities of their brain with their feet and muscles. If they did not act as one they would simply be a mob.”

The next day the Trenton correspondent gave details on what the recruits had waiting for them.

“National Army men at this cantonment may get their baptism of shellfire in the pine belt of South Jersey and not wait until they go all the way to France.

“Under their self-imposed censorship the correspondents watch carefully not to reveal details which might be pieced together by the nation’s enemies as a guide for preparations.”

Construction was underway.

“On it will be placed the artillery guns, the rifle ranges and the machine gun section. ‘No Man’s Land’ can scarcely present a more wild aspect than the territory surrounding the ranges.

“The artillerymen will have their station at the point nearest the cantonment and will shoot in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean, 20 miles away. The pine belt extends solidly to the ocean front at that point and not a house is situated within its confines. Real ammunition will be used, but the bursting shells will only disturb the birds in their flights and echo and re-echo back to firing point.”

As training began there was one Ocean County resident the nation had been watching. The son of a millionaire, Kingdom Gould was the president of a railroad. Shortly after registering for the draft, he suddenly married and claimed an exemption. The nation debated on whether he would receive a rich man’s deferment; on Sept. 21, the Trenton paper answered the question.

“His call to service in the National Army is reported to have brought about a reconciliation between Kingdom Gould and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George J. Gould, from whom he became estranged as a result of his recent marriage. Mrs. Gould is planning to visit her son in camp here.

“In a Norfolk suit and golf stockings, young Gould began his soldier life with a broom instead of a gun, when he was ordered to join the squad doing police duties in the barracks of the 311th Infantry. He accepted the work as a matter of course. Later he drilled with a squad of rookies on the parade grounds.

“Gould drew an army cot between George Wakefield, a Lakewood electrician, and Walter Thomas, mustered in as a laborer. The young millionaire said he was prepared to put his every energy into the camp work, and that he naturally hoped to win a commission.”

From the Delaware River to the Atlantic Ocean the men of New Jersey would help fill the ranks of the 78th Division. Rich and poor together, they would become soldiers in the Army formed to make “the world safe for democracy.”

Next Week: Booze, prostitutes and morals.


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