200 Plus

Draftees Report to Camp Dix

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Sep 06, 2017

By September 1917, for many Americans the idea that the United States was at war was finally becoming a reality. Since the declaration of war in April, life for most had changed, and the conflict was still just a distant topic of debate. But now actions would replace words.

Many men, like Kingdom Gould, the 29-year-old wealthy son of a millionaire Lakewood family, had to make a decision. In June Gould, a railroad president, had registered for the draft. Three weeks later, he shocked society by marrying an Italian actress without his parents’ knowledge.

In July he learned his number had been chosen and he would be one of the first to be called into military service. Almost immediately, he filed for an exemption, saying he was the sole support of his bride. Newspapers across the country made Gould the symbol of whether this was a war in the name of democracy or capitalism.

On Aug. 17, The New York Times announced Gould’s decision.

“‘The only thought in my mind (when he asked for the exemption blank) was whether my wife could skimp through in my absence. That led me to declare an intention to claim exemption.’

“He added that after talking the matter over with his wife, who was anxious for him to do his bit, he decided not to press his exemption claim. Under the law he would have been required to submit affidavits from his wife and a disinterested party alleging the dependency of his wife, but as he had filed neither of these affidavits yesterday, he is now in the army.”

On Aug. 31, the New Jersey Courier published suggestions on what Gould and the other 20,000 Jersey men should take with them as they were sent to Camp Dix.

“Above all bring something compact and substantial to eat. A box of crackers and a tin of meat will be worth their weight in gold to you in an emergency. There are likely to be delays in transportation. There are bound to be waits in detraining and assignment to organizations. You will not arrive in a city where you can step in and secure a lunch.

“As for clothes … that shoes should be the chief concern, and that they should not be tight and have heavy soles. A pair of overalls would be a help.

“For toilet articles the recruit should have a toothbrush, comb, piece of soap, razor, shaving brush, small mirror and two towels.”

There was one final warning.

“Wonderful progress has been made in the construction of Camp Dix at Wrightstown, but it is by no means a completed camp, and the recruit must look forward to some little discomfort and confusion in the early days of his military career. Coming from family life, many incidents might be regarded as hardships, but if each individual will keep a stiff upper lip and realize that the welfare of the men of their respective organizations is the chief concern of the officers ….”

On Sept. 5, the first men began to report to camp. The Central New Jersey Home News recorded the scene.

“To the tune of ‘We are soldiers now,’ the big string of cars bearing the conscripts of various sections of New Jersey pulled out of the local station yesterday afternoon at 2.28.

“The departure of the men brought many grim recollections to several G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic, Union soldiers in the Civil War) veterans who had gathered to impart final words of advice to the local contingent and to wish them Godspeed. One old vet who had seen service in the Civil War shook the hands of the local boys and bid them do their duty as their forefathers had done.

“Although no special demonstration had been arranged in honor of the departure of the men, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends of the boys gathered at the railroad station to bid them a last farewell.”

The paper also noted that some of those drafted didn’t wait to be called.

“The first man to arrive at the camp was Clarence Brown, a bayman from Parkertown, N.J., and he came alone. He was so anxious to be the first arrival at Camp Dix that he came away without credentials from the draft board. The officers of the company to which he is assigned, wired at once to have the matter arranged so that Brown can keep his record as first arrival.”

There is a mistake in the article that has been repeated in most histories of World War I. Twenty-nine-year-old William Clarence Brown was a resident of Waretown and gave Parkertown as his place of employment.

The Trenton Times reported, “Kingdom Gould, eldest son of George Gould, was one of the selected men who arrived yesterday to begin life as an army private. He was assigned to an iron cot in the barracks of the 311th Infantry, the one to which the Trenton and other Jerseymen were assigned, and will go out to drill with a squad.

“Gould came from Lakewood in a motor car. He carried a single hand-bag. He was married recently and claimed exemption before his local board on grounds which he described as ‘corporate interests.’ His application was refused.”

The majority of the men from Ocean County were supposed to report in mid-September. The Tuckerton Beacon on the 13th published, “Wednesday, September 19th, sixty-eight Ocean County boys leave Toms River for ‘Camp Dix,’ at Wrightstown. Eight lads are already there from this county.

“THIS IS WHAT WE WANT YOU TO DO.

“FIRST: We want you to come.

“SECOND: We want you and the other public spirited citizens of your town to see that automobiles are provided to bring the drafted men from your community to Toms River. This means the men who are to go to Wrightstown on a later date, as the ‘68’ will be summoned to Toms River on September 18th.

“Let’s Give Our OCEAN COUNTY BOYS A SEND OFF.

“Alfred W. Brown

“Sheriff”

 Finally the Courier reported on the sendoff.

“Ocean County outdid itself on Wednesday afternoon of this week in giving a sendoff to the 68 boys leaving for Camp Dix, and at the same time, through them, to the eight lads already gone, and to the 92 yet to go. It was generally conceded to be as big a crowd, many said the biggest, as ever was seen at the county seat; and certainly there were never so many automobiles.

“Automobiles were sent to Wrightstown and brought back seven of the eight boys there.

“After dinner the streets began to fill with autoes and people came in from all parts of the county. The courthouse green was crowded, out into and across the street. As many people waited down town, having got advantageous places to see the parade, and not willing to risk losing them to hear the speaking.”

Finally came the big moment.

“At the depot the bands played, and there were goodbyes said on all sides. Probably 2000 people thronged the station grounds, overflowed on both sides of the tracks, and not a few tears were shed, though for the most part the sadness of the farewells was felt rather than seen. The boys filled the coach that had been put on the train for them, and the train pulled out amid three hearty cheers for the Camp Dix lads.

“It was everywhere conceded to be the biggest of events, and it all passed off without accident, or even mishap. The hundreds of cars and the thousands of people melted away and by six o’clock the town was quiet again.”

As the citizens returned home, most knew things were changing.  A notice in the Beacon the day after the sendoff confirmed that feeling.

“Like many other business places all over the country the Beacon was called on this week to make a sacrifice that hurt, when Uncle Sam called Frank H. Mathis, our linotype operator, to the colors.

“Frank, after several years in this branch of work had become an expert and was one of the mainstays and of a necessity, our readers are called upon to share in the sacrifice to our country until we can get a new man broke in at the machine.

“On account of this change much interesting news is left out and abbreviated this week.”

The grand sendoff for the 68 was the first but unfortunately not the last.

Next Week: You’re in the Army now!

tpfcjf@comcast.net

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