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June 19, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

June 19, 1917

Dear Folks:-

 

Just a line to let you know I got back O.K.  The train was late, so was the electric, and I didn’t get in till eleven, but it was O.K.  Had a fine time at the Lake.  Had company all the way down from Minnesota Junction.

 

Love to all,

 

Mortimer

Reserve Officers Training Camp

3rd Bty. – 10th Prov. Reg’t

Fort Sheridan, Ill.

This turn of the century postcard shows Fox Lake, Wisconsin, where Mortimer spent his short furlough. Image courtesy of  http://www.theshoresoffoxlake.com/area-information/.

This turn of the century postcard shows Fox Lake, Wisconsin, where Mortimer spent his short furlough.
Image courtesy of http://www.theshoresoffoxlake.com/area-information/.

A War By Invention

By Kevin Hampton, Curator of History

Commonly referred to at the time as the “War to End All Wars,” World War I was in fact not a “last” but a “first.” Innovations in technology, tactics, and equipment ushered in a new era of warfare that defined how wars were fought for the next one hundred years.

While most people associate World War I with the start of trench warfare, it was by no means a new strategy or idea. Employed at great lengths during the American Civil War, trench warfare was a siege tactic that had been around for centuries. So what then was “new” about World War I and how did it shape warfare in the 20th Century?

Trench photo

An American soldier poses with a German machine gun. (WVM Mss 15)

In terms of military tools and equipment, World War I saw the first use of aircraft carriers, flamethrowers, chemical weapons, tanks, and airplanes. Battlefield medicine also evolved with the introduction of guide dogs, x-ray machines to treat battlefield casualties, and established blood banks. Though there are many more “firsts” that were introduced during World War I, with the centennial commemorations of the outbreak of the war in July of this year, now is a great time to reflect on some of the more recognizable innovations.


Machine Guns

Employed for the first time en masse, machine guns ruled the battlefield and in many ways were one of the primary causes of the stalemate of trench warfare. By the end of 1914, with each side realizing the devastating combination of massed infantry assaults against fortified machine gun emplacements, the Allied and Central Powers both dug in for a long war. Despite knowing the lethality of this new battlefield technology, the European powers still stuck to their strategies of massed infantry assaults, leading to some of the most costly battles in military history.

Airplanes

In 1903, the Wright brothers made the first controlled, manned flight, staying aloft for 59 seconds. Ten years later, this new technology was being adapted for warfare. Daring pilots were almost more at risk learning to fly than they were in the dogfights in the skies of Europe. In the case of the famed Sopwith Camel, 413 pilots are documented as having been killed in action while 385 died in training accidents. As the war progressed, aerial dogfights took the war from a stalemate on the ground, to a highly maneuverable battle above the trenches.

Mask

Masks like this one protected WWI tank drivers from metal shards and fragments while they peered through narrow, unprotected view slits in their tanks. (K1971.505)

Tanks

Developed to break the stalemate of trench warfare, the “tank” was an incredibly influential innovation of World War I. Initially these slow, metal behemoths were mobile pillboxes that could advance and provide direct heavy fire support for an infantry assault. By the end of the war, the Allies had produced over six thousand tanks, while Germany had produced only about twenty. The lessons learned about the effectiveness of mobile warfare with this new piece of equipment were not lost on the Germans who would use it to introduce a new style of warfare twenty years later.


Ironically, these innovations developed to break the stalemate, and end “The War to End All Wars” were, in fact, the catalysts for a whole new modern era of warfare.

Many World War I battlefield innovations have defined new tactics that are still used today. Machine guns remain a staple on battlefields. Tanks have become the workhorse of ground troops. Airplanes, manned and unmanned, are now the primary strike force of any military operation.

So as we observe the 100th anniversary of World War I, let’s remember the modern innovations brought about by the Great War, as well as the brave Wisconsin men and women who played witness to an era of battlefield inventions.  Learn more about Wisconsin in World War I at http://bit.ly/Military_History_WWI_WVM

June 15, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

June 15, 1917

 Western Union Telegram

Received at Beaver Dam, Wis.

2 AU HK 24 NL

Ft Sheridan Ills June 15th, [1917]

Mrs T D Lawrence

Beaver Dam, Wisc.

If change to artillery in the morning on account of transfer may not be able to take five twelve but if you do not hear from me to the contrary tomorrow I will go direct to Foxlake on either the six fifty or nine fifty love.

Mortimer.

817 AM

170615FB

June 7, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

June 7th 1917.

Dear Folks:-

We have been so busy all the week that I simply haven’t had a chance to even drop you a card. This sure has been a humdinger as far as work is concerned and the weather has been very bad. It has been cold and raw since Sunday with frequent showers but not enough rain to interrupt our drills.

The registration board returned my certificates of registration today. I was #5 in our precinct in Beaver Dam. All of us sent our cards in from here last week.

Tuesday we took a hike to Lake Forest, total trip of about nine miles, made with heavy packs of 45#. We made the nine miles in three hours including halts and that is going some for the usual rate of marching is 2 ¼ to 2 ½ miles an hour including halts. Of course the populace and society turned out to see us.

Hope I will be able to get away to come home Saturday. Don’t worry about my having to get back before “Taps” because I can get special permission to get in later. I won’t have to leave till the 5:20 CM&StP.

I enjoyed the letters very much and am returning them before they are lost. Love to all,

Mortimer.

Lawrence also received mail. This letter from his Uncle Mort—his namesake—was also written on June 7.

Lawrence also received mail. This letter from his Uncle Mort—his namesake—was also written on June 7.

June 3, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

June 3rd

[1917]

Dear Folks:-

Another week gone by. Soon it will be time to split up into the different branches and have to work harder than ever.

Before I forget it, I want to broach a subject which may make you very angry, and if it does let me know and I’ll say no more about it. Do you think you could stand it to have me come home on the 5:12 P.M. C. & N.W. on Saturday June 16th and stay until 5:20 Sunday P.M.? I think I can get away Saturday at noon and not have to report until Sunday night, but don’t plan too much on it for it may fall through. Before I make any plans, I just wanted to know how you feel about it. In case Ruth’s sister is coming and they are planning on going to Fox Lake why can’t the whole family go up to the Lake too. I think I’d rather like to go up if the weather is good. If you decide you’d like to have me come home don’t let Ruth know about it.

We had some good news Friday. Our pay of $100.00 per month goes through and besides we have an allowance of 75¢ per day for mess and 3 ½ ¢ per mile for transportation down here. I don’t get anything back on my trip to Milwaukee, though. We have signed the payroll for the first half-month and expect to be paid in the course of ten days.

This has been a busy week even if we did have a holiday on Wednesday. It rained most of the day and was generally rotten. In the morning a few of us walked over to Highland Park in the rain just for exercise. I stayed around the barracks all the afternoon on account of the weather. In the evening three of us went to the movies at Lake Forest. We saw Douglass Fairbanks in “Manhattan Madness” and it was the best film I have seen in a long time.

Thursday was rainy off and on but we managed to get in most of our drills. Friday wasn’t so bad though it was pretty muddy.

Saturday morning we had our usual inspection and also a drill in pitching shelter tents of which each man carries ½ in his pack. It rained right up to the time of inspection and then stopped long enough for inspection and then started again as soon as we got back indoors. It stopped again at eleven and, so we had general permission to go off limits as long as we reported back by Taps, I decided to go to Chicago. I went to the Palace to see the N.Y. Winter Garden production the Show of Wonders. It certainly was fine. After the show I went to see a couple of fellows, then had a big dinner at the North American with some of the fellows from here and then came back.

Today has been such a nice day that I haven’t done anything special but just bummed around all day. Saw Mr. Coleman of Lincoln Park. He and his wife were out here looking around and I talked with them for a while.

Received the box O.K. Thank you for sending it. I may send my laundry home this week and if I do will have it in Beaver Dam Friday in time for next Monday.

Love to all,

Mortimer.

How is everything at the Lake? Has the victrola gone up yet. Those were some pictures. I am returning them as I am afraid I’d lose them here.

I am enclosing some films taken here. Please have Huebner finish one set and keep them for me. I will pay you when I get home.

 

Mortimer took this photo of a fellow soldier during training at Fort Sheridan.

Mortimer took this photo of a fellow soldier during training at Fort Sheridan.

May 31, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

5-31-17

Dear Folks:-

Yesterday was a holiday so naturally it rained all day and most of today too. It sure is sloppy and muddy around the camp. Tomorrow we go on another hike, so I hope the weather is good. Hope you are all O.K. Love to all,

Mortimer.

Lawrence took this photograph during a “hike” like the one he mentioned in this letter.

Lawrence took this photograph during a “hike” like the one he mentioned in this letter.

May 29, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

May 29th, 1917

Dear Folks:-

Received your letter of the 25th yesterday morning, also the papers. Your letter of the 27th came this morning and the sox came this afternoon. Was very glad to get all of them, thank you. The sox are fine and are just what I want. If Will has a half dozen pairs please send them and have him charge them to me. The wool sox are much more comfortable for marching than cotton.

I was very much surprised to see the letter in the paper as it was written to Art Volkman and not for publication, still it didn’t sound so very bad.

We had our third inoculation today and now have nothing before us except smallpox vaccination. I suppose I will have to take that as I haven’t been vaccinated since 1906 and not successfully since the first one. What year was that vaccination, 1894 or 1893? The second inoculation didn’t make me sick but it made my arm awfully sore for a couple of days. I hope this one won’t be as bad for tomorrow is a holiday.

I don’t think I’ll send any laundry home unless it needs mending. A Chicago laundry has an agency right on the grounds and as the prices aren’t very high I am trying them on account of the convenience.

Has Will found his housekeeper? I guess that “ad” must have set lots of people to wondering.

I am glad the family is getting notorious. We ought to do something for our country newspapers once-in-a-while.

How are all of you feeling? I am glad housecleaning is all over so you won’t have that to look forward to.

How did the folks find things at Fox Lake? It is too bad the boat house was damaged.

Tell Harold Schemmel he needn’t look for my picture in the Tribune, all they report is news of the Illinois regiment.

Have had two promotions lately. Yesterday five of us were picked to act as instructors at signal drill from now on, and I was one of the five. Today I was made leader of a squad at drill which gives me a little more chance to exhibit my proficiency than just being a private. Of course these promotions have no special significance except that the Commander sees that I am working hard and making some progress.

Must close now and get to work.

Love to all,

Mortimer.

Mortimer enjoys a drink of cold water while training at Fort Sheridan. In this letter he wrote that he wanted his commander to see that “I am working hard and making some progress.”

Mortimer enjoys a drink of cold water while training at Fort Sheridan. In this letter he wrote that he wanted his commander to see that “I am working hard and making some progress.”

May 27, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Sunday 8:30 A.M.

Well today is another cold raw disagreeable day and I sure am glad we don’t have any drilling to do. I suppose it is a good thing to have some cold weather now and get us toughened up a bit for I imagine it will be pretty cold when we go over to France next January.

We have our third and last typhoid inoculation Tuesday. All will be glad when it is over but then we have small pox and scarlet fever vaccination. Everyone has to take the typhoid inoculation unless they can prove they have had it within the last two years. It is only good for five years.

I suppose Paul & Fred are with you today. Wish I could come in for a few hours.

How are all of you feeling? Hope you are as well as I am.

Am returning the T.P.A. letter which I think is a fine one. Please keep it for me.

Jack Millspaugh has been transferred back to Co N. and is in the same barracks.

There doesn’t seem to be much else to write just now. Will write again in a few days.

The last letter I received was dated May 23rd. Hope you are not sick and that everything is O.K.

Love to all,

Mortimer.

Lawrence and two friends, French and Rieves, in the midst of cleaning their barracks.

Lawrence and two friends, French and Rieves, in the midst of cleaning their barracks.

May 26, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Ft. Sheridan

Saturday, May 26th

[1917]

Dear Folks:-

Well here we are at the end of another week and it doesn’t seem as though I had been gone three days.

Things certainly have been rushing along in fine style. We are getting busier every day, and while we are on the subject I might say that no one hesitates about soaking it to us as far as work is concerned.

So far we have had to learn two signal systems and codes, have finished one textbook complete, and have been issued two more, making seven in all and have covered everything in squad and company drill including aiming and sighting drills but no range practice.

We have had and completed a course of instruction in bayonet instruction but are going to take it all over again. One of the boys from the famous Canadian “Princess Pat” regiment is in camp and has given the officers pointers on how it is done in France and their method over there is so different that it necessitates our unlearning what we have had and learning the principles all over again.

Yesterday we took a practice march with what is called a light pack. Including the gun we carried we were toting about 25 pounds. We were out two hours and as we took it easy we only went about seven miles. It was easy, no trouble at all.

This morning at inspection we were out with a full march kit of forty pounds which with the gun made close to fifty pounds. We did some drilling after the inspection and altogether were out and hour and ¾ but I noticed the full pack even less than I did the light pack. This week we have a practice march with the full kit. It ought to be easy after this morning.

Our inspection this morning was complete in every way and was really a double one being a company inspection on the parade ground and then a barracks inspection later. Both were on the line of our Culver inspections.

As this last week has been rather rainy and muddy our barracks floors were rather in poor condition so yesterday afternoon after drill we all got busy and moved out everything except the stoves and scrubbed the floors. We had a fine looking place when we finished I can tell you. I was orderly in charge of the barracks from yesterday noon till this noon so you can imagine I was rather busy this morning, for besides shaving and cleaning my gun and getting my pack ready I had to see that the whole of the barracks was dolled up. Of course everybody has to clean up around his own bunk so there wasn’t much actual work to be done.

This afternoon I went over to Highland Park and did a little sight seeing (?). It is rather a nice little place and I was able to get a few little things I wanted.

To-night the Y.M.C.A. had a house-warming at their new building (temporary like our barracks). The band from the U.S. Naval Training Station at Lake Bluff furnished the music and Col. Nicholson, the Camp Commandant spoke. Everybody had a good time for a couple of hours.

The weather this week has been rather changeable. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday were cold, rainy and distinctly disagreeable. Wednesday was cold but sunshiny, Thursday warmer and Friday was fine. Tonight it rained again but the sun showed up about seven o’clock so we hope for a good day tomorrow even if today was cold and raw.

Well it is getting along toward Taps so I guess I’ll finish this tomorrow.

Two of Lawrence’s fellow soldiers, White and Aseltine, demonstrate close quarters combat techniques.

Two of Lawrence’s fellow soldiers, White and Aseltine, demonstrate close quarters combat techniques.

May 24, 1917 – The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence

Ft. Sheridan

May 24th

[1917]

Dear Folks:-

Your letters rec’d also a letter from Sis. The jersey came Tuesday and the box Wednesday. Thank you. Today has been a fine day and everybody has enjoyed the good weather. Things are fine here and I am feeling fit as a fiddle. Will write more on Sunday. Love to all,

Mortimer.

Lawrence took this photo of a fellow soldier, R.E. Mauger, reading mail from home while training at Fort Sheridan.

Lawrence took this photo of a fellow soldier, R.E. Mauger, reading mail from home while training at Fort Sheridan.

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