This week I am jumping ahead twelve years to 1917 because I found a World War I era letter with some rich history that I’m excited to share.
This letter was written to J.W. Key from a friend of his, Private Seth Mitchell. If you’ve been following the site thus far, you’ll remember Cora Key and her father, J.C. Key from the two previous letters. J.W. (or Will, as he was called) was Cora’s brother and J.C.’s son. Will was also my grandmother Jane’s uncle.
This letter from Seth to Will was written October 3, 1917 from the Marine Barracks in Parris Island, South Carolina, which has been a site of Marine Corps recruit training since 1915. If you notice the letterhead, it reads “War Work Council” and then below, “Army and Navy Young Men’s Christian Association,” or the YMCA as we know it today. The YMCA has an extensive history of providing aid to the military since the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. In 1914, two years before this letter was written, the YMCA established 31 Army and Navy YMCA branches across the United States. In 1917 when this letter was written, the YMCA had just launched a tremendous initiative to provide aid to World War I soldiers. If you’re interested, you can read more about their history here.
Without further ado, the letter:
War Work Council
Army and Navy Young Men’s Christian Association
“With the Colors”
Paris I.S.C. 10/3/1917
Mr. J.W. Key
How is everything out there? The Marine Corps is alright I suppose, it is not any worse than I thought it would be. And there is certainly a higher class of men here than I expected. In my Co, the 43, we have fine men all of them and of course we are going to try to make a record.
I do not know all of them and will not as we are in two bunk houses but the men in mine are mostly from the north & middle west though we have them from the west and some few from the south. I am the only farmer in the whole set. Most of the men here think that why they treat them so bad is that they are preparing them for the warmer country Ha! Ha! Though you will remember that most of the men never knew what manual labor was–
Have to tote oyster shells from the beach over a bridge for about 260 yards over a lagoon. The bridge is only about 3 ft wide & most of the time it is broken & only one 12 inch plank to walk on. Think of 2 or more companies on that thing at once!!
Lucky that we do not have to bring out more than 6 buckets full in two or three days which is only about 1 hrs work, of course that is not the only work [over]. I have done almost everything in the week I have been here. Though I do not work near as hard as I have done at home.
Won’t you write me sometime & let me know how things are going around home? Would be glad to hear from civilization again. You see we do not get to see anybody but a few marines–no girls whatsoever.
If you should write address:
Pvt J.S. Mitchell
Co 43 Marine Barracks
Haven’t got homesick yet and in good health but it hot!