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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Letter 119 ~ December 21, 1918

A view of Explosives Plant "C" and Area "A" at Nitro, W. Va. in November 1918

I write my mother and brother Willis some details about our trip to Nitro, West Virginia. Much of it is the same material I wrote to Minnie on the same day but there is enough variation that I think I'll include it here in its entirety.

Addressed to Mrs. Hattie P. Griffing, Manhattan, Kansas

Nitro, West Virginia
[Saturday evening] December 21, 1918

Dear Folks,

It is raining now. It has been cloudy all day and raining part of this afternoon and evening. This is the kind of weather we will have most of the winter – slush and mud. If it is a little depressing outside, it is fairly nice inside compared to [Camp] Funston. We drew sheets and pillow slips today so we think we are getting pretty stylish. The inside walls of these barracks are covered with this beaver boarding and are painted white. The woodwork is stained brown and the outside is painted like our barn so it is a lot nicer place than Funston in that respect. We are still eating out of our mess kits but I think we will have dishes when we get better settled.

Our company went on guard today. We go on one day and [Company] F goes on the next. It only takes about fifty men all together for a guard so I don’t believe a fellow will have to go on oftener than once a week. We probably won’t have much to do besides guard because I doubt if we can find a level piece of ground big enough to drill on. The country around here is awfully rough. They say the hills are the foothills of the Alleghenies but they are much in the way of mountains. They are covered with oak and pine.

Nitro is about 14 or 15 miles north of Charleston. It is a large plant and employs around 50,000 people – both women and men. Lots of them are quitting now and part of the plant has shut down. The employees live in little cottages. There are rows and rows of them, stained brown and all alike.

There are a lot of U.S. Guards who guard the interior part of the plant. They are sort of a semi-military organization but do not belong to the army. I expect we will tangle up with them before we get out of here because they are pretty blamed stuck up and believe me, these regular army men don’t like to take anything off anybody.

Say, Willis, we can be satisfied with the place where we are farming because it compares mighty good with some of the places where people are trying to farm down here and on the road down here. Some places it looks as tho they would have to prop a stalk of corn up with a rock to keep it from sliding down hill. There would be a little patch of ground on a side hill with a rail fence around it and a few shocks of fodder in it. I suppose it must have been tended with a hoe and cut by hand. I saw some pretty nice farms but I saw lots of land that wasn’t fit for anything – rough and hilly, or swampy. We came thru the worst part of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana tho. The northern part is better.

I am glad I got to come on this trip because I think I can get loose in the spring. Aside from the drunks and lack of good grub, the trip was fine and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

We got into Kansas City after dark and as there were no cops around where we stopped, some of the fellows bought booze thru the car window. They weren’t allowed off the train. Well, from then on till we got off here there was one sloppy train. We stopped quite awhile at St. Louis and one of the sergeants slipped off and brought back a whole suitcase full [of liquor]. Even the officers got drunk and got to acting gay. One of them started to do the manual of arms with a shovel and he grabbed a broom and said he had to police up. One fellow got the idea in his head that he ought to clean out the car so he socked one fellow over the eye and drove him away from him. They finally got him to sleep and he slept till about noon the next day. We didn’t get much sleep the first night because of the fellows slopping around. One fellow across the aisle got sick and threw up out the window but others weren’t so lucky and spilled theirs all over the cars. It kept the porters hopping, I tell you.

The only thing hot we had on the road was coffee. The bread ran out Wednesday and the rest of the time we had to eat hardtack. It about knocked all the fillings out of my teeth. Canned tomatoes, corned beef, cheese, beans and canned apple sauce was about all we had.

I bought me a coat hanger and a shoe polishing outfit. We have to look neat here, and besides, a fellow wants to anyway because there is a feminine parade in front of our barracks everyday. A fellow can get a girl by just saying hello to them down here.

Well, it is nearly Xmas and I haven’t thot much about it. I did think I would have my picture taken and send to you folks for a Xmas present but I don’t believe there is a place to have that done here. And besides, I am nearly busted again, so if I can’t find anything here I will wait until I can get to Charleston after payday. I hope you folks have a merry Xmas and you might eat a piece of candy for me.

I got a card from [sister] Gussie saying they wanted me to come up [to Washington D.C. to visit], but even if I could get a pass long enough to get up there for Xmas, I wouldn’t have the money so I will wait until I get this month’s pay.

I hope everything is getting along alright and the weather is favorable for pasturing. Write often, even if there isn’t much news because I can’t get home on weekends anymore. Our mail got here as soon as we did but the only thing I got was that from Gussie.

Well, good night, -- Ward

[P.S.] I asked a conductor on the train how far it was to Washington and he said it was about 400 miles -- leave Charleston in the evening of one day and get there the next P.M. I would need four or five days. If anyone should ask you what I could use for a Xmas present, a good fountain pen would come in handy.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Ward:
    Glad to hear you are getting along alright. Nitro is some name for a place with ammo all about, what? I've been dancing to the tunes the Boshe plays while moving around the entire front to have the payroll signed. Stop by for a read when you can.