Rutgers During WWI and the Flu Epidemic of 1918

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by Alexandra DeAngelis

With all campuses closed, students sent home from their dorms, classes migrated online, and the cancellation of commencement activities due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, 2020 is turning out to be a memorable year in Rutgers history. But this is not the first time Rutgers has endured hardships that have altered the ways students lived and learned on campus.

A little over a hundred years ago 1918 took Rutgers by storm.

By 1917 Europe was deep in the throes of World War I. On April 6th, 1917 the United States joined its allies Britain, France, and Russia, to fight on the battlefields in France. Back home in New Jersey, Rutgers was beginning to feel the changes brought on by the unresting war.

The 1917-1918 academic year saw a substantial reduction in attendance at Rutgers, as 67 men had already left college to join troops overseas at the end of the previous year.

At the start of the 1918 fall term, the total number of undergraduates had dropped from 513 to 286 undergraduate students. Now, over 200 men were enlisted in the War effort.

Rutgers became a part of the War Department’s Students Army Training Corps (SATC), which prepared men from Rutgers and other institutions, including Princeton and Harvard, to be trained for officers’ positions with the directive that in a few month’s time they would take their places in the command of companies stationed in the fight abroad.  (William Henry Steele Demarest, A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924 (New Brunswick:  Rutgers College, 1924, 536-38.)

The SATC instituted a new order of college life. Dormitories and fraternity houses were outfitted barrack style to house the men. Military regulations overtook daily activities, instruction in military procedure and training took the place of normal college life. Though studies were reconfigured to fit within the regime of military training, the usual curriculum was largely sustained. (ibid.)

A formal ceremony was held on October 1, 1918 instituting the SATC and swearing in about 400 college men as soldiers of the United States.

Photograph of the Raising of Service Flag. ca. 1918. Rutgers Photograph Collection, Military Functions, R.O.T.C. Folder. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

To maintain contact with Rutgers men fighting abroad, President William H.S. Demarest and assistant Earl Reed Silvers, “Sil”, implemented the War Service Bureau of Rutgers College in August of 1917 with the aim to keep Rutgers alumni in contact with the college and each other during the war. As acting director of the Bureau, Silvers sent letters to Rutgers men serving in the armed forces, soliciting responses about the experiences in the service. Silvers also sent out issues of Rutgers Alumni Quarterly and notified Rutgers alumni of government job openings. The Bureau resulted in a collection of over four thousand letters documenting the experience of Rutgers alumni during World War I (http://www2.scc.rutgers.edu/ead/uarchives/warservicebureauf.html).

This adjustment to normal college life was not long lasting. On November 11, the armistice was signed. Shortly after, the SATC was disbanded and student soldiers were discharged on December 14. (Demarest, A History, 539)

Rutgers felt the effects of the disturbances of war for a year or two after the student soldiers returned. Many men took a long time to return to attain credits for a degree. Undergraduates who were active in the service received half a year’s credit towards a degree upon their return to their studies. Some, however, never returned. (ibid.)

After this brief period of disruption in the fall of 1918, Rutgers was prepared to return to the regular curriculum, but the semester found itself marked again by the epidemic influenza, known as the “Spanish Flu,” “the grippe,” “Spanish Influe,” and “the bug.”

The influenza of 1918 ranked as one of the deadliest epidemics in history- exacting a higher toll in a year than in four years of the Black Death or the Bubonic Plague. Between spring of 1918 and winter of 1919, the influenza killed as many as one in every eighteen people.

One theory is that the influenza began in Haskell County Kansas. An outbreak in the county was recorded in January 1918. The direct cause of the influenza is still unknown, although two potential influences have been identified: Haskell County was a prevalent hog farming community. The county also sits on a major migratory flyway for 17 bird species, including sand hill cranes and mallards. “Scientists today understand that bird influenza viruses, like human influenza viruses, can also infect hogs, and when a bird virus and a human virus infect the same pig cell, their different genes can be shuffled and exchanged like playing cards, resulting in a new, perhaps especially lethal, virus.” (John M. Barry, “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America,” National Geographic (November 2017), accessed April 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.)

The first reported cases of the influenza virus were documented in Haskell County. Haskell men who had been exposed to the virus went to Camp Funston in central Kansas to train for World War I. Within two weeks, 1,000 soldiers from the camp were admitted to the hospital, while many remained sick in the barracks. Thirty eight men from Camp Funston died. It is believed that infected soldiers from Funston transmitted the virus to other Army camps across the United States; out of the 36 US camps, 24 reported outbreaks. The soldiers continued to spread the virus across the nation and eventually overseas at their arrival in France. (Barry)

At the height of America’s involvement in World War I, between September and November 1918, nearly 40 percent of American servicemen were infected. (“Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”, 23)

Photograph “On the Way to War.” New Brunswick, NJ. Undated, ca. September 1917. Note the entrance to “Old Queens Campus” in the top left of the image. Pictorial Collection. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

The influenza was dubbed the Spanish Flu, not because it originated in Spain, but because Spain was a neutral country during the War. While the Allied and Central Powers suppressed any mention of the influenza in the news as to not weaken morale, the Spanish press freely reported on its progression. Many other countries underwent a media blackout, so their only sources of detailed information came from the Spanish media. This led to the assumption that the influenza began in Spain. In Spain, however, believed the virus had come to them from France (which may be partially true given the American Army’s stations in France), and they called it the “French Flu.” (Evan Andrews. “Why was it Called the ‘Spanish Flu’?” History, January 12, 2016, https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu.)

Even those spared the influenza during the war in Europe were not free on their return to the United States. Elmer. G Bracher, stationed at a convalescent camp in France wrote to Earl Reed Silvers as part of Rutgers’ War Service Bureau. In one letter from 1918, Bracher expresses the “hard luck” about a mutual acquaintance, Jill Jackson. Despite all the chances of catching some infectious disease while serving aboard, Jackson had returned home unscathed, only to catch “the ‘flu’” upon arriving home. (https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/52450/JPEG/read/#page/46/mode/2up)

Indeed, the influenza of 1918 was the most serious and wide-spread sickness the student body of America had ever known. It affected almost all colleges and universities, some experienced large numbers of student illness and death. William H.S. Demarest, President of Rutgers College from 1906-1924, only includes a small mention of the influenza in his 1924 book, A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924. Demarest reports that only about seventy-five students fell ill from the influenza in the fall of 1918, all at various points in time. Despite these low numbers, Rutgers responded to the epidemic by transforming the Ivy Club (“Fraternity Houses Being Used,” The Targum, October 23, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/74/mode/2up.) into an infirmary where one student died. (Demarest, A History, 539) Three other Rutgers students died in their homes. (Demarest, A History, 539)

Various campus activities were cancelled due to the influenza. Rutgers was set for a football match against Lafayette College on October 12, 1918. Earlier that week, there was an outbreak of the influenza at Lafayette and the college went into quarantine, ceasing all athletic activities. (“Lafayette Game Cancelled,” The Targum, October 9, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/42/mode/2up.)

The newly opened New Jersey College for Women (later Douglass College) was forced to close less than a month after welcoming students, due to an outbreak of the influenza that had made victims of “the Dean and nearly half of the student body.” (“Spanish Influenza,” The Targum, October 16, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/60/mode/2upThe college reopened its doors on October 21st, just two weeks after shutting down. Students embraced their arrival with a welcome party. (“Women’s College Reopens With 51 Students,” The Targum, October 30, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/90/mode/2up.)

On October 16th, 1918 Rutgers published an article in The Targum advising students on how to best weather the storm of the influenza. Their advice for preventing the spread of the 1918 influenza are similar to the practices we must follow in the wake of COVID-19, including covering mouths when you cough or sneeze (though The Targum suggests one should cover their mouth with their ubiquitous handkerchief. We’d be hard pressed to find a student who carries a handkerchief today! Maybe we should bring them back?) and to avoid contact with anyone with symptoms including, fever, sneezing, a bad cough or cold, sore throat, pain in the chest, or general weakness or chills. Most importantly, the article in The Targum reminds students to limit their time spent in crowds– social distancing 1.0! The article asserts that “if we all observe these precautions, the epidemic will soon be a thing of the past.” (“Spanish Influenza.”)  A student’s poem submitted to the “Targumdrops” section of The Targum provided a bit of levity during this hard time:

 

I now must write a line or two,

As all good poets sometimes do.

Of all sickness, I am glad

“Influ” I have never had.

I never mind a chimney “flue,”

 

Or an army cot, just broke in two;

But of all the birds that ever fly,

This “flu” bird simply takes my eye.

So take a bath, and never doubt

The “flu” will get you,

If you don’t watch out.

(Poem from “Targumdrops,” The Targum, October 30, 1918, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/92/mode/2up.)

Rutgers University has weathered many storms over the 250+ years of its existence. The bonds of Rutgers’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni have never wavered and times of disruption have only made us stronger. Undoubtedly, the year 2020 will go down in the annals of Rutgers history. We must keep the enduring spirit of our Rutgers predecessors in mind as we continue to adjust to learning and living away from campus and remember that as Rutgers has persevered through the hardships of war and influenza, we too shall forge our way through the COVID-19 pandemic.


Works Cited:

Andrews, Evan. “Why was it Called the ‘Spanish Flu’?” History. January 12, 2016. https://www.history.com/news/why-was-it-called-the-spanish-flu.

Barry, John M. “How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America.” National Geographic. November 2017. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/journal-plague-year-180965222/.

Bracher, Elmer G. Letter to Earl Reed Silvers. December 1918. Box 9, Folder 5, RG 33/C0/01 Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Archives.

Demarest, William Henry Steele. A History of Rutgers College, 1766-1924. New Brunswick: Rutgers College, 1924.

“Fraternity Houses Being Used.” The Targum. October 23, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/74/mode/2up.

“Heaven, Hell, or Hoboken!”: New Jersey in the Great War. 2017. Special Collections & University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

“Lafayette Game Cancelled.” The Targum. October 9, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/42/mode/2up

Poem from “Targumdrops.” The Targum. October 30 , 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/92/mode/2up.

Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. RG 33/C0/01. University Archives, Rutgers  University Libraries.

“Spanish Influenza.” The Targum. October 16, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/60/mode/2up.

“Women’s College Reopens With 51 Students.” The Targum. October 30, 1918. https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/63506/JPEG/read/#page/90/mode/2up.

 

 

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Such Letters Will Be Invaluable in Later Years”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photograph
Photo of Earl Reed Silvers

Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913) was the director of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. During the First World War, the bureau worked to keep Rutgers men in service in touch with the college and with each other. To achieve this, the bureau sent biweekly letters to the men in service, telling them about what was happening at Rutgers and asking the men to share their experiences of the war. The letters featured in the Voices of the Armistice series are the result of Silvers’s and the Bureau’s efforts.

Silvers’s first letter to the men after the Armistice opened with an expression of gratitude that the war was over:

“Since our last letter, on November 6, the blessing of peace has come to a war-weary world. And in a short time, thank God, there will be no more casualty lists, no more Rutgers boys among those who have made the last supreme sacrifice.”

Silvers went on to describe what changes had happened since the Armistice at Rutgers, which had been transformed into a war college, along with news about Rutgers’ wins and losses at football. Before closing the letter, he made several requests of the men receiving the letter.

. . . Why not all of you in the United States write to the Bureau on December 1st and all of you in Europe on December 30. We’ll make them College Letter Days. Let’s mark them on the calendar now. Write us about the peace celebrations in the places you found yourself when the armistice was signed, about what happened in the trenches on that memorable day; and if any of you are in occupied German territory, write a long letter about it. Such letters will be invaluable in later years.”

paragraph from typed letter on letterhead
Opening paragraph of the War Service Bureau’s first letter after peace was declared.

After the war, Silvers remained at Rutgers and authored a series of novels about Dick Arnold of Raritan College. He died in 1948.


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Silvers letter photo from the Earl Reed Silvers Collection (R-MC 044).)

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”The Town Had Been Dark at Nights . . . [Now] Every House Was Lighted””

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photograph of man in uniform
Photo of Ross H. Flanagin

Ross H. Flanagin (later Flanagan) (class of 1916) was serving with Medical Services in the American Expeditionary Forces in France when the Armistice was declared.

“Well after a while, Fritz thought he had enough of it. He was tired of the rough handling of the Doughboy and decide to ask for an armistice. You remember the day—the 11th of November. It was some day at quiet old Neufchateau. Up until that day the town had been dark at nights. There were no lights in the streets. No lights in the windows of the houses. No lighted store windows to entice within the unwary rank in order to releive [sic] him of his superfluous francs. But on the night of the 11th—Oh Boy!

Four of us walked down to the town that night to help celebrate. We did not know what would happen but were going to be there anyway. As we approached the town we saw for the first time lights in the streets. From some point in the town rockets were shooting up into the sky and bursting with brilliant light. Shop windows were lighted and strange looking sights they were. As we got further into town the crowd became denser. The streets were full of soldiers—French American, Italian, a few Russians and two German prisoners who were cleaning up the last corner to make possible clean streets for the celebrants. At the crossing of the main streets the crowd was so dense that it was necessary to use some of Sanford’s famous tactics to get through. We did after a while and went on our way—at a pace slower than that of the proverbial snail. Rue St. Jean was certainly a pleasant sight. Every house was lighted. Many had lights in the windows. One house in particular attracted our attention. The second story windows of this house were lined with candles—the window sills, y’know. I have never seen anything like that before. It surely made a pretty picture.  

About half way up the Rue St. Jean the Italian band was gathered. Before them were stationed poilus as lantern bearers. Soon the signal was given to start. The band struck up some joyful air and off they moved. All the people in the street followed them. It was not long before nearly all the people in town were marching in the procession. Up and down the streets of the town we marched. After much marching and counter-marching we brought up in front of one of the chateaux in town. Here some French officials had there [sic] quarters. An American officer—it was said that he was some General—made a short speech in English. He said that it was the first time in four years that lights had been permitted in the town at night, that the armistice had been signed, that we would soon be on our way back to America and that he expressed the hope of the French people of the town that we would always remember kindly the people we had come over to help. Then a French official made a short speech in his own tongue. At the end the band played The Star Spangled Banner—and, Silvers you do not know how it made our hearts swell to hear our National Anthem! This was followed by the Marsellaise, and much cheering for both nations.

The band then led the way for another promenade about town playing that most catching air of the French “Madalon”. We marched and counter marched some more and arrived at Jeanne d’Arc Square. Here a French girl sang the Marsellaise and the Star Spangled Banner. She followed this by singing “God Save the King”—but we poor simple Americans who appropriate everything all joined in the singing by lustily proclaiming “My Country T’is of thee.” The we marched some more, singing and shouting, pushing and shoving everyone else around and having a general good rough time.

We had not been paid when all this took place. We were paid the next day and then Base Hospital 66 went downtown and properly celebrated the signing of the armistice. That was the occasion of the battle of Neufchateau when 66 conquered the town and took the heights of Cognac Hill. Nuf Sed!

excerpt from typewritten letter
Excerpt from Ross Flanagin’s letter describing the Armistice in France. He closes with “Yours for the Prosperity of Rutgers.”

After the war, Flanagin became a clergyman with the Episcopal Church and changed the spelling of his last name to Flanagan. He died in 1982


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan.  Flanagin photo from the Rutgers University Biographical Files: Alumni Collection.)

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Aerial Feats Impossible to Describe”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

Photograph
Photo of Lauren Archibald

Lauren Archibald (class of 1917), was at the School of Fire in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when peace was declared. His immediate reaction was “business as usual.”

“The news that an armistice had been signed produced little or no excitement at the time. Everyone was busy. Things went along just the same as usual, except that a few who made bets that the war would be over before Christmas, or before 1920 or 1925, came around and exhibited that sweet and never forgotten ‘I told you so’ grin or else offered the information that they had had some inside dope from the friend of the cousin of Secretary So-andSo in Washington. We were too busy to get very excited and our schedule proceeded just the same, but, of course, everyone was glad to hear the news. It was a good deal like keeping school for a couple of months after the final examinations were over. I was glad to note than none of these “balkers” were from a college “in a quaint old jersey town.  .  .”

The celebration came a few days later.

“The Saturday following the signing of the armistice was set aside by the Major of Lawton, a small city about four miles from Fort Sill, as a day of celebration and thanksgiving . . .

Fort Sill, with its world famed School of Fire, its permanent detail of Field Artillery Units, and its wonderful equipment of French and British fighting material, could give an exhibition impossible to duplicate anywhere this side of the Atlantic.

The celebration had breathtaking moments:

“. . . almost immediately a battle formation of twenty-five aeroplanes passed over the city. They were followed in fifteen minutes by another squadron. After the ships had passed, they broke ranks and the aviators gave an exhibition of acrobatic flying that is seldom equaled except under actual fighting conditions. They looped and dived, did tail-spins and spirals, falling-leaf, barrel spin, and many more aerial feats impossible to describe.”

This was followed by a grand parade.

The School of Fire floats were features of the occasion. The department of gunnery had mounted an American 75 on a motor truck and fired salute charges all along the line of MARCH.

One float which did not feature in the parade, however, deserves mention for its clever and original idea. A number of officers who had been detailed for instruction at the School of Fire for a long time rather felt they should have been sent overseas. They decided to accept General Lawson’s invitation ‘to use all possible ingenuity in designing floats.’ Therefore, they had a huge sign painted which they intended to carry. It read: ‘Lawson for President. He kept us out of war.’ Their float was deleted by the censor.”

The parade continued with more floats featuring artillery, a field oven baking army bread, and ambulances. Archibald concluded:

Some idea of the size of the parade can be obtained by the fact that it took over three hours to pass a given point.

All told, it was a very awe-inspiring spectacle, although it was only a small part of the total fighting material of the country and only the smallest fracton of the total employed by the Allied forces in Europe.”

Typewritten letter
Lauren Archibald’s letter describing the Armistice.

After the war, Archibald became a professor of agriculture at Rutgers and taught vocational agriculture at New Brunswick High School. He died in 1946.


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan.  Archibald photo from the Lauren S. Archibald Collection at Special Collections and University Archives [R-MC 119])

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Everyone Came Out to See the Crazy Airmen”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photograph
Photo of Harry Blue

Harry Blue (class of 1915) was serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in France when news of the Armistice arrived. He described his experiences in a letter to War Service Bureau director Earl Reed Silvers.

“Early on the morning of the 11th the news came, as all news in the army does—good or bad, from nowhere. I hurried down to Hdqtrs. bulletin board meeting others doing likewise. There was Marshal Foch’s order. After 11 o’clock all fighting was to cease.  

Although in the Zone of Advance, we were not near enough to hear the gun play and hence didn’t experience that drilling unnatural silence which followed the stroke of eleven at the front. But colors appeared like magic and all wore a happy, anxious-to-tense smile. As a rule, there was personal regret that we were not to see action after so much time and energy spent in preparation. But the fact that the world had at last awakened from a four-year nightmare cause us to shelve this feeling and be happy for humanity’s sake. 

. . . we of the aviation school gave the greatest exhibition of what intoxicated men could do without, however, touching a drop. 

. . .  The Observers of my class tossed to see who were to have the honor of playing around + over camp in Sopwiths’ [airplanes] that morning . . .

I pulled a lucky guess and won a place in Number Eight. There were six planes in all. We skipped chimney pots, swooped down between barracks, missed electric wires by inches and clipped some leaves off a staunch, old tree.  

Of course everyone came out to see the crazy airmen. Such foolishness was to be seen but once in an age. At least the “Wildcats” thought so. They sure had us pictured as “tight.” 

But each time we zoomed, they’d cheer, not particularly for us, but because they were happy. Then some started throwing caps in air and I almost believed I was seeing a Rutgers’ football celebration ‘apre le Victoire.'”

Blue then drew a picture of an electric sign he’d seen that commemorated the Armistice:

excerpt from a handwritten letter with the word "PEACE" with triangles before and after with "11"s on all three sides.
Blue’s description and drawing of a sign celebrating the Armistice.

peculiarly enough, made me think of an eleven-eleven train I was wont to catch at Metuchen!

In the evening at five-o’clock there was much ringing of churchbells and cheering in the villages near-by. We sent a plane over each village to help out, shooting up our available supply of six-star rockets. But a new order of things takes time to sink in. Some Frenchie, a bad shot, started peppering one of our ships with a rifle.”

After the war, Blue became an officer in the Army. He died in 1925.


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Blue photo from the Rutgers University Biographical Files: Alumni Collection.)

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”A Pandemonium of Whistles, Sirens, Bells”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photo of Gustav Patz
Gustav Patz

Gustav Patz (class of 1917) was serving at the war prison barracks at Fort Oglethorpe, in Georgia by the Tennessee border near Chattanooga. Patz explained that they had received word that peace might be coming, but everyone was waiting for an official declaration to celebrate.

The ‘Chattanooga Times’ the local newspaper, announced through its columns it would start the noise, within one minute after it had received the news over the wire. For this purpose some bombs were planted on the roof of the newspaper building and everything was ready for the big event.

It was on the morning of November 11th about 1:15 (central time) when I was awakened by the sound of repeated detonations—it didn’t take me a second to guess that the ‘Times’ had lived up to its promise to start the big noise, and that a glorious peace was at last in sight. Chattanooga is about nine miles distant from here, but out at Oglethorpe we could hear everything as if we had been actually in town. The bombs of the ‘Times’ gave the signal for a pandemonium of whistles, sirens, bells, and all other noise making devices ever contrived by the hand of man. And this ‘racket’ was audible until nearly nine o’ clock the same morning in spite of the distance. 

At the various training camps there was high jinx. Everybody woke up, rushed out in all states of dress and undress—parades were organized, effigies of Kaiser Will strung up and buried and goodness knows what not else. . . . Everybody was supremely—sleep was out of the question. Without an exception the men were relieved from duty for a half day, band concerts were given, the Y’s put on all kinds of amusements, including boxing matches, rough and tumble games—anything that would give the men the opportunity to work off steam.  And it was all a howling success.

At the war prison barracks, the news was received quietly both by guards and prisoners. There were no demonstrations of any kind—in a place like ours discipline had to be maintained.”

paragraph from typewritten letter
Excerpt from Gustav Patz’s letter to Earl Reed Silvers.

After the war, Patz became a school principal. He died in 1953.

 


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Patz photo from the Rutgers University Biographical Files: Alumni Collection.)

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”The Ship Could Roll All it Wished”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

photo of Lewellyn Pratt
Lewellyn Pratt’s yearbook photo.

Lewellyn Pratt (class of 1921) was serving with the American Expeditionary Forces. He had left Gibraltar and was traveling to England on a tossing ship when he learned of the Armistice that ended the war.

Rumors had it that it would be our last trip to England.

Hoping for the best, but little expecting it, we sailed out and encountered a heavy sea, which is very common along this coast.

For four days along the coast of Spain and Portugal, we tossed and rolled, then the seas became somewhat calmer.

Such a voyage is bound to make the crew more or less depressed and this time was no exception.

Early in the morning of the eleventh, we had the news by press that the armistice was to be signed at eleven A.M.

So accustomed to rumors, we little believed this to be true, but shortly after eleven we received the news and all the crew let forth a loud uproar of cheers.

Depression was laid aside and enthusiasm reigned from bow to stern.

The ship could roll all it wished now but no one could be down hearted after that.”

Handwritten letter
First page of Lewellyn Pratt’s letter to Earl Reed Silvers about the Armistice.

Pratt became a counseling psychologist for the United States Veterans Administration. He died in 1958.

 


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan.  Pratt’s photo from the 1922 Rutgers College Yearbook.)

Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Work Went On As Usual”

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November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

J. H. Huntington’s yearbook photo.

J. H. [Jonathan Henry] Huntington (class of 1916) was serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in France when the Armistice was signed. He described his division’s response as mostly quiet, with brief—but emphatic—celebration.

“There was nothing very exciting about it, for we were not in any position to do full justice to the news, but we did our best.

To begin with, November 11th found the Division Adjutant established at Very, about four miles north of Varennes and the same distance west of Montfaucon. Before the war Very was a village of some eleven hundred people, but when we got there, all that was left was the shells of four houses, three walls of the church, and heaps of rubbish and bricks . . .

The first news we had of the armistice came on Wednesday evening, when the Corps phoned that Germany was sending envoys to discuss the terms of an armistice. The news didn’t get around until the next day, but about four o’clock Thursday afternoon things broke loose. Pistols, rifles, flares and pyrotechnics were set off, and the cheering was tremendous. The celebration lasted about an hour.  

From that time until we received orders over the phone that the armistice had been signed at five o’clock Monday morning, and the hostilities would cease at eleven, there was no demonstration at all. In fact, the news was received very quietly where we were, and work went on as usual.” 

excerpt from typewritten letter
Excerpt from letter by J. H. Huntington.

After the war Huntington worked in life insurance. He died in 1974.


The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Photo of Huntington from the Scarlet Letter 1917 Yearbook.)