Letters Home from the War
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  • Postal Service
  • Transporting the Troops
  • Red Cross on the Home Front
  • The Leave Areas
  • YMCA with the A.E.F.
  • Athletic Events with the A.E.F.

  • Brief Synopsis of the War

    World War I, 1914-18, also called the Great War, was a conflict, chiefly in Europe, among most of the world's great powers. On one side were the Allies (chiefly France, Britain, Russia, and the U.S.); on the other were the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey). Prominent among the war's causes were the imperialist, territorial, and economic rivalries of the great powers.

    The German empire in particular was determined to establish itself as the preeminent power on the Continent. The Germans were also intent on challenging the naval superiority of Britain. However, it was rampant nationalism -- especially evident in the Austro-Hungarian empire -- that furnished the immediate cause of hostilities. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated at Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist. One month later, after its humiliating demands were refused, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Other declarations of war followed quickly, and soon every major power in Europe was in the war.

    On the Western Front, the Germans smashed through Belgium, advanced on Paris, and approached the English Channel. After the first battles of the Marne and Ypres, however, the Germans became stalled. Grueling trench warfare and the use of poison gas began all along the front and, for the next three years, the battle lines remained virtually stationary despite huge casualties at Verdun and in the Somme offensive during 1916.

    On the Eastern Front, the Central Powers were more successful. The Germans defeated the Russians at Tannenberg and the Masurian Lakes (Aug.-Sept. 1914). Serbia and Montenegro fell by the end of 1915. In the south, the Italian campaigns were inconclusive, though they benefited the Allied cause by keeping large numbers of Austrian troops tied up down there. In Turkey, the Allies' ambitious Gallipoli Campaign (1915), an attempt to force Turkey out of the war, was a costly failure.

    In the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence stirred Arab revolt against Turkey. U.S. neutrality had been threatened since 1915, when the British ship Lusitania was sunk. By 1917 unrestricted German submarine warfare had caused the U.S. to enter the war on the side of the Allies.

    An American Expeditionary Force, commanded by General Pershing, landed in France and saw its first action at Chateau-Thierry (June 1917). In March 1918 the new Soviet government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with the Central Powers. The Germans were stopped just short of Paris in the second battle of the Marne, and an Allied counteroffensive was successful. The Turkish and Austro-Hungarian empires, disintegrating from within, surrendered to the Allies, as did Bulgaria.

    After revolution erupted in Germany, the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. The Treaty of Versailles and the other treaties that ended the war changed the face of Europe and the Middle East.

    Four great empires -- Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and Turkey -- had disappeared by the end of the war. Replacing them were governments ranging from monarchies and sheikhdoms through constitutional republics to the Marxist socialist state of the USSR.

    The war itself had been one of the bloodiest in history, without a single decisive battle. A total of 65 million men and women had served in the armies and navies; an estimated 10 million persons had been killed and double that number wounded. Such statistics contributed to a general revulsion against war, leading many to put their trust in multinational disarmament pacts and in the newly formed League of Nations.

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    Postal Service during the War

    General John J. Pershing stated in his memoirs, "The prompt dispatch and delivery of mail was difficult, yet its bearing on the morale of the army and the folks at home made it very important."

    As far back as June 1917, the U.S. Postmaster General had offered to aid in establishing an organization to assist in handling the mail for our forces. The general public and even some Army officials felt the Army could not run its own affairs and that civilian personnel and methods should be adopted. Of course all soldiers are originally and eventually civilians, but there is a great difference between a civilian operating as such and the same man being inducted into the Army and operating as part of the military machine.

    One absurdity was that the Post Office not only allowed but encouraged the people at home to fill the mails with useless junk that could not possibly do any good and, in fact, did do a great deal of harm by consuming time, space, and labor that might have been devoted to winning the war. General Johnson Hagood, the Chief of Staff of Services of Supply (S.O.S.), reports having seen a box delivered to a soldier containing what had once been six bananas. An officer told Hagood that his wife mailed to him a loaf of bread every day, some of which reached him six months later. Another officer received at one time five dozen packages, each containing a glass jar of pickles, jelly, or preserves. And, worst of all, there was printed on magazines and periodicals a statement that if a two-cent stamp were placed thereon and dropped into the nearest post box, the magazine would be delivered to a soldier in France. What actually happened to them was that they were brought out of the holds of ships in wheelbarrows, carted off in trucks and destroyed. Occasionally a few truckloads of second-class mail addressed to individuals were treated in the same way.

    Another problem was in the correct addressing of mail. In the States, of course, the post office maintains possession of each letter from the mailbox to its destination. The method of addressing letters with towns, states, street numbers, etc., is well understood by the public. But foreign and Army mail is a different matter.

    Let's see how a letter got to a soldier in France while the Post Office was handling the mail. We'll say it was addressed by his mother -- who does not know much about the military -- to Private Casey Jones, Company L, 5th Division. Now there are seven companies 'L' or batteries 'L' in the 5th Division. Or perhaps it was the 5th Regiment, or the 5th Brigade, or any of the other hundred or so '5ths' in France. Then, too, the man may have been wounded, sick, or transferred out of Company L.

    Notwithstanding, the letter starts out bravely to find Jones. It goes to Chicago where, along with a few thousand others, is received by an eager young lady who has just started her temporary job with the Post Office and who also has a rather hazy idea of the military. She takes a chance by putting the letter into one of the many mail sacks marked '5th.' This sack is sealed and starts on the following journey:

    1. Post Office delivers it to a pier in New York.
    2. Army Quartermaster Corps puts it onboard ship.
    3. Army or Navy transport service delivers it to Saint-Nazaire, France.
    4. Army Transportation Department unloads it.
    5. Army Motor Transport Corps (M.T.C.) delivers it to the Post Office department to be sorted and marked with a destination.
    6. It is so marked and returned to the M.T.C.
    7. M.T.C. delivers it to the French railway to be shipped as ordinary freight.
    8. French railway delivers it to another M.T.C. who delivers it to another Post Office department elsewhere in France.
    9. P.O. opens sack and makes up contents into small packages for different organizations and gives it back to M.T.C. for delivery at distances from a few yards to ten or fifteen miles.
    10. M.T.C. delivers it to headquarters 5th Division.
    11. Headquarters opens the bag and makes it into even smaller packages for delivery to Companies.
    12. Company mail orderlies deliver to individuals.

    The first Company L has no Casey Jones but the letter is held with the expectation that perhaps Casey Jones is coming. At the end of a week -- or maybe three months -- it is decided that there is no Casey Jones in the 5th Division and the letter is sent back to the Central Records Office at Tours, France, to find out where Casey Jones really is.

    Further confusion was a result of censorship regulations whereby no soldier in France was permitted to say where he was. (Even in the back areas, soldiers were prohibited from dropping a letter in a French post office.)

    In May 1918, the Postal Service was placed under control of the A.E.F. (under Brigadier General R.C. Davis). An officer of extended postal experience was sent to the States to arrange for giving publicity to instructions regarding the address of mail and to supervise shipment from points of embarkation. A military postal organization was established at each port of debarkation where it was expected to receive mail, and a railway mail service was situated along our lines of communication. A central post office was installed at Tours, France, and divisions were directed to organize postal departments. Mail was forwarded to units at the front along with supplies from the regulating stations.

    As a result of these efforts, there was considerable improvement, but the mail service never became entirely satisfactory.

    In November of 1918, the Postal Express Service branch represented 0.15% of the total strength of the A.E.F. As the actual combat strength of the A.E.F. on November 11, 1918, was listed as 1,078,222, the P.E.S. probably comprised around 1,600 men.

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    Transporting the Troops

    How do you transport 1,000,000 soldiers to a war front an ocean away in time to make a difference in a war that was well into its third year?

    This was the problem facing the U.S. Army in 1917. Military aggression against an overseas nation had never been attempted, not to mention the enormous scale of this operation and its urgency. The U.S. Naval fleet was inadequate and something had to be done quickly. All available American ships were requisitioned and the War Department arranged with foreign governments for as many ships as could be spared. England, of course, furnished by far the greatest number, and Italy, France and Brazil also helped. Even the enemy was a reluctant contributor. Upon the Declaration of War, the U.S. Customs officers took possession of all German ships in U.S. ports and the larger vessels were fitted out as troop transports.

    The Emergency Fleet Corporation was established to immediately begin mass production of ships. The year prior to the declaration of war, the total output of U.S. shipyards was 250,000 tons. But the shipping board estimated they would require construction of steel ships with a tonnage of 8,164,000 tons and wooden ships with a tonnage of 1,715,000 tons. These, of course, could not be built in the shipyards then in existence and new shipyards were built in various parts of the country. In the first year, 188 new ships were put in the water and 103 more were added by April 1918.

    The constant danger of possible submarine attacks required ships to travel in convoys. Convoys were composed of 8-12 ships; half the ships being transports and the other half a Navy escort. Each convoy paired up with another sailing simultaneously (one from New York, one from Virginia), joining up at a prearranged rendezvous off the coast. Each convoy was accompanied by a cruiser, destroyers, chasers, submarine and aircraft. Then the light escort craft returned to port and the cruisers continued on to a certain meridian where European destroyers met the convoy and took it through the danger zone. The voyage averaged 12 days. Altogether, 88 convoys sailed between June and December 1918.

    Departures of convoys were at uneven intervals not only to avoid congestion at the arrival port, but to increase the difficulties of enemy submarines lying in wait to attack. Each convoy sailed at a different rate of speed and was ordered to zigzag constantly. Each ship had an extensive series of safety instructions and "Abandon Ship" drills were held daily by all personnel on board.

    The average troop transport ship had a maximum capacity of 3,400 so to move an entire Division would require at least eight transport ships. The largest number of men transported to France in a single month was 300,000. By the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, about 2,000,000 soldiers had made the trip.

    Of course, the end of the war posed the exact converse dilemma... how to get the men home. Even with the British ships available, it would take more than six months to reverse the process. However, since it was no longer necessary to provide a Navy escort, cruisers and battleships were conscripted to transport troops and the 1.5 million remaining soldiers were brought home even faster than we had sent them with an average of 15,000 men arriving home every day.

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    The Red Cross on the Home Front

    President Wilson declared: "I do not believe it an exaggeration to say that no army ever before assembled has had more conscientious and painstaking thought given to the protection and stimulation of its mental, moral and physical manhood... The country is to be congratulated upon the fine spirit with which organizations and groups of many kinds...have harnessed themselves together under the leadership of the government's agency in a common ministry to the men of the army and navy."

    Before the war, the Red Cross had 486,194 members in 562 chapters. By the end of the war, the organization numbered 20,648,103 members (plus 8,000,000 members of the Junior Red Cross) -- a total enrollment of over one-fourth of the U.S. population. These members carried on their work through 3,700 chapters which divided themselves into some 30,000 branches and auxiliaries.

    More than $300,000,000 was poured into the American Red Cross treasury. In addition, millions of volunteers (mostly women) set up Red Cross workshops producing bandages, sweaters, comfort-kits, trench necessities, and a vast quantity of material aid in every conceivable form. American Red Cross workers set up sewing chapters to repair old clothing and sent it overseas to the orphaned and the widowed.

    Heading up this effort was Henry P. Davidson who left the firm of J.P. Morgan & Company to devote his administrative genius to the affairs of the American Red Cross.

    The War Drives

    To secure the major portion of the funds required for relief work, two "war drives" were developed. Each drive set a definite period during which the whole nation was called on to give. A comprehensive organization was created to attend to the related work. In round figures, they derived $283,500,000 from the two drives. The proceeds of these drives were retained by national headquarters and were placed in the War Fund which could be used only for war relief projects. To this fund was also credited interest earnings of over $2,000,000. As a result, more than $1.01 was available for war relief from every dollar received.

    The first war drive was conducted between June 18 and 25, 1917. The goal set was $100,000,000. Collections exceeded $114,000,000, an oversubscription of 14%.

    The second war drive was conducted between May 20 and 27, 1918. Again the goal was set at $100,000,000. Up to February 28, 1919, collections totaled $169,575,600, an oversubscription of nearly 70%.

    The Junior Red Cross

    During the autumn of 1917, the Red Cross first commenced to enroll junior members. These junior members accomplished many kinds of war activities, including the production of relief articles, the operation of war gardens, the conservation of secondhand articles and assistance to the Government and the Red Cross in many other lines of work. Obviously more valuable than the material product was the fact that a new life and interest entered the work of these school children when they realized that they were filling an immediate and definite need.

    The most important single activity of the junior members of the Red Cross was the part they took in producing relief articles. Their work in this connection was not confined to the standard articles made by chapter women, but extended to making furniture, games, splints and other hospital appliances and specially prepared foods. It opened fields of service to boys as well as to girls. That the children played an important part is evident first by the fact that their production represented about 10% of the whole, and second by the sheer number of 15,700,000 articles they produced which were valued at over $10,000,000.

    The Influenza Epidemic

    To further complicate matters, while the organization strove mightily against famines, wounds and disease overseas, it was suddenly confronted during the period from September 8 to November 9, 1918, with the severest epidemic America had experienced in generations. Returning troops brought the germs of the "Spanish influenza" into New York and Boston. From there it spread throughout the country. In all, 82,306 deaths were reported in 46 cities with Philadelphia having the highest mortality in proportion to population.

    Read more about the Red Cross: Blood, Sweat And Tears: An Oral History of the American Red Cross
    Read more about the Influenza Pandemic.

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    The Leave Areas

    Army orders allowed the soldier a week's leave every 4 months of active duty. Arranging this leave in the first war fought on foreign soil posed an enormous problem to the Army. The French soldier could, of course, take his leave at his own home. Likewise, the British soldier, when the congestion in the Channel permitted, was allowed leave in England which was also a good substitute for home to the British colonials; Canadians and Australians. But to the American soldier, no such privilege was possible. England was in no sense a substitute for home, even if the additional burden on channel transport could have been borne.

    Left up to the soldiers themselves, the natural choice would most likely have been Paris. However, this beautiful city was overcrowded, struggling with shortage of housing, fuel, and food and could not provide for their physical needs, while the worst she had to offer promised defeat of the very object of all furloughs. Equally, the men could not be allowed to roam about France. Military necessities required that they be accessible for recall to the front on short notice. On the other hand, should the Army arrange specific, contained leave areas, how could the soldier feel he was on vacation? It was imperative that the soldier have a sense of freedom -- to go and come as he pleased and amuse himself as he chose without the sense of military surveillance of his every move. No one likes being told where to take one's vacation. How then were freedom and control to be reconciled?

    For the solution to these problems, the Army invited the assistance of the Y.M.C.A. Working together with the French authorities, investigative trips were made to the Savoy region to survey several resorts for suitability. Arrangements were made with hotel proprietors for the influx of a large number of soldiers during what was normally the resorts' off season. The first area, opened at Aix-les-Bains, was the pattern for all those opened later. The hotels in and around Aix-les-Bains could accommodate 4,347 soldiers.

    The Grand Cercle at Aix-les-Bains, famous around the world, was converted into a club house for the American doughboy. With theaters set to run several movies a day in the cinema hall, dancing in the ballrooms, continual canteen service in several parts of the casino, rough and tumble frolics every night after the show, athletics in the form of baseball, volleyball, soccer, hikes and skiing in the mountains, boat excursions on the lake, thermal baths -- the soldier's vacation was to be a continuous round of fun. In short, from early morning to late at night, the soldier on leave would have a wide choice of occupation and freedom limited only by the respect due the uniform. There was to be neither reveille nor taps; if a man wanted breakfast in bed at noon, he could have it.

    On opening day, February 15, 1918, 361 hungry, bedraggled, discontented soldiers arrived at "Aches and Pains" sure they were to spend a so-called vacation under military rule with parade reviews for the pleasure of the French people and prayer meetings at the YMCA for relaxation. When they saw the hotels at which they were to stay, and found they could sleep late and could have their choice of every sort of pleasure, the mood changed and they became a good-humored, happy, satisfied crowd of men.

    Life in the leave areas was certainly a respite from war life. The soldiers came from the billets of northern France, with its mud and rain and unspeakable devastation. The mud of the trenches was still on their boots. For months they had not slept in a bed; their food, ladled out as they filed past the mess kitchen, had been eaten from mess kits. They descended from the trains into the most renowned pleasure resorts of Europe. In a brief speech, the Army officer in command informed them that, while they were there, they were free from military routine and subject only to the ordinary rules of decent behavior. Escorted to hotels by YMCA secretaries, they found accommodations furnished to cater to those able to pay for the most elaborate luxury. Any man might draw a room in the royal suite. Beds with clean sheets awaited them and the first thing many of them did was to spend 24 hours in bed.

    Arising to find their clothes and boots cleaned, they descended to dining rooms where tables were laid with white cloths and silver and decorated with flowers. The meals were of high standard both as to variety and quality. By contrast with the conditions they had left, the leave area was the lap of luxury. It was not long before most visitors found their way to the casino or club house where the YMCA had established its service center. There were American girls (albeit at a ratio of one for every fifty soldiers) whose occupation was to make things pleasant and homelike, serving him food, telling him of the attractions of the place and the entertainments planned for the week. They were interested listeners to his talk about his experiences or about his home and home folks. American newspapers and magazines and facilities for amusements in great variety were in abundance.

    Out of doors was equally attractive. These towns were as peaceful and beautiful as if war had never been. Contrasted with conditions in the trenches and war-torn villages, this leave experience was the soldier's first glimpse of "beautiful" France -- the beginning of comprehension of that passionate French love of country which they had seen so little to justify or explain. Hikes, sight-seeing trips, and picnics were extremely popular. On all these trips, fun was combined with exercise and instruction. With lunches provided by the hotels, the day was planned with fifty or more soldiers plus two or three YMCA girls to provide the feminine element. Always there was a YMCA man along, well-informed as to the history and legends of the place to be visited or prepared to explain the natural curiosities to be seen. History learned amid the scenes where it was made is more vivid and fascinating than books can ever make it.

    Indoors, in the evening or in bad weather, there was equal variety. Every center had its theater where players of the Over-There Theater League gave plays or French vaudeville or concert parties entertained. A separate hall was used for motion pictures. Very popular were the games, especially those known as "rough house" games. A group of men would be blindfolded and scramble to get and hold a place on a small table. Blindfold boxing was an unfailing source of hilarity, and even potato races and similar games were played with zest and laughter. Charades, impromptu melodramatic acting, singing, or playing of a musical instrument -- in brief, the social halls held every night a crowd of young Americans eager for fun and able to improvise it without difficulty.

    When the time came for the men to go back to their posts of service, there was unanimous appreciation and praise for the good times enjoyed and regret that they were so soon ended. The primary purpose of the leave areas was attained. They furnished the restorative recreation that braces bodies and spirits and heightens morale.

    In all, 39 leave areas were established entertaining approximately 1,944,300 (four-fifths of the entire AEF) of whom 457,000 enjoyed full seven-day leaves. Operation of these leave areas cost the Army $1,143,800 exclusive of the cost of theatrical, musical, and cinema entertainments and athletic events which were furnished by the YMCA.

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    YMCA with the A.E.F.

    Adequately summarizing the efforts of the YMCA on behalf of the soldiers during World War I is impossible to accomplish in a page or two. Literally volumes have been written on the subject and even they don't give enough credit to what the men and women of this charitable organization contributed to the well-being of "our boys" so far from home.

    At the time of America's entrance into the war, the fully organized associations of the Y in North America numbered 2,087 with about 5,000 employed officers and membership of 720,000. The Y was the first of the civil or social welfare organizations to offer its services to the US Government; which offer was accepted with hearty appreciation. While the Y had done some charity work with the troops involved in the crisis along the Mexican border, this would be a whole new ball game.

    No one had ever before faced the multiplicity of problems inherent in handling huge masses of men gathered overnight for the purpose of plunging the nation into war. But the Y entered this service not only with the nucleus of a general organization, with an administrative force, and with world-wide connections; but also with tried and true methods which were already proving their effectiveness in the armies of our Allies. YMCA organizations around the world were already supporting the troops from their particular country.

    The local Y associations were the foundations for the support of the whole work. They played a leading part in securing the supplies of money, men and women necessary for the huge undertaking. The service began with the soldier at his home and followed him to the furthermost parts of Europe.

    The Y's whole effort was directed to increase comfort of the soldier in any way possible and to offer its friendly advice whenever desired. It began with the soldiers in the training camps, establishing permanent posts and staff in all sixteen National Guard camps, sixteen National Army camps and elsewhere. The buildings (called "huts") were designed to serve as substitutes for home, school, theater and church. They were thronged with soldiers day after day and every facility was made use of to the fullest extent.

    When the new soldier entered the camp, he found the Y ready to help him in countless little ways -- sending his civilian clothing back home, providing writing paper, postage stamps, advising on matters of daily routine, and giving information of all sorts. Regular programs were conducted to provide relief from the military aspect of their new lives. Motion pictures, educational lectures, athletic stunts, and religious meetings were commonplace. There was also a library in each hut.

    The two largest huts were established at the Hoboken and Newport News embarkation ports, serving the soldiers in route for Europe. The Y was the only welfare organization serving men on the ocean transports themselves -- providing a diversion from the ever-present danger of enemy submarine attack as well as distracting the men from uncomfortable and overcrowded conditions. Movies, boxing matches, victrolas, writing paper, lemons and sour pickles for seasickness, a handshake and a smile went a long way in helping the soldier handle the ordeal.

    These American youths -- away from their country for the first time, going onto battlefields in a country whose language they didn't even know, tens of thousands going to their deaths -- needed an American greeting when they landed on the foreign shore. The first effort was established to greet the men in England in transit to France. From the first ship to the end of operations, the Y organization in England labored energetically to meet the needs. A staff of 200 served the 78 aviation training camps and also concerned itself with those in the line of communication, men on leave, and troops who stopped longer than the usual 48 hours en route to France.

    But it was with the A.E.F. in France that the principal welfare work of the American Y centered. Nearly 13,000 men and women were involved in service of the 2,000,000 troops.

    Its usual program of social, physical, educational, and religious activities was increased by one additional responsibility -- the canteen. Early organizers realized that the Army needed every soldier in the ranks, not serving in canteens so the Y willingly agreed to take this burden.

    The standard Y huts (491 of them) were quickly established as well as over 1,000 tents and 255 rented structures. In these huts and with the personnel, it created one of the largest chains of retail grocery stores the world had seen. A supply line was set up to stock these stores from manufacturers in the U.S. and the Y even set up 48 factories of their own for the manufacture of chocolate, biscuits, and other canteen supplies. It conducted a chain of banking operations to assist the men in sending their military pay to their families back home (at no charge to either party), managed upwards of 100 hotels, dormitories, and cafes, developed an extensive motor transport service for handling both merchandise and passengers, and organized and equipped some 50 garages and machine shops to keep everything running.

    To stage athletic contests and the A.E.F. games, it designed and built the Pershing Stadium in Paris (the site was donated by the French government and labor was contributed for the most part by Army engineers) which was presented to the French people at the completion of the war.

    One of its most important services of the entire war was the operation of the leave areas. I have discussed the details of this feature elsewhere in this project.

    Permanent facilities with each Division and at each training facility in France proved to be impossible due to the instability of the positioning of the troops to meet the ever-changing battle requirements. So they relied mainly on existing structures such as cafes, hotels, town halls, or even stores, warehouses or office buildings and occasionally chateaux and other private mansions temporarily abandoned by their occupants.

    The standard ratio was one canteen for every 500 soldiers. During the period of heaviest warfare, March 2 to the end of July 1918, the Y attempted to meet the needs of the soldiers on the front lines by sending their most experienced men to the front. However their efforts were seriously hampered by the regulations governing the movement of military civilians in the forward areas. Permission for a worker to go to such troops had to be secured from both American and Allied authorities which took from 6 to 20 days. Because of this, there were never as many workers at the front as the Y desired and was prepared to furnish. Those workers fortunate enough to make their way to the front worked to the limit of their strength to make up for the deficiency of numbers.

    The signing of the Armistice in November caused a radical shift of emphasis in the Y welfare work. Education came into its own for the first time. Before, education had been greatly limited by the soldiers' busy schedule. Now it became a prime objective. Soldiers taking advantage were relieved of their other military duties. The Y Army Educational Commission, in anticipation of this situation, had laid out a program as wide as the Army itself. A careful census of rank and file had revealed more than 40,000 officers and men with previous experience as teachers. With post and division school, vocational and farm schools, and the A.E.F. University at Beaune established, the Army then took over the responsibility of education from the Y on April 15, 1919, converting it to the Army Educational Corps.

    The Y was also relieved of the canteen duties as soldiers were now plentiful to provide this service. Once again the Y was able to concentrate on its social features and the athletic program. I have briefly discussed the athletics aspect below.

    With the repatriation of the soldiers just beginning, the Army established embarkation points at St. Aignan (for casuals) and Le Mans (for combat divisions). The Y had already completely organized its service at St. Aignan but problems developed at Le Mans. All thirty divisions were scheduled to go through Le Mans for a medical exam and to have their papers examined in addition to delousing and being completely re-outfitted for the trip home. In all, over 400,000 men were expected to pass through a facility previously occupied by only one or two divisions. On top of that, the period of time between a division's arrival at Le Mans and their eventual sailing orders varied greatly and the resulting state of suspense was exceedingly trying.

    To meet this emergency, the Y constituted this area a separate region and set up a complete regional organization to coordinate their work. In total, 27 wooden huts, 71 tents as well as a large number of theaters, clubs, hotels and other various places were established in and around Le Mans.

    Throughout the war effort, the YMCA and various other welfare organizations worked in full cooperation while making every effort to avoid overlapping of service. Y entertainers visited the Red Cross hospitals to entertain in the wards. The Y welcomed workers from the Salvation Army and the Jewish Welfare Board to assist in the general religious services in the huts. At the apex of the Y effort in the winter of 1918 and 1919 when the number of Y workers was substantially increased, it was possible to turn over a number of centers to be completely manned by Jewish workers. The Knights of Columbus, while providing a service similar to the Y, concentrated mostly on areas insufficiently staffed by Y personnel and laid special emphasis on the promotion of boxing matches, promoting them on a large scale. The American Library Association was the primary source for materials in the Y hut libraries.

    Each charitable organization found the others helpful in the fundamental matter of covering the field and ministering the welfare of the American Army.

    Read more about the historic background of the YMCA:
    Service with Fighting Men: An Account of the Work of the American Young Men's Christian Associations in the World War

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    Athletic Events with the A.E.F.

          After the Armistice, there was a critical need to occupy the forces while the treaty negotiations were worked out and arrangements were made for the return trip to American soil. Drilling at first was greatly reduced in amount and time hung heavy. Mail and pay still did not always arrive on time and hardships such as insufficient heat, clothing and sometimes shoes, became increasing irritants now that the fighting was ended. Men frequently marched all day in the rain and were brought back to wet billets. The doughboys were outraged and expressed themselves forcibly. Something had to be done to keep the men in "fighting" shape yet entertained during the long wait.

          Dr. John H. McCurdy of the YMCA College at Springfield, Massachusetts, had been commissioned near the start of the war by the International Committee to take charge of physical work with the A.E.F. Fields were prepared and games were held on a limited basis throughout the period of fighting. They were mainly confined to the base ports and the Services of Supply which had permanent posts. After the Armistice, the organization greatly expanded. Not only did the games serve to keep the idle soldiers in shape, but they helped distract them from the inevitable moral temptations that accompany the cessation of hostilities.

          Elimination contests were held between divisions in football, basketball, boxing, wrestling, baseball, golf, shooting, soccer, swimming, tennis, and track and field events. As a general rule, the teams in each class of sport competed first for supremacy in each of the regions into which, for convenience, the A.E.F. was divided. The semi-finals and finals matched divisions from the different sectors. Partisan backing of teams representing particular units was thus assured.

          Excitement ran high. In football, no season in the history of the sport ever developed better matched teams or more exciting contests than the preliminary matches. America's best were matched against their peers; officers and men competed on equal terms. Men renowned for earlier victories on college grounds were again competing. The four teams that qualified for the championship series played five tie games until the 7th Division finally won.

          Participation in all sports during the first five months of 1919 mounted to over 31,500,000 soldiers. This meant that the average soldier participated in 15 games or events. The football finals, held at the Colombes Stadium near Paris, were watched with all the interest ever called forth by a Yale-Harvard game. The concluding contests were always witnessed by the Commander-in-Chief and he awarded the prizes. Efficient management of the entire series produced remarkable results. In football, more than 75,000 participated but, despite the terrific struggles that occurred, sometimes on fields covered by snow and ice, there was not a single serious injury and only one broken bone.

          The whole series of contests leading up to the A.E.F. championships considered as one meet, constituted the greatest athletic program ever carried out under one management. The victors in the finals had to play through from ten to forty preliminaries. They were the best athletes selected from among two million men. Many of them had gained topmost rank in amateur sports in a nation noted for its promotion of athletics. Many were professionals. To have taken part in such a series was a high privilege.

          Contests between the A.E.F. and other Allied troops occurred but not until June and July when about three-fourths of the A.E.F. troops had departed.

          Athletics proved to be one of the major features of welfare work for the YMCA. Pushed into the background at first by the more urgent and engrossing concerns of battle, it gradually won recognition as an unexcelled method of occupying the free time of the men with interesting, congenial, and beneficial activities. With physical improvement, it combined relaxation of nervous tension and an outlet for surplus energy. Through mass games for all, unskilled as well as expert, and hotly fought exhibitions of clean sport, it promoted the spirit of gameness, determination, comradeship, and fair play which is the soul of cooperative success. Finally, it brought together, in competitions no less strenuous because they were friendly, the picked athletes of the Army, welding on the field of sport the bonds of fellowship forged on the field of battle. The value of its contribution to the national welfare, in peace as well as in war, is beyond question.

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