1918-1919 Daily Diary of a Nebraska Farmer Who Sails to Europe and Serves in World War 1 as a Corporal in the 314th Supply Train, 89th Division

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On offer is a superb diary of a 27-year-old farmer from Nebraska, serving in Europe during WWI as the war came to its end. 

The author of the diary is Walter John Smith (1891-1950) of Holdrege, Nebraska. He worked his entire adult life at his own farm, where he died at age 58. Smith married Judith Anderson in June of 1920. Together they had two children, Marilyn and Martha. Smith was registered for the army draft in August of 1917 and called up in October, 1917. 

During the First World War, Corporal Walter John Smith was attached to the 314th Supply Train, 89th Division. The 89th Infantry Division was formed in Aug 1917. After training at Camp Funston, it was shipped overseas where the Division saw action at St. Mihiel and participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Following WWI, it was reconstituted as a Reserve army unit until being reactivated in WWII. In WWII, the Division, nicknamed “the Rolling W”, served in north west Europe, taking part in the drive into Germany. The 89th liberated Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. Following WWII, the 89th was reactivated as a reserve unit, a role it continues to fill today.

Smith’s diary covers the period June, 1918 to June, 1919. He begins writing on June 4, 1918. He is leaving his training camp to head to Europe, and he writes, “Camp Funston. Left at 11:30 A.M.”. 

On June 28th, he shipped out, writing,Aboard the Lapland. Left port at 9:30 – 17 ships left at same time. Everything gone lovely so far” [June 28, 1918]. 

Prior to being requisitioned as a troopship, SS Lapland was a passenger liner. She was the ship that brought the surviving members of the Titanic’s crew back to England after the U.S. investigations into the sinking were completed.

Once in France, his entries describe his daily work and movements:

“Got our cars ready in morning. Started out 1 o’clock. Traveled 65 miles. Roads are real dusty. Landed at Navgon” [July 22, 1918].

“Started from Navgon 6. Drove 200 miles. Landed at Ville France 7:30. Stayed all nite” [July 23, 1918].

“Started from Ville France 7:30. Arrived Dijon 3:30. Stationed at camp all nite” [July 24, 1918].

“Fixed a place for our pup tents in the morning. Fixed my truck in afternoon. Ready to go out at 7 o’clock. Brought Bat from 355 back ten miles from trenches” [Aug 23, 1918]. 

“The big drive started at 1 A.M. ... Reported to 355 Hospital Got a load of flour and oats and moved to the front. Drove all night” [Sept 12/13, 1918]. [Note: This entry refers to the Battle of St. Miheil]

“Left for [ ] 7 A.M. Got a load of soldiers brought to Bouillonville Seen Oscar Swanson Back at railhead to Bouillonville with load of blankets” [Sept 23, 1918].

“Didn’t do anything all day. Had my truck fixed. Peace signed 11 o’clock" [Nov 11, 1918].

On May 21, 1919, he shipped out for home. His last entry reads:

Got my discharge one o’clock. On the train leaving for home. Finish” [June 12, 1919].

Interestingly, at the back of the diary, there are an additional four pages of diary content, two of which cover December 12 and 15 of 1918. Two are undated. These pages are very long entries that must have needed the extra space. There are also a few pages of names and addresses that he kept from his time overseas.

For a historian, this is an excellent first-hand account of day-to-day life in a unit supporting troops in the trenches. It is rich in detail, mentioning other soldiers by name, places where he was posted or stayed and work that he was doing. It paints a very clear picture of life behind the lines.

The diary measures 5.5 inches by 3.25 inches and contains 95 pages. It is 95% complete. The cloth cover is in good condition. The spine is undamaged but the binding had cracked along the inside cover. The pages and binding are in good condition and the handwriting is legible. 

Please don't hesitate to contact us for more information or to request photos. (Kindly include the SKU, listed on this page above the price, in your e-mail so we can more easily answer your questions.)

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