Monday, November 9, 2009

Camp Devins, 1917-18; Christmas Time

Eddie Ross and sons
Lawrence, lt, his half-brother, Harold, rt.
Lawrence looks to be in his mid-teens.
Lawrence, rt. with his sister Minnie's husband, Les.
Probably taken circa 1911 when Minnie and Les were married.

Lawrence and his fiancee, Letha

Lawrence H, Ross, center.
Note that the man on the right appears to be wearing two coats, one over the other.

Camp Devens
Dec 7, 1917

Dear Father and all,
I wonder if something is the matter up there? I haven’t had only that short letter from you and Mother since I came back. It makes me lonesome when I don’t hear from you. Why don’t Helene and Mac write again? If you only knew how it cheers me up to get some mail from home. I know you are always busy up there and lots to do, but I’d rather be there at that than here.
Glen has been over to see me, he was here the second time last night and said he had a nice cake, so when I finished my work I went over with him and eat three pieces, that’s all.
The doughnuts came alright and they were good. It made me wish I was there to help myself when I wanted one. I can’t do that here. I’ll tell you I’ll appreciate things when I get back home, and I’m coming back someday!
I don’t know what to think about staying here. Sometimes I think from what I heard that we are going right out of here, and again, I think we’ll be here all winter.
We had a review last week by Secretary of War’s assistant. We all lined up beside the road and they drove by in automobiles.
I started to tell you that Glen has his full suit [uniform] and I haven’t any blouse yet. I can’t come up without one this time, because I want to stop at Glens Falls for one night anyway. Do you suppose you could send me ten or fifteen dollars to buy a suit? I only have this one pair of trousers and they look bad. I hate to ask for any money, but I hate to come up looking like a tramp. I can get a suit for $20 and if I get out of here before long [but I don’t expect to] I could wear it out at home under overalls or out of sight. If you can’t spare it, let it go, and I’ll get along some way; but I shall come whether I have a blouse or not.
I don’t know what day yet, but hope I can get away the Friday night before Christmas. I hope I can get 5 or 6 days. Glen said they were going to get that much.
One more week and I’ve been here three months. It seems like three years. I only hope that I can back for good by spring anyway.

Camp Devins
Dec 9, 1917
Dear Mother and all,
I’ll send this one to you, but I meant it for all. I have a few minutes to myself today, so will drop you a line. I’ve been in the kitchen all the week. Have had to work both Sundays since I came back, but never mind, every day will be Sunday by and by, I hope for all.
Now Mother, I want to tell about coming up. I guess I can come at Christmas all right. I can’t tell for sure whether I can come on Friday night or Saturday noon, and I guess I’ll come by Glens Falls so to stop a few minutes at Letha’s house. I’ll probably be at Ti Saturday night or Sunday noon. I hope Saturday night as I don’t want to lose much time. I want you and Father to come over to Ti if you can, and we all will go up to Hague for overnight, then come back and go over home for Christmas. Then I’ll go back from there to Brandon and down that way. I have to be back for Wednesday morning anyway. I can only be away from either Friday night or Saturday noon til Wednesday morning.
I’m over to the YMCA now, and the girls are here passing around some candy to the boys. Last Sunday we had hot coffee and cookies here.
I wish I’d get one of those family letters from you all there. Even Billy has got so he writes to me. It made the tears come to think of you folks up there and me going still farther away when letters won’t come so often.
Well, we will try and make the best of it, but it’s hard to some times.
No doubt Dad told you that Letha and I were engaged. I intended to ask you what you thought about her when I was there, but I can’t think of anything when I’m there, I’m so glad to be there.

Camp Devens
Dec. 12, 1917
Dear Father,
Don’t worry about me anymore. I’m right here at Camp Devens yet, and I guess I’m coming up to eat Christmas dinner with you alright.
I expect to leave here on Saturday the 22nd and [go first] to Glens Falls to see Letha, on up to Ti on Sunday, and to Hague from there to see Minnie and Les. Over home on Monday and back Tuesday afternoon or night. I wish it was longer but they won’t give it, and I can’t take it.
I’ll hate to come back worse than ever, but I hope they’ll go out of here when I come back for its awful cold.
Can you imagine, zero weather and snow and ice on the ground, shoes on our feet and hats on our heads. Yes, Glen found the package alright and I have it. He was over to see me last night. I’m going over there tomorrow night. I know that all the boys that came when he did have gone south.
We had our picture taken, I mean the whole company, and its pretty good. I’ve ordered one and hope I can bring it up when I come at Christmas.
My face is nearly blistered. You know what that wind is off from the ocean. When we get an east wind it cuts like a knife. I was in the kitchen for a week; just went out doors yesterday and went down to the Engineers on a special detail. How the wind blew down there and my face is so sore that I can’t hardly shave.
We had conferences all the week every evening last week, and we had one tonight down in the big YMCA, only about 3000 boys there. We gave our yell and it made the old building ring. I’ll tell you lots of new things that we have to do when I come up there.
Have some of that “Mountain Lion” ready for me, hot pancakes, maple syrup, doughnuts, mince pie, hot coffee, raised biscuits, lemonade, chicken, and anything else that you can think of that I haven’t named.
I’m tired and sleepy so will close now and go over to the barracks to rest.
Love to all and a kiss for each one.
Your son,

Camp Devens
Dec. 18, 1917
Dear Dad and all,
Your letters came today. I was glad to hear from all.
Many thanks for the money. Maybe I won’t have to use it. I hated to ask for it, because it is such hard times. I guess I’ll come right along with my old pants as I am. They look bad and I’m going to stop at Letha’s on Saturday night. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t care. I feel cheap to go there with out any coat, but I don’t think I’d have time to get one. I head that they were going to give blouses this week, but the week is half gone and I haven’t seen any yet.
Helene said I ought to come right over there, but I think I ought to see Minnie, for it might be a year before I could come home again.
That is only guessing at it, but probably I can’t come up again before I go away, so you see I’d like to see her before I go. I don’t know as you can read this. I’m hurrying so for I want to finish it before they call us out.
It is awful cold here now, but the barracks are not bad, quite warm.
You ask if they were coming to meet me. I think Les is coming out after me—or us—as Letha is coming up too. He probably will bring me back to Ti on Monday and if you can’t come over I’ll [or we’ll] come on the train.
I know it’s a short time, but its not my fault, for I’d give the world if I could come up and stay, but I can’t. I hope they go out of here after I come back, for I don’t like this tramping around in the snow with shoes on. We have lots of snow now, probably 12 or 15 inches. So, you see its awful hard walking.
I’d like to write more, but I want to send this before I go to work and then it will go out tonight.

Camp Devens
Dec. 20, 1917
Dear Father and all,
First of all I’ll tell you the good news. I can’t come up for Christmas or New Years, for we received notice from Washington that only 5% could go home, and the names are posted now, so I can’t come.
Never mind, I’ll make the best of it that I can, for I know you all want me to come as bad as I want to.
I hope I can come the first Friday night after New Years. That is only two weeks away, so, cheer up, maybe that will work.
I thought sure I could come, for we were told that only thirty fellows had got to stay here, and just counted the days this week. The Captain told us night before last that he was sorry and wished we could go. After he was through, we were pretty blue, but not so bad but what we gave him a rousing cheer.
He couldn’t hardly speak, but said, “All I got to say is you boys have got damn good grit to cheer like that when you are disappointed!”
Then I thought I could come on the Friday night before Christmas, but yesterday he said, “I hate to tell you boys once more that nobody can have a weekend pass this week or next on account of congestion of railroads.”
Talk about your blue boys! But one fellow spoke right out in ranks and started to give our yell. The Captain said, “Go right to it if you want to.” And we did get to it, so loud that you could have heard us for a mile.
Its hard to write such good things when I am so blue, but I’m going to tell you one more.
We had a review by the Colonel one day this week and out of 12 companies WE are the best!
How do you feel about that?
One more: the first platoon [that is 56 men or 7 squads] and I’m one of them, done very good and that means almost excellent in our drilling. Pretty fair.
If I can think of any more good things, I’ll tell them.
Ah, here they are now. We expect to have a talent play in our company and a great Christmas dinner. The old Captain is right on the job, and he can’t be beat. He said to do everything we could for a good time if it took three or four days..
I haven’t had very much time to write lately. We have been having conferences for nearly two weeks every evening, and have been working awful hard days. Its awful walking here now, the snow is deep and soft, and my legs are lame we run so much, but I’m as well as ever. Right on the job every day, a little cold, but not bad, haven’t been sick once, haven’t fell out of any drills yet. But I do wish we had a different outfit for our feet to keep them dry.
I hope all are as well as usual up there. I see by your letter that it has been awful cold. It has been pretty cold here, I think 10 or 15 below.

Camp Devens
Dec 24, 1917
Dear Dad and all,
You can’t imagine what a blow it was to me when I found out that I couldn’t come up for Christmas, but I just shut my teeth and made up my mind that I’d be a man and make the best of it, and I have, although I was lonesome every day.
Well, I’ll tell you some of the things that have happened today. This forenoon we had sports, potato races, relay races, 100 and 200 yard dashes. Then I went over to the Y and wrote a letter. After dinner, we went down in the Recreation Room and sung songs. The Captain played chords. Then we had a Christmas tree and one fellow acted as Santa Claus. We all got a package from the Red Cross. Mine was from the Bethel Red Cross. Then we gave our yell and three cheers for Captain Winsor. He told us to stay around after Retreat for there was something more for us. Now that’s not so bad as it might be.
I opened my package and I’ll tell you what was in it. Candy, gum, nuts, soap, paper, envelopes, pipe, toothpaste,, figs. I guess that was all. Oh, hankerchiefs. So, you see I done pretty fair after all. I’m sending the pipe home and a cigar, compliments of Captain Winsor. I want to save them. I sent a picture home of the company. See if you can find me. I wouldn’t take a farm for the picture! Try and take it over to TI some day and have Uncle Roy frame it for me.
Well Dad, I’ll try and finish this tonight, and tell you what has been going on. When we fell out for Retreat, there stood about 25 girls and it was some sight to us boys. We don’t see many girls. The reason they were here, the boys at E company were going to have a dance in the barracks.
We sang our Company song and gave our yell before we were called to attention. The Captain told us we were not to go over there to the dance unless we had a special invitation, but he said if we had any girl friends we could bring them to our own barracks, for we would enjoy ourselves there. We did! For he said, “When you get back inside you’ll find music waiting for you.”
When we came back in, there was a five piece orchestra playing, and talk about music, it was the best that Boston can put out. Can you imagine that? Banjo, violin, alto, piano and drum. Oh, I just wish you could have heard it. It would have made the chills run up your back. They was a wonder! [One of them was a sailor.]
Some of the boys skipped over to E Barracks and got 12 or 15 girls from there and came back and danced for an hour or two. I wish I could have danced. I would have jumped right out there.
Then we went over to the Y for just a few minutes so we could say we had heard one of the finest quartettes around here, from Boston. It was grand. One more thing, one of the boys just came up here and said, “Don’t go away, for Captain Winsor has some things to give us soon.”
That’s going some for a soldier’s life! “Where do we go from here?”—that’s what we sing.
I can’t say enough good things for Captain Winsor. He is one fine man.
I have lots to tell when I come up. Hope that will be before long, maybe next Friday night, or a week from Friday.
Here’s hoping you all are well, and that I can see you soon.

Camp Devens
Dec. 27, 1917
Dear Mother,
This letter is for you. I guess its your turn now. I was so sorry I couldn’t come up Christmas, and when the box came from you people up home I thought how I couldn’t send you anything, for I can’t go anywhere to get it. It made the tears come. Many thanks for the things, they will come in handy alright.
I thought maybe I could come up for the New Years, but I’m afraid we’ll be quarantined in with the measles. One fellow broke out today and they took him to the hospital. They said he had the measles, and for awhile we can’t go out anywhere, only to drill. Nowhere in the evening for awhile. That helps to make it nice just after Christmas!
I don’t know just when I can get there, but you can make up your mind that I’m coming the first chance I get, whether I get a chance to let you know or not.
It is quite cold here now, but not so bad as it is up there—6 below zero here this morning, and awful hard walking, its so icy.
We have been doing nearly everything today; drilling, playing hard games, running, jumping, boxing, a little of everything, you see.
I’ll be glad when things get straightened out so I can come up again, but I’ll be happy when the war is over so I can come home for good.
The boys are all lounging around here. I suppose we have some outside work before long, if we’re not quarantined. We have to go on Guard out to some of the villages and cities, to help the policemen. How do you think I’d look down in Boston acting as a “Cop”? Some of us go down there to Ayer and all around.
I can’t think of much more to tell you. I must make up my bed, shave me, take a bath and change my clothes. My cold is about all well again and I’m glad of that. I’m feeling fine, only lonesome to come up and see you people and Letha. Its been a long time since I was there.

Camp Devens
Dec. 30, 1917
Dear Dad!
Twenty two below zero and the barracks colder than Greenland, but not so cold but what I can send you a note.
I’m standing up to write as near the radiator as I can get, one foot on the pipe and the one that’s on the floor is awful cold. I wished this morning that every pipe in the camp would play out so we could come home! Ha, ha! Here stands a fellow near me that is so cold he says his back aches. But, don’t worry about me, I’m alright and haven’t any cold, nor have I got a hair lip yet!
I said I’d send that check back in Mac’s letter, then I went and sealed it and mailed it before I thought what I had done, so I’ll try and think of it before I mail this one.
Well, Dad, its pretty lonesome here today. We can’t go anywhere, because of the measles, and its Sunday.
I can’t say enough about the good things I had when I was [living] at home and at Ti. I thought [then] it was awful to eat pancakes without butter on them, but I could eat those things now without anything on them and not grumble.
I’d rather be in the clay mud up to my ears than live this life. I hope they send the boys back to farm it this summer. I could feel different that I ever did before.
Say, Father, I head that the boys were going to have a week furlough and I hope it is so, for I’d like a change. I’d like to forget this life for a few days and see some of home life. I wish every boy could get a taste of this here, especially in the winter. They all would feel different about home.
I have talked with lots of the boys here and they all talk the same.

Camp Devens
Dec. 31, 1917
Dear Dad,
I wrote to Harold so I’ll send you a letter at the same time and save 3 cents—that’s economy, you know.
This is the last letter I’m going to write you this year, for its evening and December 31. The next one I send will be next year. I wish I was there with you tonight, so we could visit and eat apples together. I’ll be glad to have the day come when I can come back home once more.
I’ll tell you, Dad, after getting this stuff I appreciate home. I had a letter from Letha. She said she had a card from you and Mother and she thinks you both are just grand. I like to hear anybody say that about my father and mother.
Well, I hate to have you feel that I’m getting farther away from you because I’m engaged, but you don’t want me to live single all my life, do you? I’ll be just as near to you, Dad, as ever.
I thought of you and Mother this morning. We had pancakes for breakfast, but no good butter to put on them. I want a home of my own some day like other fellows. I don’t want this life compared with a life of that kind. I’m glad you and Mother like Letha, for I think she is the best girl I ever found.
I’ll say that its tough to have to be way down here and can’t go see a girl for weeks at a time. But, I suppose this don’t interest you, although you was a boy once!
I never was so cold in my life as I was yesterday—22 below and the barracks was awful cold, the wind blew and the windows are loose so we get plenty of fresh air. We had to stay right here all day for we are quarantined in with the measles.
I’d like to see the fellow that told you they don’t have much of a winter here—22 below and breeze off from the ocean makes us think of home.
Guess I’ve told you all the news I know, so will close.


  1. Oh wow. You have put me to shame with all this effort. I am SO convinced that there is a book in this - either the letters as a sort of diary, or else as a biography (or even as the basis of a novel). I am so drawn into Lawrence's life, feeling his disappointments so keenly, and I have my usual earth-mother feelings of wanting desperately to make something nice happen to him! I have - like so many people - so little in the way of letters or anything which will tell me more about my grandparents, g. grandparents etc. You are very fortunate.

    Have you sent a copy of these letters to one of the Army Museums? This sort of thing would be manna from heaven for the Regimental Museums we have in this country.

  2. what a wonderful read ... I agree with BB that there must be a book here...the letters and his life. Is that the end of the letters or are there more ....please.