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A look back at the Doughboys of WWI

By Staff | Mar 21, 2018

Left to right are veterans, Paul Blystone of Nesbit; Reade Holtzbar of Hughesville and Art Karge of Picture Rocks as they watch Mike Mumford show a mess kit and describe the items used by Doughboys during WWI. The program was held March 8 at the Taber Museum in Williamsport.

WILLIAMSPORT – Clothing and contents of a haversack carried by Doughboys in the Great War were explained by Michael Mumford of Liberty.

During the March 8 morning Coffee Hour at the Taber Museum in Williamsport, the speaker said, “Historically, America was never prepared for war.” Efforts to remain isolationists subsided when in April 1917, President Wilson declared war, and the U.S. joined the Allied Forces in Europe.

The doughboys were among 2 million Americans shipped overseas, while here at home, two million more supported the effort.

Mumford said that, “The war department strived to give recruits four to six month’s training, and we tipped the balance from June 1918 on when seasoned soldiers began arriving overseas. Meanwhile, French soldiers content to quietly remain in trenches awaiting enemy advances, did not bode well with their American counterparts.” The Yank’s response was, “We want to get this thing over and ship back home.”

Of the trenches, Mumford said, “Anyone raising their head in daylight was shot.” To safely survey the landscape, periscopes were manufactured by Kodak.

A New Testament and a cross constructed of bullets are mementos held by veteran Vince Swartz of Hughesville during a program on WWI Doughboys held at the Lycoming County Museum.

Time waiting in ditches dug in the soil provided opportunity for creating ‘trench art.’ Among the displays at the meeting were samples of crosses made of bullets. Another pastime was reading and writing letters on paper provided by the Young Men’s Christian Association. The YMCA also provided pocket-size New Testaments for scripture reading.

A full description of a uniform and necessities carried as troops trekked through Europe included weapons, ammunition, rations, grooming items and masks.

In 1914, three years before America intervened in the war, the Germans had invented and used ‘mustard gas.’ The British responded by manufacturing face masks connected to charcoal filters. There were various ways to sound the alarm alerting soldiers of incoming canisters filled with gas. The masks needed to be in place within three to five seconds to avoid breathing the poison that burnt human airways.

Items for grooming included a shaving razor and mirror complete with hook so as to hang on trees, tents or trench walls. Condiments carried included salt, sugar, coffee and an emergency bit of protein. Everything including foot powder was packed in tin as mud and moisture were a constant challenge.

Mumford enumerated weapons carried as, “Knives and swords, rifles made by Winchester and Remington, and revolvers by Colt, and Smith & Wesson. When manufacturers of Springfield rifles improved bolt actions allowing ten shots versus five, this gave us a real advantage against the Germans.”

The speaker explained the term ‘Doughboy,’ being derived from French and British terms. “Along rail lines as soldiers were transported to the front, countrymen sat up cooking facilities preparing donuts. The round delicacies were slipped onto gun barrels as the soldier’s passed, thus the Doughboys.”

The Thomas Taber Museum has scheduled programs throughout 2018 marking the WWI Centennial year. The next Coffee Hour will be April 12, at 10 a.m. in the Community Room.