Soldier’s WW I diary a treasured memory of the part he played in ‘The Great War’
A Farewell to Arms, tells the story of Lt. Frederic Henry, the main character in Hemingway’s novel about a World War I ambulance driver who deserts his unit because he can no longer face the maiming and killing on the front lines he had to endure. Anne Hilliard of Arcadia, Fla. whose father, Wesley Norman Jackson, was also a WW I ambulance driver in France during the war, went AWOL to Monte Carlo for three days to escape the carnage, but returned to his unit and faced his superiors.
“He just couldn’t take it anymore is what he told me years later,” Hilliard said. “They made him wash ambulances for two weeks as his punishment when he returned to driving.”
Her father’s 90-year-old war diary she copied tells about the 18 months he spent over there. Norman held the rank of “Wagoner,” according to his discharge.
“When he enlisted in the Army in 1917 he was 22. He had been a tire salesman before the war, so he knew how to drive,” she said.
Jackson’s diary picks up his story from there.
“April 6, 1917: United States declares war against Germany.
“April 22, 1918: Awoke at 3:30 a.m. Boarded ship for Europe.
“May 2, 1918: Ordered to put on life belts and keep them on till port was reached.
“May 4, 1918: Eight submarines chasers met us.
“May 5, 1918: German submarine sighted. Several shots fired.
“May 6, 1918: Land sighted. Made port at Brest, France at 9 a.m. Removed life belt.
“May 7, 1918: Left ship at 1:30 p.m. Received package containing smokes. Marched through very quaint city. French youths tagged along beside us. Arrived at Napoleon’s old camp at 5:30. Ground surrounded by 20-foot stone wall. Buildings all of stone built in 1620. Feel fit.
“May 9, 1918: Wrote two letters. Purchased some cream cheese and chocolate.
“May 10, 1918: Took cold bath at 7:30 a.m. Washed soiled clothes at an old spring. Drilled a little. Wrote three letters.
“May 11: 1918: Left Brest at 2:30 p.m. Traveled third class part of the night.
“May 12: 1918: Arrived in San Aucers, France about 3:15 p.m. Marched to camp. Put under quarantine.
“May 26, 1918: Received ambulance.
“June 5, 1918: Left camp at 9 a.m. for Paris. Passed through DeSalles and Nantes the largest towns on the way to Paris.
“June 8, 1918: Arrived in Paris at 10 a.m. Drove into courtyard when German shell from ‘Big Bertha’ exploded near by.”
“June 9, 1918: Eleven men placed on detached service at Base Hospital #1 in Paris. Became accustom to ambulance runs. No air raids for two nights. ‘Big Bertha’ has been heard several times in the past several nights.
“June 15, 1918: Heard heavy guns all night. Beginning signs of offensive near Chateau Thierry, 55 miles northeast of Paris.
“July 16, 1918: Many wounded. Worked three days and four nights without sleep.
“Aug. 22, 1918: Returned from Juelle, France. Prepared to leave for the Toul Front in the morning.
“Aug. 15, 1918: Five-miles from front near Toul. Airplanes flying all around us now at 10:45 a.m. near the Loire River.
“Sept 13, 1918: Moved from Pogny to Toul and Base Hospital #51. Slept in morgue.
“Sept. 29, 1918: At Dleulanard, continuously shelled. Many seriously wounded and dead. Brought six into Number-3 Hospital.
“Sept. 30, 1918: My 23 birthday. It’s raining. I feel fine and hope I shall be home on my next birthday.
“Nov. 11, 1918: Armistice signed at 5 a.m. Firing ends at 11 a.m.
“Feb. 2, 1919: On detached service at St. Jean. Sunday night 12:15 a.m. ambulance skidded while crossing large concrete bridge two kilometers west of Conflaus. Broke right rear wheel, twisted chase, broke crank case and radiator. I was nearly thrown over bridge, a drop of 50 feet. Remained with ambulance until 10:30 a.m. Monday when truck came.
March 2, 1919: One year since I saw my sweetheart. It’s impossible to state how much I miss her.
“March 16, 1919: Took a trip to Nice, France. Took a Turkish bath.
“March 22, 1919: Left Nice and arrived in Dijon. Stopped by Chairmont General Headquarters. Next day arrived back in Toul. Moved to Verdun.
“May 1, 1919: Left Verdun at 7:30 a.m. for Rimancourt and a concentration camp. Oh boy.
“May 13, 1919: After turning in ambulance, left Rimancourt at 7:30 a.m. Rode all day and night and arrived in La Mans on May 14th at 6:30 a.m.
“May 17, 1919: ” Gen. Pershing reviewed the troops. Stood in formation from 8 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Still waiting orders.
“May 20, 1919: Rode train all night. Arrived in Brest at noon. Raining like hell.
“May 28, 1919: “Left Brest at 7:30 a.m. and walked to dock about eight kilometers. Loaded on barge at 9:30 a.m. hauled to boat. Boarded the President Grant at noon.
“June 1, 1919: Hope to be out of this damn Army in two weeks.
“June 8, 1919: Sighted land at 6:30 p.m. Welcoming ship came around us playing band and throwing us sacks of oranges.
“June 9, 1919: Left ship at 11 a.m. After standing in formation 45 minutes we were fed coffee and rolls by Red Cross.
“June 13, 1919: Left for Camp Grant. Arrived in Chicago freight yard Saturday night. Clare and Mother came to camp Grant Sunday a.m. to see me.
“June 15, 1919: Mustered out of Army, Evacuation Ambulance Company 4 at noon, June 17, 1919.
That same year Wesley and Clare were married. It would be 10 years before their first child was born. They had two boys and a girl: Robert, Richard and Ann.
Wesley returned from the “Great War” and went to work for a Chicago firm: M.A. Mead that sold jewelry throughout the country. He had three states as his territory: Ohio, Illinois and Kentucky.
After 30 years on the road as a salesman he bought his own jewelry store in Delaware, Ohio where he and his family lived. It was 1948 and Wesley planned to go into semi-retirement and run his jewelry store.
A few days after he acquired the store he walked into his new workplace, had a heart attack and died in a local hospital a few days later. He was 53.
Almost 40 years later Ann, his daughter, and Ann’s oldest daughter, Colette, took a sentimental journey through France retracing their father’s and grandfather’s route during the First World War.
Among the places they visited on their two-week adventure was Monte Carlo along the French Riviera.
“I gambled because I had a skirt on. But my daughter couldn’t go in the casinos because she was wearing pants at the time,” Ann recalled decades later. She had no big winnings to talk about from her time at the gaming tables.
“We went to Dijon where I bought a bottle of mustard. We also visited the concrete bridge where my father wrecked his ambulance,” Ann recalled. “We even saw what was left of some of the World War I trenches. There was a monument in a town square to the memory of World War I American ambulance drivers. I don’t recall what town”.
Wagoner Wesley Norman Jackson’s diary Ann transcribed is a family heirloom. Robert, Anne’s oldest brother, has the diary in his possession.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 7, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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