Diary of Sergeant Marion Frederick Warner
An American Soldier from Seattle in World War I
‘WAR DECLARED’ was the newspaper headline across the country on April 6, 1917. Thousands of young men answered the call to serve this country including Marion Frederick WARNER, son of Thomas M. WARNER and Naomi MORRIS. Marion, who was born Oct. 1891 in Fargo, Cass County, North Dakota, had a sister Eva, 3 years older, who was born in Illinois and a brother Eugene, 1 1/2 years younger, who was born in North Dakota.
It is not known for sure when Marion came out west to Seattle with his family, but he does refer to his mother and his sister in his diary. He enlisted June 22, 1916 in Co L, 2 Infantry, Washington National Guard (Co L 161 Inf). His training was at Camp Lewis, later called Fort Lewis. After several months at Camp Lewis he was ready when the time came for him to go overseas to France on Dec. 13, 1917. An early Christmas gift from a neighbor was “The Soldiers’ Diary and Notebook.” In this small black pocket sized diary Marion made daily entries throughout 1918. Some of the daily entries tell about the weather and his general health and also about the uncertainty of when or where he was going. He always looked forward to “mail call.” Sometimes it was weeks before any mail caught up to him. On one of his marches enemy gunfire was exchanged. Something else hit him (gas poisoning), which landed him in the hospital. The effects of this caused him an honorable discharge on July 29, 1919 with a 60% service connected disability. While in the hospital in France, he wrote the names of all the patients on two large white linen handkerchiefs. One handkerchief has their names and hometowns, and the other their names and units. The “hometown” handkerchief reads in the center:
American Expeditionary Forces 1917-18-19
St. Mihiel (this and other names are spelled in various ways), Chateau-Thierry, Soissons, Toul, Tours, Paris, Nantes, Brest, Rhiems, Chattilon, Chateau Roux, Belleau Woods, Bourges, Verzy, Sells Sun Chen, St. Aginon, Genrues, Ronnerotten, Orleans, Troyes, Neufchatel, Bar Le Duc, Chatillon Sur Seine, Meaux, Theirscourt
Following is a list compiled from both handkerchiefs (Unfortunately the photographs do not show all the names):
Nurse Jane COMLEY, Philadelphia, PA (Base Hospital No. 34)
The Soldiers’ Diary and Notebook for Sgt. M. F. WARNER
Formerly of Co L 161 Inf now Co B 23rd Inf
(A Christmas present from Mr. and Mrs. Walter BARRETT Dec 25, 1917)
Sergeant M. F. WARNER Company L 161 Infantry American Expeditionary Forces in France 1918
In case of accident please send book to Mrs. N. E. WARNER 5015 1st Ave NE, Seattle, Wash.
During January 1918 Sergeant WARNER took a ship across the English Channel and arrived in France, promptly coming down with a bad cold which he caught on the train journey from the port of debarkation to Camp Duquesne, near Gièvres, France. For about a month (15th January to 20th February) he was ill while his cold worsened. He ended up in the hospital with a bad cough; he was tested for tuberculosis but was found merely to have bronchitis. Life in the hospital soon became monotonous, and he restlessly waited for mail, a theme that runs throughout his diary. The canteen, movies and entertainments put on by the soldiers kept him occupied, along with the arrival of T. WILSON, from K Company, promptly nicknamed “Pee Wee.” On the 15th of February he notes that he received this pocket diary from Mrs. BARRETT. After his discharge from the hospital, he returned to camp. He also received gifts from girls named Bessie, Ada and Madeline, but was looking for that one from “the girl.”
In March WARNER was feeling well enough to visit some of the French towns close by. Camp was broken on March 6th. At his new camp WARNER records his “loafing” activities, going on strolls in fine weather, and visiting the towns. In April he made frequent trips to town to see “all my French sisters” (nuns?), particularly one “little sister” who would teach WARNER French while he taught her English. He continued to be restless and wished the company would be on the move again. At the end of the month he began playing on the company’s baseball team.
Finally, in May, WARNER received a letter from “the girl,” the first one in three months. He answered it immediately. In rapid succession he received four more letters, a package from his friend MILLER, all kinds of smokes, chewing gum, candy, a letter from Madeline and a joke book from Irene. Returning to “our old town” (probably Gièvres), he began drilling. He was issued his “tin Lizzie” helmet. On the 15th May he drilled for eight hours, followed by non-commissioned officers’ school for an hour in the evening. That weekend he wrote letters to his mother, his girl and his French “little sister,” and also sent a package to his girl for her sister’s baby. Drilling continued through the end of the month, WARNER remarking (in his entry for May 24) that it “is putting lots of pep into us and toughening us up.” On Memorial Day, he attended a parade and heard a speech, then visited the grave yard. In the following day’s drill he learned “all about hand bombs.”
June 1918 began quietly, with drill, firing range practice and inspections, and some more “loafing” time for WARNER. He was moved to a new billet on the main street of town, sharing his room with another Sergeant, [Lew] HOLMES. On the 11th the company received orders to prepare to leave. On the 12th, WARNER “got up at 3 a. m…and beat it. Don’t know where but am on the way.” He was reassigned to Company B, 23rd Infantry on the 15th. For the first time he heard “big shells bursting near” on the 16th. The noise continued “night and day.” Assigned to the 2nd platoon as right guide, he took a working party out, ran into artillery fire, and had a narrow escape. On the 20th he went into the trenches for the first time. “Sgt. [Elverne] PORTER and myself were under shelter when big shells hit top of it,” he notes on the 21st. He soon was taking working parties out into no man’s land, where the work was interesting but dangerous. Nearly all of one platoon was lost due to enemy gas. Stress and close quarters brought on another cold. At month’s end WARNER remarked that it was a June never to be forgotten.
By the beginning of July, under heavy artillery fire, WARNER wrote “I am having my fill of this.” After a gas attack, orders were no duty for “twenty four months.” Although WARNER wrote “months,” he probably meant “hours.” His sidekick and friend Sgt. PORTER was severely wounded by shrapnel. For the first time WARNER mentions having some mustard gas on his lungs, and suffering from a touch of shell shock. Between attacks, WARNER loafed and rested. The battle ended with the 2nd Division making a drive, going over the top of the trenches, and then marching until WARNER was dead tired. This “big battle” is not described in detail except to say that he was not shelled much and that he saw a German plane brought down before the American trenches. Relieved of platoon command, WARNER was sent to Paris for two weeks of “gas school” as July ended. “Paris sure is some big,” WARNER commented. He went all over Paris trying to locate the place he had been told to go.
School began on Monday, August 5th. It consisted of lectures on gas and a live demonstration in a trench in which soldiers had gas released on them. “Have been thru six attacks so know a little about it,” WARNER said. On the 10th he took his examination and spent the next two days getting back to his company; en route he met a Red Cross nurse from Washington State and talking to her “felt like being at home.” Having passed his exam, he was made Company Gas Non-Commissioned Officer, and was given a Corporal as assistant. Part of his duties was daily inspection of the masks in every platoon, as well as sending in a wind and weather report. On the 18th his company was relieved and sent out; they hiked 34 kilometers in 11 hours. On the night of the 20th they hiked another 35 kilometers. On the 24th they hiked 25 kilometers, all uphill. For the rest of the month the routine was like this: 20-odd kilometer hikes every couple of days. The weeks seemed to be flying by. A couple of letters from home made WARNER feel “lots better.”
Marching continued through the first week of September 1918. The rains had started; WARNER anticipated another battle. For six consecutive days, while going “over the top” again in the front lines, with shells bursting all around him, WARNER ended each entry with a cryptic “Am fine,” as if reassuring himself. After the battle he received 15 letters from home, plus one from his girl. But he began feeling poorly, which he attributed to a cold. He coughed constantly. Feeling “rotten,” he boarded a train with his company and soon landed in camp hospital No. 13.
He was not pleased to be in the hospital again at the beginning of October. He was especially displeased to be moved to another hospital 80 miles farther on without yet having received treatment. Moreover, the illness seemed to involve his stomach as well, and he could no longer walk. He was put on a milk diet, insufficient for his appetite, and sent to yet another hospital. For two weeks he was in bed, fed mainly on milk, with some baked potato and toast. The remainder of October was spent convalescing, enduring the strict diet and the pain from coughing. He was treated for pains in his forehead, right eye and nose.
November began with WARNER having resigned himself to a long hospital stay. The world went on without him as he waited. On the 11th he wrote: “Big day. Germany signed armistice with allies. Everybody celebrating. Feeling good. Had operation.” As he continued to recover he waited restlessly for mail and news. At Thanksgiving he was able to eat chicken, dressing and pie.
By the 10th of December soldiers in the hospital began to be sent home. WARNER was told at that time that he would be among the next group to go. As the year ended, however, he was still in France, still hoping he would be among those going home soon. On New Year’s Eve he wrote the last entry: “Last day of this year and my diary is full. Am going to keep it for it is the best souvenier of all. Am well.”
Phylis Jorgenson consulted the original sources and took the photographs for this article. Margaret Summitt summarized the diary.
Marion Frederick WARNER’s diary is a small leather-bound book. The two photos above show the cover and a sample double page.
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