For the past several months we have been posting, day by day, Porter's transcription of the World War I diary kept by Hezekiah Scovil Porter of the United States Army's 101st Machine Gun Battalion. In this post and the one that follows, I've collected the entire diary transcription in order, with page numbers and occasional explanatory comments. You can see images of the pages here: Hezekiah Scovil Porter's WWI Diary.
Hezekiah Scovil Porter was the youngest of Wallace and Florence Gesner (Wells) Porter's seven children, born into the tiny town of Higganum, Connecticut on June 4, 1896. He attended The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. It is now known as the school that "has educated generations of the upper-class New England establishment and the American political elite," but at the time it was only as old as Hezekiah himself. Twenty years later, John F. Kennedy would graduate from Choate, having been chosen by his class as the person "most likely to succeed." About Hezekiah, the Headmaster wrote:
Hezzie was always a man of deeds rather than of words. And his influence either on the field, or in the classroom, or about School in general, was of the kind that very definitely made us a better School for his being part of it. In his Sixth Form year Hezzie was President of his class, and in the vote which was taken toward the close of the year, he was almost unanimously chosen as the member of his Form who had "done most for Choate." He was also voted—and there were no near competitors— the "most popular," as well as the man in his class "most to be admired."
But Hez never had his chance to become President. As with many of his generation, his service ended on the battlefields of France. After graduating from Choate, Hezekiah attended Yale University. But he left during the fall of his sophomore year to join the Army. After four months he was at the front, and five months later he was killed in action near Chatêau-Thierry.
The following quote, and the one above, are taken from Yale in the World War, by George Henry Nettleton (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1925). You can read a somewhat fuzzy but still legible copy of the article on Hezekiah Scovil Porter by clicking on the images in the middle of my Memorial Day, 2009 post.
On the morning of July 22, 1918, in the course of an American attack on Epieds, north of Château-Thierry, Hezekiah Scovil Porter, Private in the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, was killed in action. His diary closes abruptly with an entry recorded the night before while his company was awaiting the dawn which was to bring the expected advance. Next morning in the midst of the attack he met instant death in the open field as he was hurrying forward with ammunition for a machine gun.
Hezekiah Scovil Porter is my husband's granduncle. That diary the article mentions? Porter has it. He labored much to photograph and transcribe the pages of the diary, in honor of the 100th anniversary this year of Hez's death. The images can be viewed here; the transcription follows. (The original is in black; annotations are in red.)
Family note: In the pages below, you will see references to mail Hez received from family members. Conspicuously absent are communications from his father, mother, and one of his brothers, who had all predeceased him: his mother in 1910, his father in 1912, and his oldest brother, Ralph Wallace Porter, in 1915.
Hez's Diary, Part I
October 9, 1917 - December 31, 1917
H. S. Porter
101st Machine G. Bat. (Machine Gun Battalion)
(places he went)
Le Havre, France
Mont les Neufchateaux "
Lifol le Grand "
Brienne le Chateau
Bar sur Aube
Fontaine Fr. (This seems out of place as it is in southwest France, near Grenoble; could it be Hontaine?)
St. Blin "
St. Agnan "
Liouville " (It exists on Google, after you scroll down some from the famous person of the same name.)
Jouy " (Jouy is a commune in the Eure-et-Loir department in northern France)
Menil la Tour "
Bois de Hazelle
near Fleury (During the Battle of Verdun in 1916 Fleury was captured and recaptured by the Germans and French sixteen times. Since then, it has been unoccupied. During the war, the town was completely destroyed and the land was made uninhabitable to such an extent that a decision was made not to rebuild it. The area around the municipality was contaminated by corpses, explosives and poisonous gas, so no farmers could take up their work. The site of the commune is maintained as a testimony to war and is officially designated as a "village that died for France." It is managed by a municipal council of three members appointed by the prefect of the Meuse department.)
Vitrey le François " (Vitry-le-François is a commune in the Marne department.)
La Ferte " (La Ferté-sous-Jouarre is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne département in the Île-de-France region in north-central France. It is located at a crossing point over the River Marne between Meaux and Château-Thierry.)
Montreul ? (Could not find in Google)
Belleau Woods (Actually spelled Belleau Wood)
Oct. 9th 1917
(Leaving Connecticut for Canada)
Left camp at Niantic at about 8 A.M. Train late at station. Started about 10 A.M. Went north via Saybrook Junction. Through Hig. (Higganum, Connecticut) Lyndonville Vt. last town went through while awake. Good reception there.
Oct. 10th Wednesday
Arrived at Montreal about 6 A.M. at docks. Boarded boat by 7:00 A.M. got 3rd class quarters – Rotten -. Set sail about 10 o’clock. Up St. Lawrence R. Pretty scenery. Poor grub. Arrived in Quebec about 8 P.M. Took on some Servians. (Servian is an archaic word for Serbian.) Saw rats around bunks when went to bed.
Oct. 11th Thursday
(Canada, on the St. Lawrence River)
Still going up river.
No excitement. Have to wear life belts at all times now. Felt as though had wash board around neck. Lots of snow on hills. Cold, getting rough to-night.
Friday Oct 12th
(Canada, at sea)
Rough & rocking.
Everybody sea sick. Stayed up on deck nearly all day & tried to sleep when not sick. Didn’t eat all day.
Saturday Oct 13th
(Canada, at sea)
Felt fine this A.M. Pulled into Halifax about 9:30 A.M. Other transports besides ours loaded with American troops. Took on some Canadians. Loaded on provisions this P.M. Nothing doing this evening.
Sunday Oct. 14th
Fine day. Set sail this P.M. at 3:30. Nine ships with us. All going together.
Monday Oct. 15th
Fine day. On guard this A.M. No excitement.
Tuesday, Oct. 16th
Very foggy. Boats going straight ahead today. No excitement.
Wednesday Oct. 17
Foggy this A.M. Clear this P.M. Concert by fellows this evening.
Thursday Oct 18
Cold this A.M. Hail storm in morning. Cloudy all day. Nothing doing.
Friday Oct. 19th
Colder. Same sort of weather. Sighted a ship this P.M. which proved to be a freighter.
Saturday Oct. 20th
Cold to-day. Have got a cold. Nothing doing all day. Rather rough this evening.
Sunday Oct 21st
Raining, rather windy. Met our convoys this P.M.
Monday Oct. 22st
Raining. Very stormy & rough.
Tuesday Oct 23rd
(At sea, then England)
Saw land for first time since left this A.M.
Left two or three freighters at Glascow (sic) I guess. Going around northern coast of Ireland. Can see Irish coast very plainly this P.M. Going faster. Arrived in Liverpool about 6 P.M. Off the boat & right onto the train. On train all night. Queer trains. Small, jerky. Didn’t sleep much. 8 of us in one (24th Oct.) compartment. Arrived at Borden about 5:30 A.M. About 2 mile hike to camp with packs. Got straightened out this A.M. Pretty cold. Fine country. Large encampments here. Lots of other Americans. Rain & blowing. Mud.
Oct. 25th Thursday
(October 24 is part of previous entry.)
On Kitchen. Up at 4 A.M. Still lots of mud. Broke camp after breakfast + to station + boarded. Arrived in Southampton about 11 A.M. 3 mile walk to camp. Fine country. Mud. Lots of Americans downtown tonight + had a good feed.
Oct. 26th Friday
Fine day. Nothing doing in particular. Quite cold. Downtown this evening and had a feed.
Oct. 27th Saturday
On detail to unload provisions at freight yards. Downtown tonight . Feed + bath.
Oct. 28th Sunday
Wrote letters this A.M. Went on a short hike this P.M. Downtown this evening and had a feed.
Monday Oct. 29th
(crossing the English Channel; France)
Up early this A.M. Rolled packs to go away. Left about 1 P.M. Down to boat + waited till about 5 before off. Left Southampton + went across to Havre (sic) France. Awful trip across. Very rough + no place to sleep. Oct. 30th Arrived about 10 A.M. long hike to camp. All up hill. In tents again on board floors. Raining + muddy. Lots of Canadians here. 7/8 of them are Americans. Good night’s sleep.
Wed Oct 31st
(October 30 is part of previous entry.)
Rolled packs this A.M. Late mess. Left this P.M. for R.R. station. Long and hard hike. 2 hrs. About 7 miles. Had to wait 6 hrs. for train. Boarded train about
12:15 this evening. Rotten sleep. 8 in small compartment. Like Eng. Trains.
Thurs Nov 1st
Rode all day. Slowly. Broke coupling. No other excitement. Bully beef + hard tack for grub. Another night of bum sleep.
Friday Nov. 2nd
Arrived In Neuf Chateau (sic) about 9 A.M. Hiked over to Mont Neuf Chateau this A.M. Other American troops. Saw lots of them on way today. Put in small new Barracks with headquarters. Pretty good quarters.
Sat. Nov. 3rd
Up late. Had good sleep. Breakfast at 9. Nothing doing all day.
Sunday Nov. 4th
Went for short hike this A.M. Filled beds with straw. Nothing much doing.
Monday Nov. 5th
Up early. Went on about 6 mile hike this A.M. Sitting up exercises afterward then double time back to camp. Drill this P.M. then another hike mostly up hill. Letter from Polly this evening. (Polly was his sister, Florence Adeline Porter.)
Tuesday Nov 6th.
Walked to town this A.M. All got steel helmets. Back late. Dinner late. Hungry. Little talk by Hartford pastor this P.M. then hiked to woods for firewood. Tired + sore feet tonight.
Wednesday Nov 7th
Laid up today with bum feet. Didn’t
do anything much.
Thursday Nov. 8th
Raining. Went after wood up in woods after wood this A.M. Went again this P.M. Tried to clean off some of mud on mess strut this P.M. Stoves installed in our barracks this P.M.
Friday Nov. 9th
Hiked over to a town this. Raining + got soaked. Raining too hard for doing anything this P.M.
Saturday Nov. 10th
Rain hard this A.M. No calls. Went on guard this P.M. at 1:30. On 1st relief 1:30 to 5:30. Quite comfortable in guard house by fire. Got feet warm + dry for 1st time in about a week. One fellow came down with measles tonight + all in our barracks
Sunday Nov. 11th
Cold. Nothing doing. Can’t go out around anywhere. Turned in early tonight.
Monday Nov 12th
Saw sun for 1st time since we’ve been here this A.M. Played cards. hike after wood.
Tuesday Nov 13th
Cards this A.M. hike after wood this P.M.
Thursday Nov 14th (sic; this may be Wednesday, Nov. 14 or Thursday, Nov. 15 - the next entry is Friday, Nov. 16)
Cards this A.M. hike + wood this P.M. Fine day.
Friday Nov. 16th
Cards this A.M. Wood + drill (cal) this P.M. Mail this evening (Choate News).
Saturday Nov. 17th
Cards this A.M. Examined practice trenches + bombs this P.M. + got wood. Mail this evening. Letter from Louise (his sister, Harriet Louise (Porter) Walker).
Sunday Nov. 18th
Played cards + wrote letters. Went for walk this P.M.
Monday Nov. 19th
Lecture this A.M. Wood, hike.
Tuesday Nov. 20th
Lecture this A.M. Wood this P.M.
Wednesday. Nov. 21st
Lecture this A.M. M.G. instruction Hike + calisthenics this P.M.
Thursday Nov. 22nd
Lecture this A.M. Wood this P.M. Mail tonight. Testament from Polly (his sister).
Friday Nov. 23rd
Lecture this A.M. Long hike this P.M. to + around Neuf Chateau.
Saturday Nov. 24th
Wood this A.M + Lecture. M.G. instruction this P.M.
Sunday Nov. 25th
Nothing doing today.
Monday Nov. 26th
Out of quarantine today. After wood.
Tuesday Nov. 27th
Wood this A.M. Took down guns today + cleaned them up. Hike this P.M. to Neuf Chateau.
Wednesday Nov. 28th
Wood this A.M. On guard at 1:30. Rest of bunch get ½ holiday.
Thursday Nov. 29th
Off guard at 1:30. Big Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, cranberry sauce, apple sauce, crullers. After dinner walked to Neuf Chateau with Rogers + Day. Came gack with Tracy + Dennis, stopped at Café Menager.
Friday Nov. 30th
Hiked over to range beyond Pargny. Firing in A.M. D. Co. with us. Dinner from field kitchen. Cleaned guns after dinner + came back without a halt. Mustered for pay when back. Big “red dog” game this P.M.
Saturday Dec. 1st
Signed the pay roll this A.M. After a load of wood. Headquarters went after wood this P.M. Wasted all P.M. trying to find wood. Walked all over hell + brought back a small load just before supper. Worked down at Y.M.C.A. after supper.
Sunday Dec 2nd
Cold. Snow squalls. Church + communion at Y.M.C.A. this A.M. Dr. Miel. Lecture this A.M. there by William Irwin on Italian situation. Very good. Worked at Y.M.C.A. after supper.
Monday Dec 3rd
Drill all day long with guns out in lots. Wet feet, pretty cold. Down at Y.M.C.A. this evening.
Tuesday Dec. 4th
On K.P. today. Lots of work. Took out insurance of 6,000 today.
Wednesday Dec. 5th
After 2 loads of wood this A.M. M.G. practice this P.M. Down to Y.M.C.A. this evening. Mail – letter from Phil (his brother, Philip Wells Porter, who was also serving overseas).
Thursday Dec. 6th
Over to range all day long. Mail tonight – letter from Louise (his sister).
Friday Dec. 7th
Drill with M. Guns all day out in fields. Down at YMCA tonight.
Saturday Dec 8th
After wood this A.M. Nothing much doing this P.M. Mail tonight Package from Louise (his sister).
Sunday Dec 9th
Wrote letters this A.M. Down to Neuf Chateau this P.M. Cabled to Whit (Whitney Porter, his oldest living brother).
Monday Dec. 10th
Over to range today. Mail tonight – letter from Louise (his sister).
Tuesday Dec 11th
Paid this A.M. – first time since enlisted. Wood this A.M. M.G. drill this P.M. Down to Y.M.C.A. this evening.
Wednesday Dec. 12th
Over to range all day. General Edwards came around.
Thursday Dec 13th
After wood this A.M. Went on guard at 1:20 P.M. Good bunch on. Mail – Bill (his brother Phil’s wife; her given name was Orvilla), Polly (his sister)
Friday Dec. 14th
Off guard at 1:20 P.M. Down town for supper with Tracy Goodwin, Matthews.
Saturday Dec 15th
Cleaned up the town this A.M. On detail this P.M. to fix up new orderly room. Y.M.C.A. this evening.
Sunday Dec 16th
Fooled around all A.M. Wrote letters this P.M. Down to Y.M.C.A. this evening.
Monday Dec. 17th
Snowing. On detail to unload lumber. All day.
Tuesday Dec. 18th
Over to range all day. Y.M.C.A. this evening.
Wednesday Dec. 19th
Over to range again today. Y.M.C.A. this evening.
Thursday Dec. 20th
On building detail all day. Y.M.C.A. this evening.
Friday Dec. 21st
On building detail this A.M. Gas masks issued today. Lots of 1st class mail. – Polly 2 (his sister) – Bill (his brother Phil's wife) – Esther (another sister) – Louise (another sister) – Mabel (his brother Whitney’s wife; Porter's grandmother).
Saturday Dec. 22nd
Gas mask drill this A.M. Fooled around this P.M.
Sunday Dec. 23rd
Day (?) Beach + I walked to Domremy (Domrémy-la-Pucelle). Visited home of Joan of Arc, Church where baptized, place where saw vision basilique (basilica). Great place.
Dec. 24th Monday
Fine day. On special detail this A.M. Went to Neufchateau this P.M. Little celebration at mess hall. Young show, present to officers, feed, giving out of packages. I was S.O.L. Big time the old shack tonight.
Dec. 25th Tuesday
Xmas tree + combined young festival with people of town. Presents for kids. Package from Mabel + Whit (his sister-in-law and his brother). Down at Y.M.C.A. this evening. Favors, free sandwiches, cocoa. Talk by Mr. Kearney (Kenney? Kerney? Kinney?) ambulance driver.
Dec. 26th Wednesday
On special carpenters’ detail all day. Y.M.C.A. this eve.
Dec 27th Thursday
Detail with carpenters again this A.M. + P.M.
Dec 28th Friday
Snowing hard. Nothing doing this A.M. On
guard at 1:10 P.M. Cold night.
Dec. 29th Saturday
Cold. Off guard this P.M. Wrote letters.
Sunday Dec. 30th
Great day. Fooled around.
Monday Dec. 31st
Went to range – lot of snow d- cold. Big time this eve in the shack.
Hez's diary continues in the next post, The Complete World War I Diary of Hezekiah Scovil Porter - Part II, 1918.