”January 9th, 1918 Camp Gordon, Georgia Just like a good little soldier, I stood Reveille at the appointed hour of 5:15. I mention the fact every day because it is a daily occurrence and leaves a cold, chilly statue in my mind--a shivering pair of pajamas put aside for a uniform. Every morning I am reminded of a little ditty to one of the boys in the Second Training Camp.
J. Ed BellWilliam Arthur Sirmon, original picture on the back cover of the 1929 edition.
Says, “who can tell,
Whether five o’clock Reveille
Or war is hell?
Yes, Lieutenant William Arthur Sirmon had an ongoing issue with reveille as do most of us who just want another hour of sleep before trudging off to work. Lucky for us Lieutenant Sirmon decided to keep a journal of his experiences during World War One. They were originally published in 1929, but his Great-Grandson Brannon William Sirmon resurrection this important document in 2011 to be used as a platform to help wounded veterans. When Brannon contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his Great-Grandfather’s diary I was sceptical, but he gave me a link that let me read some of William’s writing and it didn’t take me long to realize that I was a reader for this book. The link to get a sample is here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/274678. Brannon also has a great website as well that will give you more background on his Great-Grandfather and other interesting stories about veterans:: http://www.thatswar.com/
”I wish I was in the happy land
Where rivers of beer abound.
Sloe ginrickeys hangin’ on the trees
And highballs rollin’ on the ground.
What? Highballs rollin’ on the ground?
Sure! Highballs rollin’ on the ground.”
Diaries are so interesting. It is like being a Peeping Tom without all the potential legal ramifications. It gives us a chance to not only observe, in this case, a soldier’s experiences, but also what is worrying him. What does he miss from home? How does he feel about the war? We see the details, sometimes seemingly mundane, of a soldier’s life, and the juxtaposition of those everyday affairs with the unexpected horror of combat. This type of honest writing brings the reader right into the cot at Camp Gordon and the trenches of France. Postcard circa 1918 from Camp Gordon, Georgia
William Sirmon was born in Bluffsprings, Florida, but grew up in Prichard, Alabama just outside of Mobile. He is an ordinary guy sent to do extraordinary things. After you read this diary you will realize there is potential greatness in all of us. The diary brims with optimism and even when faced with frequent setbacks his belief in the job he has been sent to do never wavers. He knows what he is fighting for.
He becomes a hero.
I’m going to share a slice of what happened on August 16th, 1918. But we had to get out. As I struggled with Hazelwood, he bled profusely. He soon had my back soaked in blood and it became slippery. He weighed 180 pounds, and as I tip the scales at 135 it was hard to keep him balanced. I would have to throw him over the wire entanglements sometimes and then crawl after him. This would cause the Boche to shoot up their flares and rake the wire again. We would have to remain mighty still.
Hazelwood was becoming weak. He begged me to leave him. He constantly wanted to rest. I was afraid he would become unconscious or bleed to death before I could tend to his wounds. The enemy decided we were wounded in the wire, and came out to get us. I could hear them talking...
I told Hazelwood to remain away from me as I was going to fight them if they discovered us. I would not be taken prison. He asked that I stay right by him. If I were killed, he wanted to go too. I took out four grenades, his and the two I carried, and took out my forty-five and waited. One party of three Boche came within five feet of us I kept them covered, for the slightest sign that they had seen us was to be my cue to kill them...
The Germans, by some miracle missed us...
I stood up and undertook to life my comrade up on my shoulder. As I lifted, I would get him about waist high and he would groan with pain. I cautioned him to be quiet, but each lift brought the same result until I discovered that all of his foot had been blown away except a long piece of skin, to which was attached his big toe. I was standing on his toe, endeavoring to lift him on my shoulder. No wonder he would groan!
Sirmon does get Hazelwood back to the American lines and because of his efforts Hazelwood does live. This sets our young hero up for a meeting with General John Pershing. ”After the war William Arthur Sirmon was decorated 3 times for bravery. Once side by side with Alvin York (of the movie "Sergeant York" fame as played by Gary Cooper), just the two of them, decorated by General John Pershing in February of 1919 in France. He received France's highest award "The French Legion of Honor." He also received the Croix de Guerre with Palm, the American "Distinguished Service Cross" and "Silver Star". He was an honorary citizen of France as a result.”General John Pershing
Sirmon is the most highly decorated soldier from Georgia, although there may be some people who might feel he is of Alabama or even Florida stock, and many believe he may have been the most decorated soldier of the entire war. Not only was he made an honorary citizen of France, but also of England.
He chases women most intently all through the diary, at every stop, at every opportunity. He even spends an evening with some of the famous Ziegfeld girls. Ziegfeld Girls
There is a humorous moment with a French girl that left him baffled and feeling a little overmatched. When he is in the hospital for chemical burns from Mustard Gas he meets a girl from Virginia and her melodious southern voice made him wishful she could just stand there asking him questions all day long. She brought home with her in the soft tones of her accent.
Reading this diary you will experience combat.”As I was crawling along the St. Georges-St. Juvin road, the Boche began shelling us. I hugged the protection of the road bank. There was a hit on the slope above me. The explosion almost deafened me; dirt rained down upon me and more than half a man’s leg fell with my reach. Even a lull is terrible here. Machine guns pepper us intermittently, there bullets cracking over our heads at intervals all day.”Enlistment propaganda poster World War One
I know that “reality” TV takes up way too much time in American lives today, but I wish that more people would turn off the tube and read about people who have more on the line than just a pile of cash. They need to read about people like Sirmon who were paid a pittance and were placed in a “game” where elimination was a flag draped coffin and to win was to save the world for REAL
. This diary is going to prove to be invaluable to writers who wish to know the details of World War One spanning from the life at Camp Gordon, preparing the troops for war and preparing himself to lead them there, but also to bring them back home again, and through the shelled, but still beautiful landscape of France to the trenches on the Front Line. For readers like myself I get to experience a year in the life of an American Doughboy as if I were really there in the muck, snagged on the wire, hoping my buddy is as brave as William Sirmon. Highly recommended!
”Oh the infantry, the infantry, has mud behind their ears
The infantry, the infantry, could drink a million beers,
The artillery, the cavalry, and the damned old engineers-
Well, they couldn’t lick the infantry
in a hundred thousand years.”