by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The Homestead’s “The End of the Great War” event commemorating the centennial of the conclusion of World War I was held this afternoon. It consisted of a staged reading by several local professional actors of R.C. Sheriff’s 1928 play Journey’s End, a British officer during the conflict.
Sheriff wrote vividly and movingly of four days in March 1918 before the Battle of St. Quentin in the trenches as British troops prepared to storm a German unit and prepare for a devastating attack. The performance brought out, as expressed in the event program, “the day-to-day struggle of men in the trenches who were attempting to hold onto their humanity, civility, and a sense of normalcy amidst unthinkable destruction.
There were also poetry reading and performances of popular songs from the war era by The Roses of Picardy, a trio composed of Walter Nelson, who read the poems, his wife, Sheila Murphy-Nelson, who sung the songs, and Hui Wu, who accompanied on piano. Most of their performance was after the play and, as the sun set into evening, the trio provided a fine end to the afternoon.
This post is the last in a series having to do with the armistice and aftermath of the four-year conflict. Highlighted are several photographs from the museum’s collection of parades including returning soldiers and their welcome in Los Angeles.
The photos are not labeled, so it is uncertain when they were taken or for which parades, though one of the biggest such events after the conclusion of the war took place in April 1919. This was when soldiers from the 364th Infantry Regiment of the 91st Division of the Army, which was formed in early August 1917 and organized the following month at Camp Lewis in Washington, returned after being demobilized.
The regiment fought in three major campaigns in France towards the end of the war, including Ypres-Lys, the Meuse-Argonne and Lorraine. One of their number who did not return was Sgt. Joseph L. Kauffman, brother of Walter P. Temple’s business manager, Milton Kauffman. Sgt. Kauffman was killed in the Argonne Forest and his story has been covered previously in this blog.
The April parade was given extensive coverage in the 23 April 1919 edition of the Los Angeles Times, which observed that a quarter million people lined the streets of downtown Los Angeles to welcome home 1,200 soliders from the 364th:
The sun was shining brightly, flags were flying gaily and bright flowers were strewn everywhere, but the war worn, travel-worn faces of the gallant veterans, the dented helmets, and the numerous wound stripes told a story that subdued the cheers, for the people could see and know that these men have come forth from an encarnadined inferno.
The returning troops, called “these sturdy sons of California” and the “treat-em rough” fighting men who ferociously and intrepidly repelled the “arrogant Prussians,” marched down the streets leaving gaps for those of their fellow soldiers who did not return and “who made the supreme sacrifice,” like Kauffman.
The article continued with lavish praise, stating that these men “went forward against hellish machines of destruction when it seemed that the task was beyond the power of men to accomplish.” It added that “they typify the heroic American army that stopped the war many months before military experts believed it could be stopped.” Moreover, “theirs was the glory of having administered the finishing blow, of saving untold thousands of lives and billions of dollars, and yesterday the people of Los Angeles endeavored to show their appreciation.”
Images showed troops marching at Fourth and Broadway and receiving an open-air mess (meal) at Pershing Square, which was renamed from the original 1866 name of Central Park two days after the signing of the armistice by vote of the City Council. Other photos were of decorated troops from the area. Pershing also was an honored guest at a Los Angeles parade in 1919 and Walter P. Temple, Jr., who was ten years old and whose family owned the Homestead at the time, brought with him to the event an iron coin bank with a likeness of “Black Jack” given to him by his mother. More is forthcoming on the renaming of Pershing Square on Tuesday!
As is usually the case, however, with the mass mobilization of American men into military service, the mustering out of these soldiers presented significant issues for their return. These included medical care, physical and mental, and the return of troops to the nation’s workforce, with jobs not readily available for too many men who left their employment to serve their country but returned without a guarantee of returning to their work.
As early as mid-January 1919, this latter issue was raised locally, in the state legislature and also became a national matter. On the 24th, the Times reported that state legislators were poised to pass a Soldier’s Employment and Readjustment bill to assist returning troops in getting back to civilian life and finding jobs.
Notably, resolutions passed by both houses calling upon the federal government to provide each veteran six months pay after discharge was criticized by some lawmakers as a “gratuity,” and “futile and inexpedient,” while one sponsor in the Assembly observed that “Bolshevism is just around the corner,” because of the recent Russian Revolution, and “there must be no hunger among returning soldiers.” Other advocates stated the federal government could afford to provide the assistance.
Two days later, the paper wrote about a job replacement bureau set up to assist returning soldiers find jobs and stated “hundreds of local men, swept into the currents of war and for more than year harnesses to the machines of destruction, today are being refitted to the needs of business.” The article continued that the task was enormous, but specially trained individuals were assisting and it was hoped “there will not be a single soldier nor seaman among the 40,000 or more who responded from this city to the nation’s call . . . who will be unprovided an opportunity to return to a useful task.”
Since the beginning of the year, when the bureau began its work, 700 men were registered, with all of them needing jobs. It was stated that about 500 job openings were forwarded by employers and that about half the men had been hired in a wide range of capacities.
A few months later, in March, a new veterans’ organization was formed, and a late April article in the Times talked about
a new organization of soldiers, sailors and marines, which has for its announced purpose to make Congress provide for the returning fighting man with a job . . . about 4 million men are eligible for membership in this association, which calls itself the Legion, and in one month it has made itself widely known and established branches in all parts of the country . . . the organizers of the Legion specifically state that they are opposed to Bolshevism . . . [and] do not wish their organization confused with European workmen’s and soldiers’ councils. The soldiers and sailors intend to uphold American tradition. They also intend to assert their right.
The American Legion felt obligated, in its formative stages, to distance itself from perceptions of left-wing socialist movements that were rising in Russia and in western Europe during a period of a quick swing to conservatism in the States.
Any postwar recovery, especially on such a large scale as followed such conflicts as the Civil War and the world wars, involves a wide range of social, economic and political conflict, especially as economic downturns, difficulties in personal adjustment to civilian life, and emotional and mental trauma to military personnel are usually widespread and deeply felt.
The turmoil that arose during and after the First World War brought major changes to the social, economic and political landscapes of America as it did in other combatant nations. The Roaring Twenties, the third major decade in the Homestead’s interpretive era of 1830 to 1930, reflected dramatic transformations in so many areas of life, with the war being instrumental for much of it.
Over the next decade or so, the museum will make the centennial of that decade a core component of its interpretation in exhibits, events, blog and social media posts and other aspects and we look forward to bringing these to attention and, especially, comparing and contrasting them with current conditions.