Gratiot County During the Great War – July 1918: “The Summer of Saving, Sacrifice and Blood”

Enlist A.jpgBAnk A.jpgWSS A.jpgWheat A.jpg Above: news advertisements from the Gratiot County Herald and Alma Record from July, 1918.

        During July 1918 some advertisements appeared through the newspapers in ways that they had since the United States entered the Great War (now referred to many as “The World War”).

       The Ithaca Commercial Bank asked people to buy “Baby Bonds” (War Savings Stamps) because “Every member of the family should have a BABY BOND.” The same bank imitated the pressure put on people in 1918 to be loyal Americans: “War Savings Certificates Will Certify Your Patriotism – And Pay You Handsomely.” Other businessmen like H.B. Thompson told people they should buy military watches for their soldier boy because “The hardest item in the Jewelry line to obtain is to get a good Military watch.” People also were asked to “Be Patriotic: Attend the Big Day and Night Fair” at the county fair as a portion of the proceeds of ticket sales would be given to the Red Cross. Then there were advertisements that loudly hammered the theme of doing one’s best in wartime, and then asked individuals to buy the merchants product. The Middleton Farmer’s Elevator shouted to people to “SAVE FOOD” because the United States Food Administrator, Herbert Hoover, urged conservation and self-sacrifice with food products. The elevator had a supply of Number 4 Yellow Corn for sale, and this type could be fed to livestock. C.H. Corwin in Ashley also told readers to “SAVE! SAVE! SAVE! And Help Feed the Allies” by buying groceries and provisions from him. Still other advertisements from the government repeated “Be an American! Enlist in the Marines!”
The county was continually asked to buy war bonds and stamps in July. Known as “Baby Bonds,” War Savings Stamps became the way that all people, regardless of how much money, could support the war effort. Every person in Gratiot County could purchase War Savings Stamps and they were expected to do so. Simon Messinger of Alma tried to encourage 98 boys to buy stamps. If any of them showed a card with three stamps on it, he would provide the fourth, which would eventually be redeemable for one dollar after the war (an increase of 25 cents). Fred Slater, William Rogers and Otto Sanderhoff all purchased an advertisement in the Alma Record entitled “A Call to Every American.” It encouraged people to invest in the five dollar stamp plan. When Alma held another stamp drive in July, employees of Republic Truck Company Plant Number Three purchased over $2000 in stamps. Mrs. F.W. Ruggles, the company owner’s wife, purchased the limit of $1000 worth of stamps. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kuhn also bought a total of $500 in stamps.

       Rationing continued and there seemed to be no end to the warnings by the government that leaner times were here. Gratiot County just needed to prepare and persevere. In Alma, there were attempts to start rabbit clubs in order to provide extra meat for families. Boys and girls from ages ten eighteen were invited to participate. War time recipes involved what could be done with cottage cheese dishes. Egg candling was required for anyone selling eggs by the case. Wheat harvest was imminent and already people were being told how to use whole wheat flour in efficient ways. Macaroni, noodles, spaghetti and many wheat breakfast foods all contained wheat, therefore as one advertisement read “SAVE WHEAT – EAT POTATOES – EAT OTHER CEREALS.” Dr. J.H. Kellogg from the Battle Creek Sanitarium even tried to convince the public that “There is no necessity for eating wheat at all.” Kellogg recommended a total meatless diet and encouraged using more peanuts and soy beans. He also argued that using more corn with milk would be a great substitute in the diet. New sugar rulings took effect starting July 1 and one could not buy more than three pounds of sugar per month and grocers could have no more than a thirty day supply on hand at any time. Those who still had a sweet tooth for cake were told by the government that wheat flour substitutes could be used to make barley sponge cake, corn (flour) sponge cake, oat sponge cake, spice cake -and even chocolate cake – with barley. Other conservation that summer came when elevators across the county announced that grain bags would no longer be loaned to farmers. An impending gas shortage seemed to be on the horizon. Drivers were urged to drive at an “economical speed” of 12 to 20 miles per hour. Running a car while it sat idling was frowned upon and maintaining brakes, oil and tires helped a car to be most efficient. Hard coal was going to be in short supply for the upcoming winter and people were urged to buy and save coal now. Also, starting July 29 lightless nights would be in effect on Monday and Tuesday nights in the county in order to conserve fuel.

        The Red Cross continued its work in the county, especially by encouraging support for a membership drive. Two benefits were held in Alma. One of these, the Artists’ Red Cross concert, was held at the high school and raised $300. At the Ruggles home in Alma, those who attended the benefit there found electric lights draped across the large lawn. Morton’s saxophone orchestra provided music for dancing for those who came to support the Red Cross. The Red Cross also had a large parade in Alma in mid-July. As a band made up of locals led the way, a group of 35 ladies followed in the shape of a large Red Cross. Then came the Alma branch of the Red Cross, followed by high school cadets and Michigan State Troop Company 87. When the parade finished there was a stand set up at the corner of State and Superior streets for speakers to address the crowd about donating, pledging and supporting the organization. Still, the Red Cross was active in many other parts of Gratiot County. The New Haven Red Cross chapter had 31 ladies present at its regular July meeting. The group completed work on hospital jackets, socks, quilts and waist clothes. During that month, the chapter added ten senior and three junior members. Readers of local newspapers also saw more and more drawings and images that showed the important role that the Red Cross had in the war effort.

         For a while, the county newspapers continued to focus on the status of soldiers who were still going off to war via the draft. Those who enlisted on their own found their names on the front page of the newspaper, such as six Alma men who had done so voluntarily (Clifford Link, Theodore Snydes, Elmer Markham, Russell Burrows, Elton Durkee, and Anthony Trendell). Then there was the story of Francis Zone of Lansing, a deserter, who was caught at the Alma Post Office. Zone skipped his final examination in Grand Rapids and was discovered in Alma. Sixty-four men were called for duty to Camp Custer on July 25, however, the number requested from Camp Custer was well short of the 190 Class One men that were required. The draft board was looking at the reclassification of some eligible men. There was a list published of 34 men on the Alma Company of Michigan State Troops (Company 87) along with 10 who were reserves. Sometimes when a soldier married a local girl before going off to war the announcement made the news. This happened when Lieutenant Joseph Baldwin married Irene McCall of Ithaca. The wedding was simple and the honeymoon was short, then Baldwin left for Camp Custer to train troops. He was not expected to head to France until October.

        During July, newspapers now started to publish the addresses of soldiers in camps and those who were in France. Families began to turn in the addresses as they learned where there son was located. It was hoped that people would write to Gratiot County’s young men. One of the letters that appeared in the Gratiot County Herald from Sergeant George H. Dolloff simply came from “Somewhere in France.” Dolloff wrote about being able to see over a trench into No Man’s Land into the area belonging to Kaiser Bill. One of the men in his company had just returned from a raiding party and brought back an enemy helmet. Dolloff expected to leave his trenches very soon on similar patrols.

        News reports about area soldiers changed from being informative pieces and letters from young men who were just starting the army life to the horrible reality of war. Clarence Gruesbeck of Hamilton Township was reported as being severely wounded in France in late June. The family awaited details of his condition. Grimmer still were the first stories of Gratiot men who were killed in combat. July was a bloody month as soldiers like Howard Wolverton, Richard Willoughby, Leslie McLean and Orrin Riker all fell in France. For the families and friends of these men the war took the highest possible price, Gratiot County’s youth. Sadly, there would be still more that would die from Gratiot County.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

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