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The Stars and Stripes

The Life of a Doughboy

When soldiers weren't in the trenches, they spent time in "rest" camps, but life there was not easy either. An article like "Edible Mattresses for Army Sleepers" was humorous but also conveyed the challenges of life on the front. The article informed soldiers that their bedsacks would in future be filled with hay rather than straw and that, when they got new stuffing after a month, the used hay would be fed to animals. Similarly, an article on "Shaving in France" described well the challenges of a simple task of personal hygiene (which was required by military orders!).

Stories make clear the importance of "A Box from Home" or the Salvation Army's "Pies and Doughnuts for Men up Front.". Writing home was also important to the soldiers:

"But rain or no rain, the great and goodly sport of writing home flourishes apace in every camp, in every rest billet, in every place where the A.E.F. lays down its pack. Censoring officers are said to dread Sunday nights almost as much as if they had to go to prayer-meeting."

"An Army Sunday in France," The Stars and Stripes, June 28, 1918, page 4, columns 4-6

Many articles in The Stars and Stripes described places soldiers could visit on leave and the amenities available to them. By the end of the war, 435,472 American soldiers had enjoyed weeklong leaves in many of France's most beautiful locations. Search the collection using the term leave to learn more about where and how soldiers traveled and about the suspension of leaves during the late spring of 1918.

Harold Ross, a veteran journalist, joined the army and served as part of a Railway Engineer Corps until he joined the staff of The Stars and Stripes, where he initiated the highly successful War Orphans Campaign. The campaign was launched with a front-page article in the March 29, 1918, issue. The article said, in part:

"In France there are thousands of children who need help — orphans, the children of crippled soldiers, the children of the invaded districts whose parents may now be laboring at the point of a bayonet behind the German lines, or may be dead. The story of their tribulation is well known. Of all those who have made sacrifices for liberty their sufferings are the most acute. Of all causes theirs is the worthiest and most pressing. . . .

These children need assistance. They deserve the prerogative of every child, a chance. No one is able to help them more than the men of the A.E.F. No one."

From "Take as Your Mascot a French War Orphan," The Stars and Stripes, March 29, 1918, page 1, columns 6-7

Nearly every subsequent issue of the paper included an article about the orphans. In the September 27, 1918, issue of The Stars and Stripes, a second major call went out to the doughboys — adopt "500 Christmas Gift War Orphans" in a campaign to double the size of the A.E.F.'s war orphan family, "...a campaign to secure food, clothing, comfort, schooling for a year for little French children whose fathers have paid the supreme price for liberty."

  • Consider all that you have read about the day-to-day life of a doughboy when not in the trenches. Write a letter from a doughboy to a friend, describing a day in your life at a rest camp.
  • Reflect on what you learned about leave for soldiers. Write a second letter home, describing a one-week leave in France. Where did you go? How did you get there? What did you do while you were there?
  • Find out how successful the war orphans campaign was. How would you explain this level of success? Add a postscript to your doughboy's letter home, describing the war orphans campaign and why you are involved. Explain how participating in the campaign makes you feel.