October 24, 1918 – Letter to Robert’s mother:
I got a note from Helen the other day but mercy she either doesn’t know any news or forgets to write any because she only writes Hello, good bye.
After I got out of the line a couple of weeks ago I went to a quiet sector to rest up. All the boys sure needed it. I have been recommended for the position of Corporal and will get it no doubt before you get this letter.
At present I am behind the lines. The days of living in towns is past I guess. I have a good dugout however and do not care.
There are some towns not far from here but they are only piles of rock and of course no people live in them.
Just now I hear a great deal about peace but from the sound of the artillery it doesn’t look much like it. However I do hope that the Hun is getting enough war now. We are sure making him like it.
We have a new set of cooks and are getting fed a lot better than before. We also have rubber boots and overcoats so do not suffer from the cold or wet feet.
I have not heard from any of you except Helen for a couple of weeks. Since I have been moving a good deal lately I have not had time to write to Scotland. Got a letter from Mr. Nielson my old boss last week. It was a long one and very interesting.
Well Mother there is little news just now. I hope you are glad that I have been recommended for a Corporalcy. I do not think I would have consented to accepting it, only I knew it would make you glad a little.
Tomorrow I am entitled to wear my first gold stripe for six months foreign service in the U.S. Army.
Tell Jane birthday greetings.
With love to all, Rob
I think this is such a sad letter. Even on the day when Robert learned he was being promoted, and a week after getting a new position, and with rumors of peace swirling, you can easily read between the lines here and see how complicated his relationship with his mother seems to have been.
His family continues to not send him letters. He has mentioned this several times over the last six months – I don’t remember him mentioning even one letter from his mother and very few from his father and sisters. It’s worth remembering that (I suspect) his family was very angry with him for getting Nora pregnant, breaking his engagement and marrying Nora just before leaving for the Army. Even with that, though, it’s hard to imagine this lack of support from home.
The saddest part has to be toward the end, where Robert says he hopes his mother is “glad a little” about his promotion.
Here’s the gold stripe Robert mentioned – the “Overseas Chevron,” worn on the left sleeve of his uniform. Each chevron represented six months of overseas service.
Devoted readers of MN Doughboy 1918 will remember that I have been obsessing about the mysterious “Mr. Nielson,” sometimes called “GRN,” for quite a while. Today Robert adds a key piece to the puzzle: Mr. Nielson was Robert’s boss, possibly at Swift & Company. Whoever he was, I’m glad he was so supportive of Robert.
Where was Robert today? See the timeline.