My name is Matt Reicher, and I was the World War I Daybook Project Intern for the Spring 2016 semester. The majority of my time as an intern was spent in the MNHS Library working through the manuscript collections.
Reading the different manuscripts offered me the first-person perspective of events that is often lacking in historical literature. I found myself wrapped up in the life of the people involved, and hung on each of their words while their story took shape. Each story was unique, showing how different people handled the events unfolding around them while maintaining their sanity far away from their homes.
While I read many different types of documents in the library, the one item that stood out most was a diary written by former Glenwood resident Ingvald D. Smith. He was an American soldier who wrote notes documenting his service time in France almost daily. Titled “My Experience in the World War,” Smith’s narrative of events began in March of 1918 and continued through his honorable discharge from service on May 27, 1919. While it isn’t a day-by-day accounting, each of the diary’s 235 pages offered significant insight into the life of a soldier in war. Smith spared no detail, describing the seemingly mundane moments alongside events that unfolded while on the front lines of battle.
Two entries stood out in particular. First, on August 9, 1918, Smith’s sergeant came upon a makeshift gravesite that the group later discovered to be of US Private Herbert Holtke. Smith recognized the name, noting in an entry that Holtke was “one of the men in our group of four that volunteered for service and accompanied us on our trip to France.” Two entries mention Holtke, Smith’s first notation and the description of his gravesite. Though little else is revealed about Holtke and his death, it is a fascinating entry.
The second, written on October 2, 1918, found Smith describing how quickly the fighting could be upon them. “This evening while I was sitting beside a small fire making toast several enemy planes came over flying low, and with machine guns opened fire on the troops in the valley.” He noted after crawling out of a small fox hole that the four-hour barrage “was the worst thing that I have encountered yet.”
While Smith’s diary is captivating, the physical book itself is what I found most compelling. It is large, but pocket-sized and has a slight bend in it giving the impression that Smith carried it with him in his pocket during his time in France. Some of his notes, especially those during his early days in France, give the impression that they were written only moments after an event occurred.
The final few pages of Smith’s diary are a short synopsis of some of the events he took part in during the war. Smith notes his enlistment date, organizations he was attached to in France, as well as the five fronts he fought on – adding whether or not those battles were “offensive” or “defensive” engagements.
Look for Smith’s story, along with many others, when the World War I Daybook blog launches in April, 2017!!