Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) postcards and ephemera represent a collecting field which continues to grow. This is the third article that I have prepared for The Ephemera Society of America in recent years! The first two described the ocean liner cards produced by the Jewish Welfare Board during the First War, beginning in 1917 when the American involvement in the War began.
Along with organizations such as the YMCA and the Salvation Army, the Jewish Welfare Board helped to look after the well-being of ‘our boys’ overseas. The shipping cards, one of which is illustrated in Figure 1, were the springboard for my interest. Inputs from other collectors indicated that there were 72 ‘Ship’ cards for the collector to seek. These are not great artwork, but for the collector who is compelled to complete a ‘set’ the framework is in place.
But there’s more to ephemera than completing ‘sets’ of material. Ephemera is also about people, their families, and their roots. This most recent Update stems from material in a recently discovered archive about a Buffalo family, including a delightful JWB comic postcard and other material which helps to fill in the blank canvas about one family whose doughboy was touched by the work of the Jewish Welfare Board, which was one of the predecessors to the USO (United Service Organizations) of the Second World War.
First is a postcard, “Greetings from Camp Upton” (Figure 2). It was sent early in 1918 to Mr. Milton Martin in Buffalo, and cancelled at the Brooklyn, NY, Upton Branch of the United States Post Office. It advises that ‘Earl’ is feeling fine and keeping busy while training at this military camp. Looking at the image of doughboys jumping over a barrier, rifles in hand, Mr. Martin may have had some apprehension about what the future held for his son.
Since it was unlikely that Earl carried a typewriter with him, it appears that he kept notes and later transcribed them into a log of several pages which chronicles his career in the Army. His writing style is candid and descriptive. Figure 3 sets out only the first entry in the diary, but we get the picture when his summary of traveling from Camp Upton to the European theater of war reads. “The trip abroad was filled with a combination of all the discomforts of life”.
One gets a hint of these discomforts in reading the Instructions for Troops (Figure 4). “Bunk 19, Compartment J, Deck 2” suggests an impersonal approach to housing as many men as possible on the ship. The lower part of this sheet, not pictured, includes strictures to “HELP KEEP THE PLUMBING IN ORDER”. We get the picture.
On his return at the end of the War, following action in France which is covered in his typed diary, Earl Martin sent to his mother a card provided by the Jewish Welfare Board and pictured in Figure 5. His message is “Arrived O.K. May 6th at 4:00 pm. Home soon.” It further shows that he was in Company B of the 302nd Regiment, and he arrived on the Army Transport President Grant. Written in pencil in a different hand, at the top of the back of the card, is “Rec’d May 9, 1919”. One can picture Mrs. Martin writing this important day when she received assurance that her son was safely back in the U.S.A.
A printed slip in the archive, headed as “To Buffalo and Erie County Men” invites all such discharged soldiers of the 77th Division to a special dinner to honor them at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, after which “…special Pullman cars will be run for Buffalo and Erie County men, and your meals en route will also be furnished”.
For genealogists, this isn’t just about Earl Martin. It paints a picture of life at Camp Upton, life on the battlefields of France, and the glorious homecoming to our conquering heroes. Particularly if your ancestor served in the 302nd Regiment – and even more specifically in Company B – here’s an accurate slice of their life as a doughboy while serving in the 77th Division. Genealogy doesn’t get much better than this!
By John G. Sayers (firstname.lastname@example.org) September 2013
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