Before the onset of the First World War, the Red Cross was still a small organization, with only some 17,000 members. The outbreak of war in Europe in July of 1914 created an unprecedented need for civilian aid as the war brought a level of suffering and destruction unknown in previous wars. Membership in the Red Cross increased dramatically during the course of the war, and by 1918, the organization had 20 million members. In addition, $400 million in aid was raised by the American public. Because July 28th of this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, we thought that it would be appropriate to share some of the World War I materials found in our collections.
An 1887 graduate of Indiana University, Ernest P. Bicknell was born on February 23, 1862 in Vincennes, Indiana.He spent his first six years after graduation working in the newspaper business in Indianapolis followed by serving as a secretary for the Indiana Board of Charities. In 1906, while working as the director of the Chicago Bureau of Charities, Bicknell was called to aid the Red Cross in San Francisco, California which was devastated by earthquake and fire and many were in need of charitable relief.This event led Bicknell to twenty-seven years of service to the American Red Cross.
His work in San Francisco was admirable and almost immediately he was offered the newly created post of National Director of the Red Cross. He initially declined because of concerns that the Red Cross was still a young organization with few resources, but in 1908 he accepted after his salary was guaranteed for five years through the Russell Sage Foundation.This assignment was followed by several years as the director-general for civilian relief. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Bicknell traveled to Europe to direct several relief and aid efforts. He served as Deputy Commissioner to France, Commissioner to Belgium, and Special Commissioner to the Balkan States, as well as serving as a member of several international relief organizations.While working in Belgium, he was given the military title of Lieutenant Colonel.
The armistice signed on November 11, 1918 meant even more work for Bicknell, as the Red Cross sought to provide aid to those who had been displaced, impoverished, or otherwise affected by four years of war in Europe. Bicknell was first named Red Cross Deputy Commissioner to Europe in 1919 and finally Commissioner to Europe in 1921. He then moved on to serve as Director of the Rockefeller Foundation War Relief Committee, which sought to aid non-combatants who had suffered due to the war. Additionally, he also periodically worked for the Office for Insular and Foreign Operations, finally becoming the Vice Chairman in April of 1923.
Bicknell’s commendable humanitarian work earned him numerous distinctions and awards of service from the countries he aided. Among his awards, he was named “Commander of the Crown” by King Albert of Belgium, and was awarded the Legion of Honor from the French government, the Order of the Crown of Italy, Order of the Red Cross and Order of Prince Danilo of Montenegro, the Order of the Red Cross of Serbia, Order of Saint Anne of Russia, Order of St. Savior of Greece, and Order of Poland Restituta of Poland. In the United States, he was awarded the gold medal from the National Institute of Social Science and an LL.D. from Indiana University for his work abroad.Additionally, his wife, Grace, was awarded the Order of Elizabeth by the Queen of Belgium.
Ernest Bicknell passed away in September of 1935 of heart complications and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. In his honor, State Road 159 from Bicknell to Freelandville in Knox County, Indiana, is officially known as the “Ernest P. Bicknell Highway.” One note of condolence said of Bicknell that “his life was spent in service to his fellowmen. His admirable qualities won him a host of friends all over the world.”
If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating man and his work with the Red Cross contact the IU Archives to view the Ernest P. Bicknell papers.
“Dedicated to the Brave Men of Indiana – Who Loved TheirCountry More Than Knowledge – More than Life.”
–The 1918 Arbutus Dedication
Curated by Library Science graduate students Allison Haack and Alessandro Meregaglia, the exhibit Indiana University and the Great War: Student, Professor, and Alumni Involvement in World War I is now on display in the IU Archives!
The entry of the United States into World War I on April 6, 1917, caused a rise in patriotism as people across the country sought to contribute to the war effort. The war had already been raging for nearly three years. Germany had resumed unrestricted submarine warfare on all US ships and the contents of the Zimmerman Telegram had became public. The Indiana University community was eager to do its part to contribute to the war effort and President Bryan urged, “Your first thought every day should be in what you can most effectively serve your country.” In true Hoosier fashion, the students, faculty, and alumni rose admirably to the occasion.
By the fall semester of 1918, 60 percent of the student population had enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps and students, professors, and alumni were sent overseas. Male students enrolled in new Military Science courses to prepare for enlistment or joined the Ambulance Corps and were sent to France. Female students and staff volunteered at the campus Red Cross Workshop and through other war relief organizations. The Indiana Daily Student kept those on the homefront informed about the progress of the war, especially news of current students and alumni who had enlisted or gone abroad with the Red Cross.
The exhibit highlights wartime contributions from the IU Community such as one of the founders of Kappa Alpha Psi Elder Watson Diggs (Lieutenant, 92nd African-American Division, alumni Horace Goff (30th Engineer Regiment (Gas and Flame) and William R. Ringer (S.A.T.C enlistee), and Ernest P. Bicknell (Red Cross Humanitarian), and faculty members Edna G. Henry (Social Services Work) and Georgia Finley (Dietician). It also looks at the role of the S.A.T.C., changes to the IU curriculum to prepare male students for military service, the 1918 influenza epidemic on campus, and the armistice celebrations in Bloomington.
Visit the IU Archives on the 4th floor of the West Tower in room E460!
“Can you imagine eighteen thousand pieces of heavy artillery talking at the same time? I was in the front line trench at the time, where I could see and hear everything. It was something that I will never forget.” -Horace Porter Goff in a letter to his parents dated September 17, 1918
Horace Porter Goff was 28 years old and a student in the middle of his final year at Indiana University when he decided to enlist as a soldier in the United States Army in December 1917. Goff was assigned to the 30th Engineer Regiment (Gas and Flame), which later became the 1st Gas Regiment. This regiment played a significant role in military history because it was the first to use gas and flame in combat. This form of combat was introduced in WWI, and the US War Department required a gas regiment for the first time in order to keep up with the German military, which had been using poison gas since 1915. Because of his experience as a chemistry major at IU, Goff was chosen for this regiment. He says in a letter to his parents, “I cannot say what kind of work I will be assigned to. If I get the kind that is connected with what I want it will be the manufacturing and analysis of gases. The army is a very uncertain thing in a way and it might be that I will have to be one that fights with the gases and flame” (December 19, 1917). Goff was correct in noting the uncertainty of the army, as he ended up serving in combat at the Western Front in France during the climax of the war.
Goff’s letters describe his life as a soldier, including training and drills in Columbus, Ohio and Fort Myer, Virginia, his explorations of the French countryside, and his experiences hiding in German foxholes at the Western Front. The majority of the letters are written to Goff’s parents in Indiana and include reassurances that he is safe and, more often than not, requests for his mother’s homemade cakes and pies. Goff arrived in France in early March 1918 and underwent more training before entering combat in late June 1918. Initially, he provides little information about the war, perhaps so as not to worry his parents, or perhaps to avoid disclosing his location and orders. As he gets closer to the front, he begins to provide more details about the trials and atmosphere surrounding battle. One of his initial experiences in witnessing the effects of the war firsthand occurred not long after he entered combat. Upon seeing the war front for the first time, he writes:
“It was my first experience to see towns that had been shelled by the Germans. Some of the buildings had large shell holes thru them while others were a total wreck. These towns have all been vacated. They certainly look desolate. Occasionally you see an old man or woman groping along the street or looking out of a window. These people, I judge, are some that thought it not worth their while to move and would stay as long as a wall stands. Things were rather quiet. The stillness was broken once in a while by a sniper shooting a machine gun or an occasional report of a big gun. The sound rolled across the valley like thunder and we could hear the shell when it burst several miles back of the German lines. About 11:00 o’clock a German plane came over and dropped some shells, but it was soon located by an anti-aircraft gun and was made to beat it back…At last I have had my imagination and curiosity satisfied. Although our work is a little dangerous and hard while it lasts, I consider myself lucky when I look down and see the poor fellows in the trenches. You can see some that have crawled over the edge and lying on the ground sleeping while others are resting and at the same time keeping on the alert” (June 29, 1918).
By August, Goff reached the trenches and became one of those “poor fellows.” He describes the living conditions as less than ideal, writing:
“Our homes were dugouts and our companions were fleas, cooties and rats ‘bocu’ (very many). The worst part of it all is that the rats are a little too friendly for solid comfort. It is nothing to wake up and feel something crawling along your back as if it wanted to share part of your bed. I don’t know how they live in such places but from all appearances of the size of them they certainly get something to eat. Fleas and cooties really make it more uncomfortable for us than rats” (August 17, 1918).
Goff spent several months at the Western Front and was present at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, a month-long battle that lasted from September 1918 until the Armistice on November 11, 1918. It is widely referred to as one of the bloodiest and most casualty-ridden battles in U.S. history. In a letter dated about a week before the offensive officially began, Goff provides moving details about his experiences in the trenches. He writes:
“We returned to camp yesterday at 6 o’clock after spending six days in the trenches. You no doubt will have read the home papers by the time you receive this letter in regard to the big drive which the boys are pulling off. It started on Thursday the twelfth at 1 A.M. and we were in the thickest of it all, where the shrapnel shells were bursting and the cannons roared. Can you imagine eighteen thousand pieces of heavy artillery talking at the same time? The artillery opened up with a heavy barrage at 1 A.M. and continued until 5 A.M. Then a rolling barrage started, followed by the infantry charging over the top. I was in the front line trench at the time, where I could see and hear everything. It was something that I will never forget. A few hours after the infantry went over we followed them but they went so fast we couldn’t keep up so they brought us back to camp.
I saw my first German trenches and dugouts. Some of their dugouts are almost like a home. Night before last we slept in one of these holes in the ground that was thirty feet deep, reinforced with steel and concrete. As we had had very little to eat for forty-eight hours, our appetites were replenished by some smoked bacon, ham and bread which the Germans had left. Beyond a doubt our drive was not expected by them, for you could see signs of a hasty retreat everywhere. Provisions of all kinds, ammunition and guns were found in most of their dugouts. I have a pair of small wooden sandals which I found in a German trench. They are hand made. I intend to send them to James if I can. I also have a couple of German hand made canes which I would like to send home but I don’t see how I can pack them so they would go. I also have a button as a souvenir from the first dead Boche I saw” (September 17, 1918).
Despite the war around him, not all of Goff’s time was occupied in drills and combat. Goff also writes about his leisure activities, explorations around France, and observations about French culture made during his off-duty passes. He describes his first impressions about France to his parents, writing:
“I have been enjoying myself over here. The people are very hospitable and willing to give you anything they have. Of course on account of the war their hospitality is limited. You can see poverty to the greatest degree. We are stationed in a very small village surrounded by mountains. Most of the people live in little villages located in the valleys. They have little plots of ground on the outskirts of the town that they farm. … The people however are not very progressive. They plough with their horses in tandem fashion and they drive to wagons the same way. I was very much surprised to see their horses. As a rule they all have find stock, mostly percherons” (March 24, 1918).
A few months later, he observes the effects of the war in the village where he is stationed. He explains:
“Everybody works — men, women, and children alike. You never see a strong, able bodied man in the field for they are as scarce back here as hen’s teeth. It looks hard to see a young girl twelve or thirteen years old working along side of an old man, both pitching hay and the mother loading. That is what I saw this evening just in front of our billet” (June 4, 1918).
Although Goff enjoys traveling in France, even his in his leisure time, signs of war are all around him. He frequently describes the hollow remains of bombed buildings and comments on the poverty, high prices, scarcity of food, and presence of women in black mourning clothes in every city he visits. During his 18 hour pass off duty in August 1918, German soldiers dropped approximately 12 bombs on the town where Goff was staying. One fell about a block from the hotel where he was sleeping, setting a building on fire. Goff left France in late January 1919 and returned to the United States on February 2, 1919. He received his honorable discharge papers on February 15, 1919.
I have been working with the Digital Library Program to digitize the entire Goff collection, which includes Goff’s diary, 54 letters, discharge papers, an Indiana University Commencement Program from 1918, photographs of Goff and his regiment, and transcriptions of the diary and letters typed by Goff’s grandson, James M. Goff, in 1983. Images of all of these items are linked to the finding aid for this collection and are currently available for viewing at the Indiana University Archives Online page. Contact the IU Archives for more information.