Clarence H. Bailey in World War I, part 1

Clarence Humphrey Bailey was the uncle by marriage of my grandmother Dorothy Ruth (McMurry) Black. He married his third cousin, Dorothy M. Bailey, who was my grandmother’s maternal aunt. I was lucky enough to get to know Clarence somewhat when I was young, as he lived until late 1982, when I was 16 years old. When I was 13, we bonded over our love of Shakespeare (mine was shallow—I had just discovered Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet; his was deeper—he read the bard while serving in World War I). That said, I regret not getting to know Clarence better. Despite he and his wife Dot only living two hours away, I only remember visiting him about a dozen times in my life. To my teenaged self, he always appeared intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful, and sensitive. Now that I’m learning more about him by reading the many letters he sent home, I realize my teenaged impression was spot on (although there is a lot more depth to the man than I would have guessed as a teen).

This series of posts represents my first attempt to present all of the documentary evidence for Clarence’s life from just before until just after World War I. There is almost certainly additional documentary evidence to be found, and when I do find it I’ll post an update.

I would have preferred to present this as a single post, but as the available evidence continued to pile up, I realized a single post would just be too long to be read in a single sitting. Hence, I’ve broken the post up into four posts: Clarence’s enlistment and training, his travel to France and close to the front lines, his experiences at the front and as part of the Army of Occupation, and his return from Germany to the United States. If you think you can manage it, I’d really recommend reading them all at one go so that you can immerse yourself in his WWI experience.

The majority of his story will be told in his own words, through letters he wrote home, primarily to his mother Belle Jarbeau Bailey. These letters are a unique treasure in my family history archives and have never been made public before now. I think that Clarence would have been overjoyed to know that the world can see his writings. To quote from one of his own letters (written on the day that World War I ended—November 11, 1918),

My happiest moment will be when I can see an utter strange[r] reading from a book or a paper my pictured tho’ts, the creation of my mind. I know of nothing better!

In contrast to this, on March 25, 1919, Clarence wrote:

But I hate press agent stuff and for that reason do not like to have every Tom, Dick and Harry reading my letters. I and every good man dislike the person who writes letters which he wants published.

I think Clarence was talking about intent here. He went on to say that those who write letters intending for them to be published tend to lie for the sake of telling a better story. Clarence didn’t want the burden of having to be loose with the truth to make his letters publishable, but I do feel that he would be pleased to see that family and others near and far would have a chance to see a slice of the Great War through his eyes and words more than a century after he wrote these letters.

Note: Because some of his writings can be hard to decipher, whether from the light pencil he sometimes used to write on paper now darkened with age, or because his handwriting could barely keep up with his thoughts at times, I have transcribed each handwritten letter immediately after I present a scan of each original page. Skip straight to these transcriptions if you don’t want to try to decipher his letters yourself.

Clarence was born on in Fort Collins, Colorado, on March 2, 1895 as the third of three sons to George Wicks Bailey and Belle Jarbeau. His father was a lawyer at the time Clarence was born, but he went on to become a Supreme Court Justice for the state of Colorado.

Clarence’s father died of diabetes when Clarence was only 14 years old. Clarence’s older brothers (25-year-old Isaiah Loomis (“Ike”) Bailey, and 20-year-old George Jarbeau Bailey) were adults by then, but they were presumably still living at home as they didn’t get married until 1911 and 1927, respectively. Thus, Clarence’s mother was a widow with a high-school age son and two adult sons. Her close relationship with Clarence is evident in his letters to her, as you’ll see.

Although he was born and raised in Fort Collins, Colorado, Clarence Bailey started working for The Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company in Prescott, Arizona, around 1915. He was a “telephone man” who appeared to have been trained in many aspects of installing telephone lines, poles, and switches.

The following photo of Clarence is undated but appears to have been taken either shortly before or shortly after his military service during World War I:

While World War I began on July 28, 1914, the United States did not join the war until the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.

Their training and experience in telephonic technology made Clarence and many of his coworkers valuable assets to the U.S. military. According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine: being a record of the activities of the 405th Telegraph Battalion Signal Corps, 1917-1919, pages 7–8:

Acting in a high spirit of patriotism and in conjunction with Major General George O. Squier, the American Telephone & Telegraph Company and Associated Bell Companies organized from among its experts a number of telegraph battalions. Among the organizations thus formed was the 12th Telegraph Battalion, later changed to the 405th Telegraph Battalion. This battalion was to consist of two companies, one of which was to be made up of Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Company employees. The task of organizing this company was delegated to Mr. George E. McCarn, General Plant Superintendent, who called upon Mr. N. O. Pierce, Division Plant Superintendent, and Mr. A. W. Young, Denver Plant Superintendent, to assist him. On April 6th, 1917, circulars with application blanks were sent to all male employees, and in about two weeks, 450 applications were returned by men who were of proper age and without dependents. As only one hundred men were needed, the best fitted, giving due consideration to the needs of the company, were selected.

According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 8, “Examinations for enlistment commenced on May 31, 1917.”

Clarence at the time was single and had no dependents. He applied to join the 12th Telegraph Battalion, was selected, and took the enlistment examination. While waiting for the results of the examination, Clarence traveled back home to Fort Collins see his family, and while there he registered for the draft on June 1, 1917:

That same day, The Larimer County Independent newspaper (published in Fort Collins), ran this piece about Clarence on page 6:

At some point in early June 1917, Clarence learned that he had been made a candidate of the Reserve Signal Corps (presumably because he had passed the qualifying examination). From page 25 of the June 1917 edition of The Mountain States Monitor (a monthly publication of The Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company), we see that Clarence has been made a candidate of the Reserve Signal Corps, Southern Division, and that he’d be headed to El Paso, Texas, for enlistment:

According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 86, Clarence formally enlisted for service on June 10, 1917, in El Paso, Texas.

According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, pages 8–9, “The battalion was called into service October 5th, 1917, when the men were ordered to report at Camp Lewis, American Lake, Washington.”

Despite the battalion not being called into service until October 5th, Clarence and the rest of his battalion clearly learned several weeks prior to that that their unit was to be called into action. From page 9 of the September 1917 edition of The Mountain States Monitor we learn that “the entire Prescott Plant Department, with the exception of the District Plant Chief, Mr. Murphy, has been drafted for the U.S. Army. Mr. Murphy says no doubt he would have gotten his had he been young enough.”

According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 9, “The battalion came together piecemeal, little groups collecting at various points and going directly to Camp Lewis.” From pages 28–29 of the November 1917 edition of The Mountain States Monitor we learn that Clarence left on October 11, 1917, to join the Signal Reserve Corps (amusingly, we also learn that he was balding at age 22, that he attended a charity fashion show, and that he and a coworker were arguing about which of the two models at the show—Elma Tolar and Ethel Eads—they’d each marry):

According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 86, Clarence reported for duty at Camp Lewis on October 14, 1917.

From page 14 of the December 1917 edition of The Mountain States Monitor we learn that “last but not least, our honorable Clarence Bailey is in the Telegraph Battalion at Camp Lewis, Washington.”

Camp Lewis was had just been built in July 1917 to serve as a training camp for U.S. soldiers. According to the Lewis Army Museum, “General Orders Number 95, 18 July 1917, declared the National Army Camp at American Lake, Washington, to be named Lewis, in honor of Captain Merriwether Lewis, Commander of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Camp Lewis was the first National Army cantonment for draftee training to be opened. The first recruits arrived at Camp Lewis on 5 September 1917 and 37,000 officers, cadre, garrison, and trainees were on post by 31 December. Camp Lewis was the largest military post in the USA at the time.” Below are a couple of images from the time Clarence would have been at Camp Lewis:

Wide-angle shot of Camp Lewis taken on September 28, 1917
Barracks at Camp Lewis in 1917. Postcard by Marvin Boland.
The YMCA Auditorium at Camp Lewis
The Liberty Gate at Camp Lewis, completed on January 26, 1918

According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 127, most of the battalion arrived at Camp Lewis on October 14, 1917, and the first mess was served in the barracks at noon on that day. Four days later, on October 18, the men were issued overcoats, trench shoes, and hats. On October 19, they were issued breeches, blouses, shirts, and other uniform items. The troops were first inspected on October 20th.

A good and colorful account of Clarence’s nearly six months at Camp Lewis with Company D of the 405th Telegraph Battalion Signal Corps of the US Army can be found on pages 9–17 of From Puget Sound to the Rhine (note: the scanned book is available free of charge here, but you’ll have to create a free account to read it).

Clarence served in Company D of the 405th Telegraph Battalion Signal Corps of the US Army. According to a short battalion history that was printed in December 1918, the 405th Telegraph Battalion was called to the colors on October 5, 1917, and trained at Camp Lewis, Washington, from October 1917 to April 1918.

According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 128, on October 26, 1917, the men were vaccinated and given their first typhoid inoculation. On October 30th, the men were given their physical examinations. And so it continued, with more inoculations, more equipment arriving, more training given.

On November 7, 1919, “the battalion hiked to Nisqually Indian Reservation, a distance of twelve miles” (ibid., page 128). On November 21, the battalion took another 9-mile hike to an unspecified location.

On November 29, Clarence’s unit celebrated Thanksgiving together. According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 128:

Nov. 29. Thanksgiving Day. Music furnished by Battalion Orchestra and mess hall decorated with evergreens and ferns. Menu: Roast turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green peas, apple cider, pumpkin pie, pie with cheese, nuts, candy and fresh fruits. Capt. Kick, battalion commander, promoted to major, Signal Reserve Corps, by telegraphic advice from General Squier, dated Nov. 29th, 1917.

On December 5th, Clarence’s unit went on another 9-mile hike. According to From Puget Sound to the Rhine, page 128:

Dec. 5. Hiked nine miles this a. m. to Nisqually Lake and return. Started 7 a. m., returned 10:50 a. m. All men in good condition. Rained 9:45 a. m. to 10:30 a. m. Roads muddy; held to woods and fields where possible. Weather generally overcast.

The employees of The Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company who were serving their country in World War I had their portraits included throughout the January 1918 edition of The Mountain States Monitor. Clarence had his photo printed on page 6:

On February 19, 1918, while still at Camp Lewis in Washington State, Clarence wrote a letter to his mother:

Feb. 19, 1918.

Dearest Mother,

S.O.S. Same old stuff. We have not gone. I have been putting off writing every day hoping that we would go. But we are still here.

We are fully equipped for service now and are all packed up, and the Major assured us tonight that we would not have to stand the Awful suspense much longer. We are being examined every day for physical defects, are taken on night hikes lasting from 10.30 PM. to 2.30 AM, are packed up and unpacked are cursed and praised.

We will not be able to tell when or where we are going in fact we don’t know. We will not be able to write after we leave camp until we reach France. Maybe this ruling will be changed however.

I am sorry about the pictures. I did not like them but really they look just like me. If the eyes looked shifty that is the way they look, I was looking in dead earnest.

Well the lights are going out and I have one more letter to write.

Much much love,


There were no photos with the letter, but these may be the photos that Clarence was referring to. They are prints on photo postcards that have been hand trimmed and are small enough to easily fit in a letter. I believe that they were taken at some point during Clarence’s time at Camp Lewis.

On February 27, 1918, while still at Camp Lewis, Clarence wrote a letter to his mother:

Feb. 27, 1918.

Dearest Mother,

“Our Hunch still holds good” says the Major. Our Hunch is that we are going; that, is all the farther we have gone. All packed up and ready; still we stay. It is beginning to have its effect on the boys too.

But I suppose we will go and when we get there I also presume we will want to come back and will curse our fate.

Our 100% mess Segeant is sick and the grub sure got rotten. Imagine after a hard days work in the cold rain and slop we were greeted with two slices of red beets fried in rancid grease, one spoonful of rice and cheese, one little piece of butter, bananas and rotten canned milk making the bananas unfit no sugar for them or for the coffee.

The next morning we had one half orange prunes (three I counted them twice) one little slice of fried mush. Talk about [crabs] the whole bunch were bard-boiled. Petitions were made and now the chef who cooks for the officers superintends the mess until the regular mess sergeant comes back. The major called us all together and told us how grieved he was etc. etc. As a result we are the best fed we have ever been and we are all happy.

We had a show tonight, our reputation as entertainers is growing, our mess hall was full and running over with boys from other camps. The staff officers from Washington were also honored at an evening dinner by the privilege of listening to our celebrated entertainers.

One of the boys just told me to tell you that we belong to the “B” Co. “B” here when they all go and “B” here when they all come back.

I have another millionaire “Doll” on the string it is sure funny how I happen to fall for the rich ones. I went to Seattle at the Soldiers and Sailors Club, here one may obtain a bed for 35¢ the use of swimming pool etc. It is the finest club in Seattle. There they have an entertainment committee to take care of the boys. On application they will find entertainment for you at the homes of private families. As I do not like to mooch I never made application. However, one more boy was needed to fill out a party at one home so I went. Royal people! the best ever and a fine daughter just my type does not dance. The other boy had another engagement so he said so they took him down town and dropped by leaving me with a clear field. We rode all over Seattle in a Cadillac and then went to the Orpheum were I saw Gertrude Hoffman and a wonderful bill. I caught the 12 midnight boat getting back to camp at 4.30 A.M. I am sure undecided about Seattle at Prescott now but I think Prescott is a little in the lead yet.

My number in Uncle Sams Army is 2,231,931. As I enlisted before the draft the Good Lord only knows what the census of the army would reveal now. As this is military information please dont tell it. As we are cautioned against giving out any information regarding troop movements all I can tell you is that I will write at least every two or three days and that when you fail to hear from me for at least a week you will know that am gone. This will be the only way I can let you know.

The weather is beautiful here one day and rainy the next but still I believe that it would be an elegant place to live if one didn’t have to live outdoors continuously.

I am going to make a request of you. You know you said that you wanted to do something for me. I want you to go to California or some lower altitude. I know positively that the altitude of Colorado is too high and I also know that you like California all reports to the contrary. I have had your vomiting, headachy, nervous spells and can fully appreciate the way you feel when having one. Now I am not fooling or blowing I am in dead earnest. You did it once before you can do it again. I left when you went before I may come back if you go again. But you can rest assured that I will be deeply hurt if you dont go. Dont cry expense to me. I am saving enough every month to keep you, George also will be in a position to help after leaving for France as he will only be able to retain for himself one half of his pay. Between the three of us we could manage to raise far more than $100.00 a month. So to Hell with the expense.

You have not many more years to live, that we all realize so why not live those remaining 15 or 20 years in physical if not mental ease.

As to me you need not worry. If I die I will need no money and if I am incapacitated I have enough protective insurance to keep me well; and if I survive this horrible war I have absolutely no worries.

This is not the last I am going to say on the subject. My slogan and my text is going to be “Go to California. To Hell with the Expense.” If I do not get results I am going to enlist George in my service and if then there is no result I will use drastic measures.

For me, myself I wish nothing, for the ones I love I would have the world.

I have said enough for tonight but I am not exhausted. Dont be like the singer dying to perform but making one get on their bended knees begging them to.

You’ll go. So dont hesitate. Do it now.

Well Dear Mother please do something for yourself I am much concerned.

Much Love

Clarence [Dr.] Bailey

(Clarence’s mother never did move to California. She spent the rest of her life in Fort Collins, Colorado, and died there on March 18, 1945.)

At some point after the previous photos were taken during his time at Camp Lewis, Clarence also had a couple of professional portraits made of himself in uniform:

Note that in these photos Clarence is now proudly wearing his collar pins, including one that indicates that he’s part of the Signal Corps (two crossed signal flags). In his earlier two photos he was not wearing these pins.

On March 7, 1918, while still at Camp Lewis in Washington State, Clarence wrote a letter to his mother:

March 7, 1918

Dearest Mother,

I am becoming more less worried for I have not received a letter from you for some time. My letters telling you to write to me surely have been received by this time.

Write soon!

I am more or less disgruntled tonight. Mrs. Melba is going to sing here tomorrow night Mauda Powell played last Tuesday, but our major has classes on the [brain] and it is impossible to get to go to them. It is a pity.

I received a nice present from my girl. It reached me on my birthday and certainly was a surprise.

I do not believe she knows that it was my birthday but just felt kindhearted and it coincidentally came on that date.

Have you any more particulars concerning Geo. I am worried over him too. I think you both better get out of Colorado. I do not think it has been very [kind] to us and I don’t want to ever see it again.

Clyde is going to Los Angeles and I know she would be glad to take care of you if you were there in fact she has said so, and I know you would like her.

I am feeling better these days, in fact am up and [stepping] all the time. Hope I will get fat soon but am afraid I won’t.

Am thirsting for an opportunity to read. Our time is so filled with technical study that I have no time for anything good.

Well Dear I am [must] go home. Am getting tired now. Please Write! For I am worried.

Much Love

Clarence Bailey

If you have more to add to this story, can interpret any of the [square bracketed] words I couldn’t figure out, or just want to let me know what you think, please leave a comment below.

Continue to Part 2 of Clarence’s experiences in World War I.

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