Thursday, June 22, 2017

Going Over

WWI postcard: Douglas Tempest (British)
The First World War’s popular song, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,” may have been more accurate than is commonly realized, for when setting off to war, troubles often accompanied the soldiers. 
American troops making the transatlantic voyage to the Western Front traveled under threat of torpedo attack; the Tuscania was the first ship carrying American soldiers to be sunk. Struck by a German torpedo on February 5, 1918, the Tuscania sank in four hours with a loss of over 200 men.* 

Thanks to the escort of American and British destroyers, however, most American troop ships arrived safely in France, although many doughboys vividly remembered the misery of overcrowding and seasickness. 

Frank L. Armstrong’s Frenzies from France or the Nightmares of a Doughboy (1919) offers a humorous sketch of sailing to France. (For a different perspective, see “Transport” by John Allan Wyeth). 

Going Over

From Frenzies from France
I’m sure I never shall forget
That trip across the Briny.
I didn’t take it for my health
I went to get a ‘Heinie.
We had to sleep way down below,
Down where they keep the cattle.
That seemed to me an awful way
To ship men off to battle.

And when the boat began to rock
Those guys down there got sick.
I’ll tell the world that was some time
Let’s pass the subject quick.
The grub I couldn’t recommend
It didn’t seem appealing.
Might be because beneath my belt
I had a funny feeling.

Of all the trips I ever made,
That was about the worst.
And if they want this bird again,
They’ll have to catch him first.
                        —Frank L. Armstrong

I have found no certain information on Frank L. Armstrong, although Frenzies from France was privately published in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  A man by the same name is credited with writing the lyrics to the World War I song “Knitting,” dedicated to “the soldiers’ girls at home.”


*“The Sinking of the Tuscania,”

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