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Binkley’s 1919 diary, inside the front cover, showing a list of the places where he stayed.

This is the first in a monthly series of posts of Binkley’s diary from 1919, a century ago. We do not have a lot of documentation of Binkley’s time in the army, since only a few of his letters survived the fire that destroyed his parents’ house in October 1919. This diary was still with him in Europe at the time, along with the photo album he kept. The entries are very brief, really just memoranda.

Binkley had enlisted in a Stanford ambulance unit in 1917. They spent roughly half a year in training in Pennsylvania, another half year in training in France, and then half a year in active service leading up to the armistice. When this diary opens, they were assigned to ravitaillement work in the area of Château-Thierry: providing a transport service, moving French civilians and their supplies back to their homes in the devastated former combat zone.

At this time Binkley and others in the section were engaged in at least two dubious money-making schemes, using their ambulances for personal gain. They took payment for driving tourists around the battlefields, in one case as much as 50f. from a group of YWCA women. They also ran a souvenir business, collecting military debris from the battlefields (shell casings, helmets, even an Iron Cross), and also trading cigarettes for buttons and badges with the German prisoners in a nearby camp. They commissioned someone to carve the shell casings into vases, producing “trench art” which is common on eBay today. In January they divided the profits occasionally.

Binkley also worked to improve his French by taking lessons from various teachers and getting permission to attend a local school. The teachers were all women, and in one entry for his first lesson with Mlle Dartois he mentions “another kind of French lesson”, but it is not clear whether he meant anything more than that her teaching style was novel. Letters to him from these women indicate that he really was working on his French, whatever romantic entanglements might have existed.

At the end of January he and two other members of the unit had a week’s leave, and spent it on the Côte d’Azur. Two letters that he wrote to his parents during this trip survived somehow and are quoted below. Even more remarkably, a letter from Tyner Smith (one of his companions) to his parents in Indiana is preserved in the archives of the University of Tulsa, and corroborates Binkley’s account of the trip.

Diary: January, 1919

  • Take two Y. men out over battlefield make 10 francs.

  • Get Iron Cross at △ Farm. Store has dividend of 10.50.

  • Fill store up with junk. Take bath. Help clean shells in evening. Dividend of 7.35.

  • Call on Mlle Lucient and make arrangements for lessons. Go with Bob F-H to prison camp. take girl to Valfort.


    Francis Figg-Hoblyn, a member of SSU 578, had the nickname "Bob Hobgoblyn". I haven’t identified Valfort in the area of Château-Thierry.

  • Get letter from dad with poems. Soaked Y.W.C.A. girls 50 f for ride. Meet Albertine Macon, whose address is 48 avenue de Saxe & whose home is 41 rue Tournefort.

  • Out on ravitaillement work. Get 145 shells and various small souvenirs.

  • Put on new radiator, which leaks. Make arrangements for French lessons with Mlle Lucien.

  • Permissionaires leave. I go out and bring in load of wood -- and helmets, bringing down Carl's wrath.


    Probably Sgt. Carl Emmons of SSU 578.

  • Draw rations with Smithy in the camionette
    Steal box of Bull Durham
    Take people up to La Ferte Milon late at night.

  • Take long walk over battlefield with Van, who discloses various things about his permission, and we mark out the strategy of the battle.


    Van: Cpl. Dale Van Every, who appears to have been one of RCB's closest friends in SSU 578. Van Every went on to become a successful author of popular history books and a screenwriter. Wikipedia.

  • Trade tobacco for souvenirs to German prisoners at Chateau Thierry camp. Get a pipe for Smithy, and several other things Watch comes in the mail from Armand. Letter from Merv.


    Armand de LaCroix-Laval, a lieutenant in the French artillery. I don’t know how they met, but Armand wrote extravagantly affectionate letters to Binkley in 1919. Merv Crobaugh was a Stanford friend. Binkley had hoped that Merv would joint SSU 578, but he did not enlist.

  • Go to Collumieres by bicycle. Break down at La Ferte, but go on anyway. See Minie, and go to movies. Miss train at La Ferte, stay in stable all night.


    I don’t know who Minie was.

  • Carl does not know about my A.W.O.L. so all is jake. I work at fixing up room.
    1. Souvenir --
    1. Collect buttons, ring & etc
    2. Collect helmet coverings, bayonets
    3. Arrange for shells to be carved like vases.
    See Mayor about lessons
    Buy and mark maps.


    The maps might be the ones pasted into the War Diary, especially one with the battle lines of the Battle of Belleau Wood drawn in ink.

  • Get French lesson. Find it worth it. Study Chateaubriand. I start Van on school idea.

  • Chalmers goes to Paris to see about books for school. Van & I talk about school.


    Chalmers G. Graham, member of SSU 578.

  • I go out to La Charmel and take baggage up beyond Braisne. Break down in road. Interview captains.

  • See Mlle Dartois, and get another kind of French lesson. Four letters, all answered.

  • Call on principal of school and secure permission to attend classes. Another French lesson chez Dartois.

  • Meet 607 men who have broken down in Chateau Thierry. Call on Archivist. Feed the S.S.U. tourists at night.


    607 men: Presumably the ambulance section SSU 607, made up of recruits from Maine, which was at Allentown at the same time as SSU 578. See Smucker, History of the United States Ambulance Service in France, Appendix C, under Section 606. I don’t know who “the archivist” was.

  • Go out with archivist, rescue saint from Blanzy, find other things. Explore tunnels in trench system on flank of Chemin des Dames. Break spring & bend radius rods.

  • Leave on Permission in Evening. Red Cross Cantines in Paris are like home. Miss Brown at no 9 --

  • Breakfast at Red Cross. Argument about omnibus at Gare de Lyon. Call on Mlle Macon, and have lunch and short walk with her. promise to write. See Red Cross H.Q. in evening about Polish expedition. Night in train.


    Fighting between the Poles and the occupying Germans had been going on for almost a month. Earlier in January, Herbert Hoover’s American Food Mission led by Stanford professor Vernon Kellogg was in Warsaw, determining the food needs of Poland.1 This operation came under Hoover’s American Relief Administration, which Binkley joined in July 1919 after his demobilization, but there’s no evidence of a connection with it before that time. Later in the spring of 1919 the American Red Cross sent advisors to Poland to help fight the typhus epidemic there. As a Stanford student Binkley might have taken an interest in these operations, since both Hoover and Kellogg were Stanford luminaries.

    1. Nicholas Siekierski. “The American Relief Administration in Poland.” History Teacher: History, Culture, Politics (blog), September 14, 2016. (A summary of the author’s dissertation work.)↩︎

  • Morning at Lyon. We go on thru vally to Marseilles, and reach Cannes at 8 oclock. Get bed at A.P.M. hotel. Much worry


    A.P.M. = Assistant Provost Marshal. Hence the worry?

  • Morning at Y.M.C.A. go up to tower on height overlooking area and town. Buy and send post cards. Meet On to Menton in Evening, get put up at Beaugerard [sic]


    The Hôtel Beauregard, now the Hôtel Lemon.

  • Loaf in morning. Make trip to Italy in afternoon, buying oranges and muscata


    Tyner Smith in his letter of Jan. 27 (see below) describes their trip a few hundred yards into Italy, where they bought and mailed postcards home.

  • Go out in search of adventure. Go to church with Carol -- to Annonciata, where we drink piquet, -- dance at night.


    In the evening Binkley wrote a long letter to his parents (Doc. 5) describing the events of the day in detail. He was accompanied by Smithy and Swede. They visited a church in the morning and met a “Mrs. Carroll of the Carrolls of Carollton”, Maryland, whose snobbishness repelled him. In the afternoon they took the funicular railway up to the Annonciata. When they stopped to ask for a drink on their way back into town an old man insisted they have some piquet, “the vilest stuff that either Smithy, or Swede, or myself, have ever tasted”. They surreptitiously emptied their glasses on the ground. They stopped at a cafe where the band from the YMCA practiced on Sunday nights, so they stayed for the dance. He concludes: “We had not had a dull day, but we had not found enough adventure, nor romance, and we shall have to try again.”

  • Go to Monaco and Monte Carlo -- see Casino and Museum of Oceanography.


    Tyner Smith wrote to his parents this day from Monte Carlo and described the weather, the visit to the Casino, and their trip into Italy two days before (see above). (The letter is dated January 7, but it must be the 27th, for it refers to the 24th in the past.)

  • Loaf all day. I go up to top of Cape Martin and see sunset.

  • We go to Nice in the morning. I have long talks with men of Polish Legion. Miss car at night. Post notice of our disappointment in Y.


    See the photo of John Levandowski of the Polish Legion in Nice in Binkley’s War Diary. For the notice posted at the YMCA, see the next entry.

  • Leave Nice at noon, and stop at Monaco. Go through princes palace and have lunch at cute little restaurant in the town.


    Binkley wrote another letter home this day, describing the visit to Nice and his group’s disappointment at not meeting American girls. He included a copy of the notice he had posted at the YMCA the day before:

    This is my last chance to make an Ass of myself. I leave for my Outfit tonight. … I have been hoping ever since I came here that some Girl would take an interest in me – that she would ask me about the Front so that I might answer, and feel Wise. She would ask me where I got my Wound stripe, and I would answer Modestly, but be secretly Vain about it. … I have not met this girl. … This is My Fault entirely, for I have not been sufficiently Enterprising. I can’t dance, and my feet and hands are always in my way. I guess I’m naturally Bashful. God speed the day when I can meet American girls In Their Native Habitat.

    He reported that the notice was effective:

    Crowds of fellows stood around the sign, and it caused some comment. … We feel as if this ink can burn like vitriol ever since we saw a Y girl, on leave at Nice, read our sign and bite her lips, remarking ‘I’d feel pretty bad if I found anything like that in my “Y” at X–’.

  • Check out at M.P. office. Hold long confab with Skip & Red in middle of canteen floor. Take Y girl home. Smithy drops letter.


    Red might be SSU member Lloyd L. Aubert, who had that nickname. If so, the contingent of SSU 578 permissionaires was larger than Binkley and his two companions.