Fort Devens Museum

1919 Musical Program Offers Glimpse of Life in Camp Devens Area

March 6, 2004

By C. David Gordon,
Copyright Nashoba Publications

Devens - A 166-page printed program for a musical drama composed and performed by members of a unit training at Camp Devens provides a glimpse of military camp life and information about the regiment involved.

One of a growing number of items in the Devens Historical Museum collection, the printed program for "C'est La Guerre," for evening performances on Jan. 7 and 8, 1919, and a matinee on the 8th, must have come close to the final assembly for this unit, the 74th Infantry Regiment, part of the 24th Infantry Brigade of the 12th Army Division, also known as the Plymouth Division.

Training began in August 1918 with the division expecting to get into the fighting overseas in World War I. However, at armistice time in November, the division received orders for demobilization. By Jan. 31, 1919, commissioned and enlisted personnel not continuing careers in the Regular Army had been discharged.

The playbook provides much more than a synopsis of scenes for a play written by three of the 74th officers. Included are the names and ranks of every soldier in the outfit, along with a panoramic foldout photograph of the entire regiment taken on Dec. 20, 1918. In the foreground, along with patches of snow, is the 43-member regimental band, and at the brow of the hillside on which the troops were gathered in overcoats with hats in their hands are 19 men on horseback, probably all officers, on each side of the colors.

All commissioned and enlisted soldiers assigned to each company-regimental headquarters company, detachment medical department, headquarters company, machine gun company, supply company, ordnance department, and 12 infantry companies-are named and their home towns noted. Most come from the New England states of New York, but with a strong representation from 33 other states and at least 12 individuals from Canada. Thanks to the complete lists of soldiers, it was possible to place the soldiers who had lettered his name on the front of the playbook, Charles Herbert Phillips, as a private first class in Company G whose home was in Stamford, Conn.

Little wonder, then, that the advertisements taking up the bulk of the pages come, not just from Ayer, Fitchburg, Boston and Worcester, but also from every New England state and New York City. Here are ads for old familiar products: Lifebuoy Health Soap, "Carter Inx," Jordan Marsh Company, H.J. Heinz, La Touraine Coffee, Dr. Swett's Root Beer. One can find ads from Fitchburg Savings Bank and Simonds Manufacturing Company as well as for a host of companies no longer in business.

Representing Ayer businesses are Proctor's Garage along with Proctor's Theatre, Geo. H. Hill druggist as well as Brown's Drug Store, Fletcher Brothers, the First National Bank of Ayer, and four food provisioners. From Harvard came the ad for Old Morse Farm, and from Shirley, J.L. Bloomenthal, who sold cider by the barrel.

The 12th Division's shoulder insignia was traced on the book's cover. According to the Web site for New River Notes on the "Order of Battle-American Forces-World War, the insignia was "a blue diamond with a red center and the figure 12 in white pierced by a bayonet."