WES FRANKLIN: Letters home tell of First World War
Late last summer, when I was writing about the genesis of local street names, Robert Daugherty wrote me about the origins of Neosho’s Daugherty Road, which was named for his parents, Cecil and Estellah Daugherty, who had an apple orchard there long before there were houses (in case you missed it, I wrote about it in the Aug. 19 Neosho Daily News).
Neosho Daily News - Neosho, MO
Updated Dec. 16, 2012 @ 12:17 am
Updated Dec. 16, 2012 @ 12:17 am
» Social News
Columnist’s note: Late last summer, when I was writing about the genesis of local street names, Robert Daugherty wrote me about the origins of Neosho’s Daugherty Road, which was named for his parents, Cecil and Estellah Daugherty, who had an apple orchard there long before there were houses (in case you missed it, I wrote about it in the Aug. 19 Neosho Daily News). At the time, Robert related to me that he didn’t know if he was related or not to local World War I vet William Arthur Daugherty, whose wartime letters I had previously shared in a column, and that he wasn’t familiar with the other Daugherty’s story. So I thought today I would rerun the column I wrote a couple of years ago, telling that story. It is really the story of letters home, written almost 95 years ago.
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This is the story of a local kid who once went to war. However, the telling of this story is like crossing over an old plank bridge with many of the boards missing. While you might have to hop across a gap here and there, you can still see where it’s leading to.
There’s no telling how long the World War I letters of William Arthur Daugherty have been filed away in the cabinets of the Newton County Historical Society. But I myself just discovered them about a year ago. We can probably thank his long departed mother, and later his descendents, for saving and keeping the letters.
William Daugherty was the son of Will and Ray Daugherty. His father died when William was only five years old. His mother, Ray, lived at 514 S. Wood St. in Neosho. She was an English teacher at Neosho High School (the building that is today Greystone Apartments) and was later a Neosho school principal.
At the start of 1918, as The Great War rolled on, he was 23 years old and attending law school at the University of Missouri. I haven’t looked into whether he was drafted or if he volunteered. But by May of that year he was in training at the Field Artillery Replacement Depot (F.A.R.D.) at Camp Jackson, S.C. (though it’s true F.A.R.D. camps were largely designated for draftees).
And it’s from there the first letter originated.
Almost all of William Arthur Daugherty’s wartime correspondence surviving today is addressed to his mother. The letters begin “Dear Mamma” and are signed “With Love, Arthur.”
From the letters I gather he was rather close with his mom, as not only does he write at least every few days but he’s also fairly detailed in his correspondence. He shares with his mom what he’s been up to that day and what some of his feelings are. He talks openly about his long-distance puppy love romances with TWO girls (one of whom appears to maybe be a cousin.) In his first letter to his mother, dated May 26, 1918, William – or Arthur, as it seems he preferred his middle name – he tells her of going to a dance in Columbia, S.C. He called it “poky as anything could be” because there weren’t enough good looking girls to go around. Out of nearly 50 females there, Arthur thought only a half-dozen worth his time.
“It was great sport,” he writes. “to see the fellows who had been introduced to some stupid, homely girl and couldn’t think of any scheme to get away. Of all the bored, pained expressions!”
If he sounded like a jerk, at least he was an honest jerk.
A few letter later and Arthur is in France, having just been commissioned a second lieutenant. He apparently spends the next few months in field artillery school in Saumur. His barracks are inside a former French cavalry academy. The town he describes as “a very pretty place” even if the streets seem to be a “labyrinth.”
Arthur’s days are largely spent taking exams (where he tells his mother he’s doing well) and in artillery training. He can’t believe he’s in the artillery, as he recalls how once as a boy his grandpa had to bring him home early from a hunting trip as he made such a fuss about the noise of the shotgun.
Arthur also writes about taking French lessons from a local woman and then practicing on the local townspeople, going on hikes to see the countryside, running into old pals from the University of Missouri and getting his picture made (more than once).
Predictably, other than dropping short lines about the flirty correspondence between himself and his two admirers back home, Arthur doesn’t mention to his mother of any other amours while in France.
He asks about friends and family a lot, especially his younger sister Mary Lynne, who is also a teacher. In late August he wonders what she and a cousin are doing for fun in Neosho. Though, he adds, “they must think Neosho is a terribly dull place. They don’t know what a fine place it is compared to lots of others.”
From his comments, it seems there may be some gossipy back story to a few of the people he writes about, if we only knew who they were exactly. But for the most part, it’s the usual inquiries one would expect to find in a personal family letter.
Arthur is patriotic, of course, and delights in talking about Allied victories and the nearing defeat of the Kaiser’s Germany. He also likes to draw pictures on the back of some of a few of his letters — such as the one of Satan roasting the Kaiser on a pitchfork over a fire.
In early October he is assigned to Battery A, 337th Field Artillery and moves closer to the front. He and several other officers are billeted in a French cottage, though most of the family had left.
And that’s where he’s still languishing when the war ends. He never got to see any action or even the front lines. Judging by past comments he was probably disappointed, though we don’t have his immediate letters from just after the Armistice.
Arthur safely returned home and later married (I don’t think it was to either of his pen-pal romances), passed the bar exam and opened a practice in Tulsa, Okla., where he finally died in 1954 and is buried.
William Arthur Daugherty’s wartime letters have, to my knowledge, never been published. I think they ought to be. They should be printed as a booklet, not so much for their exciting content for there really isn’t any -- but for the fact this local young man’s story represents that of hundreds of thousands of other American boys throughout our past, eager to serve their country but in the end sent home without being given anything much to do.
Wes Franklin serves on the Newton County Historical Society Board of Directors. He is also public relations director and event coordinator for the City of Neosho. He can be reached at 658-8443.