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AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES
Tuscania Survivor’s Diary - Buncrana, Ireland 1918
32ND Division, 107th Supply Train, 2nd Sanitary Squad
EDWARD T. LAUER

 

Originally a volunteer of the Wisconsin National Guard, Edward Lauer was a member of the 121st Field Artillery Regiment, Sanitary Detachment, of the 32nd Division.
 
In compliance with the telegraphic instructions from the War Department, and in accordance with the letter from the Surgeon General’s Office dated the 6th of December 1917, two Sanitary Squads, Medical Department, of the National Guard, is hereby organized for the107th Supply Train. Edward T. Lauer was transferred under orders to the 107th Supply Train, 2nd Sanitary Squad, of the 32nd Division.
 
 
10 JANUARY 1918
6:00 P.M. Left Camp McArthur, Waco, Texas. The train was the usual passenger type, with a Negro porter at the end of each coach. The train route was divided into sections; we boarded a Ferry during the crossing of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, and proceeded by train along a Southern route to the Northern part of Florida. From there we caught a North bound train that took us through the old colonies to Hoboken, New Jersey. We departed the train in Dumont, New Jersey, and marched one and one-half miles to Camp Merritt.
 
 
15 JANUARY 1918
10:45 P.M. Arrived at Camp Merritt, New Jersey.

 
23 JANUARY 1918
6:00 A.M. After our brief stay at Camp Merritt, we are departing. We marched to Tenafly, New Jersey, about a mile hike on the opposite side of Dumont. When we arrived in Tenafly, we boarded a train for New York. After arriving in New York, we boarded the Ferry Chautauqua to the Cunard Docks. We then marched to Pier 54 where are names were checked, and boarded the S.S. Tuscania; a 549 ft. fast liner of the Anchor line, a branch of the Cunard Steamship Company. This ship was camouflaged in wide black and gray angled lines. A derrick loaded with barracks bags and other equipment had a mishap, and it all fell into the water.
 
 
24 JANUARY 1918
In the morning, the Tuscania’s whistle blew, and orders were given for us to go below deck, to hide the cargo of American troops from prying eyes of spies. I mentioned to my buddy Orvel N. Casper of Milwaukee, that I felt I had seen “The Goddess of Liberty” for the last time (I was very depressed that day). Orvel felt different about our departure, he felt that when the war was over, he was going to get married and have a family.
 
 
26 JANUARY 1918
We arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; here our ship was to join a British Convoy HX-20.

 
27 JANUARY 1918
Our Convoy of ships departed Halifax, across the Atlantic it was a stormy voyage all the way, with a rough sea during this time of winter. Ahead and in the center was the British Battle Cruiser Cochrane, there were fourteen ships in all, and each ship had guns aboard.

 
3 FEBRUARY 1918
1:00 A.M. There was an awful crash, and the men rushed up on deck with lifebelts on. We must have passed over the wreck of a sunken ship; others thought it was a tidal wave as some water rushed down the stairway into our quarters. We finally returned to our bunks and slept thru the night.

 
4 FEBRUARY 1918
I went up on deck and saw eight torpedo boat destroyers all around us, so we felt a little better and safer, as we were going into the submarine zone.

 
5 FEBRUARY 1918
5:55 P.M. I was just going to supper when an awful crash took place and I was almost knocked to my feet, at the same moment all the lights went out and I grabbed my lifebelt, which I always had so handy at my cot. In the dark I found my way upstairs, I had to climb two stairways. I finally reached the deck safely to lifeboat 6A station, which was allocated to the Sanitary Squads. The first lifeboat (6) was not being lowered correctly; it plunged downward to the water after the ropes tore. Our boat, 6A was let down correctly, but when the crew reached the bottom, they unhooked the boat and left us with only ten men of the crew to man it.

I waited for the next lifeboat and when it reached our deck, I found it filled with the crew and a few officers, one of whom held us back with a pistol. As soon as the boat reached the water, I noticed an empty seat; I jumped up on the rail, slid down the ropes as they were leaving the side of the Tuscania. The lifeboat was about ten feet from the ship when I reached the water, so I braced my foot against the steel plate and swung into the boat with one foot pulling myself into the lifeboat, closely followed by Henry Hansen of Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Walter Kujawa went down the short rope and into the water, and we pulled him into the lifeboat. We attempted to hail a destroyer which we could see in the dark, but they failed to see us, but another one came along and helped us aboard, it was the HMS Grasshopper H17.
 
The crew of the HMS Grasshopper gave us hot soup, tea, bread, and whiskey. They even took their clothes off and gave their sailing uniforms to those who were wet. They rescued about 300 from lifeboats, also some who had jumped into the sea. They then closed in near to the Tuscania and picked up a few more, and then left for Londonderry, Ireland. 
 
 
6 FEBRUARY 1918
5:00 A.M. We landed at Londonderry and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was at the dock to take us to their barracks; they had made us breakfast and provided us blankets and beds. They provided for our comfort in every way, we received very fine treatment.

 
7 FEBRUARY 1918
1:00 P.M. We left Londonderry escorted by Irish Kilty Bagpipes and the Royal Inniskilling Band to the train. As the train pulled out they played the Star Spangled Banner, shot their rifles, and then waved us good bye. I’ll never forget their hospitality. We traveled along the Midland Railway to Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, and were put up in quarters at Carrickfergus Castle by the sea.
 
After supper I went next door where an Irish lady and her daughter were running a canteen. Her name was Una Peele, during our conversation she informed me that the Carrickfergus Castle was built by John de Courcy in the year 1046. Also that the old castle had stored arms and ammunition of the Rebellion, Irish Home Rule. Miss Peele had given me some paper and a stamp to write home, and told me the letter will reach my family back in the U.S.
 
From Information received regarding the S.S. Tuscania, the ship was just three years old when it was torpedoed. There may have been spies aboard, because the distress whistle was cut, some of the lifeboat ropes damaged, and the plugs were removed in some lifeboats on the upper deck. The air containers on the life rafts were unplugged so that they would sink. The Master of the Tuscania, Captain McLean, ordered the Engineers to close the bunkers on the starboard side of the ship to seal off the area that was damaged by the torpedo, in order to slow down the intake of water on the Starboard side. According to reports, the ship stayed afloat about 3 hours before it finally sank. Captain McLean sent out distress rockets and the remaining crew were picked up by Destroyers RC-5, Mosquito, Pigeon, and others. The loss of our boys to the dead: 266 Americans of the 2,156 aboard the ship at the time of the disaster. Una Peele informed me that the Tuscania, Lusitania, and the Titanic were built right here across the harbor. My buddy, Orvel Casper is still among the missing.
 
The British troops that are here with us at Carrickfergus are the Royal Fusiliers, and we survivors are receiving excellent treatment.
 
 
8 FEBRUARY 1918
I Stayed at Carrickfergus all day.

 
9 FEBRUARY 1918
3:00 A.M. Departed Carrickfergus, we boarded the Midland Railway for Dublin, and then marched to Kingston Harbor. We boarded the fast mail steamer “Ulster” at Kingston, this time having two American destroyers as convoy. Arrived at Holyhead, Wales, and marched to the train station. We boarded the London & Northwestern Railway; we passed through Wolverhampton, Birmingham, and arrived in Winchester.
 
9:30 P.M. Departed Train in Winchester, England, where waiting trucks took us to camp. Had supper and went to bed at Midnight.

 
10 FEBRUARY 1918
10:00 A.M. Breakfast
Nothing to report outside of our meals and a short hike.
 
 
12 FEBRUARY 1918
Lincoln’s birthday anniversary; services held at the Y.M.C.A.

 
13 FEBRUARY 1918
Review by General Tasker Bliss and speech by Ambassador Page. Evening services and address by Mr. Campbell.

 
14 FEBRUARY 1918
Washed clothing, all underwear, sweater, shirt, sox, one handkerchief, and one towel. Went down to the Y.M.C.A. Theater and saw a movie called “Shoulder Arms” starring Charlie Chaplin.

 
15 FEBRUARY 1918
Walked to Winchester, England, went to a Movie Theater and saw “Iron Trail.” Returned to camp and had supper. After supper we received our pay: $21.50

 
16 FEBRUARY 1918
Rested in our barracks, Winnall Downs Rest Camp

 
17 FEBRUARY 1918
Rested in our barracks, Winnall Downs Rest Camp

 
18 FEBRUARY 1918
Rested in our barracks, Winnall Downs Rest Camp

 
19 FEBRUARY 1918
Went to Headquarters and Quartermaster Park and got new clothes – Morn Hill Camp.

 
20 FEBRUARY 1918
Shaved and washed up. The Tuscania Survivors have been invited to attend the Palace Theater in Southampton this afternoon.
 
12:00 P.M. We walked to Winchester and boarded a train for Southampton, the place where Pilgrims left for America. This is also the home of John Alden the first person from the Mayflower to set foot upon Plymouth Rock.
 
We were escorted by an English Military Band as we walked to the Palace Theater. This building has some features that remind me of the Davidson Theater in Milwaukee. Upon entering we received a program, and we were seated. The play itself was like Vaudeville in Majestic.
 
7:00 P.M. Returned to Winchester escorted by band. Another Band was waiting for us at Winchester, wonderful hospitality.
 
 
21 FEBRUARY 1918
Cleaned and shined my new shoes (tan) and arrange my new clothing. I removed the Corporal chevrons from my British blouse, which was donated to me just after the Tuscania was torpedoed. As company clerk, I made up a report of Sanitary Squad #3, 32nd Division. Note: Somebody has been stealing my eats the last 3 days; must be some rotten egg in our outfit.

 
22 FEBRUARY 1918
Today is George Washington’s birthday. I went to our office to see about a typewriter. I went to evening services; there was none, so I returned to the barracks.

 
23 FEBRUARY 1918
We are quarantined and confined to quarters.

 
24 FEBRUARY 1918
Attended services by the Y.M.C.A. held in the mess hall, Father Guy, and English chaplain and a Captain in the British Army resided over the evening of devotion.
 
 
25 FEBRUARY 1918
Read a newspaper in the morning, and I read a magazine in the afternoon. I made up company reports on the typewriter during the evening. Received Red Cross ditty bags, shaving brush, wash rag, etc.

 
26 FEBRUARY 1918
Walked to the Red Cross Hospital and received another bag of tobacco, tooth brush, comb, etc.

 
27 FEBRUARY 1918
I rested during the day. I worked from 7:00 P.M. to 10:30 P.M. in the evening, making out muster and payroll for February.

 
28 FEBRUARY 1918
I did not do much during the day, but I processed a shortage slip at Headquarters during the evening.

 
1 MARCH 1918
I went to headquarters in the morning, to get writing paper. Bathed and Shaved in the afternoon, I also sent away laundry. I stayed in for the evening.
 
 
2 MARCH 1918
I went to headquarters in the morning, wrote a few letters. In the afternoon, I cut off an overcoat to trench length for one of the men. I went to the canteen in the evening.

 
3 MARCH 1918
 I went to headquarters in the morning. At 9:00 A.M. I went to mass at the Y.M.C.A. Theater; Father Guy having services. Returned to barracks, cut and finished two overcoats. At 1:00 P.M. I did office work; monthly reports to the Adjutant General, the Surgeon General, etc. I finished more coats. I went to services at the chapel tonight.

 
4 MARCH 1918
Jazbo Smith returned to the barracks drunk and became very abusive. I was lying on my low cot at the time, so he came over to me and kicked me at the bottom of my feet; he then called me a “Deutsche Son-of-a-Bitch.” I got up and told him to cut it out. He then hit me in the face with his fist, and that started the fight. He retracted trading punches when I got near the Sergeants quarters, I hit him in the jaw, and he went thru the door and fell right in the arms of Sergeant 1st Class John E. Stevens. Sgt. Stevens then confined me to quarters, detailing me to clean out the barracks, stove, etc.

 
5 MARCH 1918
I cleaned out the barracks; I emptied the ashes from the barracks stove. I got new coal for the Sibley stove. I fixed overcoats and raincoats. I contacted the commanding officer, 1st Lieutenant Roscoe G. Leland M.D. and told him that I was confined to quarters without, or, O.K. from the C.O. (Commanding Officer). He said he would give me justice.

 
6 MARCH 1918
1st Lt. Leland inspected the barracks, but did nothing for me.

 
7 MARCH 1918
Sergeants Peters, Harris, Richards, and Boland are standing around the Sibley stove while I cleaned out our barracks. Sgt. 1st Class John E. Stevens was talking to them about what happened on the Tuscania, and stated: “President Wilson ought to have his ass kicked for declaring war on Germany” why I thought? “Germany will lick the world” he remarked. That made me angry. Here are four Michigan Sergeants listening to a 1/c Sergeant from Michigan and not saying a word in return. I grew angry, I told him to take off his blouse as I had no intention of hitting a non-commissioned officer in uniform. Instead of removing his blouse, he went to his quarters and locked his door. A few days before, this 1/c Sgt. had trouble with the 107th Engineer Train, whom he accused of stealing our bench; they never had the bench. (The 107th Engineer Train is a Wisconsin outfit)
 
The Top Sergeant refused one of our men his breakfast, throwing his mess-kit against the wall, because he did not have his leggings on.

 
8 MARCH 1918
Sunday night he saw me wash up and clean up getting ready to go with Sgt. Boland to services. Knowing that I would miss services, the Top Sergeant ordered me to do some typing. I told him that I wished to go to services, so he confined me again.
 
 
9 MARCH 1918
I reported this matter to the C.O., but he did nothing for me. I then cleaned up and walked to Headquarters, Camps of England, and preferred charges against 1/c Sergeant John E. Stevens, I also turned in a list of witnesses. The Provost Marshal, Captain Kirney, quizzed me about the details.
 
On the way back to the barracks, I met Lady Milliard of Surrey, and after a brief talk she stated that she would knit for me, I thanked her.

 
10 MARCH 1918
Went to Mass this morning, then took a walk to the city limits of Winchester, it was a grand day. I had dinner, shaved, and walked to the canteen and bought some flakes and mixed tobacco. I then sewed a pouch for my tobacco from a piece of material I had removed from a raincoat. I went to services tonight, rosary and benediction. There was a battle in the barracks with lights turned out; shoes, wet rags etc. were included.

 
11 MARCH 1918
Worked at Mess this morning and noon. Witnesses for the court martial were: Privates Sauer, Cady, McGee, Hogan, Wilmarth, and Smith – testified against the Top Sergeant (about equally divided between Wisconsin and Michigan men).
 
I received a pass to go to Winchester from 1:00 to 5:30 P.M. Walked to depot and purchased thread, hooks and eyes, and had a hat strap made at Richards Saddlery; also bought a cheap tobacco case. I returned back to camp at 5:00 P.M. with Schrader and Slocum. When we passed Morn Hill Camp, we saw Sergeant Stevens under guard marching up the hill.

 
12 MARCH 1918
Got up at 7:00 A.M. and had breakfast. After breakfast I sewed hooks and eyes onto six coats. I had dinner, and afterwards I shaved and washed and went to the inquest of Top Sergeant Stevens. After the inquest I worked on finishing 6 overcoats, at 6:30 P.M. I was finished.

 
13 MARCH 1918
Altered two collars on blouses, repaired breaches, and sewed on Sergeant Richards chevrons. I took it easy this afternoon. Sergeant Tommy Weir came to visit me at 6:30 P.M., I took a walk around camp with him, fixed up a bunk for him at our barracks, and he stayed overnight with us.

 
14 MARCH 1918
I woke Sergeant Weir at 7:30 A.M. and we went to breakfast. After breakfast we took a walk through the camp all morning. In the afternoon we marched to Winchester with Sergeant Weirs 121st Medical Detachment. I had the honor of being right guide at the Y.M.C.A. in the evening.

 
15 MARCH 1918
I went for a walk with Sergeant Weir; I got a shave, Sgt. Weir got a haircut. In the afternoon we washed and cleaned up. In the evening I proposed some music, so we went to the band barracks and asked the Bandmaster David Routt to send up the Jazz band. We went to “C” Canteen where they played for the Canteen Board, and the WAAC’s gave us some lunch.

 
16 MARCH 1918
We were paid and I dressed up for the afternoon. Major Kenney, C.O. Medical Detachment, 121st Field Artillery took us to the city of Winchester, and gave us a tour of the Castle, the Cathedral, City Cross, Tavern, Itchen River and other places of interest. In the afternoon, the Major and I walked back and I asked him for a transfer back to the 121st Field Artillery Medical Detachment.
 
Unfortunately my diary from March 17, 1918 to May 27, 1918 was stolen, and the trip from England to France is from memory. Suffice to state that our Sanitary Squads were ordered to France a short time later, with nothing eventful after March 16th.
 
We arrived at Southampton by train and crossed the English Channel by a small cattle boat to Le Havre, France. We marched up the hill and were temporarily billeted in small round tents near a regiment of Scottish Highlanders.
 
 
Edward Theodore Lauer
Private First Class
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sanitary Squad #2
107th Supply Train
32nd (“Red Arrow”) Division
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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