World War I -- Life Histories/Section 019/H. Gaston Carney
Born in Wilmington, NC in 1896, Hiram Gaston Carney spent time on the home front and in France as a soldier in World War I and wrote about his life in several journals between 1918-1919
Life During the War
Gaston and his brother Marshall enlisted to fight in WWI in September 1918- a month later his journals began. Though Marshall lied about his age to join, and ended up fighting in the trenches of France, Gaston never saw the battlefield and dealt with the life of an inactive soldier abroad. Over the course of several months, Gaston wrote in five journals that matter-of-factly described his daily life from his journey to France until is return home in March 1919. During his time in the camp and quarantine, after an influenza outbreak at the beginning of his service, Carney wrote about the bitter cold weather, lack of sustenance and food. His entries said things like “men still dying – can’t get anything to eat or drink – still starving” . Carney also wrote a lot about the YMCA and the relationship the “Y” had to the soldiers, including recreational activities set up by the “Y” in their camp. Carney and his troop were not returned home until over four months after the armistice in November 1918.
Life After War
After Carney’s return home he went on to marry Anna Gore, a girl mentioned in one of his journals, but they never had children. Carney became a life insurance salesman and was an avid golfer in his free time. At one point Carney was Chair of Draft Board for WWII and Board of Elections simultaneously. Carney’s time in WWI echoed the stories of many other soldiers who never fought on the front lines. Carney died in 1968 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and was survived by his niece, Lucy Ann Glover, who transcribed his journals 2002.
Political and Social Issues
Food Rationing in WWI
Many soldiers in WWI were left starving and insufficiently fed during their time in service, though military history often overlooks the conditions even the men behind the lines had to deal with . In 1916, crops in the United States took a big hit, and there was generally less food for everyone, not just soldiers. Moreover, German U-boats targeted American ships carrying supplies and rations to the men abroad. Some soldiers’ lack of food led to discontent with the war and the American military (Duffet 275). Food rationing was a clear misstep in the operations of the military and the treatment of soldiers during the Great War.
The YMCA’s Role
The Young Man’s Christian Association played many roles in aiding the American government during WWI. In some cases that meant diplomacy in countries where allied forces were not allowed, and aiding prisoners of war . In other cases, the YMCA acted as an organization and resource for the men behind the lines of WWI, often in the form of recreation and religious support. The YMCA was aware of the conditions the soldiers were exposed to and even advertised discouraging information to soldiers on the home front -“For the men waiting in camps to go to the front; for the hundreds of thousands engaged on work back of the lines, France is infinitely more monotonous than training camps here….The fighting front is the big adventure in France, and only one man in nine ever gets there” . The YMCA attempted to de-glorify battle abroad, while also aiding the men both at home and on the frontline, taking on an active role in the war.
Quarantine and Infectious Diseases
Quarantine occurred during outbreaks of the mumps and influenza. “The transport of an army to another continent and back was one of the great achievements of World War I. But such triumph also carried danger because as the doughboys traveled “Over There,” they did not travel alone” . Soldiers risked their lives to go to war only to find they could die from something far subtler, like disease. During 1918, the influenza pandemic killed between 20-40 million people, one of the worst epidemics in recorded history. The fear of disease often caused panic, and soldiers subjected to poor conditions were the most at-risk. In response to epidemics within the military, the United States quarantined thousands of soldiers both at home and abroad .
- “Carney Family Papers, 1898-2002.” Carney Family Papers, 1898-2002. Wilson Library, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. <http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/c/Carney_Family.html>.
- Duffett, Rachel. The Stomach for Fighting : Food and the Soldiers of the Great Manchester ; New York: Manchester University Press , 2012. Print.
- Steuer, Kenneth. Pursuit of an 'Unparalleled OpportunityThe American YMCA and Prisoner of War Diplomacy during World War I. Gutenberg, Columbia University Press, 4 Apr. 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
- YMCA of the USA. Speech Stuff Concerning the Y.M.C.A. for Use in the United War Work Campaign. New York: Y.M.C.A., 1918. Print.
- Byerly, Carol R. "The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919." Public Health Reports. Association of Schools of Public Health. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
- Summers, Jennifer. "Pandemic Influenza Outbreak on a Troop Ship-Diary of a Soldier in 1918 - Volume 18, Number 11-November 2012 - Emerging Infectious Disease Journal - CDC." Pandemic Influenza Outbreak on a Troop Ship-Diary of a Soldier in 1918 - Volume 18, Number 11-November 2012 – Emerging Infectious Disease Journal - CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Nov. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2015