Ellsworth A. Hawkes worked for the Aetna Insurance Company in Hartford before joining the army in World War I. On December 7, 1917, he wrote to a co-worker, Ben Meyers, from somewhere in France, where he was with the 101st Machine Gun Battalion. He reported that so far the weather had been seasonable and he had not taken ill, important facts to relay. I often forget just how “primitive” our army was in 1917, certainly compared to today. Ellsworth reminded of that again when he wrote:
Yesterday we were out on the range firing our machine guns . . . It is a bout a 5 mile hike from our camp to the range and a good share of it is up hill. We generally leave here in the morning, taking along the guns mounted on small carts drawn by mules and bringing up in the rear is the field kitchen and cooks with our noon-day meal. It certainly makes one think of war when all these guns are lined up and begin plugging away at the targets. The last couple of days when going out to drill we have been wearing our helmets in order to get used to these tin derbys.
There are other interesting details in Ellsworth’s letter. “For amusement and fun,” he writes, “there isn’t much doing. We see the sun once in a great while which is about the most exciting thing that happens.” The nearest town with stores for shopping was three miles away, although the local cafes served wine and cognac (which I am sure the men appreciated). His company had not been paid yet although the payroll had been submitted twice. A hair cut and a shave were at least reasonably priced, at 14 and six cents, respectively. Other items or services he claimed were very expensive. Three other Aetna “boys” are evidently with him, namely Winslow Arnold, Abbe, and Buckman.
Ellsworth survived the war, came home and married, moved to Michigan where he continued in insurance, and then moved back East to Massachusetts, where he died in 1972 at the age of 76. As always with a single item like this, one is left wanting to know more. What was the rest of the war like for him? How did he adjust once he returned from France? What other letters by him might exist?
You can ready Ellsworth’s letter in the Research Center by asking for Ms 101842. Other World War I related manuscripts can be seen by clicking here.