As an archivist I see a fair share of personal papers in the archives: personal letters, poems, lists, annotations on articles or reports people are writing/editing, and diaries! I love the concept of diaries! Ever since I was a kid I used to love the idea of writing in a diary/journal. It was a way for me to express myself, say the things I couldn’t say out loud. Though my parents weren’t exactly rich, from time to time they would indulge my hobby. Eventually with all my diaries and even my blogs, I lose momentum. There were too many distractions and too little to say. How many times can I say: Went to class today. Went to work today. Hung out with my friends. I’m tired. What am I going to be when I grow up? Ugh! Why won’t my parents treat me like an adult?
My own lack of dedication to the art of journaling has evolved into an admiration for those with the diligence to express themselves on a regular basis, whether it is for personal satisfaction or work purposes. It is no secret that a diary can provide insight to a person’s thoughts and character. It can also provide insight to the times in which the diary writer lived.
One diary that I found particularly interesting in our archives is the Edmund G. Smith World War II diary. The diary was purchased at an internet auction and the provenance (or chain of custody) is not exactly clear. (Hence the reason we no longer purchase collections.) All we have is the information provided in the diary. Thankfully the diary is one of those moderated diaries that have fill in the blank forms like “Enlistment Record,” “Buddies O’Mine,” “Letters Written to…” He even created his own section listing out his friend’s nicknames: Skid Grease, Salmon Head, Oil can, Three footlocker slim, Sheep hearder [sic] and more.
Edmund wrote in his diary from October 13, 1942 to December 15, 1943. He chronicled his activities as a soldier in the Company E, 201st Infantry and the 799th Engineers Forestry Company. Edmund provided amazing and interesting details about the life of a soldier in Alaska during World War II. On New Year’s Eve, 1942, he stood at his post and kept “track of where every boat goes to and where they come from and call it into Harbor Intelligence.” He spent many nights doing this exact thing, but reading about him doing it on New Year’s Eve seems so much more stirring. His shift ended right at 12am, January 1, 1943. He also spent his time working in carpentry and went to school to hone his skills. Here’s a quick entry he wrote about a project he worked on for the army:
NOV. 27, 1942
WENT ON SICK CALL. HAD SOME STUFF PUT ON THE BOIL ON MY HAND. MY WHOLE HAND IS SWOLLEN. IN THE AFTERNOON I HAD TO BUILD A SPECIAL SEAT IN THE BACK OF A JEEP SO THE CAPT. COULD TAKE A NURSE OUT. THE SMALL SEAT IS TOO SMALL FOR BIG WEBER AND A NURSE. WE EVEN TOOK A JACK AND SPREAD THE FRONT SEAT APART SO IT WOULD BE LONG ENOUGH FOR HIM TO GET IN.
Unfortunately there was no update or more information on Capt. Weber and the nurse. Were they going out to provide care to soldiers posted at various points on the island? Or were they going “out?” It was probably the former. Edmund, however, did update his diary on the condition of his boil.
NOV. 29, 1942
WENT OVER ON SICK CALL AGAIN THIS MORNING. HE OPENED THE BOIL AND BELIEVE ME THERE WAS PLENTY OF STUFF COME OUT. HAVE TO GO BACK OVER AGAIN, THE FIRST.
No update was found on the boil in the Dec. 1, 1942 entry.
Diaries are just an example how personal papers can provide information for research. Edmund’s experience with ‘sick call’ along with other World War II soldiers’ personal accounts provide insight into the medical treatment soldiers received. Their accounts of their ailments provide information about the living and working conditions they experienced where they were stationed. The Captain and the nurse’s journey out further describe the treatment soldiers received. As for the need to modify a jeep to fit both a Big Captain and nurse, perhaps jeeps were inadequately small or simply that Big Weber was a very big man?
Well that’s it for me, Diary. Please don’t take offense if I don’t write to you as regularly as I should. Rest assured every blog entry I write will be in honor of your willingness to listen, agreeable nature, and ability never to interrupt 😉
Archivist and periodic journal/blog writer