Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A War to End All Wars: "Not the Gay Life You Would Have Imagined"

Both at Dartmouth and during his military career, George Dock 1916 chased adventure. During his four years at Dartmouth, Dock was a member of Psi Kappa Psi Fraternity, the rifle team, the ski team, and the outing club.[1] Before America even entered the war arena and before Dock’s own graduation, he joined the Dartmouth Section of the American Ambulance Corp in 1916. Urged by humanitarian concerns, Dartmouth College alumni and students raised the funds for the purchase of ambulances to be manned by Dartmouth students and alumni at the American Hospital in Paris. Dock did not anguish over the morality of the war but instead signed up out of an adventurous interest in “going over to see war.”[2]

At first, Dock eagerly anticipated his work in the ambulance corp. On the ship to France, Dock wrote his family entertaining tales of his perplexed discussion of the unfathomable French menus and unfamiliar dishes. One evening the American men attempted to identify the mysterious meat on their plates. Dock guessed roast horse, but another American claimed it was “wild and gamey like camel.”[3] While onboard, Dock tried to croon in elementary French to the handsome girls on board, but was disappointed that there was “no romance in sight, as they are all married or nuns.”[4] Dock ended his first letter home enthusiastically: “I hope I can write next time about life in the trenches.”[5]

However, Dock had barely begun his work as an ambulance driver when he became frustrated about his noncombat role. Dock’s unit was dispatched to Bar le Duc in the Verdun in June 1916. He served as an ambulance driver at Verdun and Argonne from June 1916 until May 1917. To him, the weather was more disheartening than the battle and was itself the cause of most of the hospitalizations: “Only 15% of our men are wounded, the 85% being sick from colds, frozen feet, mumps, rheumatism and similar maladies.” [6] The longer Dock spent driving ambulances, the more frustrated he became. In October 1916 he complained,
No one can stay in this ambulance work four months without wanting to do something less passive and without wishing to get a crack at them with something better than a hand grenade. This work-in-behalf-of-humanity bunk sounds very altruistic and pretty, but towing the pieds geles [men with frozen feet] back and forth from the lines is not a great step toward cleaning up on the hostiles, and the only reason any Americans applaud this stuff is that they are humiliated at what little the States have done, and try to magnify that little. Then they re-elect Wilson.[7]
Though Dock was heartily disappointed by his time in the American Field Service, he served the front trench in Verdun and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for rescuing an injured man while under fire. Rather than celebrating his accomplishments as an ambulance driver, Dock contemplated what occupation in the war would suit him better. He planned to change divisions, if and when the United States entered the war.

In April 1917 when the United States declared war on Germany, Dock decided on aviation, “the most thrilling and adventurous thing American lads are doing in The Great War.”[8] Dock first considered joining the American Escadrille, but he was aware that his own country had been unprepared for war. He decided early on to “go in with the French [rather than] into a green American outfit officered by self-important bumpkins from Plattsburg.”[9]

While training as a pilot, Dock discovered what would become a lifetime interest in bird watching: “One gets so obsessed by this aviation that he falls into the habit of watching flying birds to see how they make a good landing in rough terrain.”[10] He also tried his hand at poetry. When he sent one of his poems to his brother, he prefaced it: “I expect you, my press-agent, publisher, and incarnate Muse, to give these vigorous lines what they deserve; in brief a merciful death in the apartment incinerator. It is, I need not say, quite original.”[11]

When Dock was first stationed at the Chemin de Dames he was exhilarated by aviation work.12 Dock and his unit patrolled the front and completed dangerous reconnaissance missions behind German lines. After landing from his first patrol where he faced German fire without damage, Dock wrote to his parents exuberantly, “This is the life! Good machines. Exciting work. Excellent men.”[13] His optimism was dampened however, when he first experienced personal tragedies. In late April, he mournfully admitted to his brother, “This is not the gay life you may have imagined from my previous mouthings.”[14] The day before one of his dear friends in the French Escadrille died in a skirmish with German airplanes. Dock comforted himself in the outdoors and was happy to adopt a fox cub as his pet, who “is very savage, but comical withal. . . only 2-months old, but untimely crafty. We feed him milk, but he prefers shoe leather and wool blankets as a war ration.”[15]

After the Armistice was signed in November, Dock celebrated with the French and British “who went thru 51 months of it instead of 6 to 12 months.”[16] During the debates surrounding the Treaty of Versailles, Dock was irritated by Wilson’s “high horse” speeches about the ideals of republican government, and by the end of the war he considered Wilson “a spineless shrimp”[17] and “the worst of misfortunes and the armistice profoundly deplorable.”[18] Dock remained committed to beating the “Boches” (Germans) until the end and could not see “the idea of even subconsciously sympathizing with them.”[19] His adventure ended in hospitalization for Spanish Influenza in Paris, but Dock returned to the United States healthy in February 1919. Dock was not immune to the horrors of war, but throughout his military career he sought out larger roles in the conflict despite the danger.

Written by Ellen Nye '14

This Series: During World War I, 3,407 Dartmouth men were uprooted from campus, graduate school, or their early careers to serve in a modern war unlike any previous American military engagement.[20] Four of them, Harold Pinkham ’15, George Dock ’16, Edward Kirkland ’16, and Wainwright Merrill ’19, left records of their war experience in the Rauner Special Collections Library. All four matched the demographics of the College at the time and were united by their experiences at progressive prewar Dartmouth, but despite their somewhat similar backgrounds, their personalities were quite different. Their stories speak to the diverse beliefs, experiences, and sources of comfort of Dartmouth men involved in World War I.

George Dock ‘16
St. Louis, Missouri
American Field Service (May 1916-May 1917)
Sgt. Pilot, Lafayette Flying Corps. Escadrille Spad 12. Groupe de Combat 11 (May 1917- January 1919)

Ask for MS-1057 to see the George Dock Papers. A guide to the collection is available.

1Dartmouth Scrapbook, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
2Letter from George Dock Jr. to his aunts, June 13, 1916 , George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
3Letter from George Dock Jr. to his aunt and uncle, May 20, 1916, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
4Letter from George Dock Jr. to his brother, Will, May 21, 1916, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
5Letter from George Dock Jr. to his aunt and uncle, May 20, 1916, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
6Letter from George Dock Jr. to his aunt, November 2, 1916, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
7Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, October 10, 1916, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
8Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, November 19, 1916, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
9Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, March 1, 1917, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
10Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, June 30, 1917, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
11Letter from George Dock Jr. to his brother, July 3, 1918, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
12Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, March 15, 1918, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
13Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, March 24, 1918, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
14Letter from George Dock Jr. to his brother, April 22, 1918, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
15Letter from George Dock Jr. to his brother, May 24, 1918, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
16Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, November 12, 1918, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
17Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, August 14, 1916, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
18Letters from George Dock Jr. to his parents, November 3, 1918 and February 22, 1919, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
19Letter from George Dock Jr. to his parents, October 14, 1917, George Dock Papers, Rauner Special Collections Library.
20Charles Wood, The Hill Winds Know Their Name: A Guide to Dartmouth’s War Memorials. Hanover N.H.: Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs, 2001, 6.

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