Friday, September 12, 2014

Oh, that I had a Steam Launch

It's our 500th posting on this blog, and yesterday was our fifth anniversary. What to blog for such an auspicious occasion? The traditional fifth anniversary gift is made of wood--we did that once, no wait twice, and so many of our books have wood in them that would be too easy. The most glamorous "500" item we can think of is the publisher's mock up for Dr. Seuss's second book, the 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.  But, really, we blog Seuss all the time. There is always the line in Richard Hovey's "Eleazer Wheelock" satirically referring to five hundred gallons of New England rum, but we're not sure we want to celebrate that way.... Luckily, current events have stepped in, and we always try to be timely.

Earlier this week the Canadian government discovered one of the lost ships belonging to the John Franklin expedition. The most recent search has been going since 2008, but it was the intensive search for Franklin spearheaded by his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, that captured the world's attention in the 1850s and successfully mapped vast regions of the Arctic. The story does not have a happy ending. In 1854 John Rae discovered relics from Franklin's expedition and interviewed Inuit witnesses that established the death of the crew.

You would think that Rae would have been seen as a hero for his efforts, but he also discovered evidence of cannibalism that cast a shadow on the men the world had made lost heroes. Even after Rae's discovery, Lady Franklin continued her efforts to not only find possible survivors but exonerate them of any behavior not fitting a British Naval officer. In this letter, she conveys the frustration of one of the searchers, who felt that large sailing ships were at a disadvantage in polar seas, stating, "Oh that I had a steam launch, or a small vessel of 100 tons but chiefly a steam vessel!"

Our extensive Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration has dozens of items related to the Franklin Expedition and the ensuing search.

You can see some of Lady Franklin's letters by asking for Stef Ms-180. And to read a sensational pamphlet on Rae's find, ask for The Dreadful Fate of Sir J. Franklin and the Brave Crews in the Arctic Expeditions (London, Saunders, Brothers, 185-) at Stef G660.D72.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A War to End All Wars: "Dying for a Cause"

Training Trenches at
Dartmouth College

Wainwright Merrill's, Class of 1919, war correspondence oozes with good-humor, idealism, and enthusiasm. He spent only one year studying English literature at Dartmouth (1915-1916), but even as a 17-year-old Dartmouth freshman, he believed in preparing the United States for war. He was an active member of the first controversial military drill battalion at Dartmouth that began training in February of 1916.[1] The group practiced marching in formation on the green, learned about artillery, and simulated the war experience by digging trenches near the football field. In addition to his training at Dartmouth he attended camp at Plattsburg, New York, a well-known volunteer pre-enlistment military training program organized by private citizens.[2] In the fall of 1916, Merrill transferred to Harvard, perhaps to be closer to his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Despite his premature departure, Merrill remembered Dartmouth fondly and believed that he could recognize a Dartmouth man anywhere, because the school “does put a sort of brand upon a man.”[3]

Merrill’s love of English literature extended to all people and things English. He occasionally referred to the English as “his countrymen” and admitted, “I like England very, very much. I could easily love it as a home, and it is surely greatly worth fighting for.” After the British had endured two years of combat, Merrill decided that he could no longer continue drilling and waiting. He left his home at Cambridge in November of 1916 to volunteer as a gunner in the Canadian Field Artillery. Only eighteen, he was considered a minor by the Canadian military, and his father did not consent to his involvement, so Merrill assumed the false name Arthur A. Stanley.[4] In a letter home to his father, Merrill explained that he “could not, in honour, stay out if America should take no action.”[5] So, Merrill’s great love of all things English propelled him into war and he soon found himself on his way to England.
Students on Parade, Dartmouth College
From November 1916 to October 1917 at a training camp in England, Merrill was instructed specifically on operating the 8-inch Howitzers, massive guns fired from far behind the front lines. During his adjustment to military life in England, he decided that saying “Cheerio” was the best cure for war gloom.[6] When on leave, he explored the English countryside and overstayed his leave of absence several times. Finally he was placed in “the clink,” a solitary cell, as punishment for absence without leave. Merrill was unperturbed though, and simply brought his large collection of reading material with him: Shakespeare, Tennyson, Canterbury Tales, Vergil’s Aeneid I-VI, Wilhelm Tell, The Golden Treasury, Pickwick, poems by Rudyard Kipling, French, German, and English Dictionaries, the Daily Telegraph, Horace, The Iliad, and Don Quixote. He also penned a short poem titled “Ye Ballad of ye Clink” while confined.

One of Merrill’s only frustrations was that he was just a private. Merrill does not explain why his college education and previous training experience did not earn him a commission as an officer, but it may have been a consequence of using an assumed name. On October 18, 1917, Merrill was posted to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, and was then stationed near Ypres in Flanders, Belgium. There he operated guns at the front, firing at unseen targets and relying on aviator’s reports to determine if the shots met their mark. During combat, he kept his optimism joking, “the Front is not so black as it is painted—though it is quite as brown with khaki and no end of Flanders mud.”[7]

Merrill’s cheerful determination ended on November 6, 1917, when a German artillery shell exploded in his barracks, killing him. Merrill was only nineteen and had been in Belgium less than a month. Ten days before his death when he was assigned to the front, Merrill wrote to his friend from Harvard, Edward Hubbard, and contemplated the possibility of his death:
It's mighty hard, Ed leaving everything back there, perhaps for good and all. So if it should be that, friend, I'll say good-bye—but God! how can one—a couple of simple words and it’s over, and you go up to the Line, and try to laugh, or smile at least, and swallow it down. But it's part of the game, of course, and it is a noble end which we seek out of the ruck and jetsam of death and broken men and lasting sorrow.[8]
Merrill died when he had just begun to experience the realities of war. He never wrote regretfully about his decision to join the military, and as this passage shows, he considered dying in the war “a noble end.” Wainwright Merrill was one of the many young, good-humored, and idealistic men whose lives were ended prematurely by the war.

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.[9] 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.

Wainwright Merrill ’19 
Cambridge, Massachusetts 
Private, Canadian Field Artillery 

Ask for Rauner Alumni M5525c.

1“Military Advocates to Organize Monday Night: Elementary Drill will be begun under direction of Army Officer.” The Dartmouth: January 13, 1916, “Over 500 Men Attend Preparedness Meeting.” The Dartmouth: January 22, 1916, and “Battalion Drill Begins.” The Dartmouth: February 5, 1916
2Wainwright Merrill and Charles Miner Stearns. A College Man in Khaki, Letters of an American in the British Artillery. New York: George H. Doran Co, 1918, vii.
3Merilll, Letter to Charles Miner Stearns, his English professor at Dartmouth, November 5, 1917.
4Merrill, vii.
5Merilll, Letter to his father, June 29, 1917.
6Merrill, Letter to Mrs. Clark, August 18, 1917.
7Merrill, Letter to his father, November 2, 1917.
8Merrill, To Edward Hubbard, October 28, 1917.
9Charles 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.