Rudyard Kipling

Marion, born in 1888, was 8 years old when she was given this copy of The Jungle Book in 1896. The book The-Jungle-Book-coverwas first published in 1894 while Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was living in Vermont. He had spent the first six years of his life living in Bombay and many of his stories reflect that early influence. Early on he became a master of the Short Story format and was a prolific writer and poet. In 1907, Kipling won the Nobel Prize for Literature; he was the youngest ever recipient and the first Briton to win this honor. Before the war he was a very popular writer and Marion’s writing reflects his influence as she subtly refers to him and his writing in her war journal.

His only son, John, died in WWI in September, 1915 at the Battle of Loos; he was serving with the Irish Guard. With his body not accounted for, Kipling spent many years after the war trying to locate him as a prisoner or his burial spot. In 1992, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission changed the inscription on a gravestone of an unknown soldier to read John Kipling after conclusive evidence that this indeed was the final resting spot of the young soldier.Rudyard Kipling 1

Rudyard Kipling is buried in the Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Disney has announced the remake and re-imagining of the 1967 animated movie, Jungle Book, due to be released in April, 2016. Who hasn’t hummed those songs or sung along with the different generations who watched the movie and listened to the cassette or CD in the car on road trips? – Jungle Book Trailer




Marion’s Ukulele


Marion learned to play the ukulele while vacationing in Hawaii before WWI. She took it with her to France in 1917 and played for the wounded soldiers at the field hospitals that she visited. Her letters home about Christmas, 1917, became an article she published in Sunset magazine in 1918. She describes visiting the wounded and taking them comfort bags of goodies from home. While there she pulled out her ukulele and played songs from home – I Been Workin on the Railroad, Sweet Rosy O’Grady, When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for  Alabama and My Honolulu Tomboy. The French soldiers sang along with her when she played Madelon for them.

Another time (Feb. 22, 1918) she describes a bombardment on Nancy and while folks gathered in the shelter they were serenaded by her with Hawaiian love songs and hulas. That probably did wonders to take their minds off the bombs falling all around them.

The ukulele was a very popular instrument in the early 1900’s. It was made even more popular at the 1915 San Francisco Panama Pacific International Exposition in the Hawaiian pavilion. It seems to be having a resurgence today and Marion would have enjoyed this rendition of an old favorite – Ukulele Weeps by Jake Shimabukuro


The Lusitania


With construction beginning in 1903, the British Cunard liner Lusitania made it’s first voyage in 1907.  It had been built to be the “Greyhound of the Seas” and captured a Blue Ribbon for the fastest Atlantic crossing. It was the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship for its time. During the ship’s lifespan, it made 101 round-trip voyages.

On May 1, 1915, it set sail for Liverpool departing from New York. Despite warnings in New York newspapers (from the German Embassy) that “vessels flying under the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction”, there were 1,924 people on board. The warnings were taken seriously by some as the number of passengers was only half the ship’s capacity. The Captain felt the ship was safe as it could ‘outrun’ any German submarines.  Still, the ship was on ‘high alert’ when it was torpedoed in the Irish Sea by a German U-boat on May 7th and sank within 20 minutes, with 1,198 people perishing; 128 were Americans.

Sentiment mounted in the US to declare war on Germany, but Wilson hesitated. In fact, he waited two years and didn’t officially declare war until April, 1917.

Marion headed to France on the SS Rochambeau on May 17, 1917, two years after the sinking of the Lusitania. While still on board the ship, the first line in her first letter home is “Well, no submarines so far….”

There have been many books written about the Lusitania. The latest one (2015), Dead Wake by Dead WakeErik Larson is the type of narrative non-fiction that captures the reader and keeps our attention from the first page until the last. His attention to detail and recounting of the history and demise of this famous ship is told from every side, British, US and German. The book is a gripping account of a time in history and provides a different perspective on a memorable event.






The Camionette

You_drive_a_car_here_Why_not_a_transport_in_FranceMarion studied auto mechanics at the Heald Engineering and Automobile School in San Francisco before heading over to France to help with the war effort. She was awarded a certificate on April 25, 1917 from the Repair Department of the school.* She had learned how to tear down and assemble cars, including Starting, Lighting and Ignition work, driving on the road and troubleshooting and it was written that she “is qualified to keep a car in first-class working order”.

Many of her journal entries are about her adventures driving during the war. She delivered supplies for the AFFW, American Red Cross and at times the military units. She also delivered doctors and nurses to their assigned field hospitals. She moved refugees to safe territory, at times being the target of enemy fire.

She and Alexine drove Ford automobiles as well as Overlands (manufactured in the US from 1903-1926). 200Henry Ford (1863-1947), founder of the Ford Motor Company, started making Model T’s in 1908 and with his invention of assembly-line production of automobiles, he had produced half of the cars in the US by 1918. Marion took great pride in keeping her Ford camionette running smoothly and ready to hit the road as needed. At times she referred to her car as Henry. The French term camion or camionette denotes delivery van or small truck. In Nancy, where they were stationed most of the time, the cars were kept in a large garage. Marion put out a fire one night in the garage and the town proclaimed her a ‘h133ero’.

Alexine is in the middle of this picture on the left and Marion is standing by ‘her brown camionette’ in the picture above. We do know that the family in Alameda had traded in their horses and carriage for an automobile before the war started so both ladies were more than familiar with cars and knew how to drive.

Henry Ford quote – “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black”. With his emphasis on efficiency in his assembly-line factory he discovered that black paint dried the fastest.


Horses of WWI and the Blue Cross

212Marion put this picture into her photo album of WWI with her caption “French troops coming down from Pont-à-Mousson”. We love the corners that she used to mount the photos in the album and we have preserved them. Her journal doesn’t include information about the horses of WWI, probably because she was so busy taking care of the vehicle that she was driving.

We do know now that in 1914 the British had 25,000 horses ‘serving’ on the battlefields. TheWWI horsey were needed to pull the wagons loaded with supplies, artillery, wounded and dying men as well as mounts for their cavalry charges. The War Office tasked the military units to send 500,000 more horses to help with the war effort. From 1914-17 the US sent 1,000 horses on each ship heading to England from the harbors. It is estimated that 6 million horses were used in WWI.

The soldiers considered these horses part of the military and they did the best they could to take care of them. However, the majority of them were either killed in battle or died of disease and starvation. The Blue Cross stepped in to help. They began in 1897 in Britain as an animal charity. By Armistice in 1918 they had raised £170,000 to care for the sick and injured animals of WWI. Over 50,000 horses were treated in hospitals in France. The charity organization still exists and in 2012 put together the War Horse Collection of photos from both world wars.

Blue Cross postersThis may have been done in part by the 2012 release of the movie War Horse.


Kodak and Aerial Photography

Alexine by Lt. Hoyt_WWI001v2While Marion was busy journaling their experiences during WWI, Alexine, Marion’s sister, was taking photographs as they traveled about doing their work. Alexine first mentions ‘investing’ in a Kodak in a letter home from Paris (April, 1917) and actually writes about taking pictures in a letter dated May, 1917. In the photo at left she is holding the Kodak that she used. While we don’t have her original camera, we have many photographs that she took, most with outstanding clarity and detail. So many of the pictures are the exact size of the film, making us think that the developers made ‘contact’ sheets of the negatives.

Kodak introduced film as we know it today in 1885, with the folding pocket Kodak camera coming to the public in 1898. We know the family had one at the turn of the century because of all the camping pictures  of Yosemite in 1901-1906. This ad is from a National Geographic magazine dated April, 1917 when Kodak started producing this particular model. We think it is very similar to the one that Alexine used, perhaps even the same ad 01

Also, in 1917, Kodak developed aerial cameras and trained aerial photographers for the US Signal Corps to help in France during the war. Some recommended books to read about this time period in photography’s history are: The Last Summer of the World by Emily Mitchell (no relation), a novel about Edward Steichen; and Terry Finnegan’s book Shooting the Front: Allied Aerial Reconnaissance in the First World War;

Alexa and I both had fathers that enjoyed photography as a hobby, each of them using high-end camera equipment with fantastic results. My father went so far as to take me up in his airplane and teach me how to do aerial photography. You never know when that special skill may come in handy! He also constructed a darkroom in the house I lived in as a teenager and I learned the fine craftsmanship of every phase of photography while in high school and later after college I worked in a camera store for three years. It’s no wonder we feel a special affinity to the photographs and equipment that was used by the Mitchell sisters.

Alexine and ‘Trench Dogs’

AM-dogs001Alexine Mitchell, Marion Mitchell’s sister, went to France in December, 1916 and did not return until the Spring of 1920; she was there for almost 3 1/2 years. When she did come back to the US, she brought with her two dogs, Takou and Basoche. Takou was given to her as a puppy by a wounded soldier recovering in the hospital in Nancy where she was stationed; he had found the puppy in a trench. She acquired Basoche while hiking through the Pyrenees after the war. Both dogs only understood French commands. She bred the dogs and sold their puppies after returning to Alameda.

A more famous ‘trench dog’ was found as a puppy in a bombed dog kennel by Lee Duncan who was serving in France as an American Gunnery Corporal. He named his dog Rinty, also known as Rin-Tin-Tin and brought the dog home to the US. Realizing how smart his dog was, he took him to the Warner Bros studios to see if he could get him into the movies.  Rin-Tin-Tin ended upRin Tin Tin IV starring in 26 WB silent movies before he was ‘let go’. At one point it was reported that he was receiving 50,000 fan letters each month. His descendants went on to star in the 1950’s-1960’s TV show The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin and today a Rin-Tin-Tin, reputed to be the 12th descendent of the first one, is the spokesdog for the American Humane Association. A recent book – Rin-Tin-Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean has more information, if interested.

Every side fighting in WWI used dogs in the trenches; their jobs included being a sentry, scout, messenger, mascot, sniffing for explosives, finding the casualties and chasing the rats out of the trench. Sometimes they just helped boost the morale of the soldiers. It’s estimated that about 20,000 dogs were in the trenches with the British soldiers.