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Helmets of WWI

Marion went over to France before the troops arrived in 1917. She was given a French helmet to wear for protection as she drove her vehicles along the Western Front. So typically Marion, she named her helmet – Tin Derby.


“In June, 1917, the United States Army selected the standard British helmet design for its use. This was the British MK 1 steel helmet. There were three main reasons for the selection of the British MK 1 helmet design: “the immediate availability of 400,000 ready-made helmets from England, the simplicity of manufacture from hard metal, and the superior ballistic properties.” When the British MK 1 was selected by the United States Army, its United States production version was designated and standardized as the Helmet, M-1917. Until United States production of the M-1917 could begin, the United States purchased the 400,000 available British MK. 1 helmets in England and issued them to the American Expeditionary Forces already in Europe. Production was begun on the M-1917 helmets in the fall of 1917. By the end of November 1917, large quantities of M-1917 helmets became available for the United States Army.” (

Helmet Factory

Manufacturing helmets. Large power press for shaping helmets in the plant of Hale & Kilburn Corporation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hale & Kilburn Company., ca. 1918

(Photo credit: NARA

Family Quilts

As the end of the month of March nears it also marks the end of National Quilt Month. I photographed the quilt that Alexa’s Great Grandmother, Lily Von Schmidt Mitchell Tilden, made a few years before her wedding. She and her friend Tillie Eggers made it in 1883 while living in San Francisco. Whoever married first got to keep it. Lily married Harrison W. Mitchell in 1885. She had two young daughters, Alexine (1886) and Marion (1888), when Harry died of Bright’s disease in 1890. She was not a single mother for long, marrying Charles Lee Tilden in 1892. The Tildens had one more child, a son, Charles Lee Tilden Jr. 

This pattern is called ‘crazy quilt’ as it uses a wide variety of fabrics and stitches in random patterns. This quilt was all done by hand and is in remarkable shape for being 133 years old. Lily's Quilt

I’m spending the day packing for my next quilt retreat, my fourth one. They remind me of the long history of sewing and quilting that exists in so many cultures around the world. We are all bound together by common threads; the camaraderie and friendship that grows strong among women (and sometimes men) who sit together and sew. At last August’s quilt retreat I learned how to make the Annie Arrowhead block and finished the quilt this spring. The fabric was designed and made by Aborigine fabric artists in Australia. The next retreat promises the beginning of a new quilt as well as the renewal of friendships from the past retreats. Women have been doing this for centuries.Aussie Quilt

Very few quilts still exist from World War I; most were made in 1917 and 1918 and were used in fundraising events for the Red Cross. Most of the ones that do exist are commemorative quilts honoring the soldiers killed in the war.

A book worth reading is  Ruth McHaney Danner’s book: Making a World of Difference One Quilt at a Time: Inspiring Stories about Quilters and How They Have Touched Lives. (New World Library, 2015).

General Pershing

General John J. Pershing (1860-1948), Commander in Chief of the AEF (American Expeditionary Force) during the war, arrived in Paris in June, 1917. Marion was there to witness the July 4th parade in the streets heralding the arrival of the American Pershingsoldiers. “The first American troops are in Paris! First came some dignitaries in automobiles, then the band playing full blast, and then our soldiers in khaki and Stetsons, the brownest, toughest, most businesslike citizens you ever laid eyes on, all with eyes dead ahead and solemn as tombstones—fighters every inch! The French cheered wildly and yelled, “Vive l’Amérique! Vive l’Amérique!” and waved banners. They certainly looked fine, very brown and hardy, fairly covered with flowers the populace had given them, stuck in their hats and coats and in the barrels of their guns. When at length they defiled and marched to the cemetery to place a wreath on La Fayette’s tomb, we fell in behind in our camions with the mob….So you see it was ‘some day’. A day to feel, right through you, the red-blooded tide of friendship between France and the U.S.A., good will bursting all bounds. A day to feel that you were a part of it all, that you were doing your bit and had a right to the thrills that were going up and down your spine! To have seen with my own eyes two nations gripping each others hands, nations that I love almost equally.” (Marion Mitchell, Chapter 2)

When the United States finally did enter the war, Pershing was given command of the AEF. The Army was not prepared; they had limited supplies, no aircraft and were struggling with organization and with recruitment. To add to that, the French and British expected the American soldiers to serve under their commands. Pershing refused and was able to secure separate camps for his men to aid in their training. He may be best known for leading the Battle of Meuse-Argonne in the Fall of 1918, finally sealing the fate of the German army and helping to end the war. His autobiography, My Experience of War, was published in 1931 and won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1932. There have been many books published since then about his military career; the latest one about the Battle of Meuse-Argonne came out this month, March, 2016. Forty-Seven Days: How Pershing’s warriors came of age to defeat the German Army in World War I by Mitchell Yockelson. It chronicles a short period of time, but covers it in depth.

The National Park Service honored him with a special monument in Pershing Park. If you go to Washington DC, the park is located between Pennsylvania Ave. and 14th and 15th Avenues. pershing-640a_1He may have been greatly pleased with this monument as he was appointed to the American Battle Monuments Commission by President Harding and he held the position of Chairman until his death in 1948. The Commission was established by Congress in 1923 as an independent agency of the US government to maintain permanent US military cemeteries, memorials and monuments in the US as well as outside the US.

Pershing Park will become the site of the new World War One Memorial. The final design was just chosen and fund raising has begun. Read more here. It should be dedicated on Nov. 11, 2018, one hundred years after the end of the war.

If you would like to donate $11.11 or more, click here.

When the war ended Pershing maintained a position as a consultant for the military. He was considered a mentor for George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley and George S. Patton during World War II. Pershing was promoted to General of the Armies, a six-star General. The only other person to ever be awarded this honor was George Washington. Pershing is buried in Arlington Cemetery with his soldiers.

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Flu Pandemic

Marion came down with the flu mid-September, 1918. In her journal she writes that it seemed like everyone around her was sick with the flu, which she called the ‘flu-microbe’. It turned out to be an influenza pandemic that swept around the world between the Spring of 1918 until the Summer of 1919 infecting an estimated 500 million people. It reached its peak in the Fall of 1918. A fifth of the world’s population was infected and it seemed to be the most deadly for people between 20-40 years of age. By the time it was over, an estimated 27 million people had died. Of those, an estimated 675,000 Americans died of the flu.Flu More US soldiers died of the flu than were killed in action in World War I. That’s not surprising when you look at the unsanitary conditions they had to endure in the trenches.

It was known as the ‘Spanish Flu’ and ‘La Grippe” as Spain was the earliest country to be hit hard by the disease. Even Spanish King Alfonso XIII (1886-1931) contracted the flu. Eventually researchers knew why the 1918-19 flu pandemic was so deadly; in many of the victims, the virus would invade the lungs causing bacterial pneumonia. The first licensed flu vaccine didn’t appear in the United States until the 1940’s. A popular rope-skipping jingle in 1918:  “I had a little bird, it’s name was Enza. I opened the window, and in-flu-enza.” (Crawford)

Marion was still sick with a deep cough three weeks after coming down with the flu. Her boss sent her to the south of France to recover and since she had not taken a vacation since arriving in France, she went. While there she was able to get well with plenty of fresh air, ocean breezes and wholesome food. She was still in southern France when the war ended and she traveled by train up to Paris, arriving in time for the 3-day Armistice celebration mid-November.

Photo Credits:;


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


Cher Ami, the Carrier Pigeon

Cher_Ami_Carrier pigeons played a valuable role during WWI for carrying messages between units and troops in battle.  The most famous, Cher Ami, was a Black Check cock carrier pigeon, one of 600 pigeons owned and flown by the U.S. Army Signal Corps in France.  She saved the lives of 194 American soldiers (the “Lost Battalion” of the 77th division) by carrying a message across enemy lines on October 4, 1918. Cher Ami was shot in the chest and leg, blinded in one eye, losing most of the leg to which the message was attached, but continued the 25-mile flight avoiding shrapnel and poison gas to get the message home. Cher Ami was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for heroic service. She later died from the wounds received in battle and was enshrined in the Smithsonian Museum (Museum of American History) in Washington, DC.