Benjamin Franklin Hulme (1890-1970), the fourth child of nine, was raised on a farm in rural Bloomington, Idaho. He was a 27-year-old school teacher in 1917 when he left his ranch and his aging, dependent mother to cross the Atlantic. Only the unknown and the spectre of total war on the battlefields of Northern France awaited him. In order to “make the world safe for democracy” he had joined the 162nd Infantry Regiment of the First Army Corps and taken the oath of a soldier.
While little is known about his army experience (he served as a cook), much more is known about his first visit to France. Three years earlier he had landed on the continent to preach Mormonism in the newly re-established French Mission. He was assigned to Lille, about ten kilometers from the Belgian frontier. He was only in France two months when fighting erupted across Europe but his missionary journal offers some notable foreshadowing of the coming conflict. Although he finished his mission in England, he witnessed the start of the war first-hand in France.
Just two and a half weeks before Germany declared war and invaded neutral Belgium, Elder Hulme detailed the events in Lille and the mood on Bastille Day. What he wrote was personal and interesting to him but left us a powerful example of dramatic irony on the eve of the Great War.
July 14, 1914
Today was the French national holiday. We were too early for the milk for breakfast so we ate bread and butter, the others had cocoa. The German [who is learning English] was up again ready to go to the fete. We went to the park where the soldiers drill and saw a grand review of hundreds of soldiers furnished by Lille, both infantry and cavalry. Also the fire department was on exhibition. … In France all able-bodied men between 20 & 23 inclusive years of age are compelled to serve in the army. Their pay consists of their food and clothing, a little tobacco and one cent a day I am told. Of course there are many more than 23 years old serving as officers with salaries probably. This army of men working for nothing helps clear up the mystery of so many barefooted children as we see in some of the districts. We also saw a children’s parade which was so long that it got tiresome before all had passed. There were thousands of people in the streets one had to almost follow the masses in some places …
During the afternoon we visited an example of French sport: a rat killing contest for dogs. The four rats were placed in a net wire case and a dog placed in to kill them. He was timed and four more rats were killed by the second dog which was also timed etc. The dog that killed the rats the quickest won the prize. This sight was in a pretty crummy district and the sun was so hot that we soon got tired. We next watched a game played with little balls on a field at Boulevard Des E. Cole [Écoles] five men on each side. This soon got tiresome as we didn’t understand the game. … On every corner and often several between were coffee or drinking houses filled sometimes with a family having a reunion sometimes with miscellaneous crowds of all ages singing, playing, eating and drinking and having a gay time.
On the grand place, an open place in the heart of the city containing about 10 or 12 acres, there were thousands of people listening to the band concert while around the edge were some of the most classy cafes almost surrounding the place, jammed from the back end to two or three rods into the open air with many people when all at once, about 9:30, the mass began moving toward a certain street down which could be seen at a distance of about one mile the fireworks. They far exceeded anything I had ever before seen of the class. Sky rockets, lightening flashes, fire fountains, fire wheels, red flame effects etc. for about one ½ hours. We watched these working our way nearer all the while… The firing was on crossroads and a mile in either of these directions the street was packed with people. Many also looking from windows and porches on the sides.
What an awful rain we had today beginning during the night and lasting until nearly noon without a stop.
Tracted longer today to make up for the holiday. Holidays spoil missionary work.
Private Hulme served 14 months in the sanitary medical corps; survived the war and cheered President Woodrow Wilson’s visit to Paris. Through the greatest war the world had seen Private Hulme remained safe and sane, away from the battle front. “I had carried a rifle for nearly two years, but did not fire it once — even in target practice, and I had been nearer the enemy lines as a missionary than a soldier”. After having his life interrupted twice and spending a total 44 months overseas serving God and his country, he was ready to move on. Three weeks after his discharge he entered domestic life. “I returned home and persuaded Leah Krogue to marry me before something else happened.”
Top: B.F. Hulme is standing on the left, with two Army buddies in Nice, 1918
Middle: B.F. Hulme’s Seventy’s Ordination Certificate dated 1914
Bottom: B.F. Hulme with the U.S. Army in France, standing, second from left