This is a very long post, but one that’s easy to skip around in, picking out parts that interest you.
Newspapers, especially small town newspapers, in Utah and surrounding states used to publish lots of letters and news sent home from missionaries serving abroad. These letters – or excerpts, or paraphrases – provide a wonderful, contemporary window into Mormon life in the past.
The following letters, all taken from Utah newspapers, report on the opening weeks of World War I, as seen by LDS missionaries.
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Spencer have just received a letter from their son Daniel, who is on a mission in Germany. The young man had been under hospital treatment for some time, but is now considerably improved. He is at present making his home with Mr. and Mrs. Edward P. Kimball in Berlin. The letter is dated July 26, the day the war clouds began to rise. A quotation follows: “Last night was one of the most interesting I have ever spent. Berlin got word of the Austro-Servian trouble yesterday afternoon and by nightfall the downtown district was packed with thousands of people. You have no doubt read how closely Germany is involved in the matter and the people act as though they were crazy for war. They were singing the national songs and yelling ‘down with France,’ and ‘hurrah for the army!’ I had no idea the Germans had so much feeling, but I see my mistake now.
“It really would be terrible if Europe ever got started, for it would just be a wholesale slaughter. Personally I think Germany would starve if she were to fight with Russia and France, as she gets so much of her food stuffs from Russia. I suppose last night was the most uneasy night Europe has passed for years, as we learned the Berlin program was repeated in all the big European cities. I cannot tell you the feeling it gave me to see masses of people keyed up to the highest possible pitch in a desire to get at each other’s throats. It was awful. Patriotic music was played in most of the cafes. People are breathless with excitement. I think Germany is crazy for another chance at France and France is just as eager for another chance at Germany. ‘And in the last days we shall hear of wars and rumors of wars.’”
We have no war in Denmark as yet, but in many ways it is working a hardship on little Denmark and her people. When war was declared by other powers the spirit of battle rushed over Europe like a flash of lightning. Thousands of soldiers were called into service. This meant that all kinds of provisions went up in price at least one half. Some articles have gone down a little but most things in the way of eatables are high. But that is not the worst. All kinds of labor is shut down and people are thrown out of work and no money to buy with. The banks would not let money out. Those who have money in the banks can only get a small amount each week. In fact a panic began at once. It got to a point where there was hardly any change. Here they have nothing less than 5 krown bills in paper and when one tried to buy anything under that amount he was told he must have the change. So I deposited a 5 or 10 krown bill wherever I did business and when that was traded out I deposited another. To overcome the shortage in small change the government ordered printed 2k. and 1k. bills payable only in silver or copper. Now we have no trouble in that way.
It looks as tho everything that can be done has been done to protect Copenhagen from the enemy and they are looking for him every day. Thousands of men are working day and night to fortify the city. I have been on the outskirts of the city and have seen what is being done. I would hate to serve a king if he used me as these poor soldiers are used. The soldiers tell me they have not been permitted to take their clothes off since they were called into service. Their bed consists of a light blanket and they have to lay on the ground, with not the best kind of food. While Denmark is not in the war, conditions are bad with many and what it will be in a short time is hard to tell.
Many poor people have called on me for help. No money to pay house rent and nothing to eat. What shall we do, they say. It’s nothing new to see people and all their belongings piled out on the street because they can’t pay rent – then the city has to move them to what is called the poor yard.
The Elders have been working hard to preach the gospel to the people, but under the present conditions, it is hard to get the people interested.
We hope all the Saints will remember us in their prayers.
My present field of labor is Northampton. Here the people are busily engaged in making boots and shoes. Some of the factories employ upwards of 2000 people. George Washington’s parents were born in a village on the outskirts of Northampton. While tracing one of the neighboring villages this morning we were informed that Benjamin Franklin’s ancestors lived there. We have a fairly good branch here. The church owns the meeting house, which is an advantage we have over most of the branches in the British mission.
This great war which is raging throughout the major part of Europe has cast a dark cloud over the hearts of the people. Besides seeing their husbands and sons rushed off to the front a great difficulty is staring them in the face. Food supplies are advancing in price, and with their small wage they have not been able to lay a little aside for a rainy day. Therefore they are in very trying circumstances. When the war cry was first sounded the people made a mad rush for the banks to exchange their bank notes for gold, and several of the banks were compelled to close their doors. The printing press and the newsboys are kept busy with the special editions, and the people are eagerly and anxiously watching the bulletins. Mails from the states and all means of transportation are very uncertain. The civil officers are keeping a close watch on all aliens. Two of the elders of this conference were arrested on suspicion of being German spies. Upon presenting their passports they were immediately released.
I will conclude by saying that I feel to rejoice to the good work of the gospel of Christ. Hoping to be numbered among the good people of Ephraim in the near future.
ALLEN C. MORTENSEN
A letter received Wednesday by Bishop and Mrs. Andrew Fjeld from their son, Virgil, who is on a mission to Norway and dated September 22nd, says that the elders of Norway have received instructions to get $50 in cash on hand and be ready to leave by October 1st, if conditions at that date made it advisable.
Virgil is laboring in Christiana, close to where his grandfather was born, and where many of his relatives now live. Christiana boasts of the finest choir in any of the foreign missions, and Mr. Fjeld is the choir’s organist. His grandfather, Carl Fjeld, was the first president of the Christiana branch, which was organized in 1863, and is still the leading branch in the mission.
He states that the people have been getting their coal from England, but the supply is now cut off. They also have been getting their flour from Russia and this, too, has been cut off, so the people are fearful for the coming winter. The government is keeping prices down low as possible, still living is becoming very expensive. The nation is preparing for war in case it is drawn into it.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
This office has been quite a help station between England and Germany, all communication between these two countries being cut off, and we have been receiving all kinds of messages and letters to be forwarded from one country to the other. I presume by the time this letter reaches you, that most of the elders and students will be out of Germany, but in the event that there should be enquiries at your office for friends in Germany, we can reach most all points in Germany by telegraph from here, and can telegraph money, so if there are any families there having sons or relatives still in Germany and they desire to communicate with them, they could wire this office, and we can forward the message on, and if they desire to send money, we will be pleased to forward same should we be able to locate the person desired.
The conditions here in Holland have improved very much. Money is circulating quite freely since the government issued paper money of smaller denominations. German money can be sold here now, but at quite a loss. The greatest trouble here at the present time is occasioned by the great number thrown out of work, and as you know, in this land the people as a whole have nothing laid away, and because of this condition there is already a great deal of suffering, but the government is doing its best, and committees have been appointed to look after these people, and the rich have been very liberal in contributing. In our larger branches, we have taken up collections among those who have work, explaining to the people that it is the duty of those who have to share with those who have not, and we have had quite a response in this direction, so that we have been able so far to help out without increasing the poor donations or rather allowances, but a very little, although if the condition continues as at present, we will surely be obligated to do a little more from Church funds than we have under normal conditions.
We have been forced to make advances to missionaries due to delayed remittances, and also to send money to German elders. The elders are all safe here in Holland, and I hope you will not find it necessary to call us away. I should feel very badly if we should have to leave, and even should things become more serious, would it not be better that a few of us remain to look after the Saints and keep things together, say two elders in each conference and the mission president?
There still seems to be no danger of Holland becoming in any way implicated except through the disregarding of her neutrality by other powers, although she hasn’t felt at all justified in weakening her force for defence, but rather is strengthening from day to day.
LE GRAND RICHARDS
News has reached me that my friends in Davis county are expecting my immediate return home, something that indeed would afford me much joy as there is no place like Clearfield and Davis county for me. I expected to arrange my affairs to the end that I could come in the near future but circumstances have decreed otherwise for the present.
The European war has had a most disastrous effect on the south as its cash crop is cotton and with the mills of England, France, Germany and Russia idle it follows of course, that the cotton exchanges of the world are closed, stopping the entire commercial machinery of the south practically.
We have here 1,000 saints who are ordinarily prospering and happy and our colony is flourishing but we cannot expect to do much until times change.
My church duties compel me to stay here and use my influence with the people until the storm is over as it is a poor sailor who would leave his post when most needed, so I cannot say just when I shall return. We are enjoying the spirit of the Lord. In the Kelsey branch alone we have from 70 to 80 out to our Monday night priesthood meetings and our Sunday school has about 260 each Sunday, Relief society about 45 each meeting. Ninety-five per cent of the families are visited each month by the ward and relief teachers and 100 per cent of all workers in all organizations observe the word of wisdom, so you see the people are trying to do the will of the Lord, notwithstanding present conditions. Kindly remember me to my friends.
Possibly a few words concerning Basel and vicinity, where I am now located, and the present European war as we see it might be interesting to you. The River Rhine cuts through the heart of the city of Basel. Since the outbreak of war, the three great bridges which span the river and connect the two halves of the city, have been mined and strongly guarded by soldiers. In fact, the city is full of soldiers. They use the schoolhouses for barracks. A casual observer would naturally think that Basel has her share of Switzerland’s army of 450,000 men, which is scattered along her entire border to maintain a position of self defense against invasion by foreign troops. But the fact that Basel lies within a ten minute walk of the boundary line of Alsace, a rich province which the Germans took from the French in the war of 1870, and which is now one of the great battle fields of this war, explains why the Swiss have so many thousand troops stationed here. It is the point at which invasion is most likely to occur.
The German and French borders bristle with towering fortresses which stand in haughty defiance of each other. Every night we see the powerful search lights of the German fortress Istein, sweeping the skies to discover possible airships sent out by the enemy. Two weeks ago, Estein was stormed by the French. We heard the first cannonading about ten thirty in the evening, when the attack was begun. The roaring of the cannons continued throughout the night and next morning. We learned later that the French had been repulsed, that there had been much fighting at close range with savage machine guns, and that each side had lost thousands of men in the conflict. This was but the beginning of a series of deadly encounters which have since occurred. Every village in this section is today filled with wounded soldiers, many of whom if they recover will be cripples for life.
The editor of the “Stern,” the Swiss and German mission periodical, who incidently came to Europe aboard the same ship with the writer, has answered the call of his country and is now to be found somewhere among the rank and file of Germany’s five million trained soldiers. One of the members of the Basel branch has been in the front throughout all the fighting of the past two weeks in Alsace. His comrades all around him have fallen, but yesterday when last seen, he was still uninjured and in perfect health and excellent spirits.
We regret that this mission, which has become so well organized under the able leadership of President Hyrum W. Valentine, should not be seriously suffering under the effects of this gigantic conflict of the nations. Yet we feel assured that it will result in giving the people their religious freedom, and will make a new era in the spread of truth and light. As missionaries, our hearts are in the work and it hurts us deeply to see the male population of our five thousand saints drawn into the jaws of death, with their wives and children left behind to mourn.
K. MAESER PACK
In a letter received this morning from his son in Sweden, Police Inspector C.A. Carlson of the local department learned of the imprisonment of his son, Joseph Alfred Carlson, in Holmstead, as a Russian spy. According to his son, he was forced to undergo much brutal treatment before being released. He was held in a military prison.
Joseph Carlson is in Sweden as a Mormon missionary. He, along with another missionary, was working in Sweden. He said he was just sitting down reading over some material he had when someone touched him on the shoulder.
He turned, thinking it was his friend, but gazed into the muzzle of four guns. As many soldiers were shouldering them and he was made a prisoner. He protested, explaining that he was an American citizen, but the soldiers dragged him off to prison. They refused to divulge the reason for arresting him.
Immediately upon being placed in the military prison he demanded to see the captain. After several hours he was brought before several military authorities and put through three hours of grueling cross examination.
It was during the cross examination, he says, that he learned the Swedish military authorities suspected him of being a Russian spy. He says his clothes were stripped off and he underwent many hardships.
He was again thrown in prison and kept there overnight and the next day. Two soldiers guarded him in the inside of his prison cell, while four more remained on the outside. Being without his passports at the time of his arrest, the military authorities and the guards paid little heed to his protestations under the fact that he was an American citizen.
Finally, he explained in his letter, he was escorted under a heavy military guard, to headquarters in Holmstead and allowed to get his passport. It was necessary even after that to get several persons to identify him.
He also states that Sweden generally fears Russia during the present European crisis and will, if forced into the fight, take sides with Germany. The military authorities are keeping close outlook for Russian spies and all suspicious characters are immediately thrown into prison.
Joseph Carlson is but 19 years of age. According to his letter, the experience in the military prison and the grueling cross examination before the military authorities was most severe.
Thinking that some of our friends and relatives at home may be interested, and wish to know further concerning the bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and the Hartlepools on the east coast of England, by German cruisers, I take this means of relating our experience in visiting Hartlepool and West Hartlepool. This is the 18th of December. These cities were shelled on the morning of the 16th. We did not attempt or desire to visit the ruins till such a time as we thought conditions would be favorable and most of the excitement over. This morning, President Marlon Knight, of the Newcastle conference, and myself took the Liverpool express train from Sunderland to West Hartlepool, a distance of about 18 miles. A great number of people were on the same train, bound for the cities of grief and gloom, all with the same object in view, viz., to see the extent of damage done by the raiders.
On arriving at West Hartlepool we found the station “literally” packed with people, mostly women and children. We found difficulty in getting out of the carriages, so great was the rush of these people to board the train. We learned later that every train leaving the city had been crowded with people desirous of leaving. Our guide informed us that hostile aircraft had been sighted during the early morning hours, and many people, he said, were leaving on this account. The exodus was by every means possible, by rail, some going on foot, and all sorts of vehicles were used. It is reported that there had been a misunderstanding in some way, deputy officers having advised the civil population to leave the town. The authorities afterward advised the people to settle down and remain where they were as everything was all right.
When we had landed on the station platform, we felt at once the influence of the terrible gloom. Many of the women and children were crying, and everyone wore an expression on their faces that could be imagined only by one who had witnessed the situation. We saw one woman sobbing and as she boarded the train, said, “I’m going, but without my baby.”
The first hole we saw, which had been made by a shell was in the railroad station. We stood upright in the hole in the brick wall. The glass roof of the station was also shattered by pieces of shell. We first went to the lodge of Elders Benj. O. Clegg and Floyd C. Jensen, on Thornville Road, but finding them away, we started for East Hartlepool, where most of the damage had been done. A few hundred feet from the elders’ lodge a building had been struck, all of one end being blown out. Nearly every window within a hundred yards of this building was broke, as a result of the explosion. After viewing this place we took the tram-car for the coast. Just as we crossed the line we saw half of a telegraph pole standing, the top half lying on the ground. The shell that cut this pole off, continued in its course and struck a newspaper office, went through three brick walls making three of the rooms into one. Seven out of eight linotype machines were put out of commission, but the paper was published as usual, only on a smaller scale.
As we were riding along on top of the car a gentleman pointed out the place where he worked. He said he was on shift when the bombardment started, and saw several of his companions killed by shrapnel from a bursting shell. We passed under a railroad bridge which had a 5-inch hole through the steel side plate. The shell which made this hole demolished a privateresidencesome200yards away. We then passed the gasometer which had been wrecked; as a result the city is without gas. The waterworks was but slightly damaged, although it is thought it was tried for. A few minutes’ ride from here and we were on the scene of the greatest destruction.
On one of the front streets facing the sea every house was completely ruined beyond repair. A soldier on guard said they were all to be dynamited. People were all kept in the street and a certain distance from the wrecked buildings. On this street we saw a piano that had been hit, had we not been told by our guide what it was we never would have known. It looked like a heap of wire and splintered sticks. In the football grounds nearby were a number of holes. By one of the largest holes was half of a horse. A shell struck the Baptist chapel, passed through from end to end tearing a hole large enough to drive a horse and cart through. The pipe organ was completely ruined. The stone walls of the chapel appeared to be fully 18 inches in thickness. The shell, after going through both walls, wrecked a house directly behind, then struck another about 100 yards away, and into the sea on the opposite side.
In William street the destruction was also terrible. As we were passing along a lady asked us to look at the inside of her home. We accepted the invitation and went through the house. The two front rooms had escaped damage, where she and her daughter were at the time a shell burst in the rear. Several houses adjoining were shattered beyond description. This shell killed a number of people. The mother related that three of her son’s children had been killed, his wife was lying in the hospital and one of her legs had to be amputated. Before the bombardment she had received a letter from the young husband, who is a soldier, stating that he was intending to come home for Christmas, and she added, “this is what we have to tell him.” It is simply heart-rending to hear some of the stories people tell.
On further inquiry, we learn from the elders stationed at West Hartlepool, that the Saints of that place are all well, and none have suffered loss or damage of property.
We are all feeling well and enjoying our labors in this part of England. We have been brought face to face with the effects of war, by this incident, but prior to this we have scarcely realized that we were living in a nation engaged in warfare.
JAS. M. ADAMSON