Recruits Make Their Way to Camp Devens - 1918
The New Recruits Arrive at Ayer, Shown Here Leaving the Station, Making Their Way to Camp Devens. GGA Image ID # 139d1407ea
When Jones and his companions get into the cars, they find many others from adjacent districts with them. Some cannot speak English well; but nevertheless, they all talk at once.
"Did you claim exemption?"
"Are you married?"
"What do you do with these checks?" - The last question refers to the tags which had been distributed by the board official.
They bear the district number and the number which has been assigned to the prospective soldier. These were given out for identification purposes, so that the camp officers will know where the man comes from if he forgets his district, or is unable coherently to express himself.
"I haven't got a ticket," declares someone.
Then it is explained that tickets are not necessary, as the government has provided transportation facilities without charge to the draft men.
"This is the first free ride I ever had," announces another with a broad grin.
One man produces a pack of cards and starts a game of "pitch." There is soon a group around the players, watching critically every phase of the game. Other men follow this example and shortly there are several games in progress. Then comes singing.
After an hour, the brakeman enters the car and cries:
"Ayer. All out, boys."
There is a wild scramble for the bundles and suitcases. Eventually the men are out on the platform. A sergeant comes up to our group and asks Jones:
"Yes, sir," answers Jones, saluting in Boy Scout fashion.
"Don't salute and call me “sir,” says the sergeant, one of the regular army men. "I'm not an officer. Better wait until you know how, anyway."
"This way, boys," shouts a cavalryman, mounted on a spirited Western horse, which bears the brand "U.S." on its flank. "Fall in line and follow me."
Then he leads them majestically from the station.
New Recruits En Route to the Camp - Camp Devens, Next! GGA Image ID # 139d2d6179
En Route to the Camp
"Gee, what a hick town!"
With this announcement the Boston men greet Ayer. Many of them have never before been in the rural districts of the state, and the lack of movement and excitement is to them inconceivable.
The few pedestrians — natives, for the most part — stare curiously at the new arrivals, and the latter in turn stare back. The curiosity of the people of Ayer is only natural, for the draft men have an astounding variety of clothing. Here is a machinist with a flannel shirt and woolen suit stained with grease; next to him is a college man, who, disregarding the advice that old clothes be worn, has dressed himself in the height of fashion.
There are all kinds of hats: derbies, straws, caps, and soft hats of every style, color and degree of antiquity. Conscript Thorndike of Boston chats amiably with his former boot-black, Tony Peroni, of Summer Street. And at the end of the line is a taxi driver who has often driven the rich man about town.
Some of the men have been soldiers before and wear their old uniforms; others, desiring to "cut a dash" in a military way, have purchased ready-made uniforms of doubtful quality and fit.
The men regard curiously every soldier whom they see. The only soldiers now at camp are members of the regular army. They are perfectly uniformed and precisely correct in their every move. It is only natural that they should regard the novices with the slightest bit of disdain; they cannot realize that within a year these men will occupy the same trench with them, "Somewhere in France."
And similarly, the draft men look up to the soldiers as demi-gods; their perfection is only too obvious to the "rookies," and they understand that these soldiers are trained men, those who have carried the colors in the Philippines, in Cuba, or even in Mexico.
"Is that feller a colonel ?" asks Jones of a companion who has seen service with the militia. He points to the leader of the line.
"Naw, of course not, he's only a private. You don't suppose a colonel would bother about us, do you?"
Arrival at Camp Devens - New Recruits Entering the Grounds. GGA Image ID # 139d59126e
New Recruits Entering the Grounds
The men walk down the street for half a mile, cross the railroad tracks, and come in sight of the camp.
"Well, will you look at that?" cries Brown in an awe-struck voice.
"Some little camp, what ?"
"I thought we were going to live in tents. Wooden buildings, it looks to me."
The procession halts at the main gate. The trooper dismounts, salutes an officer, and asks for instructions. The major consults a book.
"District forty-four, depot brigade," he announces.
"Orderly, have these men examined and then report to Captain Reed, 4th Battalion. North Adams men, aren't you? District twenty-one goes —"
The column goes through the gate and up the main highway.
A bugle blows. At this, the first sign of military activity, the men glance around dubiously.
"What's that ?" asks one.
"Mess-call," answers the cavalryman curtly.
"Yes, mess, chuck, grub, food, don't you get that ?"
Soon they come to the crossroads and are enabled to get a good view of the camp. To the left are the artillery barracks, and further along, Baldwin's Restaurant. Thousands of laborers, their white badges pinned conspicuously on their hats, are making a mad rush for dinner.
From all parts of the camp they come, leaving their implements behind them. They regard the coming soldiers in a friendly manner and wave their arms in every direction as if to say :
"See what I've done for you. Isn't it a good job?"
Around the bend the column goes, every man hot and perspiring. On the right is the parade ground, stretching along for half a mile. On one side of it the men see long lines of infantry barracks laid out in perfect order. In front of them is the depot brigade, — their destination.