Looking Back: Miss Camp returns from France
Published 9:35 pm Tuesday, August 6, 2019
By Clyde Parker
Aug. 12, 1919
After almost a year with the YMCA “Red Triangle Forces” in France, Miss Edith May Camp, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P.D. Camp, returned to Franklin last Tuesday morning, having landed, on the transport ship “Mongolia,” in New York the Saturday before.
Enlisting in July of 1918, as a war relief volunteer, with a unit of young men and women headed by John Garland Pollard, a former attorney general of Virginia, Miss Camp left Franklin and joined the others in Richmond.
On Oct. 28, 1918, after several weeks of training in New York, Miss Camp and the others in the group sailed from Hoboken on the troop transport “Kursk.” In her diary, making note of that departure, Miss Camp wrote, “Virginia Wilson, from Nashville, Tennessee, and Marjorie Vrooman, from Clyde, New York, and myself had a stateroom together. That morning, 1,400 boys had marched onto the ship. They went up the gangway with their heavy packs on. All of us stayed and watched ‘Miss Liberty’ disappear on the horizon. It was a very exciting time when all of us had to put on life preservers. Dangerous, a little out of the harbor.”
A Nov. 1, 1918, diary entry made note of the turbulent trip: “Our boat was so small and every time a big wave struck it, I thought we were going to sink. So many of the boys were seasick. They were packed in like pigs and the food was worse. I felt sorry for them.”
On Monday, Nov. 4, 1918, Miss Camp made the following entry in her diary: “All of the girls had to be off deck by eight o’clock because the Captain of the boat caught a YMCA man kissing an American Red Cross girl. She said she was so astonished she couldn’t move but we afterward found out she was used to it. The men could stay out later but could not smoke on deck, had to be careful of radium-face watches. Interesting and exciting times but also nerve racking.”
After an extremely rough voyage, “Kursk” landed in Brest, France on Nov. 9, 1918.
Miss Camp’s connection with the “Red Triangle Forces,” as the YMCA relief volunteers were known, took her first to Paris. After staying there for a few days, she was transferred to Mont Dore in the Clermont-Ferrand Department of Puy de Dome.
It was at Mont Dore that Miss Camp engaged actively in relief work — until the latter part of January of 1919, helping to entertain the soldiers who had returned from the front lines of the European War which had concluded on Nov. 11, 1918. Her work consisted of serving delicacies to the men and aiding in every way possible to cheer them up and make them forget the hardships and sufferings through which they had been.
From Mont Dore, Miss Camp’s duties took her to Monte Carlo, Nice, Cannes, and other towns in the Riviera, the famous winter resort section of France which had been taken over by the United States as a leave area. It was in that area that she met a soldier from Connecticut by the name of Webster Walker. They formed a good friendship and saw each other periodically in various other places in France. On the 15th of May, she was transferred to the cathedral city of Reims, which was then a favorite point for sight-seeing Americans. Leaving Reims after six weeks, she returned to Paris, where she saw the wonderful celebration of Bastille Day, July 14, in which the leaders of the allied armies and representatives of all the forces that defeated Germany took part, and the inter-allied athletic contests in the Pershing Stadium.
Miss Camp departed France on July 30, 1919
Referring to the work accomplished by the YMCA forces in France, Miss Camp staunchly supports the organization and says that if she had the opportunity to go again she would choose the YMCA. “All of the many organizations for war relief did splendid work among the solders, but none did more for them than did the YMCA,” she said. Miss Camp is enthusiastic over her experiences, and of the splendid spirit exhibited at all times by the soldiers of the United States.
An informal welcome-home reception for “May” — as she is called by the homefolks — was given by her sisters Ella, Willie, Ruth and Texie [on] Wednesday afternoon. More than a hundred persons called at “The Elms” to extend their greetings and to welcome her back to Franklin. The parlors of the Camp residence were decorated with a profusion of potted plants and cut flowers. Mrs. Joseph P. King and Miss Sadie Beaman presided at the punch bowl, and refreshments were served by little Misses Nelle, Virginia and Katharine Bristow. Assisting May Camp in receiving the guests were Mrs. P. D. Camp.
• Getting back to Webster Walker, soon after May’s homecoming, Webster also returned from France. He went home to Fairfield, Connecticut; but, it did not take them long to renew their friendship. Webster visited with May in Franklin many times. On April 29, 1920, they were married. They then established their home in Fairfield where Webster had established his various business interests including the production and distribution of bulk ice.
• Over the years, there were many back-and-forth visits by May and Webster between Fairfield and Franklin. In the earlier part of the 20th century, most of their transportation was by train. On her trips back to Fairfield, May, invariably, returned to Fairfield with a shoe box packed with good old southern fried chicken. She never forgot her southern roots. And, she maintained her southern accent. At her funeral service, in Fairfield, in 1983, “Dixie” was played.
The Tidewater News archives
Kay Story, Elms Foundation