Wednesday, June 25, 2014

World War I and our family

DAY TWENTY-SIX: The First World War had its impact on my family, though I wish I knew more than I do about that. But I know some things. My mother was born in Germany, and her family emigrated to the U.S. in 1910, arriving at Ellis Island on Sept. 26th. They settled in Canton, OH. Mother was 9 years old. Thus when the war began, she was 13, and when the U.S. entered the war (April 6, 1917), she was 16. She rarely talked about those years, but she did tell one story about a troop train coming through Canton carrying new recruits for the army to NYC where they would embark for Europe. This was probably in 1918 when she was 17. She was doing volunteer work - maybe for the Red Cross, or maybe through her church -  and she went on to the train to serve the men coffee and doughnuts, or something like that. She had been in this country seven years or so, and probably had a German accent. When she spoke to one of the men, her accent was recognized and someone called out "Get that Hun!!"  I don't know exactly what happened next, but I just remember that it was a traumatic experience for her that led her to resolve that she would put all things German behind her. Thus, e.g.,  she never spoke German in our home. My only memory of her speaking German was on Christmas Eve, when she sang Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht.

Mother's father, August Winter, was born near Gottingen, Germany, July 6, 1865. He served in the German army, entering in 1883 when he was 18 years old. I have his military pass book - he seems to have served until at least 1891 - so at least eight years - maybe longer.  He was a musician in the German army - a trumpeter. Family lore is that he played before Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and that the Princess Olga Nicolaevna, the Tsar's eldest daughter was present. And that is how my mother came to be named Olga. My grandfather also played before the young Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands (she became Queen at the age of 10), and gave her name to my mother also. We always thought she was Olga Wilhelmina, but when I went to Kaiserslautern, Germany in 1984, and got her birth certificate, it read "Wilhelmina Olga.")
The young Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands
Olga Nicolaevna Romanova - my mother was given the names of both these royal women
However, part of my grandfather's German military career was undistinguished, to say the least - he spent it in prison. E.g., he spent 3 months in a prison in Cologne, due to "gross demeanor." So Grandpa Winter may not have had a positive attitude toward the German military. We know he came to the U.S. before his family did - he was here for five years, scouting out employment opportunities before bringing his family over - and when he returned, he was drinking in a pub in Kaiserslautern, Germany (where he and his family lived and where my mother was born), and said something insulting about the Kaiser  (he probably had forgotten for the moment that he wasn't in the U.S.)  and he was overheard, and reported, and he and the family had to leave the country rather more hastily than intended. That's the story handed down, anyway.  August worked at the Timken Ball Bearing Company in Canton, but he was also a member of the "Thayer Military Band," which was active during WW I as a patriotic band. After WW I, it became known as the "135th Field Artillery Band" and it played at special U.S. military occasions. All of this suggests that Grandpa Winter might have assimilated to the U.S. fairly quickly and not have been an avid supporter of Germany during WW I as many German-Americans were. But it would be very interesting to know the true and full story.

I have some rare artifacts of my grandfather's service in the German army. 

A commemorative poster featuring my Grandfather Winter - "Trumpeter Winter"

Detail of above - a photo of my grandfather has been inserted into a generic poster

A photograph of unknown place and date, presumably of my grandfather's German military band leading the regiment

A detail of the above photo - possibly my grandfather in the center
Here is a photo of August Winter and his wife, Juliana, and their youngest son, Clarence, taken on their front porch in Canton, OH, probably right after WW I: 
My grandmother and grandfather Winter,  and my uncle Clarence, c.  1920
More on this later . . .

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