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WWI soldier thought of farming, sweetheart

A soldier’s thoughts turn to home when he’s stationed in a faraway land. Patty Winters, a Plainview writer and genealogist, possesses a letter that gives insight into exactly what was in the mind of her future father-in-law while he was serving with the Company B 111th Ammunition Train in France during the First World War.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of World War I in Europe, once called “The Great War” or “The War to End All Wars.” Willis Greenlee Winters was inducted into the army Sept. 18, 1917, at Camp Bowie, Tarrant County, while living near Stephenville, Texas. A copy of the 95-year-old letter was sent to Patty Winters by Winters’ brother-in-law I.B. Cupp Jr.

Winters mentions his sister and her husband in his letter.

“Suppose Sophie and Mr. Cupp are married,” he writes.

Marriage was apparently much on his mind as Winters left behind a sweetheart, Fern Rutledge. The two corresponded frequently.

“Didn’t get a letter from Fern today. Guess will get two before long maybe more, hope it is more,” he writes.

He talks about the money he has saved and adds, “Want to manage to get some money. As soon as we get back of course you know Fern and I are going to marry as soon as possible. But that may be awhile.”

It was not too long a while. According to documents, Winters was honorably discharged from the Army March 1, 1919. He and Fern were married Aug. 2, 1919.

Besides marriage, the young non-commissioned corporal, later promoted to sergeant, had farming on his mind.

“Who is papa going to rent the place to?” he asks. “Tell him that if the seasons are favorable to sow the lower place and rent all of the home place then he won’t have so much work to do and less work at the oil business. Any way wheat and oats will be a special price.”

A horse comes in for special mention: “Be sure to tell me about the stock and be sure to mention that colt of mine he ought to be a pretty good horse by now.”

Winters’ brother Calvin, 19, was also serving in Europe at the time. Patty Winters documents that Calvin went to France and was on his way to battle, close enough to hear the roar of artillery, when the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918. He arrived home on Feb. 14, 1919.

“Suppose he is in active service by now returned up to the front,” Winters writes, referring to Calvin.

Winters reports that he himself is in good health and weighs more than he ever has. He adds, “Guess Calvin will become a man if the army agrees with him as it does with nearly everyone else. He will weigh over one hundred.”

Winters served after the war ended, and apparently spent some time sightseeing. Along with some torn postcards and military papers, an embroidered cream-colored silk handkerchief marked “Souvenir de France” was preserved in a cedar chest.

Patty Winters said she had known Willis G. Winters all her life. “They lived right next door,” she said. “My husband’s parents and my parents had adjoining farms,” near Stephenville. She married Winters’ son, Willis R. Winters.

As in many cases, Patty Winters said her father-in-law “never talked about the war.”

In her notes, Patty Winters says that Susan Winters, granddaughter of Willis Winters, watched a short clip from World War I, “where some soldiers were leading a team of horses pulling big wagons, loaded with cargo and supplies. These wagons were construed to be Ammunition Trains.”

Despite Winters’ cheerful outlook, his letter begins with a mention of an acquaintance that did not fare so well.

“Noticed B.J. Brittans’ name in the casualty list today.”

Besides his wedding and the girl he left behind, Winters has another deadline on his mind. He seems concerned that his father is working too hard.

“Is papa going to work with the oil company this winter? Sure am glad he is in good health,” and “Tell papa that Calvin and I will be there in time for harvest and thrashing next summer. And don’t wear the day out.”

Since Calvin Winters arrived home on Feb. 14, 1919, and Willis G. Winters was married on Aug. 2, 1919, it appears both young men were home in time to keep this promise.
 

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