Freeze: Going behind the scenes of World War I with grandfather’s diary

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 27, 2013

unday, Oct. 27, 1918 — “We could hear the big guns plain, see the light from them at night. I saw some air raids and plenty of air ships every day. Here the town was all shot to pieces, brick houses was all down, torn up churches. Several dead Germans was laying out in a open field nearby.”

As a child, I often heard about the special talents of my paternal grandfather. My grandmother and aunt would share tales of his various collections, the family’s moonshining and his ability as a fiddle player.
All of these things are quite interesting to me, but just recently my brother, Larry, ran across a diary that Clyde H. Freeze kept during his service in World War I.
Larry’s wife, Valerie, typed out the diary and gave the family bound and stapled copies of it for Christmas gifts.
I was just a baby when he died, but these diary entries give some insight into the man that he was.
The diary of Private Clyde H. Freeze, Truck Company D, 4th Corps Artillery Park, begins on June 2, 1918.
It is written in his own hand, full of misspellings and sentences that would get that hand slapped in a school.
However, it is pure history, mesmerizing, and gives insight into the thoughts of a Rowan County farm boy gone off to the “Great War.”
When presenting his words, I’ll edit it only for ease of understanding.
June 2, 1918 — “Was called into service. Went to Salisbury and went through a big long doings and left at 2:40 p.m. for Columbia. Sad as I can be. Got to Columbia about 1 o’clock. It just pouring rain. On a train with 15 cars loaded with soldiers. They all seemed to be happy.”
June 3 — “Went to breakfast and they was as mean as they could be to us and awful wicked. I got K.P. that eve. Went to training and drilling. They had plenty to eat, but didn’t have water half the time. I went to bedsheets so dry.’
Three weeks later, no date — “I showed up well there. Got in the first section. Was counted one of the best in 32 out of 300. I was picked out for a sergeant.”
Eight days later, no date — Sent to Spartanburg. “Here I stayed and drilled a lot. Twice got my rifle and outfit for overseas. I had a pretty good time here. I was put back as a private because I was not mean enough for a sergeant.”
Aug. 30 — “We left the camp. The whole 4th Corps, 1,350 men went to the side track for New Jersey. We got on the train about 8 o’clock. Went through China Grove about 4 o’clock. Stayed in Salisbury about 30 minutes. I sure wanted to get off there. Was on guard two hours that night.”
Sept. 1 — “It was a grand trip to me. Got to New Jersey on Sunday morning. Traveled along the side of the river between New York and New Jersey. I was not allowed to write anymore without showing it.”
Sept. 3 — “Red Cross give us a cup of coffee and a biscuit, then got on the ship. We sailed out of N.Y. Harbor that day. Lots of wonderful buildings, never can think of all the wonderful looking places such as the Brooklyn Bridge as we was sailing out of the city.’
Sept. 4 — “The next morning, we was out of sight and about half of us was sea sick throwing up. I never was so disgusted. It was the worst place I was ever at. They almost starved us to death and the water we had to drink was awful…”
Still on the ship, no date — “It made me sick to think of good old home. A drove of ships from Canada joined us away out on the sea and a submarine destroyer met us two days before we landed. It was a wonderful sight to me, tired, worn out and sick.”
Sept. 15 — “Could see a far off city. It was Liverpool. Such big houses and working places. We sailed down the Manchester Ship Canal through England and saw some wonderful farmer’s fields. Crowds of people gathered along the side of the canal and they sure did welcome us. It was wonderful scenery. Went to the station, got on some little old railcars with Corporal Starne. Went through the edge of London, got to South Hampton that night. It was just pouring down rain, we marched three miles to a camp. About 20 sleep in a little wet tent.”
Sept. 16 — “Was on a real fast ship. We crossed the English Channel for France. I was afraid of the submarines and the ship felt just like it would turn over. The next morning we landed on France soil. Here a train load of wounded soldiers pulled up beside of us, we got scared right here.”
Sept. 23 — “Went through tours near Paris. We stayed one month here at St. Amant. Two fellows died here. Some got in the guard house for being drunk. They had plenty of wine and grapes. We began to get good news. Bulgaria got peace.”
Nov. 9 — “We got the good news that Germany had signed peace. All the boys was so happy. Everybody full of life. Had three papers, all reading the good news and talking of home. We are in sight of Mont Sec, the farthest point that the Germans got. They held this place for four years. Beaten back Sept. 12, 1918. All kinds of things lying around here. Anything imagine shells, guns, clothes, harness, saddles, bridles. I went down to the Salvation Army Store and wrote four letters tonight.”
Nov. 10 — “Was awful cold and muddy. Thousands of soldiers passed through going toward the front. Tired and worn out, some kind of rough life.”
Nov. 11 — “Here came a telegram that peace had been signed. It was a happy day. All firing to stop at 11 o’clock Monday, Nov. 11, 1918. All the French people are so happy, they are most all drunk. They had a big time in town.”
Nov. 12 — “We was in 10 miles of the front near Metz. We sure went through some long, deep tunnels coming over here. I went in a hole where there was gas at St. Amant.
“Gas is something terrible. My outfit, one bed sack, one gun, three blankets, five pair socks, one O.D Suit, two O.D shirts, two suits of underwear, two pair of shoes, one helmet, one hat, one overcoat, one rain coat, one haversack, one shelter half with poles and stakes, one pair of leggings, one mess kit, one knife, fork , spoon, one belt, one canteen with cover, one cup, one gas mask, one shaving outfit, two towels, 60 cartridges, one box of medicine, one big leather coat, one suit of overalls, one big pair of leather mittens.”
Nov. 13 — “Our people are awful afraid of them Germans. The captain, all are afraid but let on like they are not. Soldiers will go anywhere and never mind it if they have got a band to follow.”
Nov. 18 — “We are now on the front. Houses, trees, cornerstones, towns and everything shattered. The ground full of big shell holes. The Germans had just left here. They had been holding this land for four years.’
Nov. 22 — “I got on guard that night. A pretty girl got struck on me here, they have plenty of whiskey here.”
Dec. 3 — “Got in Germany at 1 o’clock. They looked like they could kill us. We are not a bit afraid.
“Germany is the finest country yet. It beats France all to pieces. France is a hateful, dirty place. People look awful mad at us, but are pretty good when we talk to them.”

My grandfather just missed the heavy fighting at the front. He and the 4th Corps would soon begin their long journey home. His diary entries about that trip will run next Sunday.