Cincinnati’s Fascinating Koch Brothers, Part 2
Posted On: 12/14/2017 - 4:22pm, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
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Herbert registered for the draft but by then had already quit his job and was the Assistant Executive Secretary for Cincinnati’s War Council. His days were busy helping to promote food conservation and handle issues that were arising due to anti-German sentiment. While people were pulling together for “wheatless” days “gasoline-less” days and “heatless” days there was also a repelling tendency toward anything overtly German. In a letter Felix mentions that “Stocks for Traitors” was put on Fountain Square and all Germans that were not US citizens had to register with their local government. Koch writes about an issue that came up at Walnut Hills High School where a teacher, an immigrant from Germany decades prior, was accused of harboring pro-German sentiments. Koch worked with the school and others on the War Council and came to the decision to retire the teacher, noting that he looked “very German in his appearance.” They also let go of other teachers that appeared to be “German looking.”
Anti-German sentiment in Koch's 1918 diary
On February 6th Herbert was informed that he was to report to Camp Sherman in Chillicothe in five days. When the 11th arrived Herbert went and visited family and friends to say goodbye before heading to the train depot at Winton Place. His letters home to his father and Felix as well as his diaries give detailed descriptions of his arrival at camp and his adjustments to camp life. Because he was well-educated and proficient at typing he was made a clerk with a supply company. Given his incredible attention to detail this was an ideal job for him.
Koch at Camp Sherman
List of supplies that Koch brought with him when he deployed
Koch at his desk at Camp Sherman
The first page of Koch's war diary
Herbert was in France by the summer of 1918. He doesn’t go into too much detail about what was happening because he feared the censors would black out those lines. There are a few letters of Herbert’s that did get censored, but the lines were blacked out with a marker and are still slightly legible. Oddly enough, these lines were simply about being bored and having nothing to do. Presumably the Americans wanted the Germans to believe they were constantly on the move.
Koch recorded songs and jokes soldiers made about the war
Herbert expresses great curiosity about the French and Belgian peasants that he encounters in his letters and diary. He found many of their customs and clothing to be as if from another era, something that would appeal to someone with a penchant for history.
Koch's drawings of his kit and uniform
While Herbert was busy overseas Cincinnati was preoccupied raising money for the war effort, rationing supplies as much as possible and doing all they could to avoid the influenza outbreak that had spread across the country. Though popularly known as the Spanish Flu, it actually made its first appearance in Kansas and in US military camps in the Fall of 1918. The devastating effects of this strain of the flu were ultimately felt throughout world and added an extra layer of misery to those displaced by and fighting in the war. Cincinnati nearly completely shut down in the late Summer/early Fall of 1918. Schools, theaters and some workplaces closed down during the peak of illness. The virulent strain of flu attacked the strongest people at the peak of their health, something quite unexpected. Felix’s letters to Herbert describe how life changed during the flu and how a ban on public assemblies was lifted temporarily so people could celebrate the end of the war in November of 1918. Felix himself contracted the flu which he stated caused him to lose a substantial amount of weight and kept him in bed for weeks.
A sign in the post office reminds people that mail cannot be sent to our enemies.
It’s difficult to describe the enormous Herbert Koch Collection which contains 71 volumes of diaries, scrapbooks and binders of letters. Herbert began keeping both a diary and scrapbook in early in life and continued to the very end of his life. He begins his documentation of his life and surroundings with excerpts from his mother and grandmothers’ diaries in 1894 but starts his own diary in earnest in 1904 when he traveled with his family to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, otherwise known as the 1904 World’s Fair, in St. Louis. He drew pictures of the people he saw and described everything in great detail. One could conjecture that this event made a lasting impression on him, a man that made countless trips all over the world and devoted himself to the study of history and cultures. His collection is a treasure trove for researchers of all backgrounds.
Felix Koch's telegram regarding Herbert's return home from war
Victory celebrations in Cincinnati to welcome soldiers home in 1919