WWI: Notes on My War Adventures
Posted On: 10/18/2017 - 12:50pm, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. Every other Wednesday, we will present items from our collections that highlight life in Cincinnati, around the nation and from the battlefields during the war.
In 1949 Cincinnati’s Ohio Book Store donated Samuel Somerby Coddington’s WWI journal (Mss qN911w RFM). There is no documentation of how they obtained it. Most likely it was donated along with other books as a house was being emptied but it’s a wonderful resource for an often overlooked aspect of military history, the bands and their musicians.
First page of Coddington's journal
Gen. John J. Pershing (1860-1948), Commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), was adamant that the US army bands needed to be as good as if not better than the French and English bands. When the US entered the war in 1917 musicians formed a group to address this issue even before consulting with Pershing. The Friends of Musicians in France chose Walter Damrosch (1862-1950) as its first president. Damrosch was a German-born composer and was most well-known as the conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra. Prior to this Damrosch’s brother Frank had already devoted his Institute of Musical Art in Governor Island, NY to intense training and preparation of musicians to play in military bands. Walter Damrosch went to France in 1918 and saw the need for more rigorous instruction for both musicians and instructors there. He broached the subject to Pershing who gave his blessing and support. Within a few weeks Damrosch and others had created the AEF Bandmaster School. Over 7,500 Bandsmen and Band Masters served during WWI. Because of Damrosch’s and Pershing’s initiative army bands performed all over France and Belgium, lifting the spirits of both soldiers and civilians.
Coddington noted his pay on his arrival in France and the states that he passed through in the United States.
Samuel Somerby Coddington was born on July 13, 1895 in Warren County, Ohio. He attended Miami University and was in the band and orchestra. He is pictured in the 1917 and 1918 yearbooks playing the French horn and violin. Coddington began his journal by noting that he enlisted on May 28, 1918 and was sent to Camp Zachary Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. From there he went to Camp Beauregard in Louisiana briefly before heading to Camp Stewart in Newport News, Virginia. Coddington arrived in Brest, France on August 18, 1918 aboard the Huron. He noted in his journal that it had been named Frederick der Gross and had been the Kaiser’s favorite ship.
Coddington joined the 153rd Infantry Band School in November of 1918 and was a Band Master at the AEF Band School until his discharge as Musician Third Class on July 9, 1919. In Coddington’s journal he noted the members of the 153rd Infantry Band and their nicknames. He documented every state he traveled through while training in the US and every city and camp they visited in France. He wrote mostly quick notes which makes it a bit challenging to piece his story together. He mentioned the challenge of auditioning new musicians as men from his band received orders to join other AEF bands. He listed the concerts they performed and the songs they played. They played traditional classical music as well as more popular songs and patriotic marches. He repeatedly mentions playing “Evolution of Dixie” which was a popular medley of variations on the song “Dixie.”
Coddington wrote of a story that he heard about an American stretcher bearer killing a wounded German officer.
Being a member of a band did not provide relief from all physical work although they were allotted time to practice both individually and as a group. Coddington described having to help build barracks and bunks, even building barracks alongside German POWs. Though he wrote a lot about music he also complained about the mud and lice, calling one camp “Cootieville.” Like many other enlisted men he grumbled about the tedium and boredom of camp life, especially after the war ended and everyone yearned to return home.
Coddington mentioned passing a camp for for flat-footed men, a camp for men with venereal disease, and another big American camp.
Both Coddington and his father both worked in the banking industry. His father George Coddington was an auditor for Fifth Third Bank and after the war Samuel was the Head Custodian of the Vault at the Federal Reserve in Cincinnati. Samuel was married to Alma G. McMurrer and it appears that they did not have any children. He died on June 27, 1953 and is buried at St. Mary Catholic Cemetery in St. Bernard.
There were many rumors of the War ending before it officially did on November 11, 1918.
- Boyer, D. Royce Boyer. “The World War I Army Bandsman: A Diary Account by Phillip James.” American Music, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Summer, 1996)
- Damrosch, Walter. My Musical Life.
- Miami Resensio. Miami University. 1917, 1918. Ancestry.com. U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Accessed August 22, 2013.
- Ancestry.com. U.S. Census Records, 1920, 1930, 1940; U.S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963 [database on-line]. Accessed August 22, 2013.