Pvt. Clifton H. Skillings of Ripley
B Company 73rd Infantry, 12th division
Camp Devens, Mass.
The following are excerpts from six postcards and 19 letters that Clifton “Cliff” Skillings, 23, written to his family in Ripley, Maine during the 1918 outbreak of influenza. He was stationed with the U.S. Army at Camp Devens in Massachusetts.
• Aug. 24, 1918
It did not seem like Saturday night. We had frankforts & potatoes & white bread & apple sauce & cocoa. We have your beans at noon but they are not like the beans you get at home, …I wish you could see the men marching around and get there food, you get it all in one tin plate and a drinking cup. It holds about a quart. It makes me think of mixing up a dog’s food…
There is some fellows from Skowhegan way that are awfully good fellows & there are ones I like to chum with… they said there was 3,600 boys from the west Minisota was shipped here last week… There is a good many thousand men here in this camp ground. It seems awful funny to see nothing but men…I wish you folks could come in & look around. It would be worth a good deal to see things.
• Sept. 23, 1918
Lots of the boys are sick and in the hospital. It is a disease. Some [thing] like the Gripp. Some have been pretty sick. I don’t think I will get it. I heard last Sunday that this sickness was going to put the 12th Div. Back about 1 month…don’t worry about me for I am all right & hope to see you all some time.
• Oct. 6, 1918
Dear folks, will write you a line as it has been some time. I am going to tell you some news. Last Saturday I was feeling bum & was laying on the bed & Merle Tracy a fellow was sitting there with me. I was coughing & he said you had better report to the Dr. & get some medicine. That night the Dr. came to see some other boys & Merle told the sargant that I wanted to see him. The Dr. took my temperature & went to the orderly room & made out a slip & sent me up to the base hospital. He thought I was coming down with that new disease. I was some surprised when they told me to go the hospital for I was not a mite sick.
Everything tastes rotten, even the water taste funny… I tell you I have got a dandy little nurse. She is red headed. I have lots of fun with her…Now ma, don’t you worry for there is nothing to worry about. I am allright. I am in no danger. I will write you in a few days.
• Oct. 8, 1918, postcard
I will drop you a line today to let you know I am feeling a lot better. I got three letters from you Mon-day night. The officers sent two boys from the co. [company] up that night to see if I was allright and if I needed any thing and they brought my mail and I had seven letters. I am up running all around and feel-ing pretty good. I don’t think I will go back to my co. before the first of next week…. this makes 18 days I have been in the hospital. It seems like along time to me. Oh well, don’t you folks worry about me for I am coming along fine now.
• Oct. 13, 1918
Dear folks, I will try and drop you a few lines to let you know that I am feeling fine today, but still in the hospital& I guess they are going to keep me here … I have got all over the measels but they want to keep a fellow to be perfectly well before he leaves here. I am some weak yet that is why I suppose that they are keeping me. I think that in a few days they will send me back to the Co…I have got 2 letters from Ethel since I wrote to her. I gess she will think I am dead but I am a good ways from that. It is awfull hard work for me to sit down and write a letter.
• Oct. 20, 1918
I am feeling fine. I am up & go all around the ward and see the fellows. I found one fellow from my co. He came last week. I was glad to see one of the boys from my co… I want you folks to stop worrying about me. God they can’t kill me. I have been through quite lots since I came in here & still living. There is some pretty weird times… this makes me 22 days I have been in the hospital.
It takes quite a while to get all of my strength back, you see I had the influenza first then I was in No. 9 ward then I broke out with the measles. They took me down to ward No. 2 and I am going to stay here until they send me out … I hope you folks will not get the influenza.
The hospital is pretty well empty. There is about 60 cases of the measles in this ward. There is 96 nurses that are going to leave the base hospital today. They don’t know where they are going. One said she thought they would go over across.
For a while I had a bad enough but I have taken a barrel of cough syrup and had stopped it I don’t cough any [more] now. Those pin holes in my letters they have to be fumagated before they leave the hospital… The next one I write probly wont have any holes.
It don’t seem as though I have been here 3 months. Sometimes it seems like a year….The Dr. comes around & gives me an examination every other day. He says I am coming fine & will be all right.
• Oct. 23, 1918
I am feeling fine & I feel as well as I ever did but I am some weak yet. That don’t worry me in the lest. I have got out of the hospital last night … I was in the hospital 26 days. It seems a long time to me. The days went by slow. When they brought me back they took me over to the infermery to report that I had got back. The Dr. wrote a not and sent it over to the orderly room to the first sargent saying that I was marked quarters. That means that I am not to do any thing buy lay around the barrack and they wont let you go away. You can’t even go across the road to the Y.M.C.A. but I am not alone. There is a half dozen of us. I shall probly be marked quarters for a week or more than the Dr. will mark me light duty…I am not oblige to go out to the range just to shoot unilt the Dr. say so.
The sargent tried to make one fellow go when he was marked quarters and the Dr. gave him hell for it. I don’t think I will do much shooting unitl I get a gun. While I was gone, the supply sargent took my gun back and has given it out again to someone else. He said He would have one by the time I needed it…
The boys cant even go down to Ayer yet on the account of the influenza. It has about all died out in camp now and they don’t want it to get in again. They don’t give out any passes yet. It would not do me any good to ask for a furlow… I feel fine now & doing to keep right on…
• Oct. 27, 1918
I haven’t done any thing since I came out of the hospital. The Dr. may work me light duty next week. I feel as if I could drill just the same as before but I am going to hang back as long as I can. I am going to tell you some thing it didn’t mount to a dam they was more scared…they have taken off the quarentine now & the boys go anywhere. I am awful glad… I hate to lay around the barracks and do nothing…it has been over 5 weeks since I drilled…One of the boys said he heard the top sergeant say this morning that the boys in the hospital & ones that had just come out with influenza wouldn’t go in this Co. but I don’t believe much of that….
I ws talking with an officer that come into the hospital one day, he said that I wanted to hurry up and get well if I wanted to help catch any Germans. He said they was driving them back awful fast and it wasn’t going to last much longer… Today you don’t have to worry about me any more in this sickness for I am coming alright.
• Nov. 14, 1918
I suppose you folks have heard the news that the war has ended. That is pretty good new, if it only lasts…
• Nov. 16, 1918
Well, I suppose you folks have all go the news that this Damed war is over. That is you might as well call it over. They have all stop fighting. I think they will sign the peace terms soon… If I was home, I could talk the whole town of Ripley blind.
• Nov. 24, 1918
I think when I get home I wont know how to work. Everything I will get hold of I will be putting it on my shoulder and marching off…but the way things look I won’t be so very long before I will be at home, without something new comes up.
• Nov. 29, 1918, postcard
I intended to answer your letter I got yesterday this afternoon but Bill Nye came down from the hospital so I didn’t get time. He is coming out of it pretty good.
• Dec. 1, 1918
This life is a great experience to a fellow, and he learns lots of things that is of great use to him some day.
• Jan. 11, 1919
Harold Nutter came into Camp Devens last Monday and got his discharge Friday. He and I stayed together all we could….Friday I was up to the guard house & he came up to see me & tell me that he was going. He was some lucky boy.
The married men will get out first then the men with alotament to make up the number. I hope to god I am one of the lucky ones.
The box of correspondence from Skillings also contains a few unidentified pictures, a campaign brochure for “Dirt” farmer Clayton Jewett of Ripley who was running in 1938 for the state Legislature, two pieces of cloth, clippings from the Bangor Daily News, a Patrons’ Androscoggin Mutual Fire Insurance Company bill for $3,75 in the name of Herbert Skillings, Cliff Skillings’ father, and a lock of blond hair from 11-month-old Gertrude, who was Cliff Skillings’ niece.
At the top of the box, wrapped in a cellophane–type clear material is a poem, titled “He is away” by James Whitcomb Riley, copyrighted in 1887.
The box of letters and other items was purchased by Bangor resident Jane Boudreau at an auction about a decade ago.