A handwritten letter.

A Great War Postscript: Spring 1919

By Susan L. Speaker ~

Everything goes along quietly and monotonously in this area. We crave excitement, and have to do routine inspections in the rain. It’s a humdrum, artificial, unnatural life, particularly this living by force among a crowd of natives that you don’t like.

—Letter from Stanhope Bayne-Jones to his uncle George Denegre, March 17, 1919. National Library of Medicine, Stanhope Bayne-Jones Papers, MSC 155, Box 7, folder 22

Stanhope Bayne-Jones in uniform.
Stanhope Bayne-Jones, ca. 1918
National Library of Medicine MS C 155

Major Stanhope Bayne-Jones of the U.S. Army Medical Corps was ready to go home. He had spent more time on duty at the Western Front than most of his fellow Americans; he had arrived with the very first of the American Expeditionary Force, Base Hospital #4, in May 1917, and served as a medical officer first with Britain’s Sherwood Foresters regiment, and later with the American forces. He was still on duty the morning of the cease-fire, near St. Mihiel, and was nearly killed just a few minutes before it took effect. In the first weeks after the Armistice, he had hoped to be among the first Americans to demobilize. But packing up troops and equipment and shipping them home after a major war can take many months. And the armistice agreement of November 1918 provided for Allied occupation of territory all along the Rhine River, to dispose of leftover military matériel, guard against future attacks from the defeated Germans, and to ensure that reparations payments were made. Thus, about 250,000 American troops (the Third Army) traveled to the U.S. occupation zone, which included the cities of Mainz and Koblenz (then Coblenz). The Chief Surgeon of the Third Army assigned Bayne-Jones and Major Alan Mason Chesney to head the Sanitation Division as Army Sanitary Inspector and Army Epidemiologist, respectively.

Army sanitary inspectors carried out the important (if unglamorous) preventive health maintenance work of the military. Together with Army engineers and local experts, they checked water supplies for contamination and saw that disinfection measures were followed. They ensured that barracks, billets, and hospitals had sufficient space, heat, and ventilation, that waste disposal was done properly, that food storage and preparation was hygienic. They also kept track of epidemic disease levels among the troops. Many years later, Bayne-Jones summarized these duties in his survey of preventive medicine in the U.S. Army:

The important sanitary matters that required some degree of centralized operation by the Army [during the occupation] were attempts to reduce venereal diseases by control of houses of prostitution, the supply and control of drinking water, and the enforcement of safeguards against the consumption of vegetables contaminated by the German practice of fertilizing fields with emulsions of human feces sprayed from “honey carts” that had been filled from cesspools.

The office of the sanitary inspector and epidemiologist maintained from inspections and reports a ledger of cases of communicable diseases and a huge spot-map of the Army area affixed to the walls of a room in the spacious German building in which the Chief Surgeon’s office was located. Here data on the incidence of diseases were compiled and analyzed and a Weekly Health Bulletin was composed for issuance by the Office of the Chief Surgeon. There were brief outbreaks of influenza and typhoid fever among the troops in 1919, and some diphtheria. However, communicable diseases were not excessive in the Army of Occupation.

Stanhope Bayne-Jones, Evolution of Preventive Medicine in the United States Army, 1607–1939, Washington, DC: USGPO, 1968, pp. 166-167

Bayne-Jones’ letters to his family during the winter and spring of 1919 reveal his increasing homesickness, and his boredom and impatience with his duties. Writing to his sister Marian in January, he tried to make the best of his situation:

My job here as a sanitary inspector of the army is fairly interesting and entertaining. I have to get out over the whole army area, so I meet all sorts of people and am seeing the country too. I have a Dodge car and have had some beautiful rides up the valley of the Moselle, and down the Rhine, and across the hills between: wonderful scenery.

But a month later he confided to his aunt that he didn’t feel that he was doing his work as well as he should. He came to dislike the German civilians in Koblenz, who didn’t behave as he thought a defeated people should, and who seemed to regard the occupation as an opportunity to sell German war souvenirs. He implored his aunt and uncle to use whatever influence possible on “Uncle Willie” (recently retired Surgeon General William C. Gorgas) and Colonel William H. Welch (one of the founders of Johns Hopkins medical school, and Bayne-Jones’ mentor) and to get him discharged.

At last, in April, Bayne-Jones received word that he would be released from army service in May—the Chief Surgeon of the AEF had requested this, stating that he was “urgently needed at Johns Hopkins” (where Bayne-Jones had been teaching prior to the war). By early June, he was back in the U.S. for the first time in over two years.

The American occupation force in Germany was rapidly drawn down to about 8,000 after the signing of the Versailles Treaty in late June. The U.S. maintained some presence there until 1923. Other Allies continued to occupy the area through the 1920s. Bayne-Jones returned to Johns Hopkins and continued his academic career in bacteriology and public health at the University of Rochester and then at Yale University. During World War II he served in multiple roles, including  director of the Commission on Epidemiological Survey, Board for the Investigation and Control of Influenza and other Epidemic Diseases in the Army, Office of the Surgeon General in 1941; active military duty in the Army’s Preventive Medicine Service, Office of the Surgeon General, starting in 1942; assistant chief and deputy chief of the Preventive Medical Service, administrator of the Army Epidemiological Board, and director of the U.S. Typhus Commission. He retired in 1946 as Brigadier General, U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps.

A group of soldiers in WWI uniform pose outside.
Stanhope Bayne-Jones in a group of soldiers, ca. 1918
National Library of Medicine, Stanhope Bayne-Jones Papers, MSC 155, Box 9, Folder 12

Read more about NLM collections that illuminate the medical history of The Great War, which lasted from August 1914 to November 1918.

Susan Speaker, PhD, is Historian for the Digital Manuscripts Program of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.

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