Posted by Amanda McCollom, Digital Library Intern, Villanova University, Spring 2017
Captain Francis Bolton Elwell’s World War I scrapbook offers a glimpse into the daily lives of the American men who fought along the Western Front in France. Elwell was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1886, graduated from Yale University in 1906 and was in business in Philadelphia before he enlisted. Newspaper clippings and official army memos tell the story of Elwell’s selection for the second officer’s training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia in August 1917, his time at Camp Jackson and Camp Sevier in South Carolina and his deployment to France with Company G of the 323rd Infantry in July 1918. Elwell served through the end of the war and received orders to return home in June 1919.
Within the first few pages, a loose newspaper article reveals that Elwell was cited for bravery in action, for an act that occurred a mere half hour before the armistice ending the war went into effect on November 11, 1918. The article reads, “Captain Elwell, while his company was being held in the trenches, left cover and passing through artillery fire of exceptional violence, brought back a severely wounded soldier,” ([Page 3], Insert 5, front, open).
Other highlights include ephemera of both military and civilian nature. Items such as inventory lists, a program for the Liberty Track Meet at Camp Sevier, hand drawn diagrams of the battlefield, plans for counterattacks and instructions for disinfecting mustard gassed areas provide details about military life and practices during the First World War. Elwell’s trips to Paris and Soissons provide a cultural account of his experiences and the plethora of cinema, opera and orchestra tickets, theater programs, hotel receipts and restaurant bills show he took full advantage of his time off. A bulletin from the American Y.M.C.A titled “Seeing Paris” shares the options for walking, car and boat tours, out of town trips to places such as Versailles, and cultural outings to museums that were organized for the soldiers and officers ([Page 90], Document 1, 5).
The Scrapbook is divided into two parts: the first containing over 400 images of the scrapbook pages and the second containing nearly 300 images of the loose paper materials found at the back of the scrapbook. While Elwell’s papers from the training camps and the war are generally kept separate, there are many inconsistencies in the chronology; document dates may jump from July 1918 to January 1918 and then back to July. It is also difficult to tell the original order of many of the loose materials and there are blank pages throughout, where one can imagine some of the supplemental material was once placed. Each scrapbook presents its own challenges for digitization and the goal is to present all the possible views of the pages that have overlapping layers. It took almost 3 months to scan and create the metadata for this scrapbook, but the result is a unique digital item and a furthered understanding of the experiences of World War I.