Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Harold Kamp Journal, 1917-1919

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, July 1996

Summary Information
Title: Harold Kamp journal
Creator: Kamp, Harold, b. 1896
Inclusive dates: 1917-1919
Extent: 450 pages (2 volumes)
The Harold Kamp journal is an account of a young man's life serving in the United States Army in World War I, including time spent at the front lines.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by D. N. Diedrich, 1992. M-2784.3.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Harold Kamp Journal, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


For Harold Camp, a young man not yet 21, the First World War presented a profusion of sights and polyglot sounds, and the moments of violence and power that marked the world's first brush with fully modern warfare. Kamp reported for duty in San Francisco in October, 1917, and was sent into whirlwind training at Camp Lewis, near Tacoma, Wash., and Camp Mills, Long Island. By New Year's day, 1918, he was aboard the S.S. Lapland bound for France, enduring a journey made tense by submarines and rumors.

As a sergeant in the 146th Field Artillery (66th Field Artillery Brigade), Kamp passed quickly through England and touched French soil at a British rest camp near Havre, where the full spectrum of world war greeted him. Wending his way through an "endless numbers of soldiers from the States, British 'Tommies,' Canadians, Scotch 'Ladies from Hell,' Australians, and blue-coated French troopers" (January 13, 1918), Kamp boarded a train bearing a sign reading "40 hommes, ou 8 cheveaux" as a British soldier looking on chimed in "A jolly old war, isn't it?" The regiment debarked at Camp de Souge, near Bordeaux, to begin training in concert with French artillery units, but Kamp was sidelined almost immediately, following the surgical removal of a papilloma from his foot. After over a month of frustration and boredom in hospital, Kamp returned to Camp de Souge to find that the chaos of war, even far from the front, had not abated. On March 18, American soldiers were called out to quell a race riot that had erupted between Malagasy soldiers and Chinese from Indo-China. "How strange it is," he wondered, "that two peoples, fighting under one flag, against the common enemy, should be up in arms against each other, striving to their utmost to destroy their friend and ally. But after all the bestial trait in human character is always asserted for evil" (1918 March 18).

Dodging through the Midi during the late spring, the 66th Field Artillery Brigade continued to train in a succession of towns in Puy de Dome. Kamp was assigned to learn the ins and outs of signal detail and telephone guard, and was still mastering the basics when they were finally sent forward, taking part in the occupation of the Chateau Thierry sector on July 9-14. For Kamp, the front presented a surreal spectacle of violence, noise, and light. "Last night," he wrote, "it seemed that the front must have been as day. Light flares were thrown up incessantly. A continual roar of the guns made it exceedingly realistic." His battery fired its first rounds on July 12th, and sustained its first gas attack on the 14th, while Kamp and his comrades crouched "like animals of the forest, always in the shelter of the trees and dugouts." Attached to the 1st Army Corps over the next month, they were almost continuously engaged in the Champagne-Marne (July 15-18) and Aisne-Marne offensives (July 18-August 6). The 146th Field Artillery had the unusual experience of participating in a 30 km advance of the lines on July 22, passing through Belleau Woods, littered with unburied dead. "The stench of decaying human flesh and animals is repulsive," he wrote, aware that artillery units were seldom exposed to such scenes. "I saw German machine gunners chained to their guns, dieing with fear portrayed on their faces." But while buffered from some of the worst horrors of the war, the artillery was not immune from its psychological reach:

The feeling of having shells burst near one is decidedly uncanny, for without the slightest warning the humming sound of the shell as it passes through space seems only a short space away. Where will it land? One gasps, the explosion is heard and as you turn you see smoke and debris in the air a distance of fifty feet to the rear. What a sigh of relief and bewilderment is uttered when it is over -- but what of the next? One doesn't fear them only the suspense of waiting is a trifle hard on the nerves.

Posted in the Vesle Sector from August 7-12, Kamp enjoyed a brief period of calm along the front -- interrupted by a peripheral role at the Battle of Amiens (beginning August 8) -- before being moved to the rear and reassigned to the artillery of the First Army in positions near Sommedieu, 70 kilometers east of Chateau Thierry. There Kamp waited out the nerve wracking build-up to the "big push" on the St. Mihiel salient, watching infantry, cavalry, and light artillery pore into the sector and gun crews cutting down trees to prepare sight lines. His transfer from the signal section to headquarters may have given him a better perspective of the preparations. The American assault on the salient commenced September 13, with the 146th supporting Fifth Corps (A.E.F.), resulting in the capture of 150 square miles of territory (according the Kamp) and the capture of 18,000 prisoners of war. Their objective achieved, the headquarters of the 66th was withdrawn 20 kilometers to the rear on the 16th to prepare for yet another offensive.

Sent forward again for the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the 66th Artillery Brigade continued as part of the artillery of the First Army. Fighting during this last great offensive of the war was, at times, as intense as any involving American troops. Witnessing war in its grandest scale, with snarls of airplanes fighting, diving, strafing, and bombing, and heavy artillery duels blasting away night and day, Kamp could hardly translate the scene onto paper:

Shells, more shells. Now a long minute passes. Now one is aimed high, now, one to the left. They are breaking in the air. Timed shots. The town, only a reminder, is (shelling) shelled continuously. The village had corroded and shrunk and flattened; it had lost all depth and perspective; it was exactly like stage scenery, a cardboard representation of some great catastrophe.

A decrease in the intensity of fire on October 14, allowed Kamp to evaluate the devastation surrounding him, human and otherwise. "Hundreds of men," he wrote, "were rounded up in this neighborhood who had fallen back without permission, were cases of cowardice. Some who deserted were found as far back as ten miles. I, myself, have seen those who had lived in dugouts for days, too frightened to come out of their hiding for food or drink" (1918 October 14). Yet despite this experience, on October 27 Kamp requested assignment to gun no. 2 of his battery, clerical work having become "very tiresome." In his mind, gun no. 2 was far from tiresome; it had already fired 2,967 shells, and the battery of four 11,980. Kamp remained with gun no. 2 until the armistice on November 11.

The 146th Field Artillery passed into the Third Army during the occupation, and were assigned to duty near Koblenz. Paralleling the situation on his arrival in France, however, Kamp found himself in hospital, rather than in the ranks, having contracted influenza near the time of his birthday on December 22. His division was withdrawn at the end of February and on March 2, he registered at the University of Grenoble.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Harold Kamp's diary from the First World War is well written, direct, and packed with action. Reflecting the active part taken by the 146th Field Artillery in three of the major offensives to involve American troops -- the Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne -- Kamp's diary provides a well-rounded sense of artillery service during the First World War, from training with shells to raining shells. A well educated man, Kamp was an accomplished writer, fond of displaying his interest in the ancient history of the fields over which he fought. At the same time, his diary is very economically written, conveying the intense fear and repulsion felt by a young man confronted by the horrors of modern warfare. At some point, probably after the war, Kamp's diary was edited by striking through or emending certain passages. In many cases Kamp's (?) efforts to strike through his writing did not fully obscure the original passage, and in deciphering these sections, it appears that the editing was aimed more at readability than censorship.

Kamp's writing conveys a particularly profound sense of the terror of modern, large-scale war and of the chaos and tumult of battle during his first exposure to fire in the Aisne-Marne offensive in July, 1918. His best writing, however, was reserved for the Meuse-Argonne offensive of September and October, and particularly for the entries of September 25, 26, and 27. On the 25th, contemplating the utter destruction near Verdun, Kamp's literary penchant worked strongly in his favor:

The guns are in position, four of them, on a roadway, where once the villagers gossiped and lived their daily life. But all that is past. Now every lane and street and corner is the retreat for a death dealing gun. How strange it is that no matter in what direction the eye may turn not a sign of human life is visible. A sort of nightmare seems to have taken hold on the war stricken area. Everything is as still as death; birds have f[org]otten their song, the trees no longer have life; little children have ceased their play.

The entry for September 26 is by far the longest in the journal, continuing for several pages. Begun when he was awakened by the first artillery salvoes marking the opening of the Meuse-Argonne offensive, Kamp's excitement is palpable, but the passage includes particularly detailed accounts of watching an American plane shoot down a German, and watching German planes bring down an observation balloon in a dramatic display. The entries throughout the Meuse-Argonne offensive are uniformly informative.

Subject Terms

    • Balloons.
    • Bordeaux (France)--Description and travel.
    • France--Description and travel.
    • Gases, Asphyxiating and poisonous--War use.
    • Germany--History--Allied occupation, 1918-1930.
    • Meuse-Argonne Offensive, 1918.
    • Soldiers--Books and reading.
    • Soldiers--Diaries.
    • Soldiers--Recreation.
    • United States. Army--Artillery--Drill and minor tactics.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Aerial operations.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Artillery operations.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Destruction.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Hospitals.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Personal narratives.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Transport.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Women.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Volumes   1-2  
    Harold Kamp journal,  1917 October 4-1919 March 2
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Aisne-Marne Offensive, 1918
    • 1918 July 18-August 6
    Amiens, Battle of, 1918
    • 1918 August 8-12
    Averyres (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 April 14-16, 19, 23
    • 1918 July 15
    • 1918 August 10-12
    • 1918 September 26
    Belleau Wood, Battle of, 1918
    • 1918 July 22-23
    Bordeaux (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 March 12, 30
    • 1918 April 28
    • 1918 May 4
    Camp de Souge (France)
    • 1918 January 13, 17-30
    • 1918 March 14-April 12
    Camp Lewis (Washington)
    • 1917 October 15-November 6
    Camp Mills (Long Island, N.Y.)
    • 1917 November 15-December 6
    Camps (Military)--France
    • 1918 January 13, 17-30
    • 1918 March 14-April 12
    Camps (Military)--New York (State)
    • 1917 November 15-December 6
    Camps (Military)--Washington
    • 1917 October 15-November 6
    Champagne-Marne Offensive, 1918
    • 1918 July 15-18
    Chateau Thierry (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 July 11
    Chateau Thierry (France)--Occupation, 1918
    • 1918 July 9-14
    Clermont-Ferrand (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 June 8, 15-16
    Cookery (Military)
    • 1918 January 2
    • 1918 October 14
    Dijon (France)--Description and travel
    • 1919 March 1
    Doulevant le Chateau (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 August 23-25
    • 1917 November 4
    Esch (Luxembourg)--Description and travel
    • 1918 December 3-4
    France--Description and travel
    • 1918 April 14-22, 24, 26-29
    • 1918 May 7, 9, 14, 17-26
    • 1918 June 3, 5, 14
    • 1918 December 2, 3, 23-24
    • 1919 January 1-12
    Funeral rites and ceremonies--France
    • 1918 April 17
    Gas masks
    • 1918 September 4
    Gases, Asphyxiating and poisonous--War use
    • 1918 July 14
    • 1918 August 11
    • 1918 October 12
    Germany--Description and travel
    • 1919 January 27-29
    • 1919 February 8-13
    Germany--History--Allied occupation, 1918-1930
    • 1918 December 2-22
    • 1919 January 27-29
    • 1919 February 8-27
    • 1918 December 10
    • 1919 February 13
    Iron Cross
    • 1919 January 29
    Koblenz (Germany)--Description and travel
    • 1919 February 8
    Libourne (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 April 20-21
    • 1918 May 2
    Luxembourg--Description and travel
    • 1918 December 3-9
    Martres de Veyres (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 May 17-21
    Meuse-Argonne Offensive, 1918
    • 1918 September 26-30
    • 1918 October 1-30
    • 1918 November 1-11
    Military deserters
    • 1918 October 14
    • 1918 February 11, 14
    Pershing, John J. (John Joseph), 1860-1948
    • 1918 July 26
    Prisoners of War
    • 1918 November 24
    • 1918 March 18
    • 1918 March 18
    Royat (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 June 9
    Saint Emilion (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 May 10-11
    Saint-Mihiel (France), Battle of, 1918
    • 1918 September 13-16
    Soldiers--Books and reading
    • 1917 December 23
    • 1918 February 18
    • 1918 March 17
    • 1918 August 15
    • 1918 September 29
    • 1919 February 13
    • passim
    • 1918 January 17
    • 1918 May 14
    • 1918 January 28
    • 1918 March 20
    • 1918 May 4-5, 30
    • 1918 June 23
    • 1918 July 1
    • 1918 January 4-5
    • 1918 June 26, 27, 29-30
    Thanksgiving Day
    • 1918 November 28
    Trenches--France--Verdun Sector
    • 1918 September 1-3, 24, 29
    United States. Army--Artillery--Drill and minor tactics
    • 1918 March 28
    • 1918 April 8-11
    • 1918 May 27-29
    • 1918 June 10
    United States. Army--Barracks and quarters
    • 1918 September 29
    United States. Army--Leaves and furloughs
    • 1918 January 28
    United States. Army--Slang
    • 1918 February 22
    United States. Army--Uniforms
    • 1918 March 15
    • 1917 October 16-17, 23
    Verdun (France)--Description and travel
    • 1918 November 24
    War neuroses
    • 1918 October 14
    Winchester (England)--Description and travel
    • 1918 January 8-9
    World War, 1914-1918--Aerial operations
    • 1918 July 15, 20-21, 25, 31
    • 1918 August 1, 10-12
    • 1918 September 24, 26
    • 1918 October 2, 30
    • 1918 November 4-5
    World War, 1914-1918--Armistices
    • 1918 November 11
    World War, 1914-1918--Artillery operations
    • passim, 1918 July 1-November 11
    World War, 1914-1918--Communications
    • 1918 July 3
    World War, 1914-1918--Destruction
    • 1918 July 25, 27
    • 1918 August 5
    • 1918 September 25
    • 1918 November 13
    World War, 1914-1918--Hospitals
    • 1918 January 31
    • 1918 February 1-March 12
    • 1918 December 10-31
    • 1919 January 1-12
    World War, 1914-1918--Personal narratives
    • passim
    World War, 1914-1918--Poetry
    • 1918 January 27
    • 1918 February 12
    World War, 1914-1918--Propaganda
    • 1918 September 23
    World War, 1914-1918--Railroads
    • 1918 January 26-27
    World War, 1914-1918--Transport
    • 1917 November 8-15
    • 1917 December 24-31
    • 1918 January 1-15, 26-27
    World War, 1914-1918--War work
    • 1917 December 19
    World War, 1914-1918--War work--Red Cross
    • 1918 February 11, 14
    • 1918 December 25
    World War, 1914-1918--Women
    • 1918 March 8
    • 1918 April 30
    • 1918 May 21
    • 1918 June 28
    Young Mens Christian Association
    • 1917 December 19