This collection is made up of 51 items related to Private Victor J. Harles, who served in France with the United States Army's 350th Infantry Regiment during World War I. Harles sent 47 letters and postcards to his parents and sister in Clayton, Missouri, while in training at Fort Dodge, Iowa, and while serving in France and Germany between August 1918 and May 1919. He described his training exercises, aspects of military life, and towns he visited in France during and after the war. Also included are 2 pre-enlistment letters and 2 pieces of ephemera.
Harles wrote 13 letters from Camp Dodge, Iowa, between May and August 1918, and 2 while awaiting deployment from Camp Upton, New York, in early August. He discussed many aspects of military life, such as the food; leisure activities; his influenza inoculation (with a small drawing of the mark it left on his arm, June 16, 1918, and June 19, 1918); and training exercises, including rifle practice and anti-gas maneuvers (July 3, 1918). On July 7, 1918, he mentioned having seen three African American men hanged for an assault on a young woman. Once he received his assignment to the signal corps, Harles took classes in telegraphic systems and described the work of the corps. He also encouraged his family to look after his fiancée, "Lil," while he served abroad, and composed 1 letter while en route to Europe.
Victor Harles sent 17 letters, 13 postcards, and 1 Christmas card from France and Germany to his family in Missouri, writing primarily about his surroundings and war news. He reported seeing foreign allied soldiers and German prisoners of war, drew maps for his regiment's signal corps, and commented on the small French villages in which the 350th Regiment stayed during most of its active service. Harles had some knowledge of the French language, attained through his immigrant grandmother, and could interact with the locals. He described local customs and gave his impressions of the town's buildings. Although he arrived in Europe shortly before the armistice, he reported that his unit had participated in battle. His letters also include a brief comparison between occupied Germany and wartime France (May 5, 1919) and signal his intent to break off his engagement (May 17, 1919).
After the war, Harles traveled around France and to Coblenz, Germany, as a theater painter with the 88th Division "Show Troupe." He spent some additional time in Paris before returning to the United States onboard the Pocahontas in late May 1919. Three printed and partially printed postcards provided his family with news of his arrival in France, a new mailing address, and news of his return to the United States on June 1, 1919.
The collection's visual materials include printed postcards, an illustrated Christmas card, and 3 photographs of Victor Harles. Two photographs are enclosed in his letter of February 25, 1919, and the third is attached to his passport, also present in the collection. The postcards depict scenes from Paris, other French cities, and Coblenz, Germany. Additional material includes 2 early letters Victor wrote about life as an artist in Norway, Maine (June 13 and 30, 1916), and a metal identification tag for "M. J. Schreibert." One postcard postmarked 1908 depicts a Papago Native American woman filling a pot.