The Walter Crane papers contain 88 letters, 2 postcards, and 1 Christmas card written by Corporal Crane to Ruth Backof, a former high school classmate, while he served in the Machine Gun Company of the 138th Infantry Regiment during the First World War.
Crane wrote his first letters while training at Camp Clark in Nevada, Missouri, in September 1917. He inquired about mutual friends and reminisced about his time at McKinley High School in St. Louis, Missouri. After moving to Oklahoma's Camp Doniphan in late October, he discussed his fellow soldiers, training exercises, and leisure activities. On December 25, 1917, he copied lyrics to a soldiers' song entitled "When Our Machine Guns Are Starting to Roar (for Me and My Gal)," and mentioned that his unit played sports in their spare time. Several envelopes bear the skull-and-crossbones insignia of the 138th Infantry Regiment's Machine Gun Company.
In April 1918, Crane moved to Camp Mills on Long Island, New York, and made final preparations to travel overseas. A May 14, 1918, letter provides an account of the trip. He first wrote from France on May 25, 1918, describing his journey across England. The remaining letters contain his impressions of France and news of his military engagements. Crane's vivid war letters mention both simulated battles (July 30, 1918) and real engagements. His stories of life in the trenches include several featuring trench rats. Between August and October, he wrote about his experiences in combat along the front lines just before and during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive -- the letters dated August 18, 1918, and October 6, 1918, are especially detailed. After November 1918, Crane’s company stayed in training near "Grimaucourt," France, despite the armistice. He continued to describe his daily life and on December 12, 1918, he copied three pages of poetry written by Sergeant S. F. McElhiney, a member of his company. On April 23, 1919, he wrote his final long letter while aboard the USS Kroonland , and, after he landed in the United States on the 29th, he sent Ruth a brief telegram.
The two French postcards are dated October 9 and December 21, 1918, and the Christmas card (1917) bears the insignia of Crane's unit. These three items are filed with the correspondence.