Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Walter Crane Papers, 1917-1919

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Meg Hixon, March 2012

Summary Information
Title: Walter Crane papers
Creator: Backof, Ruth, b. 1898
Inclusive dates: 1917-1919
Extent: 0.5 linear feet
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. He described his experiences in training at Camp Clark, Missouri, and Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma. Crane also reported extensively on his involvement in combat along the Western Front, including his service in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and on life in the trenches.
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:

1998, 2006. M-4028, M-4531.16.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Walter Crane Papers, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically, with ephemera placed at the end.


Walter A. Crane graduated from McKinley High School in St. Louis, Missouri, in the spring of 1917. That September, he enlisted in the Machine Gun Company of the 1st Missouri Infantry Regiment, which trained at Camp Clark in Nevada, Missouri. In October 1917, the unit transferred to Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, and was renamed the 138th Infantry Regiment. Crane remained in a machine gun unit. The regiment stayed at Camp Doniphan until April 20, 1918, and traveled overseas in mid-May, arriving in France, via England, around May 25th. While overseas, Crane saw action throughout France, and participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of September and October 1918. He was promoted to corporal in January 1919, and returned to the United States in late April of that year. During his time in the military, he corresponded with Ruth Backof (b. June 1898), whom he knew from high school. She was the daughter of Otto C. and Jessie S. Backof.

Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    • Argonne, Battle of the, France, 1918.
    • Browning machine gun.
    • Camp Albert L. Mills (N.Y.)
    • Camp Doniphan (Okla.)
    • France--Description and travel.
    • Missouri. National Guard.
    • Nevada (Mo.)
    • Saint Louis (Mo.)
    • Soldiers--United States--Correspondence.
    • United States. Army. American Expeditionary Forces.
    • United States. Army. Infantry, 138th.
    • United States. Army--Machine gun drill and tactics.
    • United States. Army--Military life.
    • United States. Army--Songs and music.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Campaigns--France.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Campaigns--Western Front.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Poetry.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Songs and music.
    • World War, 1914-1918--Trench warfare.
    Subjects - Visual Materials:
    • France.
    • United States. Army--Insignia.
    • War games.
    • Crane, Walter A.
    Genre Terms:
    • Christmas cards.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Postcards.
    • Telegrams.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-12
     September 1, 1917-April 24, 1919
    Ephemera [series]
    Box   1 Folder   13
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The St. Louis University Archives hold a collection of wartime letters written to Ruth Backof and her family by other servicemen.