Boxplorations: Stumbling upon Home in a WWI letter

We usually try to write our blog posts without using too many first-person pronouns, but today I must deviate from that rule of thumb or else I would have no sensible way to share what I’d like to share with you.

Recently, I have been reviewing some of our World War I collections here in Special Collections & Archives for consideration of possible digitization, coinciding with the centennial of World War I, which begins this year.

Earlier today, I happened to be reviewing documents in the Clair W. Welty Papers (MS-196, click to view PDF finding aid), one I was not previously familiar with. Most of the materials pertain to Welty’s service in WWI and his death on November 10, 1918, following an unfortunate military aircraft accident. It’s not a very large collection, only 0.25 linear feet, so I was browsing casually through each folder—not reading every document but looking for items of particular interest and reading ones that “jumped out” at me.

The document pictured below jumped out at me. I’m not sure why. There are many in this folder that consist of correspondence to Welty’s mother regarding his death. I couldn’t say why I decided to read this one, written by the chaplain of the A.E.F. Camp at Issoudun, France, where Welty was buried.

Letter from Rev. Merchant S. Bush to Mrs. A. J. Welty, 23 Nov. 1918 (from MS-196).

Letter from Rev. Merchant S. Bush to Mrs. A. J. Welty, 23 Nov. 1918 (from MS-196).

The chaplain, Merchant S. Bush, expressed his condolences, described the funeral and the cemetery where Welty was buried, reassured Mrs. Welty that her son had been well-loved and would be much missed by his fellows, and that Clair had attended the Presbyterian church during his service.

In the conclusion of his letter, he wrote the following:

I am pastor of the First Presbyterian Church Portsmouth, Ohio, and am doing my bit with the Y.M.C.A. Over Seas…

I had to read that bit again to make sure I hadn’t just imagined it. You see, Portsmouth, Ohio, happens to be my own hometown. Of all the places that a World War I chaplain volunteering in France might hail from…!

As I said in yesterday’s “Chain Lines” post, you really just never know what little gems, what unexpected connections, you might find in the Archives. 

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