Boxing, Preaching, and Singing in War

By Chapin D. Foster, Trench and Camp, published by the Tacoma Tribune for Camp Lewis, Washington, March 10, 1918, 2

Journal of Non-lethal Combatives, December 1999


It's the question we naturally ask about rifles, bayonets and cannon.

Why they are used in war, and why a certain kind.

We like to think that every piece of equipment used by the army is used because it represents the acme of efficiency.

But there are other things we are using in this war, so the other day I asked three experts in as many lines why we are using them now when they were unthought of a few years ago?

The men I asked were a prizefighter, a preacher and a singer.

"Why" is the question I put to each one of them.

Willie Ritchie [real name: Gerhart A. Steffens] is the prizefighter; W.J. "Jack" Sherman the preacher, and Robert Lloyd the singer.

And whether or not you have doubt as to the value of boxing, preaching and singing in war, there's not the shadow of doubt in the mind of any of the three experts I talked to.

"I believe boxing is the most important thing men can learn before they go over the top," said Ritchie.

"Our national motives in this war are high and clean, and our personal motives and ideals must be high and clean," said Sherman.

"A singing army will walk farther, be healthier, do better work and show better spirit than a silent army," said Lloyd.

There you have them all, and as they said on the lower levels, where most of us live, these experts have 'the dope.'

"When a man goes over the top," said Richie, "it isn't the captain or lieutenant who is going to bring him back safe if he comes back at all; it won't be his knowledge of 'squads right' and 'squads left', but it will be his ability to 'get' the fellow who wants to take his life, and unless he knows how to use his hands and feet that fellow is going to 'get' him.

"Boxing is the only thing that will teach a man to take punishment and come back again for more, the only thing that will teach him confidence in his ability to protect himself, and show him how to keep his eyes ever on the other man.

"If he tries actual bayonet drill, he is afraid he will get hurt and the chances are that he may get scratched a little, but he can box and not get hurt."

If you want to start something suggest to Ritchie that he may be trying to bring out a "white hope". [FN1]

"Absolutely not," he'll say. "I don't want to produce prizefighters out here and I wouldn't if I had the chance. I want to teach every man in camp now to box and for the sole purpose of preparing him to defend himself in 'No Man's Land," even when he has lost all his arms, and come back."

Ritchie teaches close to 500 instructors each week, and they in turn teach the men. He is one of the busiest men in camp.

"If Gen. Pershing did not believe that a morally clean army is better than the other, then why has he just asked for three chaplains for each regiment instead of one?" is the way Sherman comes back at the question. [FN2]

Mr. Sherman went across [the Atlantic] for the Y.M.C.A. ahead of Pershing's forces. He worked with the English 'Y' for several months, talking to the men in the camps, and then went to France and helped organize the association forces there. He returned to this country late in December [1917] and is now preaching to the men in the camps of this country. [FN3]

"This is one of the big problems of the war, and after the war I think it will be second to none," said Mr. Sherman. These men are going thousands of miles from home and they will be tempted as never men have been tempted before. The generals need every man they can get and when the records show that 20 per cent of the men are incapacitated through breaking down of the moral laws, they realize that straightforward religion can help and they want it."

If you want to take a fast mental ride, just get aboard Robert Lloyd's musical conversation car.

Lloyd has been a musical conductor for 30 years and has given up a $10,000 business to teach soldiers how to sing. And if you wonder whether or not he can teach them, just drop over to the Liberty theater during one of his singing classes.

He is the dean of the singing instructors in the army. He went to Fort Niagara last June. From there he was transferred to Plattsburg, then to Camp Mills and later to Camp Metritt. He came to Camp Lewis from the last named camp.

"If I could I'd be a $30 man [e.g., an enlisted soldier] in this game [the war]," said Lloyd. He handles his 60-odd years as though they were half that many.

"And that is the greatest little old joy game a-going, too," he says as he starts to tell you what singing is doing for the army.

"The first army we sent to France was a silent army and the French and British wondered what is the matter with us. It will be some time before we can sing as well as those fellows over there, but we're getting there."

Mr. Lloyd has a singing style all his own but it certainly does take with the men. Give him half an hour with a couple of thousand men and he will have them singing four or five songs. They have to learn both the words and music without the aid of a lantern slide [overhead projector] or music of any kind. He has a pitch pipe and a mighty magnetic personality and that's all he needs, along with his long experience and knowledge of music.

"I want the men of Camp Lewis to know about 20 marching songs. When they are on the march the last man can't hear the band and soon they lag. Singing will put new life into them and keep their spirits up."

Some of the songs he is teaching the camp are: "Good Morning Mr. Zip," "Keep Your Head Down Allemand," "Kaiser Bill," "Katie," "The Girl I Left Behind," "The Long Trail," "Long Boy," and "Sammie." [FN4]

The men are taking hold of the singing with fine enthusiasm, and the officers are right with them.

So boxing, preaching and singing are now recognized as proper war equipment by the war authorities and camp Lewis men are getting the best to be had in these times.

Footnotes (hit your back button to return to the text)

FN1. The reference is to various white heavyweight boxers who tried unsuccessfully to dethrone world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Few black troops trained at Camp Lewis during World War I.

FN2. The reason was that Pershing wanted to reduce the US Army's rate of hospital admissions due to syphilis and gonorrhea. In the Philippines during the early 1900s, the US War Department reported a 17 percent hospital admission rate due to sexually-transmitted diseases, and in Mexico, while chasing Pancho Villa, the National Guard reported a 30 percent admission rate. With more chaplains available, it was therefore hoped that the men would practice abstinence and therefore avoid infection.

FN3. US forces did not make any significant contribution to Allied land warfare until May 1918.

FN4. Other popular marching songs of the era included "Barnacle Bill the Sailor", "Three Whores Came Down from Canada," and "Hinky-dinky Parlez-vous." The latter has the most repeatable lines for a family audience, and even it is notorious for stanzas such as "The general won the Croix-de-Guerre/The son-of-a-bitch was never there/Hinky-dinky parlez-vous."

JNC Dec 1999.