Laura Gertrude Huckleberry

Laura Gertrude Huckleberry was born January 11 during the Great Blizzard of 1888. The place was the farm her grandfather, Capt. Silas D. Huckleberry, had established in Jennings County, Southern Indiana, in 1834, a few miles east of North Vernon, a town that was to become an important rail center in the latter part of the 19th century.

Her family name might seem to brand her as the quintessential American. But Huckleberry was actually an Anglicization of the German name Hagelberger. Silas's great-grandfather Benjamin Hagelberger had emigrated with his children to Pennsylvania in 1752 from the Palatine village of Rott on the west bank of the Rhine River near Strasbourg, now part of the French province of Alsace.

Laura's other forbears were Scots-Irish, Welsh and English Protestants who'd migrated from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia to the middle Ohio valley either down the river or across the Appalachian mountains through Kentucky. Her father, a Union veteran like Laura's grandfather, had been a farmer, schoolteacher, deputy sheriff and county clerk, and was now a rural mail carrier. She was the youngest of five, her siblings being brothers Warren, Will and Silas, and sister Bertha.

Laura graduated from North Vernon High School in 1906 and spent the next two years teaching at a rural, one-room schoolhouse to save enough money to attend Indiana University for a year. Then she heard about nursing, the new profession for women. A professional nursing education was available through the three-year co-op program at the Illinois Training School for Nurses, associated with Cook County Hospital in Chicago. She had been raised as a Methodist. At the time of her enlistment in the Red Cross Reserve in early 1917, she was a nurse at Children's Isolation Hospital, also associated with Cook County Hospital.

John Erle Davis

John Erle Davis, the recipient of Laura's letters recorded in this narrative, was also 29 years old when the U.S. declared war April 6, 1917. Like Laura, his roots were deep in Jennings County, Indiana. His Scots-Irish great-grandfather Phanuel Davis, who'd served as an Ohio Militia sergeant in Detroit in the War of 1812, had established a farm in the county's Campbell Township by 1819. Phanuel's wife was descended from English, Scottish and Protestant-Irish stock who were among the earliest pioneers on the Virginia frontier in the 1700s. Davis's Presbyterian grandfather married an Irish immigrant in 1843, and thereafter that branch of the family was Roman Catholic.

The Davis and Huckleberry farms at one time adjoined at one corner, but in rural Indiana a century ago, Protestants and Catholics scarcely spoke to one another, let alone socialized. Nevertheless, as Laura's wartime letters reveal, she and Erle had been interested in one another since high school days, a relationship growing when they both worked in Chicago in the immediate pre-war years.

Erle's father had been a stonemason and foreman of stone-worker crews building roadbeds and bridges for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and was now a clerk in the State government in Indianapolis. Erle was the oldest of three, his siblings being sisters Audrey Elizabeth (Betsy) and Harriet (Hettie). Because he had lived for years with his aunt. Mrs. John N. Rees, her sons Jack and Billy, midshipmen at the U. S. Naval Academy during the war, were like brothers to him.

In 1917, Erle was a journalist who'd dropped out of high school in the 11th grade to learn the printing trade, later becoming a reporter and editor in Louisville, Kansas City and now Chicago. At the time his Illinois State Guard unit was federalized in May 1917, he was an editor with the Western Newspaper Union in Chicago, a syndicated news service for weekly newspapers.

Other key persons in the narrative

Other key persons in the narrative, arranged alphabetically:

Ayres, Mrs. Edith, Reserve Nurse, U. S. Army Base Hospital (BH 12), one of Laura’s Chicago roommates; all of the Chicago roommates as well as Miss Urch and Miss Spencer were graduates of Illinois Training School for Nurses

Baker, George R., Private, BH 12

Besley, Frederick A., M.D., Reserve Major who organized BH 12

Cleveland, Elizabeth T., Reserve Nurse, BH 12, Laura’s roommate in France

Collins, Christopher C., Major, U. S. Army, BH 12’s original commanding officer

Connard, May (Conny), Reserve Nurse, BH 12 replacement, one of Laura’s Chicago roommates

Dancey, Jesse S., The Rev., Methodist Chaplain of BH 12

Gambee, Bess, Reserve Nurse, BH 12, one of Laura’s Chicago roommates

Glaspel, Cyril. J., M.D. Lieutenant, BH 12

Hall, Arthur R., Private, BH 12, former Northwestern University law student

Hampton, Frances B., Reserve Nurse, BH 12, one of Laura’s Chicago roommates

Horowitz, Gabrielle, Reserve Nurse, BH 12 replacement

Lyon, Elizabeth C., Reserve Nurse, BH 12

Krost, Gerard N., M.D., First Lieutenant, BH 12

Krost, Carrie G., Reserve Nurse, BH 12, Dr. Krost’s wife

Mandel, Milton, M.D., Captain, BH 12

Matzen, Emma, Reserve Nurse, BH 12, one of Laura’s Chicago roommates

McCosh, Duncan, Lieutenant, Canadian Army

McMillin, Edith (Mac), Reserve Nurse, BH 12, one of Laura’s Chicago roommates

Murray, Robert, Lieutenant, His Majesty’s Imperial Army

Nadler, Walter H., M.D., Captain, BH 12

Neal. M. Pinson, M.D., First Lieutenant, BH 12

Nussbaum, Payson L., M.D., Captain, BH 12

Pawlisch, Ella R. (Pawley or Polly), Reserve Nurse, BH 12, one of Laura’s Chicago roommates

Speed, Kellogg, M. D., Captain, BH 12

Spencer, Ruth, Reserve Nurse, BH 12

Urch, Daisy Dean, Chief Nurse, BH 12


All the Northwestern Unit’s original personnel were native-born Americans except for Moses Blumenthal, the pharmacist, born in Russia.