I have something special to share today. Earlier this month long time reader Robert D. Schrock emailed and shared a letter that his father had written from New York City in 1917, with the idea that I might post it here on the blog. Dr. Schrock is a retired orthopedic surgeon and for some time has been editing the Great War papers of his father, namesake, and fellow surgeon, Dr. Robert D. Schrock, Sr. He sent the two photographs you see here as well, which he found as print negatives in his father’s papers and had developed.
Robert D. Schrock was born in Delaware, Ohio in 1884, and when he was a young boy his family moved to Decatur, Indiana. Schrock graduated from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, after which he went on to study at Cornell University Medical School. There he met and befriended a fellow Midwesterner, Iowan Chester Hill Waters. The two graduated with honors from Cornell Medical School in 1912. Doctors Schrock and Waters next worked at Manhattan’s New York Hospital as young physicians. Soon they both returned to the Midwest, practicing medicine in Omaha, Nebraska. Waters married and had a child.
Shipping out: Dr. Robert D. Schrock took this picture as a first lieutenant and surgeon in the American Expeditionary Forces in 1917. He and the medical staff of Base Hospital No. 9 did their basic training at Governors Island.
Though the United States did not join the Great War until April 1917, many American people and organizations had contributed to the Allied cause in the time since the war began in summer 1914. As early as June 1916 the Red Cross organized base hospital units of 500 beds at various institutions, including at New York Hospital. It was called Base Hospital No. 9. Dr. Robert D. Schrock was involved in that project during his time at the facility, and when the United States entered the war Schrock put on a uniform and became a medical officer in the A.E.F. Competition among the medical staff to go to France was intense, and the board selected a mix of senior and younger physicians to go overseas. Before shipping out to France there was that small matter of basic training. That’s where the email I received from Bob Schrock a few weeks back comes in. It was on 21 July 1917—one hundred years ago today—that Robert D. Schrock reported for his basic training at Governors Island in New York Harbor. Below is an extraordinary letter that he wrote that morning to his friend Chester (Chet) Waters back in Nebraska on that very day.
At sea – U boats ahead: Another image taken by Dr. Robert D. Schrock, this one aboard the U.S.C.T. Finland sometime between August 7 – 20, 1917 en route to St. Nazaire, France.
The Society of the New York Hospital
6 to 16 W. 16th and 7 223 W. 18th Street, New York, New York
July 21, 1917
We go to Governors Island into camp at 8:30 AM. Just time for a note and breakfast. The gang looks good. You know practically everyone. Will send you details as I can. It is good, I tell you, to be around here again. Only, would exchange these trappings for white clothes for comfort. Walked up Third Avenue yesterday, saluting all the Lord and Taylor delivery boys. Probably shall pass up many Majors, etc without proper recognition. Our ignorance is amusing.
It looks very much like we are to get away the coming week. Somewhere in France.
Everyone asks of you and the family. Tell your young man it was not carelessness that kept me from seeing him at the station. He may not like it. Shall send him a later message.
Chet, don’t get panicky and jump into service. You have a greater duty right there. Thanks for the big help of Tuesday
R. D. Schrock
Base Hospital #9
New York City
(images courtesy Robert D. Schrock)