Mule Rearing Riveters African American Officers African American Soldiers 1 The pilots gas masks pilots in dress uniforms doughboys with mules

Cornelius T. McCarthy

Submitted by: Frederica Templeton {granddaughter}

59fb5cdf97d5b C.T.McCarthy1918

Cornelius T. McCarthy served in World War 1 with the United States Army. The dates of service are: Known 1917-1919.


A Yankee Doctor on the Somme

By F. M. Templeton

Just days after the United States formally declared war on Germany in April 1917, Arthur Balfour, former prime minister of Great Britain, on meeting Dr. Franklin Martin, chair of the U.S. General Medical Board, in Washington, D.C., said with urgency “Send us doctors!”

In response to his urgent request, 1,300 American doctors out of thousands of volunteers were selected to serve with the British Expeditionary Forces as medical officers. My maternal grandfather was one of them.

Cornelius Theodore McCarthy enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Reserve in August 1917 as a regimental medical officer and was commissioned as a first lieutenant. Over the next two years he would serve as a medical officer in France with the 36th Field Ambulance and the 9th Essex Battalion of the British Expeditionary Forces, and finally with the 27th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Ten years after my grandfather's death in 1966, my aunt showed me a diary that had been found among his possessions. My astonishment was exceeded only by my joy. I begged to see it, promised to protect it with my life, and brought it away with me. Here, I thought, was my chance to know him in a completely unexpected way.

The small green leather-bound book had been bought in London where he was awaiting orders for France. He was 29 years old and unmarried.

McCarthyDiaryentry1918A page from Cornelius McCarthy's diary.A diary is an intimate document. The private thoughts set down by the author on a daily basis are rarely intended for a wide audience. To feel the thin yellowing paper; to trace with one's eyes the peculiar flow of the script; to hear with one's mind the sound of the author's voice is a powerful physical and emotional experience. How much more so in this instance to see and hear the words of a man who was silenced by a stroke long before I was old enough to ask the hard questions. I remember trying to understand him, but rarely could I make a pattern of the gasping sounds he managed with so much effort. I used to dream of miracles.

The first entry is dated 21 November 1917; the last, 20 February 1919, the day he sailed for home. With a thick-nibbed fountain pen and blue-black ink, my grandfather left a record of 15 months of his life, 15 months of trench warfare that he had never spoken of to his family. No one had known of the diary while he was alive and apparently he had never felt inclined to tell his six daughters what it was like "over there."

There were long passages in shorthand. I had only to translate them! But for the longest time, I couldn't find anyone who could decipher it. I felt certain there were secrets to be found. I had reached a dead end, or so I thought, until one day an English friend, who had learned shorthand in London, came to my rescue. My grandfather had used the Pitman method of notation, not the Gregg which is the one used in this country. The translator of the Rosetta Stone could not have been more elated as those idiosyncratic dots and dashes were transformed by my friend into recognizable shapes.

What emerged was a captivating profile of a man high-spirited, humorous and confident. And--much to the surprise of the family--quite a ladies' man!

He wrote each entry as if it were a telegram: shot, staccato burst of words that even in their simplicity manage to convey the texture of his thoughts through the years. "Thanksgiving Day 1917. Beautiful day at Heudicourt. Do not expect turkey. Thankful that I am living. Awakened at 4 a.m. by terrific barrage. There is bloody murder going on in the Bourlon Wood." He was in the thick of the Battle of Cambrai, having arrived in France just seven days before.

CTMcCandfamily600Cornelius T. McCarthy with his mother and sisters at their home In Philadelphia.In March 1918 the young doctor went to Paris for the first time. He dined at Maxim's "where the pretty girls are seen. All golddiggers. You put your six-shooter on the table beside you as you order. 60F per. More if we didn't use persuasion." During the day he took in the sights with Mlle. Elise.

In May of that year he was badly gassed during the last of the big German offensives on the Western Front. "Overtook D Co. Were caught in a barrage. Many men knocked out. Stopped by side road--crawled into fields to bind them up. Left alone. Felt my time had come." He had taken off his gas mask to help the wounded. He was blind for a week. This was his ticket back to Blighty but, incredibly enough, he wrote then "wished I was up front line."

The summer of 1918 must have been idyllic after so many days in the trenches. From the entries during these months it is clear that he spent most of his time in the company of Miss Alice Whitney of Boston. When the shorthand was translated, a romance took shape. Luncheons at the Savoy, nights at the theater, weekends at a country house in Kent--an enviable way to recover one's health. Alice was with him in December at Buckingham Palace where he was personally decorated by King George V. He was the first American to be awarded the British Military Cross.

The last words in his diary are "Sailed on Aquitania for Home Sweet Home. Very sad to leave Alice. My love."

When I eventually read about the horrific conditions he experienced at the front, his nonchalant bravery and intense dedication seemed all the more remarkable for a young man from Philadelphia who had never seen Paree. When he arrived back home in 1919, he told a newspaper reporter:

"Philadelphia for mine. I've seen all the gay cities of the Old World and some of the New, but there is no place like Philadelphia."

It was not the miracle I had prayed for, but this diary let me know my grandfather in a way he would never have anticipated. We even shared a secret--for Alice did not become my grandmother.

About Family Ties Button

Stories of Service Button 250


submitservice revise

Family Webinar 250

submitservice revise

Documenting Doughboys 260

donateartifact revise


genealogicalresources revise



Navy Log Button 250

"Pershing" Donors

$5 Million +

Founding Sponsor
PritzkerMML Logo

Starr Foundation Logo

The Lilly Endowment