From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
Spotlight on the Media: Over There With Private Graham
In August 19th's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 136, Bruce Jarvis and Steve Badgley joined the show to discuss their new book, Over There With Private Graham. Drawing on a Graham's own accounts of his service, which he intended to publishing during his lifetime, Jarvis and Badgley have assembled an impactful, first-person account of the Great War. As the authors discuss, Graham's background, including his age and police career, and Military Police role gave his writing a distinct perspective. The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
Theo Mayer: For Spotlight on the Media, the story of a new book. An article from military history now opens with quote, "Few if anyone today will remember the name of William J. Graham. The anonymous Doughboy was one of more than two million Americans who fought in the first World War, yet the 39 year old Philadelphia native and Private in the US Army's 28th Infantry Division, kept a series of remarkable detailed diaries of his 16 months overseas. In fact, Graham hoped to one day get them published so that he could share what he'd lived through with future generations. Unfortunately, he died in 1940 before he could make good on his promise. Now, 100 years later, two book publishers are finally realizing Graham's long forgotten dream." With us today are the two publishers who got this compelling personal account out. Steve Badgley is an author and owner of the Badgley Publishing Company, and Bruce Jarvis, a collector and public historian with a special interest in World War I. Together they compiled and published, Over There With Private Graham. Gentlemen, welcome to the podcast.
Bruce Jarvis: Thank you, Theo.
Steve Badgley: Thank you.
Bruce Jarvis: I'm glad to be here.
Theo Mayer: So let me open with a question: how did the two of you come together to create this project, and how did you come to the project in the first place? Bruce?
Bruce Jarvis: Back in 2001, I acquired a manuscript of approximately 600 pages that were anonymous at the time, but many clues contained in it to figure out who had written it. Over years, I put the pieces together to figure out who the writer was. My intent was to use it as part of a larger work involving firsthand accounts, letters, diaries and what have you from different sources to tell the story of a common America soldier in the first World War. Mr. Badgley, I met his acquaintance as an editor as publisher of local authors and historical works. I was intrigued and we talked and hit it off. I think we started work on it in 2009. We made the acquaintance of distant relatives, granddaughters, great-granddaughters of William Graham, who miraculously had other pieces of his writings from after the war, and in one case, someone who had the very end of the story and the very beginning of the story. So basically three different sources all came together. These things survived by a miracle and were able to find each other. We were able to obtain permission to use those and put his entire story together. That's an unusual situation to begin with.
Theo Mayer: Let's learn a little bit more about William Graham. Who was he and when did he serve and where did he see action?
Bruce Jarvis: William Graham was born in Philadelphia in 1878 and was orphaned at a fairly early age. He was raised by his maternal grandmother along with his brother and sisters. At some point in time in the early years of the 20th century, he became a Philadelphia policeman and he worked in that career all the way up until the Great War and then after the war he came back and continued along that line until he retired from the Philadelphia Police Department where was a mounted patrolman. He was almost 40 years old when he enlisted. He had to get his wife's permission to do that. He'd actually attempted to sign up two other times, but was turned away because of his age or something physically that was not up to where it was supposed to be. The third time was the charm when they were trying to form a military police company. His wife gave permission, even though he had seven children at home. His desire to serve his country was very powerful.
Theo Mayer: Bruce, what year did he go in?
Bruce Jarvis: He signed up a couple of months after the declaration of war, so that was in April. This would have been, I think, July of 1917. Now from the book's point of view, he does discuss the joining up process, but when he talks about training, he skips through that and I have a feeling the beginning of the book was written by him maybe after the Armistice and probably last. Most of it was written either in realtime or near realtime based on a number of factors.
Theo Mayer: It's a diary, right?
Bruce Jarvis: Well, it's not a pocket diary. The physical documents are basically letter sized pages. My section were the kind that went into a three-ring binder. He wrote on both sides of the paper. We know he wrote it while he was in Europe because there's a single body louse stuck to one of the pages and it's right after he's describing sleeping in a bed that was full of them. We've got actually a survivor from that.
Theo Mayer: Something that we learned over these past few years in exploring World War I on the podcast with authors and curators and filmmakers and even game developers and so on, is that nothing compares to the personal accounts in humanizing this pretty inhuman moment in world history. How does William Graham do this for us?
Bruce Jarvis: He writes somewhat in a stream of consciousness so that you get a real sense of his emotional state in addition to a description of what's going on around him. He was close enough to be under artillery fire, within range of gas. At one point he was strafed by a German airplane, but he was not a front line soldier. Being in combat support as an MP, he was far enough away to be able to write. I think the combination of who he was, his occupation, where he was in the big scheme of things, those all combined to allow him to be able to create something like this.
Steve Badgley: Private Graham, his job as a policeman, he learned how to write a report very well and that shows in his writings. He's very descriptive. When he's talking about German artillery, bombers coming in and the shack he's in rocking like a boat on the ocean and the shrapnel whizzing through the area. It just makes you feel like you're right there. He has that ability.
Theo Mayer: As people dive into this subject, invariably surprising things emerge for them. What comes to mind as one of the most surprising discoveries for you as this project was realized?
Steve Badgley: Well I, like probably most American people, we only knew that there was trench warfare. That was it. But there was so much more to it. Once somebody reads this outlook of World War I, it really broadens what happened.
Theo Mayer: Bruce, let me ask you the same question: what came out of all of this that surprised you?
Bruce Jarvis: The first time that I read his words, I ran across an entry on the day before the Armistice was signed on November 10th, where he sees a company of African American soldiers and he goes on to talk about their sacrifice is worthy of credit, how the African American soldier has a great reputation in battle and I'm thinking to myself as I read this that, here's a guy who was born in 1878 and you wouldn't expect that to be something that would be documented in this war diary. Yet, he felt that it was important to put that down. It was very eloquent as far as how he treated that subject.
Theo Mayer: Private Graham has been living with you for the last 17 years. What kind of relationship do you have with him?
Steve Badgley: I called him Bill. I did most of that transcribing from the original paper journal to a text and there would be times when Bill had written something that was just really hard to make out. I'd sit there staring at it and I would sense a presence behind me. I'd turn around and look and there's nothing there. When I'd come back and look down, it was clear as a bell. Bruce and I both went into this project knowing we would never get rich on it. We did this to preserve Bill's story. I think that's what he wanted and he was going to make sure we did it.
Theo Mayer: I love the answer. What about you, Bruce?
Bruce Jarvis: I was moved very deeply when I visited Philadelphia to speak to a great-granddaughter who had that last piece of the puzzle. I went to the cemetery to visit his grave. I had asked the caretakers there to make sure there was a flag on his grave all the time and they were pleased to do that for me. Standing there on a really hot summer day with the great-granddaughter and her husband who were also there with me, it was extremely moving. I felt like William Graham's presence, somehow his spirit was there with us and approving of what we were doing.
Theo Mayer: So if our listeners want to get the book, what's the best way to find it? Steve?
Steve Badgley: I would suggest they go to Amazon.com and do a search on the title. That will take them right to the book and they can order it from Amazon.
Theo Mayer: Bruce, I understand it's available in different formats.
Bruce Jarvis: Yes. It is available in hardcover, paperback and also in digital format through all major book retailers.
Theo Mayer: With what you've learned on this, what do you think our listeners should remember about the World War I experience and about those who lived it?
Bruce Jarvis: It was the event that made America a world power and we've been there ever since. It's significant if for no other reason than that.
Steve Badgley: I don't think I could add anything to that. That covered it pretty well.
Theo Mayer: I think, as a closing, we should give William Graham the closing words. What do you think?
Bruce Jarvis: I think that's a great idea. The following is an entry that he wrote on Wednesday, November 13, 1918. He writes: "On my way home from Route de Coeur, I stopped at a town called Fleury. A ghastly sight met my eyes. What impressed me was a trench about 200 feet long dug by steam shovel. This trench was filled with our dead, American soldiers. What a shame. Shame on the one who in command of the hospital located at Fleury, France. Such is war. I suppose sooner or later we all go back to the animal kingdom and become hardened to such things. All we knew over here was set jaws, gnashing of teeth, a grin on your face, and kill. For what?"
Theo Mayer: Over There With Private Graham has been published by Steve Badgley and Bruce Jarvis. We have links for you in the podcast notes.