Wisconsin in WWI: Goodbye America, Hello... Horses?

| August 9, 2017

Bibliotheque nationale de France

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One hundred years ago, Wisconsin went to war. In partnership with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, we’re exploring stories of Wisconsin men and women in World War I, curated by oral historian Ellen Brooks. Milwaukee’s John Haddock enlisted and was sent to France… where he was given a job that terrified him.

So then we got orders one day that we were going to leave in the morning. They took us down to a troop train. Then they took us to Hoboken by train, unloaded us at a depot there. We had to walk maybe half a mile, three-quarters of a mile, somethin’ like that, to the ship. As we walked down through Hoboken some guy started to sing, “Goodbye Broadway, Hello France.” Sang that all the way down through the main streets of Hoboken…Everybody took it up then, everybody singing on the way down. The streets were lined with people, three and four deep, waving and yelling and a lot of them were waving American flags. 

After a patriotic send off, John James Haddock of Milwaukee and his unit, Company F, 127th Regiment, of the 32nd Division, were on their way to France. At La Rochelle they were assigned to take charge of the corral. Although World War I brought on the first large scale use of motor vehicles in warfare, horses and mules were still heavily relied upon for transportation. Unfortunately, John was not well suited for the task.

Our job there was to take charge of the corral. That was the port--well, the port was about three miles from La Rochelle.  It was called La Pallice. It was on the seacoast. They shipped Army horses—see, we had no trucks in those days, it was all horse drawn—they shipped Army horses and mules to La Rochelle where the corral was. We had 700 horses and 300 or 400 mules.

So I was scared to death of horses. And I was assigned, of course, to be at the bottom of the gangway when these great, big—I don’t know where they got those great, big horses from.  They had hooves on 'em the size of a washtub it looked [laughs] to me like. They were enormous horses. They’d open the gangplank door up there, and that horse’d come down, and he was wild. He had no halter on him. His eyes were bloodshot, and his tail was all bloody from rocking back and forth in the stalls coming over in the storm and everything. He’d come down there like a wild one. They expected me to put a halter on that!  When the horse came down, I ran! I wasn’t going to stand there for no one! So the sergeant says, “What’s the matter?” I says, “I wouldn’t dare try to stop that horse and get a halter on him.” “Well, you aren't any good here then, get out of here. Get out of the corral here, and get out on the—we’ll find another job for you.” Well, I got outside, and the sergeant out there says, “All right, here’s six horses tied on a rope. Take ‘em up to the corral.” Which was about a mile from there, I guess, or more.

So I took the rope with the six horses. I kept watching my heels, feet; I was afraid they were going to walk on me. First thing I know they were in a semi-circle around me. I was surrounded by horses. And I got scared. They started to pull on the rope. I dropped the rope, and away they went. I hadda go back and tell the captain [laughs] I lost the horses. He sent somebody after the horses. He says, “Get up in the corral and shovel the manure out of the stalls. You aren’t good for anything else.”

Tags: John Haddock / horses / World War I / Wisconsin history