Cecil J. Ross
The author of this document was Cecil Ross' father-in-law, Reverend Archibald G. Baker The narrative below is comprised of excerpts from an extensive family history he prepared. The focus is on his time in St. Helens, his military service, injury, recovery and family during and immediately after WW I. This transcription contains many modifications and is not intended to duplicate the language in the original document. You can view the original here.
According to Cecil, his mother had grave misgivings about settling in St. Helens as the town did not seem to provide the most wholesome environment in which to raise a family of two vigorous boys. The following incidents make it evident that the mother's fears were well founded.
For example: there was a wooden flume built in the shape of a large trough which descended from the hills above past the back end of the lot where Cecil lived, and on down to the river. Part of the way down the flume was level with the ground and part of the way it was twenty to thirty feet above. Down this flume cord wood was floated in order to supply the wood burning steamers with fuel. This proved to be too great a temptation to the boys of the neighborhood, Cecil included. They would anchor themselves as best they could on a good sized piece of wood about four feet long and ride the thing down to the river. We have no account of the skinned fingers, the bumps and bruises, and narrow escapes, but at least it was great fun and the boys managed to survive. Needless to say it did not add to the peace of mind of the mothers of the neighborhood.
The family rented a new house which uncle Ed had just built. This was equipped with electric lights, a fully furnished bathroom and other modern improvements. This located on block west of the Congregational church. Between the church and house was a convenient pond of water. Even at this early age young Cecil could not resist the attraction of water, and each day he would rush home from school to ride about on a crude little raft which he himself made. (However he soon graduated from the innocent little pond to the river which was another matter.) It was while living in this house that his father gave him a mustang pony to ride about the town. This he kept in his uncle's barn just north of the church. About this time a new sidewalk was laid in front of the Courthouse. Of course, the boys were quick to take advantage of this civic improvement and soon turned it into a skating rink, much to the inconvenience of the adult population.
The river itself became an irresistible attraction. Gathering together enough drift wood and enough old rusty nails to make a raft, the boys would pound the thing together with stones and set adrift, pushing themselves up and down the shallow bank of the river. Later on Cecil and his chums found an old abandoned life boat. They calked it up where it had sprung a leak, sewed together a make-shift sail out of gunny sacks, improvised a rudder, and set out to cruise the Columbia. It should be noted that in those days there was not island off shore as is the case at present.
Cecil at age 8
170 Columbia Blvd., St. Helens
Teenage Cecil in St. Helens
Inside John Gumm School in St. Helens
Upside down Cecil with friends
Cecil took his first year's schooling in Jamesville, his second year in Gresham, and entered the third grade on coming to St. Helens. After graduation from the grades, he enrolled in the High School. But in the spring of his Sophomore year he got into difficulties with the principal, which led to a change in the future plans for his education. One Saturday afternoon, not having anything better to do, he and another boy got into the gymnasium when the place was supposed to be closed, and began to amuse themselves playing basketball. Evidently they were making quite a commotion, for the principal discovered the intruders. This was taken to be such a serious offense that he straightaway expelled them from the school, which meant the loss of the year's credits. Quite a disturbance was aroused in the town. Some people supported the principal in his ruling while others felt that the discipline was too severe for the offense. The School Board gave the matter consideration and decided not to override the authority of the principal. Fortunately for Cecil, the School Superintendent came to the rescue. He told Cecil to continue his studies at home and, when the time came for the examinations, made arrangement for him to take them in his office rather than in the school. Thus Cecil won credit for the year's work and a certificate was issued to that effect.
Armed with this certificate, he entered the junior year at Washington High School, Portland, that September, which meant that he had to leave home and go to Portland to live. As an added inducement for him to do his best, his father promised that if he graduated with his class he would take him to the San Francisco Fair. In due time Cecil, his mother and father attended the Fair in 1915, making the trip down and back by boat.
That fall he entered as a freshman in the University of Oregon at Eugene and finished the first year, intending to return in the autumn. But the death of his father, October 17, 1916, brought about far reaching changes in Cecil's plans and in the fortunes of the family. Instead of returning to Eugene, he spent the winter in Seattle staying with his aunt Minnie and working several places. Spring found him back in St. Helens again, and on the 17th of April he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps which later came to be known as the Air Corps and finally the U.S. Air Force.
Cecil Ross (starting in 1917)
America entered the war, April 6, 1917, and eleven days later Cecil enlisted in the Air Corps of the U.S. Army, and in a short time all the recruits were loaded aboard trains for San Antonio, Texas. In spite of the fact that the soldiers from Vancouver had been five days on the train, evidently the authorities in San Antonia had no word of their coming. Consequently, when they disembarked and marched out of Kelly Field, No. 2., they found nothing awaiting them but a barren desert field, a single water faucet for all purposes, and one lone corporal from the regular army. No tents, no food, no blankets, "no nothing." The corporal apologized for the state of affairs with the remark: "Believe it or not men, but until you appeared over the hill I had no idea that you were coming." However, he soon got in contact with the base at San Antonio and by nightfall some of the more urgent equipment had arrived.
Cecil's company remained in training here until August, and then they were shipped to Toronto, Canada, and placed under The Royal Canadian Flying Corps which had seen plenty of action in Europe. Three months later they were back in Texas at Forth Worth. In February, 1918, they were dispatched to Long Island, and month later were placed aboard the White Star liner, Olympic for England. While in camp on Long Island, Cecil got a guide book to the city of New York and whenever he could get leave he went sight seeing in the city. About seven thousand men were crowded aboard that one liner, and Cecil found himself stowed away on G deck, seven decks down in the hold of the boat. Their hammocks were hung from the ceiling, but this was so low that the boys could climb into them from the floor without difficulty, and the hammocks were so close together that they rubbed elbows as they slept. The steamer travelled across the Atlantic without a convey because it was felt that the speed of the boat was sufficient protection from submarines. After landing in Liverpool they travelled south to the town of Romsey about sixty miles southwest of London there to await further orders.
Cecil on leave visits his mother Fannie at their home in St. Helens
Cecil had the foresight to keep a diary from the day the men boarded the Olympic. The book itself is a small pocket volume of some 80 pages. It consists of brief and concise annotations of daily events, with no elaboration of details. The opening pages describe the trip across, but we will begin with the entry dated March 4th, as they were nearing the shores of England sailing up the Irish Sea.
"March 4: All glad to wake up and find our ship flanked by four U.S. destroyers. We zigzag all day. In the afternoon a destroyer drops a bomb. In the evening we are issued emergency rations.
March 5: Sighted land on starboard side, close enough to see buildings and fields. Destroyer drops depth bomb and oil appears on surface of water. One of the Olympic's guns fires at object in water once and misses it. Before dinner the destroyer leaves us. We pull into Liverpool at 3:30 P.M. Were ready to get off the boat, but were told to prepare for another night on ship. Didn't have life preserver pillows that night, as we were safe in port.
March 6: Ate early breakfast and disembarked. Walked to train. It looked like a joke to us, but surprises us by making 45 miles per hour a lot of the time....We pass through Oxford and see German prisoners working along the road under guard. See first planes flying in England. Leave train at Winchester about 4 P.M. March three miles to camp Woodley, near Romsey and about 60 miles S.W. of London. My foot gets pretty sore. We go into "tin" barracks. In the evening Hickok and I go to the "Y" and also to the telegraph office and send a cablegram. We go to bed on boards and straw mattresses.
March 7: Reveille 7.30: breakfast 10.00: diner 2.00; supper 5.00 (English fashion). This is rest day. In the morning I go all day. We have English ration at mess......
March 9: Hike with platoon to Winchester. Go through cathedral. Building was started in 1039. Isaac Walton's tomb is here. Cardinal Richard Fox buried here in 1447. He left beer and bread for all who call at saloon in Winchester....Winchester was capital of 400 years. Go the "Y" in evening and see amateur program. Next day hear sermon by Fosdick and Y.M.C.A.....
March 12: Squadron hikes to Romsey. I ride on truck with a few others. All I had for breakfast was bread, butter and cheese; and for dinner a beef sandwich. We are all in the tents here--officers as well as men. We men have straw ticks and three extra blankets. I saw a small plane do stunts this afternoon for the first time. It was a small plane with rotary motor. Very fast,. Stunts wonderful. For supper, bread, jam, cheese.
March 13: Slept fine last night; twenty in tent; no drill. All the squadrons here at Camp Woodley paraded on drill ground. A British staff officer tells the 28th squadron (Cecil's) that we will be a day bombing squadron... Flights will be trained in France under Royal Flying Corps, and then be under U.S. control. We are getting very little to eat here. I went to canteen in the evening and spent about three shillings on bread, jam and coffee.
March 15: Drilled in morning. Hiked to Romsey with squadron in afternoon. Went through Romsey Abbey. Part of building built in 907. Wrote my name in register. Saw Kaiser Bill's name written in 1907, the 1000th anniversary of the abbey."
Pictures of his parents that Cecil kept with him during his service
17 year-old Cecil
As the boys will be leaving for France in a day or two. We will record here one or two little matters that still stand out vividly in Cecil's memory from the experiences at Romsey on arriving in camp. They were met by a bunch of American soldiers who had come over on the Tuscania, which had been torpedoed.
(Writer Rev. Baker's note: from here on, I take the liberty of condensing, the contents of the diary)
The entries for the next month, tell of the daily round of duties and occupations while the squadron is stationed in this camp near the town of Aires -- duties such as servicing ships in the drone, putting in time as best they could when the weather was bad and there was no flying, taking occasional trips to Aires or Serny. One evening they walked to three different towns showing how congested was the population; signing up for the supposed periodical payroll (but actually no cash arrived until April 24th) travelling here and there to salvage a plane that had crashed; dodging an occasional bombing. On April 3rd Cecil gets his first mail since leaving New York, a letter from auntie written Feb 23rd; on April 26th he receives a comfort kit from brother L.G. He is inspected for scurvy and has his head shaved. Begins to study French in spare time; serves as room orderly and helps K.P.; bathes as best he can when facilities are available. The officers burn down their hut during a booze party. Watches a balloon brought down by Fritz. His friends Stewart brings down three Huns, making five, during the week, ball game with Canucks livened up by parade, band, etc.; score, 21/7 favor of Canadians; invited to concert at Canuck YMCA in evening. It sure was a great show with all-star Vaudeville sets. Nothing of importance today. Went to C.C.S. to see Ray Faubion, but he had been sent away; scrubbed pans for our mess etc. Such was the camp life of a private in the 28th Squadron, who was restricted to ground duty.
Each night, they sailed towards home in a complete blackout. There were 700 wounded soldiers aboard. The food was poor, but the Navy men themselves fared well. Among the wounded were 19 jaw cases, that is men whose jaws had been wired up, and special food was prepared for them. Cecil caught on to this the first day, so he set his own jaw tight, got in line and ate well during the rest of the trip.
World War I letters
By this time Cecil was 21 years of age. During almost two years in the Army, spent both in America and in Europe, he has seen a lot of life. The carefree and irresponsible days of adolescence have now passed and the time has come to decide what his life work was to be.
Family home in St. Helens sold to L.G Ross