A Double Wedding and the Memphis Gang

Excitement this afternoon. Mary Keeler and Estes Armstrong, Elizabeth Edwards and Guion [Armstrong] were married and went to N.Y.  From there the boys, now aviators 1st Lieut., will go to France.

It was a double wedding that Jessie attended on September 25, 1917, probably rushed because of the war and the imminent departure of the brothers.  As I was searching online for the maiden name of Mary who was marrying Estes, I came across a website (findagrave.com) about their future daughter’s death at 96 (in 2016). The short biography included in her listing told me more about the two brothers. Guion did not make it back from the War. He died in action and his niece, whom he never met, was named for him.

In this biography I also read for the first time about the Memphis Gang. This was a group of 24 men, including Frank (Bud) Latham, who all took their early aviation training together in Memphis, and who were some of the very first American aviators trained to fight in the war. When the U.S. entered World War I there were about 35 pilots in the country and 51 student pilots. During the war more than 40,000 men applied for the U.S. Army Air Service. 22,000+ were accepted, and of those only about 15,000 advanced beyond ground training school to primary flying training. After Frank  did that, he went for advanced training in aerial combat at Issoudun, France, at that time the largest air base in the world. These young men were heroes and their bravery was without question.

Here is a link to Invader, the magazine for the 13th Bomb Squadron, which contains an article about a member of the Memphis Gang. The article is titled Hank, starts on page 6, and contains a lot of interesting information about the aviators.

Swayne and Frank (Bud) Latham, 1917

Though I posted this photo  recently, I am doing it again to point out Frank’s aviator wings on his chest. His brother Swayne served in the American expeditionary forces in France.

Photographs, September 1917 in Memphis

Frank Latham, 1917-18. Jessie always called him ‘Bud’.

I just love it when I’m reading about something in Jessie’s diary and realize I have the corresponding photograph(s). For that reason I am adding another post, short on words but with lots of pictures.

Frank Latham and unknown soldier. Frank is climbing into the aeroplane.

Saturday, September 8, 1917:  Bud sailed this morning for France. He is going to some flying school just out of Paris. I can’t bear the thought of his being gone. Still, one of his greatest ambitions is being fulfilled. Swayne to-gether with the 1st Tennessee left Nashville to-day for Greenville, S.Car. They will soon leave for France. Deep in my heart I feel as though they will both come back. Good-bye, Good-luck, God bless them!   On September 22, 1917 Jessie received a letter from Bud (Frank) that he had written while still at sea on the Adriatic. She had no idea whether he was yet in France.

Jessie Latham and Hartwell Temple with camp dog. Nashville, 1917

On September 19th Jessie received a letter from Hartwell Temple (whom she always called ‘Temp’) with some Kodak pictures of her recent visit to Nashville.

Hartwell Temple, Nashville 1917

On September 22, 1917, Jessie took part in a large pageant called Armageddon given at the Fair Grounds for the benefit of the Red Cross. In her words, It presents the struggle between good and evil. Upon the world stage is Hope, Faith, Love, Song, Peace, Charity, Joy, Truth and others from Elysium, all the dwellers of Arcadia and Eutopia (Zephyrs, Sunbeams, Flowers, Fairies, Pipers, Gypsies, Shepherds and Shepherdesses, Lords and Ladies). Then Discord comes through the gateway of Pandemonium. He is followed by Ambition, Hate, Jealousy, Envy, Greed, Lust who try to destroy the Court of Love. War enters the scene, followed by Disease, Famine, Pestilence and Death. And on the instant a company of Red Cross knights dash forward to repel them, the Sons of America (boy scouts and home guards) rush into the fray, the victory is won! War is banished. The dream of the ages is realized.  Costumes for the pageant were supplied by the participants. Jessie was a Medieval Lady with a high pointed hat. Her costume was back and yellow and made by Jessie, her mother, and her auntie.

Jessie Latham, Sept. 22, 1917. ‘Armageddon’

Jessie Latham, Sept. 22, 1917

 

WWI comes to Memphis, April-August 1917

Frank (Bud) Latham, 1917

It was the weekend of March 30, 1917, and Jessie was visiting close friends in Covington, Tennessee. Monday, April 2nd she wrote, “J.O. and Drew both wanted dates to-night but the country is so unsettled, so much war news going around that I refused to stay longer. [I] want to be home when war is declared.” Jessie’s train left Covington fairly early that day and arrived in Memphis soon after noon. That evening Jessie wrote in her diary that President Woodrow Wilson had asked the U.S. Congress to declare war.

Frank (Bud) and Swayne Latham, 1917

Monday, April 16th, “Some how ever since I got home I’ve been sad – so much war talk. Then too seeing both Swayne and Bud in their uniforms. Swayne has joined the Chicks and Bud has been transferred to the aviation corps. Here is where I become a red cross nurse.” She didn’t become a nurse, but I feel sure she thought about it. Seeing both of her siblings preparing to depart for war in France made Jessie emotional, sad and lonesome ahead of time. She loved her brothers.

Swayne and Frank (Bud) Latham, 1917

Thursday, April 26, “The night the soldiers left! Swayne came out this morning to tell us good-bye. He seemed such a man when he kissed me good-bye, the tears just streaming down his dear cheeks. Bud got excused this afternoon and came out to tell us good-bye. Never before had I realized what their going really meant. No one knows when they will ever come back. Dear Sweet Bud, how I’ll miss him, for he would always come into my room at night for a talk.” The times were somber. “I’m so sad,” Jessie wrote on May 5th. “Every-body is going away. Every-body I’ve been with lately is planning to leave and it seems all my dates are ‘farewell dates’.

A photo of Jessie’s diary, June 5, 1917. The flag may have been worn on her jacket as she worked the booths.

The 5th of  June, 1917 was the first national registration day for the newly reinstated draft. All young men between the age 21-30 had to register. “I was at some of the booths and assisted in pinning red, white, and blue ribbons on all the men who registered,” and according to Jessie, more than 10 million men across the country registered for war service that day. The mood in Memphis that day was extremely patriotic, starting with a parade downtown in the morning that included 30,000 participants, according to Jessie.

In the meantime there were Theda Bara movies to see, and Charlie Chaplin movies always made Jessie laugh. There were fine cars to ride in. In fact, on May 1st, Jessie had a date with a fellow who drove a Peerless auto. The Peerless Motor Car Co. built high quality luxury autos and were one of the Three Ps of luxury automobiles – Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow.

During this time Jessie also became better acquainted with a young businessman from Great Britain, Douglas Gardner. He often brought her gifts when he came back from business trips or vacations, and on June 28th he brought Jessie an alligator purse from his vacation in Florida. Once in her diary Jessie speculated that Douglas was probably enjoying himself during this time in Memphis. All the local young men were leaving for the war, and he being British and 32 years of age (and wealthy – he was from an old family whose lumber business had been in operation for over 400 years at that time, since 1590!) was ineligible to serve. So he became a reliable and welcome date for Jessie and a number of  other young women of Jessie’s acquaintance in Memphis during this time.

Alligator purse given to Jessie Latham by Douglas Gardner on June 28, 1917
Jessie Latham, penny picture, July 27, 1917

On July 17th Swayne came home on a 5-day furlough, leaving again for Camp Andrew Jackson in Nashville on July 22nd. Jessie then decided to take a train tour of military camps/forts where some of her friends and Swayne were in training. On July 31st she took the train to Nashville and within a few days ‘fell in love’ with Lieut. Temple (whom she called Temp). In her diary she declared,”I can’t realize it all happened. I was so very happy, it all seems like some wonderful dream. But at present I surely think Temp is the person I’ve been looking for all these years. He said such beautiful things…” (August 4, 1917).  After nine days in Nashville Jessie headed to Signal Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee and her soldier friends at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. She spent a few days there. On her way back to Memphis the train stopped in Nashville and Jessie had one last meeting with Temp before he left for France. August 14th was the day of their parting, “We had so much to say and so little time that the principle thing I can remember is Temp’s saying “I love you” over and over… How I did want to go with Temp but I’m going to try and wait until the war is over before I marry him…” So sad! So romantic! Oddly Jessie never mentioned his first name. Then she was back to Memphis and her regular life.

Frank (Bud) Latham sometime during WWI, 1917-18

August 20th Swayne came home on furlough. The next day, the 21st, Bud came home thinking he had 10 days with his family, but the very next day he received a telegram telling him to report immediately. “Bud got a telegram this afternoon to report at once so he had to leave to-night. How I hated to see him go. He is nearer to me than almost anybody in the world. I love him so much. He is so wonderful that surely he will come back.” Bud’s (Frank’s) telegram telling his mother not to worry came on the 23rd.

 

February and March 1917, Memphis

In the winter and spring of 1917 Jessie was 22 years old. Her life has been pretty much about dating, dancing, partying, and just having fun. She reads lots of books, she teaches Sunday School, she does some “good works,” but mostly she is just having fun. Life is about to change though. The war in Europe will soon spill over into Jessie’s life and become very personal. Not just yet though. So here is another ‘slice of life’ posting, or what I like to call cultural tidbits from Jessie’s life during February and March of 1917.

Parties! Parties! Parties! Jessie  wrote so many wonderful descriptions of parties and dances in her diaries, but only in the last few months of 1916 and the beginning of 1917 does she mention alcohol at the parties. It is always with code words, she never actually says alcohol or whiskey, etc., but it is obvious what she meant. On February 6, 1917 Jessie went to a wedding reception/dance that was “certainly a memorable party – absolutely wet, simply flowing, with lots of funny little happenings.” But on March 26th Jessie wrote that she went to a dance at the Tennessee Club where there was “such a world of stags. Am afraid they were rather disappointed for they all expected some glad water and there was none.”

On February 15th Jessie mentions that the government has moved the national aviation school to Memphis. Aviation shows were already popular in Memphis, so going out to the airfield to watch the aeroplanes becomes a popular activity.

The fancy dress Mardi Gras Ball was held at the Chickasaw Guards Club on February 20th, 1917. Jessie and her date ‘Coach’ are in the top right corner in the above newspaper clipping (The Commercial Appeal). Jessie and her mother made her costume. She was a “green leaf,” so her dress must have been green. Coach (R.L. Sullivan) was dressed as “a small town sport.” As you can see from the clipping, the costumes were quite creative.

It seems like Jessie’s picture was always showing up in the local newspaper! On February 28th Jessie and some other young women posed in Grecian style costumes for a newspaper spread on an upcoming pageant. The feature was published on March 11, 1917. The above pictures are the two halves of the top of the newspaper page. Jessie is in the photo of three women on a sofa. She is on the left.

On March 18, 1917, all the young men who had been sent to the border as part of the Mexican Border War returned home. No doubt the U.S. was preparing for entry into a larger conflict, World War I. The returning soldiers included the Chickasaw Guards in Memphis, of which Bud (or Frank), Jessie’s older brother, was one. All of Memphis seemed to turn out for the parade welcoming the young men home. Jessie described the scene:  “1100 soldiers led by the old Confederate veterans and boy scouts. Six aeroplanes flying above, dropping messages of welcome.” On March 23rd was the final regimental review of the First Tennessee Regiment, another parade down Main Street, and a march to Russwood Park (home of the Memphis Chicks baseball team). Jessie was among a group of girls chosen to pin medals on the soldiers, and once again had her picture in the paper.The descriptions of the pictures note that Jessie (top picture) is pinning a medal on one of the “Chicks” Frank Dooley.

Irby “Rabbit” Curry, Vanderbilt quarterback 1914-1916

And here are some random final notes. On March 6, 1917, Jessie had a date with Rabbit Curry. Irby Rice (Rabbit) Curry was an honored quarterback for Vanderbilt University from 1914-1916. He would have graduated in 1918 but enlisted in the military when the U.S. entered World War I in 1917. Some time between going out with Jessie and leaving for Europe, Rabbit married Dimple Jenna Rush. He joined the 95th Aero Squadron and on August 10, 1918 was killed in aerial combat over Perles, France.

‘Coach’ (R.L. Sullivan), one of Jessie’s best friends, was the football coach at Memphis High when Jessie’s younger brother Swayne attended high school and played football there. On March 11, 1917 Coach returned from a visit to Oxford, Mississippi, home of the University of Mississippi. He told Jessie he liked it fine. Perhaps he was interviewing for a job, because he was the head football coach at “Ole Miss” from 1919 to 1921, and the head basketball coach there from 1919 to 1925.