The Life and Letters of World War I Aerial Observer Lt. Mortimer M. Lawrence – October 1917


Oct 28th


Dear Folks:-

The box containing the sweater and the candy came this morning.  Thank you for sending the sweater.  Thank Will for the candy, it sure tastes fine and I appreciate his thinking of me.

There hasn’t been anything particularly new here this week.  We have been going along at the regular gait only everything is getting more and more confidential and complicated.

To-morrow we are to begin our work in the air, so this morning they took a dozen of us up for a half hour joy ride.  The planes here are all built for a pilot and an observer, so we were taken up to get us used to being in the air.  I enclose a note written while we were sailing around at 4000 feet.

From the time I left the ground until we landed again was just 40 minutes.  We reached a maximum height of 4900 feet but most of the time were between 3500 and 4500.  Of course we could have gone higher but the pilots were limited to about 4000 so as to break us in gradually.

I felt no sensations at all, was not the least bit nervous.  Of course when you turn downward to descend you have a feeling similar to that in an elevator but it lasts only a fraction of a second.  We made a straight drop at one time from 4900 to 3500 and then went back to 4500 and when we came down it was a straight rolplane from 4500 feet and was just like coasting down a very steep hill.  Altogether I liked it very much, and want more.

I saw Capt. Morrow the night of the circus and he stopped and spoke to me.  I wrote Capt. Marley as soon as I got here, but haven’t heard from him.

As far as I have been able to look I have never found any souvenir postals of the Fort.  Maybe I can find some if I look again.  I’ll try.

Major Howard told us Friday that eventually all of us Observers will be made pilots.  At present we are needed so badly that there isn’t time to train us as such.  An Observer goes up with a pilot (unless he is a pilot himself, when he may fly a single-seat scout plane).  His duty is to spot or observe Artillery fire sending down his corrections by radio or wireless telegraph.  He also goes up to make general observations as to location of enemies’ trenches, batteries, supply depots, attacking troops, moving troops and the general lay of the land.  In fact the Observers are the eyes of the Army which is, as you see, one of the most important things of all.  There is so much that I can’t explain on paper that I don’t know what else to say.

We are being trained in machine gun work in order to be able to fight off any German planes which may interfere with us and our work.  They are our only means of self-defence except flight.

My bunch here consists of:-

Jack Bainbridge of New York City.  He is 28, an M.E. and a member of the 12th N.Y. Nat’l Guards.  He has lots of friends in Greenwich.  Jack is my closest friend and my bunkie and we are good pals; Alexander Davisson Jr. of Phila, 19 years old and from the 6th Penna. N.G.; Howard Meyer of Phila, 22 years old and from the 1st Penna. N.G.; Eugene Stewart of Baraboo, Wis., 29 years old and from the 35th U.S. Inf.; Leo Guackenbush of Tulsa, Okla., 31 years old and from the 14th U.S. Inf.; Robert C. (Jack) Frost of La Grange Ga., 27 years old and from the 1st Ga. N.G.; and Steele Evans formerly of Madison, 35 years old and from the 14th Oregon, N.G.

Frost is both a Mason and an Elk and a dandy fellow.  They are all fine, but Bainbridge is the best of all and we have some fine times together.

This morning I put on long drawers and short sleeved shirts and now the weather has turned warm.  Some luck.

What is the new maid’s name?  How does she start off?  Hope she will be O.K. and stay.

We are still getting our regular pay.  The $100.00 deal must have fallen through.  With $100.00 worth of Liberty Bonds to my credit I will only draw 20.00 per month until July 31st, but what of it?  Guess I can stand it to do that much for my country.

Thank you but don’t bother to send the Tribune.  Of course I’d enjoy anything extra good but with this increase in postage after Nov. 2nd, it will cost enough to send letters, so we’d better cut the papers altogether.  I have been noticing lately how much it costs to send packages by mail so I’ll try hereafter to get what I want down here and save postage.  If you have to send anything and express is cheaper by all means send it that way because it only means a day or two longer before I get it.

There is one thing I need badly and can’t get here.  That is some paper for my loose-leaf note book, like the sheet I wrote on while flying this morning.  Voelker used to have it and if he still has will you please send me 4 or 5 packages, either ruled or unruled.  Also while you are sending that put in from Hawley – Voreck about 5 books of Zig Zag Wheat Straw cigarette papers.  Joe Voreck ought to know what they are as I had a hard enough time to have him put them in stock.  They come in a red paper book and are like the ones you found in my bureau and brought to Minneapolis.  They don’t have that kind here.

Jack Bainbridge has the N.Y. Times every day so I saw of the accident to Senator Husting.  It is very sad and the state & U.S. will miss him.

I hope I will have a chance to come home after I leave here.  There is so much I cannot and am not supposed to write.  You can at least come to Chicago to see me if I go through there.

Hope you are all well.

Love to all,


A note Mortimer wrote to his parents while on his first flight.

Friday A.M., October 19, 1917


Dear Folks:-

Yesterday afternoon I received your letter of Monday saying that you were going to send the cake Tuesday P.M.  It came on the same mail as the letter.  Thank you for going to so much trouble.  It was awfully good and all of my “gang” of seven enjoyed some of it.  The cake came in very good shape, just as moist as could be and not a bit broken except at one corner.

The reason I said not to send by express unless absolutely necessary was because the nearest express office is at the Fort Sill station about two miles away.

Last night we went to Ringling’s Circus in Lawton.  It was the same as last year but we had a good time all the same.

The last two days here have been very cold and we have blessed the overcoats which we received last Saturday.  You see we haven’t been issued any woolen clothing yet but we are O.K. as long as we have overcoats.

The weather here is funny.  Last week it was pretty cool except right at the middle of the day.  The first half of this week was hot and I slept with only a light blanket over me.  Then the last two days have been cold.

Please don’t bother to send any Sat. Eve. Posts as I have had them all, the boy brings them out every week.  Thank you for thinking of them.

I had a letter yesterday saying the sweater was on the way.  Hope it comes today.

There is no Y.M.C.A. at the Aviation Camp but there are two or three around the reservation, all within 3 or 4 miles.  Camp Doniphan is the name of the National Guard cantonment here at Fort Sill.  The troops are all Missouri & Kansas and their regiments are numbered around 136 and up.

Love to all,



Mortimer captioned this photograph “Off to Lawton.”

Mortimer captioned this photograph “Off to Lawton.”

Sunday, October 14, 1917


Dear Folks:-

Well the first stage is over at any rate.  There are 26 men leaving here tomorrow on account of physical, mental or other disqualification.  I am not one of them.  But I understand there are several other men who are to be reexamined and for all I know I may be in that bunch.

Some of the fellows leaving are disqualified on account of being under age or too heavy for aviation and things which are not their fault.  It is too bad that the men who sent them didn’t think of these things, for it is a big disappointment as I know only too well.

I am the only survivor from Fort Snelling.  The man from the 40th was under age, only 18 ½ and the man from the 36th was an undesirable.  I hope I stick out the course and get a 1st Lieutenancy but you never can tell what will happen.

I don’t know where the 41st is now as I heard they left Snelling a couple of weeks ago.  They may be consolidated with some other regiment as that is happening all over the country on account of the increase to 250 men per company and about a 3755 total of officers & men per regiment, which includes all auxiliary companies, etc.

I don’t believe I ever told you that the Signal Corps hat cord is no longer blue & white but orange and white.

I received the papers O.K. yesterday, thank you.

We also received overcoats, something which will be pretty handy as it is pretty cold around here nights and mornings but warm during the day.

I don’t know anything to write.  I am fine.

Love to all,



Jack Bainbridge, a friend of Mortimer’s who also made the cut at Fort Sill.

Jack Bainbridge, a friend of Mortimer’s who also made the cut at Fort Sill.

Thursday, October 11, 1917


Dear Folks:-


Received your letter yesterday enclosing the letter from Mrs. Struthers. It will be very nice if that girl sends me the sweater.

I also received the Juneau Telephone and the Cits. The papers are very interesting always.

At last we have moved into our new school building and we are really getting fixed. It is a dandy place with large, light rooms and lots of them. All our classes will be held there hereafter.

Machine gun classes are getting interesting, we haven’t had the guns on the range as yet but we know how to take a box of loose parts and make a machine gun from nothing. I think I could do it blindfolded.

If you send a cake you had better bake a loaf cake in one of those tins similar to a bread pan and send the cake right in the tin. I’ll return the tin. A nut loaf cake with just a little frosting would taste mighty good.

I don’t know of any reading matter except possibly the Metropolitan and Cosmopolitan when you are through with them.

It is beginning to look now as though our course will not be finished before December first if that soon, maybe not till the first of the year. Time alone will tell.

Love to all,





I am returning Mrs. Struthers’ letter. When you write tell her I appreciate her thinking of me. How in the world did any one have the idea that you were down to see me while I was at Sheridan?

Fort Sill, Oklahoma, ca. 1917

Friday, October 5, 1917

Dear Folks:-


The Juneau papers and the Argus came yesterday and I was interested in the news they brought. Thank you. Also I have your letters of the 30th and the 1st.

We are in the midst of two exams, one in the theory of radio telegraphy and the other a physical. I am not afraid of the mental or especially afraid of the physical. The worst of it is that this is only a preliminary exam and after we get through the course and are recommended for a commission we must take another exam, the regular aviation physical and that is a corker.

I’ll tell you this much, if I am turned down here for physical I am going to try to get a “disability discharge.” I am getting just a little sick of this fooling around and not getting any place anywhere. I am almost beginning to wish I had been a slacker and stayed home and claimed exemption on account of occupation.

This course here will be a dandy when they get the camp finished, but so far things have been awfully upset.

Yesterday afternoon I received a box of candy from Beaver Dam with a W.L. Parker, return mark. I couldn’t imagine who sent it until finally I looked at the address and recognized John Ganes’ handwriting. I shall write him this morning and thank him.

Guess I’d better close so this gets off on this morning’s mail.

Love to all,




The Red Cross booth did very well.

I was very sorry to hear of Emily Krueger’s death. It, no doubt, was a great blow to her mother.

Please send me a half dozen of my handkerchiefs also my buckskin gloves and that last pair of dark gray ones I bought.

Mortimer Lawrence, 1917