Sanitary Train, 91st Division, United States Army, and left San
Francisco for training at Camp Lewis in Washington. Charles
Cole, a member of the Corps, recalled,
The Masonic Ambulance Corps assembled in front of the
San Francisco City Hall and the mayor of the city presented to the company a large American flag, which we
carried in the parade along Market Street, accompanied
by the Shrine Band. The flag was extra large and although
Hereford, carrying it, was quite tall, the end still dragged
on the ground, and I, acting as color guard, found it necessary to carry it over my arm. With the Shrine band playing
‘Onward Christian Soldiers,’ this was a thrilling day for us
as we entrained for Camp Lewis.
The company, one of four such units in the 316th Sanitary
Train of the 91st Division, consisted of a captain, four lieutenants, 12 sergeants, 20 chauffeurs and 87 privates. Nearly every
member was a California Master Mason, although there were a
few men from other Masonic jurisdictions. Once at Camp Lewis,
in addition to the usual training and duties, the men assisted
with vaccinating incoming troops, as well as providing ambulance service throughout the encampment.
Following eight days of additional training at Camp Merritt
in New Jersey, the Corps boarded the steamer “Olympic,” and
sailed first to Southampton, England, and then to Cherbourg,
France. By the end of August, the company was serving on the
front lines and participating in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
and the Battle of the Lys during the final phase of the war.
The diary of Private William Nielsen offers a glimpse into the
experiences of the Masonic Ambulance Corp members as they
traversed a war-torn countryside in the last days of the war.
Friday, October 25, 1918: Struck tents about 8 o’clock; at
9 on our way. This time seeing Belgium on foot as we did
in France. Our march took us across no-man’s land. Saw
the graves of a million men. At Langemark we crossed
what was the German front line. Many ruins. Nothing left
of towns, tanks, etc… About dusk we
arrived in Roulers …Salvage blankets
at field hospital. Pass dead man in
hall on stretcher.
Monday, November 11, 1918: Up at 5.
Load of rations for 364th to Audenarde
across river. All say war fini at 11.
Bum lunch. Firing increasing as it
nears the last few minutes – and then
silence! Parked machine in old Hun
hospital. Bed at 7 p.m.
Tuesday, November 12, 1918: Cleaned
up car. Took detail out to find dead.
Found seven unlucky soldiers killed
the last day by shell fire. That’s what
I call hard luck! Dug two up, one with
mustache (ask Johnny). Left alone digging. One a “traveler”...
[Note: In the last sentence in Nielson’s
diary, above, the reference to one of the
deceased soldier as a “traveler” implies that
through some means, Nielson was able to
identify this man as a Mason.]
With the November 11 armistice hold-
ing, the 364th Ambulance Company left
France on April 7, 1919 aboard the steamer
“Virginian” and arrived in New York on
April 20. On May 2, the members of the
company left for their respective demobi-
lization centers, and those destined for the
San Francisco Presidio arrived there on May
9. Four days later, they were discharged
from the U.S. Army.
Visit the online archives of the Henry
Wilson Coil Library and Museum of
Freemasonry to view original artifacts
from the Masonic Ambulance Corps.