By Bill Skiff
My uncle, Sgt. Cecile Gratton, was stationed at Fort Ethan Allen in the fall of 1916; he was training there before sailing to France during World War I. Uncle Cecile was assigned to Baker Company #17 of the Q.M.E.R.C. of the U.S. Army. Those words were written on the inside cover of his Manual for Army Bakers, 1916. Uncle Cecile was a baker for the troops in WWI. I have always referred to him as our family’s true American Dough Boy.
After completing training at Fort Ethan Allen, Uncle Cecile was stationed in St. Aignan Noyes, France from March 1918 until May 7, 1919. On Thursday, Nov. 28, 1918, Thanksgiving Day, the entry in his diary reads “No Turkey Today.” The day before, he recorded, “withdrew 11,991 pounds of flour to bake bread and cakes to make up for no turkey.” Uncle Cecile’s entry on April 6, 1919 noted that the bakers had used 292,600 pounds of flour to bake bread during the month of March.
Uncle Cecile carried a small sketchbook during his tour in France. Although he had only completed the eighth grade and never had any formal art training, Uncle Cecile was an accomplished pen and ink sketcher. These pictures are only a few of the beautiful visual memories he left behind. Through them you can feel what he experienced during the war to end all wars.
Next Thursday, let us give thanks for those who had no turkey on Thanksgiving Day 1918—so that we can have one today in a country where we are safe and where peace still reigns. Thanks to the Uncle Ceciles of WWI, to the Roger Johnsons of WWII, and to Williston’s own sons and daughters like Mike Coates, town father, Korea; John Welsh, town cobbler, Vietnam and Deb Beckett, town clerk, Iraq.
Thanks for your service, your courage and your faith in the United States of America.
Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.