By his own admission, Arcade J. Joyal liked to drink and liked to party but didn’t like burying his fellow soldiers in a faraway battlefield in France.
He was a French-Canadian man born Aug. 3, 1897 who emigrated with his family to Keene, New Hampshire while still a toddler. Like many Keene residents 100 years ago, he worked in a mill — in Joyal’s case, he made shoes. His shoemaking experience did not leave him prepared for the combat service that he would soon endure. In fact, the same year he became an American citizen is the same year he enlisted in the American army at age 19. Described as “frail and pale,” nonetheless, he heeded the nation’s call for soldiers when America entered World War 1. That same year Arcade Joyal also became a U.S. citizen.
Like most soldiers Joyal undoubtedly shipped out with the usual clothing, protective gear and weaponry. But tucked away somewhere was a three-inch by seven-inch book with blank pages waiting to be inked by short journal entries about the day-to-day life of war. Joyal’s mother had sent him off to war with kisses, hugs and a diary to keep.
On August 6, 1917, he recorded, “Went to the city of Concord and had a good time. We can’t go in a bar room but we get drunk just the same.” Despite the tedious routine of drill and preparation that lead up to the war, Joyal never failed to sniff or sip his way toward a good time. He especially had a good eye for where the nearest bar may be.
As the diary proceeded, Joyal’s daily life would fluctuate from easy-going, relaxed days, to days where he could see a fellow soldier take his last breath. Sept. 3, 1917, was a lighter day in the life of Joyal. He got to satisfy his sweet tooth and enjoyed the simplicity of doing nothing.“Nothing to do today. We stay around camp to sign the payroll. Everybody is happy today, ice cream for supper.” After a few months passed, it was now February and life wasn’t so sweet anymore. Relaxing with friends and ice cream would soon give way to burying them on the battlefield, and in turn Joyal began to bury his problems with booze. This was now Joyal’s life and although it may not be ideal, it was his life nevertheless.
First stop Camp Keyes in Concord, New Hampshire. July 25, 1917, “Left Keene at 6:30 a.m. arriving in Concord at 2:30 p.m. An awful looking place. Went right to work and put up our own tents.” This late July day was Joyal’s beginning of his journey in the Great War and there was no turning back. While setting up his own tent, Joyal realized what was in store for himself. Inadequate living conditions and being in charge of himself was an adjustment for this small-town young man. July 29, 1918, “Got out of bed at 5 a.m. and went to work at 7 a.m. I sawed wood all day. I wish I never joined the army.”
Aug. 3, 1917, “Today is my birthday and I did nothing but enjoy myself. Went down to the city and went to the movies. Very rotten.” Now at age 20, Joyal was looking for any excuse to blunt the realities of the war. He distracted himself with outside festivities like drinking and girls to try to escape this new lifestyle.
Next stop after Camp Keyes was Camp Bartlett in Westfield, Massachusetts. Joyal was in the 26th Division, which later became known as the “Yankee Division.” The division was comprised mostly of New England men and was where Joyal had his first exposure to combat training. Joyal found himself less than impressed with this kind of drill. Aug. 14, 1917, “We start to drill on the fighting stuff. We had to Bayonet drill all day long and I am sick of it.”
Joyal would mope and complain about having to “drill all day long.” Yet Joyal still resorted to his old trickster self. Joyal had approached his Captain for a pass and was denied. He instead went home on a “French leave” which essentially was the same thing as being away without leave. Aug. 19, 1917, “Ask the captain for a pass and didn’t get it and went home on a French leave, had a good time.” The captain however was no fool and quickly caught on to Joyal’s games. But with the right words and his sneaky smile, he appeared able to talk himself out of trouble.
September 1917, rolled around and the weather was warm and breezy, but the living conditions awaiting Joyal were another story. Conditions on the U.S.S. Saxonia were harsh and many men felt sick to their stomachs, not only for sea-sick reasons, but because of some of the things their poor eyes unwillingly had to see. On Oct. 6, 1917, he recorded, “Still nothing in sight am sick of seeing water. We see a man floating in the water with his head off.”
The 26th Division was now en route to La Havre, France. Arriving in this foreign country was, a culture shock to Joyal. Being exposed only to Quebec and Keene, Joyal was now intrigued by interesting looking European things. On Oct. 20,1917, he wrote “We ride all day in the funny looking cars without anything to eat.” This was yet another adjustment for the Canadian born, small New England town man.
Late in 1917, Joyal experienced an unforgettable first in terms of his military involvement. It was the dead of winter, December to be exact, when Joyal experienced life in the trenches.
Although conditions made him weary and tired, it prepared him for what was to come. On Dec. 3, 1917, he recorded, “Our first time in the practice trenches. We hike to Neucheateau and back taking our dinner and supper with us.”
Being from Canada did not make winters in France any easier for Joyal, especially when they consisted of being in the trenches. Living in the trenches left Joyal waking up feeling so sore and cold that he would take a swig of whiskey as a remedy to warm up. Throughout the diary a recurring practice for Joyal was using alcohol as a coping technique.
Shortly after this practice in the trenches came the real deal. The entire 26th Division arrived in Liffol-le-Grand which is located in Northeastern France.
From there they boarded a transport train and headed in the direction of the frontline. Relieved, they eventually reached their destination of Crouy, France on Feb. 6.
This small French town had been taken and retaken several times and was now in the hands of the 26th Division. In doing so, this was their first real entrance to the Great War. Roughly one week later casualties within the platoon began. On Feb. 13 he recorded, “Went out that night and dug trenches, under shell fire one man killed and three wounded in our platoon.”
Military life was unpredictable. Joyal never knew where tomorrow would take him. The next stop in his journey was moving into the Toul Sector, which is a comune in Northeastern France. Joyal and his company spent most of their days drilling throughout the sector. He also spent a vast majority of his time digging graves to bury his fellow soldiers. The same men he had bonded with the day before, he now buried. On April 30 he experienced a heartache, losing many men he had grown to know and love. “The same work, we have a funeral for twelve soldiers, very sad.” Joyal was a man of few words in his diary but sometimes that was all that it took. Shortly after, the Toul Sector was destroyed when it was hit with artillery bombardment by the Germans. Joyal was sent in to find the wounded and help bring them back to health. On June 8 he recorded “A heavy bombardment, I carry wounded all day, very tired.”
Chateau Thierry Front
His legacy and contributions to the Great War will live on forever in the pages of his small diary archived at the Cheshire County Historical Society.
Joyal was next sent to the Chateau Thierry Front, which turned out to be a battle in the war. For a few days everything fell silent. The silence was shattered on July 1.
“A heavy gas bombardment sleep in small holes in the ground. Six of our men seriously gassed.” Conditions continued to leave Joyal and his company weary and feeling helpless.
Nearly starving, Joyal yearned for nothing more than to be back home with his family in safe little Keene, New Hampshire. July 22, “Still pushing, nearly starved, three days without eating.”
With a battle life of constant fluctuation, August seemed a month of ups for Joyal. The majority of time during this month was spent fooling around with French woman, practicing his pick-up lines. Aug. 10 1918, “We visit a French woman that was set free by us in the drive and hear her story.”
When he wasn’t hanging out getting drunk, he enjoyed Paris nightlife. Enjoying himself appeared a necessary break from the harsh living conditions he had been enduring. No amount of beers or women could cure Joyal from the grim realities of the war, but it was worth a shot.
The Verdun Front
The Verdun Front where the Battle of Verdun was fought, unknowingly became Joyal’s last chapter in his ongoing nightmare of war. It was Oct. 13 when his division was told they would be entering Verdun. “Get ready for a hike to the Verdun front. Didn’t like to go there.” It was only day two of being in Verdun when heavy German bombardment came dangerously close to killing Joyal. While his journal entries appear that he is cool, calm and collected, Joyal lived in a constant state of fear. Oct. 25, “A heavy bombardment killing a few men. I have close calls.”
All of the violence and terror came to an abrupt halt on Nov. 11. Around 10:30 a.m. Joyal and his fellow men halted their actions. “Go over the top at 10:30 a.m. and fight orders not to shoot no more.” Joyal’s heart filled with so much emotion, he did not even know how to contain himself. Joyal now realized there may finally be an ending to the madness.
There is no doubt that Joyal questioned his survival during the war. There were many instances where he wondered whether or not he would ever see Keene again. Finally, on March 28, 1919, Joyal and the 2nd Battalion boarded the U.S.S America. It was a day of heavy rain, but this did not stop Joyal and his fellow soldiers from their pure excitement. “Left camp at 7 a.m. reached the part at 2 p.m. Aboard the U.S.S. America at 3 p.m. sailed at 7 p.m. Rained all day everybody happy.”
Journey back home
Fast forward to April 3, homesick is an understatement for Joyal. “Passing away the time on the water watching the wave. Looking for land, none in sight everybody anxious to get home.”
Two days later on April 5, his journey would now end. Land was in sight. “On deck at 6 a.m. looking for land. Seen land at noon, docked at Boston at 2 p.m. a very good welcome lasting all day and all night.”
Years after his return home to Keene from the war, he married Mary Joyal and together they raised their two sons Lawrence and Richard and daughter Rita. Joyal did not live the remainder of his life in Keene, however. He instead moved to Fitchburg, Massachusetts where he continued working as a shoemaker. He eventually retired in the late 1960s. When Joyal died, he was buried in his home of Keene. Nearly 40 years later, his legacy and contributions to the Great War will live on forever in the pages of his small diary.