Salomón de la Selva as a Soldier of the Great War

Luis Bolanos
Florida International University

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New York Herald – On July 19th 1918, Salomon De la Selva was sworn into the British Service by Lieut. H. C. Ceswell at the British and Canadian Recruiting Mission located at West 42nd Street #220 to perform his military duties as Private 56478, Coy H in the 3rd Royal North Lancashire Regiment.

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At the beginning of May 1917, before the publication of his anthology, De la Selva felt that to enlist in the U.S. Army was a civic responsibility he could not refuse.

In a personal letter to his friend Amy Lowell he explains her that “again and again [he] tried to volunteer in any sort of Army service, including the Red Cross, Y.M.C.A., and what not,” but to his surprise, his every efforts proved unsuccessful. His next choice was to attempt to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, but he could not do so without a passport, because he needed to apply in person in Paris. He continues to explain that even though Mr. Liebert, who was the French Consul in New York City, had made the arrangements to send his passport to France, but “his Local Board (Mass. No. 1, at North Adams) stubbornly refused to grant [his] passport permit.” Salomon adds that the whole incident was not only exasperating, but also humiliating because he was forced “to explain to the Intelligence Department that the anonymous accusations about [him] being anti-American were pure humbug.” Still, the Army’s harassment did not end there. Salomon received a citation, which demanded his presence in order to face the charges raised against him. He says, “Apparently, the Army officers (a Captain Curtis, a Lieut. Valey and I don’t know who else) were sworn to get me. Lieutenant Valey informed me that the room into which I had been led in secrecy, I could be taken out and be shot and not a word of it known, [for this,] he said, ‘is war.’” De la Selva reports that the last question the Army authorities asked him was “Is there any reason why you should feel inimical to the United States?” To which he bravely replied, “Yes, that there are moments when I am made to feel not in the United States but in Germany.” De la Selva asserts that the Army’s investigation came about as a result of several anonymous accusations which indicated that he was an enemy of the United States.

A month later, in June 1917, Salomon’s draft application was finally accepted (1). However, Salomon’s small victory did not last for long because under General Pershing’s command, aliens who had not become U.S. citizens could not participate in the war efforts against Germany. Since the U.S. Army’s policies demanded aliens to naturalize, this implied that he had to renounce to his native Nicaraguan citizenship. Feeling that this was not an option for him because he was “savagely jealous of his Nicaraguan allegiance,” he decided to enlist in the British Army. Nevertheless, Salomon’s decision to join the British Army had a bittersweet aftertaste because he thought that his detractors might take it “as proof of [his] dislike for the United States: calumny has such a twisted tongue, [for] she can make the straightest thing awry.”

Since his maternal grandmother was a British citizen, the British Army had no problem in accepting his application. On July 19th 1918, Salomon De la Selva was sworn into the British Service by Lieut. H. C. Ceswell at the British and Canadian Recruiting Mission located at West 42nd Street # 220 to perform his military duties as Private 56478, Coy H in the 3rd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (2).

Only ten days later after the swearing ceremony, on July 29th 1918, De la Selva boarded a train in New York bound to Boston and then changed trains in order to get to South Portland, Maine. Lowell’s written accounts provide additional data about De la Selva’s itinerary when she explains “she spent a hot hour in [Boston’s] South Station, trying to catch him as he passed through on his way to Fort Edward, but missed him” (3). From South Portland, he boarded a ship and crossed the ocean into Canada and remained stationed there for a month as Private in-training 5062 B.E.F in Fort Edward at Windsor, Nova Scotia.

On August 23rd, he embarked a British navy vessel and arrived in England on August 31st 1918. Salomon continued his military training in Felixstowe, Suffolk under the orders of Sgt. John Pierre Roche. Incidentally, Pierre Roche managed to publish an anthology of war-related, Modernist poems titled Rimes in Olive Drab on October 6th 1918 (4). After a couple of months of training in England, De la Selva had at last his opportunity to experience war firsthand at the middle of October 1918, when his regiment disembarked on Belgium’s Flanders’ coastline. Since WWI officially ended on November 11th 1918, De la Selva’s war experience was relatively minimal because he only fought in the war trenches from the middle of October to the first half of November. Salomon’s regiment was at length demobilized on December 22nd 1918 and he probably had the opportunity to travel to Paris in the same month De la Selva was officially discharged from the military in the first days of January 1919.

After that, he established himself in London, and started to frequent the Metropolis’ literary meeting places. Salomon relates to Lowell how in one of those nocturnal perambulations around the city, he met Ezra Pound, whom he describes as “a funny fellow, merely funny. Had he really more life in him than he pretends to have, he’d be mad, which is a state of mind and heart to be lauded, whereas his pose, and I use the word advisedly, for though posing may be natural in him it is posing none the less, has a touch of the foolish that forces a derogation on his quality, which hurts [me] to find him so.”

Salomon continued to write and mingle with London’s literary elite through the end of March. On March 31st 1919, Salomon boarded the ship Mauretania on Southampton Port bound to New York City (5). On April 7th 1919, Salomon was back in the United States (6).

NOTAS

(1) Salomon de la Selva’s registration card # 749 shows that he registered on June 5th, 1917 in the Army recruiting office located on 37 Williamstown, Mass.
(2) “Nicaraguan Poet Enlists, Writes Lines to Ancestors for Herald”. New York Herald, 19 July 1918.
(3) Damon, Foster. Amy Lowell: A Chronicle with extracts from her correspondence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1935
(4) Roche, John Pierre. Rimes in Olive Drab. New York: R.M. McBride & co, 1918.
(5) U.S. Immigration records show that the S.S Mauritania departed from Southampton Port on March 31st 1919 and arrived to New York City on April 7th 1919, with 30 ex-soldier passengers on board: 28 aliens and 2 U.S citizens, including Salomon De la Selva.
(6) While De la Selva lived in New York City in 1919, he resided at 115th West 97th street.