Leisure Time

Max Ottenfeld wrote to his family, in great detail, about how he spent his time while not on duty. From site seeing, to swimming, and watching movies, Ottenfeld’s letters show that leisure time was important to soldiers serving in the Great War.

“In town the Red Cross, K.C., and Y.M.C.A have some fine places for the boys. They have shows and dances for the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. It’s fun to watch when they have dances. For instances in the Red Cross the other night they had a dance. There were about two hundred boys who wanted to dance and only four or five Red Cross Women.”
Max Ottenfeld
February 16, 1918
Letter 64


#5, December 21, 1917
#13, February 3, 1918
#16, March 14, 1918
#17, March 22, 1918
#18, April 4, 1918
#19, April 25, 1918
#32, July 5, 1918
#56, December 26, 1918
#63, January 22, 1919
#64, February 16, 1919
#67, March 3, 1919
#76, April 11, 1919
#86, July 19, 1919
#91, September 20, 1919

Online Media


Listen to popular songs from the era and consider how they do and do not reflect Max Ottenfeld’s experiences.

“Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” Written by Irving Berlin in 1918.
Subjects: The mundane nature of military life.


Guiding Questions

  1. From reading Letter #8, do you think Ottenfeld spent his time wisely during trench training? Give examples of the work he did. Give examples of him not doing work.
  2. What are your impressions of Ottenfeld’s trip around New York City in Letter #13? If you took a day trip to NYC today, what would you do? If you took a trip in 1917 what would you do?
    a. What is a vaudeville show?
  3. When he arrives in England in Letter #16, Ottenfeld comes into some money. How does he spend it?
  4. Why was it important to Max that Wally and Jake were in the same barracks and next to him in camp? Explain your reasoning. (Letter #17)
  5. Why was there a curfew in Winchester, England according to Ottenfeld in Letter #18? Who does it apply to?
  6. What is Ottenfeld’s reaction to visiting Winchester? What does he find so interesting about it? Do you think he traveled a lot back home in Wisconsin? Why or why not? Was it common for people to travel a lot in the early 1900s? (Letter #18)
  7. Why did Ottenfeld ask for photos of his family and pet in Letter #19? Why was this important to him?
  8. What did Ottenfeld do for the 4th of July? Ottenfeld noted, “The French people seemed to have celebrated the 4th too.” Why do you think that is? (Letter #32)
  9. Ottenfeld sent several souvenirs home including some in Letter #37. Why do you think that is? What kinds of objects did he send? To who did he send them?
  10. Describe Ottenfeld’s Christmas. How does he celebrate? How do you think it compared to Christmas at home? (Letter #56)
  11. Why did the doctor give Ottenfeld a “raking over the coals”? What does this mean? (Letter #61)
    a. Why did he ask for his clothes? Why was he not given all of his uniform? What do you think he would have done if he had received them? Explain your reasoning.
  12. What did the soldiers do in the hospital in Letter #64? Why did the YMCA, Red Cross, and K.C. host these activities for soldiers?
    a. How does Ottenfeld react to these events? Does he like or dislike them? Explain your reasoning.
    b. How did other soldiers respond to these events? What was this like for the Red Cross women?
  13. In Letter #67, Ottenfeld wrote detailed descriptions of his trip to the Roman ruins. How do you interpret his efforts? Why do you think he wrote so much about the towns and villages he visited?
  14. Describe Ottenfeld’s meeting with the boy from his hometown. How would you feel if you saw someone from your hometown while away at war? Explain Ottenfeld’s reaction.
  15. Ottenfeld discussed his nose operation in detail in Letter #70. What did he share with his family? Why do you think he shared this information?
  16. Describe Ottenfeld’s reaction to the military police (M.P) he encounters in Letter #76. Why did he feel this way?
    a. Pick out three statements from this letter to describe his mood.
    b. Can you explain why Ottenfeld took items from the Jewish Chaplin? Why did he take time off for the Jewish holidays?
  17. What is the significance of July 18, 1918? Why and how did the soldiers commemorate this day? (Letter #86)
  18. How did Ottenfeld occupy his time once he returned to the United States? (Letter #91)