Profiles from the Archives: John B. Mallard

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

John Bethea Mallard was born on June 25, 1896, in the city of Rock Hill in York County, S.C., to John and Cecil Mae Murray Mallard. By 1900, the Mallard family was living in the town of Lincolnton in Lincoln County, N.C., where John Mallard worked as a produce dealer. By 1910, John Mallard was listed as working as a meat cutter, though he ran his own market called Mallard’s Market in Lincolnton—where he supplied food and supplies apparently. As a teenager, John B. Mallard appears to have run a Kodak photographic development business out of his father’s market. John B. Mallard attended the Lincolnton Graded School, during which time he participated in a number of county and statewide student competitions. This included serving as a contestant at the statewide Declamation Contest in Durham, N.C., in 1913.

John B. Mallard attended college at Davidson College in Davidson, N.C. during the 1914-1915 and 1915-1916 school years. In 1915 as a freshman, he was a member of the college’s Kodak Club, which operated as an early camera club with Kodak box cameras. In the 1916 school year during his sophomore year, Mallard was one of the editors for Davidson College’s yearbook Quips and Cranks. By January 1916, he was a member of the college’s Charlie Chaplin Club, based on the famous silent film actor.

In January 1916, Mallard also participated in the Peace Contest Oratoricals held at Davidson, with his speech being “Peace” (based on the ongoing world war at the time). He had won a gold medal for oratory in a similar contest at the school. In 1916 with the re-election of Woodrow Wilson as U.S. President, John Mallard painted the face of Woodrow Wilson on the old Chambers building at Davidson College. The painting was reported to have remained visible on the building for a number of years after his college days there. Mallard developed an interest in commercial art, and one newspaper reported at the time of his death that he had graduated from an unidentified art school in Chicago.

For his senior year during the 1916-1917 school year, Mallard transferred to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. While there, he worked as one of the artists for the school’s yearbook Calyx. While a student at Washington and Lee, John B. Mallard traveled to Washington, D.C., and took out a marriage license on March 12, 1917, for him and his girlfriend Marguerite C. Smyly (who went by “Polly”) of Charlotte, N.C. However, the couple never appeared before the Presbyterian minister in Washington that they listed on the marriage license. Something unknown happened to stop the couple’s plan—which may have been a decision to enlist in the U.S. Army Reserves.

While at Washington and Lee University, John Mallard enlisted in the in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and went to the summer training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, from May to August 1917. With the United States’ entrance into World War I, Mallard was called from the Army Reserves into active service at the end of the ROTC training camp on August 15, 1917, as a commissioned officer with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.

Mallard was assigned to Camp Jackson, S.C., in the 323rd Infantry, 81st Division, U.S. Army. Later, he moved with his unit to Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, S.C. While at Camp Wadsworth, John Mallard married Marguerite C. Smyly on July 10, 1918, in Charlotte, N.C., at her mother’s house. The couple spent a few days for a honeymoon in Asheville, N.C.

John Mallard was transferred to Camp Upton, New York, in preparation for his unit to travel overseas for WWI. On August 3, 1918, Mallard left aboard a troop transport ship for Europe. He was wounded in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in late 1918, but apparently escaped from severe injury. He and his unit was at Avocourt, France, in September 1918. His unit next arrived at the French village of Montfaucon. Mallard was transferred at some point to Company E, 52nd Pioneer Infantry Regiment, in which unit he remained for the rest of his service. During the war to help him cope with what he saw, Mallard kept a diary and a sketchbook, in which he drew anything that captured his imagination.

After leaving from Brest, France, Mallard arrived back in the United States aboard a troop transport ship on April 11, 1919, and was sent to Camp Dix, New Jersey. He was honorably discharged from active military service on April 12, 1919. Immediately after returning to live in Charlotte with his wife at her mother’s house, Mallard took his sketches and diary entries and created a basic 50-page sketch book which he attempted to have published. The book was titled In the A.E.F. [American Expeditionary Forces] with an Artist, and contained artwork Mallard recreated from his sketchbook. The book gives his unit’s entire movements during WWI, including while on occupation duties in Europe and his impressions of German prisoners. Mallard states in the book’s introduction that:

“The sketches are more than mere renderings of scenes and events. They are direct and personal impressions of one who has come in close contact with the realities of war, its horrors, crimes, atrocities and sufferings of which human nature is capable. The original sketches were made under difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions and with the purpose of that you be enabled to get the better insight into the character and spirit of modern warfare in its various aspects.”  

Mallard’s book was published in Charlotte by the local printer George L. Dooley, and copyrighted on July 10, 1919. The book was well received and advertised in North Carolina. After the book was published, John Mallard became a commercial artist for the Charlotte newspaper The Presbyterian Standard. Tragedy struck the 24 ½-year old John B. Mallard when he died on December 27, 1920, while undergoing an operation for appendicitis at the privately-owned Charlotte Sanatorium hospital. His body was sent back to his family’s home in Lincolnton, N.C., where he was buried on December 29, 1920, at Hollybrook Cemetery in the same city.

His wife Marguerite Mallard never remarried. She gave permission for John Mallard’s illustrations from his book and other drawings to be utilized in the famous WWI publication the Tar-Heel War Record (In the Great World War), compiled by J. R. Graham and published in Charlotte by the World War Publishing Company in 1921. This publication has remained one of the main sources for information on North Carolina WWI servicemen a century after it was compiled.

To view Mallard's entire WWI book, check out the John B. Mallard WWI Art Book (WWI 111) in the WWI Papers of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, N.C., and explore the attached collection finding aid for the extent of his materials.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.

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