by Mary Rupert
The story of a Kansas City, Kansas, doctor in World War I is featured in a new book, “Colonel Wilkinson’s Diary, A Kansas Doctor in World War I France.”
The book about Dr. Hugh Wilkinson is especially timely now, during the centennial of the end of World War I, according to author Joe H. Vaughan.
The book is based on the diary of Dr. Wilkinson, Vaughan said, and it contains his descriptive and sometimes blunt assessments of the war and the people he worked with. Vaughan is Wilkinson’s grandson, and was born about 20 years after the doctor’s death.
Dr. Wilkinson, in his 40s at the time, left Kansas and his family to volunteer for the war effort, and he cared for some of the soldiers most in need at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, according to Vaughan. Later, he was sent to France to command a mobile hospital. He was in France during the flu epidemic of 1918 and a typhoid outbreak.
Dr. Wilkinson, in his diary, described the way medicine was practiced in the days before there was penicillin or air conditioning. He also described the great amount of anguish and loss he observed in the war, known then as the “Great War” and the “War to End All Wars.”
A native of Seneca, Kansas, Dr. Wilkinson returned to Kansas City, Kansas, in 1920, after the war, to practice medicine, with offices in the old Brotherhood Building in the 700 block of Minnesota Avenue, Vaughan said. Wilkinson died in 1934.
Vaughan, a Prairie Village resident who grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, attended Wyandotte High School and the University of Kansas School of Journalism, came across Dr. Wilkinson’s diary one day in an unexpected way.
Vaughan said he started cleaning out his mother’s house after her death in 2006, and found a metal U.S. Army trunk in a storage room. It turned out to be his grandfather’s trunk, and inside was his grandfather’s diary, he said. Vaughan thought it was worth preserving in a book.
“He was either brilliant or an idiot to keep a diary like that,” Vaughan said. It was brilliant because it described World War I in first-person, blunt language, from a doctor’s perspective. At the same time, if Wilkinson had been caught with a diary at the time, he might have been court-martialed, Vaughan added.
Vaughan said some other interesting items he discovered in his grandfather’s trunk were pictures from a stop in the United Kingdom, as well as letters from King George and Gen. John J. Pershing.
In 2012, Vaughan was the author of “Kansas City, Kansas,” a historical book in the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing. Vaughan also is known here for his background in broadcast journalism.
“Col. Wilkinson’s Diary” is published by Mennonite Press and is available at Varsity Sports, 7717 Parallel Parkway, Kansas City, Kansas, and at the Wyandotte County Museum, 631 N. 126th St., Bonner Springs, Kansas. The book also is available at Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas, and at amazon.com.