Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Western Signal Corps School, Davis
(University of California College of Agriculture)
Members of the U.S. Army's Signal Corps took over classrooms at UC Davis from Jan. 1, 1943, through October 1944. An estimated 1,800 specialists were trained in radio operations and repair before undergoing team training in their specialties with combat units. (Special Collections, University of California Library, Davis)
From 1943-1944, in the midst of World War II, the UC College of Agriculture at Davis (now the University of California, Davis) was closed and converted to a training facility for the Western Signal Corps School (WSCS). During the fall of 1942 the U.S. Army negotiated with university President Robert Sproul for the use of the Davis campus as a military training school. On January 1, 1943 the entire Davis campus was officially converted into a training facility for the WSCS.
Davis Enterprise Article: Yolo at war: Signal Corps Took Over At Davis Campus (6 November 2013)
by Lauren Keene
For nearly two years during World War II, the UC Davis campus assumed an alternative identity.
The transformation began in the fall of 1942. By then, the war had more than halved the population at the campus — then known as the University of California School of Agriculture at Davis — as both students and faculty volunteered or were drafted for military service.
“With the new selective service law now amended to reach into the teenage group for military service and with present registration falling as a result of the new law, it is expected that classes will be so disrupted after the first of the year as to make their continuation on the Davis campus almost inadvisable, if not impossible,” The Davis Enterprise reported on November 27, 1942, in an article titled “Davis Campus May Become Army Camp.”
“President (Robert) Sproul, it was said, is in Washington conferring with Army officials and a statement of fact is expected to be issued upon his arrival home,” the article continued. “Unconfirmed rumors are to the effect the co-eds will be removed from the Davis campus to Berkeley for their subjects and the entire campus then devoted to military training.” Only those “engaged in important research” would be allowed to remain.
By December 31, it was official.
“Signal Corps To Take Over Campus Feb. 1; Combined With Kohler,” The Enterprise reported on January 1, 1943, referring to Camp Kohler, the Signal Corps Replacement Center — and briefly a Japanese internment camp — located east of Sacramento in what is now known as Citrus Heights.
Called the Western Signal Corps School, the Davis site became one of just three such training facilities in the United States and the only one located out west, with the others based in Fort Monmouth, N.J., and Camp Crowder, Mo.
Plans called for the Davis campus to be used for training in specialist courses, primarily involving radio communications. There also was a need for space to simulate battlefield conditions.
“So probably land was very important,” said Ann Foley Scheuring, author of “Abundant Harvest,” the definitive history of UC Davis. Soldier students had hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of land available to them, in addition to campus buildings.
Instruction began during the final week of January 1943, The Enterprise reported, “with a class of approximately 100 students receiving instruction in low- and high-speed radio operator courses.”
“Specialist instruction at the school will be divided into radio and wire. Under radio will be radio operators, both low- and high-speed, and radio repairmen, both ground and air-borne equipment. Under the wire will be teletype installer-repairmen and repeatermen.”
They received their training in three phases, starting with basic training at replacement training centers like Camp Kohler. Those showing high aptitude and special proficiency were selected for advanced training at specialized schools such as the WSCS in Davis, “where they are taught such subjects as radio, telegraph operation, radio repair, etc.,” before undergoing team training in their specialties with combat units.
A sidebar article announced that the general public would be excluded from campus effective Feb. 6, with all entrances closed except for the First Street gateway, Davis police Capt. William W. Wadman said. A sentry house was to be constructed at that entrance, where visitors other than employees and soldiers “will be required to state their business before admission is granted.”
The Signal Corps made full use of the campus, taking charge of the administration, horticulture, dairy industry, agriculture engineering, animal sciences and chemistry buildings as well as Rec Hall and naming them after former chief Signal Corps officers, The Enterprise reported on March 5, 1943. Students lived in the dormitories, fraternity houses and even occupied a downtown hotel.
New arrivals received a student guide informing them of events such as weekly Saturday inspections (“Don’t forget to wash your ears!”), campus services (including 45-cent haircuts at the barber shop and laundry service for $1.50 per month) and free-time activities (15-cent movies on campus or round-trip tickets from Davis to San Francisco for $1.95).
Of particular importance was the campus gym, “because a lot of these guys had to be toughened up for military action,” Scheuring said.
Some of the remaining coaches — including Crip Toomey, Woody Wilson, Vern Hickey, Myron Schall and Herman Montgomery — apparently were happy to oblige, “putting in long days in the gym giving the SC personnel a real ‘toughening-up workout,’ ” according to an Aug. 30, 1943, write-up in the California Aggie News.
The Davis campus still was home to scientific research — namely, “early work on the chemistry of uranium for what later would become the Manhattan Project,” the effort to create the first atomic bombs that led to the war’s end in the Pacific, Scheuring wrote in “Abundant Harvest.”
Research was led by Herbert A. Young, then chairman of the chemistry department, who later transferred to the national Manhattan Project headquarters in Oak Ridge, Tenn.
By all accounts, the Davis community and Signal Corps student soldiers lived in peaceful coexistence — except for, perhaps, the sounds of bugle calls coming from a loudspeaker installed on the roof of the administration building and pointed toward College Park.
The Enterprise ran a prominent article about the calls on Feb. 26, 1943, informing its readers that “Bugle Calls Come From Recordings.”
According to the newspaper, the calls — starting with First Call at 5:45 a.m. and ending with Taps at 11 p.m. — were not from a live instrument, but “a phonograph record with reproducers attached to the recording located in the Administration building.” The loudspeaker emitted 20 different calls throughout the day, all of which were expected to be memorized by the student soldiers.
While bugle sounds were not necessarily new to the city, given prior ROTC training at Davis, “its clarion tones at the wee small hours of the morning or at Taps time are something unusual,” The Enterprise reported.
The article continued: “However, it is expected everyone will become accustomed to it as they are to train whistles, auto horns noonday, fire sirens and many other noises. To those who find the bugle calls a continuing annoyance the admonition given to the lady who complained in Florida, some while ago, is good advice and makes the burden considerably lighter.”
According to that tale, the Florida woman, after writing a letter of complaint to her local newspaper that bugle calls from a nearby military camp were disturbing her sleep, received a swift response from an officer “who suggested to the lady that instead of complaining she get down on her knees every day and thank God the soldiers were there and that they were American soldiers.”
The Signal Corps occupied the Davis campus for just under two years, shutting down for good in October 1944 after training an an estimated 1,800 men for active duty, according to Scheuring’s “Abundant Harvest.” A farewell dinner was held Sept. 2, 1944, with attendees given an Italian-themed dinner menu that featured this inscription:
“The seconds gripe and even buck,
And think the firsts have all the luck,
The trolley tracks — the firsts all eye,
“A golden leaf — is the captain’s cry —
A gleam of silver makes the heart of any major quicken,
The next guy on the list has passion only for a chicken,
Take them in any order, chickens, gold and silver leaves or bar,
It’s only human nature for each one to want a star —
It’s only human nature too that we’re the best of friends,
And our life is no different — all good things must end,
But let us harbor no regrets — or pain — nor any sorrow,
Let’s drink a toast to happiness on a peaceful, bright tomorrow.”


“It must have been a pleasant training place for a lot of the soldiers,” Scheuring surmised, noting the Davis campus’ tranquil, semi-rural surroundings, with animals on site and nearby cities to visit. “It wasn’t a bad assignment.”

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Updated 8 February 2016