THE matter of housing did not delay the Unit's program of relief. Four members of the original Unit shaped the policies of the new Unit at this time. One had become director, one was the farming expert, one the storekeeper and the fourth chauffeur, nurse's aid, sewing teacher and housekeeper as opportunity served. Of the eight newer members, one was a mechanic and took charge of the most important branch of our service at all times, transportation. There were a kindergartner and playground expert, three social service workers, a farmer's assistant, and one of versatile accomplishments and fluent French, who became our Paris buyer. And yet, it is perhaps invidious to single out any member as versatile, or to stigmatize any other as a specialist. For this is how the Unit appeared to an early visitor(5)
"Spring was in the air. Every tree not killed by the boches was budding, the woods white with bloodroot or yellow for miles with jonquils. . . . Then here and there a garden; ruined brick walls, shell-pitted, with a center of primroses of all colors. A group working in the fields, a few here and there in the ruins of their home and town, all smiling at the girls in the Ford car; and realizing that it is these girls who made reconstruction possible once, and will do it again. This second time, when it is so much harder, the destruction so much greater. . . . Does a puncture and then a slow leak half an hour later bother the combination executive, doctor, nurse, chauffeur, farmer? Not a bit. Just a part of the job to get that load of mattresses delivered. Does a child need its head cleaned, an infected finger cared for, bad burns dressed; does an invalid require two feet of water pumped from what was a good cellar, do the bones in the French cemetery unearthed by exploding shells require reburial?---the Smith Unit does it. . . . They did, and are doing their job, with smiles, laughter, jokes, like any group of undergraduates, while their work-a-day clothes are dirty and torn, and their hands show the grime of hard work and the broken nails that go with it. . . . These Dames de Grécourt are law and order and hope in sixteen villages."
Assuredly this second time the problem of reconstruction was harder. Our arrondissement of Péronne had suffered most heavily of the five arrondissements of the Somme; of its 120,549 hectares, 98,461 had been completely churned by shells. The most populous arrondissement before the war, by midsummer even only 21,364 of its 93,378 normal population,, or less than one fourth, had been able to return. In the entire department, 208 villages were reckoned as totally destroyed and 176 as damaged. Among the 50,000 buildings---and still not counting towns such as Ham, Nesle or Roye---were 234 village halls, 254 churches and 285 schools. In our own villages there was not a single house undamaged; the destruction of buildings was twice what it had been in 1917, and the destruction of furniture, farm equipment, orchards and stock was complete. As for industry, in rebuilding alone, since 1917, 10,500,000 francs had been expended by the Prefecture. This was a total loss.
The Government, both at Paris and at Amiens, was alive to its responsibilities. The law concerning the reparation of the damages of war passed in April, 1919, enacts as its first article that: "The Republic proclaims the equality and the solidarity of all the French before the charges of the war." But these charges were and are stupendous, nor does an armistice constitute peace. "If we could only make people understand," wrote home the Director of the Unit, "that the end of hostilities did not bring the young men of France back from the dead, or raise their ruined homes from the ashes." She adds later: "France cannot demobilize. The French are still on a war, not a peace footing, making it impossible for the Government to turn its whole attention to reconstruction." An instance in point is that boys who had attained military age while prisoners in Germany, were sent at once to serve their military training.
The Unit, itself homeless and a refugee, was to share with its villages the discouragements of "after the war." On the other hand, for the very reason that it had shared with them the vicissitudes of the war, it was quickly in a position to help. It went to the Somme at the invitation of the Ministry of the Liberated Regions in Paris, which gave it back its villages. But it found on arrival, that it must procure the prefectorial permission of the newly appointed Secretary-general of Reconstruction for the Somme in Amiens. And, having gone to Amiens, it was sent in turn to the new Delegate for the Coördination of Aid Societies of the Somme at Nesle. But the latter was our old friend M. Vernes. Needless to say, the grant of our villages was confirmed. M. Jourdain, the Director of Agriculture for the Somme, gave us a ready cooperation based on our accomplishments before the Drive. The Secretary of the Préfet received us literally with outstretched hands; he had seen the Unit evacuate Montdidier. Nor was the coöperation of the Third Army a dead letter. They still had their headquarters in Compiègne. And after the Prefecture had told us that we could not look to it for living quarters, because it had on hand only forty-seven of the ten thousand baraques needed, and after we had been refused by the army certain baraques, which we had discovered in Hombleux, our Director went to headquarters in Compiègne. Not only did she receive the baraques, but the transport to haul them and the engineers to put them up. From that same army dump in Hombleux came besides, treasures as valuable and as varied as ever were washed up by the obliging sea for Swiss Family Robinson.
By the first of February the relief activities of the Unit were well established; orders for seeds had all been placed, buying of sheets by the thousand and soap by the ton were going forward in Paris, and our first carload of ten cows had arrived from the cow merchant with whom we dealt in the old city of Vannes in Brittany. From the south of France came as far as Paris crates of poultry, ducks, geese and rabbits, which we transshipped there. Yet it was thanks to the Red Cross at Amiens and at Compiègne that our first relief supplies came through. From Compiègne we could truck for ourselves in a small way; from Amiens, through the good offices of the Prefecture, seven freight cars loaded with Red Cross blankets, woolens and furnishings arrived in February at Nesle.
From this time until the first of May, the chief duty of the entire staff of the Unit was the hauling and the delivery of goods. Two of our six cars, though shipped from America in 1918, were in March, 1919, still at Bordeaux. A trip was made the entire length of France, to get them. The chauffeurs' account of this Odyssey begins with their threatened arrest en route by an American Army detective "for a crime committed in Bordeaux by four American women. 'One was very tall' (here he looked at -----), 'one was very short' (from his scrutiny I could not help but feel that I was number two), 'one had gray hair.' (He assured us there was a woman in the next compartment answering to that description)." As owing to the process of transferring our personnel from the American Red Cross to the French Government, our travelers were "a trifle short on papers," it took them some time to establish their identity as "members of a Unit doing noble work miles from the city of Bordeaux." The cars, when finally located, were found to be terribly mildewed, rusted and warped. However, the account ends with the arrival in Grécourt, where "we are still trying to get the kinks out of our backs and the delightful swaying motion of touring in Fords out of our brains."
A companion picture on transportation is the following, dated two weeks later. "Tomorrow, when we have to be in Gournay, 100 kilometers away, with a car to bring hens from the hen market . . . a freight carload of wardrobes arrives at Nesle, a freight carload of potatoes also reaches Nesle from Amiens, the man from Brittany arrives with two carloads of cows and several young calves that cannot yet walk, and at just that moment the two army horses we use are sick and have to go back to St. Quentin, so we are obliged to do what we can to unload the awful conglomeration in the very short time the railroad allows us, with our own autos which can at best carry two wardrobes a trip." There were twenty-seven wardrobes. It is five miles to Nesle.
But there was little complaint on the part of the Unit when goods at last arrived! Their non-arrival, and worse their non-existence in war-stripped France, is the ever wearying obstacle. Three days' search in Paris was rewarded by the finding of a dozen odd spades, when hundreds were ordered; the replacing of the library lost in the retreat of 1918 took months of expert searching; broken pumps could not be repaired for lack of leather washers, outhouses could not be built for lack of lumber. In fact, everything is not only much dearer, but much scarcer than in 1917 in the trade centers, transportation is periodically at a standstill, and in the devastated regions themselves, there is worse than nothing. For it would be far easier to abandon the ruined sites of farms and villages and to let the land grow up to its ancient forests, as some have advocated, than to clear the wreckage of war.
As in 1917, with reconstruction proper, we had nothing to do. Our lines of relief were obvious, but they were limited in two directions by the Government. We were requested to provide no food, and not to give, but to sell our supplies. Food, on a carefully estimated per capita basis, was under the control of the Government. The selling instead of the giving of supplies was in accordance with the terms of the law of war indemnities, which provided, as in 1917, a living allowance for refugees, and a final reimbursement of all losses, provided these losses were replaced in kind. This applied to cows, poultry, beds, mattresses, stoves, garden implements and furnishings of all sorts in which we dealt. Our contribution was the buying, transporting and delivering, for which service no charge was made, and the reduced prices at which we sold. For cows, however, as the price came back to us from the Prefecture, we made no reduction beyond the wholesale price. For all other commodities, a reduction of one half to one third of the cost prevailed. But in special cases, we did give outright, as when we made initial distributions in bulk throughout the villages, or outfitted some family just returned against the cold. Nor did we always sell for cash, because the long promised indemnity is long delayed. In our region, the affidavits of losses were not made out until September, 1918. And this was merely the first step to the appraisal of the property before special courts of inquiry and adjustment. So, it was often only a voucher which passed between the purchaser and us.
As in 1917, the store fared through the villages each week; it also stocked as before half a dozen little groceries. But gradually the gaping streets of Ham and Nesle began to be repeopled. Ham especially organized a vigorous reconstruction. Narrow gauge tracks, such as had formerly been used in carrying up ammunition, were laid in the streets; hundreds of German prisoners were employed, and tons of broken bricks and mortar from that once lovely town were hauled by the trainload to dumps outside the old historic walls. A mercer's shop was the first to open here; soon groceries, meats, vegetables, fruits, hardware and baskets were advertised by wooden or canvas signs tacked above some kind of a shelter. By summer, one met pushcarts like those in the foreign quarters of our cities, hawking notions and dry goods through the village streets. A woman was usually the vender, and often little children clung to her skirts. "What would you?" said one of these encountered one day five miles from her home. "My husband was killed in the war, I have the children, I must work."
In favor of these small merchants, our store gradually raised its prices and at length closed its doors in September, 1919. In the seven months since it opened, it had done a business of 152,363,000 francs, reckoned by sale and not by purchase price. When the White truck, loaded to capacity, made its final trip, there was universal lamentation. "It is you," said the women, "who have kept the prices down. Now they will soar---oh, là, la!" But it was not merely on the score of bargains---in which the Picard is a true cousin of the Yankee---that they regretted the storekeepers. The event of their lives vanished with them, nor could they but believe that the "Dames de Grécourt" would have no more reason to stay in their midst. It was the beginning of the end.
But there remained one department that could keep on indefinitely, one might almost say, in the devastated Somme. The Picard farm knows no slack season; the year round, summer and winter the farmer is busy. And our farm department is still busy and without competition in supplying primarily the needs of the small farm. The landed proprietor looks to the Government for advances of capital, to the Government batteries of tractors for plowing and harrowing, to the Ministry of Agriculture and to the agricultural department of the Prefecture for seeds, for stock, and even in some cases for farm machinery. He bands himself with others into local associations, which are federated into departmental and finally into national coöperatives for the common holding and use of tractors, the regulating of farm labor and the buying of supplies. But the organization of coöperatives for the small farmers was backward in the Somme. In lieu of this, we became virtually such a source of supply to them. We had our tractor and our sulky plow, which up to the middle of September had plowed and harrowed two hundred acres. The work was plotted week by week among the villages, at the price-per acre which the Government charged. In the same length of time, we had supplied over a thousand farm implements, 6,000 kilos of seed potatoes, 600 assortments of garden seeds, and 142 kilos of other seeds of different varieties. To restock the farms, we had brought in 110 cows, 2 bulls, 28 goats, 21 sheep, 69 pigs, 1,500 rabbits, 8,000 hens, 1,200 pullets, 550 geese, 850 ducks, 27 turkeys and 1,100 eggs for setting. By fall the department had ordered, surveyed and set out, under direction of an expert, five thousand trees. Most of these were fruit trees for individual owners, but included in the order was a little grove of nut trees for each village.
These totals have mounted from truckloads of a hundred hens brought from Paris, from all day marketing in Gournay-en-Bray, until one day the market there went on strike against the high cost of living, and the purchasers helped themselves at will, and there was no more market. After that catastrophe, the weekly trip of the farm truck was to Beauvais.
They represent conferences in Amiens over supply houses for seeds and trees, and more conferences in Paris with nurserymen. At one time gasoline failed for the tractor, in fact for all the tractors in the region. Then the farm department was told that it might have all the gasoline it could carry, by going for it to Havre! Transportation by rail had become clogged.
They represent unbounded energy, hard work and long hours given to a well loved task. They represent, too, the disinterested help of our farm assistants. There are Marie Pottier and her soldier husband returned from the war. Faithful morning and night at the milking is Marie. Her husband rejoices in driving our tractor and guiding our plow. There is Demaison, a protégé of the Mayor of Hombleux, and caretaker of the second estate of importance in the village these many years. He was a prisoner in Belgium in 1917. But to see him now, never ruffled, always willing and always dependable one would think him without a care. He has no care which he puts before the interests of the farm and his place therein. Were the Dames called away by stress of events, Demaison took charge, and that with a good sense equaling his good will. No cajoling housewife got the better of him. "Each in her turn, each in her turn, Madame," his calm voice rose above the most congested of pig markets in our barnyard, and his strong arms enforced law. His ally and ours on these great occasions was M. Guy, the cow merchant of Vannes. After a week's trip, it might be, in a freight car with cows or pigs or goats, M. Guy would appear from the direction of Nesle, a trifle soiled, but with the courtliest of hat doffing and the suavest of greetings, announcing the arrival of his wares. No respite for him; after a garrulous breakfast, he assisted in the bringing up of his flocks and his herds, and became the presiding genius of the sale. Where the clamor was loudest, and the press of purchasers greatest, there was M. Guy, Panama hat pushed back from his semitic face, black smock enveloping his sturdy form. And above the clamor, his voice, mellifluent, convincing, "The little white pig? You have the eyes, Madame. There, in your apron, one moment, What a sweet face he has!"
BUT reconstruction means much more to the French Government than agricultural or industrial or material rebuilding. On the shattered walls of village hills, overlapping the proclamations of the Prefecture in regard to housing, on the doors of the country churches, one finds affixed such posters as: PUPILLES DE LA NATION. La France adopte les orphelins dont le père, la mère ou le soutien de famille a péri, au cours de la guerre de 1914, victime militaire ou civile de l'ennemi." By the law of July 27, 1917, these children, so priceless in the face of the 8,000,000 soldiers killed, become the wards of France, to be reared and educated according to their aptitudes and deserts. Supplementing this Government service is another, semi-public in character, called L'École pour l'École. The public schools of France, whose role throughout the war has been one of distinguished patriotism, have taken it upon themselves to supply the needs of their brother students in the devastated area. Thus each department has been adopted by one or more academies, our own department of the Somme by the Academy of Toulouse. All this, it will be understood, is being done in addition to the liberal system of scholarships administered as usual by the State and by the several departments.
The impetus of this intellectual and moral reconstruction was felt by us as it had not been in the pioneer days of 1917. There was no longer any question as to the utility of libraries, for example, compared with woolen underwear. Both were needed, and in the eyes of the State, both were equally important. The book would keep the child out of very real mischief, for not only were the fields sown with unexploded shells; shells and hand grenades by the thousand were scattered along the roads, in underground shelters---and where is the boy who would not explore them?---and in great dumps, just as they had been left by the fleeing enemy. The army, with its squads of German prisoners, was eternally busy removing these menaces, and not a day went by without its series of detonations and its columns of smoke thrown high against the horizon. But there again was danger from flying fragments. Half a dozen children in our villages lost eyes or hands, and one, the only son of a widowed mother, was burned to death, in accidents of this sort.
Because we were on the spot, we were asked to compile the list of the mutilated children of our neighborhood, who stood in need of vocational instruction. We recommended children as beneficiaries of the fund raised by the American soldiers for the children of France through the Stars and Stripes. Thanks to special donations, we have cared for four little orphans ourselves. We kept our shoulder to the sorely tried machinery of government, and it is not too much to say that we forced public attention at least and hastened the opening of our schools. The first to start, in April, 1919, were those of Esmery-Hallon, Sancourt and Brouchy. For these schools and all the schools as they opened, we provided so far as obtainable equipment of tables, benches, stoves, blackboards and books. In all of them we instituted once more the sewing hour, the play hour, games and gymnastics once a week. To each village as our library grew, we sent a collection of books, which was exchanged every fortnight. From time to time, parties for all the children within reaching distance were given again at Grécourt. At the first of these, in March, we had one hundred and fifty happy guests.
The teachers of our schools, it should be said, needed no urging. From captivity, from exile, from the colors, the teachers, the same teachers of before the war, came back to the villages. But not all; two at least are inscribed in the "Book of Gold" contained in the Report of the Préfet for 1919. "Tué à l'ennemi, Mellier, instituteur à Hombleux; mort de suite de sa blessure, Duwequet, instituteur-adjoint a Hombleux." No praise can be too great of the devotion and intelligence of these teachers: M. Caron of Esmery-Hallon who on his demobilization rejoined his wife, also a teacher; M. Lefebvre of Sancourt who stuck to his post throughout the German occupation; M. Petit of Brouchy who on the contrary was taken as a hostage by the enemy in 1914; M. Didaux of Douilly who was an exile and taught school in Ercheu until his own baraque was at last ready, perched like a vane on that bare and windy hill; M. Devillers of Eppeville who himself begged most of his equipment, or gave it out of his slender purse.
Our help from the teachers meant more than it would have in America, where one is wont to say that the teacher is a social cipher. In France the primary teacher is a power in the community. He is always secretary to the mayor, and in the mayor's absence acts for him. There is no one except perhaps the curé who knows his neighborhood as does he. Nor are he and the curé at cross purposes. The separation of church and state, in our districts at least, has not dissolved the strong bonds between church and school. "Very catholic" are the teachers as well as the peasants of our corner of Picardy.
It was when we launched our campaign of public health in the villages that we appreciated most the knowledge and good will of our teachers. We were fortunate in having as the head of this branch of our work, the former director of rural Red Cross nursing in America, and also in having as her assistant an English war nurse, trained in Paris and speaking French like a native. She carried into the dingy Somme an exotic charm of personality, for she was born on Cyprus and her mother was a Greek. Our physician, Dr. Anna M. Gove, was, like Miss Griffin, not an alumna of Smith College. But no alumna could have been more loyal, or have rendered more disinterested service.
The medical situation in our community was canvassed. At Nesle and at Ham there were stationed two army doctors charged with the care of civilians. But they had inadequate transportation; up to September, 1919, the doctor at Ham had no automobile at his disposal. They lacked instruments and medicines. In particular, they had no equipment for confinement cases, and most of them---for the military doctor was a transitory quantity---no experience in this line. In France, it is the sage-femme who usually attends these cases. There was one sage-femme, also without means of transportation, at Ham.
As for hospitals, the civilian foundations at Ham and at Nesle had been partially ruined and totally stripped. The sisters, who nursed, were still in exile. Meantime, military hospitals took civilian cases until they moved away. During the summer of 1919, there was a period of two months when Ham had not even a physician. But happily by this time a former physician at Nesle had been demobilized and resumed his practice, and the Hospice at Nesle had been put in order and the sisters had been reinstalled. We ourselves used these hospitals and the very complete and efficient plant of the American Women's Hospitals at Blérancourt.
The first care of our medical staff was to put itself at the disposal of the local physicians and the midwife. Instruments and medicines and hospital supplies were given, and transportation as often as possible. Thus practical coöperation was effected. No objection was raised to our free dispensaries, a system which dovetailed into that of the public charities of each commune, whereby the country practitioner is paid a yearly stipend for the care of the indigent. Since the war, he is also paid a salary and assisted in replacing his losses by special grants from the State. The physician therefore welcomed us as allies in covering his difficult field.
As in 1917, dispensaries were held weekly in the distant villages, and three times a week at Grécourt. A complete physical examination of all school children was started, and one hundred cases of adenoids and tonsils were taken to Blérancourt and returned therefrom in our cars. The dental clinics were held at first once a week at Grécourt, and were as popular as the pig sales. Five years without dental care, and in many instances a lifetime without a toothbrush, brought a plentiful harvest. Dr. DeL. Kinney of Blérancourt Hospital worked tirelessly and skillfully and followed up her pulling clinics with others devoted to repairs. Chairs were brought out and placed in the shade of the big plane tree for expectant patients, who included the quality of the countryside. During the winter, Dr. Kinney's entire time was given to our villages.
The public health nurses meantime made a house-to-house survey of living conditions, paying particular attention to wells and outhouses. The findings in Esmery-Hallon, our largest village, are typical. Of ninety-six shelters, housing nearly five hundred souls, half were without outhouses, and two thirds without wells. Most of the wells in use had been cleaned, however, but none had been analyzed. The sanitary condition speaks for itself. The results of this survey were given by request to the mayor, who transmitted recommendations based on them to the Prefecture. The latter was most willing to supply lumber and disinfectants. But three months later, it was through a donation from the Vassar Unit that we were able to secure enough lumber for model outhouses, and it was in our cars that disinfectants were brought from Amiens and distributed.
Throughout the spring, the nurses registered and visited prenatal cases which were on the increase with the return of the men to their families. But while our nurses gave prenatal and postnatal care, the confinements were in the care of the midwife at Ham. She was consulted and aided to the best of our ability, and in turn notified us of every new case coming to her. This plan worked admirably, except that there should have been more midwives. The patients themselves were intelligent and receptive. Supplementary feeding, systematic weighing, hints on hygiene, all were well received.
In fact, the monthly reports of the medical department show that our community was a remarkably healthy one. The predicted afterbattle epidemics did not sweep over us, the overcrowding, the insanitation of summer, the cold of winter, claimed comparatively few victims. Our school inspection brought out the fact that our children are undersized compared to those of Paris. This might point to malnutrition were it not offset by the fact that they average overweight. The older people too have demonstrated a surprising resiliency since the depressing winter of 1917. Happiness is the best of tonics, and each reunited family in its bit of a ruin was pitifully happy to be at home.
During the summer, health clubs for the children were started in the villages. A better description of their purpose and of their popularity could not be given than that contained in the report of the secretary of the club at Verlaines at its second meeting, September 3, 1919. Simone is a war orphan, fifteen years of age, a slender brunette with ruffled curls' and shy brown eyes. There were eighteen present at this open air reunion under a shady tree.
"Since January, 1919, when I returned to my native place, from which the enemy had driven me by his acts of horror in burning our farms and our houses, I have seen once or twice a week the brave and devoted American ladies going about everywhere among our ruins, informing themselves as to the unfortunates who were returning to their destroyed homes. To come to their aid, they brought a bed, a mattress, clothing to meet their greatest need.
"Thanks to them, gayety has returned to our saddened young faces; now there is the ronde, there is the football, there is the sewing. Oh, how good these days seemed to us, and how quickly they passed! On the twenty-seventh of August, it was to form a club of hygiene that they called us together. What good fortune; we had need of it, the war having deprived us of it of necessity.
"They quickly called to order the gathering of children and explained to them how the club would be formed; those who were received as members of this club would wear on one side a little pin in the form of a shield. In the middle would be written: Health. They distributed to each a leaflet on which the twelve commandments of health were written, and they explained them to us.
"They made us choose a president, a vice-president and a secretary. President, Roger Rossignol. Vice-President, Paul Dethouy. Secretary, Simone Vicaine.
"We three retired to one side, and the twenty-four members of the club gave their names to the Secretary.
"Then they gave some little leaflets to the Secretary to distribute to each of the members of the club, and recommended that they read them at home.
"They distributed some brushes and paste for the care of our teeth. The President rose and told us that the meeting was over, but that it would reconvene next Wednesday. After that the crowd followed along toward a building, and there the American ladies nailed up three great posters very necessary to the inhabitants of the commune.
"The American lady photographed the group.
"And with that we dismissed the party for a week.
"And we all went away content."
By such patient beginnings was the way paved for the large program we had in view, of public health committees to be elected by the villages themselves and federated and allied to the Department of Hygiene of the Prefecture of the Somme. Much tact was necessary, particularly after Dr. Gove was called to America. Professional welfare nurses are almost unknown in France. For centuries, it is the sisters who have been the nurses of the poor, until the disestablishment of the Church in 1907. Hence there was no tradition to build upon in establishing coöperation between the rural physician and the rural nurse.
The first meeting called to consider the formation of a committee of public health was held in the stable of the Mayor of Buverchy. There were present the Mayor, his wife, his daughter, the Mayor of Grécourt and two nurses of the Smith College Unit. Their seats were plank benches rescued from the former French encampment in the town; their feet rested on the earth; through the open door---the only means of light and air---passed from time to time an inquiring duck or hen, to be shooed softly out by the young girl. But no more intelligent nor sympathetic counsel could have been given than that of these four peasants. They comprehended, they approved, they named the public spirited citizens of their diminutive communes, and suggested, as a practical measure, that the committee be composed in each case of an odd number, in order that action be not blocked. In that poor Buverchy, where even the dead were disinterred by the battles of 1918, public moneys are available for the carrying on of this work, and besides, said M. Carpentier, simply, "while there will be those in our commune who cannot give money, they will give the gift of the heart. They will do anything they can to help, visit and care for the sick." It was this same Mayor who wrote one day to us: "It is thanks to you that we now have our barnyards full of fowls of all kinds, of rabbits, of sheep, of pigs, cows, etc.---which we enjoy and which cause us to forget our evil days---it is thanks to you too that we have our houses garnished with beds, linen, dishes, kitchen ware, furniture, in short everything indispensable for housekeeping!" What a picture as one looks about his hovel, a picture at least of gratitude. Surely with such mayors, there is no limit to the good we ought to be able to do.
By November, the committees had been organized in our villages and federated and in addition an advisory committee appointed which includes all the doctors and the heads of sanitary corps in Ham and Nesle, influential citizens and representatives of neighboring relief societies. The official recognition of the departmental Service d'Hygiène has been won. Dr. Lacomme, the head of the service, is himself addressing public meetings to explain our plan to the community and the wife of the Préfet is the chairman of the advisory committee.
For this rural nursing, though begun and financed by us, must eventually be taken over by the French. This transfer is also in accord with the plans of the French Government. In April, 1919, a notable departure in the public health service was launched by the Ministry of the Liberated Regions. To each of the prefectures of the devastated departments was sent a woman delegate, called an Inspectrice, charged with the duty of investigating not only sanitary conditions, but all private relief agencies within the department. She is answerable directly to the Préfet, but is herself appointed on the recommendation of the director of a newly created bureau of the Ministry. This director is a woman. It is hoped that this bureau, interested in public health, especially as it concerns child welfare, will eventually absorb the functions of all private societies in the devastated area, into a public health service of the State. Rural nurses, school nurses and social workers are envisaged in this earnest effort to save the children of France. Already the École de Puériculture to train such workers, endowed by the University of Paris, the City of Paris, and the American Red Cross, has been opened in Paris. Its plant is the Edith Cavell Hospital, its sponsor the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Paris. Upon its board of directors, the director of the inspectors representing the Ministry of the Liberated Regions has a place. She is well known to the Smith Unit, as is the Inspector of the Somme. But she herself says: "Wait. This is a new venture for women. You may tell of our work, yes, but not our names. We must guard them for all suspicion of notoriety."
THE taking over by the Government of all forms of reconstruction, social, moral and material, will if feasible sound the knell of organized private effort. Twenty-five years, it is estimated, will be required to rebuild the life of Northern France. So stupendous a task can only be undertaken by the Government. According to the terms of the Treaty, it will be financed by Germany.
France has definite ideas at which she is aiming in her reconstruction; she has many experiments to be tried out in the Région Libérée. The basis of most of them is a principle antagonistic to the deep seated individualism of the farmer, dependent only within the memory of men not yet old upon common effort, such as factories, for the necessities of life. Fifty years ago, yes, twenty-five years ago, the Picard farm was self-supporting, independent, feudal. Now on every hand the farmer hears: "Form associations, make a union, own your machinery in common, work your fields in common. It is the only way in which you can survive." And he is doing it. The priests, unable to return to ruined parishes, revive the monastic community, and serve their parishes from this center. There are coöperative stores and coöperatives of reconstruction. No man builds to himself these days; the plans for the entire village pass for approval through the hands of legally constituted authorities on sanitation and construction. The very soul of the village is to become composite.
At least, such is the trend of events mirrored in the Congrès Interallié d'Hygiène Sociale held in Paris in April, 1919. At about the same time there came to us the following recommendation from the High Commission for the Coördination of Relief:
"Le Conseil Supérieur de l'Office National de Coördination des Secours rappelle aux villes étrangères et françaises, aux bienfaiteurs étrangers et français qui, de toutes parts, demandent, comme un honneur, de participer à la reconstitution de nos régions libérées, que la charge pécuniaire de cette reconstitution que l'État français assume intégralement incombe à nos ennemis qui les ont dévastées et émet le voeu que toute la propagande nécessaire soit faite pour que les générosités amies qui s'offrent pour cette reconstitution s'emploient à doter nos départements libérés, villes et campagnes, de foyers sembables aux Maisons communes anglo-saxonnes, centres d'hygiène et de saines distractions pour l'amélioration physique et morale de la race si durement éprouvée par l'invasion, 'Foyers de la Victoire' qui pourraient devenir pour chaque cité renaissante, grande ou petite, à la fois le musée local de la guerre et le monument élevé à la Mémoire de ses Héros."
This community center is well described in detail by Mlle. Louise Compain, in her patriotic pamphlet, "La Grand' Pitié des Campagnes de France."
"Next to the church, and not in opposition to it (it too will live as long as men have need of its aid, and will transform itself slowly with this very need) the democratic state ought to raise the House of the People, where through the eyes, through the spoken word and through actions will be achieved the culture of the heart. This house, of which we are going to explain in general the appearance and basic functions, was not born of our imagination; the shores of the Pacific knew it in young America. To these hardy peoples who exploit a new Soil, it brings the bread of the spirit and the joy of art. Europe and France are ignorant of it as yet. Nevertheless, for our people, inured to contact with an old land, why should it not serve also as the center of light and of beauty, the attraction of which would hold them to the place of their toil, which would thus become easier and happier?
"We shall now attempt a description of it:
"On the ground floor, shower baths, dispensary, consultation room for nursing mothers. All the trifling ills from which infants and parents suffer, maladies of the eyes, chilblains, felons are cared for here, and here too is found advice to guide mothers in the care of the newly born. On the second story, attractive rooms for lectures and for clubs. The library is amply provided with books which do not all treat of agriculture. There can be found our best poets, biographies of heroes of character and of science, histories, some novels. The newspapers kept on the table are picked for their diverse opinions. The conferences which are given in the adjoining room, treat of different subjects also. Some contribute to the knowledge of agriculture or of housekeeping, others to the art of living, others simply to the amusement of the audience. The House for Every One, or House of Social Life, or Neighborhood House (the name matters little) possesses a good apparatus for moving pictures. Thanks to that, it gives exhibits where one travels in foreign countries, or marvels at assisting in the phenomena of daily life, like the sprouting of a tree, or the growth of a chick in the egg. This apparatus serves too to illustrate by examples social subjects broached here and up to this time carefully excluded from our public instruction. Is coöperation spoken of? One visits in England and in Belgium the factories which teach at Manchester the collective genius of our English friends, or at Gand the initiative genius of an Anseele. Is a new law about to be enacted by Parliament? It is explained, discussed, commented on at the House. In this way, all the misunderstandings which gave rise to that in regard to workingmen's, pensions are dissipated and the full effect of the law is gained. Gatherings for diversion alternate with these gatherings for study. There is singing, there are plays, a little theatrical company is formed. But above all, the House becomes a place of assembly, of joyous and happy assemblies, where discussions occur without coarseness, where the "night-owls" find the attraction of reading and of conversations in common. It is the hearth of the village. Those who as little children form the habit of passing their hours of leisure in these pleasant rooms, will always return to them. It will transform rural life and, little by little, the rural spirit.
"For this House will not be simply an organism; erected to act upon souls, it will have a soul, that of the social educator responsible for guiding and vivifying it. Formed by travel, by extensive reading, pupils too of a higher normal school of the people yet to be created, these men and these women are truly missionaries who go about their own countrysides, carrying to the disinherited of the soil the good news of beauty for every one and of genuine civilization. Next door to this instructress (I have an idea that the Neighborhood House will be directed most frequently by a woman of large and adaptive spirit and maternal heart) a visiting nurse will also live. In the morning she is found in the dispensary. Once that service is completed, she sets out on her bicycle and goes to give that care to the sick which the doctor of the region has indicated. It is she who does the cupping, lancing and bandaging for those patients who can not come in the morning. These cares are of a material kind; very quickly she becomes an adviser, a friend, the purveyor of indispensable hygiene."
It is interesting for us as Americans to note the source of this idea of a community center, which Mlle. Compain elsewhere states to be the American public library. Would that we had more of them in our own rural communities! Credit is sometimes given to the American Red Cross and sometimes to the Young Men's Christian Association for demonstrating the success of such centers in the Foyers du Soldat, and after the Armistice in Foyers Civils.
At all events, the community center being the recommendation of the French Government, and the first constructive suggestion of importance given by it to private agencies, it became our object to realize it. There could have been no plan which would so well have perpetuated the type of social work we were doing; we had the library, the cinema, the gymnastic classes, the public health nurses and the dispensary. In short, we had at Grécourt from the beginning a social settlement. All that was asked of us now was to house our work in a more or less permanent structure, to endow it and eventually to turn it over to France. This was to be our contribution to reconstruction, in a field untouched by Government aid so far, but sanctioned by the Government, and destined to become in time a subsidized public work.
The intelligent public opinion of the Somme was back of this enterprise. The Secours d'Urgence had already opened a foyer at Roye, and the French Red Cross another at Ham in a baraque which was the gift of the American Red Cross. The community of priests at Ham preached the gospel of the Maison pour Tous through all the villages. Most opportunely, the Prefecture advocated in earnest language a campaign against alcoholism. "Of all the problems of our epoch, the most important, the most grave, as it is the most disquieting for the future of France, is, without contradiction, that of repopulation. . . In the field of economics in particular, which is the only one reviewed here, it is necessary in order to obtain production at moderate cost, to possess abundant and robust labor. Now before the war, there was already well-founded complaint throughout the domain of agriculture, of its rarity and equally of its inefficiency, in consequence of the lamentable effects of alcoholism which had come to add diminished strength to insufficient numbers."(6)
Before the war also, one deplored in the villages the vicious effects of estaminets and cabarets which sapped the old-time country virtues. In our region these were especially flourishing, for the Picard peasant has ever been a hard drinker, and the leading industry of our countryside had become the raising and distilling of the sugar beet. But the drink of the farmers still remained a cider of acrid flavor renowned for many centuries. With the cutting of the orchards and the destruction of presses, cider is scarcely procurable now, nor was there a sugar beet distillery left in the Somme. Alcohol is therefore imported in the form of beers and of wines. The latter are high in price, and one hears on all sides, injuriously adulterated. Yet the consumption is on the increase; the estaminet or cabaret invariably opens in the best house in the village, or rather in the best houses; for the law allows one to every hundred inhabitants, and the inhabitants seem to be counted on a pre-war basis. With no other gathering place through the summer than the rustic wine garden, and none during the winter than the warm and lighted barroom, gay with barmaids' laughter, what wonder that the men, and the women too, drown for a time their discouragements?
It is in competition with these bars that the Maison pour Tous will be open night and day. Ours is located in Hombleux, which disputes with Esmery-Hallon the distinction of being the largest of our villages. It is said by some to have been the intellectual center of the neighborhood, although this assumption would be hotly contested in Esmery, and in Canisy the folk of Hombleux are known to be great hypocrites. Against all this local rivalry and jealousy, we have had to feel our way.
In fact, we have had more than mere ideas to contend with in the raising of our rooftree. In the first place, there was the land to be bought. A small but central location was offered us through the good offices of the mayor, on a corner of the main street, opposite a Calvary. But to acquire legal title to this land took six months, interspersed with trips to Amiens and a final dash to Compiègne. At last, however, we became landowners in the Somme. Meantime, we had been seeking for baraques. The Prefecture promised them, the American Red Cross promised them; in fact, they shipped them to us from Bordeaux. But baraques are among those unconsidered trifles which become lost in transit these days. None of them arrived. So, with German prisoners ready to level the ground, and a French detail from the prison camp ready to guard them, we had still at the beginning of September no baraque in sight. How we finally got one, from Verdun, is an extraordinary story, and our baraque had already had an extraordinary history. Put up by the American Army at Verdun, it was first occupied by our Negro troops. On leaving the sector, the Americans donated it to the Vassar Unit, which came in March to do rehabilitation work there. Under them, the baraque was used as a canteen for returning refugees. They turned their work over to the French the first of September, and bequeathed this baraque to us. To demount it, to load it onto cars, and to convoy it in the person of a soldier detailed from the garrison of Verdun for the purpose, took a week. It took also the united coöperation of our Unit, the Vassar Unit, the American Red Cross, the stationmaster and the French Army. That achievement is in its way a monument to the golden opinion won by the Vassar Unit at Verdun. The Smith Unit hopes that under its guardianship this glory may never grow less!
Our baraque, at length raised inch by inch under the unwinking eye of the Unit, presents now a changed appearance to the world. Its weathered sides have been painted a cheerful yellow, its windows, whose green flower boxes await the spring, are already bright with cretonne. Within, the gray of walls and ceiling is in contrast with scarlet painted beams and woodwork. Here, twice a week, the cinema draws its spectators, here the meetings for the launching of the campaign of public health were held, here the curé celebrated the Christmas mass, and here the village band, provided by the Unit with instruments and music to replace those the Germans destroyed, is giving concerts which outdo the phonograph.
A building designed to be a permanent addition to the village supplements the Foyer proper. It is a composition bungalow, containing six rooms. Here are lodged the library and dispensary, and here will live the resident French workers, the director of the Foyer and the visiting nurses after we are gone. Our endowment will suffice for two years at least, and until the private societies leave this field of rehabilitation, our work will be carried on under the Secours d'Urgence, best known by its first post of relief,---the first, in fact, to be established in the Liberated Regions,---at Roye. Mlle. Javal, Secretary of this organization, has an international reputation for her work on behalf of crippled French soldiers. Mme. Gory, who has been from the beginning the presiding genius of the post at Roye, will become the Directrice of our Foyer, and of our activities. Already beloved throughout the region, gracious, efficient, no more fortunate successor could have been found for the Smith College Unit, than Mme. Gory and the Secours d'Urgence.
In this plant which we leave to them, will center another activity as far-reaching, we venture to hope, as the health work; that of the Boy Scouts. This was organized by us in the fall of 1919 under the leadership of Mr. R. R. Miller, formerly scout master in France with the Young Men's Christian Association. Each of our villages now has its troop. But it is the hope of the International Boy Scouts that these villages, thus organized on a nonsectarian basis, may form the nucleus of an organization which will embrace the entire devastated area, and eventually the whole of France. Back of these French boys, should they succeed, would stand the international body, and particularly those who have already achieved the most powerful organizations, their comrades, the Boy Scouts of England and of America.
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