Written while on duty with
AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES
DURING THE GREAT WAR
with accompanying notes
by Reeder Miller
The following bits of letters and comment were
written by me during my service at home and abroad in the Army of the
Re-typed exactly as the original appears by Reeder Miller’s grandson, Andy Miller. email@example.com - Ultimate ownership reside with Miller family.
Letters are typed in “Courier” font.
Notes are typed in “Times” font.
Left Honesdale at ,
Still heading South. Hot--but you know me, Al. Can’t write a letter here, the darned train jumps too much. Everyone feeling fine and anxious to get to camp. It has been very uncomfortable traveling. More later.
Still on our way--150 miles from
Arrived at and registered. Attached temporarily to Company B, 58th Pioneer Infantry, for quarters and rations. Looks like a good camp.
Well, now I can draw a full breath and write just a short letter for we have been so busy that I can hardly snatch even a few minutes for the purpose.
We reached here yesterday at and were immediately assigned to the 58th Pioneers, until examined and sent to permanent organizations.
At reveille in the a.m. they asked whether any of us had any previous military service. Not scenting a rat, I stepped out with about ten others. We were placed on guard duty! The joke was on us alright.
I was put on the mess-house post with
a club instead of a rifle for persuasive purposes. Was relieved later to be made squad leader or
acting corporal in a tent with seven long, lean and rangy
We will be examined tomorrow and then quarantined for two weeks. Have to fall in now so more later.
They marched us a mile three times today for medical examination and each time we were not on the list. Some organization!
It is broiling hot down here, 105 or a 107 degrees since arrival. It knocks the boys out, but does not seem to affect some of us, I have not felt any ill effects as yet.
There are about 40,000 men here and
the camp is probably as big as the City of
Another broiling hot day. Last night we had a wind storm that blew up the dust until you couldn’t see the next tent. We had a job holding them down.
After making three trips to the infirmary yesterday for medical examination, we finally connected on the fourth. I passed without a thing against me. About thirty percent were turned down, but they were Southerners. They gave us a shot in the arm for typhus and vaccinated us also. We get two more injections of anti-toxin before we are released from quarantine. We haven’t had any drill yet, but it’s coming to us.
Please don’t worry about me for I can
go through with this despite the change from the recent past way of
living. We are existing like hoboes, but
it’s all part of the game, I suppose. At
any rate, I haven’t heard anyone deny that
August 12, 1918
Just came in from drill ground after
an all-afternoon session and believe me it was hot. They told us today that this camp, which
holds about 40,000 men, would be cleared out this month to make way for the
organizing of a Russian force to go into
We took the “brain test” this morning--a sort of psychological and mental exam. I don’t think I had anything wrong, but it sure would be a joke on me if it turned out that way for I’d probably be put on permanent K.P. They told us our future in the Army depended on our rating in this test. It is done to weed out the illiterates and “nuts.”
Must fall in for mess now, but more later.
August 14, 1918
More news! A very distinguished-looking artillery
captain popped into my tent tonight right after mess and informed me that I was
to be his Sergeant-Major. Imagine my
surprise. It was Frank Stanton of the
August 17, 1918
My vaccination didn’t take, so this a.m. in company with others, we had a second dose and another inoculation. We are now appointing a Ways and Means Committee to devise a method of getting even with the Medicos. My arm is as sore as a boil--but, “We’re in the Army now.”
We were to have received our outfits last night but at the time of writing, only forty or fifty of the men have received them. Five men collapsed at Retreat tonight from the effects of the inoculation. I have an awful headache myself, but alright otherwise. It was an extra heavy dose, I guess.
August 26, 1918
We are getting the morning off because our third and last inoculation and vaccination on Saturday was the worst of all of them all, so I am putting in the time to good advantage. I feel alright myself, but a lot of the boys are still dopey and flat on their backs.
Yesterday, Sunday, I went into
We walked around a while and then had a fine supper--fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, jellied salad, vegetables, home-made cake, iced-teas, etc. It was some stuff after our camp grub. We had to resist the temptation not to wash our own dishes and cutlery and we were a bit overcome at the sight of a table cloth and napkins, but we enjoyed the meal even though there was no dust in the food.
We ran the guard coming home with some fake passes which I had made out myself, but they never troubled to look at them, so we were safe.
We have a hundred and fifty German “sub” prisoners here in a stockade. They are treated as well, if not better than, the American boys. Only they are confined to their own area behind 13 feet of barbed wire with guards all around them. They are a villainous looking lot and not at all like the Germans we are used to seeing. Two of them escaped the other night while I was on guard, but were picked up by Post No. 9 on our second relief, about half a mile from my post. I wish I had been the lucky fellow, for they gave him a month’s leave for not passing them. The guard here is really very lax except around important posts and buildings.
August 27, 1918
Just packing up my old kit bag to
move over to the 4th
August 28, 1918
This is in haste, but will explain later. Don’t send any more mail here for we are about to entrain for the post of embarkation. Be on the lookout for word from me so that you can come to camp if I am unable to get a pass. I want to see all of you before I go, for no one of us knows where this is going to end, or how. More later, but be prepared.
days before we left
On the afternoon of the 30th of August we were called out for an inspection of overseas equipment. We had already been ordered to dispense with all but Government-issued property due to penchant some men have for carrying more than an ox can budge. We were, however, advised that each man might place a small parcel of personal belongings, such as Red Cross sweaters, extra woolen socks, etc., in organization boxes to be carried as company baggage. Accordingly, we made up our parcels and stowed them away in a rifle box which we of the Headquarters company had devised for the purpose.
At 2:00 p.m.
we fell out for inspection in full equipment.
Much to our surprise we were immediately ordered to march to the trains
and by 3:00 p.m. the organization was on its way to
Landing we boarded the river steamer and proceeded to
She was a good sea-worthy ship with all the appliances necessary for safe-guarding a transport. When our troops came on board the next morning, they all eyed with evident approval the stern 6-incher and the mine-cutting paravanes. I had a fine second-class state-room on the port of the main deck.
consisted of about twenty-two vessels, freighters and transports, an escort of
two destroyers and the British cruiser “
In the lower harbor, the convoy was forming when we hove in sight. The sailing formation consisted of three columns, the ore-boats and freighters on the outside and the transports in the center. This as an added protection to the latter in case of submarine attack. The destroyers plied continuously on the outskirts, to the front and rear, never stopping their constant vigil while the cruiser steamed directly ahead of the line of transports. We seemed to have the position of honor directly behind her.
It was a wonderful sight to watch the convey swing into line and start the long voyage across those dangerous seas. An escort of sea-planes and a Blimp dirigible followed us a little way but soon turned back. Before we were aware of the fact the land was out of sight and each one settled down to his own thoughts and to making things as comfortable as possible for the trip.
across was monotonous and uneventful. We
did not sight one vessel not of our convoy during all those days. On the fourth or fifth day a Canadian convoy
of American troops caught up to us, by pre-arrangement evidently, for we had
only been steaming at half-speed for a full day. It consisted of ten transports and two
destroyers, also a wicked-looking cruiser whose name we did not learn, but
relieved the “
September 8, 1918
That was a rather hurried departure and Goodbye, but the best I could manage under the circumstances. I was hoping that perhaps we would be at the port long enough to get a 24 hour pass, but it did not materialize.
So far we have had fine weather and a
pleasant voyage. Our transport is going
to land us in
Sometime if we remain in Dad’s
country long enough, I would like to make a trip to the places and the people
he has told us of and in that event, their exact addresses would come in
handy. You might put that information in
your next letter. Just how long we will
I sent home some things from
I know Mother in
Tell Dad I can’t get used to the tea-for-breakfast stunt aboard this boat, but I suppose we’ll meet it again later on when we land and in that event I guess I’ll have to put my U.S.A. tastes in my pocket until the little fuss now on our hands is settled. There is a great deal more to be said, but the censor is on the job with this one, so we’ll have to wait a while for a real heart-to-heart talk.
I haven’t been sea sick yet, and this is our sixth day, but I’m not crowing for our worst weather is no doubt just ahead. This will be all until we land so more later.
On the second
day out from Liverpool, the port for which we were headed, a flotilla of
American destroyers came prancing out at full speed, circled around us like
school-boys and finally settles down to combing the seas in all directions for
the wake of a periscope. It was an
inspiring sight to see our own Navy on the job.
We all felt greatly relieved when they came up over the horizon. During the night we steered some sixty miles
up the western coast of
The ride up
the ship canal was interesting to a degree.
Imagine going through the heart of
September 23, 1918
As you will see by the above, we are
How can I ever describe to you this wonderful trip? Words cannot do justice to it, I will just have to wait to tell you about it.
From there we proceeded to a port to embark
At the French port, after an
uneventful trip across the Channel, we again proceeded through the streets and
were given an enthusiastic greeting by the French. It is great to feel that you are welcome. The people are shy at first but later warm up
to you and seem to be glad we are here.
Even the little I have seen brings home that fact in a way that no amount of writing can.
From the port where we landed we journeyed here after a few hours of rest. The place in which I am writing this letter was built by Napoleon I and at this moment populated by American artillery men. We were introduced to the “Chevaux 8, Hommes 40” stuff on the way down. A self-respecting American tramp would turn up his nose at some of our tricks, but we pack up our troubles in a bully-beef can and smile just as though we liked it. When I get home I won’t like a bed that has a mattress or a meal without a chance to sit on the floor and dine as we do here. I’m getting so hardened to the game that it is becoming real sport and taken with that spirit. It is a “court martial” offense in my company to speak about home-comforts like wives, chocolate, cakes, ice cream, real coffee, etc. Don’t be surprised if I insist on eating out of my mess kit at the table or with only a spoon; it really is a habit now to like it all.
I have been trying out my menu French on the natives with dire results to my vocabulary and the respect of said natives. On the march to the British rest-camp at the French port where we landed, a Belgian soldier walked along beside me for a while. When there seemed to be no end to the march, I asked him, in my poorest and purest French, how many kilometers it was to the camp, he answered me in perfect English “about ten minutes more to go, Yank.”
The boys think they are the first
English-speaking soldiers to land in
News from the Front is encouraging and we look for a quick and successful ending.
I’ll appreciate home more than ever when I get back (if that were possible) but everyone here is out to win the war and that quickly. We have been doing some traveling, but my eyes and ears have been open wide and when I get back we’ll gather around the old fireplace and talk it all over.
point mentioned above was
at this port, we marched through the city northward to the harbor road, past
the Belgian Parliament buildings, up a very steep hill overlooking the Channel,
but out of site of the city. While
standing on the docks at LeHarve, our boys were treated to their first grim
lesson of war. A long British hospital
train containing seriously wounded men who had gone “over the top” only the
previous morning drew in past us to be sent to
At the rest-camp, we had time to change clothing and have a good meal and bath. Tents were sand-bagged to prevent splinters from air bombs spreading too far, but they made excellent pillows and that night we all had a good rest.
The next day
we marched back through the city and after the usual hot argument as to the
proper division of rations, we entrained with the major portion of the jam and
the rest of the gang at our heels. We
managed to hold on to the stuff and presently were sliding out of the station;
bound for the south of
through Vendôme, Bretigny,
resting, as it is called in the Army, we hike it into the country some fifteen
kilometers to a little comic opera village named Montignac, and went into
billets. This town had never before had
troops billeted in it and we were quite a novelty to the peasants who treated
us fine. The place resembled the scenery
quite commonly believed by American comic opera authors to be typical of South
American towns. It is all light and
color, that part of
October 1, 1918
In looking up at the orders of the
AmEx Forces, I see that troops in the rear areas can give the name of the
nearest big town where their mail is received.
In our case it is Angouléme, Charante; you’ll find it on the map. Do not address me to that point, however, as
we are due to move any day right up to the Line; in that event your mail would
go all over
There is some amusing incident cropping up each day. This afternoon, one of the boys and myself made some fudge in a billet occupied by the officer’s mess. This candy is unknown to the French for the word means something totally different in their vocabulary. After much pumping with a bellows over a charcoal brazier, the stuff boiled and turned out very well. The folks set the table with cups and bread thinking we were going to have cocoa, which we had made the day before. Their surprise was genuine when the dope hardened and I explained that it was “American bon-bon.” I wrote the recipe in French for them, so much sucre, cocoa, lait and beurre. They pronounced our fudge a great success, but, like the French, it may have been only politeness on their part.
The sugar it contained we picked up
It is still like summer here, the roses are blooming, the grapes are just ripening and one would think it August back home. Makes me wish for Honesdale and the hills. By the way, the Allies are pounding the Huns it may be a reality sooner than we think.
I am writing this letter by the light of an ancient candle lantern which I bought in Angouléme. Talk about the primitive! They had electricity in this town once upon a time, before the war, but now I guess the coal goes to the munitions plants and we make the best of it. They put us to bed at 8:30 p.m., so if this letter ends suddenly, you’ll know that the call to quarters has sounded.
The eats so far have been fine, enough and plenty for anyone. I can’t complain of anything in this man’s army--yet! Personally, it has been a big vacation and I know I am in better health than I have been before. Perhaps the winter will make me change my mind, but we’ve had overcoats, gloves, winter clothing, etc., issued to us, so I don’t think we will mind the coal much. We’ll get hardened to it.
No mail has come since we left
October 2, 1918
Through the kindness of the Colonel and Captain Stanton, I am enabled to enclose herewith permit for a Christmas box. Not everyone can get these, so I feel pretty good. It is necessary to present this at the post office in order to have a package accepted.
I need so many things, I can’t begin
to think of them all. I could use a
couple more pair of those knitted socks and as “
October 3, 1918
And still no mail from home. They tell me that newly-arrived units are out of luck on that score because it takes so long for it to catch up to them, but it’s a poor excuse, I think. Well, when it does come, that will be a big day. It’s the hardest thing of all to bear, this being without word from you.
We are billeted now in a typical
French village. We marched out the next
day through the beautiful country side.
The hills and meadows are covered with vines and right now the grapes
hang in great bunches for it is harvest time.
This part of
The men hit the wine pretty hard at
first, especially cognac, but there being no sucre in
The village is like a scene from a
comic opera back home. White stone
houses with red-tiled roofs, geese and chickens parading the streets, quaint
old wagons, beautiful vistas of poplars, etc., and the picturesque peasants who
do not seem to have felt the war much in this vicinity. The roads are wonderful, hard and straight
for miles and miles. The scenery is like
a Maxfield Parrish painting. We, the
regimental non-commissioned staff, have organized a small mess of our own and
have been dining at the old Inn on superb provincial French cooking, of which
there is none better in all of
We are in quite comfortable quarters. We don’t have an apartment in the Ritz, but c’est la guerre. By the time I get an answer to this letter we will be up in the Line, I think. Don’t worry, though, for something tells me that I will be in Honesdale again despite the Hun. I am in good health, gaining in weight and now that we are getting hardened to the game I do not mind it very much. I am impatient for our outfit to move up to the line and get it over with. This suspense is worse than the other thing the old-timers tell me. Well, here’s for luck and then some.
My French is improving. By the time I get back I expect to be able to
parlez vous in fairly good shape. Our
grammar, of course, is atrocious, likewise our vocabulary, but I have been able
to get whatever I want and that with little trouble. The French are good listeners and patient
instructors. Madame of the
Their coffee is abominable, so last
night we made some cocoa on her stove before an admiring audience. When we attempted to drink it hot with
our meal there was quite an uproar. It
just isn’t done, I suppose. Fruit is
very scarce in
I see by a new order of the A.E.F. that arrangements have been made for a particular kind of coupon paster for Xmas packages this year and that only boxes 9”x4”x3” will be accepted for delivery to the men. I do not know whether this will conflict with Colonel Prince’s order which I sent you but until you hear differently, go right ahead.
Today is some sort of a fête day here and everyone is out in his or her best bib and tucker to look them over. The merchants have pitched their tents and stands all over the plaza and have everything from suspenders to postal cards for sale. It’s a typical old world scene and quite a novelty to us.
This morning two other sergeants and
myself walked out into the country after grapes and the English walnuts which
are very plentiful in this part of
The size of them impressed me; they
were as large as prunes. We were treated
very cordially by the owner and his helpers.
The vines are grown four or five feet apart and not allowed to rise
higher than three, but the vine that results from such treatment will yield ten
or twelve large bunches. It is unlike
anything I have ever seen and my description hardly does it justice. By French, English, and facial contortions I
have endeavored to explain to them how grapes are grown in
When we left, they loaded our arms and caps with big bunches and seemed unable to do enough for us. It was a most enjoyable morning.
Here in this village, we get
Our boys continue to get along fine with the natives. I saw a wonderful example of discipline, or whatever else you may want to call it, today. In one of the billets here there is a court-yard surrounded by a wall. Along the top of the wall runs a grape-vine with big bunches of fruit hanging into the court-yard within easy reach. The nearest other grapes are out in the country. These on the court-yard wall have been hanging since we came--untouched by American hands! I like to compare our methods with those of the Hun. The grapes on the wall with hang there until their owner picks them. Is it any wonder the French are our friends?
Our stay here draws to a close. We will be glad to move though for the inaction of life in billets is very trying. Last night we sat up before our wood fire to watch the clock be turned back an hour. The fire turned my thoughts to another some thousands of miles away, but which I know was burning just as brightly as when I last saw it. This is all for now.
Still in the same place and no mail from Home. The boys are all getting peevish about it. We live from day to day looking for the courier.
I am enclosing another mailing slip
for knitted things and in connection with it have a confession to make. When we left
We have been unable to duplicate our sweaters and things, so here we are, far from a YMCA or Red Cross and altogether out of luck, as it were. I would have rather been torpedoed than lose those things you made for me.
The news from the front is encouraging but the outfit here is hoping that no one back there, the President especially, will spoil the final victory with an inconclusive peace. We feel that the Germans are up to some more of their tricks and the only way to end it is to lick them properly. We all want to go home as soon as possible, but not at such a price as the Hun has offered. Our Yankee army is coming home with a scalp or not at all.
As you know from my other letters, our outfit is ready to move up to the line. They are just like a bunch of bull-dogs straining at the leash. The French begin to sense the victory in the air and are growing more optimistic every day.
Tell Dede that our billet looks like the stage-setting of the “Shrapnel-Dodgers” which we saw at Poli’s last winter. The regimental non-commissioned staff have the second floor, a large single room with a great fireplace. Guns, uniforms, kit-bags, cartridge-belts, blankets, boots and all sorts of equipment decorate the walls and floor. The ingenious contrivances to heat water for shaving and to light the place at night would afford you many moments of fun, but to us they are only too serious and subjects of sober thought. Being the ranking non-com, I appropriated the corner with a cupboard and in this I keep my toilet articles and such things as I use every day. It took us a while to get settled, but now it is quite comfortable. When you reach that stage in the army, though, it is usually then that they move you, so we are expecting to get away any day now.
Big Ben has been superseded by the bugle. I am up early in the morning, eat heartily, and will be, as Dad says, disgustingly healthy when the final mustering call sounds. Then it will not be “squads right” or “squads left” but “squads west” and at the “double” and it will seem good to be home, too.
Still no mail from home since landing. We have made complaints, inquiries, etc., but cannot seem to locate it. Somewhere along the line of communications, there is a whole pile of it waiting to be discovered. It seems inexcusable, but that is the army for you.
We are still in the same place from which previous letters were mailed, but we expect to be paid tomorrow and move up to the line the next day. We have received practically all our equipment for active field service up there and have been hard at it to get my headquarters bunch drilled in the things. There is no excuse for any man getting damaged if he obeys orders and doesn’t get careless. In the gas bombardments they say there are two kinds of soldiers--the quick and the dead; we have given this a great deal of study until every man in the outfit can get his mask on in a bit better than five seconds.
Last Saturday I walked out into the country with a couple of men. Along the road we met an old French woman wheeling a barrow full of garden truck. We stopped to talk, and finding that she was going our way I picked up the barrow handles and started off for her home. Can you see the picture?
When we arrived at the home--a typical French farmer’s abode--she invited us in for the usual glass of wine and handful of walnuts. The place was all of stone surrounded by a high stone wall, the courtyard formed seeming to be both barnyard and front lawn. The French farmer is not communistic to the extent that he trusts his neighbors, hence the wall, or maybe it is a survival of the days when marauders were common and stone walls the only first line of defense. At any rate, all French farmers have their places enclosed in such a manner.
During the conversation which you can
imagine was of a varied sort, Williams happened to ask whether she had a son in
the army. There followed the inevitable
tears and the bringing forth of his picture--he fell a La Fere in the first
rush of the Hun in 1914. She also
brought forth her daughter’s picture.
She was a Red Cross Nurse in
When we departed, she filled our pockets with walnuts. We gave her a packet of chocolate. With many farewells, we went our way, a bit more sober than when we arrived. Asking about the sons hereafter is a forbidden subject.
I’m awfully hungry tonight. I can’t help not always liking the army grub. When I sit down on a fence-wall or curbstone with my mess-kit full of “slum” I can’t help but think of all the things you used to have; the baked ham, the superb coffee, the strawberry shortcake--will you ever forget them? And I haven’t had a cup of tea with lemon since I left home.
This letter is poorly written. I have been shivering a bit because our candle and the fire are going out. You are still sound asleep (it must be about American time, now).
This was the big day. The courier came reeling up the road with his side-car weighted down under eight sacks of mail! Believe me, I was tickled to get my share. I received ten letters from you, one each from Mother, Dad, Lou, Sis, the editor of the Telephone News, and Captain Stanton showed me one from E.G. Simons, so you can believe me when I say that this was one big day. I have just finished reading them a second time. It seems that we were expected at the front immediately after our arrival so our mail was sent to LaValdahon, up near the Swiss border. Our plans had been changed, however, and that confused the mail service.
Well, here we are--right in the back
of the front--waiting for something to happen.
Another trip of three days in “Chevaux”
While we were detraining in the yards, a playful Boche plane came over to welcome us in their peculiar way. He started to hand us his full assortment when directly over our heads. We haven’t discovered any casualties as yet, nor just what his objective was, but the anti-aircraft guns started after him and a couple of our planes went up to drive him to cover, which they did. It was a nice welcome for us green troops, but the men behaved as well as could be expected of Americans. They grabbed their steel hats and crawled back into their cars or under them, disregarding the fact that bombs would go through those cars like butter. It was the Colonel’s fault though, for the order came from him. A few of us slid into a dugout on the side of the hill where we had a good view of the doings. A few minutes after he was driven off we formed again on the station platform to march off to barracks. We had no sooner done this than he literally dropped out of the sky and let go with two more bombs. But this time he kept right on going and when it was discovered that none of the men were hit we finally got away without any more annoying incidents. It was interesting though, for it gave us a taste of what was coming.
We are billeted now in an old French barracks on one of the hills overlooking the city, but I do not think we will be here very long. I will write at greater length when I have more time. Meanwhile, don’t worry.
Our trip up to
the American base at Toul was not very interesting although we went nearly
At Toul were many troops, mostly artillery. They were unloading big guns, ammunition, stores, etc., preparing for the big offensive that was to end the war. We were greatly tickled to hear about this for it was like coming into a show to witness the last act and climax. It was a scene of great activity, what with gasoline tractors pushing and snorting over some big pieces of artillery, mechanics tinkering with airplane parts and all the while the sharp distinct crack of the artillery at the front laying down a barrage. The big guns were in the woods just to the north of the city at that time plugging away at the German defenses north of Thiacourt. I found out later that town was our ultimate destination.
Toul is one of
the oldest cities in
The second day after our arrival we shouldered our packs on the last long hike which was to bring us under the range of the enemy artillery. The gayety with which the boys had so far conducted themselves became less noticeable on this bright October morning. There was a sober set to the faces, a serious tone in the voices which I had never noticed before. They were plainly nervous and watched each other to see how they were taking it. It was not fear that prompted this, for American troops do not show that trait like others, even though the bravest troops all always scared going into action. It was a resigned air, as though the worst was going to happen even though they were not afraid. I saw more Bibles that morning than I thought the outfit possessed. It was comical and pathetically funny to see the boys handing each other notes to be sent to their families should they go West. But when they struck out for the Line, they started singing “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here” and one would have thought they were going to a ball-game instead of into the bloody sector just ahead. That was the American all over. He went into battle just as he went to bat back home--with the same contempt for the pitcher, as it were. He may have viewed it rather seriously at first, but once started they never stopped.
We hiked along the hard rock road north of Toul through Boucq, headquarters of the Fourth Army Corps; Langley, still bearing marks of German artillery fire; Lucy, where the French third line trenches were stretched for miles as far as the eye could see, twenty to thirty feet wide and practically impassable, barbed wire stretched in abundance and all guarded by aged sentries of the Territorials. At mid-day, we halted on the open road, stretched out and ate our rations, washing it down with some sweet red wine or water as the taste called for.
While we took our rest there by the road, planes were swarming over-head, bound for the German side or winging their way back to their several Headquarters. At intervals, a stray enemy shell plopped into a field off to our left, some hundreds of meters. Evidently their airmen had a battery searching for us, but the guns were far in the rear, judging from the calibre and poor marksmanship. The Colonel did not think it worth while to take to the brown fields where we would have been less conspicuous. We were soon on our way, gas masks at the alert and steel helmets settled on firmly.
At night-fall, we took possession of an old monastery where some troops had been billeted before and now held by a detachment of Italians. They didn’t take kindly to our putting them out and no one would have thought the two outfits were allies, fighting the same enemy.
We made our
headquarters in the banquet room, a beautifully paneled room of walnut and
tile, with several good pictures painted on the walls. We were all pretty well tired-out from the
long hike, but sleep was out of the question, for the batteries were banging
away only a short distance from us in the woods, ranging the city of
These guns were 16” naval rifles, throwing a shell weighing 1,800 pounds to a distance of 30 miles. Their report was hardly less than the burst of the shell and the old building rattled every time they went off. The Huns were not silent while our guns were doing this, but their poor marksmanship, while fine for the batteries, was not so nice for us. Several stories came our way during the night, one carrying off the corner of our monastery and busting up the place a bit more. The typewriter on which I was writing during the evening, after a short sleep, was knocked to the floor by the concussion and busted to bits. This business was too close for comfort. Strict orders were issued to show no lights, but the enemy must have been able to see in the dark, for he kept right on throwing over his hate. We were all glad when morning came to see the naval guns being hauled farther to our right.
This day the
Colonel and Adjutant went closer up to the line, to report to Headquarters,
taking me along with them. I rode the
front seat of their Dodge car with the chauffeur. On the way I fell to speculating as to just
how four able-bodied men were ever going to get out of that machine if the Hun
started to shell the road in a hurry.
The fact that the body was made with thin aluminum and wood did not add
to our comfort. I took some consolation
from the fact that with the exception of the Colonel, none of the others had
ever been in such a position either, so I decided that I probably was not the
only one who was scared. This is the
most unusual feeling, going under fire.
But it seems to be only momentary for as soon as we reached Headquarters,
and I was taking down stuff for the officers, I forgot all about the Hun
gun-fire and was all business. This
Headquarters was in the town of
Seicheperey was a dust heap, only the cellar of one of the buildings being used as shelter for this headquarters. It was a scene of great activity. My only recollection of any of the officers centered around Major-General Muir, commanding the Fourth Army Corps at that time and later the 28th Division. He was about the busiest man of the lot and a typical dynamo of energy. His interview with the Colonel lasted less than ten minutes, but in that time he covered all questions concerning us, transport, rations, billets, supplies and all the other necessary items. When I left it was with a whirling head. Never had I seen such a worker. Undoubtedly, the stress of battle had much to do with his methods, for I heard the Colonel say that he had known him in less strenuous times when he was quite different.
On our way
back to billets, we came to a road that was being heavily shelled at almost
exact intervals. The Colonel was in a
hurry, so rather than wait he ordered the driver to put on all possible speed
and at the next lull in the firing to cover that space as fast as the old car
would make it. To me it seemed as though
the firing never did cease, but we crossed that stretch at about 65 miles per
hour. For a green driver, the
scheduled to lay in billets for a few days, until our turn came to go
forward. From the transport movement I
judged that the troops were being concentrated for the big move on
Our days and nights were made hideous by the gunfire of our own batteries and the enemy’s arrivals. We were bombed by their night-flying planes and three of the boys went West from some gas-bombs which were dropped on them from the sky. For green troops, the men behaved excellently, there being very little complaining and no A.W.O.L. men. This last was a good record considering that even veteran organizations have a certain amount of straggling to contend with from the enlisted personnel.
At the Front
Have just been advised by the Adjutant that I have been selected by the Colonel to go to the Officer’s Training School for the field artillery at Saumur. Special Order No. 129, 4th Army Corps, signed by General Muir, covers my transfer. It is going to be hard plugging at the school, but I am going with the firm idea that I can qualify. It will cost something to get started, too, but I can negotiate that, I guess. It is hard to leave the outfit just as we are getting into the thick of the fight, but it means advancement, and many other things and I think it would be foolish to turn down the opportunity.
The day after receiving the above order another sergeant and myself packed our kits and rode in a motor truck to Toul. We had to stop at Boucq for endorsement and travel-rations money. General Heintzleman had superseded General Muir as commander of the Fourth Army Corps, and his headquarters at Boucq was in the same Chateau used by his predecessor. We only stopped here a few minutes then returned our trip into the city.
At Toul we went to a barber shop and had a shave and wash-up. I then went to the YMCA, and had my first hot bath in five weeks. I’d had the same clothes on for a like period. No tramp would have given me a second look, I fear. At the railway station we checked out our travel-order, received two foot transport orders and put our luggage in a first class carriage. A stick of chocolate to the femme de chemin-de-fer did the trick and we were all fixed for the first stage of our journey.
My traveling partner, Sergeant Beckner, then decided he was hungry after the appetizing effect of our baths, so I volunteered to rustle the grub while he watched our packs to see that no one threw our stuff out and put theirs in. I went across the very modern train platform of the station to see where the eats could be had and spied a fruit stand across the plaza. Here I loaded up with grapes and apples and started back to the train through the waiting room. I had barely reached the center of the plaza when the air-raid siren started to blow. The crowd looked skyward, and there sailing a few thousand feet up, directly over our heads, was a Boche plane. The anti-aircraft batteries posted all over the nearby hills started to fire and several of our airmen went up to give battle to him. I continued on through the waiting room to our train, and had just put the things through the window to Sergeant Beckner, when a fearful crash nearby made him draw his head in and make me wish that I was in there with him. Our enterprising Hun had, after many months of effort and loads of expense, blown up the city gas-works only 100 feet outside the railroad yards and about the same distance from our train. This was a nice good-bye to the front, so we thought, but our satisfaction was short-lived, for we had pulled down the track only a short distance near our aviation field when through the dusk came some more raiders eager to hand the Americans another bunch of explosives. Our train was stopped near the field and all lights put out. This added to our view of the affair and we had a wonderful pyrotechnic display for another hour. And this was our last contact with the enemy during the war. If we were displeased over this feature of the trip, it was in evidence.
At Langres, we were informed by the Military Police that we would have to stay over there until the next day at . This was bad news for we thought we could go on without a stop to Saumur. There was nothing to do but make the best of it, so we hauled our packs over to the casual barracks and were soon asleep.
The next morning, after a glance at the kitchen, we decided that it was better to miss a meal there than to chance it, so inquiring our way, we started for the town proper. Had we known just where this was going to land us, we might have changed our minds. Dede’s brother, Nelson, however, was supposed to be in the Engineer’s school here, or was from my last information by mail, and I was anxious to see him.
Langres is an
ancient city founded by the Romans and, following the nice little traditions of
that great Empire, had been built on about the tallest hill in
When we followed the road, it seemed to go in every direction, so we finally abandoned it and started straight up. This was it was shorter, but it took us an hour to reach the town. The elevation of this place must have been at least 2,000 feet, and it stood up from the surrounding plane like an ant-hill in the desert. Aside from the army schools and a few public buildings, there was little to see, and after a shave and a meal we descended to the station to resume our journey to Saumur.
The ticket we
had read “via American Special” to
After a wash up with real hot water and a counting of funds, we decided that we could risk a meal in one of the great cafés, with all the trimmings. Of course we were doomed to disappointment in this respect, for these places are not what they were before the war. We found an excellent place next door to the hotel, the Restaurant Chartier, where we secured a fine meal for six francs each, with a glass of Grande Mousseaux to top it off.
supper we strolled around a bit, but the blued street lamps and drizzling rain
took all the spirit out of the thing and we soon adjourned to the warm lobby of
the hotel. here we made a find of the
night though, for we met a sergeant of the original Princess Pats, decorated
with the British Military Cross for gallantry at
We sat up
until late, then plunged into the first bed I had slept in since leaving the
ship on which we crossed the
morning, we started for the Gare de l’Est, but upon arrival there at , were told by the R.T.O.
that we were at the wrong station, that we should take the
My French is improving, but I am a long way from being a conversationalist. On this train bound for Tours and Saumur, we are in a carriage with an Alsation refugee accompanying a boy who looks like Ned, as I remember him, a French commercial traveler, a Parisian pedagogue has given me a few pointers on pronunciation, and a woman with two children who spent eight years in England and who has proven to be an “ace” in helping out. All together, we are enjoying the trip.
to be a city of some 25,000 people, very clean compared to most French
cities. It is situated in the
school occupied the buildings which had formerly been the French cavalry
school, founded in 1767, by the King and used up to the time the
The main building was shaped like an elongated “H” the western court of which was known as the Cour d’Honneur. This faced the Chardonnet, the great riding plain upon which a whole regiment of cavalry could maneuver at one time. When the place was taken over by the Americans as a school to train men for the artillery branch of the service, a number of small wooden barracks were built on the western end of the Chardonnet. Here we had our classes and practical work in radio and kindred subjects. For drilling with the 75’s, we used the Chardonnet where a couple of batteries could get around at one time. Equtation was followed in the riding halls, lectures in the main hall of the original school-building where we were also quartered three men to a room, and firing practice we had on the range at Fontrvault, about seventeen kilometers up the river from Saumur.
In point of
resources, the school was better equipped than any other in the States or
Colonel Conrad of the French Army headed the French personnel and Brig.-General Irwin of the U.S. Army was in charge of the school. The student body was divided into sections of twenty men each for instruction purposes, twelve of these sections comprising a company for discipline and drill. There were about eighteen hundred men in the school nearly all housed in the main building. I was assigned to section one, division A, second floor, south wing.
The schedule called for reveille at At this hour we fell in by divisions in the Cour d’Honneur, reported to the section chief who was one of our section drawn in turn each week, he in turn reporting to the division officer, likewise one of us taking the part of a company commander, who reported to the officer of the day. After this, we marched to mess in the halls in the rear of the building. At , we again fell in and marched to our first drill or class, a period of one hour and fifteen minutes. Two more followed and at we were at liberty until . Mess followed and at , we again fell in for the afternoon classes which lasted until Quite often, the whole afternoon or morning would be devoted to service with the guns in the field or practical topography. At such times, we rode horses, motor trucks or bicycles as the case might be, or the nature of the work required. In this manner we were enabled to see a great deal of the surrounding country.
we were at liberty until We could go down to town or roam around the
grounds or visit the YMCA, which had formerly been a luxurious chateau. We had to be in our rooms studying at and at the lights were turned out. No one complained about this very much,
though, for after the strenuous days work with the guns or horses or a long
bicycle ride, we were only too glad to get into bed. The schedule was a hard one but the necessity
for quick training to fill the depleted ranks of artillery at the front, did
not permit for a long course, although two years of the usual West Point or
The furnishings of the school buildings were most crude. When we took over the place there was no plumbing installed nor stoves in the barracks-rooms. How the Frenchmen in peace-time ever stood the cold was beyond us to understand and yet they did. The main study hall on the second floor of the old building was the same in which Berthelot, Ney and Kellerman had studied as young officers. It was some consolation to think that perhaps the great marshalls-to-be had shivered and blown on their fingers just as we were doing.
The morning papers say the Kaiser has
Now that it seems to be all over, I have lost interest in the whole affair and my thought now is to get back home again and the quicker the better. It has been a dirty, mean business, this war, and when I take off my khaki this time, I never want to put it on again or think of these days. The work here at the school has been interesting and I find only the mathematics to be hard. Of course, I am working hard to succeed, but the stuff is coming faster each day. Sometimes I think it will overwhelm me and then again I surprise myself by my efforts.
I wish you could see me ride the horses. Great stuff! The topography, 75 drill, telephone, radio and ballistics I can eat up, also materiel and ammunition, but that darned math may yet put me hors de combat.
However, the commission does not loom up as big as it did when I started down here, for now, as I said before, all the boys can think of is to get home in a hurry. That quick return will be recompense for all the hardships and anxious moments “up there” which are brief but everlasting memories. Personally, I don’t care whether I come back a “loot” or a buck private, just as long as it happens in a hurry.
Finis la guerre! Isn’t it too good to be true after all these years? And it seems like a flash, before we could get our bearings. Now I will surely get home to you soon.
Last Monday morning--the 11th, wonderful day--we were assembled in the Salle Carnot for a lecture on topography by Captain Pozzy of the French Army. Just as he was about to begin, a messenger came down the aisle with a radio-gram caught by the school wireless. The Captain had a broad grin on his face as he read the following:
“The armistice was signed this
morning at ,
And then you should have heard the howling
as those 1,800 husky Americans let ‘er go full blast. We cheered and laughed and cried--I know my
own eyes had a suspicious film of moisture--and then we gave old Foch and
You should have seen the French people carry on. They simply went wild, raced up and down the street waving French and American flags, shot off firecrackers and generally raised Cain for more than three days without a let-up. It was some time.
And now for home--home, sweet home. Studies, drill and everything have gone by the board this week and all we can concentrate on is how to get home at once. The rumor is out around now that if this class is continued and graduates in February, that the men commissioned will be kept in France for garrison duty till the last contingent leaves. Of course the man who voices such things around here is taking his life in his hands. The majority of the men don’t give a rap for the bars now. They mostly want to get home and into civil life again away from the thought and practice of blood-shed and the hardships which the folks back home will never understand, for one has to go through them to realize what they mean.
I am well and strong, so don’t worry about me, the war is over. One little accident happened to me last week but it didn’t hurt anything to speak of except my pride. The horse I was riding took fright at something on the field and neatly landed me on my nose and shoulder. It didn’t incapacitate me, for I grabbed him again and rode home but, believe me, I was as stiff and sore for a week as anyone could be. Later on I took a few more on the tan-bark in the riding hall, but that is like playing football, and one doesn’t mind it. We all have to pick this and ourselves up by degrees and if I do say it, I am gradually getting along as a rider which is absolutely necessary in field artillery work.
This morning we went to Conde for
field service on bicycles. It is about
15 kilometers up the
One of the men here was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross this morning on the Chardonnet. He brought in a wounded officer under fire. It was a very impressive ceremony and the whole battalion turned out to do him honour. We had to drill for about an hour to get the stuff properly by the time the review came along, but when we did pass the delegation of French, English and American staff-officers we made a very good appearance. I talked with the boy who get the Cross later on. Seems he and a detail were in charge of a dump close up to the line with one officer in command. The Hun spotted it and dumped some H.E. shells into it, setting it afire. The officer was trapped in the center of the dump. The soldier went in and got him, put him on his shoulder and brought him out in time to save his life.
Nothing new today. We will not receive commissions for going through here, so we are told today, and those who finish will be returned to their outfits. Personally, I think the whole thing will bust up shortly and in that case the least they could do for these men, who deserve some consideration, would be to ship them home as a unit.
I see in the papers that demobilization has started in the States. We are all predicting that the conscientious objectors and such like will be given first consideration and sent home at once while the boys who did the real work over here and are quite willing to go home will stay in France for the balance of the winter to repair the French roads, etc.
But don’t worry, I’ll be home soon and then it will be all the better for the waiting and hoping.
The armistice automatically stopped the awarding of commissions. When this news struck the school a great howl arose and the men were unanimous in asking that they either be sent home at once or returned to their outfit to spend the rest of the time with the men they had fought with. After such hesitancy on the part of the commandant we were informed that we were still in the U.S. Army, that we had all been in that army long enough to know what discipline meant, that we were going to stay in the school until they saw fit to close it and that the high standard of instruction, scholarship and discipline would be maintained. If we doubted this we were informed that there were several picket lines in the vicinity also a good sized wood-pile where we could work off our grouch in event that we did not care to study. Such talk, of course had the opposite effect. The men were made wary; they still meant to take things easy and at the same time endeavor to stay in school and avoid the punishment which later was forthcoming in several cases.
The meeting broke up in disorder, the men vowing that it was this worst treatment any body of men had ever received at the hands of the army and that the future boded no good for the school.. We were all very much disappointed at the prospect of spending three months there with nothing to show for our efforts and from that day on the men took no interest in the courses.
Your scrawl of some weeks ago came when I was in a particularly unpleasant place so I really didn’t digest its burden of wit and intellect to the fullest extent but today, when I’m reading all the best sellers, I went through it again and decided that it merited an answer. I wish I could be there to fight with you instead of doing my part in the Battle of Saumur (pronounce it Somewhere) but when next Thanksgiving Day dawns I’ll be able to tell you how we did it in France.
I suppose the folks at Honesdale have
told you that I am trying to emulate your friend John in the artillery, So I, too, can wear a Sam Brown belt and half
a mustache. It’s all right only the
emulating is all over, the War Department having decided that having enough
second-rate officers already, the best way to cut down the number was to
abolish the custom. So here we are, at
an O.T.C. for the field artillery Where they do not give commissions. Therein are we to be distinguished from all
others. The armistice was a great thing,
the only one we are likely to have this season, but it placed us in a most
embarrassing position for we are likely to return to
I suppose John is quite piqued to
think that with his
November 28, l918
Yesterday was another lucky one for
me for seven of your letters came, two from
When I opened one of them I thought I
smelt onions and after reading through came upon your description of the dinner
with roast duck and creamed onions. I’m
trying now to determine whether they were long-range onions (like the German
gun) or whether I was just a victim of my overly-zealous olfactory nerves. But wouldn’t I have done justice to that
meal? I haven’t had a decent meal since
I left home, except the supper in the Restaurant Chartier,
I have been unable to get a photo
taken since coming to
The cold weather is on, too, in full
swing and its beastly. I’ll be glad to get back to the bracing
Now that the censorship begins to
lift a bit I can tell you more about my travels. My stay in
I am so glad to hear that you all are well fixed for the winter and that the new arrangement is working out well. I hope to get back in time to see it myself. You all are to be congratulated on your ingenuity. And won’t a real bed feel good when I do get back? Before I came down here to the school we were hitting the worst sort of going, sleeping in the mud without even a shelter tent over us, eating bully-beef and hard-tack day in and day out until I was afraid I began to look like a steer, no water to drink or fit to drink, only coffee and that only in name, etc. I’ve had about enough of this game to last me the rest of my days.
Thanksgiving Day, 1918
Well, this has been some day. The rain is pouring down like a torrent and standing
in puddles the way it used to around the corner of
The four of us, Mac, The Dago, Old Kirk and myself decided that for one day we would forego the mess here--and it is that--and eat elsewhere, so we trooped downtown and bought some real loaf, pickles, jelly, cheese, and by diplomacy and pigeon-English, I persuaded a frightened little French woman to part with a great big loaf of bread (strictly against the law without tickets). Then we cane back to the room and ate our Thanksgiving Dinner. Oh, well, what we lacked in sumptuousness we made up for in conversation, which was comprised to a great extent of criticism of our august Government in sending us here and the French people for our being here. When we exhausted the subject we smoked cigarettes and damned the Kaiser. All in all, it was not the most prepossessing dinner I ever sat into, but by dint of the remembrance of last year’s feast and next year’s banquet I struck an average which will console me for this time.
This is another dull day, like all
Sundays in the Army. I am putting the
time to good advantage however by writing to you. Units of candidates are leaving here for
Yesterday we went out for field service with the guns. The objective was Distre and it was my job as reconnaissance officer, to find the battery positions. Had to wade up to my knees in mud from le Coudray-Macquard to Courchamps cross-country, make a panoramic sketch similar to the enclosed sample, send back directions to the Battery Commander and see that the telephone connections were put in shape for immediate use. It is all very interesting work and could be my delight at any other time but--the war is over and now it all seems so foolish and wasteful to be trampling down the poor peasants’ cabbages and farms to get our guns into position, teaching the science of war, when the one we just helped to finish is supposed to have been the last.
Whenever I am out alone like that my mind begins to dwell on such thoughts and pretty soon I am a few thousands of miles away, free from artillery and the practice of theoretical blood-shed, back home with you all.
Remember how I liked apples when I
was home? Last night I went downtown and
saw some nice ones in a window--French apples.
I bought one. I figured it up
afterwards and those apples were selling for $22.40 per bushel--to
service above-mentioned was a regular feature of the course. The boys looked forward to it with a great
deal of interest for study in the classrooms was almost impossible due to the
cold. Out in the open we felt better and
could keep moving, especially if we were mounted, which was usually the case. On the day before, we would have handed to us
a slip explaining the proposed problem, the duties of each of us and the time
schedule. As all this work is
synchronized things must move smoothly or the whole system breaks down. The next morning, in the dark hours of dawn, we would draw our mounts at the manége,
form our column and with the guns rumbling over the cobbles of the town, move
out to take up the problem. It was hard
work. The day that I was drawn as Battery Commander, the object of the work was
to get a flash-defilade position in front of Breze, in time to open fire at
dawn. This place happened to be about 15
kilometers from Saumur, on a thickly wooded hill, a beautiful position in
itself, but a hard one to attack, under the conditions imposed upon me by the
schedule. However, the one thing fatal
to all plans of the kind is delay, so with a great deal of grumbling we picked
our horses, I patched up the staff and away we went, as confident as field
With a pocket-flash and my rain-coat across the pommel of the saddle I managed to keep an eye on the road and map, through out the ride (one must be familiar with the road, as well as other things) and finally I came to a point where, by the map I decided a good battery position lay. It was directly in back of the hillock upon which the Moulin de Sammousay had stood some few centuries ago, but which was now only a barren hilltop, approached by a sunken road, the thing we were in need of that frosty morning. After a hasty survey of the situation and references to the map, I held a council of my staff , who bore out my contention that this was the most favorable spot in the surrounding terrain.
I sent back a runner to have the guns brought up, but the telephone detachment to work putting in an observation post, sent the visual signalers to relay word to the school that we were about to take position at such a point and would be ready for inspection in one hour. The answer was flashed back O.K. And as soon as the guns were brought up, placed in position and laid, we all sat down and started a game of black-jack.
Sometimes this worked out very well. At others we might tramp around in the rain for hours, up to our hips in mud, waiting for the inspecting officers to come up or else be unable to solve the problem in one try and be forced to go all though the thing again. Conditions were imposed that made the work as nearly as possible like that at the front but while we never fired except at the range, the hardships were never simulated, they were real. We many times spent an entire day in the saddle, in all kinds of weather, doing topographical work or field service . As gun crews were made up from candidates, it fell to our lot to get the guns in battery when a place was picked. Quite often this would be a bog or marshy spot, in underbrush or woods, and the amount of cussing indulged in at these sessions would have driven a mule-driver to death with envy. I recollect once a position that was picked in a fringe of woods that had burned over during the fall. They were thick with twisted vines and shrubbery, a veritable trap for cavalry or any other mounted unit. The bonehead who picked this spot gave the order to place the guns in battery rear, pointing from the fringe of the woods. This we did but the whole place was thick with charred wood, soft and chalky to the touch, and we had not been working there more than ten minutes before the whole crowd looked like a bunch of niggers. One can imagine the howl that went up. And then we had to crouch in the stuff and simulate loading and firing the piece. This was the limit of our patience and the men soon began to burlesque the thing. It looked more like a minstrel show for some of the boys were covered with the charcoal until they were actually black in the face.
Old Kirk and myself went out of the scene by pretending to get our canteens on the caissons but actually we went over the hill to the nearest farmer’s abode and sat around the kitchen fire, telling the farmer and his open-eyed family what a wonderful place l’Amerique was, and we could do justice to the subject at the moment. After the usual glass of red wine and handful of walnuts we rejoined the batteries unobserved.
Have just finished a bout with the
“London Sketch” and the “Tattler” so look out, I may quote some of their
post-war jokes. Since the kings of
Have just received a letter from Dede dated November 13, containing your opinion of armistices in general and this one in particular. Also she mentioned the fact that you had forwarded my letter. Thanks, I’ll bring you a Big Bertha for a paperweight.
I’ve always been proud of the fact
that the States had them all beaten when it came to a matter of speed but the
way in which they beat the world to the armistice news by four days is moving a
bit, I’ll say. It caused a good laugh
over here, but we needed one, so why quibble over a matter of four days, we
don’t have an armistice every day. Now
that the watch on the
Christmas at Saumur was a dismal season. We repeated our appeal of Thanksgiving Day to the Commandant to have a bit of a special dinner, but the thing fell through. I had mine in the hospital, going in with the usual winter case of pleurisy. I was discharged the day after Christmas and went back to the old grind with renewed vigor.
Well, here is another year, brighter
and better, let us hope than the one just gone.
In some respects 1918 will always live in our memories but there are
weeks and months in it that I want to forget when I get home. And home means a great deal to us now. I think I’d go to
There is some kind of rumor going
around that the married men here would go home first but I’ve heard so much of
that now, that I place little faith in it.
We are rounding out our ninth week of hard, grueling field service and
study and the boys are all willing to leave this awful French winter weather at
any time. They are for keeping us here
though, so I guess we’ll go on to the finish.
We made out alright so far, more through luck than anything, but I would
leave here tomorrow if they would send me to
In one of your letters you say you are anxious to see me in a uniform. I think you’d be disappointed for I’m not of a prepossessing appearance this morning at least. You will see by the photo I sent that we look like a lot of hoboes. This morning the only thing that looks good is your sweater. I’m still wearing the pants they gave me at Camp Merritt, and they show their age; my puttees are streaked with chalky wet clay clear to my knees and my shoes are hard to find in the mass of mud that clings to them. All in all, I don’t look like the man you took for better or for worse, but never mind, wait until I reach home. In a few hours, I’ll shed my khaki hide so quickly that you won’t know me at all! Oh, for a clean shirt and a suit of thin clothes, and imagine wearing a coat that doesn’t require all your spare time to keep the pockets buttoned up and the officers from criticizing.
MacDowell, another fellow and his
brother and myself spent New Year’s Day out in the country. You know, this is the famous chateau country
After dinner, we left the Maison de
la Lion d’Or, as it is known, and struck out into the country. We stopped at the ruins of the Chateau de
Montsereau, occupied at one time by Henri of Navarre, and at the church at
Condes. The former was built about 1440
A.D. and is a picturesque old ruin. We
climbed all through and over the place.
It is an excellent example of the architecture of those days. Later we
continued on to Condes and visited the old church where
Things are about the same here, we finish in a few days. If I get through at all it will be by a narrow squeak, for my math has been the hardest thing to master. In other subjects though, like execution of fire, observation of fire, field-service, radio and telephone work, materiel, etc., I’m alright, but I’m afraid of the math. I haven’t worried my head about it for some time, but on the last exam they usually shoot something entirely different at you and that’s what I’m on the watch for. Our finals come either this Saturday or next Monday and that will tell the story. I’m putting in some good licks at the books though and am pretty confident that I can beat out a 70, which is a passing mark. My other marks will qualify me even if I fall below that figure but I’d like to be able to make it without a low mark.
No one seems to know what they will do with us when the school closes. We were told today that the General was up at G.H.Q. trying to make arrangements to move what is left of the school back to the States in a body, but we’ve heard that story too often to believe it.
The other night at about 12:00 p.m.,
I had just settled down for a snooze when the bugler busted out with the army
fire call, that blood-curdling wail, than which there is nothing more
soul-thrilling in all the repertoire of Orpheus. In the army it is a serious offense to sleep
through a fire-call or the call to arms, so we all jumped up and threw on our
shoes in a hurry. With me leading the section with the only flashlight handy at
the time, we dashed across the Chardonnet and on down the stone walks of the
street, our hob-nailed shoes giving a good imitation of a battery going into
action. When we arrived at the scene of
the blaze, it turned out to be a real fire, two large buildings already in
flames and threatening the eleventh century
Since writing the foregoing letter we have finished at the school and left. We went first to Angers but from there were re-routed to St. Aignan, were left to lie in the mud of that hell-hole for three days and nights and then forwarded to Mareuil which is a paradise compared to the former place.
In the final exams I passed successfully in all but B.C math. However, I had a 68 which with the other marks, put me over the top and qualified me for a commission. I would have been made a telephone officer in some battery at the front if the war had continued but now it’s home for us and little we care whether there ever was a war. The “Battle of Saumur” was about hard enough for us.
Our outfit here is composed mostly of
candidates from the school waiting to be sent home. There are only five officers to the 600 men,
so we are acting as officers to the outfit.
It is great sport, but rather dull at times. We have very comfortable billets and the town
is small. St. Aignian, three kilos
away, is the big embarkation point for
troops fitting out to go home to
I put in for a leave the other day
and if it comes I will go to either Aix-le-Bains or Nice. If we are to be here long I might just as
well see the
We are just marking time now waiting for the transports to sail. It seems to good to be true to think that we will soon be back in the States again where people are civilized. This country may have been wonderful in peace-time but it will take years for them to reconstruct their former status to a point where Americans could enjoy themselves in company with them.
Nothing new to report since my last
letter. We found out that the old
command is still in this country and is slated to go into
We hear all kinds of rumors here
about going home but one can’t believe them until it actually happens. Suffice to say, we are all fed up on army
life and will welcome a change. You will
see by the “Stars & Stripes” which I sent home that only about 100,000 per
month are being shipped home in security where 300,000 per month were shipped
over here during the war, despite the submarine menace. What’s the matter with the people back home?
We are fairly busy here but nothing compared to the work in the old Headquarters outfit of the 4th Corps. However, it’s better to be busy now than idle for then you can’t think too much of home. We just plug along and hope for the best and a quick return.
Should this letter appear to have been written by a delirious or half-demented person just blame it on G.H.Q. for WE ARE ORDERED HOME! And best of all, we are to be on our way in about ten days or two weeks! Well, I’m so flustered I can hardly contain myself, so please excuse this scattering of facts. I think I’ll go out and lick a French gendarme just to let off steam.
We are supposed to make up our payrolls and records this week and our passenger lists next week and from all appearances, we will be on our way about February 8th or 9th. If we get away on schedule we should be in the States about ten days later for units going home are not detained long at the base ports.
It’s rather slushy and snowy here today but it can’t dampen my spirits after the kind of news the Battalion Sergeant Major brought with home from St. Aignan. I’d send him to town every few minutes during the day if he could bring such news on every trip. I’ll hold this letter until I’m absolutely sure of these latest facts.
Have changed application for leave
from one to three days (not including traveling time)to visit
My second visit to
Three of us got the first three-day
passes issued to troops in the south. We
came by way of
We put up at the above mentioned
hotel which is conducted by the American Red Cross and real American women--God
bless them--the best ever. We have a
fine room, real beds with sheets--Oh, Boy--and the only expense is 75 centimes,
Yesterday, after checking in at the
Provost Marshall’s office in the Rue St. Anne, we walked around town, saw the
Place de la Opera, Place Vendome and the great bronze column made by Napoleon
from captured cannon, strolled along the Rue de Rivoli and many other famous
boulevards. In the evening we saw the
Parisian’s latest idol--Madame Marnec in “La Reine Joyeuse” at the Theatre
Apollo. She is a French and a
Parisienne--can I say more? The song by
the same name is great and we must try to get it in
Today we set out in earnest. We went along the Rue Royale to the
Madeleine, that perfect replica of Grecian architecture. From there we went on past the President’s
home , the
This bridge was named after and
dedicated by Alexandre the Third of Russia, on the occasion of his visit to
We crossed over and passed along the
Esplanade des Invalides to the building where rests the ashes of
From the Invalides we went down the
Rue de Bordonnais to the
Would you say that we were on the
go? I’m so tired tonight and that was
only the morning trip! So this is
In the afternoon I went to the Grande
Magazin de Louvre and sent you and the baby a little birthday present from
After sending them off by parcel post, insured, I left the boys and went to spend the afternoon in the Louvre, that vast treasure house of the world’s offering to art. How can anyone write of it, how can mere words describe that which only the heart and soul can know? I didn’t see everything, one can spend a lifetime there and still see only a part. One hall I came to led to a vast arched room and there, in all her grace and beauty, apart from the rest as befits a queen, stood the original of all the copies I have seen of the Venus de Milo.
Against an elegant arch of black velvet she stood out like a crescent moon against the sky, every curve and feature a poem in marble. I sat down upon one of the velvet lounges and gazed and gazed, it was so exquisite. I shall carry the memory of that moment with me to the end of time. There are other treasures in this wonderful collection of the beautiful but none to compare with her.
On my way to the hotel, I went into
I wish you could be here to see it
all, to view these great boulevards and buildings, to see the tide of people
from all the corners of the globe, the life and vivaciousness of .the
French--truly one must see
We started this morning to see Notre
Dame. As luck would have it, we stumbled
into one of the rare services, Cardinal Amette ordaining some priests, a very
special occasion. The great organ was
playing as we stepped in and truly it was enthralling. Somewhere in my dreams I have heard such
music but only here could one hear it in reality. The place is so vast and the arches so high
that even our nob-nailed boots did not set up an echo, which I greatly feared
they would. The windows are superb, the
best I have seen in
From the cathedral we walked along
the Avenue St. Michael, into the Latin
Quartier , home of Bohemians. It is not
much to see for it must have changed considerably since the war. After a few minutes walk we came to the Cluny
Museé, which was closed. I would have
given a great deal to have seen the inside of this quaint old place; it has a
wonderful little park surrounding it and is said to contain many wonderful
pieces of antique art. It will have to
wait though, I guess, for we are here only three days. We continued on to the Sorbonne and the
From the Pantheon we went on down
along the Rue Les Escoles to the Boulevard St.Germain, one of the best streets
in the city; through another side street to the banks of the Seine, across to
Bridge of Henry the Fourth, past the Church Royale, down the Rue de Rivoli and
to our hotel on the Rue de Hyacinthes.
It was a long walk, about seven miles, but one that will never be
forgotten. The boys are getting peeved
because I always want to walk instead of ride but who would throw away such an
opportunity to see
After dinner we returned to the Invalides, as yesterday they had not removed all the sand bags and other works designed to protect the place from bombs and shell-fire. We reached the tomb by way of the Tuileries Gardens, over the bridge, past the Chamber of Deputies and the Quai d’Orsay where Wilson and the Peace Commissioners are sitting (they didn’t come outside to greet us).
The French worship the Little Corporal’s memory with good reason, I think, for he gave them their first great works of art and their liberty of thought and action. In return they honour his resting place with the most magnificent building I have ever been in, one that perhaps has no equal anywhere else in the world.
The interior work is of marble and gold, lit by windows of immense size which admit by clever arrangement, a pale ethereal light, hazy blue and soft. As one comes in the door their sight meets a vast altar of black marble from the Vosges Mountians, trimmed with gold. This stands over and beyond the well which encircles the sarcophagus below, in a sort of nave, on either side of which concealed windows throw a pale amber-like glow upon the altar. This lighting arrangement is wonderful, it is like a dream-thing. And the great arches and vast dome make one feel so small.
In the centre, beneath the dome, stands the sarcophagus of brownish-coloured marble- where the great soldier sleeps. As we look down from the marble wall running around the well it seems a small block of stone but when you go downstairs, through the portal made of bronze from the captured cannon of Austerlitz, and walk around the colonnade from which are draped the battle-flags, it is some eighteen feet from the floor to the top of the sarcophagus. The size of things in this building are most deceptive. In the four smaller naves are the sarcophagi of Bertholot, Napoleon’s favorite General; Jerome Napoleon and one other, whose name has escaped me.
In the lobby I bought some cards and
then we went back to the Louvre on the street-cars. That is one more thing that
On the way to the Assistant Provost
Marshal’s we took the metro tube, just as modern as our Subway in
They say that if one walks around or
only stands still on the Rue de l’Opera for a little while, one will see
someone they have heard of or know.
Coming back along this famous boulevard I met Captain Huston, the doctor
of the 4th Corps, who saved my life at Montignac when I lay ill with the
influenza. He was passing through
Sunday evening and Monday morning we spent in just strolling around without any definite object in view. We went along the Rue des Italians, that street, or boulevard, where you can see everyone and his brother with a girl on his arm. The girls vary in their evident means of livelihood, but they are invariably pretty and very talkative. We wrote some letters from the American Exp. Company’s office back of the Opera, visited Brentano’s, went through a few more of the great department stores, sat in some of the cafes and drank very excellent Dutch chocolate with little cakes (all except one of which is appetizing), taking in the sights and sounds of Paris.
we browsed around the famous book stalls that line the left bank of the
afternoon we packed our musettes and took the metro to the Gare de Orleans,
bound back to St. Aignan. Our trip to
Your memory for history is probably better than mine so you will remember that this city will always be associated with the name of Jeanne d’Arc for it was here that she fought one of her great battles. Only a few short hours ago I stood beneath the great vaulted arches of the cathedral where the girl-conqueror worshipped, and my eyes opened with wonderment as I gazed at the beautiful rose-windows, reflecting all the colours of the rain-bow. It is simply a dream in stone and glass. The delicate carving of the spires and arches is as perfect as human hands can do and I dare say that no humans exist who could duplicate such things. On the side of the church there is an old cloistered garden where old men in the robes of the church walk in meditative moods, the stones beneath their feet worn in furrows from the foot-prints of centuries.
We are leaving here this afternoon for Mareuil to reach which we have to hike six miles from-St. Aignan. It is beginning to slush up a bit so I guess we will have a bit of rough walking.
After a more or less dismal ride from
I wanted to see
Another clear, cold day but glorious weather for once at any rate. Your wristlets and sweater come in handy these days, I can tell you.
I have an orderly now who has attached
himself to me, a little bugler, who takes care of me and my things in great
shape. I strongly suspect that he hopes
for a cushy job around headquarters but if he continues to serve as he is doing
now, I can overlook his strategy. He has
been in the army for ten years and acted as dog-robber for officers during
eight of them. He gets me flap-jacks in
the mornings even if he has to row with the mess-sergeant to do the stunt, sees
that I have hot water to shave with, goes up the road to “parley voo” with the
French woman about my laundry and stands by to see that she doesn’t rub holes
in the flannel shirts, brings me hot coffee and jam at night when I am working
late at Headquarters and washes up the mess things afterwards. In fact, he’s a jewel. I’m going to give him a good recommendation
when we part. You would die laughing to
hear him tell how he wheeled the baby carriages around the reservation at
Wish you could be here to see the airplanes. They are so common in this country that even the peasants have ceased to pay much attention to them when they are going over. It’s a pretty sight to see one come spiraling down over our headquarters, a few thousand feet over us, drop our daily mail sack and then zoom upward to go to the next place. They even inspect the road details in planes! We never pay much attention to them anyway. Quite often a large flock passes over for all the world like a swarm of bees.
We had a minstrel show last night under the direction of the K. of C. secretary. The talent was all drawn from the unit, the theatre was an old French barn and the costumes a triumph of the foraging art. I wish I could tell you in detail of the little tragedies and comedies of life involving the matter of costumes. We sent out details with an interpreter to plead with the natives for dresses, coats, hats, etc. and never in all my life have I seen such a conglomeration of outfits. Just one will suffice to illustrate. He had a miniature high hat atop of an exceedingly black face; for a coat he wore a French bugler’s tunic which an apprehensive widow parted with only after the C.O. assured her that it would be returned in good order; his trousers would have done credit to an English coster boy, they being composed of a brilliant plaid with pearl buttons down each side. To complete the rig he wore a pair of officers boots with spurs! Bert Williams in his wildest flight of fancy never conceived anything half as wonderful. And the rest were just as good. The queer part of it all is where did the clothes come from?
It was pathetic to see with what ingenuity they had contrived the stage and footlights, wings and drapes. Truly the American soldier is nothing if not adept at making the most of what is at hand. The orchestra consisted of a battered old piano and the black faces were supplied by a liberal use of burnt cork and bacon grease from the mess hall. They didn’t kick much about putting that mess on their faces; one of the boys said it was just as good as cold-cream except for the smell! It was some show.
Here in our headquarters office we
have a fine big fire-place and what do you imagine they use for andirons? Why, they have two bars of iron to hold the
logs and on the ends facing toward the room are two statues, one representing
We fell too with the best of spirits and by , had them all fixed up and, in column of squads, I gave them the “Let’s go” signal and we were on our way at last back to the States.
At St. Aignan I turned my outfit over to the camp commander and was assigned myself to a tent away up in one corner of the camp. This camp, by the way, needs a little explaining. In the first place, the officer who picked such a site should have been court-martialed at once. The land was old vine-yard soil, very soft, in the bottom of a damp valley and every little mist left it like a quagmire. Men died in this place of spinal-meningitis and the next occupant of the bunk-house or tent slept in and used the same blankets that the former man had owned and without being fumigated. The mess facilities were so poor and inadequate that many men, including myself refused to eat there and were dependent upon their own resources for sustenance. As a consequence, illnesses were the rule and not the exception. Water taps were scarce in the camp and usually a long distance from the men’s billets. Duck boards had been laid down in profusion to enable one to keep out of the mud but they were hardly a drop in the bucket in a camp where there were 20,000 men and accommodations for not more than 8,000.
eight days at this camp before entraining for the port of embarkation I lived
on stick-chocolates, sardines, hard-tack and soup-cubes. With the other men, we could prepare these in
our own tent without going out to wallow up to our shines in mud, waiting in a
mess-line for a lot of stuff that even the French peasants wouldn’t take home
as garbage to their pigs. There were
also medical cases here that would have roused the indignation of a forgetful
nation back home. One man in my own tent
had a machine-gun bullet embedded in his ankle, had been sent to this camp in
December, l918, for return to the States as Class C casual--unfit for even
light duty and here it was February 20, 1919, and he was doing guard duty,
standing on his feet for two hours at a time!
When he left for home I do not know but he was still there when I left,
still doing duty as a kitchen-police hand, having fallen in a dead faint while
on guard duty. I came home with another
case almost similar who had the same story.
The wonder is not that the men lived at all but that they lived and
smiled! If ever a case of military
injustice was done to the men of the A.E.F., it was on that bleak and bitter
plain at St. Aignan, not mis-named “
For the next
few days after arriving there I had nothing to do but roam around and observe
things but this growing too much for even my hardened stomach I drew a few
books at the
night we passed through
this point, as we rounded a hill, away off in the distance I saw the glint of
the sun on the waves and later the deep turquoise of the sea.
We were only
held in the rest camp until . Meanwhile the
officer and myself went into town to dig up the censor in order to send home a
cable but after searching all over we had to give up and take a chance on
sending one before the boat left. We had
a good chance to see the City which is one of the most progressive in all
That night at we marched down through
the streets with full packs but oh, they did seem so light this time! Homeward bound and the ship in the
distance. The bunch struck up “Hail,
Hail, the Gang’s all Here” and all the old favorites and one could feel the
lessening of the pressure that had been constant all the days we spent in
S.S. President Wilson, At Sea
I am writing this in my stateroom
aboard the “President Wilson” of
The ride on the
This morning I was up early to view
“Gib” as we came into the harbor after skirting the coast of
I’m sorry I couldn’t get a cable off
to you before I left
Well, my shore leave materialized and now, after a redletter day, I am stretched out in a steamer-chair on the upper stern-deck, writing this to you, and in between pages, watching the sunset over the African hills. It has been a never-to-be-forgotten day. “Gib” is a bit of the old world with a touch of modernism which our good friend Johnny Bull supplies. One sees Arabs and Algerians go along the quaint little streets, with donkeys loaded with oranges, dates, silks, etc. The Arabs are barefooted--it is summer here now and very picturesque in their burnoosé and red fezs. Spaniards with brightly colored shawls, smart British officers with their swagger sticks, all nations and races are represented. It is a riot of color and atmosphere such as one cannot find anywhere else in the world for this is a stopping-off place for all the vessels and travelers going and coming from the far corners of the earth.
We bought something but that is a
secret so you’ll have to wait to know.
I’ll tell you one thing, I did bring with me from one shop--a little
Indian silver napkin ring for the baby brought by her Dad from
This morning one of the Sergeants and myself laid in a supply of oranges for the trip. One hundred and eight for a dollar! And you are paying probably sixty cents a dozen in the States now, fancy that! We took them in through a port hole in my stateroom for the Colonel forbade us buying anymore since the boys started to pelt the “spiggoties” with them yesterday. We didn’t get caught at it so now in my rain coat under the bed we have a supply for the dreary days ahead.
March 4, 1919
Ashore again today. It’s so pretty here one cannot resist the temptation
to stroll through the various little streets and gardened walks. I went alone this time to enjoy it at my
leisure. I went along the Rosia road,
that exquisite street which the officers of the garrison occupy. It is lined with little cottages, rare
tropical flowers all strange to me but very sweet and wonderful after the drab
There are a bunch of our sub-chasers
here in the harbor for repairs, en route to the newest of our possessions, the
S.S. President Wilson, at sea
March 6, 1919
We pulled out of
The little town looked like a bit of
ivory lace on emerald velvet, a little gem of fantastic coloring. Then on through the Strait, past Tangier on
the African side and out into the broad
Then we passed up the harbor. What a welcome! The bands on the boats of the Mayor’s Committee, the tooting ferries, the hoarse bellowing of the liners, a mad inferno of noise. The next moment from out the thin mist hove the great statue, that symbol of home and all it meant to us--Miss Liberty. It was worth it all to be able to say we were Americans! The days of hardships and worse were over at last and we were for home again in the land for which we had tried to do our best.
And this ends
my story. I was discharged one week
I arrived home at Honesdale March 22, 1919, and one may judge of how happy I was to be there once again, sound in mind and body.
There is much
more that I could write here about Army life,
both of a critical nature and not a little of praise, but I am content
to let Time be the judge of my own thoughts on some phases and much more are
better left forgotten. The fact remains
that, all things to the contrary, the German Empire is no more and peace of a
sort Reigns in
• THE END •