25 RUE RAYNOUARD, PARIS, June 7, 1917.
Dear Mr. Howland: After getting over here all right they told us there was no chance to drive ambulances. It seems there had been quite a rush to join the service and they are filled to capacity. Why they did not tell us that before I don't understand but, anyway, they did not.
In place of the ambulance we were offered the chance to join the transport service of the French army. The American ambulance has branched out into the American Field Service, which means we drive supply trucks for the army. I am not a bit sorry, as I think the camion driving is more of a man's job, anyway. We have big five-ton Pierce-Arrow trucks, or camions as they are called here, and drive in convoys. The convoys transport all army munitions and supplies from the railroad station to the front.
Just now I am in a training school about fifteen miles from the front. Here all the men are sent for ten or fifteen days to learn something about the French army and to drive the camions. We expect to be sent out Tuesday or Wednesday. This is a new branch of service, as only three sections of thirty-six men have been sent out so far. To drive an ambulance I would have had to stay in Paris for at least six weeks just waiting around and that did not appeal to me at all.
In the training camp we live out of doors and have a good time. There are about one hundred and fifty fellows here now, but a section goes out as soon as it is complete. We get up at 6:30, have a setting-up drill and then breakfast. Inspection at 7:50 is followed by drilling with our French guns. Our equipment includes a gas mask, gun, and steel helmet. The rest of the day we spend on lectures, driving camions and work around camp. After dinner, we have time to ourselves and that is the best part of the day. They have wonderful long twilights here and so we have light until about 9:30. We go to the village or visit an aviation camp where the Lafayette Escadrille is stationed. With best regards. Sincerely yours,
June 8, 1917.
Dear Mother: Usual routine today only I cut my finger building the roof on the new barracks. It got me out of drill but that is small recompense. Thayer and I went over to the aviation field after supper. The pilots were all in but we talked to Americans there. I got pretty well acquainted with one from Oakland named Marr. He is a real adventurer and a very nice fellow. His father is a rancher in California and he has been most everything for his part. He has been in Alaska for the last ten years or so mining and fooling around. Among other things he used to race dogs for pleasure. When the war broke out a friend of his, a lieutenant in the French army, wired him to get five hundred sled dogs for use in the Vosges mountains. He got three hundred of them in Labrador and he and the lieutenant brought them over on a special boat. After that he joined the American ambulance for six months and then joined the Lafayette Escadrille. After training for six months he was sent to the front and has now been flying for a year. He is modest and quiet, a most likeable fellow. That Escadrille has lost five men in the last month They all feel very uncertain about their lives and wish the war was over. This is all for today. Good-night, dear.
25 RUE RAYNOUARD, PARIS, June 11, 1917.
Dearest Mother: I am still at the training camp waiting to be sent to the front. The three other Yale boys are good companions and we get along much better than I had hoped for. We do not have much time to ourselves and so writing is difficult to get in. I have kept a journal since I came here and there is so much to write about that it takes all my time. The news that would never pass the censor I jot down in the journal. A year from now it won't make a particle of difference but just now we must not describe anything or tell about conditions here.
As for the field service, I am glad I joined it. Our training camp grows every day. It now has about two hundred men in training. We live outdoors and have a pretty good time generally. The most interesting thing is the trips by auto through the country. All the sights---old, old stone farmhouses, etc.--abandoned trenches with wire entanglements still there, all of these make this country like a picture book.
Mother, I am enclosing a few pages of my journal. Please hang on to them for me. The rest might get held up so I will just keep them. Best love to you and father from your loving son,
SECTION GROUPE, T. M. U. 133, PAR B. C. M.,
PARIS, July 31, 1917.
Dear Father: I have been thinking quite a bit lately about what I am to do when my six months are up. This service might be all right for the French army but very soon it will be taken over by the United States. What am I going to do then? This service is the least honorable in the entire army. It is nothing more or less than truck driving and is very properly regarded as such. The French call it and everyone in it "embusquées." Do you think I would like to be called a slacker by every American I meet? All the Yale boys who could get into the army did and they will be coming over here pretty soon. That is what I have against it. The only thing in its favor is the safety. If this was a hundred years' war a camion driver would go through it all safely.
On the other hand before very much longer I will be under the conscription act. No one over here seems to hope for a speedy conclusion of the war and so I might very well be called out by force. In that case they would put me where they wanted me, not where I want to go. Not only the conscription act but the fact that I am (or will be soon) twenty-one years old would force me to do something. I might possibly get by without joining the army, but, father, I never heard of anyone in our family who dodged the call to arms. This may not be a repetition of the Revolution or of the Civil War, but the call is there just the same and I can't think that you would want me to stay out until conscription got me. If it isn't actual conscription it is the spirit of conscription; one or the other would get me, so why not beat them to it?
You remember what Phil said about being two jumps ahead of the draft. That also has a very practical value which you do not seem to realize. You can pick the branch you want, now. Later, they pick you.
I have seen every branch of the army since I came over here and there is only one which appeals to me. The other day we went over close to the Craonne plateau and the Chemin des Dames. You know where that is? It has seen the heaviest fighting for several months. We passed a troop just coming from the trenches. I will never forget them as they walked slowly back from the front. They were covered up to the waist with a suit of mud, they had been standing in it for three days. They were all unshaven, of course, and dirty beyond description. They were all covered with lice---"les totos" they call them, "little companions." They all come away from the trenches with those; it seems they never escape them as all the trenches are filthy with rats and bugs.
Well, that is what you have to look forward to in the infantry. No one escapes trench duty in the infantry. The cavalry is no better as it is almost the same thing. The artillery is ever so much better but they lead a terribly dull life, as they are miles behind the lines, in dugouts, and all they do is work their guns, the noise of which nearly drives one mad after hearing it continuously.
What is there left and why is it better? Aviation! The flyers are practically all officers, and you know what that means in the army. They have twice the freedom of movement that anyone else has. They are in no more danger than the infantryman, and even their danger is more or less up to the man himself. He has more chance than when facing a machine-gun over a trench. Even if it is dangerous, would you have me stay out just because it is dangerous? When has any of our family ever run away from danger?
Father, if you are willing to have me join the army (if you are not, the draft will get me, regardless, in six more months) why not let me choose the branch I would like most to be in? You might like infantry, Paul might like artillery, but after all I am the one who is doing it and I much prefer the flying corps. They have a training school about to open here. If you get a pilot's license you are a second lieutenant. The course lasts from three to five months in the school. As nearly as I can figure it the aviation is to be America's specialty in this war. If I could only get in it at the first I can "hop the gravy" for fair. The gravy being a good commission and the better chance for promotion.
Father, you said I promised not to join the aviation, but I promised not to join without telling you first, as you will remember. I am not keen to get into this dirty fight, anyway, but if I am to get in there is no sense in being dragged in. To get into what you want is only good sense as before my training would be over I would be subject to draft. How can there be any objection to aviation? Your loving son,
HOTEL DES ROCHES NOIRES,
TROUVILLE, August 7, 1917.
Dear Father: We finally got a permission for seven days, so here I am. Four of us decided that famous Deauville and Trouville offered the best amusement and so far we are entirely satisfied. Bathing and watching the sporty crowds walk by, etc., make life a dream. We joined the Normandy Club of Deauville and so look and act like regular people. At the Normandy Hotel are the Vanderbilts, Goulds and the Prince of India, besides numerous others. Sunday I went to Haulgate to visit the Sheets'. It is about twenty kilometers from here. They took me to tea at the William the Conqueror Inn. It is actually the place from which William sailed for England. The church there is one thousand years old and the names of William's followers are inscribed on a wall of the church. F. Hopkinson Smith made the Inn famous in a book called "The Armchair at the Inn. I saw the famous room and chair, et al. This is the most wonderful vacation I ever had because it is so interesting. Every place is famous and old---fully old. Best love to you and mother. Your loving son,
September to, 1917.
Dearest Mother: You suggested sending bacon. Fine! Nothing has reached me yet from the States except the sweater Mrs. McComb sent. I have been told in letters of three packages, but none of them has materialized. When you send the bacon perhaps it would be better to send it in two small bundles a week or so apart and sent c/o American Field Service, 14 Wall Street, New York. Let them forward it. Some bouillon cubes would be very welcome too, mother.
Did I write you about the story a British officer told me? It seems that a young captain came upon a railroad gang of about three thousand men, all under a second lieutenant. He went up to the lieutenant end asked who was in charge of all those men.
"I am, sir," said the lieutenant.
"You! What makes you think you can handle so many men? How many have you bossed before?"
"Oh, about eighty thousand," said the young unknown.
"Who are you, anyway?" the captain asked.
"Why, I was the consulting engineer of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, before the war."
Exit the captain doublequick.
They all start as a second lieutenant . . . . You say father predicts an early end to the war. He must know more than I ever can about it, but I don't see an early finish. Germany will have to be licked by men in the trenches. I think America will have to put a million men in the field and then push the Germans back by English attacking methods. That is what has decided me to join the army. I firmly believe we will have a real fight and will have to put up a big army before this is over. "Eventually, why not now?"
I have read quite a bit, lately. Vanity Fair, Pendennis, Romance, by J. Conrad, David Copperfield, Trilby and others. Waiting to be loaded and unloaded gives me three or four hours a day sometimes. On my permission in Paris I bought a lot of books and brought them back with me. Mother, the Satevepost has almost lost interest for me! They are holding up mail for two weeks, I hear, so this will probably be pretty old when you get it.
Don't worry about food and clothes and such things. They can all be had in Paris if I need them. Your loving son,
SECTION GROUP T. M. U. 133, PAR B. C. M.,
PARIS, September 6, 1917.
Dearest Mother: By this time you have probably heard of my exciting trip to Rheims. I wrote to father first thinking he might be able to use the pictures of the Cathedral. We were marvelously lucky in seeing things. I have written several times asking you and father what you want me to do when my enlistment here is over, but nothing has been said in any of your letters. Father ignores the subject. What I want you to say is "Do whatever you think best," which will leave it to me. My time is not up until November 19, but if this service should be taken over by the army a decision might be necessary since I do not intend to remain here driving a camion.
On a trip to Fere, a town near here, I met some American soldiers who are learning about machine-guns there. We took logs to a German prisoners' camp the other day. The Boche were captured about three weeks ago on the Chemin des Dames front. I handed one a few cigarettes I had and the French guard gave him a prod with a bayonet and told him to "allez." He did not see me slip the cigarettes to him though. The logs were to make a road.
Lately, a regular flock of German airplanes has come over our way and they dropped bombs on Fere. The other day while our convoy was passing through Soissons an air raid started. All traffic was stopped immediately and then about ten bombs fell, making quite a bit of noise and I do not know how much damage. Mother, if you send me stuff, address 21 rue Raynouard, Passy Paris. Nothing has reached me as yet. Could you send me some bouillon cubes and such like stuff? Not very much at a time as it is so likely to be lost, but anything to eat is what we want most of all.
If you ever have a chance to ask anyone who is posted inquire how it is that tobacco and cigarettes, which are supposed to be paid for and contributed in the states, are sold to the soldiers here for double their price? I heard of thousands of dollars' worth of tobacco being sent here, but all I have ever seen costs twice its original price. This is poorly written and scraggly but I am tired and itchy.
SECTION GROUP T. M. U. 133, PAR B. C. M.,
PARIS, September 29, 1917.
Dearest Mother: No news has come for several weeks, but that is because our mail is all being held up, they say. No packages have come at all, so they were probably confiscated, or lost.
Life has been going on the same as at first except that all novelty has worn off and we do nothing but visit the same parts day after day. This is the worst service I ever saw or heard of---in certain respects. For instance, one can get dirtier, dustier and greasier in this life than in any other. The roads are so shot up and rough that it almost tears my inside out to go out every day. That is the worst feature---the terrific bumping is what gets me. How the cars stand it is more than I see.
I applied for a release, as they told us we could be transferred after four months of service, but it seems those were only promises. I have been much disgusted with everything lately for this reason. The work is so intolerable---jolting, jolting, bumping all day that it is a continuous nightmare to ride on a camion.
When on permission Mr. A. P. Andrews, our head, told me (and Harry Webb) that we could be released September 19. He gave us a solemn promise that we would be released, honorably discharged. Now we are out here at the front and can't get away. They will not release us at all and what can we do? Nothing, except desert, which is hardly an alternative. . . The latest dodge now is to enlist us in the army. They have sent a commission out here to get us all signed in but they haven't a chance. A captain gave us a little talk about it and he made three fatal errors. One was slamming the Y. M. C. A. The talk was held in the Y. M. C. A. tent here. The second was a minor matter, but the third was this: "Join the United States army---I want you men to come down here tomorrow morning and become soldiers, you are nothing now---you are nothing but a bunch of outcasts."
Isn't that a fine line to hand us? Nothing but outcasts! This is a fair sample of the gratitude shown here. I truly think we are more bother to the French government than we are good. They have never expressed the slightest thanks or appreciation to, us (I speak of the camion service---not ambulance) and we are doing the hardest work of all---they all admit that. The captain of the group comes out to inspect us, and a nasty-eyed lieutenant comes with him; they go over the line of cars we have cleaned and greased and all they do is find fault. The cars are cleaned in a truly military way, for instance, the outside the hubs are cleaned and then painted with a special oil and petrol mixture---perfectly useless only it looks well. They go over the cars and criticize and then walk back to their staff car and roll back to dinér.
That is all the thanks we have had. Do you wonder we are all sore? Imagine working all hours of the day for three or four days, then a day of repos to clean and grease the car---no small job either---only to have a captain swinging a cane come along, go all over everything and then standing back and saying 'That mixture is too oily." Can you beat that? The mixture referred to was on my car and is what is put on the springs and hubs, a very trivial matter.
Our chef is equally disgusted. He has had nothing but criticism and abuse (delicate, insinuating abuse) and never a word of thanks. He has been sent two letters---three means a dishonorable discharge from the service. One he got because his staff car driver lost a tire. The other was because he sent a permissionaire to the station (six miles away---at midnight) in the Ford car. For that he was sent a letter of reprimand. That is why I am so disgusted with things in general. They are so unjust.
. . . A funny thing happened in Paris when one of the men went in to take examinations for the signal corps. The major asked him what he had been doing and he said, "I am sous-chef of an ambulance section. "Sous-chef," repeated the major, "what is that, assistant to the cook?" That is one reason why interpreters are in such demand now.
Well, tomorrow is another day and I will be cooler by then, but tonight I am very hot. As ever, your loving son,
PARIS, November 14, 1917.
Dearest Mother: Your letters of October 8 and 9 have just come---ninth before the eighth. Thank you ever so much for sending the blankets and sweater and things. They have not come yet but they probably will in time.
Things have been quiet here since the attack. The other day we all went to Soissons to see some decorations bestowed. Two captains---Mallet and Quinn of the T. M.---were given the cross of the legion of honor. Then several fellows in the service were given the croix de guerre. Our bunch stood in line along with the French sections wailing for the principals to arrive. We nearly froze but the colonel finally came and pinned the crosses on, kissed everybody in sight on both cheeks and called it off. I met a young colonial officer stationed here. He is from Cairo where I imagine his family amounts to something, judging by his talk. He is only twenty-one years old, but went to school all over. English schools in Egypt, French schools in France and Switzerland. He gave me a realistic picture of the recent offensive but it will have to be told another time.
A hospital burned not far from here the other night. I went over and with a bunch of hustlers tried to save the other buildings. Only one burned but that went up all except the stone walls. It was quite exciting as an old-time bucket line was formed to fill the hand pump. This country wins the yellow spots on being out of date. Besides that, they have no idea of living a comfortable life. Food! Gee! they don't know what the word means. No wonder the Parisiennes are so scornful of the "outsiders." They know the good things, and a whole lot more.
You ask for a good Paris journal. Mother. we get the Paris edition of the N. Y. Herald and the London Mail and as for trying to learn something about this war, I am enthusiastic over the Literary Digest. It comes to some of the boys regularly and I am all for it. By subscribing in Paris the copies come fairly early. As soon as I get there all those magazines are going to come to me for the next year. It is money well spent, I think . . . Mother, I have the curse of uncertainly still with me. Even the thought of college is getting intolerable. I fear me I will always be dissatisfied. All I do is daydream about the future. I lie awake every night exercising my imagination. Pretty soon I can qualify as an architect if this keeps up. Perhaps, it is the damned war. Gee! it is horrible!
After my last trip to Paris I got some dream books and weird things that I read with a queer feeling. Poetry also affects me as it never did before. I guess it is being away from everyone I love. Either I am too critical or else something is wrong with me. Harry Webb was my best friend and he is gone now.
He was from the V. M. I. and a wonder. I would do anything for him for he is honest and generous, really generous . . . . My conscience hurts about Phil, for I have not written him since coming over here. You send him the news for me and I will write him too.
Where these papers get grounds for an early peace is beyond my feeble ken. Germany could only lose on a peace conference and she still has a terrific kick--- witness this last French attack that was successful. You do not hear about the losses here but four days later the field was still strewn with dead. I ought to know. I saw them. One particular hospital here treated 7,500 cases---1,500 for gas. The quicker America sends an army to duplicate England's the better, it seems to me. Canadians are impatient to get the partnership of our men. They are the best soldiers over here, just as our army will be in a few years. The only thing that is hard to do is resign yourself to it. When they do that Mr. Kaiser will know he is at war. So will we.
I have arrived there at last and will soon be in the training school for aviation, I hope. If anyone ever tells you it is the glamour, etc., etc., shut him up for me. Whatever else I am, mother, these six months have brought out more sense than that. I would give anything to be able to quit all this with the rest of the men but since it all goes on the army is the only hope. Love to father. Your loving son,
November 20, 1917.
Dear Father: At last my time here is up and the French army, at least, is through playing games with me! . . . I have lost my chance to get in aviation and will have to fool around until they can take me. Then it will be all drudgery and red-tape for about six more months. The boys who entered when I wanted to have practically finished the training course. Ed Hastings (Stanford) is a pilot man. My money is gone and as you probably have learned I need more. I am cabling you as I do not like to borrow. I have not had time to see what can be done yet. This letter is being taken by a boy who leaves today for home. Best love to you and mother and the family. Your loving son,
Dear Folks: I expected to be on my way to the south of France on a motor trip, but several things intervened and I was able to spend Christmas in Paris. The Sheets' had two turkeys---one at noon and another at night---so I fared very well. They have been very nice to me all along. I am waiting to be sent to an instruction camp---perhaps, tomorrow, perhaps, three weeks off, no one knows; so, meanwhile, I hang on here working for the headquarters. I drive a car and occasionally make special trips, like the one I expected to make today, but usually it is just around Paris and the outskirts.
We have had snow and continuous cold weather, but being in a steam-heated hotel (now turned into a barracks) and having plenty to eat, the weather doesn't really bother me at all . . . . The money order arrived and thank you very much for it. Best love to everyone.
Le 18 de Decembre, 1917.
Dearest Mother: Your son is up in the world. I applied for a staff car job while waiting in Paris and for a week drove around Paris. Sunday (today) a call came in for a drive to advance army headquarters. I heard the call and said my car was in perfect shape, etc. Got it! Just before leaving, a chauffeur for Colonel M--- head of aviation at the front---asked if he could come along. He could; so with colonel and captain as passengers we lit out for here just as fast as we could make it.
This is the life! Gee! we did come! As fast as the Hudson super six could ramble all the way! Fine roads and, oh! how we did go! Two hundred and fifty-three kilometers in five hours! Top speed! Colonel M.'s driver is a fine fellow and his job is a real one. He knows the road like a book, having made the trip several times. His boss has three cars. Two Mercedes and one Packard twin six, a Mercer limousine and a 90 h.p. roadster. His record for the trip is three hours, fifteen minutes!
He told me how he was made a first class sergeant. Automatically, a staff car driver is a sergeant but a first class one is very different---you win that much like a commission. His boss suddenly had to be in Paris by 7 p. m. Council with General P. Absolutely imperative. They left here at 3 p. m. in the Packard---top down---two extra tires---no speed limit. Colonel was worried because he was late---so he said, "Bill, get me in by seven and you are a first class sergeant." (Pay jumped from $51 to $62 a month.)
Bill to me: "Well, at seven I was eating dinner and Colonel ---- was at the council." They cut two tires to pieces and escaped death by luck several times but they made it. He said to Bill, "I had to do it this time but don't ever go so fast again." You can't imagine the way they tear around; in the fastest cars procurable and at top speed. It is lots of fun but my, what a strain!
My trip was five hours, just as fast as the Hudson could travel. Killed a dog and a chicken but Bill assured me that was nothing. He said they hardly ever make a speed trip without "getting something." Once it was two ptarmigans that flew in front of the radiator. He stopped and picked them up and he and the Colonel each had one for dinner.
My only real excitement on the trip was passing a big car. It was going fifty miles an hour and taking up quite a bit of room. Couldn't be bothered so passed it up going sixty-five miles an hour and taking a big chunk out of the side of the road doing it. I took a breath after that, but Bill said, "Shucks, thats nothing!" It's great to be blasé like that, but he meant it. He went through T-----, a big town near here---forty miles an hour. Had to do it. They never have accidents either because the drivers are good. For an interesting embusquée job this is the best I know of. Trips all along the front---all over France---Bill, my friend, goes everywhere. All he does is drive. The car is washed and greased and cared for by menials. Bill is a first class sergeant. Some boy! He says they always carry a French mechanic, too. Just imagine going hundreds of miles at eighty-five miles an hour!
There is no telling when we will be sent to a school; at present we are being held in Paris. My job is the best of all the jobs assigned to us waiters. Others work in a warehouse, in the kitchen, or as orderlies; but my job is interesting, exciting, and I have a new respect for chauffeurs.
I bought a fine coat with part of the money Phil sent me. It is a real English trench coat. Outside, a light raincoat, inside, a removable camel's-hair lining that buttons in. Two coats in one. I can't thank him enough for sending me the money. I have settled down since getting the job and I live much more cheaply. Naturally, since I leave the barracks at 7:45 every morning and don't return until 6:30 or 7:30. Simple life! Lots of love to you all. Your loving son,
U. S. AIR SERVICE A. E. F., FRANCE,
January 24, 1918.
Dearest Mother: It is about time I write to you for my conscience tells me a long silence has ensued between letters. This one is really about something which is more than I can say for most of my reports. Dear, after leaving Paris I went as a chauffeur on a long trip and stayed for ten or twelve days. The weather has been marvelous and the country, well, I can truly say I know why it is called La Belle France. One day I drove all alone for twenty kilometers on the edge of a canal and that skirted the river. The canal had a little traffic on it, just enough to make it lifelike and that ride stands now as the most beautiful picture in my mind. Mother, the road, the trees, old, old poplars, the canal, and then down a little lower the twisting, slowly moving river with its low valley spread out on the other side! It all looked peaceful, quiet and about a thousand years old!
That dream is over as we all are ordered to a concentration camp to await shipment to a school. Don't you worry ever again about my safety. I couldn't be in a safer branch of the army. Six weeks, and not even started training; won't for another two months, at least, either. But I am the best K. P. and chauffeur you ever saw
On one trip which I made with a very nice French interpreter we stopped at his friend's château for lunch. His friend happens to he one of the wealthiest men in all France and the château is the justly famous Chenonceau Castle. This is being written from a bedroom of it---for we returned to pass the night here ---and my room is directly over the river! All the castle is over the river! Built just like a bridge, with drawbridges at front and back and a moat like Lake Superior in front. The castle is from the eleventh or twelfth century somewhere and Mary Stuart once lived here. The choicest things are here in furniture and two immense tapestries which precede the Gobelin, even, are valued at one million francs! The original chairs, chests, and pictures are here, too, so it is really a royal old place. It is used as a hospital now; that is, some soldiers are here convalescing. The owner of all this is M. Menier, the "Chocolate King." At dinner, we had wines made from his own fields and the doctors, three of them, talked about diseases and women the whole time, which didn't embarrass the one nurse there at all. Typical French scene. Love to father and all.
February 29, 1918.
Dearest Mother: Stood muster this morning which generally means a pay day in sight; there is hope, anyway. I am doing some work (which requires going to the village at times) so now I am not confined to the cantonment all day. It is very interesting to see the people in all their natural simplicity and economy. They can live and spend less than anything I ever dreamed of. Just now their economy in food would knock you dead if you could see it. It is what they don't eat that is marvelous. Of course, this is a very provincial place but it is not much different from Dumas' town in "The Fall of the Bastille," where Pitou figured on three months' existence on his bread and cheese. They have their appetites choked down to a fine point. In spite of it all, though, it is only cutting out the unnecessary things. They are not deprived of necessities at all. Several tunes I expressed the hope of being sent back to San Diego to train. Whether that message ever reached you or not I don't know. Such things very often don't. My outlook for three or four months to come looks singularly the same, so a gentle word telling me to return would sound pretty good. Love to all the family.
April 25, 1918.
Dear Mother: This is a rare chance to use a typewriter so I am making the best of it. This week has been full of happenings here and I guess I won't be breaking more than nine of the commandments in saying that we were lined up the other morning and talked to, after which it seems we are about due for commissions. Our names are to be placed before the Washington board and, perhaps, in a few weeks they will come back with the bars pinned on. I am in line for a second lieutenancy which is all anyone ought to expect for a starter.
Mother, I want to tell you about my little Belgian refugee, André. He is a very nice little kid about thirteen years old. His family came from Dixmude and were sent to ----- by the powers that be. There are eight children, André being the oldest boy, with a sister, fifteen. The old father is a laborer. I have not yet solved the problem of how they exist though I have been to see them at all hours and at different times. The most I have ever seen to eat was a stew, cooked in a big iron pot, and for all the family at that. They have bread, of course, and, occasionally, eggs, which are eaten by nicking the shell at the top, applying the mouth and by tilting back the head and swallowing quickly a good deal of nourishment can be extracted, besides saving on heat.
I told you, I think, how they slept for three weeks on bare boards without blankets or mattresses, in November. The two little children nearly died, only recovering in the hospital. Well, about two weeks ago I went down there to see them and saw all their beds (given to them by the military authorities piled in the hall. The town was preparing to receive more refugees so they lost their beds. They had tried to buy other blankets and found two could be had for fifty francs. They did not get any, needless to say. On top of that hard luck a cold spell had just set in. I gave them five blankets, including the ones we bought in Washington. A few days later I was taken on a tour of the bedrooms (two of them) and proudly shown my blankets. That was all they had! except a few old ragged comforters. What they would have done is beyond me. A kind gentleman in the town heard of their plight and lent them an iron bed, and the father made two wooden ones, so they are fixed up now. I gave them all the sweaters and mufflers I had, too, so they are a little better off than they were.
I wanted to send André to the college here and after interviewing everyone except the man André was working for, thought it was done. I saw the father, the mother, the professor, the principal, etc., and then went to see the boss, for the father did not want to displease his benefactor, who is also the boy's employer. He told me the true facts of the case, which were as follows: It would be wiser for the lad to stay there and learn the trade. He would be better off at the end of a year if he worked than if he studied. At college he would have to begin in a lower grade as he does not speak French very well (why should he, as he is a Belgian!) and that would not be agreeable for him, etc., etc. Finally, it seemed that was the consensus of opinion of the whole bunch, including the father, mother, principal and even André himself.
They let me go ahead hoping all the time I would not carry it through, being too afraid to hurt my feelings by telling me. It was really funny after I saw it their way, but isn't that typical of Europe? Learn a trade. . . What is the good of being educated? Couldn't he read and write already? Education would only be a waste of time! André is very intelligent looking and the brothers and sisters appear far better mannered and more sensible than any of the French children around here. They certainly have not the American way of looking at things. I told them I would pay for his board at the college for a year, would give his father the equivalent of what he was earning and boy him clothes and everything and yet they could not see any advantage for him. When the professor agreed with that idea I gave up. Where do they get that way? They did say, however, that it would be a good thing if André could take private lessons and learn French correctly. The professor found him a teacher so now he takes four lessons a week. The girl is called Yvonne. I bought her a basket one day and filled it with everything I could think of, a hairbrush, comb, mirror, towel, scented soap, toothbrush, scissors, thread, needles, buttons a barrette, and I don't remember what all. You should have seen her when I stopped in that night. The whole family was wrapping and refolding the different articles. They couldn't say enough so I beat it, but she appreciated it, you bet. Even the barest so-called necessities are, apparently, luxuries to them ....
This country calls for bread but while they get it these simpletons feed the cows their potatoes. They much prefer bread to vegetables or meat. What they need is jazz, and America is just the country to give it to them. So long as this town keeps out of Germany's hands these people will remember the Americans. I told a woman who keeps a lace shop here all about California and showed her some pictures, too.
I told her about the Y. M. C. A. and the gymnasiums, etc., and it was like an Arabian Night's dream, from the way she acted. What started it was her remark about the size of most of the Americans compared with the French. The truth is, possibly, that they all smoke from the age of eight up, and they drink vin rouge and vin blanc from the age of two up. I have actually seen a baby of two years drink undiluted red wine. No wonder they don't grow to very large proportions. Love to all the family and to you, Mother dear.
April 27, 1918.
Mother, I am beginning to open my eyes a little more every day. The tremendous size of this struggle I can't realize at all because each day I see a little more than I did the day before .... You have heard---so have I---how the French people are a regenerated race---those that aren't dead---and I am wondering now if it won't be a good thing for us, too. What is left will be twice as valuable as ever before. I have met so many men who have the wrong principles, who were brought up all wrong so that, compared with the average foreign army officer, they look like hicks, poor ignorant backwoodsmen. A real gentleman is certainly a marvelously rare thing. N'est-ce pas? I have seen these officers---the first gravy-train officers---and blushed for America too often. Mother, they don't know, they don't savvy. Frenchmen and Europeans may have a different moral standard---God knows it is different enough---but in other ways they have a culture that started when they were born and not a veneer that was developed by a college education. They can certainly make us sit up and take notice.
I met a Bohemian----Czech---and he is just like most of the better class---what seems to me to be a real gentleman. I also discovered an unfailing way to get what you want with a Frenchman. I might have discovered this a long time ago if I had any sense, but I haven't. I knew all along that the worst insult you can offer to a Frenchman is to call him a "mauvais Français," but only recently I found out that it works by implication too. As you, of course, know they are inordinately proud of their race, their language, their country, et al. Well, if you just imply that one is discrediting anything French by refusing you whatever you want, they will do whatever it is you want, rather than let you think---what you pretend to think. For instance I rented a bicycle---paid in advance and asked to have the seat changed before I came back next day, all of which was agreed to by the Madame. Next day, Sunday, I came back and the male boss was there, a crabby old chap who has made so much money since we hit town he is ready to retire for life. Yet he would not change the seat. That was the only bike left so I told him it had been promised me. He went into a perfect fury and threw tools around and talked fiercely. I calmly asked if he was going to do what he had promised to do. He did it. Just let them think You consider them a "mauvais Français" and they will turn over the front door key to you.
Another thing I realized lately for the first time, after hearing about it for so many times, is the value of experience or contact with real facts. While vegetating for so long the rest of our A. E. F. has been going ahead full speed learning. Ted Adriance, our chef in the camion service, who joined the artillery as a first lieutenant, has finished his training course and one of the boys saw him in Tours on his first permission. Think of it! He is now a lieutenant in artillery, has been out there four months and lost two men of his company in action! I met John Jeffers again. I went to Sunday School with him in the Congregational Church on Flower Street in Los Angeles. He was on the crew at Stanford a little after Phil's time and came over with the Third Stanford Ambulance Section. He was wise enough to step out of that into aviation immediately so now he is a first lieutenant and has been (deleted by censor) to the American sector. He is awaiting the "chasse" planes and will be fighting pretty soon. Harry Webb is almost through, as I told you. Everyone else who quit the field service to join aviation or artillery, it seems, has a first lieutenancy. That is once when I couldn't see beyond my nose and have regretted it ever since. , . . One thing I may get out of it, though that is intangible, is thanks from Major A. P. Andrews, who wrote me saying he would like to use one or two articles of mine in his Field Service Book. I sent them to him. He also said he was sending home a certificate of service, or something like that.
I have forgotten in all my letters to tell about the wonderful work the Y. M. C. A. is doing over here. I can't praise them half enough, for they furnish us the only quiet spot there is. From force of habit one chap said to me, let's go home," when we were downtown, and I realized for the first time (I have realized so many things for the first time lately) what an imagination it takes to call a trunk, a bag, a bunk, in a tier of bunks, and three rolled up blankets "home." The Y. M. C. A. has desks, tables rather, a phonograph writing paper, and you get away from that feeling of always having a superior officer over you. Not only that, but now in their "huts" they have movies, speakers and traveling entertainers. That means more than words, Mother, after mud and rain and no women at all. One singer was so nice looking I couldn't help it, so I met her, by the simple expedient of walking up and starting talking to her. She is from Baltimore. (Mother, most everyone nice comes from California or the South.) Her name is Miss Kate Hirschburg and she sings---well, I couldn't hear enough of it and no one else could, either. By special request (mine) she sang Cadman's "Dawning" and "Sky Blue Water." The more I think of California and then Northern France and Belgium, the more I chafe under the collar. She sang a lot of songs I knew and her partner played the violin.
In another town I met another group of traveling entertainers and one was a young girl, a Miss Bush, from Indianapolis She was a treat for fair. It's been two years since I talked with anyone like that. She is a cousin of George Ade and left him in Indianapolis to go to New York. She wanted to be an actress. She was in a small part in a musical comedy and batted all over the South with it. Then she heard about this and wanted to come. Her family finally let her and here she is going all over the country with four others. She sings and does a dance.
We talked for nearly an hour before I had to get the train and she told me all about visiting the different camps. Everywhere she goes she tries to find someone from Indianapolis---and often succeeds. I would have lied like a trooper if I had known why in time---she had twenty-five kisses to be delivered to the right addresses, but I was too late A Y. M. C. A. girl is the only one here allowed to talk to men. Nurses and Red Cross-ers are forbidden to converse with soldiers, so if you are lucky enough to meet one you don't forget it in a hurry. Too soon the chance was over.
Mother, this letter has been in process now for more than two hours so maybe you see why I don't write oftener. Here is some gossip. I am mortally afraid of Mr. Censor so forgive vagueness. Three American aviators flew to a village behind the lines. They landed at the flying field, jumped into a Hudson car and drove up to see what the village was like. They ran right into the German camp---the town had fallen about two hours previously into their hands. They are all sojourning now as noncombatants, guests of the Kaiser.
How I have been so stupid all this time I can't quite understand but I will lay it all to that stagnation period. Only last week did my brain start functioning again, partly due to this stimulus. Love to father and all the family. Your loving son,
U. S. AIR SERVICE, A. E. F., July 19, 1918.
Dear Father and Mother: It will take me a long time to catch up with myself but now I am at another school, the acrobatic school. The course is about two months or more. I finished in fine shape at Tours. Before I left there this happened to me: You remember my speaking of the Fourth of July party when I met Mme. Deshayes, the wife of the French deputy? Well, after completing the Tours school I was wandering at ease downtown when we met again. She invited me to dinner the next evening---the next evening because the "chef du cabinet du ministre d'aviation, M. Dumenil" was to be there. The chief advisor of the minister of aviation and then (I can't tell when they are kidding because I don't know the language well enough) she said it would be interesting for us both as we were in aviation. They are so polite, they say things like that and I don't know yet whether she was having her own little laugh or not.
Their other guest proved to be a Major Lellena, it sounded like that, anyway. For decorations he was wearing the Moroc campaign medal, the croix de guerre of France, with four palms and the cross of Belgium, Italy and Serbia, besides the legion d'honneur and the fourragher. And he is only thirty years old ! M. Deshayes is deputy from L'Oise and when not deputing he is a lieutenant in what corresponds to the signal corps. They all have their military as well as civil positions, it seems.
We went in to supper and to hear them talk was almost an inspiration. They, of course, knew everybody and seemed to know everything. The latest news from the front was telephoned in from Paris, for example. Then the major told me very interesting facts about the American aviation (secrets) and about the policy of General Pershing, of which I can ay that it was exactly the opposite of all French advice.
We had coffee in the garden behind and while there a private who was a friend of the little son, came in. He had returned from a three-day trip to Paris. They talked to him about it and I got another flashlight into French ways of thinking. They are absolutely brilliant but do love their little joke. This fellow had heard the "gros Bertha" but did not know where the shells had hit. "He does not know where the shells lay but he knows where he laid," that brought forth a play on "coucher." Then they asked him if he slept at the Y. M. C. A. in Paris. They smiled when asking him (he could barely understand but got it if they spoke slowly enough) and I wondered what the joke was. I knew something was wrong, and suddenly M. Deshayes asked me if I knew what the French call the Y. M. C. A. I said no, and he said, "I will tell you later." He couldn't hold it though and in spite of wife and twelve year old kid told me their little harmless joke. It means "Y moyen couche avec."
Look that up, mother, it's a good one. It illustrates their caste system, too, for any "mélange" like the Y. M. would be impossible, almost, with them, because it is too democratic. We went across the street after a while to the officers' Y. M. C. A., which is the nicest place in France, I think. There was a concert there, or rather a musicale. I rustled around and got a good rumor going, then asked the hostess if she had met the wife of the deputy. She was immediately interested, of course, and so the major and deputy and party, including me, had refreshments with a colonel and the American general. After a bit they went upstairs and danced. The major was just dying to dance and I think wanted to dance with one of the telephone girls. He watched the general dance with one of the girlies and then Mr. and Mrs. and the major got together in a corner and marveled at the United States. He said he admired us very much because on service our officers were very strict but off duty they were just good fellows. To the French army it would be impossible for the officers to dance with the working girls---it isn't done. And as for a general, the Kaiser would take Paris if such a thing happened!
People like that are really learning what America can do and is in the habit of doing. They compare their own fixed customs and, perhaps, although they don't like all of ours, they are seeing things that make their eyes pop open. Next day I got my orders to clear out and left that same day. Best love to all.
July 25, 1918.
Dearest Mother: Your "moonlight" letter reached me when I had exactly the same mood as you had when you wrote it. I wonder, mother dear, if moods are part of the many things that are developing in me lately. I get most enthusiastic at times and then le cafard gets me for fair.
Before leaving Tours I met a most charming woman, an accomplished musician, who played for more than an hour to me. The lieutenant who had brought me was bored to death and read a magazine, so she was pleased, perhaps, to have a listener. She has given concerts in Paris and other places. Well, when I went back to camp I was never so homesick in my life. The French have a good way of expressing themselves at times; for instance, while I was listening (I had mentioned Greig so she immediately played "Le Carnival," without music, too) her aunt came in. She inquired of Madame if I played, too, and Madame replied, giving me a bright look, "Non, il ecoutes." That is just precisely what I do. I can get a most sympathetic jag on as they say, by listening. All the music goes in but never comes out. "J'ecoute."
Now, tonight, mother, I have been listening to a boy from Kentucky who has a lyric tenor and knows whole opera scores almost by heart. He sang "La Tosca," 'La Bohême," and talked of Italian operas that "came out first at Monte Carlo," but never were played much outside of Italy. He sings beautifully, and, dearest, I've got 'em again!
A Red Cross lady was also an appreciative listener, only she knew what it was all about, and when he stopped she just clapped her hands and said, 'Oh, I never was so happy in my life." That's how it appealed to her while for me--it gets to me, that's all. I am always as sad as a bottle of French beer.
On the other hand, on leaving Tours I had enough free hours to stay in Paris for one night and did I go? Oh, no! Paris is the Mecca of this part of the world, for there one finds absolutely everything there is worth while. For me it spelled the Continental Hotel and a stall at the Casino de Paris.
Coming into the city the very air began to smell good and I was as happy as could be. Actually, Paris breathes a different air from the rest of France. It's the first thing you notice. The train was crowded when we arrived, but on a safety island before the station I tried to get a taxi. There were none, so Phil Embury and I started to walk. We were smiling and talking when I saw a young "élève pilote" from the English naval aviation training camp, which is near ours. He saw us and I guess we all three were thinking of the same thing for we all grinned together ---glad to be there even for so short a time.
The other day in the little town near our camp I had a petite adventure. All these towns with their closed and shuttered windows, their bell cords hanging so conspicuously and their general air of hiding something, are interesting looking. When I walked up from the station about two o'clock of the afternoon of my arrival I saw a "shadow" fixing an upper shutter. As I went by it opened a little and I saw a very pretty face (Mother, after this long time as a soldat in France I am absolutely shameless), so I nodded and got an answer!
Half an hour later I came back and rang the hell. Open went the door and in I walked. A large but nice looking Madame greeted me and invited me in! I calmly took off my hat, smiled at the Madame, and asked if they would be so good as to give me a drink! By that time the daughter of the house was there and we went back to a little wall-inclosed garden with three glasses and a bottle.
The joke of it is they were trying to make the acquaintance of an American officer and didn't know how to go at it, while I, well, I don't know why I fell, but, perhaps, that appealed to me, too. But weren't the elements all there? Hot day---lonely wanderer---House of Mystery---moving shutter-two shining eyes? What more do you want?
This is a great country most assuredly. My one desire is to see all of it in a really intimate way. This vagabond stuff of Locke and others is by far the best way, I think. Gee! I would like to do it! My other one desire is the real one, mother. My dream of heaven is a home and fireplace, and armchair, and no more war. Love to all, dear mother, from your loving son,
[Letter to a big hearted Los Angeles woman who had sent Greayer various parcels of knitted goods. It was received after his death, with a request that it be forwarded to California. Permission to print it has been generously accorded.]
Dear Mrs. H----: As a letter writer I have much to be desired for my thoughts refuse to go down properly on paper. That doesn't mean, though, that there are no thoughts, for I have been thanking you in my heart for many months and only now telling you.
Autumn and winter of last year were for me the most interesting time I have ever spent, for I was working on a big job along with several million others and it was an inspiration to be one of them.
Besides becoming completely saturated with their viewpoint and, perhaps, with a bit of their determination, you cannot realize, by my merely telling you, how satisfying it was to have people at home appreciate it, too, and show how they were behind their men.
Your very welcome gifts meant more to me than just knitted wristlets, for being made by your own hands they showed the heart, too, and often I was able to give away a sweater or muffler to a poor poilu, and besides warming him outside it never failed to warm him inside, too.
In the cold of last winter the French were very glad to be visibly assured of support from America. The evidences that came through the mail were eye-openers to the simple soldiers, our comrades. They continually wondered at the abundance and variety of our packages. Nothing has done my heart so much good as seeing the attitude of the French people change. Their ideas of America and Americans, too, are being slowly remodeled.
From years of tourists (and on a permission last August at Deauville I saw the worst and, no doubt, most prevalent type---after that I never blamed the people at all for their unfavorable opinions) they are now seeing our real true men---hundreds of thousands of them. They are meeting men with different standards of living---with different attitudes toward life---and it is doing them no end of good. Soldiers billeted in their humble homes---bathing recklessly, sleeping with windows all open---and eating! my, how they do eat! compared to a frugal French fare. True, their manners are awful; they are loud and boisterous, they are "gauche," as they put it, but that is the superficial veneer which by close contact they are beginning to pierce.
Already, France is wondering at the excellent quality, of fighting done---as is Germany. Our troops are wonders---and why? I have heard many interesting speculations in cafés and all over. Their vigor and physical strength---which certainly did surprise these good people---and then their adaptability. (Mrs. H----, I wish you could see a Frenchman throw a baseball, or try to ride a bicycle) ; even that, though, is not all, for their fire, their morale, is what amazes them most, and I have heard it explained this way:
At last, France is convinced that we are really fighting for a principle---"to make the world a decent place to live in." They don't believe we are trying to make money---to acquire territory---and they have eliminated all the other possible reasons they could think of. This took a long time---it isn't universal yet, thanks to the impenetrability of the common people---but they look on us now as crusaders, actually inspired by the spirit, for, in truth, we have nothing to gain but self-respect.
That, they say, now, is why Americans make such good soldiers. Best regards to you and all the family for their kind wishes. Sincerely yours,
France, August, 1959.
Over the seas they come victorious,
See how the eyes of the women glisten-
Here in our hearts these heroes muster,