E. S. Church, France 1919, Chapter 2, Bay-sur-Aube

Letters, Journal, & Diary Entries Written by
Elsie S. Church of Ithaca, NY to Her Family and Friends from France in 1919 and 1918.

Transcribed by W.C. Atkinson, her son, in 2000

In 1919 my mother was 29 years old.

These letters were originally transcribed to typescript from the hand written by Elsie’s elder sister Edith mainly for the purpose of subsequent publication by the Ithaca Journal in the winter and spring of 1919.  Such journal and diary entries as are included here are transcribed from the handwritten by W.C. Atkinson.

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Chapter Two
Bay-sur-Aube

1921_BayElsie'sHut
Picture taken in 1921. Notch in wall is where soldiers liberated rocks for Elsie’s chimney.


Dear Family:                            Recey-sur-Ource, Dec. 26 1918

I hardly know where to begin.  So many things have happened to me since I left Paris only Tues. A.M. It seems like at least 1,000 years ago.  I told you that my assignment was Dijon.  Well, I left Versailles at 5:00 Tues. A.M. and got a train out of Paris at 7:45.  I had a very pleasant journey down.  In my compartment were three French officers and an American Capt. in the 324th Infantry [1].

We had lots of fun watching the country which is very picturesque and something like the Berkshire Mts.  The villages are clustered in little valleys and there are absolutely no isolated farm houses as there are in the U.S.  The vegetation is lovely, and so green still, even in December.  All through the bare trees you see great clusters of dark green which look at first sight like huge crows’ nests.  They are really mistletoe which grows in great profusion all ‘round here.

When I reached Dijon (they sent me out all alone, by the way) there was one other “Y” girl at the hotel [2].  She and I reported at headquarters there and were assigned to come to Recey-sur-Ource [3], the “rail-head”, (base of supplies and transportation) for the 6th Division, U.S.A.  So out we came on Christmas morning having arisen again at 4:30 A.M.  Such a funny Christmas Day it was!  On the way out we had some good company—some officers of the Wildcat Division who told us many interesting things about the latest drive of the Americans in the Grand Pre sector.  Honestly, you don’t feel over here now as if the war were over at all.  The men right here in the 6th have been right in the thick of it in the Argonne Forest and have only been here about two weeks after a long fatiguing hike all the way down from Verdun.

Anyway, to continue my story.  We arrived at Recey-sur-Ource about lunch time and were brought up to the office (Y) which is a little two-room affair on one of the main streets of the village.  The village, by the way, is about the most picturesque thing I have ever seen.  The houses are of stone with plaster on some of the walls, very few windows, deep-set, tile roofs some of which look as if they were just about to cave in, and every once in a while, set in the wall over the roadway, will be a shrine, the Virgin, or Crucifix, done in bright-blue or white tile or enamel.  The doors [of the houses] open right off the street level and in the case of the “fermes” you enter the farmyard first, plough through mud above your ankles, wade past the ducks and the turkeys and the rabbit hutches and the cow stalls until, finally, you arrive at the living part of the house.

At the office we were greeted by Dr. Tippett, the Divisional secretary.  He took us to lunch at a little house where Madame had the loveliest hot soup and veal and potatoes and a pie waiting for us.  Then we talked things over and he broke the awful news to us that it would be necessary to send us out separately, almost in the capacity of secretaries into the villages of the area occupied by the 6th Division.  In some of these villages there have been planted as many as 600 or 700 men and there is no canteen, no “Y” Hut, no reading matter, no anything as yet; and you can imagine now much they are in need of something of the sort.  You see, the division only just got here and they haven’t had time to do much as yet.  In short, it’s all real pioneer work and if I can “make good” I shall feel as if I had accomplished something very worthwhile.  But imagine how petrified I am at the prospect of going out alone.

Miss Whiton, the other girl, was whisked away in a Ford this A.M. and I was left to my own devices.  I visited the canteen here where two very attractive girls are working in the afternoon, had dinner with the “Y” staff, and at 7:30 P.M. Dr. Tippett came back with news that he had a place for me.  It is with the 52nd Regiment of Infantry and I will be the only woman in the place.  Think what an opportunity.  Honestly I pray for strength and courage to hold down the job.  Some day I will tell you of our very interesting Christmas Day.

I realize that this is disjointed and queer but, as I say, I don’t know where to begin!  so I will end.

Do you realize I have not had one word from you, at 12 Rue d’Aguesseau?

All the love in the world, Elsie

[1] Juliette Whiton
[2] The Lieutenant on the train to Dijon knew Warren and Cogbell and evidently had a sequel to the “sweet dreams” story.
[3] Recey-sur-Ource, 60 km NNW Dijon.

Journal:                                    December 27th, Friday

Left Recy at 9 o’clock.  The country is lovely—rolling hills and dales with lots of evergreens and elm trees full of mistletoe and roadside bushes which are covered with strange green mosses and lichens.  We stopped at Vitry and saw Miss Whiton.  She has a hut just for the “Y” which the boys were decorating with greens.  She is billeted on a French family and her window opens directly out onto the barnyard.  Then we came to Bay.  Reported directly to HQ where I met Major Herrick of the 2nd Battalion.  He is a peach—big, boyish, light-haired, reminds me of Bert Blunt as much as anyone.  A graduate of West Point.  He and his staff gave me a very cordial welcome and I was shown to my billet, a big room on the second floor of a French farmhouse.  The daughter of the house, Julienne, is 18 yrs old and is desirous of learning English.  There is a cunning, petite soeur called Cecile.  The Company orderly room is downstairs.

Had lunch at officer’s mess.  Met Lieut. Waters, Chaplain Hunter (“Charlie”) and Dr. Payne and Lieut. Fletcher (supplies).  Then went to look at the hut.  It is an Adrian Barracks with a mud floor and Co. F’s kitchen is in one end, consequently the place is full of smoke most of the time.  It’s rather discouraging at present but has possibilities I am sure.

Dr. Tippett left and I unpacked.  After dinner (which… was just the same as lunch: fried potatoes, steak, coffee, bread & syrup) we went to the Major’s room and sang around his piano.  It belongs to a fastidious French Mme. and I guess the “Y” will never get a chance at it.

Journal:                                    December 28th, Saturday

Started bright red curtains for my hut.  Sawdust was hauled to cover the floor with and a fireplace was begun in one end.  The “Y” has sent out one table and two benches so far.  Got acquainted with the men I am to work with.  “Sandy” Crews of F Co. kitchen is an extraordinary man and I know will do things for me.  Sgt. Dill of rations and MacRae and Burton the interpreter and Meyers the “Y” detail are awfully nice boys and I know I can count on them.

They are bringing me a stove from the village and I ought to be able to serve cocoa soon.  It’s so strange being dumped down in a place like this that I don’t know just where to begin.

This evening a quintet came from the 51st Infantry to entertain us.  Has several solos, a quartet and a minstrel act.  We improvised a stage for them out of planks.

Journal:                                    December 29th, Sunday

Got up late.  Some more tables and benches have come.  In the afternoon the Chaplain held a little service.  I wish my stove would come so I could begin serving.  The cocoa and milk are here.  [In the evening] took my uke up to the Hut but it is so damp I don’t dare leave it there.  Found one man that could play it pretty well.

Journal:                                    December 30th, Monday

The Colonel arrived in his Dodge (Col. Smith, ranking Col. in the U.S. Army) and took me down to Vitry to see Juliette Whiton.  She and Capt. Ruiker showed me around.  Stayed to lunch with them.  He is a peach and does everything in the world for her.  Couldn’t stay long as the  Col. came for me about 1:30.

My stove is here.  Meyers brought up my supplies and I can serve tonight.  Did so about 3:30 just before mess.  It worked very well though the boiler only holds about 12 gallons.  Served it free today, but worse luck, have to charge after this.  It sure is working under difficulties but the boys are so nice and tend my fire and wash the kettles etc.  Arrington, Grimsley, and Lawrence have suddenly straightened themselves out in my mind.  If we can get together some talent here we’ll have to have a show very soon.

Journal:                                    December 31st, Tuesday

Received a call from Lieut. Olaf Osnes [1] of Co. G and an invitation to come to Aulnay for New Year’s dinner.  Since I planned to serve chocolate to the boys I refused, but intimated that I should love to come some other time.  Whereupon he made it Sunday instead.

Chocolate at 7:00 P.M. is a regular program now.  I myself would rather serve [it earlier] when it is light but as the boys stand retreat at 3:15 and have chow at 4:15 it is appreciated more at night I imagine.  But it is sure some job to make and serve it by the light of about three candles.

[1] A friend from Ithaca, I believe.

Dear Edith [2]:                     Bay-sur-Aube [1], Dec. 31 1918

I shouldn’t be taking out time to write now but I didn’t see any way clear to another chance.  It is nearly 8:45 P.M. but, since I must arise at 6:15 tomorrow, I want to get a good start.  I can’t remember where I left off.  In fact I haven’t written in my diary, even, since I left Versailles.  Never had so many interesting things happen to me in such a short space of time.

Well!  Maybe I didn’t come over until after the armistice was signed; but, believe me, “them as” came at the very beginning of things couldn’t have gotten into a much more pioneer place than this.  How can I begin to describe it?  I suppose I can tell you that I am with the 6th Division of the U.S. Army which is quartered on 80 tiny villages between Dijon, Besancon, [and] Langres in the east of France.  These villages are totally different from anything you ever saw in America.  They are a cluster of stone and plaster houses with beaucoup plain wall and peu de windows.  They are surmounted by a church with a snubby belfry and usually a red tiled roof.  And all the houses have tiled roofs and are surrounded by stone walls which have little pent-roofs of bright red tiles.  I wish I could just sit down and sketch every minute; each turn in the road is a new picture.

But, to tell you just what I’m doing in this strange old-world-ly place where the chief means of transportation is ox-carts and where they cook a whole meal on an open fire in the hearth and serve every course, from the soup to the savory, on a different plate.  Beaucoup fried potatoes and beef-steak!  That’s about all we get with the addition once in a while of some confitures and cheese.

Well, anyway, I am attached to the 6th Division.  Doesn’t that sound big?  Lieut. Waters told me last night, all in one breath, what Company, Battalion, Regiment, Brigade, etc. it all was but I can’t possibly repeat it.  Whether I shall move with them I don’t know.  The one topic of conversation is “When are we going home?”  It’s hard to get settled and get your mind on anything if you think you are going to move any day so we just say we are going to be here six months and plan accordingly.

You should see my “house upon the hill”.  When I arrived, last Friday it was a plain Adrian barracks shack with a mud floor.  Now, thanks to [the] dandy officers and men with whom I am associated, the floor is baked and covered with sawdust, there is a wonderful stone fireplace in process of construction, and the whole place is decorated with green boughs and trees.  I have hung all the windows I can with bright red curtains and the Adjutant gave me some posters for the wall.  If only I had thought to stick those colored posters I had at home into my trunk!  The next time I come to France I am going to know just what to bring.  My list would comprise tacks, hammer, cretonne, lots of kitchen utensils, more books than I have (though I managed to bring quite a lot), oil cloth, etc., etc.  Of course it depends on where you’re placed.  If I were in a canteen in Paris or a big city I wouldn’t need such things.  Or like Kate VanDuzer, if I were sent to a leave area where you dance, etc.  But you haven’t any idea how glad [I am] to be in a place like this!  It is a wonderful experience and you really have a chance to get next to the men.  They are sadly in need of something to do and somewhere to go out here in these little villages where there isn’t even a “movie” show.

After dark, (which settles down about 4:30) you don’t see a soul on the street except the sentries pacing back and forth, in the rain usually.  France is living up to its reputation in the war books of continual rain.  The sun shone for one-half hour this A.M. and they almost sounded a special bugle call.

These boys in the 6th Division have been through all the discomforts and horrors of warfare in the few months they have been here.  They are starving for home and you can’t blame them.  If I can do even the slightest thing to help them pass the hours away I shall feel that I have accomplished something anyway.

I forgot to say I serve hot chocolate in the afternoon and evenings when I can in my “Hut” and for New Year’s day we are going to try to serve doughnuts.  The cook of my company says he can show me how to make eggless ones.  The end of the week I hope we’ll have an entertainment of

local talent and soon the Regimental Band is to give a concert.  I suppose I can tell you that I am associated with the contingent that represented the 6th Div. on Christmas Day when they drilled on parade for the President [Wilson].  Gen. Pershing sent the major a telegram of  congratulations on his troops of which I hope to be able to procure a copy.

They are a dandy set of men and I’m proud to be with them.  The major, by the way, is a fine boyish West Pointer who is one big peach (I eat with the officer’s mess for “petit dejeuner” and “dejeuner”).  My “souper” is with the French family where I live.  The daughter Julienne is 18 years old and a perfect dear.  You should hear us talk together in French.  But what you really should hear is her little sister Cecile when she sings “It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperlly”; “Hail, hail, the gang’s ah hai, What tuwell do we que now!” and other songs the Americans have taught her.

I could go on and on and on—but il n’est pas possible.  When you write, do send me some flower seeds, nasturtiums, stalk, anything that will grow quickly.  Even vegetables or lettuce.  Please do this, won’t you? Send them in several letters.

Below you will find the hand and seal of Cecile Mongin, aged five, to “la soeur de Mademoiselle qui demeure la-bas en Amerique”.

I must run along now and hang more curtains and get the cocoa started.  You’d die if you knew what they borrowed my stove for this morning!  Have you ever heard of a “delouser” which makes the rounds of the camps to rid the soldiers clothes of “cooties” and such?

Lots of love, Elsie

[1] Bay-sur-Aube, 65 km N of Dijon.
[2] Elsie’s older sister; my aunt.

Journal:                                    January 1st, Wednesday

Came to the Hut this morning and found my stove missing.  They have taken it to serve in the delousing process.  There is a huge machine that looks like a stone crusher stationed in the main square of the village.  Every man brings his clothes and blankets and has them put through a steaming process which is supposed to exterminate all cooties etc.  Well, this means no cocoa here today!

An invitation has come, however, to serve at Germaines Co. H.  So I packed up my cocoa and with my trusty “dog robber” MacRae, hiked over the hill to Germaines.  There I found a very neat kitchen barracks and the water was [already] boiling for me.  Served about 200 men.  Met their Capt. Graves by name and hiked it back over the hill.  I certainly do appreciate exercise like that when I can get it.  Gathered some berries to help decorate my “House upon the hill”.  Ate supper with the Mongin family tonight.  Armed with my dictionary, I am able to get along pretty well, but the old man mouths his words so in his moustache that it is hard to understand him.

Journal:                                    January 2nd, Thursday

Lieut. Waters paid me a visit in the Hut this morning.  He has promised that Co. F kitchen will move out and give us the whole place.  Also a stage is to be constructed and Meyers is to move up with his dry canteen and we are to have a place partitioned off for supplies.

A tragedy has happened this P.M.  The stonemason building the fireplace placed across the opening a stone about 6’ by 6’.  After he had begun operations on top of this stone, the weight proved too much, and the stone broke with an awful smash.  In the mixup the barracks door, which had been used for a scaffold, was broken for which Col. Smith gave us the deuce the next time he came.  As a result iron bars were procured and used instead of stone.  On top of this excitement we had a visit from the Mayor of the village.  It seems the men had taken some stones off the cemetery wall for the construction and, this being a sacriledge, he wished them replaced at once.  The Mayor is a picturesque old man who wears a dark cape with a hood.  His mother-in-law, who must be at least eighty, may be seen anytime pounding her clothes down at the public wash basin or shoveling straw into a wheelbarrow in the stable.  The way the women work here is positively appalling.  Even the young girls.  They are as strong as oxen.

[In the evening served] cocoa at 7:00.  Had my uke up at the Hut and we sang until quite late.

Journal:                                    January 3rd, Friday

Raining as usual.  We have had one clear day and that was New Years.  When I say clear I don’t mean blue sky, I mean a cessation of rain for at least ten hours.

This afternoon we were favored with a quartet from the 52nd Infantry Band, the same one we heard at Aigne-le-Duc.  Eddy Allen sang again.  It was excellent.  They have a cornet player who ought to be a professional.

They had a ragtime wedding which was a scream.

Journal:                                    January 4th, Saturday

Battalion inspection and drilling on the parade grounds.  I couldn’t get up there ‘til late.  It always takes about one hour to clean up my house after the boys have spent the evening there.  The Colonel paid us a visit; had some suggestions about the fireplace.  I understand that his suggestions, if not taken as commands at first, will be so sooner or later.  He certainly is a gruff customer but has a twinkle in his eye just the same.  The air is full of tales about how he bawled people out.  He came around later with gift chocolate and cigarettes which went like wildfire, I can tell you.

I have met a poet.  His name is Lieut. Frank S. Spruill of Co. F.  He met me outside the gate this morning and after talking a few minutes said, “Will you do me a favor?”  “Surely, what is it?”  “Take off your cap and let me see your hair”.  The mere doffing of a cap didn’t really satisfy him.  He was all for having me let my hair down altogether.  He’s from the South needless to say as portrayed by his accent.  It seems that the only reading matter he brought over was a volume of Tennyson which he reads over and over.  A poet in a Sam Browne belt!

The afternoon and evening were taken up with the distributing of cigarettes and chocolate and the making of cocoa.

Lieut. Waters made another call.  I can’t make him out.  He is very friendly, but has a superior little air about him that rather gets my goat.  He looks very dapper in his uniform and belt.  I’d like to see some mud on his boots just once in a while.

Journal:                                    January 5th, Sunday

The cheminee is done.  They built a fire in it and you should have seen the smoke pour out into the room.  We were suffocated completely for about an hour.  But after a while it began to draw better and I think will be very satisfactory.

At 10 A.M. Lieut. Osnes arrived from Co. G to escort me to Aulnay.  It had stopped raining and the walk over (some 3 kilometers) was very enjoyable.  We arrived in time for church which was conducted by Chaplain Hunter in the Co. barracks in one end of which is located the kitchen.

After service we repaired to the “Chateau” for dinner.  Never since I joined the army have I had such a collation!  Belgian hare, rice, potatoes, hot biscuit, real butter, champagne, pie, cake, fruit, candy, and coffee.  I was positively uncomfortable when I got through.  The conversation during the meal hinged on two subjects: ‘What are we going to have in place of war when a country becomes decadent through love of luxury and high living’ and ‘Which man shows greater self control: he who knows liquor and is moderate in his enjoyment thereof, or he who touches it not at ll’?  The dinner and the debate lasted almost two hours.  By the way, one of the lieutenants, Sovocol by name, comes from Ithaca; Cornell Law School.  He gave me some clippings from the Journal to peruse.

After dinner I tried out a violin they had there, succeeded in breaking the bridge during the tuning process and then we repaired to the kitchen where I made cocoa for the boys.  There is a man there, Welsh by name, who has a lovely tenor voice and he and three others sang for us.  At 4 o’clock Lieut. Osnes and I set out for Bay.  There was a glorious sunset, a tiny new moon, and an evening star, not to mention a clear, cold wind and I don’t know when I have enjoyed a walk so much.

Served cocoa again to our boys, stuck around in the Hut with Arrington and Grimsley and came to bed about 8:30.

Journal:                                    January 6th, Monday

Wrote letters in my own room after cleaning up the Hut.  Lieut. Osnes here to lunch.  There is something lacking at mess.  It is because the Major is gone away on leave.  He is certainly a trump and we miss his personality most keenly.  In the afternoon Mr. Shinn, the “Y” man from Rouvres, came to look things over.  We talked of the possibilities of entertainment.  It’s awfully hard to know what to do with these boys in the evening.  I have been talking up a stunt night, but there are no tangible results as yet…

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry
Bay-sur-Aube, Jan. 6 1919
Dear Edith:

I guess you wonder why I don’t write more often.  The fact is I don’t have a minute to myself because everything that is done must be done while it’s daylight and at night my room is so cold and I have only a candle.  It’s “hardly useless” to try and write letters.  I wish you’d make a special attempt and call up Becky [1] and tell her how much I enjoyed her “steamer” letter.  It was so full of news and I never did answer it.  I tried the other night but gave up writing because my hands were numb.

The weather isn’t really cold here, but just so damp and disagreeable all the time.  Yesterday was the first really nice day we have had.  I was invited over to Company G to dinner and to church.  One of the officers came over at 10:00 A.M. to escort me and we had a nice walk of about three kilometers.  On the road between villages over here you don’t see a single separate farmhouse; just fields and streams and woods of evergreens and roadside bushes covered with that lovely green moss and lichens that cover everything in northern France.

After church we had dinner in the “chateau”.  Such a collation as we had!  Belgian hare or “lapin”; my first experience.  It was a bit tough but the flavor was excellent.  With it was served rice and potatoes and gravy; and hot biscuit and pie and cake; and two kinds of fruit and candy from Christmas boxes, etc.  It was quite a treat as the only fare I have had since I struck the army has been steak and fried potatoes, bread, syrup, and coffee.  They certainly know how to fry potatoes but I fear I shall become tired of them.  They have a saying over here: “Vive la Republique et les pommes de terre frites!”.  The other day Mme. Mongin served some “pommes de terre a robe de chambre”, i.e., with their jackets on.  We have lots of fun exchanging phrases like that between the two languages.

I started out eating my supper with the Mongin’s thinking it would improve my French.  It would, I think, if I had time to do it but it takes too much time so I am going to eat hereafter in the “chow line” with the men.  The three times that I did have supper with them I armed myself with my dictionary and we got along very well until they asked me to explain en francais the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism; and then I must say I was stumped.

I am acquiring more or less of a vocabulary, but I fear Mr. Mason [2] would be horrified at my constructions and the way I mix up tenses.  Gradually the “Hut” is getting in shape.  We have a fine fire-place that the boys made and the “Y” has sent out a lot of tables and benches.  There have been two very good entertainment troupes.  One was a quartet from the 52nd Infantry which has a real reputation.  Among them were two men who had been on Keith’s circuit in the States.  I wish you could hear Eddy Allen sing Al Jolson’s “An’ Everything”.  He’s got the nicest smile and way with him, an’ everything.

In the meantime I’m trying to boost along some local talent here.  But it’s a hard proposition: the boys are homesick and don’t want to bother to do anything.  They’re just marking time until they shall see the U.S. again.  Believe me, living in a camp like this makes you realize the comforts of home.  There’s lots of glory and romance in war but after the war is over it takes a lot of nerve to put up with war-time living.  I admire the U.S. doughboys more than I can say.

I forgot to say that one of the lieutenants of Co. G is a Cornellian and lives in Ithaca.  I can’t remember his name to save my soul but he gave me a lot of clippings from the Journal which I glanced over last night.  Send some to me, won’t you? The news is always new to us over here, for when you’re in the middle of the army you haven’t the slightest idea what’s happening, even here in Europe.

Up to date I have not heard one thing from 9 South Ave. [3]; for almost six weeks!  I wish the mail would come through.

Love to all, Elsie

[1] Becky Harris, daughter of Prof. Harris Cornell paleontologist.
[2] Probably Elsie’s high school French teacher.
[3] Elsie’s home address in Ithaca, NY.

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Journal:                                    January 7th, Tuesday

Got up with a fit of the blues.  Decided that I needed new inspiration so, right after lunch started to walk to Vitry [3km] to see Miss Whiton.  Found her in somewhat the same state.  If only we could work together!  We talked things over and then went to Capt. Ruikers room where it was warm as she was to wash her hair.  They asked me to stay to supper.  They walked back with me about 6:30.  The moon was wonderful, but it seemed as if the hour must be very late—supper finished, etc.  These long evenings are surely funny.  Well we got back to find the Hut full of impatient men waiting for their cocoa.  Juliette looked on and the Capt. hobnobbed with Sandy Crews.  Then we visited E Co.’s kitchen which is surely a work of art.  Capt. Stulkins has hung lace curtains at every window and has tied them back with blue ribbons.  He has had the floor covered with gravel and all his shelves are hung with newspaper fringed and indented with scissors.  If you could see Capt. Stulkins; the roughest kind of man with his Company, a man with a fiery temper and a brutal manner, embarrassed to death when out with people—you could never reconcile this display of femininity in the least.

Well, I’m glad Juliette and I had a chance to get together.  Each gave the other inspiration.  She was jealous because I had been making cocoa every night and I envied her having a whole hut to herself and a man (the dry canteen man) to work with as energetic and clever as Slessinger.

Journal:                                    January 8th, Wednesday

Felt better and stayed “home” all day.  Lieut. Spruill sent up word from Co. H that he wanted me to come down and serve chocolate on Saturday.  Did the usual stunts.  Sewed on curtains in the Hut all P.M.  Lieut. Waters came up to offer suggestions and brought with him Lieut. Lewis from the 52nd Machine Gun at Rouelles asking me there tomorrow.

Cocoa in the evening, then a walk in the moonlight with DuBois of Co. E kitchen.  We went almost to Germaines [3km].  It was a wonderful night.  He told me the story of his life and it sure is a sad one.

Journal:                                    January 9th, Thursday

Cleaned the Hut as usual, then lunch.  At 2:30 Lieut. Lewis arrived in a little French cart with two wheels and a Boche horse that was salvaged on the battlefield on the point of death.  He hasn’t retreated far from that point judging form his lack of speed.  The cart had no springs, it was cold and a very wet rain was drizzling down our necks, but despite it all I had a very good time.  Rouelles is even a more God forsaken town than Vitry.  Thirty-four inhabitants all told.  The cook had hot water waiting and had also made sandwiches for the boys.  Stayed to supper with the officers.  All from the South.  Had a very nice time.  Came jolting home about 5:30 in time to make chocolate at the Hut.

Journal:                                    January 10th, Friday

Nice day.  One of the best we’ve had.  Felt just like spring.  Lieut.  Osnes and I walked to Vitry.  Found Miss Whiton in the process of building a fire to try out their new fireplace.  It worked beautifully; I am so jealous.  [Gave] her an invitation to come to Bay tomorrow to see Regimental Review and stay to lunch.  We stayed ‘til about 4 and walked home facing a lovely sunset.  The more I think of it, the more I wish that the dry canteen were up in the Hut here at Bay.  If only Co. F’s kitchen would vamoose!  Well, I’ll just have to diddle along until it can be fixed up.  In the evening DuBois appeared again for a walk.  There was a lovely moon and for a while we walked through a cloud which gave the effect of being on the top of the world since we could see nothing on either side of the road.

Journal:                                    January 11th, Saturday

Juliette arrived promptly at 9:15.  On the way up to the parade ground, Col. Smith’s Dodge caught up with us and took us in.  The Col.  himself greeted us and talked a few minutes before the Review started.  It was a great sight.  As the companies and their commanders passed before the Col. he had something to say of either praise or blame to everyone.  Capt. Stulkins and Co. E were complemented of course.  At lunch there were twelve of us.  We had a gay time.  Juliette and Capt.  Ruiker left about 1:30 and I came up to pack my duds ready to go to Germaines.  Lieut. Spruill came for me in one of the funniest rigs I have ever seen.  In front it resembled the old country doctor’s buggy and in back was a low truck-like arrangement.  After you got in, which was a very difficult process, the hood came down so low there was a laprobe effect of leather that fitted back over your knees and made you feel like the proverbial bug-in-a-rug.  It took us forty minutes to go three kilometers.  The old nag had to be whipped, going down hill, on the way home even!

Did the usual chocolate stunt, then went to Lieut. Spruill’s house for supper.  The Mme. there had a real stove to cook on.  His [striker] was a tall, good looking southerner with a drawl.  Had a delicious supper ending up with pie and applesauce and fresh milk.  Started back about six.  That was a memorable ride.  The countryside was like fairyland in the moonlight and the old mare plodded up the hill, and down the other side, and all too soon the lights of Bay appeared.  Another hungry mob waiting to be fed.  This evening I sewed a star on my coat sleeve.  I sure am proud of it!

Journal:                                    January 12th, Sunday

Sat around the Hut most of the A.M.  It was raining hard.  Sewed on some service stripes.  The boys are mighty proud of them I can tell you and they look very well on their khaki colored uniforms.  Dinner with the “staff”.  The same menu as usual: “Vive la Republique et les pommes de terres frits”.  In the afternoon I had the uke out and was playing it when it was time for service.  The Chaplain suggested that I play some hymns on it.. We tried it and it was quite satisfactory but rather unique.  After service we built a very smoky fire in our very smoky fireplace and sat around it a long time.  Had my supper with DuBois in E Co. kitchen.  After supper served chocolate as usual.  Was playing the uke with the boys when Lieut. Spruill came in.  He didn’t stay long but wherever he was there was much merriment.  He is certainly beloved by his old company.

Journal:                                    January 13th, Monday

Took it into my head to make some fudge.  Got the milk from Mme.  Mongin and used cocoa and coarse army sugar.  Had to boil it over the open fire and pour it into greasy meat tins to cool, but it turned out very well.  Will make enough for everybody next time.  Mme. Mongin asked me to have dejeuner “en famille”.  They had the usual soup-like milk toast, and then pork and cabbage cooked most deliciously, red wine, bread, cheese, confiture and coffee.  I stayed ‘til about 1:30 and then went up to cut my fudge.  Sandy Crews helped me pile it in plates for the boys to be served later at “Y” time (6-8P.M.).  At 2 o’clock DuBois and I set out to walk to Auberive to “shop”.  The country was lovely.  Auberive is a most picturesque town with its gateways and quaint little shops.  It boasts of two real public buildings.  I bought out the store, buying kitchen utensils, lamp wicks and paper.  We got back in time for supper at Co. E.  Capt. Stulkins stayed around and talked for some time.  I certainly can’t make him out.

At the Hut later, I gave out fudge and played games with the boys.  I think a stunt night is really forthcoming, from all indications.

Journal:                                    January 14th, Tuesday

Juliette Whiton came over about 4 P.M.  Dr. Davidson and a Lieut.  from the artillery outfit now here, took us to one Mme. Lambin’s house where we had a look at her “curiosity shop”.  It is her front room on which she has spent many francs.  The hardwood floor and mantel shelf with its secret cupboard are beautifully fashioned and there is some lovely furniture and a Louis XIV clock.  Her husband was a major in the war of 1870 and Mexico and Africa and brought back from his many travels all sorts of curious and valuable things.  The walls are covered with sabres, swords, carved coconut shells, carvings from churches, beautiful china plates, etc.  Everything was “tres vieux, tres ancien” and the little old lady herself was as dried up as an old apple and yet rather fine looking.  After we had seen all the things in the front room, including a beautiful inlaid case containing four wine bottles with four glasses with each of clear glass with a simple but beautiful gold inlay,  we stepped into the next one and what a difference in appearance!  It was a low, dark kitchen with a stone floor and heavy beams overhead from which were suspended herbs hanging in fantastic garlands.  The old stone fireplace with its sheet iron plate in the back, and its heavy chain to hold the three-legged kettle is many years old and back in the chimney somewhere dwelt a family of crickets who chirped and chirped.  We finally had to leave, though we had seen only half her treasures.  Juliette and I had supper with DuBois in Co. E’s kitchen and then came over to make cocoa at the Hut.  We had a gay time afterwards with the uke and later DuBois, [?], Juliette, and I took a walk over the hill in the moonlight.  Juliette and I talked almost all night long.  Our problems, pleasures and troubles seem to be very much the same.

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry
Bay-sur-Aube, Jan. 12 1919
Dear Family:

I am sitting at one of the tables in the “Y” with boys writing all around me.  I wish I could say I was settled, but I certainly am working under disadvantages.  Co. F’s kitchen is still occupying one half of the barracks and the air is continually full of smoke.  Also the men use my tables as dining tables and aren’t particularly careful as to the condition they leave them in.  I seem to be continually cleaning up after them.  They are as bad as children.  There is a new barracks about to be put up and when it’s done the kitchen will probably move.  But things take time in the army, and there is nothing to work with here.  Honestly, if you want a nail or a piece of string it’s as much as your life is worth to get it.  And all the time you have the feeling what is the use if fixing things up when you may be on the move any minute?  The 6th Division doesn’t yet know its fate but the chances seem to be now that it won’t be going home for a long time.  Every day there is a new rumor.  You can imagine the feelings of the boys, such a depressed lot I never did see.  It’s Sunday, time to write home and that’s when they have time to think about how much they wish they were there.

It’s the hardest thing to find time to write even though I’m not really so very busy.  It’s hard to have  regular program during the day because in the army one thing is always waiting for another and that depends on another, etc.  I don’t spend all my time here at Battalion Headquarters by any means either, for I have to run around among the other companies to make cocoa for them.  American girls are at such a premium around here that it makes you feel very popular but naturally there is nothing personal about it.  This last week I went to Company G and to the Machine Gun Company.  The latter is located in a village even more desolate and dreary than this one.  There are about 42 inhabitants and we can boast of at least 100.  Had such a funny time getting there.  Lieut. Lewis came for me in one of these funny French two-wheeled carts without any springs, drawn by a Boche horse which someone had salvaged off the battlefield on the point of death.  He hadn’t left that point, I should say from the gait he took.  And meanwhile the rain was raining down our necks all the way over and back.  After cocoa was made, I had supper with the officers in the orderly room on a little round French table out of a mess kit.  I am getting quite handy with a mess kit.  I eat all my suppers out of one.

January 13th, Monday

This will absolutely have to be continued in our next.  I wish you could hear the crazy bunch around me.  We have finished serving cocoa, have had about a half hour with the ukelele and now two of the boys have gotten hold of combs and [toilet] paper and are making [the] night hideous with sound.  From “Mother Machree” to “Keep Your Head Down” the repertoire has been gone through and it’s simply impossibly impossible to write.

January 14th, Tuesday

Once again I’ll try to write.  But I’ll probably no sooner get started than the men will come with the load of sawdust for my floor and I will have to stop.  At present the “Y” is quiet.  It is about 2 P.M. and the men are at athletics.  They have maneuvers all morning and athletics in the afternoon and don’t begin to come into the Hut ‘til about chow time.  Don’t mind if I talk in army parlance.  I am getting as slangy as the next one.  Here’s a new song for you to the tune of “I want a girl, just like the girl that married dear old Dad”.  First let me explain, if you don’t know it, that a shave-tail is a 2nd Loot.

I want a belt
Just like the belt that all the shave-tails wear.
It’s got a strap, running up the back,
That makes the Mam’selles stare.
Its made of leather with a hook or two
Lots to eat and nothing much to do-
I want a belt, just like the belt
That all the shave-tails wear.

The first part of this letter sounded a bit despondent, I know, but since then things are much better.  I have secured lumber and am going to have a counter and shelves near my cocoa pot; my chimney is going to be plastered so it won’t smoke and I have enough red material now for curtains for the whole Hut.  Yesterday I walked 4.5 kilometers to Auberive to do some shopping.  In a little store there there is the funniest mixture of merchandise you have ever seen, I found some tin plates, a spoon, a dish pan, lamp wicks, and writing paper.  The officers gave me a good kidding when I came back because Auberive is out of the 6th Division’s area and I was therefore A.W.O.L (“absent without leave”).  It sure is good to walk a little.  I never get enough exercise.

Well, think how excited I am.  The supply sergeant has just come from H.Q. with the mail and I got five letters!  My, it was good to hear from home.  I am wondering what is happening to Cornell, if the S.A.T.C. [?] is really being disorganized.

Sunday it rained all day. I was just dying to make fudge but had no fresh milk and didn’t know how it would work with the evaporated stuff they have here. I made arrangements however for the next day with Mme. Mongin for the milk. In the afternoon the Chaplin (Charlie, they call him; he censors all my letters, by the way) held a little service. When he arrived I was playing the uke and he prevailed upon me to try it as an accompaniment to the hymns. We found that “Rock of Ages” and some with regular old-time harmony went very well. … a new role for a ukelele, n’est-ce pas?

On Monday I was invited to lunch at Mme’s.  They started off with the inevitable soup-like milk toast.  I didn’t quite finish mine and found that it was quite a “faux pas” because the meat course was to be served in the soup plate.  Discovering my mistake, I mumbled something, about talking and forgetting my soup, and finished it up.  We then had delicious pork and cabbage, the cabbage having been boiled in water and butter and the meat juice added before it was taken off the stove—fire, I should say, for it is all done over the open fire.

Speaking of open fires—that same day I tried my luck at that style of cooking.  I gathered together milk, cocoa, sugar that looks like rock salt it is so coarse and hard, butter and a little bit of precious vanilla salvaged from Company E’s kitchen, had my friend the cook build me a roaring fire in the fire-place and made my fudge.  I almost roasted alive stirring it but it turned out pretty well on the whole.  On Friday we are going to make eggless doughnuts.  If only I had a decent stove I would vary the program even more.

This will have to be all this time.  If you knew how I appreciated your letters you would write every day.  I suppose that rule works both ways.  I’ll try and do better but I thought maybe a long one less often might be more acceptable.

Loads of love, Elsie

Journal:                                    January 15th, Wednesday

We got up early and had breakfast with the officers.  Then I walked halfway back to Vitry with [Juliette] and got a ride home with some 8th Army Corps. officers.  Cleaned up my place of business which took just about all A.M. as usual.  I surely will be glad when Co. E moves [its kitchen out] and I can have the whole thing to myself.  At suppertime I asked Capt. Stulkins if I could have some flour, etc. for doughnuts.  He was rather fussed and queer about it but said I might.  Later I found he went to make inquiries at Co. F to see if Sandy could make good doughnuts and also how much grease they were going to let me have!  I can’t make him out at all.

Journal:                                    January 16th, Thursday

Day went about as usual.  The Colonel came in with some more promises about what he is going to bring me.  I put up some cupboards and cleaned house.

In the evening Dr. Davidson and Lieut Korst asked me to their Mme.’s house for some cards.  Stayed there ‘til about ten and then, the moon being simply resplendent, we walked up by the church.  The cemetery was positively ghostly in the moonlight.  What interested me particularly were the elaborate wreaths hanging on the tombstones.  They are made of tiny glass beads and the hand labor on them is appalling.  There are flowers with broad petals and leaves with elaborate notches and inscriptions of great length, all in these beaded wires.

Note: Journal ends and is not resumed until the single entry of August 1st.

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry, Co. F
Bay-sur-Aube, Jan. 20 1919
Dear Family:

I am snatching a few minutes at the “Y”.  It is 9:30, after taps, and the wild mob has gone home finally.  When we get the dry canteen established here we are going to have regular hours and probably close up at 8 o’clock.  At present however, after I have served the boys their cocoa, I let them hang around and we sing to the accompaniment of the uke.  The old uke has certainly been a blessing.  I have even used it on Sundays at church.  There are a few good old hymns like “Rock of Ages”, etc., that lend themselves very well to its chords.

I can’t remember when I last wrote.  So much and so little has happened.  The days go by and are all too short for the accomplishment of the many things that are crying to be done.  As yet we have had little snow, just rain and raw dampness with an occasional nice day.  Yesterday was such a one and I saw such a glorious sight.  A snow cloud had just passed by and the sun came out lighting up the purple mass [of the cloud] as it sailed over the hill.  Against this heavy color, intensified by the warm rays, stood out the delicate tracery of a tree vivid green in its coating of moss, and in the middle background was the usual stone house with its warm red tile roof.  I wish I had time to do some sketching.  And oh! for a camera! [1] I see no reason at all why I shouldn’t have brought one along.

I am beginning to take this scenery for granted already.  From my window I gaze out on the moss-covered walls with their arched doorways and their little red water sheds, on the winding streets with the houses that open their doors directly onto the level of the ground, and on the farm-yard next door where the old woman (the mayor’s mother) is to be seen shoveling straw and doing all sorts of menial labor that no woman of her age in the States would be permitted to do; and [she] thinks nothing of it.  I don’t even notice wooden shoes anymore except insomuch as they indicate how many members of the family are at home, as they stand outside the door.  I haven’t even taken the time to make a careful examination of the quaint little cemetery next to my barracks.  On every gravestone hangs a wreath elaborately fashioned of tiny glass beads, as elaborate as any hat trimming you have ever seen at home.  I can see them shining on the other side of the wall in the morning sunlight (when the sun does shine) and expect to spend an hour examining them some day.  Speaking of the wall, we almost got into trouble when we were building our fireplace.  The soldiers started collecting stones from said wall where it was broken and, because it was the cemetery wall that was being thus desecrated, the Mayor came in with loud complaints and we had to pacify him by promising to fill in the gaps again, toute de suite.

I am gradually getting more settled in though the kitchen is still filling up half the barracks and there is no hope at present of Company E’s moving.  It takes so long to do things in the army.  But Col. Smith of the 52nd Regiment (our “boss”) was in today with great promises of what he is going to do for me.  He has already sent down several pans and pots and cups, etc. and I have much more to keep house with than before.

We are getting up a minstrel show but our Company doesn’t seem to have much talent; or else they are hiding it under a bushel.  The Colonel has promised us some of the instruments from the 52nd band which is not far off.  We have no piano which is very unfortunate, I can give you a better idea now of my program.  Lately I have been cutting out breakfast and arriving at the Hut about 8:30.  There is much to be cleaned up and dishes to be washed from the night before.  When newspapers and magazines arrive they must be arranged.  Then I make a trip to the dry canteen “downtown” to see what supplies have come and to see that my cocoa, sugar, etc. are sent uptown for my own use.  Lately, in the mornings, I have been superintending the putting up of stores and shelves and have been hemming curtains, making bulletin boards, etc.  Then comes lunch at 12 with the officers.  They are lots of fun and we usually sit over our pommes de terre frites and confiture until one o’clock.  Until yesterday there was a Captain Lippy of the Engineers who received a degree first from Illinois and then at Cornell.  Lieut.  Fletcher of the supply dept. knows the Talbots [2] of Urbana.

In the afternoon I try to straighten out a few of my own affairs and then I come to the Hut and sit and talk to the boys as they come in and get my fire started for the evening.  Sometimes when it’s nice weather and I want exercise I walk to Co. I about 4 kilos over the hill to see Juliette Whiton, the “other” “Y” girl.  Have had supper there and she has stayed with me several times.  On Saturday mornings there is a big Regimental Review on the parade grounds; all the different companies from the Battalions participating, and she comes over to see it and stays to lunch.

I am still going out about twice a week to other towns to serve cocoa.  Last Saturday Lieut. F. Spruill of H Co. came after me in the funniest contraption I have ever seen.  It was a cross between the family doctor’s buggy and an express wagon.  It was all you could do get in it over the wheel, and when you were once in and the leather lap-robe had been pulled over your knees, it was all you could do to get out.

I have been getting beaucoup mail lately and how good it seems!  Have received three good long ones from you, also from Edith Horton, Mitz, Win Skinner, etc.

The question of course is, when are “we” going home?  I say we, because I am wearing the insignia of the 6th Division on my sleeve and am so proud of it.  There are rumors that it will be soon.  What becomes of us “Y” girls if it does move, we don’t know.  Possibly we will move with them towards the seacoast and then be transferred back again to some of the unlucky ones who must still stay.  Kate VanDuzer is in Nice, going to officer’s dances and tripping the light fantastic along with her work.  I don’t envy her at all.  I’m perfectly happy plowing through the mud and trying to keep my barracks tidy and my red curtains un-besmirched.  Everyone is so nice to me and I am getting so I love every one of these patient doughboys who are making the best of things in this “froggy” country.

Freddy Frederiksen is not far away.  He is in the 78th Division.  In fact one of the girls I roomed with in London has seen him, so he said in a recent letter.  Randolph [3] is near Paris and I got a letter from Stanley Wright in Versailles, at a hotel not far from where we stayed, dated about one week before I was there!  Ships that pass in the night, n’est-ce pas?

Loads of love, Elsie

[1] Elsie later had a camera. The photos in this chapter are those taken in 1921 on a visit to Bay with my father on their honeymoon.
[2] Helen Talbot Gilkey—Elsie’s friend from Pratt Institute—whose son Arthur
famously died on K2, second highest mountain in the world, in 1952.
[2] Randolph Cautley, hometown friend from Ithaca.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry, Co. F
Bay-sur-Aube, Jan. 25[?] 1919
Dear Edith:

Will try and rush thru a letter now before I go to the Hut for the afternoon.  I’m sitting in my frigid little room with my uniform, my bathrobe and, on top of that, my cape in a vain endeavor to keep warm.  There is a fireplace here but I am in the place so seldom and it takes so much attention that I hardly ever light a fire in it.  We have had snow for several days now and it really seems more like winter.  How I wish I had a bob-sled!  The children around here (to be sure there are only about six of them) don’t seem to know what it means to play in the snow.  In fact they don’t have any of the pleasures of a normal, healthy American child.  When you do see them outside they are usually bound on some errand, or driving the cows or carrying wood, etc.  All the people do is work, work, work, clumping around in their wooden shoes with their cold hands red and swollen and their backs bent.  And yet they seem contented with their lot.  The other night we had a movie show up in the Hut and the French people all turned out.  It was the first cinema most of them had ever seen and they marveled at it.  It sure did seem good to see one.  It’s the first time I’d seen one since I left the States.

What is happening over there anyway?  We see the Paris editions of the N.Y. Herald about twice a week but it’s filled up mostly with news of the Peace Conference, international problems and the comings and goings of the A.E.F. [1] in France.  I have seen two items from Ithaca.  One, the death of Prof. Carpenter, and the other, the fact that hard cider has been considered liquor!

With me the days go on, some busier than others.  Right now we are in the process of having a minstrel show next Saturday night.  Companies L and M are giving one tonight and then are to turn over the music to us for rehearsals, that is, about 6 pieces of the Regimental Band, which have been granted us by the Colonel.  One of the officers and I are walking over to Vitry tonight to see the show which is called the “Hobnail Minstrel of 1919”.  I think ours is to be entitled “A Night in the Alley” or some such euphonious thing.  There is quite a bit of talent, but it’s hard at times to draw it out.

Last night we made the French family here marvel again.  Sergeant Gordon, the Company Clerk, got some snow and vanilla and we mixed it with milk and sugar and made a most delicious ice cream.  Julienne had never had any before and was skeptical.  Pere and mere wouldn’t even touch it—“trop froid”—but little Cecile devoured hers before her mother could stop her.

I know this is an unsatisfactory letter.  But it seemed as if I had described, in former ones, the way I live and what I do.  The enclosed postal is of the town where Co. H is stationed.  In the one of Germaines, notice the white winding road.  All the roads are like that and are wonderfully hard, being of a rock foundation.

Tell everyone to write to me!

Loads of love, Elsie

[1] American Expeditionary Force.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry, Co. F
Bay-sur-Aube, Feb. 1 1919
Dear Edith:

I received Edith’s letter no. 5 dated Jan. 6th. ‘19, and Papa’s letter enclosing clippings and a letter from Freddy.  The latter, by the way, finally knows where I am and his letters will no longer go shooting across the Atlantic before reaching me.  In the last one he sent me [a] German map taken off a Boche in the Argonne Forest.

I don’t know where I left off in my tale of the “Little red church on the hill” as the Colonel [1] of the regiment calls me.  At last the kitchen has moved out and I have the whole Hut to myself.  A big stage has been erected and another stove has been put up and at present we are practicing for a big minstrel show.  It promises to be great, as Reg.  H.Q. has lent us 6 pieces of the Regimental Band.  In the meanwhile I have a reading and writing room, distribute paper and magazines and serve cocoa.  Not a very strenuous life, but very interesting.

February 9th

Look how the time has flown since I started this letter almost a week ago!  In the meantime the minstrel show has come off and was a great success.  They pulled “gags” on all the officers, not even sparing me.  We have a wonderful stage up now with a curtain.  On one side of the curtain is the red star of the 6th Division and on the other is the American shield.  Of course, now that we’re all settled, Co. E is moving out and there is just one company here.  But some artillery men are moving in temporarily so there will be beaucoup people to take care of.

Last Sunday I had such an exciting day.  We had services in the morning and at noon I went to Lieut. Fletcher’s house to dine with him.  The M. and Mme. where he lives asked me specially and they had the most delicious dinner, served French fashion in separate courses.  It was so good I must tell you about it.  First we had lentil soup made with meat stock and croutons, then hard boiled eggs sliced in half with the most delicious tomato sauce on them.  Try it sometime.  Then came lapin—or rabbit—with wonderful gravy and mashed potatoes, bread and butter and string beans.  They had been preserved in a bottle and tasted just like fresh ones.  Then we had a salad, and finally caramel custard that melted in your mouth, and cheese and coffee, not to mention goffres—funny things like waffles only sweeter and thinner and they serve them cold.  Oh, yes, and white wine coupe with hot water during the meal.  If I ate many such meals I could just roll home with the greatest of ease.

In the afternoon I walked to Vitry to see Miss Whiton.  I stayed to supper and went down to her hut supposedly to spend the evening.  About 7:30 who should blow in but the Colonel in his car with an invitation to a musical at Regimental H.Q.  It was held in an old chateau, or hunting lodge, which was approached through a park over a driveway with beautiful trees on either side.  We were ushered into a stone hallway with Norman arches and glimpses of balustrades and curved staircases through them.  The walls were lined with stag’s heads and great polished wood armoires.  In the drawing room we were greeted by M. le Compt and Mme. la Comptesse and the dearest little grandmere you can imagine in a black dress trimmed with crepe.  I talked with her quite a lot during the evening.  She had lost all her “beautiful little ones” (her grandsons) in the war.  She has a big home in Paris but has no desire to go back, for there are no young people to entertain anymore.  There were many officers there and some “Y” entertainers who furnished the music.  Later they served tea and cognac to the ladies and gentlemen respectively.  I was allowed to taste the latter and it certainly is good.  All the time I felt as if I must be in a dream.  Was I really sitting in this lofty drawing room with long French windows hung with taffeta curtains, with oriental rugs on the floor and wonderful French furniture—sofas, chaises longues, arm chairs, round tables, consoles, etc., etc.?  Mitz would have reveled in them.  Well, after that party, the Colonel took us around to his mess where, with two other officers, we sat down to a regular dinner party.  Finally we got home at 12:30.  It was the first time I have been up so late since that night in Paris so long ago.

Il fait maintenent le temps pas chaud—I imagine the thermometer reads about 15 above zero.

I’ll try and write soon again,

Love from Elsie

[1] R.A. McGuire; owing to Elsie’s auburn hair.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry, Co. F
Bay-sur-Aube, Feb. 13 1919
Dear Family:

Once again I will commence a letter but I won’t promise that it will get off right away.  Today we have been “carpentering” up at the Hut with the few nails and sticks of lumber that the supply officer could send us and I have had a very busy morning.  At last I have my utensils and the top of the counter all nearly covered with the green oilcloth that I bought in N.Y. City to cover my steamer roll.

For the last two weeks we have had much snow and cold weather.  I have been dying to go sliding and last night I had my wish.  Chaplain Hunter and I walked to Vitry to see our minstrel show perform, helped Juliette serve cocoa and then walked back in the moonlight.  It was a glorious night and so wonderful that when we got home we simply couldn’t come inside so we instituted a search for the only sled in the village (a work sledge that they use for hauling wood); found it in a barn and dragged it up to the top of the hill north of the parade grounds.  There was a wonderful grade and enough snow to make it slippery as anything.  We had about eight good slides and when we came in it was only ten o’clock.  The evenings are so funny here.  They begin about five o’clock and there always seems to be time to do one more thing.

This week there is a lull in the activities.  We have sent our minstrel show out on the road and miss the music around here very much.

Nothing much is planned but some boxing matches.  The other day a “Y” man came out with a little portable organ which has been lots of fun to fool with.  Up to now we have been conducting church singing to the accompaniment of the ukulele and I’m sure the organ will be a trifle more fitting.  Did I tell you, by the way, about my trip to Langres?  The Colonel had to send his Dodge up there and he found room in the back seat for Juliette and me.  You should have seen me when I started out.  It was a bitter cold day and on top of all my layers of regular clothing, I had Lieut. Water’s big topcoat and a musette bag slung over one shoulder.  I could hardly move my arms.  Believe me, the musette bag came in handy for I had to buy such things as collar buttons, nails, tacks, etc., etc. and no [other] way to carry them.  I wish you could have seen the list I had.  Besides make-up and costumes for the minstrel show I got suspenders, service stripes, etc. for the officers and many extras for the officer’s mess such as fruit, sardines and things that we don’t usually have.  Langres is about 23 kilos from here.  It is an interesting ride.  We passed a prison camp and saw many fair-haired Germans being marched to work by French guards who carried the most villainous-looking bayonets.  We also passed some negro  troops.  Their black faces certainly did look queer in contrast to the khaki uniform, and my! how cold it must have been for them working on those frozen roads!  You’ve heard the story I suppose about the German commander who asked why a certain defensive didn’t throw more gas into the American ranks on a certain sector.  “We tried it, Sir,” answered one of the officers, “but the gas just turned the Yank’s faces black and their hair kinky and they kept right on coming!”

As you approach Langres you pass thru arched gateways in a great Roman wall; three sets of them.  On all sides are fortifications and moats that can be filled with water and draw-bridges that can be drawn up.  I believe it has some historic interest in the War of 1870.

Unfortunately we had time only for shopping and couldn’t really stop and look at things.  There is a high place there from which you can see Mont Blanc!  That’s the trouble, being in the army, your time isn’t your own by any means.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry, Co. F
Bay-sur-Aube, Feb. 18 1919
Dear Family:

I am snatching a few minutes while the fudge comes to a boil to write my weekly letter.  Believe me, it’s a proposition to make enough fudge for a company of men, especially when the men are around under foot all the time asking if I don’t want a professional taster. etc.  I’ve been at it now since yesterday afternoon.  Have made four batches and that is barely enough for the whole company to have 1-1/2 pieces apiece.  If I could get somewhere where I had a big stove and beaucoup utensils I’d make it for about a week and really have some.  It did seem like home, though, to be boiling fudge and even though it’s made with cocoa it has turned out very well.

I don’t know where to begin in this letter.  So much has happened to me and I can’t remember what day I last wrote.  The snow has gone now and the “boue” has returned.  My rubber boots are the only thing, but they are awfully hard on one’s feet.  I’ve worn out my arctics [1] completely.

In Langres the other day I bought a violin for one of the boys for 80 Fr.  I almost wish I had one of my own.  But [sheet] music is the great problem, as he can’t play much without notes.  We have a piano now and a little organ, so we’re pretty well fixed musically.  We’re putting on an entertainment Friday and yours truly is to sing a duet.  Do send me some music; popular songs and also violin music.

You’ve no idea how out of the world we are.  Planted right in the middle of the map of France, we don’t see any of the country outside of a radius of 20 kilometers.  I am to have quite a jaunt on Saturday.  Juliette and I are to go to Meulson, about 40 kilos away, to help serve a luncheon at the 6th Division Horse Show.  The way they are getting up minstrel and tennis tournaments, etc. in the A.E.F. you wouldn’t think it was a fighting organization.  But since we must be here we must make life livable.  A great many of the officers are getting chances to go to college either in France or England for four months.  The adjutant here is thinking of going to Oxford.  It’s a wonderful opportunity.  Juliette and I are beginning to think about where we will go on our leave.  It comes in April.  Of course Nice and Cannes are the Meccas of the A.E.F., and it would be wonderful to see the blue Mediterranean.  Also should like to get a glimpse of the devastated districts and see a real shell hole.  For a time last week we thought we might see fighting again if the armistice was not renewed [2].  And we may yet.  Rumors are persistent that the 6th Division is going to Coblenz in the Army of Occupation.  Your little Elsie may still see Germany, though of course I doubt that very much.  I am living so in the present that I don’t care what becomes of me or where I go—I believe that at the end of your four months you are supposed to be re-assigned.  But I wouldn’t want to be anywhere but with the 52nd Infantry.  By the way, Freddy wrote me that he had talked with Winifred Lawrence, a girl who came over on the same ship with me.  Wouldn’t it have been funny if I had been sent to the 78th Division?  He is having a leave and was going to try and get here, but I’m sure it will be impossible.

I have just written to Edith Horton and asked her to show you the letter.  It tells some things that I haven’t put in this one.  Told her how I have been taking lessons in how to shoot a .45 pistol.  Also I am dying to learn to ride on horseback.  The Chaplain has gone on pass and said I might have his horse anytime.  Also Lieut. Waters has lent me breeches and spiral puttees and I am crazy to get into them.  It’s just a matter of finding time for I have a perfectly good teacher in Lieut.  Fletcher.  You see I always feel guilty when I stay away from my Hut and go out with the officers.

I just got Edith Horton’s letter No. 7.  Then she still thought that I was working in Dijon.  I don’t know just how many kilos away from Dijon we are, but it’s a good many.  It’s funny how we girls planned to come to the Dijon district expecting to work together.  We had no idea we would be sent out alone like this.  I haven’t heard form one of them, but suppose I shall see some at the Horse Show on Saturday.  Did I tell you Kate VanDuzer is at Nice paying 15 Fr. per day for room and board and I am paying 20 Fr. per week for the same thing!

One of my candles has gone out and the other is flickering.  It’s just pouring rain and the night is “noir comme un poche”.

Bonne nuit, Elsie

[1] Arctics: Black, ankle-high, rubber-soled canvas boots with large metal clasps which flapped wildly when not done up.  Later popular with young women in the 20’s hence, “flapper girls”. We wore them in the 30’s as kids.
[2] The army had been pulled back from the Marne after the Armistice, but was kept close by spread out in readiness in these tiny villages against the possibility of renewed hostilities. Too, it would require many months to assemble the vast armada of ships necessary to repatriate the several millions of the A.E.F.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion
52nd Infantry, Co. F
Bay-sur-Aube, Mar. 1 1919
Dear Family:

Je suis bien triste ce soir parce que j’ai perdu mon Battalion!  It’s a long story, but this is how it happened: on Wednesday they received word at Bn. H.Q. that the 2nd Battalion was to move en masse to the Swiss border.  All was excitement although no definite orders had come and one of the first questions was: what will become of Miss Church?  At first I thought that I could go along and so did everyone else.  The adjutant said my baggage could be handled easily along with the officer’s stuff and I got so thrilled I didn’t know what to do.  The journey was to be made in trucks and though it would have been a hard trip I was willing to try it.  Well, I called up the Colonel and he said, “No, Miss Church,” ce n’est pas possible.  “The Machine Gun Company of the 52nd is going to move into Bay and your place is there to run the Hut for them”.  Well, I didn’t give up hope, but called up “Y” headquarters at Recey-sur-Ource.  They were just as discouraging, saying that I was assigned to the area and not to the outfit, and I would better stay in Bay.  So all my dreams of a journey by truck with a military outfit and a sight of the Alps were rudely shattered [1].  Believe me I was some disappointed, and yet after having put so much work on “Hillside Hut” and after getting all settled, etc., it was surely a shame to pull up the stakes.  What’s more, they say the place the Bn. is going is an artillery camp which is muddier, if possible, than Bay and a woman might be very much in the way.  They are going there for two months, so the army “dope’ is, and then will rejoin the Regiment, so it may not be worth while for me to try to go.

But oh, how I hated to see them go!  I had gotten to know all the men and they were so nice.  There’s nothing like the “infantry with mud behind there ears” and everyone said, “Oh, the machine gunners are awful roughnecks”!  And then there were the officers with whom I have had such a good time!  Lieut. Waters with his delightful manners and good humor, a typical Southern gentleman; Lieut. Davidson, the dentist, who with all his eccentricities was a scream and helped me so much in getting up entertainments, etc.; the Chaplain who is a perfect peach, and then the officers in the other companies who used to come over to see me and who entertained me in their little towns.  Maybe you can get some idea of how it feels to “belong” to an outfit and then have it go off like that.

Last evening the trucks started coming for them.  They lined the road for almost a mile, it seemed, until there were fifty of them in a string.  Everyone was ready to go by 7 o’clock and piled into the “Y” to have cocoa and kill time until orders came.  We stayed up disgracefully late; taps never even blew.  Juliette was over to spend the night, since we were supposed to go to the Horse Show together in the morning.  Well, in the A.M. after I had said goodbye to everyone I simply didn’t have the courage to stay and see them go, though it would have been a most interesting sight.  So when the Colonel’s car came to take us to the Horse Show I decided to go along.  We rode about 40 kilos to Montigny-sur-Aube.  The Horse Show was competitive between the 6th Division, the 8th Army Corps, and the 81st or Wild Cat Division.  By the way, that is Bernice White’s outfit and if it hadn’t been that she was away on her vacation she would undoubtedly been there.  Wasn’t that maddening?  Well, we had a gay time, never saw so many officers with so many gay-colored insignia together in my life before.  And what do you know, shook hands with Lieut. Gen. Liggett of the First Army, and Major Gen. Allen of the 8th Army Corps (under which large headings we are listed).  We rode back through the most delightful country just at sunset.  This “paysage” as I have said before is like a combination of Ithaca hills and mountain vegetation.  Every valley has its little river with line upon line of trees, all gnarled and knotted just like the pictures of France.  You see, the peasants cut back the branches near the ground and this makes the trees yield better wood for burning.  When spring really comes I am going to go wild, for it will be indescribable.  Today we saw a perfect picture.  We approached an old mill, stone, with the usual red tile roof, on the banks of a swollen stream.  In the background were these knotted stumps, standing as it were knee-deep in the eddying water, and in the foreground was a French peasant, in a blue-green smock and wooden shoes, driving a team of oxen hitched to a funny rickety cart.  Speaking of wooden shoes, I am sending you a pair that Lieut. Waters presented to me.  If they were big enough, I would wear them myself, as they are really the only thing in this mud, but since I can’t, will ship them on as a “souvenir de France”.  When I go on my leave I will send you something really worthwhile.  Juliette and I are going on leave together.  Haven’t decided where yet, but it begins about April 15th.  The Riviera is closed to “Y” workers as is also Paris and the “Front” so I guess we will try the Pyrenees and Lyon and Nimes.  Also, if my beloved 2nd Bn. is still near Besancon, where the artillery camp is, I’m going to try and go there too.

Have had my second lesson in riding horseback.  Rode 14 kilos with Lieut. Fletcher on Thursday in a pouring rain which turned to sleet before we got home.  It’s going to take me a long time to learn to post, but I hope to really enjoy riding some day.

Honestly, tonight, I can’t think of a thing but how lonesome I am after my doughboys.  Of course I am going to like the new outfit and tomorrow I shall begin to get acquainted.  I took a vacation in order to write this letter and since my room was cold, came down to Lieut.  Fletcher’s old quarters where Madame has a nice fire.  By the way, Lieut.  F. is disappointed too and doesn’t go with the 2nd Bn. so we can console each other.  He has moved over to Aulnoy (3 kilos away) but that isn’t so far for a cheval.

Elsie

[1] Elsie finally saw the Alps in the summer of 1939.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 777
Bay-sur-Aube, Mar. 11 1919
Dear Family:

We got down to Dijon yesterday to do some shopping and, in between the buying of chessmen and paint and base-balls and other luxuries, I slipped in some things for myself.  The Colonel took Juliette, Miss Gillette, and [me] and it certainly was a spree for little country girls to get into a big city.  It was the most wonderful ride you can imagine.  The country levels out as you go southward into Cote d’Or: “Hills of Gold” is certainly the proper word.  The lovely slopes were all under cultivation and the turned earth was the most wonderful shade of golden brown.  There were rows of poplar trees here and there to add to the picturesqueness and in the distance rose the foothills of the Vosges mountains.  On our way we passed thru Is-sur-Tille which is the greatest advanced supply depot in the world.  The Americans have worked wonders there.  There is a huge camp and all the buildings, railroads, engine sheds, etc. that go with a supply depot besides a mammoth bakery and a refrigeration plant.  You can hardly find the French part of the city.  There were even great American engines and freight cars, which make the French cars look like toys.  But in Dijon, although there are many Americans, you get the real French atmosphere again.  The streets are swarming with uniforms of all nationalities and some of them are perfectly stunning.  As usual, when shopping, our French underwent a severe test, but we got everything we needed, and found out that when you want a saucepan with a handle it must have a tail—“casserole a queue”.

Now that the 2nd Bn. has departed there are only about 150 men to use our place.  I like this new bunch awfully well, and they are great about doing things.  We are getting moss now to line our front walk and I think I’ll make some window boxes to put on either side of the front door.  The rumors fluctuate as to whether we are going to Germany or not.  If not, and the 52nd is here all summer, we’ll make more improvements.  The Colonel even suggested a rustic porch.  You should see one of the French camps we passed yesterday.  There were lawns and flower beds, a casino- looking place, and hanging lanterns, etc.

I heard from Lieut. Osnes of G Company today, and the 2nd Bn. is working with French artillery, and is stationed in the most marvelous place, just “sittin” on the world as they say in the army.  The trucks got lost on the way and they had one very hard day and night so maybe it was just as well I didn’t go with them, but it would have been a wonderful experience just the same.

At the present time the Machine Gun Company is getting up a show for Wed. night and a dance for Thursday.  We will have the other four girls of the regiment and then some of the men are to dress as girls.  There will be prizes and a few stunts and we ought to have a good time. Costuming is a hard proposition here.  The French people are so frugal and save things to the nth degree and rarely have anything that isn’t in use.

The other night we were down at H.Q. to hear Margaret Wilson sing. When we walked in the door the first person I saw was Capt. Harry Kent.  He surely was surprised to see me.  We only had a short time to talk and I didn’t even get any news of the Curtis’s. Hope to see him for a longer time soon.

This is a choppy letter but I must run along and get “props” for the show.  Seems quite natural to be doing that little thing.

Loads of love, Elsie
                                                                        -o0|0o-

Elsie revisited Bay while on her honeymoon on Sept. 27th, 1921.
“Mon. Got a Ford (in Langres) and went to Bay.  Mongin’s to lunch.  Mme. Delaume(?) entertained us royally.  Great fun seeing everyone.  My Hut was still there, ivy and all!  Took a train at Langres for Dijon.” See 1921 photo above of roman church and “Hut”.


 

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