E. S. Church, France 1919, Chapter 4, Nanteuil-la-Fosse

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

Re-transcribed by W.C. Atkinson, her son, in 2000

In 1919 my mother was 29 years old.

These letters were originally transcribed from the handwritten by Elsie’s elder sister Edith mainly for the purpose of their subsequent publication by the Ithaca Journal in the winter and spring.

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Chapter Four
Nanteuil-la-Fosse

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VINYARDS
The Vinyards of Nanteuil (Leandre at left, ESC at right)

Hotel Roblin
Paris, June 25 1919

Dear Family:

It’s all fixed an I am to become a “Friend” and go out to a little village called Nanteuil-la-Fosse [1] to begin an absolutely new kind of work.  Imagine my feelings when I got all your letters saying you expected me home in July!  It sure did make me homesick and I certainly do feel low tonight when I realize that I leave tomorrow and am all signed up for at least three months more.  Of course there’s the possibility that I may like it well enough to stay on in the winter, but I imagine I’ll be _good _ and ready to come home in November.  I will have stayed out my year and had the satisfaction of really living among the French people.  My French is going to undergo a good stiff test.

Speaking of French, I met Mr. Pumpelly in the Red Cross Headquarters yesterday and he came to lunch with us at the Hotel.  He has been to the Balkans and wants to go to Poland for a month or so but fully intends to get back the Ithaca to teach in the fall.  Grace Bird took dinner with us too, on Sunday, as also did Ruth Skinner, Elizabeth Skinner’s older sister.  She is on her way home.

I must tell you the tragedy about this work with the Quakers.  Joy Hawley and I of course planned to go together, in fact neither one of us would have actually gotten into the work without the other.  Well, after we were all signed up, Joy got a letter from her mother telling of illness and an operation and Joy began to get worried and homesick which, combined with the fact that she was more tired than she thought, upset her terribly and she has been released by the Friends and is going home as soon as she can get a sailing.  That leaves me high and dry to go alone.  I’m terribly disappointed, but I suppose it will do me good.

Since I have been in Paris I have been having the most wonderful time.  Between Freddy F. and Lieut. Osnes of the 52nd Infantry, both of whom are here in the Sorbonne, I have been introduced to most of the pleasures and palaces of the great city.  I have been again to Versailles, to the rose gardens of the Bois de Boulogne, have been down the Seine on a boat trip to St. Cloud, have seen opera as well as the gay musical comedies made for the benefit of the A.E.F., and have eaten in every imaginable kind of restaurant including the outdoor kind where you sit at a little table on the sidewalk and watch the world go by.

And shopping, my heavens, there isn’t a thing I haven’t bought.  I have had to pay out so little for my keep since I have been in the army, that I find I have saved a really great deal.  So I haven’t stopped at lovely underwear and even some inexpensive jewelry and beaucoup lace.

Well, I must run along.  Freddy has come for me and is going to take me as far as Reims where we are going to look at the cathedral and the city on my way to Nanteuil-la-Fosse.

Will write again when I am settled.

Loads of love,

Elsie

[1] Now Nanteuille-la-Foret. Fosse means ditch or pit in French.

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Friends Bureau,
53, Rue de Rivoli. Paris
Nanteuil-la-Fosse,
June 28 1919

Dear Ones at Home:

You would certainly be surprised if you could see what an utterly different life I am leading and am about to lead for the next few months.  In the first place I am still of the A.E.F. but no longer in the A.E.F.   After having lived for six months surrounded by men, sharing their joys or discomfort as the case might be, it is queer to be plunged into a group of unusual but altogether charming women, one Scotch [sic], one English and one American and find the duties waiting one so utterly different from any former ones.  At present I am general office-boy, beginning in the warehouse just as anyone would, working up in a business.  “Jock” [1], the Scotch girl, goes on her leave next Wednesday and I am to take her place at the caisse [2] as general cashier then.  ‘Til that time I shall “fag” as she says and do dirty jobs around so as to become familiar with the stock and the running of things.  You see the work revolves around a shop where the Mission sells all sorts of things to the peasants at ridiculously low prices.  For instance, they can get boy’s suits or corduroy knickers for 2 francs apiece, and other things on the same scale.  Besides clothes they sell them farming and cooking utensils, sheets, blankets, towels, canned goods, etc., etc.  There is oodles of bookkeeping in connection with it all of course and I will have to do that, and then every family in the ten villages served by the equipe is on a card index and each one is visited and an equal distribution of things is assured.  I went out to the traveling meat market this morning to get the dinner and realized how limited my French vocabulary is.  I came back a sadder and wiser woman, bearing with me 22Fr worth of cotellettes et ragout de veau and un roti de boeuf.  Next week I am to be housekeeper which will require a little managing, as the materials are meager and the bonne de cuisine knows how to boil things and that’s about all.

My first two days here have been very busy ones.  Yesterday they held shop at Pourcy and we loaded a camion with garments for men, women, and children, piled in and rode for about seven kilometres.  Arriving at Pourcy, we set up counters in a room provided for us in a house whose top story had entirely gone and the ceiling of our room was in imminent danger of falling about our ears.  It refrained however and for three solid hours we sold garments of all kinds and descriptions.  It was quite a strain on my vocabulary to converse glibly about colors and sizes and materials.  My ear needs training as well as my construction.  I had a good chance this afternoon.  M. le Cure came to call, just in time for tea, which they have in true English fashion every afternoon at four, and as M. le Cure hasn’t any teeth and mouths his words most frightfully I was able only to get a very sketchy impression of his side of the conversation.  Miss Lindley [3] speaks excellent French and when she started speaking it was like finding a raft to rest on when you are swimming around in deep water.

1919_NLaF_Truck
110 Rue de Bre, Nanteuil-la-Foret, France

The house we are living in was visited by only one shell which destroyed the mantel in the dining room and chipped up the stone floor considerably.  We are wondering who occupied it during la guerre.  There are two signs in Italian on two different doors and we know that the British were in the village at one time, but nothing definite has been told us about the house itself. [4]

Today we moved goods from the transient store house to the grenier on the third floor by means of a wonderful ascenseur that Jock rigged up out of some old telephone wire and a gunny sack.  I found such manual labor rather hard on my uniform and I have been unable to unpack my trunk as yet.  In fact I am not well equipped for clothes at all.  About three middies and a corduroy skirt would be the most sensible costume.  But I shall get along all right.  It will be only three months anyway.

You can’t imagine how I miss Joy and all the people I have been with.  I just won’t let myself get homesick and even if I should have tendencies that way, I am going to be too busy, I imagine, to follow them.

Freddy F. came down to Reims with me on my way here.  We visited the cathedral but were unable to go inside as repairs were in progress.  It is beautiful in its damaged state.  It looks like a chrysalis from which the butterfly has flown.

They say there is a greve de facteurs, in other words: a strike, among the postmen and Heaven only knows when this letter will ever start on its way.

Love me a lot and write often,

Elsie

[1] Chalmers; from Edinborough.
[2] Office window.
[3] Grace Lindley, “Benjamin”; from London.
[4] When I found the house (110 Rue De Bré) in 2000 it was owned by a Madam Trinquart. Google it.

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Friends Bureau,
53, Rue de Rivoli. Paris
Nanteuil-la-Fosse,
July 4 1919

Dear Edith:

Now that I have been a week at the new job I can really give you some idea of what it is all like.  Have I explained the organization fully?  It is under the Red Cross but the Friends Unit itself does strictly reconstruction work among the French civilians.  But, joy of joys, I am entitled to wear a Red Cross pin on my hat and ever since I have come in contact with the work of the A.R.C. over here I have envied the wearer of that insignia.  That is not in disparagement of the “Y” for they are such totally different organizations.

Well, anyhow, now for the setting: The equipe (or team as the word means in French) consists of three people: Miss Lindley, a delightful English woman from Winchester, Miss Andrew or “Andy” from California, and your humble servant who is taking “Jock’s” place at the cash desk as she has gone on her vacation.  Nanteuil-la-Fosse is not as badly shot up as some of the villages in the district.  The house we live in [1], a square, boxy plaster affair with brick trimmings, surrounded by a high wall with a creaky iron gate, is mostly intact.  It is shabby and battered, however, a shell having messed up the dining room and the rest having become rundown through lack of care.  When the wind blows, there is one continual slamming and banging as no window casing is entirely filled with glass and no door has a real bolt or latch.  The front court-yard is rather messy, being always filled with packing cases either being moved into, or out of, the “shop” which occupies half the downstairs.  But of that anon.  Behind the house is a garden.  Such a sweet little place it must have been before the war.  In the center of it is a round stone-edged pool 1919_NLaF_Poolwhich reflects the changing mood of the sky above.  This morning, one of wind and clouds and sunshine, it looked like a Maxfield Parrish print.  Radiating from the pool are all sorts of little paths and hedgerows, and the whole garden is enclosed by a high wall with its inevitable pent-roof of red tile.  The paths are overgrown now with weeds, but the place is still gay with roses and the climbing things and the gipsy poppies have crept in from the vagabond world outside and make it resplendent with their color.  In the meadow, which stretches from the garden gate to the Foret de Reims toward the eastward, the poppies have gone wild and there is a riot of daisies and corn flowers and morning glories and buttercups, but especially the poppies.  They are the gayest things and flare at you from every roadside and pasture.  The country around is beautiful despite the fact that it was so lately a battlefield.  The peasants have most of them returned, their gardens are flourishing and the grain fields are getting yellow.

This afternoon Andy and I took a long walk through the champs de bataille.  We ran across heaps and heaps of discarded clothing, helmets and gas masks galore and explored some trenches and dug-outs.  Now, in time of peace, it is hard to imagine how the soldiers lived for days and days in the woods, exposed to all sorts of weather and with no shelter except what they could build for themselves out of branches and mud.  It looked as if a lot of cave men had been there.  There were rude beds and tables and wigwam effects of saplings woven together.  In following a line of telephone wire we suddenly stumbled on an old ruin at the end of a long green aisle of misty trees, such as the Prince went through to find the Sleeping Beauty.  It had once been a castle I imagine.  The walls were of gray stone with an old arched doorway and loop-holes above; and creeping over it all was the friendly ivy that covers up the scars and discloses the beauty of the structure.  The place had been used in late military operations and the paraphernalia of modern warfare, which lay scattered about, was most incongruous amid its medieval quaintness.  I really believe that I am going to find some time for sketching.  There isn’t much to do of a Sunday as things are very quiet here and in the recesses of my trunk somewhere I have my water-colors and about four sheets of paper.

Today was the glorious Fourth.  It was a fete day here, the children had no school, but Andy and I, the only Americans around, didn’t even take a holiday.  Yesterday was shop and there was too much left over to see about today.  “Shop” comes Tues. and Thur. at Nanteuil and ordinarily on Friday at an outlying village.  It is like running a little country store.  They have for sale clothing, shoes, stuff by the yard, garden tools, kitchen utensils, beds, bedding, linen, etc.  A great deal of material is furnished by relief organizations.  This is sold at a nominal price and thus they are enabled to sell other materials such as the tools, cloth, etc. at a loss and still make expenses.  It is a wonderful chance for the people returning to their homes to start their menages again at prices within their means.  A great deal of stuff is given away as pure relief also.  For instance, tomorrow a Ford truck is coming down from Payny and we are going to distribute paquets to every family in three villages.  The paquets contain three things for every member of the family and are wrapped in a nice woolly blanket.  It is fun making up the paquets—deciding what we shall give to M, aged 40, and Mme., aged 36, and Andre, aged 4 and little Marie who is just beginning to toddle—etc., etc.  I have the little village of St. Imoges tomorrow and must visit as many families as I can and report on the condition of the house and get as much of the family history as my tact and knowledge of French will permit.  I think it will be fine and I will tell you results in my next letter.

Of course my real job here while Jock is away is to keep the accounts of the shop.  You know I love to handle money—but no doubt the experience will be an excellent thing for me.

1919_NLaF_ESC
Rufus

I thought I would surely be homesick for the A.E.F. and my many friends in the Army.  I am in a way, but life here is so engrossing and the time passes so quickly that I don’t have time to think about it.  Of course in comparison to the glowing, varied life of a canteen worker in the A.E.F. this life would seem a bit drab.  But comparisons are odious and the people with whom I am associated here are perfect peaches.  We live in a truly English style.  Breakfast of bread and butter and coffee any time anybody wants it.  Lunch at 12 and then tea, always tea, at 4:30 with more bread and butter and jam when we are real dressy.  Dinner doesn’t come ‘til 8 o’clock and so the evenings are rather short even though it is light ‘til after 9 o’clock.  The cook is a French girl who never cooked before and she certainly does very well.  They call her the “Elephant”.  They haven’t a name for me as yet [1], but no doubt they will when they know me better.  Speaking of things to eat, here are some more French suggestions:

  1. When you are cooking a stew some time put in some macaroni and let it boil in the meat juice. Before you serve the meat, put the whole thing in the oven for a few minutes to sort of braise it and get a crust on the macaroni and you will find it delicious.
  2. Another thing—a cooked salad! Put bacon grease in a frying pan or rather fry the bacon and remove it from the grease. Then put your lettuce or chard or endive, comme vous voulez, into the grease and let it sizzle a few minutes, not long enough however to get it soft and soggy.  Put in a salad bowl and pour the liquid over it and serve while hot.
    3. Make a cream sauce, add tomatoes as if you were making cream tomato soup. Pour over buttered toast.  Grate some cheese on top and sprinkle with cayenne just enough to make it look nice.

Am going to try to get the rule for “gaufres” before I leave France. They are a cross between a waffle and a Nabisco wafer.

Do you know I still have a good many of the seeds you sent me.  The last batch came too late to use anywhere.  Am thinking of digging up a portion of the meadow near the wall and planting the sweet corn.  Haven’t the wildest idea how deep or anything, but since it’s “late corn” I think there should be time to harvest a crop before we leave Nanteuil.

Haven’t any idea how long I shall be here.  The equipe will probably go on until December but as I signed up for only three months I imagine I will be sailing in October if I can get any kind of passage.

I wonder what you’re all doing now.  The girls at home are probably all dancing or canoeing etc. while I sit here by candlelight (haven’t done that since I left Bay) in a dingy room with the stillness of a sleeping village all around me, and yet I can’t make myself feel a bit sorry for me!  In fact I am enjoying making up the sleep that I lost in Valdahon and Paris.

Love and lots of it—from,

Elsie

[1] In the end it was Rufus.

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Mission De La Societe Des Amis
Nanteuil-la-Fosse (Marne),
July 13 1919

Dear Family:

I haven’t yet heard from you of course saying that you know about my new venture with the “Friends”.  You know by now (the 13th) I am sure, but I shan’t hear from you for another three weeks!  This writing into the dark is most unsatisfactory.  I almost wish I had cabled from Paris before coming to this out-of-the-way place where the nearest R.R. is 7 kilos away.

You horrid things.  You evidently expect me home daily, for it seems you have stopped writing.  I haven’t had any word from home in about two weeks.  Edith H. [2] is treating me the same way and so is Olive [3].

(This was a[n ink] blot, but I made it into a bird for I was too lazy to start another piece of paper.)

Cheer up, you’ll all start writing again just as soon as I really am about to come home.  But don’t get excited.  That won’t be before November I greatly fear.  I signed up here for three months, July, August, September, but last week we had a visit from Miss Sophia Fry, our “boss” and she asked me if I would consider staying until the equipe closes which will be in December—what do you think about it?  I must have something definite to tell her very soon, so please write me your opinions.  I myself would be only too glad to feel a boat under me, going westward, on about Nov. 1st for a year on this side of the water away from you all does seem just about enough.  I wonder if the Bement girls have returned.  When they do, they will tell you all the tales of the A.E.F. and you won’t want to hear my stories which will be quite stale.  I talked with Ethel Williams in Paris and she is trying to stay and do some studying at the Sorbonne.

By the way, about Joy Hawley, it certainly was a disappointment to me when she decided to go home, and left me high and dry, all out of the “Y” and into the A.R.C.  You know, she is thinking seriously of going to Cornell in the Fall.  She has had two years at Rockford, but took mostly Dom. Econ. I think, and wants to get an A.B. from a university.  Of course I have talked Cornell, and if someone from Illinois or Wisconsin doesn’t get hold of her she will probably be in Ithaca in October.  Now please write her, won’t you, and send her a Cornell circular, for I fear the one you have already sent her will never reach her, since she sailed last week.  Her address is 504 N. Court St., Rockford, Ill.  And when she comes to college be just as nice to her as you know how, for she is one of the most lovable, clever, and accomplished somebodies I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  I hope she comes, for if I am in Ithaca during the year it will be wonderful for me.  Tell Epsie [Barr] and E. Horton about her too, if she comes, for I know she would like to be entertained at real homes besides mine.

As for life here at the equipe.  Time is just flying, for our weeks are very busy and are planned chuck full from now on.  The one just past was hectic.  On Tuesday we had a garment sale which, as usual, lasted from 9 A.M. to 6 P.M.  That night I added up columns and counted money ‘til I almost fell asleep.  On Wednesday, we moved and sorted goods in preparation for our “out sale” on Friday and in the afternoon Miss Fry, or “Sophia Maria” as she is called before and after taking [?], arrived in the Ford and the rest of the day was taken up in preparing tea for her, for which she furnished a real cake, and in the evening she had little chats with each one of us in front of the open fire.  Thursday we had another sale with its attendant accounts and card catalogues and in the evening 1919_NLaF_Truck2“Buddy”, the camion driver, came to spend the night so that we might get an early start in the morning.  So we did.  We piled our stuff into the camion, and then got in the front seat, 5 of us (we have two French girls to help us on big days) and rode 7 kilos to Fleury-la-Riviere, a pretty little town nestled in a valley on a tributary of the Marne.  Our sale was held in the Mairie, a building remarkably free from shell holes and we were aided by the brown eyed, brown bearded school master, who had prepared for us a list of the inhabitants of the town written in a most beautiful copy-book handwriting.  It was great sport, but rather fatiguing.  On Saturday we arranged and rearranged stock, etc. and began housekeeping, since the Elephant has left for the week-end.  The stove is as big as a minute and when Andy and I have on it a stew, the coffee, and a casserole of water it seems overloaded; while the Elephant negotiates thereon a meat dish, two side dishes, coffee and sometimes a tart or a pudding!  The French conserve everything, even space.

Tomorrow is the great day for France, July 14th!  In the village there is to be a free distribution of cakes, bread, etc., some speeches in the P.M., and dancing in the square in the evening.  We all decided to stay here, not daring to leave the house all alone, but the people at Pargny[-les-Rivieres] have gone to Paris to see the big doings.

Am enclosing a letter of Freddy’s telling about Paris the night peace was signed.  Tomorrow will be like that only 10 times more thrilling.

Must go to bed.  Loads of love,

Elsie

[1] See photo’s of court, and garden pool
[2] Edith Horton, Ithaca friend.
[3] Olive E. Andrus, Ithaca friend.

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Mission De La Societe Des Amis
Nanteuil-la-Fosse (Marne),
July 19 1919

Dear Papa:

I don’t know whether you folks have me all fixed in your minds or not.  Anyway the days are flying by and the work goes on.  The shop of course is the main thing, but we do lots of things in between.  Yesterday Andy and I went visiting in Cormoyeux, about 4 kilos away.  En route, right near the road, we found German prisoners collecting shells and putting them in a fourneau or trou in the earth.  Later, we came into the village we heard the most terrific explosions and were met by the Garde Champetre who told us the road would be blocked for four hours and we were prisonieres in his town.  We said we didn’t care as we had come for the day anyhow, but it was a queer feeling, having your retreat absolutely cut off.  They are sending off all the unexploded ammunition that you see lying in the woods and along the roadsides everywhere.  It seems a great waste to me for I should think it could be carted back to where it came from.

The visiting is interesting and it makes it ten times nicer when you can really greet people as friends when they come to buy at the shop.  Today I am just about to hop on Andy’s bicycle and go to St. Imoges where I have already some friends whom I visited two weeks ago.  The Mission is well known around here with its four-pointed red and black star and people always welcome you in their houses and show you around and aren’t slow about giving information when you ask for it.

The visits yesterday were some cheerful and some otherwise.  One place where I went there was a 17 yr. old war widow with a 9 mo. old baby. Her husband was killed in the big offensive here a year ago.  She is so sweet and pretty and like a child herself.  At another place there was a poor blind girl who was horrible to look upon.  We shook hands with her and said “comment ca va?” and she answered “Oh, c’est toujours pareille”.  The mother was poor and the house wretched.  The son was home from la guerre, badly wounded and they insisted on showing us the piece of obus [1] that had been lodged in his shoulder, and also his wound, which had healed, but he was very weak and couldn’t even work in the vines.  Most of the country around here is covered with vineyards, in fact it is the great champagne district near Epernay.  That seems rather ironical doesn’t it when it is the Quakers who are helping to re-establish these people in business again.

Some of the houses were most cheerful.  One old lady gave us first coffee and when we came in later to prendre conje, she had sour red wine awaiting us (oh, such sour stuff, and we had to drink it) and a basket of nice new potatoes.  People are wonderful to us.  We have so many salads at the present moment that we don’t know what to do with them and we have enough cherries to keep the Elephant making tarts until the cows come home.  And yesterday we were presented with cheese and honey; and raspberries in a bowl covered with the silvery leaves and my little couturieure left a green bowl filled with glossy gooseberries.

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Picking cherries

I must tell you about the quatorze Juillet.  Of course at Paris they had the most magnificent celebration that has ever been.  You will no doubt see movies of it long before I, and I am only about 150 miles away from where it all happened.  “Scat” [2] was in yesterday and told us all about it.  Her name is Scattergood, but everyone is nicknamed around here [3].  She and four other people from the Pargny equipe spent Sunday night in Paris, camping out on the Champs Elysees from midnight ‘til 7 next day and thereby gaining a very good place to see the Parade.  They said it was marvelous—all the dignitaries of the Allies, toute le monde, and also they said that our Amer. doughboys marched better than any other soldiers and that Gen. Pershing made a fine, dignified figure in his plain khaki, in contrast to the flashy uniforms of many of the others.  But though we did not see the great parade in the most wonderful of cities we quite enjoy ourselves.  Had a rather unique time in fact.  The A.M. was spent up in a cherry tree picking cherries for the proprietaire of our maison [4].  Andy and I wore army breeches and it reminded me much of my “Farmerette” days on West Hill [5].  You see, he gave us permission to have all the sweet cherries off another tree if we would pick the sour ones for his wife to can.

In the afternoon we dressed up in our uniforms, hats and gloves and went by special invitation (the only women in fact) to the Mairie.  Here a solemn council of men was gathered, some in smocks and corduroys and some in tailored suits and white collars.  We sat with them around a long, bare table and partook of bread and sausage and briosch (a kind of holiday cake) and drank the vie d’honneur, each one chinking the others glasses.  It was a very solemn affair, but fun for us, being an absolutely new experience.  Outside in the court one was giving away the same repast to all the assembled children of the village.  After we had walked home in state and passed the proper time of day with all the populace, we came home and built a fire on the hearth as it was cold and very raw.  About 9 o’clock Mlle. Bourquin (a little couturiure who is a great friend of ours) tapped on our door to tell us that “on danse sur la place publique”.  We went out and here were about ten little boys ranged around the place holding bright colored lanterns and the young people were there and an old fiddler of 83 years.  The rain soon drove them in and they had the bal in the grande piece du cafe.  I’ll never forget the scene.  Lighted by flickering candles and red and orange lanterns, they danced young and old, some hopping, some whirling, some doing graceful figures, all to the sawing and whinning of the old man’s fiddle.  He sat in state on a table in the corner of the dingy room.  The tables (for it is quelquefois a bar) had been shoved back and the loaves of bread (for it is quelquefois a boulangerie) piled under them to make a clear space.  Some of the dances were similar to ours, the polka, the waltz and a sort of schottish.  Then they did a quadrille much like our country square dances with much bowing to partners and all hands ‘round.  We came away at 11:30 but they danced ‘til deux heures du matin.

Nothing of great import happen as the days go by.  It is all very enjoyable and I’m not a bit homesick despite the fact that it is so very different from life with the A.E.F.  All my Amer. friends are on their way across the water.  I hear from them at Brest, or St. Nazaire, or Le Mans and then a gap and then a postal saying they have set both feet in God’s country and will write when they get settled, etc.  Grace Bird, I imagine is still in Paris and K. VanDuzer may be in Brest, but Juliette Whiton, I know is home and Joy sailed last week, and, oh dear me, I am beginning to feel quite alone and independent.  I know traveling and sailing isn’t going to be as simple a matter now, as it was when I was under the wing of the “Y”, but I hope nothing happens to hinder me when I decide to rentre chez moi.  What do you think of my staying on?  Do let me know for I must tell Miss Fry.

Tell people to write me.  They have so many of them stopped because they thought I was coming home.  I can’t blame them, but it makes a big gap in the letters.  I haven’t heard from you folks for over two weeks now!

Loads and loads of love,

Elsie

[1] Shrapnel.
[2] Margaret Scattergood
[3] Elsie became “Rufus” owing to her outstanding auburn hair.
[4] See photo’.
[5] West of Ithaca, NY.

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Mission De La Societe Des Amis
Nanteuil-la-Fosse (Marne),
July 27 1919

Dear Family:

Well, I have been gardening all this week-end.  Of course I know it’s late to plant nasturtiums and corn, but the season is late anyhow and i haven’t had time before.  Besides, the soil here is wonderful and I feel it won’t take any time for things to grow.  Edith would die to see the tools I use!  There is absolutely nothing except what we have to sell and I can’t use those, so I have a spade and a pick salvaged from the battlefields and, as a seed drill, an old rusty bayonet sheath.  I have planted things in every available spot including German helmets and ammunition cases which will soon burst out in blooms of nasturtiums and mignonette.  My first batch of corn is growing beautifully.  We are praying for a little hot weather and a very late fall, or it will never mature.

The week has been strenuous as usual.  Besides shop we had a garment sale at Belval, a most sad little town in the midst of broken orchards and ruined vineyards.  We loaded up a big Denby truck with clothes of all kinds and arrived at the Mairie about 11:30 by vieille heure—12:30 by the heure legal.  It’s awful having two times that way, but the peasants will not set their clocks ahead!  The institutrice met us and gave us the school room to fit up as a salesroom.  We juggled desks around for counters and piled the ink-wells in the corner.  The sale lasted ‘til 5:30 and, believe me, we were dead when we got home.

We have a lot of company too.  The dentist and the oculist spent three days at the equipe to treat the peasants.  They slept in the grenier and we had to put two tables together for meals (they each one had their respective chauffeurs) and drank up our water at dinner before the last course so that we could use our bowls for coffee.  It seemed almost like the officer’s mess at Bay only there we had to drink or coffee first so that we might have some place to put the canned peaches or pears which formed dessert!  Those days seem long ago!  I got a letter from Juliette Whiton which you enclosed the other day, with a Kodak picture she took of me and some of the M.G. Co. in front of my Hut.  The only one I have of Bay and I surely treasure it! [1]

Well, I’m glad you’ve finally gotten me straightened out and have been writing again!  It was a long lapse and awful not to hear from anyone.  Do tell me what you think of my staying on.  I suppose I could stand another Xmas away from home, but it certainly would seem queer.

Yesterday “Scat” was here with her Ford and when she left I hopped in and rode to the top of the long hill where you can just see Reims in the distance with the cathedral standing gaunt and gray above the ruins.  People speak of the “Crime of Reims”.  It seems to me that the cathedral has been marvelously spared and it is a wonder as much of it is standing as there is!  I said goodbye to Scat and walked back alone in the twilight.  It was lovely.  The wheat fields with their flush of poppies, the neat gardens which are springing up in the midst of the shell torn landscape, the patches of woods and the little village of Nanteuil nestling in the valley—made a lovely sight as I came down the hill.  And suddenly, from out of the air, from nowhere, from everywhere, came the song of a sky-lark!  I had never heard one before, that I know of.  He sang and dipped, and dipped and sang and suddenly dropped like a stone and was still.  I have always wondered why the English poets eulogized him so, and now I know.

When dinner was over Andy wanted to take a walk and so I started out again.  We went across the battlefields, turning over helmets and gas masks and other refuse to see if we could find anything of particular interest.  I salvaged a German helmet, much camouflaged, and will send it home if I can manage it.  We went into the woods where there are the strangest structures—half underground and half on top.  They look like gun emplacements, or trenches, or dug-outs—what they are I do not know, but they are most carefully constructed.  The woods bear evidence of many troops having lived and fought there.  It is weird to think that just one year ago now, this place was a perfect hell of war.  They have been firing off the ammunition that litters the woods around Nanteuil lately, and we can get a very faint conception of what it would have been like in those terrible days.

Jock comes back tomorrow.  My duties may change as she will probably take over the shop.  I rather like it.  Do you know that we order stuff in kilometers? Last night we made an order for about 40,000Fr. worth and there were many kinds of stuff that were ordered in lengths of 1,000 metres and more!

Edith—will you kindly send me one more thing—a corset!  You get it at Miss Mills [2].  It is pink with elastic in the sides.

[1] This photo’ is presumed lost; it is not among Elsie’s effects.
[2] In Ithaca.

-o0|0o-

Line-A-Day:                             August 1st, 1919

Scat and I left in early evening for Esternay to get chickens and rabbits.  Had five punctures!  Finally gave up and spent the night in the camion by the roadside.

Journal:                                    August 2nd, 1919

Resumed work by daylight and arrived at Esternay.  Loaded up with livestock.  Lunch along the way.  Two more pannes de pneus making seven in all.  Finally stuffed  the tire with grass and arrived in Pargny at 7:00 P.M.  Crowd down from Paris; regular house party.

-o0|0o-

 Mission De La Societe Des Amis
Nanteuil-la-Fosse (Marne),
August 8 1919

Dear Family:

I had such an interesting day today that I just had to sit down and tell you about it.  Part of the work here, you know, consists of visiting the families in the villages of our district with a view to finding out their needs.  One thing we have done for everyone is to make up a “paquet” for each menage containing about three garments for each member and the whole thing wrapped in a couverture or blanket.  These paquets have been given to almost all the villages, but in two good-sized towns Hautvillers and Cumieres we are only serving the refugees and they had not many of them been visited.  So it fell to my lot today to make as many visits as I could between 10 A.M. and 5 P.M.  “Scat” took me down to Hautvillers along with some goods to be delivered about 10:30 and left me there with the prospect of eating lunch where I could and walking home [1].  So I started out, first soliciting the help of the Garde Champetre, whom you find attached to every Mairie, to show me where various people lived.  I hadn’t gone far before Mme. Legal, a very nice woman with whom I had become friends before, came out of her basse court and asked me if I wouldn’t come back at noon-time to lunch with her.  So I started out.  When I’m alone, talking entirely with French people, my French stands the strain pretty well.  It’s when Benjamin or Jock are around with their fluent conversation that I get self-conscious and sink into my shell.  Most of the refugees in Hautvillers are awfully nice people.  They have come from around Reims, some driven out in 1914 and others only having evacuated in 1918, when the fighting was so fierce in this section.  One little couturiere showed me some snaps of her home in Reims.  Is it utterly destroyed and they have no hopes of getting back for two or three years.  She saved some furniture and her sewing machine and [so] is able to make a decent living and rent a house.  The absolute opposite of this case is Mme. Bruion who is living in a cellar.  She has three sweet children.  They came to Hautvillers too late to find any kind of lodging and took this dark damp room until something better turned up.  All the furniture is borrowed, such as it is.  The whole family gets what work it can in the fields and they are hoping for something better before the winter sets in.  One little old lady and her husband are living in two rooms upstairs in a stranger’s house.  They refused to evacuate in 1918 even under bombardment and people accused them of stealing things while they were away!

By this time it was time for lunch, so back I went to Mme. Legal’s laden with flowers that people had given me.  Mme. Legal and her little nine-year old boy [Leandre] are living with her mother and are pretty lucky.  Mme. has a very sad story.  Her husband, a Lieut. in the French Infantry, was wounded and discharged.  In the meantime Mme. and Leandre were in occupied territory and prisoners of the Germans.  Mme. was compelled to cook and work for some officers, which in itself was not unusual, but they treated her very brutally.  Once she was struck on the hand with a whip because she didn’t open a door quickly enough.  She learned German by talking with the soldiers and was suspected [by the Germans] of being a spy.  Even the soles of her slippers were taken out in the search for concealed papers.  She was sent to three different places because they thought she was imparting revolutionary ideas to the soldiers.  She was in Belgium when the Armistice was signed and was liberated just when they were on the point of separating her from her little boy.  That would have about killed her, for he is a perfect little dear and they are devoted to each other.  But to return to her husband.  After he was discharged, he enlisted again thinking he might be able to get up to where she was.  He was taken prisoner and as far as she knows was shot for some reason, but she has had no official notice and doesn’t really know what has become of him!  That is certainly a home that has been wrecked by the war! [2]

Mme. asked me if I could find a “marraine” [3] for the boy and I decided to be that same

1919_Hautvillers
Mme. et Leandre Legal

myself then and there if she had no objections!  So now there remain but a few formalities in Paris and I will have a real god-son [4].  Do you know of anyone at home who wants to be a “marraine”?  Because there are any number of dear children here whom a little help like that would help to have a better education, etc.

Well, to return to the lunch.  They had the inevitable soup and bread, petits pois right out of their adorable garden, red wine, coffee, cheese, and some delicious gateau for which Mme. gave me the rule.  I certainly am going to have some fun when I get home trying out French cookery.

I did a lot more visiting in the P.M. and then at 4:30 went back to Mme. Legal’s house and she and Lean walked with me to the top of the hill above Hautvillers.  From there you can get one of the loveliest views I have seen in France—it takes in the vine-covered hills, several towns, and Epernay with its towers and church steeples in the distance.  The land is being cultivated again and has an orderly, neat appearance.  And the colors of the earth, the orchards, the vineyards especially which are of a blue-green hue due to a certain spray which is used on them.  You would have laughed to see me trudging home after my friends left me.  A bouquet in each hand and a loaf of bread, which Mme. Legal insisted upon giving me because it had just been baked and we don’t get fresh bread at Nanteuil, under my arm!  It was almost a yard long with a glossy brown crust.

[1] Six kilometers.
[2] His name (Leon Legal) is on the little memorial obelisk in Hautvillers.
[3] A godparent.
[4] Leandre Legal grew up to be an airplane mechanic in the Second World War serving in Algeria.  His mother remarried (Minoggio) and removed eventually to the village of Ste. Foy-la-Grande near Libourne in southwestern France where we saw her in 1939.

-o0|0o-

Here the available letters end.


Postscript

Leandre served in the French air force in Algeria, survived the War, remained in the military, married, and had a son Jean Pierre—whom I found in Paris after a long mail search through the mairies [town halls] of Hautvillers, Luxembourg, and Paris. I visited him in Paris on several occasions. Sadly, he had become paraplegic as a teenager owing to a motorcycle accident. He died in Paris in 2017.

On her return trip Elsie’s passport is stamped 21-10-19 (October 21, 1919) and so she had ample time after the last letter extant (August 8) to have done some interesting things that we aren’t sure about.


 

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