My Travels Abroad; War on the Horizon (1939)

A reminiscence based on the personal diary of a 14-year old in the last gorgeous summer of 1939 in France

(2)
La Cour aux Glycines: L’Hôtel de la Renaissance, Rue Murger, Bourron-Marlotte, Seine et Marne, France

Prologue 

In the spring of 1939 my father could see the War coming and realized that the coming summer would be the last opportunity for him and my mother to see their European friends—of twenty years—before the end of peace. He had not taken a real vacation for ten years or so and arranged for an entire summer of vacation.

My father had served with the AEF in France in the summer and fall of 1918 as a Lieutenant of engineers (303rd Engineer Train, 78th Division) where he commanded a corps of one-hundred mules and fifty motor trucks seeing action near St. Menehould in the Argonne Forest building pontoon bridges under fire at night to permit river crossings by the AEF.

1919_H_L_FkaParis
Paris- 1918 (Kerr on right)

Following the November 11th Armistice he was billeted for the fall, winter, and spring months of 1919 in the house of a family named Chapeau (also Fleureau) in the village of Vénary-les-Laumes—a billet he shared with two fellow officers Herring and Lokensgaard (see framed sepia-tone of trio taken in Paris).  My father became attached to the family and especially to the small boy Fernand Chapeau to whom he later sent assistance for his schooling.  The old uncle (Fleureau) in residence had lived through two Prussian invasions of France (and as yet unforeseen, was to witness and to survive a third).

Leandre et Mme. Legal 22 Rue St. Martin, Hautvillers
Leandre et Mme. Legal 22 Rue St. Martin, Hautvillers

My mother had gone, in December of 1918, under the auspices of the YMCA, to do canteen work in France at Bay-sur-Aube for the soldiers who remained in France long after the Armistice—for lack of available shipping.  There she came to know another Y-girl, Juliet Whiton. Later, in June 1919 when that assignment ended, in order to remain in France over the summer, she joined an American Red Cross group, locally administered by British (Quaker) Friends, where she met “Jock” (Lady Chalmers) and “Benjamin” (Grace Lindley); British women, who took men’s names for a lark (my Mother became “Rufus” owing to her auburn hair) and who became lifelong friends.  With them in Nanteuille-la-Fosse (now-la-Forêt) and Hautvillers near Epernay she helped in the rural reconstruction, worked in the vineyards, and came to know the widow Legal—later Minoggio—and her son Léandre, to whom she became “marraine” or godmother.

In 1921 my mother and father (who had grown up together in Ithaca, NY) met again by chance in the New York subway and were married in Ithaca on August 18th, 1921.  They spent the rest of that summer on their honeymoon in France during which time they visited the friends they had come to know in 1919.

This summer of 1939 would be their last foreseeable opportunity to revisit them.  I was fourteen (just leaving eighth grade) and my sister Holley was thirteen.  We lived at 85 Ledgeways, Wellesley Hills, MA.

Much of this account is pretty mundane. Pay more attention to the annotations in italics and later parts as the War clouds gathered.


Diary
Diary

June 6th, Tue.   Wellesley Hills, New York (by car: a new ’39 Pontiac)
“We started from Wellesley Hills about 8:00a with a farewell party in the driveway.  Had lunch in Westbourough [sic] then went by the Merritt Highway into the Whitestone Bridge.  Found our lodgings and went to the Fair.  We saw the Federal Bldg., Railroads, and the Trylon and Perisphere.  Tomorrow will see all the countries.  We wore our feet out walking and went to bed.

So worried had been my father about getting away on this trip that for several days in the preceding weeks he had forbidden us to go to school where mumps were for a while prevalent, and forbade us to go to at least one party or social function which seemed to us at the time as desperately unfair. Tears of anger and frustration!
      In the driveway at 85 Ledgeways the neighborhood kids came over on their bikes to hang out and to say goodbye. The Merritt Parkway had just opened that spring and was considered a marvel of modern highway engineering. The Fair, of course, was the New York World’s Fair of 1939.

TrylonPerisphere
Trylon & Perisphere (NYDailyNews)June 7th, Wed.  Flushing Meadows, Long Island

“Got up early.  Ate breakfast at Blue Bird Inn.  Daddy went in to New York City and left Holley and [me] at the Foreign section.  Had lunch at Childs then saw Chrysler, Ford, aviation, maritime, US Steel, Italy and USSR.  We were so tired that we ate at the Blue Bird Inn and went to bed. PS we saw the smallest [electric] motor in the world.  It was about the size of a kernel of corn.

      At US Steel a full-sized automobile was suspended above the floor by a steel wire so thin it could hardly be seen and somewhere else a bicycle rolled continuously on rollers in wavering balance without a rider, controlled by some sort of rudimentary feedback computer.

June 8th, Thu.    Long Island
“Up at 7:30 and had breakfast at the Blue Bird Inn.  Then we went to the Fair.  We were at the Fair all day and saw Petroleum, Westinghouse, Amer. T&T, Communications, France, DuPont, Carrier Corp., Metals, Cons. Edison, Kodak, Sweden, [Missourie] and the fireworks on the Lagoon of Nations.  When we came home we met mother.  Coming home we went right to bed.

      Holley and I wanted desperately to go on at least one of the seemingly spectacular rides (Parachutes, roller coaster, etc.) but my parents wouldn’t allow it; too frivolous a waste of time otherwise to be spent in educational pursuit!

 June 9th, Fri.    Long Island
“Up at 7:30.  Went right to Fair and saw General Motors.  Also we saw Glass, and again Kodak and General Electric.  In afternoon we met Randolph Cautley for supper.  Saw French and Coronation Scott [?] exhibits.  In morning Daddy smashed up the car and we had to have it fixed.  We leave for the boat tomorrow, oh! boy! 

June 10th, Sat.    Long Island, New York City, MV Georgic
“We left Flushing and went to Pennsylvania Station by the subway.  From there we went to the Cunard dock and had breakfast.  Then we got on the boat.  We sailed at noon and passed the Statue of Liberty.  After dinner we looked around the boat and had tea.  After supper we went to bed.  I have an upper berth.

MVGeorgic
MV Georgic [GracesGuide.co.uk]
     The ship, the Cunarder MV Georgic was, I believe, later lost during the War after having been converted to a troop ship.  In 1939 ordinary people were unable to fly across the Atlantic as regular commercial air service became common only after the War.

June 11th, Sun.    MV Georgic
“Had breakfast and made some new friends.  Then we went to church.  After that we had some fun at deck tennis and the gym.  In the afternoon we went swimming and had tea.  In the evening we saw “Gunga Din” in the lounge also we set our clocks back one hour.

      To this day I remember scenes from that film—vultures taking to the air from desolate desert telegraph wires and, at the end, as the unsuspecting British Gurkhas approach the rebel ambush, prisoner Gunga Din, wounded but determined, struggles to the top of the fortress dome with his bugle to sound the alarm.  Not quite what Kipling had in mind but a stirring story nonetheless.
     ECA [my mother]: Holley fell out of the upper berth so we put her in the lower.

June 12th, Mon.    MV Georgic
“Holley and I played deck tennis all morning.  In the afternoon we had a swim and played ping-pong.  Later there were some “horse races” but we did not bet.  After supper we played some more ping-pong and went to bed.

June 13th, Tue.    MV Georgic
“Got up and played deck tennis with Holley.  After dinner we played ping-pong.  Later we went on a trip through the engine room of the ship.  I had a slight headache all afternoon.  After tea we played chess and watched the horse races.  In the evening there was a movie “The Cowboy and the Lady” which was lousy.  Went right to bed.

      I remember some popular tunes of the time which I always associate with this ocean trip: “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen”, “The Three Little Fishies” (They swam, and they swam, right over the dam), “Deep Purple”, and “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”.

June 14th, Wed.    MV Georgic
“Slept very late in the morning.  Wrote four letters in the writing room.  Holley and I played deck tennis all afternoon.  The sea is pretty rough and the ship is rolling a little.  Played ping-pong and went to bed late.

39061201_GeorgicJune 15th, Thu.    MV Georgic
“Got up at 7:30 had breakfast.  Played around with the elevator boy for about an hour.  Holley and I played deck tennis all morning.  At 11:00 we went on a tour of the ship.  In the afternoon we played deck tennis and skipped a kiddie’s party.  At supper there were balloons again.  Broke several.  Went to a concert and saw the “Little Princess” [Shirley Temple].  Bed late.

      The concert was a string quartet.  My mother was continually annoyed at not having been able to place one of the passengers whom, she was convinced, she knew personally or, at least, had seen before somewhere. It was revealed at the concert; for the man she “knew” was playing first violin. She had observed him closely, she finally remembered, at a concert in Boston in the spring. They were the Pro Arte String Quartet [the first violinist was Alphonse Onnou, who died of leukemia at age 46 in late 1940].

June 16th, Fri.    MV Georgic
“Got some guys and played Michigan in the morning and afternoon.  Also watched them hauling cars out of the hold.  Someone said we would see land in the morning.  Bed early.

June 17th, Sat.    MV Georgic
“Got up at 6:30 and saw first glimpse of Ireland.  Came in to Queenstown [sic; it was Cork] harbor and the tender came to meet us.  Watched the passengers and cars go overboard to the other boat.  Also saw the pilot come aboard.  Left Queenstown and headed for South Hampton, England.  Saw “The Wings of the Navy” then went to bed.

June 18th, Sun.    MV Georgic, Rouen
“Got up early and watched the boat come in to South Hampton.  Cars and [ship’s] laundry were unloaded.  Had lunch and headed for Europe across the English Channel.  Played Michigan and lost.  Arrived at Le Havre, France.  Started driving to Paris and stopped at a hotel in Rouen.  Went to bed.

June 19th, Mon.    Rouen, Les Petites Andelys
“Had a lousy breakfast.  Went out and saw the Cathedral, the market place and the tower where Joan of Arc was a prisoner.  After lunch we started for Paris but stopped at Les Andelys on the Seine to see a lady [Mme. Champsaur].  We had to wait so long that we stayed for the night.  While there we saw the Chateau Gaillard built by Richard the Lionheart—all in ruins.  Stayed at the hotel Chain d’Or.

June 20th, Tue.    Les Andelys, Paris
“Got up early.  Took the [guide] book back to Mme. Champsaur.  Started driving for Paris.  Arrived in Paris and found the Hotel [Universitie].  Went to the Amer. Express Co. and got mail.  Holley and mother to a hairdresser.  Daddy and I saw the Luxembourg Gardens.  After supper [Rallye] we saw the Tuileries Gardens and the Arc de [Triumph].  Drove in the car and saw the [Eiffle] Tower.  Back to the Hotel and bed.

June 21st, Wed.    Paris, Fontainebleau
“Had breakfast in Paris. After this we started driving for [Fontainbleau]. Saw a palace that Napoleon built and found a place to stay.  After dinner we went on a tour through the Chateau of Napoleon then walked around the garden. We went to look for hotels for the summer. Had supper and stayed over night at the Hotel Angelus “lousy”.

June 22nd, Thu.    Fontainebleau
“Went back to Fontainbleau to the “Cascade”.  Played ping-pong and wrote letters.  Daddy at Chateau for music. All afternoon looked at hotels and at last found one [La Renaissance] that we [all] liked. Had supper at the Cascade and played ping-pong. Bed and bath.

39062301_Cascades      Les Cascades was in Avon just south of the Palace.  We had great arguments about hotels for the summer.  Mom and Dad would like what Holley and I hated and vice versa.  Holley and I sort of liked the Cascade. Nice graveled yard and garden, games, etc. In the dining room of the Cascade was a painting of the head of an American Indian carrying a grim expression on his face; mother commented that it seemed to her that he had just had an “arrow escape”. Groans all around.

June 23rd, Fri.    Paris, Fontainebleau
“Played ping-pong for awhile.  Daddy and Mother walked to Fontainbleau while Holley and I played at the Cascade.  In the afternoon we went back to the Hôtel [de la] Renaissance and took a walk in the forest.  We drove to the firing range [champ de tir] of the artillery school and back to the hotel.  When we finished our business there we watched an old painter at work [in the street].  Had supper and played tennis.  Bed.

      At the champ de tir the guns [French 75s?] were firing directly away from us toward a distant hillside.  My father claimed that, at the height of its arc, he could discern a fleeting shadow of the shell itself in flight directly away from us.  I looked, and looked, and could never see what he saw.

June 24th, Sat.    Fontainebleau, Paris
“After P.D. [petit déjuner] we started driving for Paris.  On the way we played a new game.  We went to the Amer. Exp. Co. and to the Louvre and saw some artists.  After dinner we went to Notre Dame and saw the 3 rose windows.  Then we climbed to the top and saw the grotesque gargoyles.  We stayed for supper at a hotel [Victoria Palace] took a walk [Luxembourg Gardens] and went to bed.  P.S. bought a map of New England, 1580 A.D.

June 25th, Sun.    Paris, Fontainebleau
“Got up early at the Hotel Victoria Palace and went to Napoleon’s Tomb.  Then we went to Versailles and went through the palace with an old man.  After that we had lunch and walked around the gardens.  We watched the fountains for a while and went to Fontainbleau had supper and went to bed.

      In Paris in late June and early July dark does not come until almost eleven at night so that the days can be long filled with activity.

June 26th, Mon.    Fontainebleau
“Daddy took us to see them firing on the champ de tir.  On the way home we got caught in a rain storm.  Had lunch.  Went and played in the sand pile while Daddy and Mother went to Fontainbleau.  Holley and I ran to the champ de tir saw them fire and walked back [to the Cascade].  Holley walked with Mother and Daddy then supper.

June 27th, Tue.    Fontainbleau, Bourron-Marlotte
“We played ping-pong all morning while Mother and Daddy packed.  After lunch we packed our bags and played ping-pong.  Then we took the bags down to [La Renaissance in] Marlotte and on the way we watched the firing.  We watched the old painter finishing his picture and then went home.  After supper Holley and I tried to see how far we could get in ping-pong, we made 120 times.

      We spent the summer at the Hôtel de la Renaissance on the Rue Murger in Bourron-Marlotte.  It was owned by the family Perronet (Madame, M’seur, and their two boys Jacques, the elder, and Michel who were just a year or so older than we).
One entered from the narrow street through an iron gate which opened onto a spacious gravelled court—itself widely open beyond to a wooded wilderness after crossing hedged and gravelled garden paths.  Buildings enclosed the court on three sides, a two story   connecting structure forming the façade on the street and the roof of the gate; all of it old and stuccoed.  Overhead garlands of hanging wisteria draped the court in the center of which was a small stone “well”.
      The section on the right housed a dining room—used only in bad weather—and farther back, under more wisteria and flanked by a kiosk, an open gravelled space served as the al fresco dining patio; tables all around under parasols.  The kitchen was nearby and beyond somewhere was the kitchen garden.  On the right over the dining room and other ground floor rooms were other guest rooms and the residence rooms of the Perronet family.
      We were assigned rooms on the left over some public spaces containing a billiard and a ping-pong table and another (with a piano) large enough for fencing matches.
      There are three surviving color stereopticon photo’s of the courtyard area two of which have Holley, Jacques, and me in the middle ground. There is as well a sepia tone postcard probably of the thirties.  Thereon the yard is grandly called La Cour aux Glycines.
      Renoir’s house is across the rue Murger, occupied then by his son.
      Anyone who has stayed here and at the same time has read Rumer Godden’s novel The Greengage Summer would be convinced that the two venues must have been one and the same.

June 28th, Wed.    Marlotte, Loire valley
“Got up very early in order to get an early start for the [Chateaux] Country.  We started at 9:00 and drove to Blois where “Ze Duc de Guise vas here kill-ed right in ze middle of ze room”.  We had lunch and drove through Tours to Chinon and the Castle.  Here we had tea and saw the ruins of Chinon.  There were towers and dungeons all around.  When we got to the car we [had] lost the keys but [I] found them again [in the grass].  We drove to Tours, had supper and went to bed.

      When my parents were at Blois in 1921 their guide had so described the demise of the Duc and my Mother delighted in repeating the phrase whenever it seemed vaguely appropriate.

June 29th, Wed.    Loire valley, Marlotte
“Had breakfast in the girls bedroom then drove to Loches and saw all the awful dungeons and tortures.  We had our picture taken at a stone dog.  Then we went to Chenonceaux and its Chateau.  After lunch we drove to Amboise and saw a spiral ramp where horses could climb up.  Then we drove to Marlotte and had supper and bed.

39062900_LochesDog     The picture by the stone dog(s) is among the stereopticon photos that we took with my father’s two-lens camera.
      At Loches my parents were sure that they had the same man as a guide that they had had in 1921.  They remembered him as a master at rattling the keys, locks, and chains in the dimly lit dungeons.  He gave me a rose blossom which I saved and dried and put in a little screw-top bottle; sill among my things.  It smells as rich now as it did then.
      At Loches in 1999 I asked the guides about this man and they remembered him well-—he had died sometime in the seventies at a great age.  I took a picture, again, of the stone dogs.

June 30th, Fri.    Marlotte
“Bought a ping-pong ball and played, (it was lousy).  Holley smashed the ball so we played billiards.  Then after lunch we played more billiards, put another dent in the ball and played more billiards. After supper Mother read to us.

July 1st, Sat.    Marlotte
“Stayed in bed all morning, wrote a letter and two postcards.  Mother read to us.  Had some soup in bed.  Played some games, told some jokes then had an orange.  Mother and Holley drew me in bed and Mother drew Holley.  Daddy came home and went to sleep had supper and went to bed.

July 2nd, Sun.    Marlotte
“Had breakfast in the girl’s room.  After breakfast Mother read to us from Holley’s book.  Then I got up for lunch.  After lunch we played billiards and then studied the verb donner.  Then played more billiards.  After supper Mother read to us then we went to bed.

July 3rd, Mon.    Marlotte
“Played billiards with Holley.  Mother and Daddy went to Fontainbleau after lunch and we played chess.  Holley won twice and I won once.  Then we played billiards with Jack  Perronet.  After supper we went to see about French lessons.  Then came back and talked with M. Perronet.  Bed.

      My parents had enrolled in the American Summer School at Fontainebleau for the summer; my mother in French and the history of music and theater, and my father in violin—which he played moderately well but which he enjoyed immensely.   With our parents at school part of most weekdays Holley and I were left to ourselves and to play with Jaques Perronet.   Michel must have been elsewhere; I have almost no recollection of him.

July 4th, Tue.    Marlotte
“Holley and I played billiards then went with Mother to rent bicycles.  We rode around Marlotte in the morning.  Mother and Daddy went to Fontainbleau for lunch.  We had lunch alone then rode almost to Grez [-sur-Loing].  When we came back we played a tie game of chess.  Then we rode our bicycles with Jack and he showed us his room.  After supper Jack showed us a new game of cards.  Bed late.

July 5th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Had a French lesson with Mlle. Coquard.  It was lousy, rode around the garden and then had lunch.  In the afternoon Jack took us up to the “Gorge au Loups” and we sailed boats.  Then he gave us some good tea.  After supper we played cards with Jack in our room then went to bed.

July 6th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Had a French lesson.  Then went down and played chess and rode bicycles.  After lunch played chess and rode bicycles.  After supper read and went to bed.
P.S. Went and saw a much better lady about French lessons.

July 7th, Fri.    Marlotte
“Had a French lesson. Rode our bikes then had lunch.  Daddy took Mother to Fontainbleau for her French lesson.  Holley and I played chess then went to a violin quartet in Fontainbleau.  After supper we read in our room.  Bed.

      At lunch and dinner there was always fresh garden salad available.  Without fail, a minute or two after salad had been ordered, we would see the tall blond waiter fly from the kitchen to the garden and back, long curly hair streaming behind him like wings on a casque.  My mother called him Hermes.

July 8th, Sat.    Marlotte
“After breakfast we had our last French lesson with Mlle. Coquard.  After the lesson we rode around the garden.  We had lunch and then did some sketching on the street.  Then Holley and I rode our bicycles into the forêt.  After supper we rode around the garden with the French family.  Bed 10:00.

July 9th, Sun.    The Argonne
“Started for the Argonne forest.  Had lunch at St. Menehould then went to the forest.  We saw the front line, the old German machine gun nests and trenches.  Daddy took us over the same route that he and his mules went over in the war.  Also we saw the big American cemetery and monument [at Romagne].  We saw the German dugouts also.  Got home at 12:00 very tired.  Bed!!
P.S. Daddy got stopped for having white headlights on our car.  The French ones are yellow.

ECA: “Started for the battlefields. A day of showers, sun, and cloud shadows.  The countryside was beautiful.  Drove to Grand Pré where K. showed us all his hangouts during the War. Swung around by Varennes and the Argonne Forest.  Saw Joy’s and my dugout salle de bains and the Kron Prinz dugout.  Then to Romagne to see the American cemetery.  Home by way of Montfaucon where we climbed the high war monument.  Everything is green and the scars of the War are practically gone.”

July 10th, Mon.    Marlotte
“Got up very late and had breakfast.  We rode around on our bicycles around the garden.  After lunch Mother and Daddy went to Fontainbleau.  Jack, Holley and I rode to Fontainbleau and saw the champ de tir, the Palace, and his school. I painted a stained glass window then we had supper and read.  Bed.

July 11th, Tue.    Paris, Vincennes
“We rode around all morning.  Then we and Jack drove to Paris and the Bois de Vincennes [a zoo].  We had lunch at the bois then saw the animals.  They are all in pits surrounded by cement like stone.  I liked the bears and the seals the best.  We climbed the big rock and then went home.  After supper we played ping-pong and went to bed.

July 12th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Wrote letters in the morning then had a drawing lesson with Madam Bourgose.  We drew a hand.  After lunch Jacques took us to a big sand pile in the forest.  He had some firecrackers and almost killed himself (oh yeah).  Played ping-pong after supper and had a [bike] crash.  I got a flat tire.  Bed.

July 13th, Thu.    Marlotte

81052005005
Window

“After breakfast we wrote some postal cards and letters.  Then had our French lesson.  I drew Mme. de l’Epinois’ bathroom window then had my lesson.  After lunch fooled around the garden and then went and watched the artist [M. Vaillant] sketch the street.  Started one myself.  After supper did some more and went to bed.

      Madame de L’Epinois (our “new” French teacher?) was a middle aged lady whom my parents more or less befriended.  She had an old house directly across from La Renaissance with an ornate bathroom window that overlooked the street.

July 14th, Fri.    Marlotte, Riom, La Bourboule
“Got up at 7:00 and had breakfast in the room.  Then started driving to Clermont-Ferrand.  Had lunch at St. Pierre and went on.  At Riom we turned off for La Bourboule through some beautiful mountain country.  When we got to Bourboule we found a hotel  and then went up a funicular railway and got a good view.  Then we went into a church and saw some [Bastille Day] fireworks.  Bed.

July 15th, Sat.    La Bourboule, Clermont-Ferrand,
“Started driving for Clrmt. Ferrand.  On the way we stopped at a Chateau and saw it.  It is in Murols.  Had lunch at Champaix.  Got to Clrmt.  Ferrand and found Daddy’s friend [Paul DeBrion].  They took us to their summer place.  There we saw their baby.  On the way back we saw a rainbow that was very beautiful. Stayed for the night at La Palisse.  Bed Very tired.

      The rainbow was memorable for its having been projected well below us against a dark, forested background as we traversed a high mountain road above a deep valley.  It was double.  I have seen few like it since—one from halfway up 1,200 foot Cannon Cliff in Franconia Notch, NH as I retreated by rappel to the talus after a soaking hail storm.

July 16th, Sun.    Clermont-Ferrand, Venary-les-Laumes, Marlotte
“Started driving for Venary.  Arrived there at dinner time.  We stayed for lunch at Fernand Chapeau’s house.  After lunch he took us to see a statue of Vercingetorix.  Saw some Phenoecian ruins.  After this started driving for Sens and Marlotte.  Had supper at La Renaissance.  Very tired so went to bed.

39071602_FamChapeau(2)
KA, Fernand Chapeau, MFleury/ HA, WA, MmeC?, MmeFC, MmeF?/ PierreC, SisterC

    The ruins are actually Roman—The ancient site of Alesia.
Vercingetorix is, I believe, the inspiration for the French cartoon character Asterix.
Whom we visited was young, thirtyish Fernand Chapeau of Venary. The village is Venary-les-Laumes near Montbard between Auxerre and Dijon. After a long search ca 1999 I found Fernand’s son Pierre at the same house. He was smitten, and he later told me that his sister refused to believe my visit. He was
maçon and described his father, who had died several yeras earlier, simply as écrivan without elaboration. I have wondered since about this reticence. The Vichy period during the War was a divided and dangerous place.

July 17th, Mon.    Marlotte
“After breakfast we wrote some letters and then went to our French lesson.  Then we had lunch.  Mother went to Fontainbleau and we fooled around and then we had tea with Jaques Perronet.  Went sketching with Mother.  Started a street scene.  Read after supper out of “Land For My Sons”.  Bed

July 18th, Tue.    Marlotte
39072001_MarlotteMurgerE2“Played around with Jacques then took our bikes to be fixed.  After dinner we sketched awhile and I finished a very good one of the street.  Got our bicycles and had supper.  Then we read while it rained.  Bed.

July 19th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Had to write a letter to Mr. Mackey in picture writing.  Went to our sketching lesson with Madame Bourghus.  Had lunch.  Rode our bikes then went to Moret to sketch.  I did a shield.  After supper we walked and then read.  Bed.

      Mr. Mackey was the “hired man” at the Booth farm in Locke, NY where Holley and I were boarded out for several summers in the mid-thirties.
     He was memorable for having taken a more or less educational interest in us.  Showing us unusual things in the woods, how to make pokeberry ink, making for us a board with mounted and labeled samples from a dozen kinds of tree, building a little water wheel mill in the stream behind the barn, etc.  We considered him somewhat mysterious as he would come and go for extended periods without ever telling us children where he went.
      I still have the watercolor of the shield and the other “drawings” mentioned in this account.

July 20th, Thu.    Marlotte
“As in all others.  Wrote letters and then had our French lesson.  She showed us her dog’s medals from Paris.  Had lunch and then sketched the Rue Murger from where the artist first sat.  Had supper then read “Land For My Sons”.

July 21st, Fri.    Marlotte, Paris
“Had breakfast in the room!!!  Then Daddy drove us to the train at Montigny and we went to Paris.  We shopped all morning then had lunch. Got on the train and went to Montigny where Daddy met us.  Rode our bikes then finished “Land For My Sons”.  Bed.

July 22nd, Sat.    Marlotte, Moret
39072201_MoretWindow2“Went to Moret and started to sketch the old gates but it poured rain and we went into the church.  I did a stained glass window.  After lunch we went for a walk and I lost the party and came home.  After supper we started “Quentin Durward” by Sir Walter Scott.  Bed.

      Louis XI figured prominently in Scott’s Quentin Durward and Loches was one of his venues.  It was Louis Onze who invented the cages and many of the tortures there.  He wore a soft cap with cast leaden ornaments.  His massive wooden cages—too small either to stand in or to lie full length—can still (1999) be seen at Loches.

July 23rd, Sun.    Marlotte, Chateau Thierry, Reims
“Started for Reims to see the Cathedral.  On the way we stopped at Chateau Thierry and saw two monuments.  Here is where the heaviest fighting on the American side was done during the war.  Also we saw Epernay where mother was after the war and saw Hautvillers and the house where she stayed [at Nanteuille-la-Fosse, 110 rue de Bré].  At Reims we had lunch and saw the Cathedral.  Then came home and then went to bed.

July 24th, Mon.    Marlotte
“Wrote some letters then watched the gym teacher do some junk.  Went to our French lesson and had lunch.  Mother et Daddy went to Fontainbleau and we fooled around.  Went to the big sand pile and made a ball shoot.  Started home and got caught in a hail and rain storm.  Got soaked.  Came home and dried off.  Read, supper, read and then Bed.

July 25th, Tue.    Marlotte

39072501_MoretGate2
The gate at Moret

“Wrote a postcard and then went to Moret with Mother and Holley.  I drew one of the ancient gates and Holley drew nothing.  Had a late lunch.  Played ping-pong with a man.  Daddy met him and he is a Baron.  After supper we played billiards and went to bed.

     This man was Danish Baron Peter von Soren a member, we later learned, of the British Intelligence Service.  After communicating with him for a year or so we lost touch and presume that he was lost in the War.  Peter had a goatee and somewhat resembled likenesses of Shakespeare.

July 26th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Wrote a postcard then went to our drawing lesson.  It was lousy.  Had dinner then fooled around.  Later we went to meet Baron Peter Soren for tea.  Then he took us canoeing.  Had supper then read and to Bed.

July 27th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Did jobs and went to our French lesson.  After lunch we went to Fontainbleau and met Polly Applewhite and her friend.  Then went to the movies.  The first one was lousy but the second Marco Polo was swell.  Afterward we went home had supper and read Quentin Durward.  Bed.

      Polly and her mother we had met on the Georgic.

July 28th, Fri.    Marlotte, Melun
“Played around until dinner.  After dinner we went to Melun on some tourist business.  After that we saw a beautiful chateau called Veaux le Vicompt.  Afterward we passed some plages and I walked home from Montigny.  After supper we read.  Bed.

      The French government had issued a requirement that all aliens must register for “Cartes de Tourismes” at the nearest departmental seat—for us, Melun.  There was a huge line for the caisses—one had to wait in one line for one part of the process and then go to the end of the other line for the second part.  It took forever.  When my father finally reached the first window the fonctionaire began to review his papers.  Upon being asked in what capacity he was last in France (as my father had noted on his form) my father answered, “Comme soldat“.  The man exploded “Comme soldat, comme soldat!” and passed him instantly to the head of the second line and we were out of there in moments.
      Vaux le Vicompt was designed by the builder of Versailles; André le Nôtre

July 29th, Sat.    Marlotte
“Looked at the maps of Brittany for mileage.  Played around and had dinner.  After dinner we went to Fontainebleau and played a new game of billiards there.  Got some ice cream and came home.  After supper Daddy and I played billiards then went to bed.

July 30th, Sun.    Marlotte
“Went to Montigny to get Peter Soren.  Mother and Daddy went with him to church while we went to the restaurant.  It was closed but we got in later.  After lunch we went canoeing with Peter and went swimming it was cold.  Came back and had supper.  Read and went to bed.

     The restaurant was in Montigny-sur-Loing called La Vanne Rouge and its terrace was right on the river dotted with tables and parasols and with a boat ramp and canoes.
ECA: “[for dinner] they served chicked and veg., fresh melon, salad, cheese, fruit, tarts, coffee.  Peter is a conoisseur on wines so we had him choose.  He took Grande Cru Croton, 1910, a red wine, very nice.”
     La Vanne Rouge is still there (1999) as I went out of my way to find it.  It was late afternoon and closed; the patron wouldn’t let me in for a beer so I had only to peer through the cracks in the gate to get a glimpse.  I tried to walk from there to Marlotte but found the distance (3 km) far greater than I had remembered, so great in fact that I had to return to get my car. In 1939 we thought nothing of walking to Montigny and back of a summer evening.

July 31st, Mon.    Marlotte
“Did jobs and went to Fontainbleau and picked up Polly and her mother.  Then came to the hotel an got a pick-nick lunch.  Went to the Loing river got a big rowboat and went up the river.  Had our supper and boy what sandwiches.  Had a swell time coming back.  Took them to Fontainbleau and then went to bed.
ECA: “In Fontainbleau we saw whole lines of artillery soldiers file by on horseback in the moonlight.”

August 1st, Tue.    Marlotte
“I got out the maps and planned the mileage for our Brittany trip.  After lunch rode to Fontainbleau and met Polly at the Palace then we went to the restaurant and played all afternoon.  Came home and had supper then went to bed.

August 2nd, Wed.    Marlotte
“Went to our drawing lesson.  Holley started an oil painting.  After lunch we went to Peter’s hotel and then he took us to a little weekend house and we played ping-pong.  Mother and Daddy came and we had tea and played chess. Read out of Quentin Durward.

August 3rd, Thu.    Marlotte
“Went down to breakfast then went to our French lesson.  I drew and started some oils and Holley some palette knife.  After dinner it rained so we went over and finished painting.  Rained all afternoon then we had supper and went to bed.

August 4th, Fri.    Marlotte, Nemours
“Had breakfast and then got Peter and went to Nemours and saw the church and an old museum with some guns and old locks in it.  After lunch we went to Fontainbleau on our bikes and met Polly and two others with red hair Billy and Joan.  Had tea under the arch with Simon Pigley.  Glad to get rid of Joan.  Had supper with the Applewhites and heard the concert.  Bed.

August 5th, Sat.    Marlotte, Paris, Libourne
“Got up and packed for Libourne near Bordeaux.  Had an early lunch then took the bus to Paris.  Saw the museum of Arts et Metiers then saw the Wax Works [Musee Grevin].  Had supper then went to the station [Gare Quai d’Orsay] and got on the wagon-lit.  Went to bed in the upper berth.

     The Gare Quai d’Orsay  is now the Musée d’Orsay since 1986.

August     6th, Sun.    Libourne, Ste. Foy la Grande (Gironde)
“Got up at 5:00 and got off the train at Libourne.  Then took a small train to Ste. Foy la Grande.  Here we met the Minoggios and went to their house [Villa Anfa, Rosière] and had breakfast.  Took a walk [along the Dordogne] until lunch.  After lunch we took another walk to town and the park.  Came home and had supper.  Played with the cats then went to bed in the cellar.

      Mme. Minoggio (Mme. Legal) was the woman that my mother knew from Hautvillers (Epernay) in 1919 and to whose son, Léandre, she became marraine (see prologue).  At this time he was in the French airforce in Morocco.  He survived the war;  I met his son Jean Pierre Legal in Paris in 2003 on one of the days of the infamous weeklong canicule in which thousands of Parisians died.
I found Léandre’s son Jean Pierre in Paris after a laborious and months long search by mail through the
mairies of  France and Luxembourg where resident records are kept. Sadly, as a teenager, he had had a moto accident that put him in a wheelchair for life. In spite of this disability he drove a car and showed me around Ile de France in several subsequent years. He died in 2016.
ECA: “They   showed us photo’s of Léandre and Janny(?) in Morocco where they live.   Also showed us the pictures of ourseves that they had framed, and the oil portrait of Leandre which Papa [Irving Porter Church] had painted.”

August 7th, Mon.    Ste. Foy la Grande, Libourne
“Played with the cats in bed.  Had breakfast then took a walk to the Gare to find my hat.  Saw the church and the river.  After lunch we made tents for the cats then had tea.  Went to the train and went to Libourne.  Went in the church and waited at the Gare for the train to Paris.  Went to bed on the train and went to sleep.

August 8th, Tue.    Paris, Marlotte
“Got up at Austerlitz Gare and had breakfast.  Took the Metro to Opera and left Daddy at the American Exp. Co.  We shopped all morning and I got a French railway car.  Went to the Bastille to see about the bus then had lunch.  Took the bus to Marlotte and played around until supper.  Read then went to bed.

August 9th, Wed.    Marlotte
“Rode to Fontainebleau with Mother and found Polly.  We all rode to Marlotte and fooled around.  Had lunch and then went to the sand pile and just sat and talked all afternoon.  Rode to Fontainebleau and had tea.  Played in the restaurant then came back for supper and saw a fencing match.

August 10th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Went to our French lesson.  Then had lunch.  After lunch we rode to Fontainebleau and met Polly for an hour then went to the Spicer-Simpson’s for tea.  Played deck tennis then came home and had supper.  Later we went to say goodbye to Peter.  He also gave us tea and we talked then came home and went to bed.

Autographs
Autographs: Peter Soren, Spicer-Simpson (Ship personnel)

      Mr. Spicer-Simpson was a well known sculptor and medalist.  He lived in the Bourron part of Bourron-Marlotte.

August 11th, Fri.    Marlotte
“I went to the sand pile with Holley while she collected colored sands.  After dinner we went to Fontainebleau and found Polly and Rowena LaCoste then went to Samoise plage to swim.  Came home and played ping-pong at the restaurant.  On the way home we got soaked in the pouring rain.  Had supper then read and went to bed.

August 12th, Sat.    Marlotte, Chartres, LeHavre
“Packed our bags and started driving for Chartres.  Saw the cathedral then had lunch.  After lunch drove all afternoon to Le Havre and got supper there.  After supper we walked down by the docks then went to bed.

August 13th, Sun.    Le Havre, Avranches, Rennes
“Got up and in the middle of breakfast Benjamin [see preface] came in and Mother and she renewed acquaintances.  We drove to the river side in the fog to get a bac or ferry but waited 3 hrs for it.  Went to Honfleur and met Jock then had lunch in a little town.  Drove all afternoon to Brittany.  Stopped at Avranches and saw le Mont St. Michel across the water.  Drove to Rennes in the dark where we spent the night.
P.S. stopped at Bayeux and saw the famouse tapestry there.  Made by the wife [Queen Mathilde] of Wm. the Conquerer.  [Got a folding reproduction of the entire tapestry.]

August 14th, Mon.    Rennes, Quimper
“Drove to Quimperlé where we had dinner.  Walked around and saw the church then went on to Quimper. Found a hotel and settled there.  Drove to Concarneau to see the fishing boats then came back to Quimper.  Holley got her coifs and Daddy left for Paris on the train.  Bed.

August 15th, Tue.    Quimper, Vannes
“Walked around Quimper and saw the fair.  Drove to Quimperle and had lunch.  Then went to Carnac and saw the old Druid tombs.  Had ice cream then went to a museum.  Took a drive around the coast then went to Vannes for the night.

August 16th, Wed.    Vannes, Sillé-le-Guillaume, Marlotte
“Said goodbye to Jock and Benjamin and drove all morning.  Had lunch at Sillé then drove all afternoon to Marlotte.  Had supper and went to bed.  Dead tired.

 August 17th, Thu.    Marlotte
“Did jobs and then had lunch.  Afterwards we rode to Fontainbleau on our bicycles to see Polly.  Rowena was there and we ducked Isabella.  We went to see the rocks in the woods but did not find the cave.  Played in the restaurant then came home.  Had supper and went to bed.

      These rocks are undoubtedly among those which became popular and  world renowned rock climbing (bouldering) venues after the War.

August 18th, Fri.    Marlotte
“Packed all the bags and trunks for Switzerland.  After dinner Mother drove us to Fontainbleau to see Polly.  We just sat and talked then went to Polly’s lesson.  Daddy got us and we said goodbye and went home to bed.
P.S, This was Mother’s wedding anniversary but Daddy and Mother both forgot it.

August 19th, Sat.    Marlotte, Grenoble
“Got up early and had breakfast in the room.  Packed and started for Grenoble in the alps.  Drove all morning and had lunch at Chalons and drove on to Lyon.  South of Lyon we saw our first “alp”.  We drove to Grenoble and found a hotel.  This hotel [Lesdiguires] had super elevators and swell surroundings.  Had supper and went to bed.  We were amused to see telephone booths labeled “Allo-1” and “Allo-2”.

August 20th, Sun.    Grenoble, Annecy, Chamonix
“We went [to] the Syndicat d’Initiative [local chamber of commerce] and found out about the alps.  Drove to Annecy and had lunch at the top of an aerial tramway and had a swell view of the lac.  Drove through the Col des Aravis which was 1,400 meters high.  In the mountains the cows have bells.  We came out of the pass and came to Chamonix to spend the night [at the Beau Rivage].

      In 1997 I took a detour through the Col des Aravis and found it exactly as I had remembered it almost sixty years before.  It was here that I remember looking from the car window up the grassy alps and to the rocky towers above thinking, “Wow, wouldn’t it be swell to be able to climb to their tops”.

August 21st, Mon.    Chamonix
“Went to the teleferique du Aiguille de Midi and went halfway up Mt.  Blanc in the little cable car.  Took a short walk to the snow line and threw a snowball.  Had lunch at the top of the teleferique.  Then took a long walk over a glacier [Glacier des Pelerins] and saw some huge cracks.  And a natural bubbler.  The avalanches of snow and rock sounded like the crashing of distant thunder.  Came down had supper and went to bed.
P.S. I had no supper because of a bad headache.

   The top in 1939 is now only “halfway” up and is now called Plan de l’Aiguille.

August 22nd, Tue.    Chamonix, Annemasse
“Went to another teleferique [du Brevent] with two stages.  Stayed at the top and got a few views.  After lunch we came down and finished packing.  Started out for Geneve.  Got halfway and Daddy found he had lost the passports.  We looked all over car but in vain, turned around and looked in the hotel—but in vain!  Then, after searching the baggage again Daddy found them in the bottom of his bag.  Whew!  Drove to Annemasse and spent the night.  The hotel was dingy.

August 23rd, Wed.    Annemasse, Lausanne
“Got up in Annemasse and packed the bags then took an hour going through the customs at the border.  Drove to the Amer. Exp. Co. and did some business in Geneve.  Had lunch [Coq d’Or] then took a bus trip around the city.  Saw the League of Nations buildings.  Then drove to Lausanne and found a hotel [Mont Fleury].  Had supper, wrote in this book and went to bed.

      In Geneva I remember that my father took me especially to see the confluence of the Rhone (clear water from Lac Leman) and the Arve (glacial rockflour filled water from Chamonix).  The two streams run parallel in the same bed essentially unmixed for miles.

August 24th, Thu.    Lausanne, Interlaken
“Packed and went to see the church.  Went up in the steeple and saw the town.  Drove to Aigles and on the way saw Chateau Chillon on Lac LeMan—Lord Byron was there.  Had lunch and drove through a high pass to Interlaken.  Here we found a hotel and had supper.  Went and looked at the stores then went to bed.

      At the hotel in Interlaken we slept for the first time under huge, white down featherbeds, something we had seen heretofore only in movies like Heidi.

August 25th, Fri.    Interlaken, Altdorf
“Drove to Grindelwald and took a long walk around the cliffs.  I saw a mountain goat.  We watched some boys and girls scale a cliff with mountain climbing equipment.  A fall meant death.  We came home and had lunch [Parc des Alpes] then drove to Altdorf and went to bed.
ECA: “When we came down we saw a real mountain climber giving a demonstration of the use of spikes and rope.  It was quite thrilling”.

August 26th, Sat.    Altdorf, Luzern, Zurich
“Went and saw the church and the monument to Wilhelm Tell.  Also saw the chapel by the lake.  Drove to Luzern and the Amer.  Exp. Co. Had lunch then went on a tour of the city; we saw an ancient wooden bridge with paintings of death in the tympani.  I got a Swiss chalet.  Drove to Zurich and had supper.  Walked around outside the Fair grounds and went to bed.

August  27th, Sun.    Zurich
“Went to the [Industrial] Fair and spent all morning there.  Had lunch and stayed there all afternoon.  It is very interesting.  I liked it better than the World’s Fair.  Had supper, took a walk and went to bed.

August  28th, Mon.    Zurich, Bern
“Went to the Exposition and stayed there all morning.  Had lunch then packed to go on.  Drove to Bern where we found a hotel.  Had supper by the riverside at a place under a bridge.  Read Quentin Durward.  Bed.

August 29th, Tue.    Bern, Basle, Lausanne
“Went to tourist office and got a guide to show us the city.  We drove around all morning and saw a big clock strike.  The clock was really complicated.  Had lunch then drove to Basle and looked into Germany.  Drove all afternoon to Lausanne and spent the night at the same hotel as before in the same rooms.  On the way to Basle we realized that the Swiss were mobilizing [their army].  We had to get gas ration cards.  Tank traps were in the roads at Basle.
ECA: “Found that we could not get gas without a permit from the military”.

In 1949 with my roommate from Cornell we were picked up while hitch hiking to Bern by one Edith Roth, captain of the 1939 Swiss ski team. She drove alarmingly fast. The reason, it turned out, was so that we would arrive in Bern at noon, in time to see ths old clock go through its paces.

August 30th, Wed.    Lausanne, Bourg
Went to Geneve and got our laundry and went back to Nyon to cross into France [at La Cure in the high Juras] but the border was barred with barbed wire and wagons.  We went to the next place [Divonne?] and found it barred too.  We got scared so went to the American consul [in Geneva] and he told one that was open.  Drove to Annemasse got through the customs and had lunch at Annecy.  Drove all afternoon to Bourg where we spent the night.
P.S. Got a flat tire and changed it.  [First] blackout at Bourg.
ECA: “Tension seems to be growing.  Hitler has  replied to the note from Great Britain”.

    My recollection of Annemasse is one of barbed wire, tank traps, and visible machine guns.

August 31st, Thu.    Bourg, Marlotte
“Had breakfast early.  Drove all morning and had lunch at Marlotte.  Drove to Fontainebleau said goodbye to the [American] School and came back.  Played with Jaques Perronnet and had suppper.  Then played in the billiard room.  Bed.
ECA: “Partial mobilization [of French Army] taking place everywhere.”

September 1st, Fri.    Marlotte
“Washed and dried all morning.  Had lunch while Mother and Daddy went to see Peter while we played battleship and swatted flies.  Changed rooms and then had supper.  After supper finished Quentin Durward.
P.S.!  Hitler attacks Poland.  Refugees from Paris in all small towns.  General mobilization in France and England.  “Mobilisation général” was on every tongue!

September 2nd, Sat.    Marlotte
“Drove to Fontainebleau with Peter and got some papers and went to the bank.  Mother, Daddy, and Peter read the papers and we are not sure [now] about our sailing.  Had lunch then Holley and I played battleship all afternoon.  Had supper then Mother, Daddy, and Holley went to see Mr. Spicer-Simpson.  Bed.
P.S.!  Blackout in Marlotte.  Hitler still in Poland.  France and England are mobilized.  The Bremen is on its way across under the watch of the British cruiser Warrick.

      In the evening outside the Renaissance I remember “Hermes”, the hotel waiters that we knew, and other young men of the town all gathered in the street by the gate in their army uniforms and with their knapsacks and guns. They were saying goodbye to their friends and families.

September 3rd, Sun.    Marlotte, Paris, Marlotte
“Collected Peter and all went to Paris.  There we went to all the Consulate, Am. Exp. Co., and Cunard.  ‘Abris’ all over also blue lights and windows.  Had lunch at the Rallye then came back in the pouring rain.  Packed a little went to bed.
P.S. War declared!  Hitler still in Poland.  France and England declare war on Hitler as we were told by the doorman at the Consulate.

On this day the Cunarder Athenia was sunk by a German  submarine.

September 4th, Mon.    Marlotte, LeHavre
“Got up and had breakfast early in our rooms.  Said goodbye and drove all morning.  Had lunch in the car then came to Havre.  Looked for hotels and found a nice small one.  Went to the Consulate and Express Co.  Also the U.S. Lines.  Had supper at the Hotel Bordeaux.  Daddy met [ran into] Mrs. McBride of the Music School [in the steamship office line].
ECA: “American Consul advises only American boats. The ‘President  Harding’ and the ‘Washington’ are being sent over by the end of the  week.”

September 5th, Tue.    LeHavre
“Woke up to the tune of an awful air raid siren at 6:00.  Boy, what a noise!  Had breakfast.  Did some business then sat by the sea untill lunch at a small restaurant down the street.  After lunch went to the beach and swam untill 4:00.  Fooled around untill supper.  Had supper at a small restaurant then went to bed.

    The [Cunarder] Athenia having been sunk we cancelled the Mauritania passage. My father considered it by then too dangerous to sail on a British ship.

September  6th, Wed.    LeHavre
“The siren blew again twice.  Did some jobs around LeHavre then met Mrs. McBride for lunch.  Drove around the port then went swimming until supper.  Had supper.  Learned some bridge then went to bed.

September 7th, Thu.    LeHavre
“Did some business in Havre and Mother met some old war friends [Juliet Whiton] and we had lunch with them.  Sat around while Daddy wrote a lengthy document on efficiency then went swimming.  Had supper learned some more bridge then went to bed.  Boy are we bored!

      My father was incensed to distraction by the confusion and lack of efficiency exhibited by the steamship companies in handling the hordes of tourists, mostly American, trying desperately to arrange for safe passage home.  Queues at information and booking windows—in which one could stand in vain for more then half a day only to be denied in the end an answer to a simple question—contained hundreds of people, stretching outdoors into the weather and down the streets.  There were never any useful general announcements; no one had any idea of what was going on or how to manipulate the “system”.   

      Dad was going to remedy all this and spent days writing an efficiency manifesto to be given to all the steamship companies for their edification.  However, the exercise was rendered moot the next day as the port of Le Havre was summarily closed by the French government and the mobs of tourists were directed, thence, to Bordeaux, four hundred miles and two days travel away.  A real disaster for anyone having to take a train or bus.

September  8th, Fri.    Le Havre
“Did some washing and darning then went swimming.  Boy was it swell because the tide was out.  Had lunch then stayed in the room all afternoon waiting for Mother and Daddy.  Several British fighter planes were doing manoevers over the city.  Fooled around then has supper.  Played some bridge (not very well).  Bed.

September 9th, Sat.    Le Havre, Alencon
“Packed and put Mrs. McBride’s luggage on the fenders [of the car] and went into town.  Spent the morning in all the steamship offices then had lunch.  Mrs. McBride got passage on a freighter so we took her bags off.  Started driving for Bordeaux and stopped at Alencon at Hotel France.  Bed.  Many trucks and troops are passing [the other way] on their way to the front.  Roads jammed with southbound cars.  All of France in blackout.

September 10th, Sun.    Alencon, Bordeaux
“Started driving for Bordeaux.  On the way had sort of a hard time getting gasoline.  Met several long lines of old trucks being collected for the army.  Had lunch at Chatellerault then drove on.  We were stopped once to have our head]lights painted blue.  Awfully hot.  Gas rationing pretty serious.  Got to Bordeaux then found a stuffy and dingy hotel. Had supper and went to bed.

      At one point below LeMans we encountered an endless southbound tie-up.  As we neared the bottleneck it became clear that it was caused by a huge water-filled pothole in the road around which “les poilus” were struggling to direct traffic—cursing and swearing at drivers whose cars went in and then had to be muscled out.  When it became our turn the soldiers put up an anguished shout and covered their eyes as my father headed more or less straight for the hole, lumbered in, gunned the engine, and lurched clear on the far side.  Smiles of amazement on the faces of the soldiers; “Voiture du millionaire!” one shouted as we passed  on.

39091001_BlueLights
Poilu with blue paint

     As dusk fell, somewhere in the countryside south of Poitiers two poilus stepped into the road, bayonets crossed against us.  We stopped and a third scurried out of the bushes with a brush and a can of  paint; he painted our headlights blue.

September 11th, Mon.    Bordeaux
“Went around Bordeaux to the U.S. Lines and Consulate.  Found a better hotel then had lunch.  After lunch moved in to our new hotel then Holley and I played slapjack.  Daddy took us to an old church with the tower across the street [Tour Ste. Michele].  In the bottom [crypt] of the tower there are a whole mess of skeletons (some chemical in the ground preserved them) that were found when the tower was started.  We bought some soup then had some supper.  Bed.  I slept on the floor.

September 12th, Tue.    Bordeaux
“Played cards most of the morning then had lunch.  Played some more cards then had supper.  Played bridge.  Boredom terrific.  Bed.  Much chiseling and graft in the steamship lines.  No passage in view for several weeks.

September 13th, Wed.    Bordeaux
“Same as before.  Played cards and such things and walked in the park.
ECA: “They say the ‘Washington’ by a mixup of wires was almost entirely booked in London when it came to Le Havre and so a great many people there were disappointed. The U.S. Lines have certainly made a mess of things but I suppose it is not entirely their fault.  With 1000’s of people milling around Havre, Bordeaux, and Paris—what a proposition.    All we can do is wait and hope.”

September 14th, Thu.    Bordeaux
“Mother and Daddy went to the Consulate.  We played cards and had lunch then played some more cards.  Had supper then played some bridge.  Bed.

September 15th, Fri.    Bordeaux
“I started a paper airplane.  Had lunch and Isabella [Murray] walked in.  She treated us to a patisserie.  Had supper at the Becassine with the Murrays.  Bed.
P.S. Isabella showed us her gas mask.  They are building abris in the Allees de Tourneys.
ECA: “Stormed the Consulate and offices of U.S. Lines again but there was such a crowd everywhere that we didn’t accomplish a thing. …they say Toscanini is here and stands in line with the rest of us.”

September 16th, Sat.    Bordeaux
“I worked on my paper airplane and started a car.  Mother walked with Mrs. Fitzherbert and we talked until lunch.  Worked some more then had supper with Mrs.  Fitzherbert and the Murrays.  Bed.

      My parents had run into Mrs. Fitzherbert a close neighbor in Wellesley Hills.

September 17th, Sun.    Bordeaux
“Made some more things of paper.  Had lunch with Mrs. Fitzherbert. Fooled around until supper with the Murrays.  Bed.
ECA: “The children were so homesick today that they were making maps of Wellesley.”

September 18th, Mon.    Bordeaux
USS Manhattan“Daddy went out and I and Holley waited.  Daddy came back with passage on the ‘Manhattan‘, Sept. 22nd.  Had supper at the Dubern with Mrs. Fitzherbert.  Met Miss Boreson and she ate with us.  Bed.

September 19th, Tue.    Bordeaux
“Saw Mrs. Fitzherbert off with Daddy to the train [to le Verdon].  I worked some more then had lunch.  Worked after dinner then had supper at the Becassine with the Murrays.  Bed.

September 20th, Wed.    Bordeaux
“I worked some more [on my paper and mucilage models; by now a steamship and a steam locomotive].  Mother and Holley went shopping.  Had lunch and went to the movies.  Saw all about the Maginot Line and France’s defense.  Took a buggy around the town.  Ate at the Becassine.  Played in Isabella’s room.

September 21st, Thu.    Bordeaux
“Finished the paper stuff.  Got the Murrays and had dinner at the Capon Fin.  Wow!  Packed and fooled around until supper at the Richlieu.  Bed.

September 22nd, Fri.    Bordeaux, le Verdon, SS Manhattan
“Drove early to le Verdon and got the car on the dock.  Much red tape along the way.  Sat on baggage and finished book.  Got passport stamped and got on board ship!  Met the Albros.  Had supper then went to bed.  Our cabins connected by a bath.

September 23rd, Sat.    SS Manhattan
“Explored the boat all morning and found Alice Albro.  Had lunch and explored some more.  After supper Daddy and I stayed up and watched [as] the car [was] loaded until twelve o’clock on.  After the car got on we stayed up till 4:00a and saw the boat sail away from the dock.  Our boat was brightly lighted and painted with [huge] lighted American flags [on the sides].  There were 700 extra people sleeping on cots in the lounges.

September 24th, Sun.    SS Manhattan
“Played around with shuffleboard and deck tennis until lunch.  Met a boy and played around.  Had supper and went to bed.

September 25th, Mon.    SS Manhattan
“Played around the ship and had dinner.  Sea calm and pretty.  Met some more guys and played shuffleboard.  [Igor] Stravinsky tripped over my shuffleboard stick in rushing to ask a girl for a ginger ale with him in the bar.  Paderevsky was aboard also; he was melancholy all the trip.  In morning had a lifeboat drill.  Had supper and went to bed.

September 26th, Tue.    SS Manhattan
“Not feeling very well so went to bed again.  Sick untill about 5:00. Went to sleep.  Had some ginger ale.

September 27th, Wed.    SS Manhattan
“Went out on deck and played shuffleboard and deck tennis.  Had lunch and played around some more.  Got a haircut.  Had supper; took a bath.  Wrote in this book and went to bed.


Here ends my trip diary.  Several days later [the 30th] we arrived in New York and drove to Boston by way of the Havilands’ in Hartford where we spent the night.  The next day we were at great pains to complete the trip in daylight so that we could show our friends the blue painted headlights.  Returning was exciting and we were envied by our friends not least because we were three weeks late for the start of school!


Epilogue

On a several occasions I have returned to Marlotte.

Once, ten years later, in 1949 while on a European trip with my college roommate Bill Pistler.  We arrived, having given up hitchhiking from Lyon by boarding a train in Macon.  Mme. Perronet put us up in a back room somewhere at no cost.  The place seemed exactly as I had remembered it.  The War had been hard though.  The Germans had taken over the hotel for officer’s billets but the Perronets had been allowed to stay on.  M. Perronet had died (of a heart attack) either during or shortly after the War and Michel and Madame ran the hotel.  Jacques was following an engineering career in Paris.  We later visited with him there.  From this visit to La Renaissance I have a photo’ of Madame and my friend and of Jacques and me.

Then not until 1997 (and once more in 1999) was I able very briefly to return; really only for a few minutes each time.  In 1997 in an effort to re-contact Madame or Jacques I learned that all three of the remaining family members had died; Madame sometime. probably in the seventies. and both Jacques and Michel of heart attacks, like their father, within this decade.  However I arranged to meet Jacques widow, Janine, briefly in Paris to give her the photographs and was able to cajole some friends into taking me to Marlotte one evening to look around.  The “new” Madame Perronet has a son, also Jacques, and an apartment in part of the original hotel from which she commutes to Paris.

In Marlotte I found the Rue Murger and La Renaissance which has now been partially dismantled and converted to a cirque hippique.  Most of its former charm had vanished.


Bill Atkinson, January, 2000
ECA: additions, January 2002
Conversion to MSWord, May 2010


 

Aunt Liz


By Matthew Atkinson:

In my childhood my family used to visit my Grandfather’s place in northwestern Connecticut for a week or a weekend here and there. Usually we would stay nearby in an antique farmhouse with my aunts, uncles and slightly older cousins and later in a large boarding house bought by my uncle Bill as a vacation place. Mostly we just hung out there and marched around playing army games arranged by my cousin Web or played kick the can or a nighttime variation called German Spotlight.

FishingDoolittle4
Author at Doolittle Lake 1973

Sometimes in the summer my cousin David and I were rousted out of bed at 4:30 in the morning by my aunt Liz to go fishing on Benedict Pond nearby. We got in the station wagon with various rods and spinning reels and tackle boxes. We had an old, wooden grey rowboat that probably belonged to my grandfather stashed by the pond and we loaded up our fishing poles and shoved off. Aunt Liz rowed while Dave and I trolled our lines from the stern. We mostly turned up Perch and nasty Pickerel, a spiny, spiky, slippery thing that was difficult to get off the hook. Back they went into the pond worse for the wear to look for a bug or another shiny spinner flashing by. These were warm, early summer days. The pond was peaceful as the sun came up and the fish started to eat bugs off the surface of the pond. The only sounds were our hushed voices, the creak of wooden oars, and David peeing off the stern. Often, we snagged a lily pad and had to work to get the hook and line back in the boat.

I remember only once (?) one of us hooked a good-sized bass, the prize we were apparently after. I think we had a rubber worm on the hook. Aunt Liz was thrilled and coached us through the struggle with the fish, alternately giving it some line and reeling it closer to the boat. Then she was out with the net and giving it a clubbing with the end of an oar. Six pounds of pure joy for Aunt Liz. It might have been three pounds or ten, but this is a fish story. We trolled for a little longer, but we had what we were after. On shore Aunt Liz cut the fish down its belly, cleaned out the guts and wrapped it up in wet grass.

Then back in the car and a short ride home as the sun came up. Bass for breakfast. Maybe a trip to Doolittle Lake for a swim later. We could always count on Aunt Liz to advocate for ice cream on the way home.


Matthew W. Atkinson, 2020


Note: Aunt Liz is my late sister-in-law. Matthew is my son.


Covid-19: A View From Assisted Living

When it became obvious that the Covid-19 corona virus would become a national disaster I began this Post as a periodic email to my children and grandchildren. When informed by my elder daughter that nobody—especially grandchildren—reads emails anymore, this is what has emerged.

The most recent update is here at the top. (If you’d like to start at the beginning, click here for the March 17 update.)

I’d love to hear from you in the Comments (scroll to the bottom of the post).


Update 17: Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Hi All:

Youville has made no addition to its update of July 20.

I believe there are no current Covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.

Brookhaven has had no update since June 22nd.
North Hill, I may say, seems not to be doing as well as we here at Youville. Kudos! They are in control(?) but have had many infections and deaths. Note again that they are a much larger facility than we and may therefore be more representative of the U.S. in microcosm.

Our isolation moves us to reflect upon friendships and regrets of the past: Ozerki

I went down for lunch last week to the “socially distanced” dining room. It was so efficiently distanced that I might as well have dined alone.
With nearly one-hundred meals to be served—take-out style to your door—three times a day we wonder how the staff can keep up. We have our own little frustrations (the orders are never quite right), but this must be nothing compared to the difficulties of staff trying to do the best they can.

We have a true gem in Connie who drives the Youville truck and keeps us in cat food, kitty litter, and beer.

Zoom! Yay! Holley fixed the microphone problem!
No new pic of kitty. Hoping for a Recumbent and an Odalisque.

Paul Krugman has an encouraging view from New York:

Rt.live tells us today that Massachusetts is holding its place in the transmission coefficient (R0) game among the states. We (MA) are now still negative—meaning that, on average, each infected individual is passing his infection on to very few others. At least in Cambridge, mask use in the streets seems almost universal. Paul Krugman has a sanguine view of his surroundings in NYC.

Here again the current graph from Our World in Data. It shows that the number of new cases per day (43,700, still highest in the World!) is slightly improved from my last post but with no sign of levelling off:
OWD 9-1

It’s perfectly clear that the U.S., owing to its faux culture of exceptionalism and its fostering of a broad cult of willful ignorance, will not be out of this for years. Now Trump wants to sacrifice two million on the altar of his cult. Sorry.

And here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill, and Châtelaine)


Update 16: Sunday, August 15, 2020
Hi All:

Youville has made no addition to its update of July 20.

I believe there are no current Covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.
I have not as yet taken part in the optional and partial opening of the dining facilities newly in effect.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.

North Hill is not doing as well as we are here at our Youville. What’s interesting is the presence of “scofflaws.” Of course they are a much larger facility than we and maybe more representative of the U.S. in microcosm.
The Brookhaven update is not current.

I’m happy to be back on the exercise machine!
I gasp for breath as I watch Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi “bringing me news of fresh disaster.” [“But never you mind, my dear. Put on the kettle; we’ll have a nice cup o’ boilin’ ‘ot water.” Do any of you remember the “Beyond the Fringe” sketch of the sixties?]

And now the clothes washer on my floor has croaked.

Img_1763
Chatelaine Ascendant

Good news at the dentist! Where she had threatened a crown was merely a coronet—the tooth was saved to fulfill its manifest dentistry.  RIP Alfred E. Neuman.

Amazingly Rt.live tells us again that Massachusetts has moved back to the head of the line in transmission coefficient (R0) among the states. We (MA) are now very negative again—meaning that, on average, each infected individual is passing his infection on to very few others. Again, I’m not sure why, but the Covid Gods seem to be with us.

Below is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day (50,000, still highest in the World!) has remained fairly constant (a straight line), but with no sign of levelling off.
It got better through June and then worse again in July and is back now to where it was in mid July.

It’s perfectly clear that the U.S., owing to its faux culture of exceptionalism and its fostering of a broad cult of willful ignorance, will not be out of this for years. Sorry.

OWD 8-15

And here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

Hi Meg and Patrick. Looking forward to sitting at distance with you on the Youville patio on Monday.

XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill, and Châtelaine)


Update 15: Saturday, August 1, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s July 20 update.
I have added a paragraph describing the rules for outside (patio) visiting. Its one Draconian measure is that only two guests are permitted at a time.

The fancy dinnerware upgrade has happened. In its first manifestation—today at lunch—I received two entrees: An egg salad sandwich on white and a hamburger. I don’t remember which I had ordered, but one had to go. It’s too bad that the orders are almost never quite “right”. It leads to shameful food waste.  But the staff works so hard to accommodate us that it seems petty to complain. It’s good though that we’ve now eliminated a fair amount of single use plastic and bags.

The optional and partial opening of the dining facilities is also newly in effect. People take turns so that social distancing can be observed.
I think I’ll stick with in-house meals for a while.

I believe there are no current covid-19 cases among inmates or staff. I have a good feeling that we’re safer here than in the big suburban prisons.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring suburban assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.
Current Massachusetts statistics.

And here is a link to her new piece, God’sWaitingRoom by Ruth Daniloff, a fellow Youville inmate.

The exercise machine is fixed! I was afraid I might be losing some muscle tone and deep breathing capability.

The tooth pulling was trivial and painless, but she’s discovered that I will probably lose one of my incisors. Bummer. Anticipate my new Alfred E. Neuman smile.
You’ll be glad to hear that I have a renewed appointment with the urologist.

Châtelaine is not very nice to me but I try to be nice to her. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless kitty.

Rt.live tells us that Massachusetts has further fallen in transmission coefficient (R0) among the states. we (MA) are now very positive—meaning that, on average, an infected individual is passing his infection on to more than one other person, thus promoting growth rather than fostering gradual remission. I’m not sure why, but some are blaming unsafe July Fourth gatherings. It takes about three weeks to see the results of idiocy.

Here is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day (52,000, highest in the World!) remains fairly constant (a straight line), with no sign of leveling off:
OWD 8-1

In my Update 8 of May 1 I mused about a national total infection count of four million by July. I am going to muse again—today it is 4.56 million—and say that by Election Day it will be near ten million—about three in every one-hundred Americans! This because it is by now obvious that the Trump administration has no plan to mitigate the disaster—and it never will.

Just tonight I’m hearing of a virus “catch” party of seven-hundred young MAGAt covidiots in New Jersey.

Here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

Hope we can resolve the camera/mic problem for some better Zooming,
XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill and Châtelaine)



Update 14: Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s July 10 update.
They plan an optional and partial opening of the dining facilities.
And to make an upgrade to the room service, i.e., thermal containers and nicer tableware to replace the plastic. For me this is not much of a change because I already transfer everything to my own washed tableware and microwave as necessary. This way I can eat at my leisure—not worrying the food will be cold.
The dining room schedule will be such that occupancy is limited to promote distancing.

I believe there are no covid-19 cases among Youville inmates or staff.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I have friends.

Alas, my favorite exercise machine has failed, but I’m assured that new parts are on the way.

I went to my every six-month eye exam and am told that everything is OK.
But now I have to have a tooth pulled, and must suffer the ministrations of the podiatrist for my painful toenails.

A bright naked-eye comet, Neowise, is in the sky and just now (July 15) has become visible in the evening after sunset. The west facing windows on the 7th floor at Youville should be a good place to try to see it. In recent weeks it has been a before-sunrise object but now, having passed perihelion, it is in the evening sky. Seven-hundred years ago the appearance of comets portended disaster and plague—can that be still the case?

In my astronomy days I took a few comet pix myself.

Img_1761I’m waiting for an e-camera Match has sent me to make Zoom-ing less stressful.

Rt.live tells us that Massachusetts has lost its position as having the lowest transmission coefficient (R0) of all the states. I’m not sure why, but we (MA) are now positive—meaning that, on average, an infected individual is passing his infection on to more than one other person, thus promoting growth rather than fostering gradual remission.

Here is an interesting new metric I just stumbled upon at Twitter. Given any random crowd size from ten to ten-thousand—Georgia Tech predicts (by U.S. county) what the chances are that at least one infected person will be in that group.  Poke around in it—it’s frightening. In Arizona it’s 88% for a group of 25. In Massachusetts (Middlesex County) it’s 9%. Wear your masks when outside!

I continue to notice that in Cambridge just about everyone on the street is masked. And inside offices and stores it is universal.

From now on I plan to post twice monthly.

Again, my fears of June 10th continue to be realized. The early and ill-advised (mostly red state) maskless and crowded “openings” in the South and the West have proved disastrous—nationally overwhelming the modest gains made in the Northeast. This failing is owing (let’s admit it) to the Trump administration’s having instituted no national coronavirus policy. The daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. [highest in the World!] has ballooned from about 45,000 cases per day (June 30th) to 66,000 cases per day (July 15th) with no end in sight.

Here is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day has become constant (a straight line, no longer increasing):
OWD 7-15It’s that bending back upward that we knew was coming in Update 10 on May 21 when the southern governors first announced their “reopenings.”
This is a long, long way from leveling off to zero.

In my Update 8 of May 1, I mused about a national total infection count of four million by July. There were those then who thought this preposterous. Now July has come and it is 3.43 million—about one in every one-hundred Americans!
Update 7/23/20: So, I missed it by a week.

And here is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

I will say it again: The “first” wave is still building and is long from washing over us.
We will be submerged in this national administrative catastrophe for many, many months.

XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill and Châtelaine)



Update 13: Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Hi All:

Youville House has posted no update during this twenty day period.
I believe there are no covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.
This is owing to the dedication of our essential workers who, themselves, must find it much more daunting to follow the “rules” than for us for the most part safely hidden in our dens.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

I did go through the car wash. 🙂

And I went elsewhere as well—to the Subaru shop in Belmont, to my old shop in Auburndale for a new inspection sticker, and to Needham for an annual hearing evaluation. I was hugely impressed by the coronavirus response at these places. Masks and distancing universally and cheerfully observed—no Karens in sight. Waiting rooms closed, hand sanitizer on the counters, seating only outside, door handles and steering wheels wiped. Too, masks on the street are almost universal. Cambridge has new lighted traffic signs saying “Face covering required in Cambridge;” in Needham—not so much.

It should be noted that today Massachusetts has almost the lowest transmission coefficient (R0) of all the states, and that its curve of confirmed infections is noticeably flattening. Massachusetts rocks!

My previous posts have been at ten day intervals, but I delayed this one another ten days so that the unfortunate national trend would stand out more starkly.

My fears of June 10th have been realized. The early and ill-advised (mostly red state) maskless and crowded “openings” in the South and the West have proved disastrous—nationally overwhelming the modest gains made in the Northeast. This failing is owing to the Administration’s having instituted no national coronavirus policy. The daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. [highest in the world] has ballooned from about 22,000 cases per day (June 10th) to 45,000 today (June 30th) with no end in sight:

Here is the graph showing the upward curving national infection rate between June 10th and June 30th:
OWD 6-30

And here is a link to data for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and its counties and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

The “first” wave is still building and is long from crashing over us.
We will be submerged in this disaster for many, many months.

Sorry—no cat pic.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 12: Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s June 1 update.
It’s mostly new complicated and cumbersome visiting requirements—certainly justified in the current Covid-19 climate.

Links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
As usual, surfing the Twitterverse (with @EricBoehlert and his PressRun.media) trying to hold the feet of the Trump-enabling Press to the fire.

Now that it has arrived it is hard to take advantage of the nice weather—unless you’re resigned to enjoying it alone or, at most, with masked and muffled beings six feet away. My hearing being what it is I don’t much take to it. (I’m thinking of having another hearing exam and aids update.)

As entertainment I’m thinking of taking the car through the local car wash. Any takers?

I continue in my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” in that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be still hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection rate arc continues upward, now just noticeably more steeply than ten days ago. The “first” wave is increasing in size and long from over.

Here is link to a broad assessment from The Atlantic.
And here (6/11) is a new confirmation of my fears.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 11: Sunday, May 31, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s May 29 update.
They are announcing that if we should leave Youville for “an extended stay” we will be subject to fourteen days of quarantine upon our return. I’m assuming that this definition does not include local medical appointments; but I think it needs some clarification.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

And here is a link to a timely piece, “The Virus,” by Ruth Daniloff, a fellow Youville inmate.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day.”

I do wonder about my own vulnerability to the virus, not so much as to who I’m with and where I am, but more as to what I am—a product of good fortune and chance. I suppose that reaching age 95 says something good about general health, but it definitely speaks ill of the statistical chances in regard to surviving the infection.

Does it mean anything that I haven’t had a chest or head cold in ten years? Have I had them all? So, that I’m now immune to all of them? Will the new virus respectfully take heed?

They say that a vitamin D deficiency plays a role. I was discovered to have such a deficiency 50 years ago and have been taking pills ever since.

They say that maintaining lung capacity is important; the reason that, every day, I exercise to breathlessness; hoping that in the ICU with “proning”—if it comes to that—I might make it. Sometimes I try to review in my imagination what days and nights of struggling would be like and how I might be able to respond.

I continue my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection arc continues upward, only barely less steeply than ten days ago.

In the states—especially those in the south and central U.S.—many of the total case trajectories are yet becoming steeper: more and more cases per unit of time as time passes. Their peaks may be months in the future.

The national rate of increase has eased slightly from around 20,000 cases per day, but I expect that, owing to reckless national gatherings having become common again, it will strengthen substantially. It’s not that there will be a “second wave,” it’s that the first and only wave will be bigger.

By mid-June or July we will know whether the “reopening” will be sustainable.

I sure hope that something will allow us to be social beings again.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 10: Thursday, May 21, 2020
Hi All:

Massachusetts cautiously “opens” but there is to be no significant change here at Youville.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 21 update.
Anything I could tell you about what’s new at Youville is included in this update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

As for me, there is really nothing new. After a few weeks, which will give us time to see what’s going to happen, I will again look into reinstating medical appointments.

We try to sit in the sun for a while but others are so far away that conversation is impractical, especially with hearing aids.

20052001_ChatelaineThe quality of the food has remained good all along, although sitting down to dinner—alone in ones apartment—is fraught with minor inconveniences like no syrup for the pancakes, no butter for the mashed potatoes, and the impertinent expectations of a kitty-cat.

My personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” is that they will prove to have been a mistake, the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. Already today news out of Florida suggests that after having opened last week they may be forced to close again.

It no longer makes sense to characterize the change in the infection rate by its doubling time, which has lengthened to a month, because now—owing to sequestering—the case rate of increase appears to be more nearly linear than exponential.
OWD 5-21The national rate of increase is now around 20,000 cases per day, and will stay that way until it increases again as reckless “reopenings” become common.
I expect that by mid-June we will be able to see whether the reopening is sustainable.

Sources:
Here are two interactive websites that show national and state-by-state data:
1. Our World In Data—The one I have been using for the past several updates.
2. USAFacts—A new one showing state-by-state data that I just found this morning (5/22). Louisiana is interesting because it hints at the up-tick I expect for the rest of the country.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 9: Monday, May 11, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested us, yet again–for the third time! Go Cambridge!
My result was negative. Also they tested us for coronas antibodies but we’ve not heard back on that.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 8 update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

Well it’s really a super serving of the “Same old, same old.” What can I say?
Some people have been lifted from fourteen-day quarantines and others have returned from surviving the infection itself. There seems to be a bit more distancing sociability going on, but following speech filtered through masks is tough—you don’t realize how much of speech interpretation is visual, especially with hearing aids.

The weather continues cool and inhospitable and so no one is yet out on the patio.

Here is an example of the current tonsorial state:

Img_1756
Bill

The doubling time continues to increase having now reached thirty-one days.  At last post it seemed to me that the total infections might reach four-million by July. If the current count doubles two more times from now—each in thirty-days: to July 11th—it will indeed have exceeded four-million by then.
It is hard to know which course of action will win out. The country in general seems to favor social distancing, but Trump’s “open the economy now” scenario may gain enough strength to cancel the effects of general distancing. We will know the answer by the end of June; watch the doubling time.
OWD 5-11

Here is the logarithmic plot:
OWD 5-11L

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 8: Friday, May 1, 2020
Hi All:

Yet again the City of Cambridge has come through with continuing concern for its citizens. As of Wednesday (4/29) all Cantabrigians are required to be masked when on the street. What an opportunity for lovers of intrigue!

Here is a link to Youville’s April 27 update.

And again links to neighboring facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

AuCordonBleu
Au Cordon Bleu in my kitchenette

At mealtime a knock on the door precedes the appearance–in the kitchenette–of a plastic shopping bag:

Gloves on!

Soup: In paper container; pour into coffee cup; microwave (30sec on high); container back in bag.
Entree: In plastic doggie-box; transfer to dinner plate; nuke as required; container back in bag.
Coffee: In paper cup; transfer to coffee mug; paper cup to trash.
Shopping bag: Finis! Out the door.

Gloves off!

Banana: Wash with soap.
Milk carton: Wash with soap.

Bon appétit! (keeping Châtelaine at bay the while!)

Sewed two more masks to pass some time. Always hoping not to break the thread. Threading the needle is an exercise–almost–of geezer impossibility. And invokes speaking sternly to the machine.

The family has made two forays into Zoom world with mixed results, owing to having to patch video and audio in from my cell phone–my PC/monitor (for the purposes of viewing the Gallery) having no camera or microphone. Lots of talk-over and frantic waving.

I spend time on Twitter watching the cats and baby elephants go by; marveling at the examples of Why Women Live Longer Than Men–it’s akin to the Darwin Award; and pleading with the @NYTimes to give up its sloppy, Trumpy ways. If you’re on Twitter you should be following @EricBoehlert’s new presence at PressRun.media, as he holds the feet of the wayward Press to the fire.

For history buffs here is an excellent timeline of the pandemic of 1918-1919–the similarities are sobering.

What’s worrisome now is the occurrence then of three infection peaks of which the second was the worst. The end of World War I enabled a resurgence of influenza as people celebrated Armistice Day on November 11 and soldiers begin to demobilize.

In 1918-19 my father was stationed in France with the AEF. But on November 14, 1918 his father (my grandfather)—botanist and mycologist George Francis Atkinson—died of that second peak of flu while on a mushroom specimen gathering expedition near Mt. Rainier. (It is my impression that my father was given leave to attend the funeral in Raisinville, Michigan—which would have meant at least a month’s absence from his unit in France.)

Also near the second peak in New York City, on November 16, 1918 my mother boarded a steamer for France to spend a year working with the YMCA running a soldier’s canteen, and then with the Red Cross in reconstruction in the war-torn Champagne region.

Fortunately both Elsie Church and Kerr Atkinson spent the winter of 1919 in different rural regions of France where the virus never penetrated.

What to say about the current Covid-19 crisis? The national doubling time is now about 25 days and increasing 😃. But out in Trumpworld the dynamics may turn out be dramatically different. On that path, I’m reluctant to think, the doubling time could decrease again; the national case total then approaching four million by July. We’ll see.

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch.”–Keillor
XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 7: Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested all of us a second time, this time including an antibody test. I have tested negative.

Today Youville House has issued its latest official update of April 21.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had a segment on the independence–from Trump–of some savvy smaller U.S. cities. I’m trying to encourage her to do one on our own super Cambridge.

Youville has built a transparent barrier around the welcome desk to protect the receptionist.

Our isolation from one another is virtually complete. We are encouraged not to visit.
The meals staff has changed from rigid trays to plastic bags; perhaps considered safer because disposable.

If I may dabble in simile I can say that the efforts of our staff are Herculean. Day in, day out–while the rest of us loaf (ha, ha) in our rooms.

April has been unusually cold and wet (snow recently) so we’re looking forward to the first seventy degree day for sitting outside.

I’m reading that practicing strong breathing, through breathing exercise, may have a positive influence on covid-19 outcomes. April is my third anniversary here at Youville and I am blessed to have an apartment on the same floor as the exercise machines, one of which is easy to use for arms and legs. The Internet lately (for a couple of years maybe) has promoted the idea that short, intensive workouts may, in the long run, be more generally beneficial than longer, less strenuous ones. And, since I dislike exercising as much as the next guy, this seemed worth trying. I set the machines’s stiffness to the maximum (15), maintaining a pace of more than seventy strokes-per-minute for seven minutes*–I do the last ten seconds at 80spm. This is enough completely to exhaust me, breathing so hard I can’t talk, but I feel that it has had a salutary effect on my lung capacity. I’ve been doing this every day now for three years.
*Once around the machine’s “quarter-mile” track.

But not everyone here is as fortunate as I am. Those already with heart conditions and compromised lungs can’t take advantage of this idea.

I have friends in retirement communities in Needham, at North Hill and in Lexington, at Brookhaven, each of who are reporting covid-19 cases.

OWD 4-21
The doubling time has increased significantly from six to eleven days, but bear in mind that the testing under Trump as been an abysmal failure and that the unknown number of actual cases is many times the published figure. And that, owing to the recalcitrance of some GOP state governors, the doubling time may shorten again as their new cases flood the record.

And so–hang in there.
XX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 6: Saturday, April 11, 2020
Hi All:
Big news! The City of Cambridge has arranged for every inmate of a nursing home or a retirement community to be tested for covid-19. In fact, two burly fellows in full PPE have just left me after having stuck a long thin swab up my nose.
There is no information yet as to the availability of the results.
Note (4/11): I have since found out that there were not enough test kits to include the Youville staff; and that these additional tests are expected to be available on Monday.

Now everyone here is masked. It began with staff and, just a day or so ago, expanded to everybody.

Masks2
My mask effort

Earlier I had made a mask on a corrugated pattern but it was awkward to make on my sewing machine and was made of some old napkins I had which are too “see light thru” to be of much use.I found a simple mask pattern on-line which used two layers: tight weave cotton bandana outside and cut up fleecy long johns inside. No light see-through the two layers. They look good but are only OK as the fit is not the best and I couldn’t find anything good for the ear loops.

Well, it killed a couple of days anyway.

All Youville all social programs have been cancelled. Staff roams the halls wiping door handles, delivering meals, and checking in on us. They work hard and I hope they will be safe.

My friends at North Hill, a retirement community in Needham, MA, tell me of similar restrictions.

Occasionally the Internet has slowed into uselessness. This was true on Sunday.  At first I accused my browser but it was confirmed by my granddaughter in SF. Everybody is WFH, watching YouTube, Zooming, and taking university classes on-line.
It’s been much better since Monday.

I don’t walk well enough to take advantage of the coming nice weather outdoors.

On a political note everyone seems to be blaming Trump for this. This is all very well as a proximate stance, but misses the main point: The true failure is that of our Senate who have the power, if not the will, overnight to alter our calamitous course.

It is time to see what my eight doublings (since March 20) have wrought.

OWD 4-11
Instead of  64 million we have only 0.5 million.
This is because the case doubling time has increased significantly–a very good thing–and indicative of the efficacy of  social distancing which in no way should be relaxed or ended for many, many weeks.

Love,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 5: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Hi All:
The only significant change here at Youville is that our kitchen staff is now fully masked and gloved when in the common spaces distributing and retrieving trays.
The onus on gathering menu preferences has been transferred from staff to us; a huge relief for them I am sure.People seem pretty upbeat and are putting a brave face on things, although I see so few to talk to day-to-day that this may be a misconception.
While keeping our distance we are free to move about in the building and to step outside for “air” or to walk.However dire the prospect overall there are this week some inchoate signs of change.OWD 4-1
My guess for April 1, Wednesday (250,000 U.S. cases) was too high; we’ll have to wait all the way to Saturday for that.

Img_1734
Obligatory cat pic: Châtelaine

Since March 21 the case doubling time has increased (a good thing) from two days to almost five but there is nothing strong to indicate that this trend will continue.

Since, in fact, the total number of cases in the U.S. is much, much larger than this, and is essentially unknowable owing to the national failure in testing ability, we may actually know almost nothing about the future actual doubling times.

Love,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 4: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Hi All:

As you see I have transferred this post from email to my website.

Youville has closed its hair salon, a good move, so that all the men now can look like Einstein, and the women like Raquel Welch.

The food stays really good; last night: kudos to the Chef for his medallions of pork.
New plastic dinner trays have replaced the papier mâché. I think this is a good plan; much easier to wash, wipe, and to keep clean.

And they’ve just marked the floor at Reception so that we can’t lean in too closely to the person at the desk.
Meds are still available from Skendarian, the local connection, and we have hard working Connie who is our driver and does our shopping–stuff we need as for pets and the outer man.

We see almost nothing of one another these days, except maybe in the exercise room where some gravitate to the machines–which are now provided with alcohol wipes.

I’m fortunate in having access to the world through my computer; I can’t imagine such solitary confinement without it. Many here were born too soon to become part of the computer age and must be content without it.

We seem largely to be hopeful here inside although outside things are not looking much better:

My 64,000* U.S. infections guess of the last post for the 25th was not met so that there is, as yet, faint hope that the country’s case load has begun to slow, in spite of the fact that the nation has not yet done as much as it should to slow the rise. It is painful to accept that there are, in fact, hugely more U.S. infections than today’s published number indicates owing to the lack of testing and the irresponsibly slow response of our Government.

*By the evening of the 25th the number was 64,000.

QWD 3-25

You can see that the doubling time has slowed from two to three days and, if this trend continues, that in six days there will be two more doublings to 110,000 cases. We can hope by then that the doubling time has lengthened still further, a good thing.

For the more scientific of you here is the semi-log(arithm) plot in which equal doubling intevals plot as a straight line, the slope (steepness) of which indicates the doubling time. My own feeling is that this conveys less well to the layman the truly alarming nature of the growth rate.
QWD 3-25 Log

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch”

Love,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 3: Friday, March 20, 2020

Hi All:
Things are stabilizing here at my assisted living facility in Cambridge, Mass. People are getting used to the draconian lockdown derangements. We are already pretty much restricted to our digs. Outside visitor ban; even the U.S. mailman is denied entry. All staff and aides are queried and have their temperature taken at the door. Compulsive hand washing [wringing?] abounds.

Social programs have been cancelled and the dining facilities closed. A system of delivering meals to the apartments—initially a bit chaotic— is smoothing out.

Very few of us now are out and about in the public spaces. We miss talking to people. Only one person at a time is permitted in the elevators. Basically I’m just plunked here at my computer.
The staff is knocking itself out to help us and to ease the following of the rules. For them this is a dedicated and dangerous business because they themselves have no way properly to do in-house self-isolation.
Theoretically we seem pretty safe here, but it’s early days and the prognosis for us and the U.S. is not good.
I think many have not really grasped the vastness of this crisis. Few seem to understand the exponential growth function. Especially not the psychopath Trump, his feckless enablers in the GOP, or the Nation at large.
The latest yesterday from Rachel Maddow at MSNBC:
Covid-19 Update 3
With a bit of extrapolation: Today 14,000 cases. The case doubling time seems now to be about 2.2 days. Probably owing to the hordes of the unidentified infected among us.

This is much faster than estimated as recently as a week ago. Originally 9 days.

By April 1 (10 days) four doublings, 250,000 cases.
By April 11, four more doublings: 4 million cases (1% of US population).
By April 21: four more doublings: 64 million (18% of US population). If at 3%, 200,000 dead. Four times the US 50,000 of the 1918 pandemic [in which my grandfather George Francis Atkinson–a prominent mycologist and botanist–died at age 64].
You don’t want even to think about May.
We are still essentially without testing and will be for many weeks; flying blind. Hard to imagine a more colossal (Presidential cum GOP) failure, but there it is.
Let’s see what the case number is on March 25th, five days from now.
Two doublings, to 64,000, would confirm this particular prediction. We may then be able to see whether our one week old (and only partial) national isolation mandate is having an effect.
At least I don’t have to worry about my taxes.
I can’t tell you how weird and unsettling this all seems.
Call me alarmist. I don’t mind.
XX,
Dad (Bill)

 



Update 2: Thursday, March 19, 2020

Hi All:
OK. yesterday, the house instituted a new rule: Only one in an elevator at one time. I thought it would be chaos, but no, our lockdown has sufficiently reduced local circulation so it’s not a problem. The Feds have banned postal personnel from entering the building so staff is now laboriously sorting mail into our cubbies.
Chatelaine
Chatelaine: mistress of the castle (foreground) Irving Porter Church: my grandfather (background)

Cat company is good, but with its hazards. Food delivery to the apt. has proved a boon to Châtelaine and a problem for me. She is aggressively into everything that arrives through the door; I have to fight her off.

On leaving a recent long-scheduled Doctor appointment at Tufts Boston, the receptionist said that I needed another appointment.
  “In six weeks.
      “In six weeks? Are you kidding?
  “No. A bone scan in six weeks.
The woman at the next station caught my eye; she was appalled. She knew.
  “Don’t you realize,” I said, “that in six weeks the US medical system will be on the verge of collapse?”
Blank stare.
I wished them both well and shuffled on home.
Covid-19 Update 2
I can spend the next few days doing taxes. At least something to do.
Love to all,
Dad

 


Update 1: Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hi All:

I’m surprised and impressed with my assisted living facility. Now for the past week no visitors to residents from outside; staff and outside support personnel temperatures taken on arrival.

Today they eliminated all group activity and closed the common dining facility. All meals to be ordered in writing and delivered to individual apts. Worrisome only if paper plates, utensils, cups are not handled carefully. They’re starting out with the usual hot meals.

But I imagine it will morph gradually into cold and packaged food only (cereal, canned stuff, milk, juice, etc.). We all have small fridges and microwave ovens.  It seems a bit ad hoc and chaotic today but I think they’ll get the hang of it soon.

It will be interesting to see how the “one person in the elevator at a time” rule works out. I’m still able to negotiate my two flights of stairs–but slowly.

I have a new and friendly shelter kitty cat (Châtelaine by name–the mistress of the castle).

We’re all looking forward to its being warm enough to use the patio.

Alas, it will be unseasonably soon; a harbinger of our other existential crisis.

As Garrison Keillor was wont to say: “Be well. Do good work. And stay in touch.”

XX,

Dad (GPBill, Bill)

-o0|0o-

Elsie S. Church, 2000, Steps Retraced

Eglise St. Hippolyte, Bay-sur-Aube

A Weekend in Eastern France: 21-23 July, 2000
A revisit to the sites described by my mother Elsie S. Church in her journal and letters of 1918-1919: En Voyage, Bay-sur-Aube, Intervalle, and Nanteuille-la-Fosse

Friday, July 21, 2000

From Paris I set out for Bay-sur-Aube in the cool morning air early on a Friday in our small and “friendful” rented Peugeot accompanied by my new friend parisienne Catherine Lion-Meric, as navigateur.  After a hesitant start at the Pte. de Clignancourt we attained the peripherique interieur and rocketed east and south toward the exit for Dijon—the electronic panels overhead announcing the route ahead to be “toujours FLUIDE”.

I had written to Bay in June in the hope of having some advanced help in finding things there as I had no photos of Bay, my mother having not received a camera from home until June of 1919 in Paris.  The mayor had answered me (by e-mail) and Catherine had confirmed by phone that we were to meet in Bay at ten.

Through Langres, off the A-31, then turning north at Auberive we came into Bay and turned left over a small stone bridge to see a couple of boys.  We asked the way to the mairie.  They pointed ahead and there on the sidewalk in the dappled sunlight stood five men obviously in casual attendance upon our arrival.  We were greeted by M. le maire, Henri Lodiot, who introduced us to M. Edgar Cudel (Bay historian), M. Rene Rousselet (village doyen, 86), Mr. Sebastian Price (Englishman, owner of the Chateau), and M. Jean Royer (a local genealogist).  All were gracious and obviously delighted to meet us.  They ushered us into the one cavernous village schoolroom in the back of the mairie where we sat at a huge wooden table and talked for two hours.

00072108_BayGroupRousselet, a contemporary of Cécile Mongin, remembered her and the family with whom Elsie had beeen billeted; we were later shown the house where she had a room on the second floor and where the Orderly Room had been on the ground floor. He remembered the (Co. F) cook who was wont to chase the kids away when they gathered around looking hopefully for handouts.  M. Royer had sought out that Cécile had died a few years previously in Marseilles at the age of eighty-one.  When shown some of Elsie’s photos taken at Le Bourget M. Cudel revealed his interest in antique airplanes and so I gave him my copies of the pictures. He had been a navigator in the French air force.

We gave them, too, a copy of Elsie’s letters and journal whereupon the Englishman offered to translate it into French for use by M. Cudel in his plans for a Bay historical retrospective to be held in the summer of 2001— and to which he invited us.

At noon the mayor had to leave for another appointment but before he left glasses appeared, a bottle of champagne, and a basket of pink frosted champagne biscuits.  We toasted Elsie and the AEF and some others and stepped out into the sunlight for a round of photos in the courtyard.

00072111_BsA_CudelHouseAt once it became clear that we were to stay for déjuner at the home of M. Cudel.  His house sat above the now disused lavarie in the square on a steep open street with a view of the town amid terraces of plants and beautiful flowers.  His wife Janine had prepared a lovely gourmet lunch in the French style:  pineapple with homemade mayonnaise, red wine, a delicious pork dish with fruit and cheese, followed by a lemon sorbet scooped in the center to accommodate a small pool of triple-sec.

We were then taken on an auto tour of the high ground above Bay with views toward Vitry across the valley of the Aube.  We saw the traces of a Roman road, the village of Germaines, and ended above Bay at the ancient Roman church.  Along the way Mr. Price revealed to us that above the town runs a straight “magnetic” line having tangible effects upon people in the region.  He cited as proof of the magnetic theory a “line” many miles long in England discovered when it was realized that all the churches lying on it were dedicated to St. Mark.  Catherine and I gradually came to the conclusion that Mr. Price was somewhat of an otherworldly visionary.

In the churchyard at Bay a majestic lime tree stands planted, they told us, along with others in churchyards all over France, to commemorate the Edict of Nantes.  Mr. Price expounded upon how, on a certain day of the year, the sun at its rising, shines through a narrow opening above the altar of the church casting a light exactly in the center of (or at least upon some spot of significance on) the opposite wall; the implication being that the church had been originally and mystically oriented toward this end.  Catherine and I accepted these revelations as colorful if somewhat fanciful.

1921_BayElsie'sHutM. Royer showed us the field immediately adjacent to the churchyard where Elsie’s “hut” had once stood [1]. The hut had been razed many decades earlier but we all convinced ourselves that we could find, in the churchyard wall, the spot where the doughboys had temporarily “liberated” stones for Elsie’s cheminée only to have had to replace them at the behest of an irate mayor.

Mr. Price took us on a brief tour of the Chateau.  His quick reading of the journal in the morning had led him to believe that Elsie had described an evening spent there but, in rereading her words, I think the chateau she described was not in Bay but in Germaines or in Aulnay nearby.

Promises were made to exchange photos and to stay in touch at least until the next summer.

M. Cudel drove us the three kilometers to Vitry. I wanted to walk back to Bay by the road that Elsie had so often taken after her visits to Juliette Whiton.  In Vitry Edgar made a few inquiries aimed at finding where Juliette had been stationed and billeted but there was no one old enough to make the eighty-one year connection.

France2000019Edgar left us.  We walked back to Bay along the side of the hill overlooking the valley of the Aube in the early evening sunlight— in France in July it stays light until eleven.  The valley was green and beautiful and of course I thought of my mother on this same walk so long ago.  We then came back into Bay and took our leave in the car; back through Auberive (literally, Aube riverbank) and on to Troyes where we had a Youth Hostel reservation.

Catherine had made a reservation at an andouillette specialty restaurant where we had a pleasant dinner.  Andouillette is akin to tripe and is, in fact, a tripe sausage famously favored in the Troyes region.  Catherine suggested that I might not like it and suggested I try something else, which I did.  I tasted hers and remained doubtful about whether it really could have been to my liking.

Outside the hostel we searched in vain for a comet that I had heard about.

Saturday, July 22, 2000

Catherine had not seen much of eastern France and we both remarked the “big-sky” flatness of the region we traversed between Troyes and the valley of the Marne.  We were on our way north to Hautvillers in the Champagne region armed this time with some photographs that Elsie had taken in the summer and fall of 1919 during her time in Nanteuille-la-Fosse with the Brits of the American Red Cross.

00072217_BsA_ClmBouquet
Catherine and Mme. Boquet

We had a picture of Mme. Legal and her son Leandre taken in front of an iron gate in Hautvillers, a town of about five-hundred houses; we hoped to find the gate.  After having drawn a blank at the tourist acceuil, although there were very few people out and about, we began accosting souls in the street to show them the photo.  A man said “Je ne sais pas, mais Mme. Boquet saura“.  The Mme. was called from her gate, threw open her casement above, and a minute later descended into her court— she is the sole and aging owner, we were told, of La Cave Dom Perignon.  “Ah. Je crois que c’est par la“, and we followed her around a corner.  “Voila“, she said.  But no; similar gate and details (a local founder undoubtedly made all the gates in the region and put upon them his mark) but not right.  “Alors, par ici” and we followed her around another corner but, again, not the one.  While the three puzzled in the street I found a young man, showed him the picture and he said, “Suivez moi“.  He led me down through steep back courts, pigs and geese scattering as we went, emerged on a lower street, walked down a couple of doors, pointed, and said, “C’est la“.  And he was right.

It was lots of fun.  We took photos. The lady of the house came out and now, of course, we had to send her a copy of the pictures too.

After déjuner at a nice restaurant we drove along the Marne through the vinyards and then north to the high ground of the Montagne de Reims and to the village of Nanteuille-la-Fosse (now la-Forêt) where Elsie had lived and worked during the summer and fall with the British Quaker ladies of the American Red Cross.

We wanted to find the house for which we had a picture of the courtyard containing a military truck and of a circular pool in the backyard as well as some others around the town.  After a disappointing hour or so of wandering around (the streets were empty) peering at the pictures we found a young man mowing his side yard.  He cut his mower and we showed him the photos one after another: “Pas a Nanteuille. Pas a Nanteuille. Pas…“.  We began to think we were in the wrong town.  Then:

Mais, Mme. Trinquart saura, parceque son marie ramasse les cartes postales anciennes de la ville.”  So, next door, the bell was pulled, Mme. came out into her court and let us in.  She looked at the picture, spread her gaze and her arms expansively and said, “Mais oui.  C’est ici!”  And sure enough, of hundreds of houses in the village, we happened by chance to be standing in the very courtyard we sought [2].

She led us through her house and there, in the back, was the little circular pool of Elsie’s photo, filled with grass and no longer “reflecting the mood of the sky above”.  We found the site of several of the other pictures, too, and one man (a M. Marcoup) asked me to send him a copy of the old photo of his street.

At Verzy that evening we visited Les Arbres Faux (a disappointment) and stayed at the hostel there.

Sunday, July 23, 2000

I had hoped to follow parts of Elsie’s battlefield tour but Catherine didn’t have much interest in that.  So we drove to Reims in the morning and got her a ticket to Paris and then spent the time until her train visiting the Cathedral.  I dropped her off at the station and headed off for the WWI front to the east, eventually reaching as far as Fort Douaumont at Verdun.

I had a couple of pictures.  One of the village of Forges— completely razed by battle.  And one of a wrecked house by the road.  There was one that I didn’t actually have with me but was pretty sure had been taken at Vauquois (Elsie’s “Split Hill”).

In the Argonne forest, after having visited a massive and sombre French monument and having revisited the Crown Prince’s Dugout [3], I parked by the side of the road more or less at random in an isolated stretch and walked into the forest.  All of the trees are the same size— eighty-two years old.  I hadn’t walked thirty meters before I came to a decaying battlefield trench deep over my head and zig-zagging off into the forest in each direction.  Ten or twenty meters farther on there was another one.  As far as the forest would permit a vista the “level” ground above the trenches was scalloped on a scale of three to six meters into an endless sea of huge “waves” each about one meter from trough to crest— the ancient shell holes now overgrown with low brush and trees.  My father, Kerr Atkinson, saw service in this region in 1918, but nearer to Grand Pré and Thiaucourt.

I passed through Varennes where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were arrested and returned to Paris after their attempted escape during the Revolution.

1919 ForgesAt Vauquois I told the Mme. at the visitor center I had a picture taken in 1919.  She wanted me to send it (and I later did.  She says it’s on display there now).  At Forges I drove through town from the direction of the former Cumières and then turned around having passed a group of gay people sitting at tables. I asked if it was a restaurant and  they said no but beckoned me over anyhow.  I showed them the photo of Forges and they passed it all around amazed— for it showed not a brick or stone standing; nothing but a hand-painted road sign indicating the center of town.  They offered me a beer and I stayed for a while to chat.

I stopped for a minute at Le Mort Homme, finding trenches in the forest there as well, and then went on to Verdun and Fort Douaumont where the massive iron view-ports and gun turrets are slowly rusting away on the crest of the fortification.  I looked for my mother’s “queer little narrow-gauge railway” but didn’t have time really to search it out— if, indeed, it still exists.

From Verdun I went on to the A-4 to Verzy again where the hostel lady was upset that I was too late for dinner for which I had made a reservation.  The next morning I briefly revisited Nanteuille and Hautvillers  on my way back to Paris to meet Catherine for dinner at her bureau in the rue Le Courbe.


[1] Elsie revisited Bay on her honeymoon in August of 1921 and took a photograph of the church with her “hut” on the right in the foreground.  She noted at that time: “… my hut is still there, ivy and all.”

[2] I have to wonder about this “chance”.  Upon returning home to Weston I found later some further photographs taken by my mother when we were in France in 1939 as a family when I was fourteen.  I have a diary entry for July 23rd in which I note that we “saw… the house [in Hautvillers] where she stayed”.  However, one of the 1939 photo’s is of the same courtyard in Nanteuille leading me to know that I had actually seen the house myself sixty-one years ago.  I have no recollection whatever of this particular visit but I have to wonder whether something other than chance urged me to stop next door to that particular house to query a young man mowing his side yard.

[3] There is a photo of Holley and me taken at this dugout in 1939.


William C. Atkinson, Weston, MA, 10/23/00


 

Elsie 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.

-o0|0o-

Chapter Four
Nanteuil-la-Fosse [1]

 -o0|0o-

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 Nanteuil-la-Foret. Fosse means ditch or pit in French.

-o0|0o-

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.

-o0|0o-

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.

-o0|0o-

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.

-o0|0o-

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.

1919_NLaF_Trees
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.

-o0|0o-

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.


 

Elsie S. Church, France 1919, Chapter 3, Intervalle

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.
                                                                            -o0|0o-

Chapter Three
Intervalle: Valdehon, Battlefield Tour, Paris (flying!)

19061506_LeBourget
Le Bourget

A.P.O. 704
Le Valdahon, April 6 1919

Dear Family:

I am certainly living under changed conditions.  I no longer inhabit a cold upstairs room with a high French bed and a boar-skin rug.  I am living in a barracks called the “Women’s Annex” which is built of homely boards within and without and resembles a bath house as much as anything.  The rooms are very comfortable with army cots and blankets and I have a mirror that I can see my neck in for a change.  I certainly do miss the local color afforded by life in a French family and, if it weren’t for the fact that a French madame takes care of our rooms and comes in to build my fire for me every morning, I would have no occasion to talk French any more at all.

I wish I could describe this camp to you.  It used to be a French artillery school and has now been turned over to the Americans.  Various artillery outfits come in here for practice with the guns and they send for infantry regiments to practice with them.  Various divisions are represented and there are many different insignia to keep straight.  I don’t know how many thousand men are here; and the place is simply teeming with officers.  Some of them belong to the outfits and some of them are here at the school.  The place is like any camp—rows of uninteresting looking barracks, stables, kitchens, etc.  They say there are some wonderful saddle horses so my equestrian education may have a chance to be continued.

As for how I happen to be here of course you know.  The 2nd Battalion considered me part of their “Lares and Peanuts”, as Dr. Davidson says, and wrote to Mrs. Cottle in Chaumont to see if I couldn’t be transferred when they moved away from Bay.  At first it seemed impossible, especially when the M.G. Co. was going to move into Bay.  So I stayed on in my little Hut on the hill and gradually, after the first strangeness, began to like the men in the Machine Gun outfit.  Anyway, I was getting along very well and liking it as usual, and had given up all idea of rejoining the Battalion when, like a bolt from the blue, I got my orders from the “Y” to proceed to Chaumont and Valdahon.  They sent down a Miss Neville from Colorado to take my place in the Hut at Bay [1].  She came on Monday, and as I didn’t leave ‘til Wednesday we had a very nice time together.  I wish you could have seen my chess mate when he found I was going.  We had such fun playing together and the last day while I was straightening around in the Hut he kept begging me to play him a farewell game.  So we each won one, and played off the rubber at 10:30 in the evening.

I got off Wednesday morning, trunk, duffel bag, and all.  Juliette went with me to do some shopping in Chaumont.  We traveled 60 miles in a Ford truck, bumping around on top of the trunk.  Chaumont is a most interesting place.  Of course, you know G.H.Q. is there and we passed Gen. Pershing’s chateau, and saw so many black-and-gold braided officers and Cadillac cars and giddy divisional insignia that we were quite bewildered.  We stayed with Mrs. Cottle in a funny little French city house with a rez de chaussee and deux etages.  The poor little madame who rented it [out] was a refugee from the St. Mihiel district and had such a sad, sad tale, and yet not as many imprecations against the sal Boche, as you might expect.

All day Thursday I rushed around getting my transfer papers fixed up, doing some necessary shopping and getting my hair shampooed.  A real shampoo and wave; the first since Versailles.  Thursday afternoon I was on my way to the station to see about my trunk, preparatory to a long and tedious train ride to Besancon, when whom should I meet but Mr. Peacock, the secretary from Valdahon, who had been at a meeting in Chaumont and was on his way to Valdahon the next day.  Wasn’t that luck for you?  He had a Ford car with no one else to take along but me and my trunk and duffel.  I thank the day when I sent home all my extra stuff so I may travel as easily as that.

On Friday morning there was a big event in Chaumont.  Big that is to us country girls, though it is an everyday occurrence at G.H.Q.  Field Marshal Haig was to arrive in town on the 9:15 train from Paris, and Gen.  Pershing was to meet him at the station.  So down we piled and the girl we were visiting, being a great friend of the M.P.’s [2], we got a fine place of observation.  The drum corps and guard were lined up on one side of the road leading to the station and on the other was a straight row of M.P.’s. Pershing’s car rolled up amid much ceremony and soon the train whistled.  After it had come into the station and the Marshal and his escort were ready to march up the street, the band swung their horns into the air and blew a very impressive welcome.  Presently out they came.  Pershing and Haig and behind them another imposing American dignitary and Gen. Lawrence of the British Army.  They were splendid looking, all of them, and I sure was proud to be an American and have the privilege of being so near our great General.  I wish you could have seen the guard as they passed.  Absolutely frozen to attention, without a muscle moving, those fine American soldiers made one solid, motionless line.

Well, after that excitement, I beat it for “Y” headquarters, Mr.  Peacock joined me in a few minutes and we started our 150 mile ride southeastward.  The trip was wonderful.  We saw so many interesting sights such as German prisoners and French Colonial troops and a dog-cart and a queer craft pulled by a team consisting of a donkey and a camel; and a Dodge truck straddled across the ditch with its nose in a tree and three wheels off—whose driver, after having recovered from the shock of a broken steering rod, we fed cream puffs; and oh, I can’t tell you in one breath.  We arrived in Besancon about 4:30.  It is a wonderful city, resting in a great elbow of the Doubs River and surrounded on three sides by great hills.  On the tops of the hills are Roman fortifications, in fact, Besancon was Caesar’s citadel when he was conquesting Gaul.  You can read about it, I believe, in the 48th book of Caesar’s “Gaul”.  At Besancon I ran into one of the Co. F men who is now driving a truck and he brought me on out to camp that night, trunk and all.

So now I have a different job—all under canteen work and yet I am still with the 2nd Battalion.  There are three other girls here, one a Mary Crissman, a Kappa [3] from Minnesota, who is a perfect dear.  We are going to have an awfully good time together, I am sure.  She and I are in the big Hut with Miss Pretlow, an older woman, and Miss Locker is in the officer’s Hut.

One thing I do miss and that is the homey atmosphere of my little Hut in Bay.  The one here is so huge and rather hard to make homelike.  To be sure there are about 2,000 men to serve and that makes a big difference.  In the afternoons and early evenings we serve chocolate and cakes and the rest of the time we are with the men, just as it was in Bay.  There are more regular hours, however, and in a way I have more time to myself; from 1 to 3 P.M. is practically my own.

I took a walk this afternoon and potted a lot of daffodils and brought them back to the Hut.  Imagine daffodils just growing wild in quantities all through the woods!  And among them, the most adorable little blue flowers like stars.  Am sending you some of the blue flowers and others.  The woods are a wealth of them now.  They come up under the snow for the ground is higher here and it is still cold for April.

Love,

Elsie

[1] 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’ of roman church and “Hut”.
[2] Military Police.
[3] Kappa Alpha Theta; my mother’s affiliation at Cornell.
[4] It was at Valdehon that Elsie met Joy Hawley who became one of
her closest friends in life.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 704
Le Valdahon, April 14 1919

Dear Family:

My minutes for letter writing seem to get fewer and fewer.  At present I am taking the noon hour since I had a very late breakfast with Sandy Crews in the company kitchen and am not hungry.

I just received letter 14 with all its clippings and things of interest.  You don’t know how I enjoy them.  The letter was sent direct from Paris and didn’t have to be forwarded from A.P.O. 777 [1].  On the whole it is better to send them to Paris if I am going to be on the move continually.  We hear now that the 6th [Division] is on the move to Allemande.  If I had stayed on a week longer I might be on my way too.  Of course that may be the usual army rumor, since Bn. H.Q. hasn’t an official news as yet.  At present the 2nd Bn. may stay in camp here ‘til June or July and then may be detached and sent home separately.  In that case I shall be S.O.L (simply out of luck) but maybe I can get back to the 6th Division.

This is a great life in the S.O.S. [?].  It’s almost like civilian life as far as activities are concerned.  There are many traveling entertainments and two permanent movie machines so one doesn’t have to tax one’s ingenuity every minute to think of things to amuse the men.  Anyway, it’s very different from living in a town where only one company is stationed.  You really couldn’t reach all the men if you tried.  Mary Crissman and I are in the Hut all day serving chocolate twice and selling cakes, fruit and sandwiches.  That is all we can have now that the army has taken over the canteens.  At present a new plan of decoration is being formulated and the Hut is in a stage of transition.  By the time we get it fixed up they say the camp will be breaking up.

Yesterday I had one of the most beautiful auto trips of my life. Mr.  Peacock, our Division Secretary, let Mary and me have a half a day off and three officers took us on a trip through the valley of the Loue River past Pontarlier on the road to Neuchatel in Switzerland.  Of course when we got to the border [2] we could do nothing but step over the line into a little chocolate shop where we bought beaucoup Swiss milk chocolate.  Of course it was fun to get into Switzerland but the ride up that valley was the gorgeous part of the day.

The Loue River gushes out of the rocks at its source and follows a blue-green course broken by white rapids and dams and bordered by fir trees and nestling villages and busy lumber mills and factories.  But even the factories are built on artistic lines and fit right into the landscape.  The sides of the gorge rise hundreds of feet and the road follows along the top of one cliff so that you can look right down into the water.  The colors were magnificent, gray, red, yellow, brown rocks, green fir trees, budding undergrowth—and in the distance blue and purple hills and peaks.  As we approached the border there was snow in the crannies and the wind was bitter cold.  We also passed through a forest of primeval pine trees as tall and gigantic as the pines in the Palmaghat at Minnewaska.

Just as we came out of this forest into the open, what should dash across the road but a wild boar, big as life.  My, how he could cover the ground on those small hoofs of his!  We were so excited looking on his side of the road that we almost missed a whole flock(?), six of them, on the other side, just beating it for the woods.  One boar led and the other five followed all along in a string.  They are strange looking creatures with their coarse shaggy hair and great thick heads and necks.  I was so excited to think I really saw some after having eaten boar meat and seen their skins and heads on the walls and floors of the French houses.

Another interesting sight was just before we reached Pontarlier.  The road led through a regular canyon and on either peak, commanding the pass both going and coming, stood a great fort or castle built out of native stone and looking like a part of the bluff on which it stood.  The enclosed sketch is supposed to give you a very poor idea of how it looked.  They were grim relics of medieval days, if there ever were any.  It positively thrilled me to see them.  You might almost expect to see a knight riding down the steep road that led up the hillside.  If we had had time we would have gone through them but we were bent on getting to Switzerland.  On the way home we had dinner at a little hotel in Ornans.  French style: potage, omelette a mousseron, petits pois, viande, du pain, gaufres, fromage, etc., each thing almost on a separate plate.  There is a darling lace store there but we were too late to buy anything.  Some day I am going back to get some Cluny lace.  You can also get Rose Point there, I believe.  Wish I knew more about laces.

Well, I must get to work.  Soon I am going to send you some pictures Mary and I had taken on horseback the other day.  I do hope that package comes through all right, and [that] I get my camera.

Loads of love to all,

Elsie

[1] Letters, of course, traveled by ship and delivery from the U.S. to France might take as long as two weeks.  ‘Phone calls were not even an option.
[2] Probably at les Verriers.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 704
Le Valdahon, May ?? 1919

Dear Family:

This will have to be a short letter since for once in my life, I have a chance to go to bed early and nothing will deter me from my fell design.  I have never had such a gay time out of Canteen hours since I came to France.  Every day there is some new and interesting experience before me.  Guess I told you about firing the guns [1] last week, well this week Joy and I were invited to lunch at the Balloon Camp nearby and there we witnessed the launching and landing of the great unwieldy creature which looks like a cross between an elephant and a catfish.  How I would have loved to have gone up—but that is defendu [2] for ladies, even when attached to the A.E.F.

[1] 155mm Howitzers
[2] Forbidden.

-o0|0o-

A.P.O. 704
Le Valdahon, May 16th[?] 1919

Dear Papa:

This is going to be a very scrappy letter. I haven’t had one minute to write or even to sit down.

Everything is much upset here at Camp.  The Artillery School has rec’d orders to go back to the States and already the paraphernalia belonging to the establishment is being shipped away.  The artillery outfits are also moving and the latest is that the 52nd Infantry shall not rejoin its Division but go home toute de suite.  Of course the men are tickled to pieces and I am so glad for them.  You can’t imagine how it breaks the strain of uncertainty and waiting.  They are as happy as kids.  As for what will happen to me that is a different matter.  If the 6th Div. is recalled from the Army of O. [1], which is the present rumor, I will be completely out of a job.  In that case I shall no doubt go with the 2nd Bn. to its port of embarkation and then try and be reassigned.  But Mary [Crissman] has just come down from Chaumont with the news that both “Y” and R.C. [2] workers are being shipped home in great numbers, and unless we can get some place in Germany, we may have to come trailing back to the U.S.A.  So my “year” in France may resolve itself into a 6 month’s sojourn.  Anyhow I can wear one service stripe at least!

So—we live in the present and await developments and my how strenuous that living is!  And to fill in the spaces between the regular duties and good times, I have been having lots of fun with a violin.  It belongs to one of the men in G Co. but he keeps it down at the “Y” and lately I have been using it every day right after lunch.  The man who accompanies me was a music teacher in St. Louis before the War and reads like a streak.  We certainly have had a good time together.  I had the nerve the other day to play in church service and after getting into it once, have been asked to play for various occasions.  It’s a crime to do it when I am so out of practice and add to that the fact that I suffer from my usual attacks of stage fright—but even so I manage to “get away with it” and that’s all that’s necessary in the army.

It certainly is funny what different things you are called upon to do in this work.  Last Sunday morning the men had assembled in the Hut for service and no preacher appeared at all.  So we sang hymns for about 20 min. and then in sauntered one of the “Y” sec’ys and a singer who had given an entertainment the night before.  So I grabbed them and with their aid managed to lead some kind of a service myself.

I have been having such fun with one of the sergeants [3] from the Radio Detachment of the school.  He takes Joy and me down to the radio station and lets us “listen in” on messages being transmitted some from Paris, some from Lyons, New York, Tokio, Berlin—anywhere.  Then they give us the messages so they are all taken down directly on the paper.  They started to kid us about sending a radio graph home, and even got us to write the messages and then faked an answer.  At the rate that cable went, we decided that the wireless message could go clear around the world and catch up with itself and still be ahead of itself.  Joy and I went out on the range again the other day, but this time it was pistol practice, not 155s.  They have promised to give us a ride in one of the Baby tanks before it leaves.  Honestly, the men take so much pleasure in showing us girls things that you’d think that they were here to entertain us and not we them.

Yesterday and today we are making ice-cream at the Hut.  It is a laborious process.  Frank has to go 20 kilos for ice, and then we have to freeze the cream by turning a huge milk can around and around in a [wooden] barrel of ice.  But believe me, these days, it is most too hot for anything else.  I have never been jumped so suddenly from winter into real summer.  Il y a dix jours [4] there was over a foot of snow, and now everyone has a coat of real sunburn from playing base-ball, etc. in the heat.  This morning was so wonderful that Joy, Miss Arnold (another R.C.  girl) and I got up at 5:30 and rode horseback over to the Balloon Camp where we had breakfast out of a mess kit.  Besides the regular slum [5] and oatmeal, they insisted on our having oeufs and, of course, the inevitable jam.  I really don’t blame some of the men for saying they don’t ever want to see jam again.  I am really getting so I love to ride horseback.  Lieut. Waters lets me have his mare most any time and she has a fairly gentle trot and a wonderful canter.  Tonight we are going to ride by moonlight.  The nights have been simply gorgeous all this week.  You can almost see to read by the moonlight over here.

I have been more than busy this last week.  Frank had a chance to go to the Front in a machine and was gone four days, as was Mary who had to go to Chaumont to see about being reassigned.  So I was on the job both day and night.  But I enjoyed it immensely.  There are such nice men in this man’s army.  We had such a time at the Hut this morning!  A Sgt. in the 140th F.A. just got his commission yesterday and today came in as usual only resplendent in a new uniform, a Sam Browne belt and bars.  The men kidded the life out of him saying he should report to the Officer’s “Y” and accused me of having “Sam Browne-itis” (which is the ailment of some “Y” girls) because I was just as nice to him today as I was yesterday!  They hollered “’tenshun” when he entered and he was a rather fussed “Louie II” for a few minutes.

By the way, one of my good friends among the officers is a Lt. Church from N.Y.C.  His family came from the South and his father is now living in California.  We tried to find a bond of relationship somewhere.  His name is Oliver.  See if you can find any track of him in the genealogy book.  He has taken us riding several times and is a very good dancer.  I have about worn out my dancing slippers.  There is an officer’s dance once every week and so far there has been one for a certain group of enlisted men, and then the Band comes to the Hut often and plays for stag dances and, even when we girls can all be there, we are about danced off our feet among the many men.  At present the supply of girls is getting low.  Four nurses left on Sat. for the U.S.A. and the rest of us don’t expect to be here for more than a week anyway.

Later:
The 52nd has just rec’d orders to proceed to Le Mans on their way to a seaport—so my dreams of Germany are all shot.  In a way I envy Juliette Whiton who had a chance to go up through the Front on her way to Treves even though they don’t stay there at all.

Tell Edith: I certainly am glad she sent the violin music.  I have played the little Italian Tre Giorne twice, and it has been quite a success.  It will be great when I get my package.  Yesterday I almost cabled you to hold it, but I imagine we’ll be in France for another two months anyway and the things will come in very handy.

I know there are some questions you want answered but I haven’t your letters at hand and if I don’t send this letter now it will never go.  I almost wish I didn’t live in such a rush but it seems to be my fate wherever I am.

Lots of love,

Elsie

[1] Army of Occupation.
[2] Red Cross.
[3] Sgt. R.A. McGuire
[4] Ten days ago.
[5] Sloppy, non-descript army food.

-o0|0o-

[Note: Readers of Eric Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” will have been given a real understanding of the scenes described in the following letter.

A.P.O. 704
Chaumont, June 9 1919

Dear Family:

This is the letter that I have been waiting to write for so long about our wonderful trip to the Front last week.  We came to Chaumont on Sunday night and were told that a trip started Monday morning in four Ford automobiles and that we stood a good chance of getting one.  So we went over to the transportation office (“we” being Mary Crissman, Joy H.  and myself [sic]) and by dint of jollying and persuasion “managed” a car.

1919 Driver
Our “affable” driver

We started at 10 A.M. Monday with an affable soldier to drive for us, making a very jolly party of four.  We were armed with one blanket and a pillow apiece and beaucoup food, having been told that it would be hard to find places to eat.  It was a gorgeous day, the Ford spun along like a breeze, and we could hardly contain ourselves under such a wonderful combination of circumstances.  We reached St. Dizier in time for lunch which we ate at a little hotel by the roadside.  You can get the most delicious meals in France in sometimes the most out-of-the-way places.

We did not reach the devastated district for a long while.  It was hard to believe that there ever had been a war.  The country seemed to be just smiling and the people in the red-roofed villages seemed all to be happy, despite the fact that there was a great preponderance of black dresses and you saw few, if any, men working in the fields.  [One] thing we noticed several times as we would pass a house, and that was a bunch of flowers or herbs hung from the eaves, usually over the front door.  We learned that that was a notice to the outside world and to possible suitors that there was a marriageable daughter dwelling within!

From St. Dizier we went to Revigny and St. Menehould.  Here signs of the great conflict began.  We plunged suddenly into a road sheltered on our right by a hillside and on our left by what remained of elaborate “camouflage”.  Our first sight of it.  A web of wire, shaggy burlap and dead branches rose for about 12 feet, supported on poles about every 15 feet.  Of course the burlap was faded and the leaves dead but at one time it must have presented to an enemy a front of elusive, quivering underbrush.  And behind it you could imagine all sorts of trucks and ammunition trains and guns winding their way to the place of action.

Soon the country lost its happy, smiling aspect.  The trees looked clipped, there was no cultivated ground, rank weeds grew everywhere and we began to see great shell holes, bare piles of rock, barbed wire entanglements, dug-outs and even the remains of trenches.  We were getting up into the Argonne Forest where the Americans did much heavy fighting.  Piles of ammunition and hand grenades lay by the roadside and here and there were helmets, German and American, an old boot, part of a coat, all the riff-raff left by a fast advancing army.

By this time there were few trees left standing and those that were so battered and torn that nothing remained but their bare distorted trunks.  I could think of nothing but the pictures of the Front I had seen in the New York Times and all the papers last year.  And the graves, with their pitiful little white crosses standing out against the dark scarred earth and stones!  And the little dog-tag tacked to one arm of the cross—all that is left to identify the poor lad who lay down in that awful waste to give up his life for an ideal.

And everywhere poppies and buttercups and daisies and, around the edges of some shell holes, lilies-of-the-valley—as if the tiny flowers were doing their best to cover up the scars of the torn, wounded land.  We even saw some human skulls and bones, and the bones of a great many horses.

The roads by this time had become frightful and we got out and walked a bit over the fields, stumbling on all sorts of gruesome things.  We entered a valley where was lost a battalion of the 77th [Division]—the famous “Lost Battalion”—and stood where many bodies had been buried in a great grave with one cross for them all.  All through the valley the ground was strewn with mess kits, rusty rifles, and bayonets and here and there a doughboy’s coat or a wrap of legging, or a canteen.

It was rather late in the afternoon when we entered that part of the Argonne which was practically “settled” by the Germans under Max Baden, under the misapprehension that they would not be disturbed.  They had been living there four years and the hillside was one mass of dug-outs and cliff dwellings built with every sign of permanence, and with attempts at decoration.  It was on the east side of a great hill and in one spot there were as many a 500 “cliff-dwellings”, some of them extending way back into the hillside.  We entered one through a rustic porch.  Here was a mess room, a bedroom with bunks in it, a living apartment, a rude fireplace or a stone stove whose flues ran upward and opened into the underbrush that covered the ground above one’s head.  Doors opened into black staircases.  We ventured down one flight whose steps and wall were covered with ooze and slime and a deathly chill enfolded us.  By the aid of a candle we descended three more flights, flashing the light into all sorts of subterranean passages and rooms, some of which were lined with bunks; followed long winding passageways, ascended some other stairs and found ourselves in an entirely different “house”—almost half a block away!  It certainly was uncanny.

But the most interesting of all was Max Baden’s own apartments.  The walls of the rooms were covered with paper, one with burlap with a stenciled pattern, and the bathroom had marble walls all cut in a diamond pattern.  There were graveled walks leading to his front door edged with wine bottles stuck, nose down, in the sand, and just below his front porch was a beer garden with a pergola roof.  It was so incongruous here in the midst of the forest, such a sheltered, quiet beautiful spot— like a deserted anthill which had once been teeming with life and activity.

After clambering up the steep paths of this queer village we went through more torn country, over horrible roads which never seemed to phase [sic] the Ford, past deserted dug-outs, mess tables, field kitchens, broken-down trucks, piles of ammunition and general salvage dumps: and rolled into the remains of a town—such a desolate pile of stones with a few deserted army barracks and one “Y” Hut. A “Y” man greeted us saying that the 28th Engineers has just pulled out and that he was going to join them soon.  But we were going to stay all night in Varennes so I thought we should be pushing on.  So when the car stopped and our driver “Pat” started to climb out, we said: “but why don’t we wait until we get to Varennes to stop?”  Why, “This is Varennes”, he said.  That is, all that is left of that once flourishing town where Louis XVI was turned back on his memorable flight from Paris [1].

The next thing to do was to find a place to sleep.  Joy and I went out scouting and found a little cottage-like affair near the barracks of the departed engineers.  It had “belonged” to two corporals and on the door was a sign “to let”.  We immediately decided to lease the house, found there was just room for three beds and so we got Mary and all moved in, bag and baggage.  We took down the names of the corporals on the sign and are going to write them telling how we enjoyed our stay in their house and enclose a picture I took of it the next morning.  We were so sleepy and even the hard wire “springs” of those beds looked good despite the lack of mattresses.  But it wasn’t quite time to turn in yet and in our wanderings through the sad remnants of the town we found the most interesting group of people.  They were refugee workers, their organization being under the American Red Cross, but their personnel was composed of Friends and Mennonites and two charming English women.  They were very hospitable and gave us some real milk (I hadn’t seen milk  that wasn’t in a can for so long [2]) and one of the men, a delightful youth from Pennsylvania, told us where we could get a hot bath!  Joy and I looked at each other and licked our lips.  We thought he was joking, but he led us to a dug-out (similar to the ones in the Argonne Forest) which had been made of cement but the Germans had equipped it with white enamel tubs and showers, and a big boiler to heat the water.  Well, Joy and I went to it.  Imagine! in the most devastated of devastated villages in France, to be able to have a bath in a white enamel tub!  It isn’t exactly table talk but it certainly has furnished conversation to Joy and me, ever since our trip.  On Tuesday morning we left Varennes and rode to “Split Hill” on which once stood the

1919 Vauquois
Vauquois

village of Vauquois [3].  (Possibly you can follow [all] this if you have a good map.)  The hill has been riven absolutely in two by continual shelling, partly by the Boches, partly by the Allies, and is a picture of utter desolation if there ever was one.
As you climb up you pass more dug-outs and tangles of barbed wire and shell holes and the remnants of a “dinky” little railroad line.  In the top, like a great crater, is a shell hole at least 100 feet deep, full of dank, stagnant water.  There was not even one stone or a piece of metal or anything that looked as if human hands had ever built a village on that site.  Yet everywhere you saw the poppies nodding in the breeze and some lovely corn  flowers.  I am enclosing the flowers we collected on our trip; they were the only sweet living things to be found in all that desolation.
From Vauquois to Romagnes the roads were still bad, but improving.  You see they had German prisoners at work “policing up” all that territory for  many months.  We passed squads and  squads of them in their queer green and brown suits and flat green caps.  At Romagnes we had a chance to see the great work that the Grave Registrations Department is doing.  They are gathering in the bodies from the Argonne battlefields and are placing them in a huge cemetery.  They bury 1,000 a day, we heard.  The place was just teeming with labor battalions, both colored and white, fixing up the cemetery for a big service to be held on Memorial Day in which Gen. Pershing was to take part.  We had our lunch there and went on, as there was much to see.

At Montfaucon we saw one of the most interesting sights of the whole trip: the Crown Prince’s Lookout—a solid concrete structure built inside of an innocent looking chateau.  The walls were at least three feet thick, of solid concrete.  Inside were three flights of stairs and in the very tip-top under the cupola of the original building was an observation room with slit-like openings at the height of a man’s eyes which commanded a magnificent view of the country ‘round.  Of course we climbed to the top and as we gazed out over the battlefield from the security of this supposedly bomb-proof shelter, I felt more than I ever had the atmosphere of the “mailed fist” that I used too feel sometimes in reading war books.

1919 Forges
Forges

After leaving Montfaucon we got absolutely lost.  There were few signs along the roads and they seemed to be contradictory.  But it was interesting and we knew that we were going in the general direction of Verdun.  Finally we found ourselves (on the map) at Forges—of which there is nothing left but the road sign and two arches of a ruined church.  From there on we skirted around “Le Mort Homme”, or Dead Man’s Hill where so many thousands lost their lives in 1916.

Here the desolation was indescribable.

There wasn’t a stick or a tree or a flower: just ploughed up earth and stones, yawning shell holes, rubbish, barbed wire and ruined dug-outs.  Once in a while to or three gaunt and shattered trees stood out and remnants of “camouflage” hung from the stumps along the road.  There we saw a pitiful little procession—a peasant woman riding a horse and a man plodding by her side—the only sign of life in that dead countryside.

Arriving at Chatancourt (why our trusty Ford wasn’t knocked to pieces over those shell-torn roads I shall never know) we found some French refugees living in a deserted American barracks.  At the moment we came by, their two children were decorating with flowers the graves of two American soldiers.  They had been dug, along with some French graves, along the roadside.  Getting out to get water, we took a picture of the children, as they bent over the graves.

We arrived in Verdun just at twilight.  I did not expect to find as many houses standing as there were.  Of course there are no complete structures standing, but there were many tottering walls and a few city blocks were very habitable.  We went through the underground citadel where 20,000 reserves could be housed and fed, and had dinner at a hotel to which the concierge had only just returned.  We then looked for a place to sleep, found some “Y” men who said it was absolutely “defendu” to stay there and that we should have to go on.  It was late, however, and, what was more, we wanted to see Fort Douaumont nearby and were not to be deterred from our purpose.  Finally one of the men, a bluff doctor from Kansas City, beckoned to Joy and told her not to worry but to come back to his billet in half an hour and he would fix us up.  So he literally smuggled us into a little back room in his house (the only house in Verdun, by the way, that hadn’t been hit).  So by candlelight we fixed up three bunks with some blankets that he provided for us, in this musty old room that had once been used as a tapestry workshop and whose windows were covered with glazed paper, there being no glass in the city.

It was at Fort Douaumont next morning that we shook off that feeling of depression that the sights of the battlefield had given us and really acted foolish once more.  It was absolutely incongruous and we felt guilty all the time; but we did have such a funny experience!  You approach the fort by walking for a mile along a queer little narrow-gauge railway, up a gradual incline.  We, however, found a little flat-car sitting on the track and had the happy idea of pushing it all the way to the top, in order to ride back on it!  Which we did, taking turns riding while the others pushed.  In fact, we made such good time, and seemed so in earnest about it, that as we approached another little car on the track ahead of us two German prisoners rushed out, grabbed the other car and took it bodily off the track, in order to get it out of our way!

Arriving at the top, we removed our car from the track, left it upside down on the ground, looking very much like a beetle with its feet in the air.  A French poilu took us through the fort.  It is a second Verdun only it can hold more than twice as many men in its underground recesses.  It was taken by the Germans in Feb. 1916 and retaken by the French the following October.  From the depths of the earth we went to the top of the fort and saw the “Tourelles de Canon”, like so many armored helmets, sticking up out of the rock.  We picked [up] many fragments of the German 355mm shells which had practically rained on it for so many weary months.  The top was just one mass of shell holes and shattered rock.  The view of the surrounding country was marvelous.  No trees to be seen—but fields on fields of buttercups again, doing their colorful bit.

The ride down from the fort must certainly have been a funny sight.  “Pat” fixed two brakes by means of stout sticks held against the back wheels of the car through a crack in the top.  The four of us clambered on and off we went.  In fact we presented such a funny sight that half way down the slope we saw a lonely sight-seeing captain waiting for us with his camera all set!

From Verdun to St. Mihiel was the usual succession of dug-outs, trenches and barbed wire.  The roads grew better, the trees less battered, cultivation began again and the houses in the villages, instead of being reduced to ruins, were merely peppered with holes made by machine gun fire and shrapnel.  In fact the country began to smile again and from Toul to Nancy was perfectly enchanting.  The fields stretched out in a pleasing pattern of cultivated, ploughed and grass-covered strips.  Dark, cool forests rose and crowned the hills, deep bells tolled the hour from picturesque church steeples, cow bells jingled, and the Front with all its horror seemed far behind.  At Nancy we went to a lovely hotel where there was music with a delicious dinner and billowy mattresses and nice hot water.  My! how dusty and tired and hot we were!

Next morning we started off again, ate lunch in the car by the roadside, and just at one o’clock chugged into Mirecourt where Joy’s little war orphan lives.

Joy was certainly all a-flutter to see her, and what should greet her but the [sad] news that the Cunin family had left town months ago.  The whole village turned out to see us as if we were curiosities, there having been no Americans in that section.  A neighbor of Joy’s god-child was very nice to us and took us to the house of a friend of the Cunin family; and what should Joy see but a picture of herself on the wall, in a velvet frame.  It was the very one that Joy had sent the child last year and for some reason it had been left with this other family.  Wasn’t that strange? If you could have seen our car, surrounded by eager, curious old women and children, just literally swarming all over the running board, you certainly would have been amused.

From Mirecourt we went to Domremy and saw the birthplace of Jeanne d’Arc, and sat in a cool, sleepy little garden where she is supposed to have seen great visions; and peeked into the quaint little church where she used to worship.  It is all so old-worldly and quiet and untainted.

Thus ended or trip to the Front.  Do you wonder I waited ‘til I had time really to write it up?  Am sending you some postal cards in a package.  The piece of burlap came from the wall of Max Baden’s dug-out in the Argonne.

Lots of love to all,

Elsie

[1] Attempting to escape “incognito” during the French Revolution.
[2] And, reader, how long since you’ve seen milk that hasn’t been commercially packaged?
[3] Vauquois seems not to appear on later detailed maps of the 1930s. I visited this site in the summer of 2000 and was able to send the director of the musee a photo’ that Elsie had taken there.
[4] A French, WWI army private.

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Hotel Roblin
Paris, June 16 1919

Dear Edith:

I don’t know if you have been able to keep up with my many movements, but I am finally back in Paris applying for a discharge from the Y.M.C.A On this side of the water mind you.  Don’t faint.  It’s simply because Joy Hawley and I are transferring over into the Friend’s Society so that we may stay on over and work among the French refugees.  You see, neither of us had served the terms we promised ourselves when we came.  I am willing to spend a year here and this other work will make a much more worthwhile summer than lying around at home, pleasant as that would be.  As far as the work is concerned, we ourselves don’t know a great deal about it except that you visit around among the families who are coming back into the Regions Libere, find out their wants, sell them clothing, household utensils, etc. through “Co-op” stores, and make yourself useful generally.  I think it will be very interesting, We have promised to stay until September anyway, and it might be longer if we are needed.  The Friends will assume my expenses and the responsibility of getting me home and by that time the sailings will be less crowded and things will be better.  I know you have all been expecting me home and in one way I am so homesick I could get on the next boat, but in another I really want to stay on if I can be of use.  After our visit to the stricken villages, and the sight of the work that the Friends were doing, it made us very enthusiastic to stay.  I can give you no further details now, but will send the address on when I’m all transferred and settled.  For the present, 12 Rue d’Agresseau will get me.

Do you know, I only just got the packages when I came to Paris.  Four of them! It was just like Christmas.  The shirtwaists have been a godsend, for it has been very hot in Paris, and I couldn’t stand my high-collared waists.  The magazines I gave away but am hanging on to the music, though everyone laughs at the thought of “Ja-da” in a Quaker settlement!  It’s too bad I couldn’t have arranged for the plays and things sooner when I really needed them in Bay.  Of course, now the Welfare work is practically over and there is little time for such things.  Anyway, it’s perfectly wonderful to have the camera [1].  I’ve been like a child with a new toy.

I have seen a lot of Freddy [2] in Paris.  On Saturday night we dined and went to hear “Louise” at the Opera Comique.  I never thought when I first heard it in Boston that the next time would be in Paris itself.  The very City.  On the way home we met Grace Bird with two officers.  She was looking splendidly.  We could only see her for a few minutes, but I hope to have lunch with her soon.  Last night we heard music in the Gardens of the Tuilleries and walked down to see Notre Dame and the Seine by moonlight.

The chief object of the letter this morning is to introduce you to Joy Hawley.  I am with her now, she is my dearest friend in France and a perfect peach.  She is planning to come to Cornell in the Fall to do special work in English and Psych. and wants a room as she tells you in her letter.  Her credits from Rockford College, Ill., are being transferred, so perhaps she can enter in a real class.  Will you please send to her address here in France “toot sweet” a catalogue of the Arts College 1919-20 and also an illustrated circular of Cornell.  Also, if Papa isn’t doing much and is interested he might look up her record at the Registrar’s office and help her along from that end and get her in the way he did me.  You can imagine how difficult it is to do at such a very great distance!

By the way, have rec’d no Sat. Even. Posts and guess something is wrong.

More later,

Elsie

[1] It is possible this is the Vest Pocket Kodak that I still have— it is like the one that was lost on Everest with George Leigh Mallory in 1924.
[2] Felix Fredericksen.

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Hotel Roblin
Paris, June 18 1919

Dear Edith:

Excuse this pink paper.  I am sitting at the “Y” waiting for my final discharge papers which will make me a free woman.  For a whole day I shall be a civilian in Paris, since I don’t actually sign up with the Friends until tomorrow.  Last night I put on civilian clothes (my voile dress and a hat of Joy’s) and went out to dinner with Lt. Olaf Osnes of the 52nd Infantry.  You can’t imagine how strange you feel out of uniform in the street.  You don’t feel that you can speak to every man you see in khaki, the way you usually can, and when I was introduced to any “Y” girls I always hastened to add that I was one of them animals myself, but didn’t have my uniform on.

It looks now as if Joy and I will be in the field again on Saturday.  We are to go to small towns between Reims and Epernay right in the section of the country that was devastated in the process of the big Soissons drive.  I am sure it is going to be more than worthwhile and there’s no telling how or in what we will live.  Maybe a German dug-out.

19061501_ECA Caudron
Elsie and “her” Caudron

But in the meantime I must tell you what I have been doing in Paris.  Besides relieving myself of beaucoup francs in their perfectly fascinating stores, I have managed to see quite a few of the sights and, from a strange angle for, let me announce to you the fact that on Sunday I was 700 metres above Paris in an aeroplane!  Yep, its the actual truth.  Joy and I were in the Hotel Petrograd for lunch on Saturday and found that there was a French aviatrix who would see that people went up in her plane for the small sum of 60 francs.  She herself didn’t take them up, but her pilot [did], a Capt. in the Escadrille [1]. So—along with four other adventurous souls we went with her to the airfield on Sunday afternoon.  After waiting from 3 until 8 P.M. we all six got separate rides of about 20 min. each.  The only time I was really scared was when they hoisted me up into the little front seat and clamped a seat belt around me.  After the propeller started with a whirr and the machine actually moved I lost all fear entirely and just enjoyed every minute.  You can’t imagine

19061504_LeBourget
Joy Hawley & Caudron (will it fly?)

how wonderful it feels to go soaring over the country, to look down on buildings, fields, roads, trees, gardens and mere mortals stalking around on the ground.  It was a wonderfully clear day and the view of Paris was superb.  We went towards the city and turned around just about over Sacre Coeur.  Underneath us lay the Seine winding along, spanned by bridge after bridge, on the left was the Eiffel Tower, and on the right was the Place de Concorde, The Louvre and all those lovely public buildings near the river.  It was a sight I will never forget.  You had the whole city before you in a mass and at the edges stretched fields which were finally lost in the surrounding hills and they in turn in the haze of the horizon.  The ride was over all too soon, but I would have paid twice the price I think to go.  Joy is about to go on a trip to Brussels with two other people this afternoon in a fighting plane.  The one I went up in was a Caudron.

Have just been talking to Mr. Coleman.  He took me over to look at a picture in a Sunday paper of Mrs. Vernon Castle with four strings in her hand.  On the end of one was a former admirer, and on the ends of the other three were two dogs and Bob Treman [2]! Ithaca certainly is on the map now isn’t it?

I must run along and shop for gray chambray dresses with white collar and cuffs—my future uniform.

More later, Loads of love,

Elsie

[1] The LaFayette Escadrille.
[2] Bob Treman was an Ithaca boy and Cornellian who married Irene Castle the famous stage and film dancer—he built a stone mansion for her on Cayuga Heights road which later became the Sigma Chi fraternity house.

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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 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


Chapter 4 Nanteuil-la-Fosse


 

Elsie 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 [1].  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.

[1] Without a sewing machine.

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…

1918-YMCA Elsie's Dog Tag
ELSIE S. CHURCH ITHACA [YMCA] N.Y. U.S.A. 2BN 52nd INF (Elsie’s dog tag)
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.

-o0|0o-

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”.


Chapter 3 Intervalle
Chapter 4 Nanteuil-la-Fosse


 

Elsie S. Church, France 1918, Chapter 1, En Voyage

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

 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 are transcribed from the handwritten by W. C. Atkinson.

-o0|0o-

Chapter One
En Voyage: New York, France

RMTSS Grampian
RMS Grampian (Allan Line)

Journal:                                    November 26th, 1918 [1]

Here I am, finally on my way to France!  I am on an English boat, the Grampian [of] about 11,000 tons.  At present a calm sea is running and life on shipboard holds out a promise of great peace and enjoyment.

This second attempt to leave the U.S. has been successful.  The first attempt was on last Saturday when I was told that there was a chance that I could find a place on the Orduna, a splendid Cunarder.  So I was put on the “possible” list and Kate VanDuzer was booked for the same ship as a sure thing.  On the strength of this, Kate and I called a taxi at 8:30 A.M. and started on a mad rush from the office to the Customs House where we procured our War Zone passes; to the French Consulate where we parted with $200 and some of our great supply of papers; to the Bank where we spent several moments at the Foreign Exchange window; and finally [to] the boat-landing at least a half hour before the ship was scheduled to leave.

Kate got her stateroom assignment and checked her baggage.  I could not do this, so merely contented myself with tagging my bags with my name, and waiting to hear my fate.  Suddenly I saw some stupid porter taking all my baggage on board regardless of the fact that they were not checked.  This made me a trifle nervous but Mr. Haggerty, the SS agent for the YMCA, was very optimistic and assured me that this mysterious list would soon arrive from the British consulate telling us of available staterooms.  Presently stentorian whistlings and wheezings gave warning that the ship was desirous of leaving.  At this very moment, the purser arrived with the list which announced that there were three vacant berths and, alas, these were to serve the four of us who were on the “possible” list.  This predicament very much resembles the game of “Going to Jerusalem”, one fellow coming out minus a chair.  Mr. Haggerty was desperate and, not wishing to be responsible for keeping one of the four of us at home, announced that there was but one thing to do: draw lots.  So saying, little papers were torn and we four drew; the long piece falling to the lot of your humble servant.  Imagine my feelings!  But since Fate had decreed, there was nothing to do but grin and bear it.

But, as I before said, my baggage was on board ship!  This meant that it simply had to be procured, so the sailing of the Cunard liner was actually held up on my account.  Picture me with Mr. Haggerty clutching one arm, and some other portly dignitary clutching a large chart and my other arm, crossing the gangplank followed by a porter.  It is no easy matter to pick three bags and a trunk out of a melee of other bags and trunks which exactly resemble them.  As a result all but one of my pieces of luggage were recovered, but this one, a shawl-strap containing my steamer rug, blanket and warm underwear was almost as necessary to my comfort as all the others put together.  For a few moments pandemonium reigned and everyone on the ship, I am sure, was conscious of the loss of a certain red-haired canteen worker.  Finally its recovery was given up as a bad job and I was deposited on the dock just in time to see Kate’s face smiling at me as the steamer slipped out of her dock.

I shall never forget that vision and just how it affected me.  But here more trouble arose.  When fumbling in my pocket for change to tip the porter, I suddenly realized that all my money had been changed into foreign currency.  I was obliged to borrow from one of the members of the committee in order to get myself and my remaining possessions back home again.

In the meantime word had been advanced to the baggage master on the steamer to see that my precious shawl-strap was deposited in Liverpool whither I was to be sent on the very next boat in hot pursuit…

The pursuit, however, has begun under thermal conditions which would not exactly be characterized as hot.  Though the weather is calm, there is a sharpness in the air which penetrates all my layers of extra clothing.  Just how I am to fare when the supply becomes exhausted I do not know.  I sadly lack my steamer rug and will be forced to keep moving while on deck and do my sitting within doors.

The officers and crew of the boat are very British.  Our room steward is a little Scots boy who is very solicitous of our comfort.  In a way I should prefer going on a French liner so as to absorb some of the language and atmosphere, but since my luggage has gone to England, the really sensible thing seems to be to follow it up.

P.M.  The afternoon passed in a pleasant manner; most of the passengers being seated in their deck chairs.  Precisely at 4 o’clock the stewards came dashing up with great trays of tea cups steaming in the cold, crisp air.  “Biscuits”, plain crackers to us, were served with the tea and when everyone was finished the same stewards came as quickly and whisked the cups away.  Our dinner was served at 7 o’clock.  I say “our” meaning the “Y” secretaries and women workers, a few men in khaki, the ship’s officers, and a few civilians.  At 6 o’clock the Red Cross contingent have their dinner.  There are several nurses and canteen and social workers.

After dinner, finding no one who cared to pace the deck, I fared forth alone.  I hadn’t been out five minutes before the assistant purser joined me.  He is a fair-haired Britisher with a nice accent and is very nice.  We walked ‘til about nine when I went not up, but down to bed.  My two roommates are feeling pretty punk.  How long, I wonder, before I [too] shall succumb.

About ten I crawled into my funny little 6×2 berth.  It took a long time to get comfortable but finally I realized that it would be impossible to change my position all night-long and resigned myself to my fate.

[1] This date is only two weeks after the Armistice of November 11th when the fighting ended.   As a matter of interest: nowhere in the letters or the journal is mention made of the great influenza pandemic that raged from September 1918 through the winter killing 20,000,000 people worldwide and 500,000 in the U.S. (0.5% of the population!).  Elsie’s future father-in-law, Prof. G.F. Atkinson, was one of its victims.

Journal:                                    November 27th, Wednesday

Sat on deck all morning, reading, dozing, watching folks pitch rope quoits or play shuffleboard.  My appetite has been good all day.  After lunch I tried my hand at shuffleboard.  It takes more strength than you would imagine to push those disks along.

I miss Kate terribly.  I see a good deal of Miss Connable and Hazel Stewart but somehow I don’t feel so much at home with them.  Not having been thrown much with them before, “don’t chew know” and all.

Tonight at dinner there was a two-inch rail around the table.  It has become quite rough as I discovered when walking on the deck ’til 7 o’clock.  The ass’t. purser joined me again.  He reminds me of Mr. Putick at Cornell.

I feel so queerly tonight.  Is it because I have no kindred spirit around that I can really go to without reserve?  I feel very much alone tonight and a little fearful of what’s before me.  The year seems to have stretched out interminably [ahead] and I am sure something is going to happen to make me much older before I ever return home again.  If only the real work will begin.  It is this continual dragging out of the preparation to begin, the mental inactivity, that it entails, is rather getting on my nerves.  And yet this ocean voyage is a novel and interesting experience.  This is the first voyage the Grampian has made with the deck lights on and with permission for people to smoke there.  The glass of the cabin portholes has been covered with a heavy coat of black paint.

Journal:                                    November 28th, Thursday

Hazel Stewart and I were on deck before breakfast.  I confess I descended to the dining room with many qualms but, after some good sour fruit and a cup of coffee, I quite relished my breakfast.

The wind is ferocious and the starboard deck is the only comfortable place for steamer chairs.  The wind makes shuffleboard impossible.  Many people are very ill but as for me, if I keep outdoors I seem to be all right.  I sneeze continually, as with a cold in my head, but don’t seem to be particularly uncomfortable.  We are gradually getting acquainted with some of the “Y” men.  Had a game of bridge with two of them this afternoon.

Thanksgiving on board ship!  I can’t think what I did last year, but I don’t think I shall spend another such Thanksgiving as today.  Our dinner was at 7 o’clock.  It was delicious, including fresh oysters on half-shell and a real turkey and dressing and English plum pudding with wine sauce.  I certainly pitied the poor unfortunate who couldn’t eat such a wonderful repast.

It is getting much warmer.  They say we are just about in the Gulf Stream.  Tonight after dinner we piled out on deck again.  The girls wanted to sit but I preferred to walk and was presently joined by my little friend the purser.  We had such a grand walk.  A mile or more, in the glorious wind with the spray breaking over the deck and the clouds rushing by, disclosing now and then a blurred and fuzzy star.  At 9:30 I came in.  I am glad enough to go to bed if it weren’t such a nuisance dressing and undressing with two other people in our more than tiny stateroom.

Journal:                                    November 29th, Friday

I forgot to say that Margaret Cornell, formerly of Ithaca, is on board.  She is with the Red Cross in canteen work.  She and I have had some good walks on deck.  Today was so warm that we could play s’board and quoits with our coats off.  We are in the Gulf Stream.  The water was 60 degrees and the air 40 degrees according to the man who came along and let down a little canvas pail and took the temperature of the water he hauled up.

In the P.M. I walked miles with Mr. Hauley from California.  The air was wonderful.  Gulls follow the ship all day and all night.  They never seem to tire and soar either with or against the wind with the same poise and grace.

The bridge foursome met at 4 o’clock and we played ’til dinner.  In the evening I walked again.  The girls, Miss Stewart and Miss Connable, are not fond of this walking game.  It is such fun gazing over the side of the boat where the water churns and lathers.  In the midst of the foam appear phosphorescent lights, sea organisms they tell me, like fireflies.

Journal:                                    November 30th, Saturday

Rain and mist and slippery decks.  Notwithstanding, I walked all morning; first with Anderson of Wyoming and then with [a man] from Cleveland.  In the afternoon Mr. Blodgett took me way out over the bow where the big anchors are.  It was most awfully rough and every once in a while a wave broke over our heads, simply drenching us.  The salt stung our faces and it was wonderful.  Presently a little boy came with a message from the look-out asking us to leave: “Ye run a great reesk o’bein’ swawmped”.  So back we came.  Later, when the wind went down, we were talking to the Captain: “The sea’s away you know.  She’s running smoother now”.

I forgot to say that at eleven in the morning the deck steward came ‘round with beef tea and biscuits.  He is so deft at tucking people in and making them comfortable.  Noting this Hazel remarked to him, “Your wife must love to have you around, you are so handy”.  “My wife:”, laughed he, “Her mother isn’t born yet!”.

In evening the Red Cross gave another entertainment.  Dr. Bayne, who has been at a hospital in Romania, told of his experiences.  Then a Canadian captain in aviation spoke of reconnaissance patrol and bombing maneuvers.  Later Miss Stimson, the first girl aviator to loop-the-loop who is going [over] with the Motor Corps told of how she happened to learn to fly.  She looped at Los Angeles once at night with fireworks so that her picture might be taken in the darkness…

Journal:                                    December 1st, Sunday

Glorious day.  Sunshine and blue-green water with a network of white foam.  Church in the dining-room.  The minister, in speaking of the fashionableness of certain churches asked how many of them ever took in the outcast or the socially impossible?  Wherever you find a congregation that considers itself the “cream” of society you usually find that it’s the ice-cream.

Journal:                                    December 2nd, Monday

Our first experience with a storm.  Not a bad one as storms go but sufficient to give the ordinary land lubber a thrill.  A howling wind, a fine cutting rain, and a sea that stands the ship’s deck at an angle of 45 degrees [?] and more.  Everyone was out, despite the rain, walking.  It was most exciting between skidding and hanging on to rails and landing bump against the deck rail.  The boards were soaking wet and there was more than one thud as someone sat down and slid down the incline.  In faring forth I got soaked by a wave that came clear across from the starboard side (we were all gathered on port).  In the midst of the excitement a large Englishman, in trying to cross between hatches, slipped, fell and crashed against a big metal windlass.  Four men rushed to his assistance.  He was a very pale man as he lay there and when it was found that his knee cap was broken he might well have become paler.  They carried him off on a stretcher; the first casualty.  After that the Captain forbade us being on deck and it was a very disgruntled group of people that flocked into the small quarters and close air of the writing and smoking saloons.  There were very few ports open, but through them you could watch range upon range of water mountains.  And how the old ship did ride them!  She stuck her nose down into the valleys and pushed right up through, shaking off the foam as a horse shakes its mane.  The day wore on, everyone chafing to be inside, but the decks were impossible.  The waves washed over them like cataracts.

In the evening the “Y” gave an entertainment.  I seem somehow to have developed a soprano voice and took part in both a quartet and a duet.  Afterwards everyone hated to go to bed.  The boat was pitching frightfully and there was a certain anxiety in the air.  There was little rest all night long.  It was hard to sleep with the effect of bracing one’s self in order not to fall out of the bunk.  Every other minute there would be a sickening roll, a dull crash where the sea hit the wall of your cabin, and the slithering sound of receding water.  In the morning we found that two life boats had been lost off the stern and a companionway had been demolished on the upper deck.  The barometer, so they said, preceding the storm went down clear off the paper…

I forgot to say that on Sunday Mr. Stone took H. Stewart and me down into the engine room way below sea level.  We saw the twin propeller shafts, the great cylinders working, and the big furnaces; seven of them.  We also saw the wooden bunks which had been built in the aft saloon for accommodating soldiers when this had been used as a [troop] transport.  They were triple deckers of plain, hard boards.

In the evening the ships crew sat out on the hatches aft and sang to the accompaniment of a mandolin.  It must have been great to hear them for it was the first time in four years that they have been allowed to gather on deck and make a noise.  Among other songs they sang “Ovah theah, so beweah…”.  It hardly sounded like the same song.

The purser has just told my fortune.  He is the cleverest person at palmistry and cards.  His name is Duckham.  The deck steward’s is Billington.  The evening was devoted to card tricks and fortunes.  Mr.  Duckham is most interesting and the most obliging person that ever was.

Journal:                                    December 4th, Wednesday

Much planning and committee meetings apropos of the sports that are coming off on deck tomorrow.  The wind is still pretty stiff, but it is clear and there is actually a horizon line that is reasonably level.  Mr.  Connell and I walked and wrote letters during the morning.  In the afternoon the usual group gathered around Mr. Duckham in the lower saloon while he taught us some of his tricks.  Later Miss Lewis, Mr. Stone, and another man and I got into a game of bridge which lasted until 5 o’clock.  Then I came out and walked the deck for some fresh air and it was time for dinner.

[In the evening] three very good talks in the dining saloon.  One on Russia and the frightful conditions there, one on English munitions workers—both by a very cultured English woman—and one by Major Walkley of the British Army in telling of his experiences in London…

Journal:                                     December 5th, Thursday

Clear weather still.  Mr. Hauley and I walked at least a mile on deck.  The sports have been given up.  Too windy and pitchy.  In [the] afternoon Miss Stewart and I were allowed into Mr. Duckham’s office.  We had a lovely time adding up columns for him.  He showed us pictures of his six sisters, lovely looking girls.  Three of them have been working in munitions factories without a salary since the war began.  Later he took three of us all around the ship.  Saw the six-inch gun on the stern and the smoke arrangements that put a black screen between a following submarine and a fleeing boat.  We saw the big rudder that is worked from the wheel on the bridge.  If this breaks there is an electric rudder, and if this fails there is a big hand wheel taller than a man.

In the evening Miss Dadds and I walked the deck and then I wrote letters.

Journal:                                    December 6th, Friday

We are in sight of the Welsh coast, but it is so misty you can hardly see a thing.  Mr. Hauley, Miss Dadds and I took a trip up to the bow to watch the waves.  Then I did my packing.  There is doubt as to whether we will get off the boat but will be in Liverpool tonight.

P.M. Had a foursome at bridge.  Early dinner.  Walked with D. and Mr.  Hauley.  We landed about 11 o’clock.  Miss D. and I watched the pilot come on and all got so interested that we stayed on deck ‘til midnight when it came to the point of a tug towing us in and ropes being thrown to make us fast, etc.  Alongside of us were several great liners which loomed up out of the darkness.

Journal:                                    December 7th, Saturday

But the loveliest sight of all was those same liners in the early morning, purple against the ghostly mist with orange lights shining in their portholes.

They got us up early enough, but the customs man didn’t come on board ‘til 9:30.  We hated to say goodbye to our nice little stewardess, Mrs.  Stewart.  It happened that, by some mistake, she had lost six handkerchiefs of mine yesterday.  She felt so badly about it and came to me with a little parcel with such an appealing manner that I accepted it!  Inside was a pongee collar that she had made and embroidered herself.  I was so sweet of her and will be a nice thing to remember my voyage by.

After going through customs formalities we got on the pier about 11:30.  Had to wait for ages ‘til our trunks could be recovered.  While we were standing around, about frozen, who should come along but one of the little deckhands all dolled up in civilian clothes.  He was so tickled to be free for a week.

Finally all was set.  The YMCA Sec’y. who had us in charge lined us up and marched us along the RR tracks under the “Overhead” to the nearest station.  The cars of the O’head are dinky and not very comfortable.  We got off at the main square of Liverpool and walked to the Hotel Crompton on Church St.  Miss Dadds and I are rooming together.  I found Kate VanDuzer’s name on the register and can hardly wait to see her.  After we got settled I went with Misses Stewart and Lewis to tea at the Midland Adelphi.  Kate came in while we were there.  They had an exciting voyage.  The Orduna rammed into another ship in the fog, killing seven men.  We had a grand old talk and then I went out to dinner with her and two other girls at the State restaurant.  It was a regular place like Churchill’s or Murray’s, very gay, good music and delicious eats.  Saw lots of uniforms of all kinds.  Our dinner was only five shillings and was marvelous.  We were there ‘til 9 o’clock and when we got back just fooled around.

Journal:                                    December 8th, Sunday

I slept very late.  Saw Kate off for London.  Had a solitary lunch at the Crompton.  Afterwards Helen Heffron and I went to help serve at the American Officer’s Inn.  It was so homelike.  Met a lot of nice men, gave them tea, and later served supper.  Worked with two very sweet young English women.  I love to hear them talk.  “Are you shuah?” with a regular Pennsylvania Dutch twist to their inflection.  “You’re right”, “Right oh”, “I’m sorry”, “Oh it’s quite all right”.

Liverpool, Dec. 8 1918

Dear Family:

This will have to be just a short letter merely informing you that we have arrived in Liverpool [after a steamship crossing] and may be held here a day or two.  The London office [YMCA] is congested and they can’t accommodate us yet.  This is a mighty interesting place to be interned in, however, and I guess we won’t care only so long as we can spend Christmas in Paris—I have set my heart on that.

We landed yesterday morning and walked two-by-two through muddy streets to the Overhead R.R. Station where we took a car to the main square and then walked to the Hotel Crompton.  After getting settled there we went to tea (it was 4;30 by that time) at the Midland Adelphi, the finest hotel in England.  There we saw many interesting uniforms and people.  There, also, I saw Kate VanDuzen whom I had to leave so abruptly at the steamship wharf [in New York] that fateful Saturday.  I went out to dinner with her at the “State” restaurant; a very gay place where we had a wonderful turkey dinner for only five shillings.  Then I saw her for about one hour to-day and she was shipped off to London where I hope to follow her soon.

This afternoon Helen Heffron and I served both tea and supper at the “American Officer’s Inn” near this hotel.  We met some nice American men and the place was so homelike with a coal fire burning in the grate and flowers on the tables.  We worked with two attractive English women.

I love to hear them talk; their inflection is so funny and they mouth and twist some of their words but otherwise don’t seem so different.

Liverpool doesn’t seem much different from an American city.  The railroad coaches and engines, of course, look like toys and the double-decker trolleys are funny, but the shops and buildings look very natural.  There is a Woolworths “3 d. and 6 d.” store near by and Charlie Chaplin is to be seen in “Shoulder Arms” at a cinema ‘round the corner.  To-morrow we are going out to Chester to see the Gothic church and the old Roman walls.

-o0|0o-

Journal:                                    December 9th, Monday

Miss Dadds and I shopped around.  She is a very earnest, and interesting girl and I like her better all the time.  In the afternoon we rode on top of a tram out to Knotty Ash where there is a debarkation camp for American boys.  The camp was very dismal on that rainy afternoon.  Row on row of barracks with mud puddles in between.  It always rains in this “rahwtton town, ye know”.  Well, we found our way to the “Y” Hut No.6 and relieved the girl there who was making and serving cocoa.  We worked all afternoon and then stayed to dinner at Officer’s Mess.  At 7:30 the “Y” girls from town came out and they cleaned the cement floor and we had a dance.  A dusty, fatiguing dance it was, but it certainly was worth it when you think what it meant to the boys.  Some of them hadn’t danced with an American girl in eight or twelve months.  The “Y” here won’t let them have dances with the “limey” girls as they call them.  And they were, most of them great dancers too.  Only, one man, a rancher from Texas, couldn’t dance well and [he] asked if I would “learn” him.  He was the one who, in the afternoon, had shown me photo’s of his two sisters and offered me a postal picture of President Wilson.  The dance broke up about 10:30 and we piled on the trams and came home.

Journal:                                    December 10th, Tuesday

Bright and early Bess Dadds, Helen Heffron, and I caught the train for Chester.  We missed connections at Rock Ferry and were on the town for ¾ hour.  In our walk down the street we found a messy little florist’s shop.  But what attracted us were the bunches of flowers in the window.  They were like everlasting, but in all sorts of beautiful pastel shades: rose, violet, orange, blue, etc.  Since they were unfading and packing couldn’t hurt them, we had some sent to our respective families for Xmas.

Chester at last!  And oh, the ride was fascinating!  Little red brick houses with tiles or moss covered roofs and chimney pots and steep gables were clustered in the most charming little groups.  But Chester!  There is nothing to compare with it on our side of the Atlantic.  It breathes age and quaintness.  Moss and lichens peep out of every cranny and everything is covered with glossy English ivy.  Holly trees grow in neatly trimmed rows, their cheery berries dripping from the last rain which was never very long ago.  But how green everything is even in December.  The place we sought out first was St. John’s church outside the walls.  One end is a mass of ruins of such a picturesqueness!  The stones are rounded with age and the outlines of masonry softened with ivy.  In the crypt are fragments of old Saxon pillars, crosses and vault bosses.  In the nave are the three styles of arch, the lower tier being Roman and round headed, the second more pointed, and the third early English [Gothic?].

From St. John’s we went into the town proper, had lunch at Blossom’s Hotel, and went to the Cathedral.  My first cathedral!  All dim, pointed arches, rich colors from shafted windows and a vista down the apse of marvelously carved choir stalls.  We started with the old abbey, the abbot’s rooms, the cloisters, the refectory, etc.  An old man in a black robe showed us around.  He was well versed in the history of the place and made things very interesting.  The cathedral shows two periods of architecture, the early Norman and the English.  The latter is again subdivided, the vaulting of part being Gothic or perpendicular where the lines springing from the vaulting are carried up to the boss unbroken, the other being the decorative early English where the lines are broken by cross lines and distracting traceries.  The decorative also had a water line at the base of the columns while later practice smoothed that down to a water shed[?]…

Out on the streets again we made our way to the Roman wall that surrounds the town.  On the way we met two flocks of sheep and a very recalcitrant cow that kept two men chasing all over the block.  Just as we reached the wall the rain, which had continued all day, stopped and the sun streamed out over the tiled roofs and the glossy shrubbery.  We walked all around the town on top of the wall.  I was simply lovely.  At intervals there were towers and arches all of stolid Roman architecture and all half hidden with green ivy.  Everything is surprisingly green for December.

We got home from Chester at suppertime and then started out for Knotty Ash to dance with the U.S. soldiers there.  It was lots of fun and we felt as if our presence was really appreciated.

Journal:                                    December 11th, Wednesday

More shopping.  You can buy wool and linen so cheaply here that collars and hosiery are the great temptations.  Got some lovely blue stockings for three and six.  In the evening dined at the State restaurant and then went to another dance at Lincoln Lodge for the enlisted men.

Journal:                                    December 12th, Thursday

Word received that we are to leave for London today!  Much packing and getting of baggage downstairs.  Got to the station and into our train by eleven.  Traveled in 3rd class coaches but very comfortably, six of us in a coach.  Lunch on the train.  Little meat pies that you had to eat your way through to find the meat.  It was a glorious day and the country was beautiful.  Little villages clustered in the valleys, sheep standing in vividly green hills, brooks with stone arched bridges crossing them with here and there a gray castle, or a thatched roof.

Arrived in London after dark.  Taxis met us and rolled us to the Thackeray Hotel near Russell Square.  In the register I found the name of Ruth Skinner from Holyoke, Mass [1].  I wonder if I’ll meet her.  Also Grace Bird is just ahead of me; and will I ever catch up with her?  Hadn’t been in London an hour before I ran into Kate VanDuzer in the hotel.  Gee, but I was glad to see her!  She was with Belle Richards.  Arranged to meet her for dinner and where did we go but to the Savoy Hotel where we trod upon velvet carpets and saw many stunning uniforms.  In fact, Axel, Prince of Denmark, passed by, as we were sitting in the lobby.

We felt a little out of place when we were ushered into the dining room where women were in evening dress.  But the waiter stowed us away in a corner, a little too far from the music to suit us.  While we were there two other “Y” girls came in but they did not notice us.  Belle wrote a note and sent it over [to them] by the waiter and we awaited developments.  The note said, “The two officers in the corner want to know what you would like to drink”.  After the meal was over we joined them, they showed us the note and really seemed to [have been] taken in.  They even pointed out the men, much to our amusement.  When we came out through the long dining room we had to rescue Katherine [Kate] who was making for the kitchen.  Afterwards we tried to get into “Hello America” –with Elsie Janis—but the whole house was sold out.

[1] An old friend.

Journal:                                    December 13th, Friday

Started out early to Westminster.  Wandered through the cloister where little boys in broad white collars and mortar boards were hurrying in to service.  We attended a service near the high altar at 10:30 and then a guide took us around.  There was so much to see.  The tombs of the Kings, the wax effigies, the Poet’s Corner, etc.  The Coronation chair with the Stone of Scone was much less resplendent than I had imagined.  There is also another chair with a rather broad seat built especially for William and Mary.  I won’t even begin to describe all we saw.  I’ll try and keep it in my mind.

After we’d finished (or rather just begun; for you could spend a week there) we walked past the Parliament Buildings towards the Thames.  Then we walked on the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Saw airplanes and guns that had been captured from the Huns.  Then Miss Druderdale and I did some necessary shopping and it was dark and time for dinner.  We sought out a    little place called the Chanticler in the Soho district.  We got a delicious dinner for three shillings.  Came home, packed for our departure for France tomorrow.

Journal:                                    December 14th, Saturday

My birthday! [29yrs]  A wonderful way to celebrate by going to France!  Such a time as we had getting off!  Pouring rain and a dense fog.  I began catching a glorious cold but there was nothing to be done but to go on.  Bess Dadds and I registered our trunks and came back to the hotel, walking both ways.  Had a late lunch and got back to the station for the 4 o’clock train.  And such a journey, but it wasn’t a circumstance to what was in store for us the next night as we discovered later.  We arrived in Southampton about 6:30 and stood in line for ages in a stuffy little station.  We were labeled “aliens” and had to give our pedigrees for about the s’teenth time.  Finally we got on the channel boat.  There was a damp fog and the lights in the harbor were beautiful.  We slipped out about 10:30 and the passage over was very calm comparatively speaking.  The night was rather uncomfortable, as four of us had to sleep in one small cabin.  The berths weren’t even made up as it’s not meant to be a night boat really.

Journal:                                    December 15th, Sunday

Arrived in Le Havre early in the morning.  Piled out of the boat and into a great big army van to come to our hotel.  We must have looked like immigrants.  The “Y” Sec’y. who met us had more pep and organization that any we have yet encountered.  Miss Woodruff, Bess Dadds and I took a lovely walk up the waterfront to the fort on the hill where you can look out over the harbor.

The street is lined with the most beautiful little summer villas each with its little garden.  We had our first experience with French cooking at dinner.  The hors d’oeuvres are so nice and surprising and they certainly know what to do with meats!  In the afternoon we walked through the city trying out our french on shop keepers etc.  Met a 1st Lieut. who was in the army of occupation.  He said the German people were just fine to the men.

Orders to leave came at 7:30.  We piled into the van again, bag and baggage, and piled on a stuffy train where seven of us had to be in one compartment and try and sleep.  Such a night!  Without exception the worst I have ever spent, but our sense of humor saved us.  At first we tried sitting up.  Then Isabel (with us were two maiden ladies, i.e., Mary and Isabel from Maine) remembered that sailors on these trains sometimes slept in the baggage net.  So up she got and disposed herself leaving only six below.  We six piled all the luggage between the seats and prepared to lie down.  But, alas, suitcase handles are not the most comfortable things to find in one’s mattress and sleep was not.  Presently Isabel’s arm went to sleep (lucky arm!) and down she popped off the baggage rack making us seven again.  Well, somehow or other the night wore on.  We had a lunch at 12 o’clock consisting of cookies, jam, fruit, and olives.  The latter were stowed away after the repast in the rack above my head, and all night long kept dripping down my neck.  “Isabel, don’t push as you’re hurting my arm, etc., etc.  Mary and Isabel usually purr at each other but once in a while the claws will out!  Towards dawn, Kate and I in desperation disentangled ourselves from the mess of luggage, capes, shawl-straps and human beings and went to the end of the car where we could watch the country.  The train just crawled and stopped every fifteen minutes but we finally reached Paris at 5:30.

Journal:                                    December 16th, Monday

Waited until almost 11:00 A.M. in the station.  Many interesting sights.  Saw a pitiful Belgian woman who was going back home to begin over again, having lost three sons near her old home.

At last the “Y” came for us in Ford cars.  We flew out to Versailles, as there is no room in Paris.  The ride out was indescribable.  I have never seen such woods as the Bois de Boulogne.  And the avenues and l’Arc de Triomphe.  It took my breath away with its beauty.  The trees in the Bois are completely covered with the most wonderfully vivid green moss.  It makes the whole place look like fairy-land.

At Versailles, they put us up at the Hotel Vatel which is a charming place all glass and mirrors and gold and white paneling.  Kate, Bess Dadds, Edith Woodruff and I are together.  We have a bath (grand bain) and an apology for a register[?] which makes us feel like millionaires.  The dearest little maid brings us de l’eau chaud in the morning.  Her family was driven from Soissons, her brother killed in the war, her little girl injured and later died.  Her husband, however, is still living; they don’t know when he will leave the army.

Right off there was a conference and we met Mrs. Meade.  She had separate interviews with everyone and is charming.  If it weren’t for this darn cold I have contracted, I should be the happiest person alive— to think I am really in France!  And at Versailles where, just a block from the hotel is all the magnificence of Louis XIV.

The cooking here is wonderful; I shall continue to stay fat I’m sure.

-o0|0o-

Le Havre, le 16 Decembre 1918

Dear Family:

We were shot right through London, spending only a day there, for which we were glad in a way since it brings us nearer Paris; but there is so much to see there and we had to pass it by, all in the dark as it were.  But then we’re not here for sight-seeing and we are so thankful to have had even a morning in Westminster Abbey.  To think that I have stood over the very place where Dickens and Browning and Tennyson are buried!  The place is so full of tablets, busts, and memorials that you really cannot take it in all at once.  You need a week to browse around.  There are the tombs of the kings, the Coronation Chair, the wax effigies of Queen Anne and Elizabeth, Nelson, Pitt, etc.—all clothed in their original garments.  You wonder how the lace has held together, how the gilt ornamentation is no blacker than it is.  There is the grave of Ben Jonson on the North side of the nave.  He said before his death that he wanted but 18 inches in Westminster Abbey so they buried him standing up in a floor space exactly 18 inches square.

The cloisters and choir school are part of the old Abbey and date back to Norman times.  While we were there a service was held which we attended but there was no music, for which we were very sorry as they say the Abbey choir is one of the best in London.  In the afternoon a beautiful London fog settled over the city and all we took in was Buckingham Palace.  The Horse Guards at the gate in their resplendent gold, black, white, and red made us realize that we were in a monarchy with some of the attendant splendor about us.

Journal:                                    December 17th, Tuesday

Today more conferences.  I went to see the doctor and he told me to go to bed for a while; which I did.  The maid comes up and talks French to me.  Her name is Yvonne.

Journal:                                    December 18th, Wednesday

Nice day.  Got up and walked through the Jardins and Parc de Versailles.  Went the length of of the longest lagoon and back.  The glimpses you catch into the deep of the damp woods are fascinating.  You might almost expect a satyr to jump out.  Almost got lost in the glades and avenues but finally made my way to the Petit Trianon.  There I found Kate and Edith Woodruff.  The Petit Trianon is darling; we couldn’t get inside.  Came back to the little inn by the main lagoon and had a delicious lunch.  Roast meat and fried potatoes and confitures.  Later were shown through the Chamber of Deputies where they elect the President every seven years.

Journal:                                    December 19th, Thursday

More conferences.  At noon hour went through Versailles Palais.  It is too gorgeous to write about.  The egotism of the great monarch is exemplified everywhere.  He is pictured in all his martial and peaceable pursuits on all the walls and ceilings of all the rooms.  He likens himself to Apollo and everywhere you see the great Sun with its surrounding rays.  The interwoven “L”s are in the door panels and the windows and even in the stained glass of the chapel.  The color of the paintings and the brightness of the gold leaf do not seem to have paled with the years.  The chapel was one of the most marvelous parts of the building.  The arched windows have a stained glass border and the leads are decorated with gold work [ormolu].  It looks more like a theatre than a chapel to me.

More conferences, then a delicious dinner at the Vatel.  All went to bed early, partly because the room was cold and partly because we had had a very strenuous day.

Our struggles with French are very amusing.  One of the girls who had had her breakfast in bed wanted some “dessert”—fruit, etc.  She told the maid about it and presently [the maid returned] with two fresh eggs and a puzzled expression asking how to have them cooked.  “Dessert” vs. “deux oeufs”!  Alas, my dictionary is in my duffel bag—everything I want is in my duffel bag and it has not appeared yet.  In the meantime I shiver around without my bathrobe, my slippers, etc.

Versailles, Dec. 19 1918

Dear Family (continued):

Had a break-off at Le Havre so took a walk all around the waterfront.  It is lined with summer cottages and villas, some of them of the most beautiful architecture.  It was like a continual picture book.  At the end of the street was an old fort looking out over the harbor.  Everywhere were the most resplendent uniforms and on a few of the children we saw little black pinafores that were made in the United States for refugees.  We practiced our French on the chambermaids and shopkeepers and found that we could get along pretty well from our side, but you just have to strain your ears to understand what they say.

Between Havre and Paris we spent the funniest night I ever expect to experience.  The train left about nine and we had to sit up all night; seven of us in one compartment.  We tried just sitting for a while on the two seats facing each other, then we conceived the brilliant idea of piling all the baggage between the seats making one continuous bed.  There we disposed ourselves, half sitting and half lying, and awaited dawn.  But dawn never seems to come in these grey North countries and we certainly thought it was never coming this time.  Katharine VanDuzer (by the way I met her again in London, and we have been together ever since) [and I] were next each other with our heads on each other’s shoulders.  There were two little old ladies with us from New England who almost convulsed us all night long.  One of them had heard that sailors, when spending the night in such cramped quarters, simplified matters by climbing up into the luggage rack to sleep, as in a hammock.  Therefore the first thing we knew she had clambered “en haut” and disposed herself in the net [1].  All went well for ten minutes, but she soon found that one arm went to sleep and that she was unable to turn over, so down she popped and there were seven of us again in search for comfort.  How we ever lived through that night I don’t know except that our sense of humor saved us; and also the knowledge that people in real war time have undergone discomforts a hundred times worse.

Kate and I wandered to the back of the corridor about 2 A.M. and watched the country, I was going to say “fly” by, but since we just crawled and stopped every fifteen minutes that would hardly be the proper word.  We bumped into Rouen and having heard there was a cathedral there and tried to imagine we could see it through the feathery trees.  At 5 o’clock we rolled into Paris and got tidied up as best we could without any lights or room to move about and were dumped, bag and baggage, on the platform.  (Speaking of baggage, the steamer-roll that I lost on the Cunard ship I found waiting for me in Liverpool.) We waited in the station for a long time but it was most interesting to see the people.  One poor little old lady in black was sitting in the midst of her luggage.  We talked to her in French and found she was going back to Belgium, where she had lost three sons, to try and begin all over again.  Finally a lot of Ford motor cars came for us to take us to Versailles, as Paris was too congested with Wilson’s party, causing much excitement.

It was a shame to be right here and not see the President, but there was no time to linger in Paris.  And the ride out to Versailles!  Never have I seen anything more wonderful.  We passed under the Arc de Triomphe and then rolled into the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne.  It was just like fairy land!  The tree trunks are covered with a brilliant light-green moss, the most vivid I have ever seen, rows upon rows of them stretching off into a blurry distance of interlacing branches.  The ground is covered with leaves and mossy stones and low evergreens and there are traily vines everywhere.  The houses along the road were so picturesque and stolid with their tiled roofs and long French windows; in fact, everything was so new and wonderful that I simply couldn’t grasp it all at once.

Our hotel here is on a street running at right angles to the avenue leading to the king’s palace.  Last night I walked by moonlight to the palace court and stood under the statue of Louis XIV and tried to remember all I had read about the “Sun King” and his court.  We have been having lectures and conferences again in the Hotel des Reservoirs which, by the way, is the old home of Madame de Pampadour.  How “Mitz” [2] would revel with me in the exquisite paneled walls, the gold-framed mirrors, the delicately carved Louis XIV furniture, and the crystal chandeliers.  Yesterday they lit up the sunbursts in the ballroom and it was positively enough to dazzle your eyes.  The mirrors at either end made the lights march on in an unending procession-line.  Even in our little hotel, nothing incongruous in the way of furniture, wall paper, etc. has been introduced.  I am writing now at a console table of polished wood, sitting in an Empire chair upholstered in cherry-colored and gold satin.

But this isn’t going to last long.  Next week we get our assignments and they may take us to a muddy camp in the Vosges, or the damp discomforts of a port town.  There is plenty of work; in fact they are calling for more women.  As long as the troops are here they need canteens so we don’t feel as discouraged about things as we did in London.  I asked Mrs. Meade about Bernice White and she says she is doing perfectly wonderful work with another girl and is going forward with the army.  We who have just arrived cannot hope for anything like that, they say, but I don’t care what I do so long as they put me to work.

[1] I spent a similar night in 1949 on a train from Paris to Brussels, sleeping in the baggage rack.
[2] Possibly Helen Talbot, mother’s friend from Pratt Institute. She became the mother of Arthur Gilkey who died on K2 in 1953.

-o0|0o-

Journal:                                    December 20th, Friday

More conferences.  This time we handed in expense accounts and got measured for our new waists.  We washed our clothes and tried to locate our baggage, but with no result.  In the evening we had a fire built in our room and had a spread.

Versailles, Dec. 20 1918

Dear Family:

Please excuse this measly paper.  I am so excited to-night for we have all got our appointments!  I am to go to Dijon, near Switzerland.  At present, of course, it is nothing but a spot on the map, but think what it will seem to me after I have seen my canteen?  There will probably be snow and much mountains.  If only we can so much as get there by Christmas Day and use the decorations that we have slipped into our duffel bags!  But duffels and trunks just now are a minus quantity and we can only hope to get them before we receive our marching orders.  Once they come, we go, as we are now under strict military rule.

They say the 77th and 78th [1] Divisions are there at Dijon, both of which have seen heavy fighting.  My! I wish I could run up against someone I know!

We all feel so much better about the work now that we are here.  “See England” everyone said, “Oh they won’t need you now the war is over” but here they say they are sending for more.  Military discipline is being imposed more than ever and things are on a real war basis.  As things stand now, I guess there is no chance now of passing through or seeing the devastated districts.  Horrible as it would be, I should not feel as if a visit to France at this time would be complete without a sight of it.

In absolute contrast to war and devastation were the wonderful sights we saw this morning.  We started out for a walk in the “Parc du Palais de Versailles” and found that one avenue led to another, one path to another, one fountain to another, one lagoon, one statue, one garden, to another and another, until we were lost in a maze of beauty and gorgeous coloring—even in December.  The trees, though leafless, are covered, to the tiniest twig, with the most vivid green moss and, as they are planted in rows in all directions, wherever you look you gaze down aisles of green.  Never, naturally, in my restricted life have I seen landscape gardening on so grand and formal a scale.  Yet it isn’t all formal.  The Petit Trianon and the little Swiss farm yard and the darling little village with its mill and bridged streams are in surroundings just as wild as possible.  Every turn invites you to wander down a new and fascinating path.  I can’t begin to describe it all, but since we almost went wild with the beauty of it in winter you can imagine how indescribable it must be in the summertime [2].

Holly trees grow in profusion and everywhere you see the mistletoe hanging, just out of reach, from the great gnarled branches of the oak trees.  We lunched at a little restaurant on the shores of the great lagoon where we had delicious “hors d’oeuvres”, meat, French fried potatoes, cheese, and coffee.  I wish I had had my domestic science course of a French cook.  They can even make snails attractive though perhaps some people, more epicurean than myself, have a fondness for snails anyway.

While we were in the restaurant it began to rain, then it changed to hail and finally to snow so that when we resumed our walk the dead leaves, the tops of the stone balustrades, the statues of Bacchus, Hermes, David, etc. were all covered with a light powdering of white.  By the time we reached the Palais the sun was out again and the snow disappeared.

Oh? I could rave for hours I have seen so much and can hardly grasp it all.  Am sending some things I don’t want to carry with me—postals of England and the harbor at Le Havre as it looked from our port-hole at 6:30 A.M., minus the color.  Someday I shall make a sketch of it for my bunkmate of that night.

[1] The Lightning; my father’s Division.
[2] In November of 1999 an unprecedented tempest destroyed ten-thousand of the trees of  Versailles.

Journal:                                    December 21st, Saturday

The other girls went to Paris but, as I still felt on the bum, I was lazy and stayed in bed.  It was cold and wet outside but after a while I felt better and fared forth to see what I could see.  Had dejuner all alone in the hotel and then walked toward the Parc de Versailles.  Fell in with a party of Red Crossers who were making a tour of the Grand and Petit Trianons.  I followed along and heard the guide explain all the treasures that are contained in these beautiful little buildings.  There are some wonderful paintings of Louis XIV in the Grand Trianon and a darling bust of Marie Antoinette in le Petit.  Also in the latter you may see in the dining room the central section of the floor which sinks down into the cuisine below.  The table was lowered thus and the meal set on it and then raised so that no servant ever entered the room in which Mme.  de Pompadour should eat her meals.  The Petit Trianon was started by Louis XV for Mme. de Pompadour and was occupied later by Marie Antoinette.

I walked home through the crisp cool darkness and met Beasie Dadds in town.  We did some shopping and had our hair shampooed by a hairdresser with a silky beard who had just returned on a “permission” from the Front.  He has been fighting for four years.

That evening Kate VanDuzer and I took a walk but it being Saturday night there wasn’t a thing open.  We wanted fruit but could find none anywhere.

Journal:                                    December 22nd, Sunday

Kate and I started off bright and early to look for our baggage.  We met Belle Richards in the Versailles station and we all went to la Gare St. Lazare.  Found our trunks and duffels all safe and by dint of much parley-vous arranged to have them sent to la Gare de Lyons in the afternoon.  Then we fared forth to see Paris.

It was gray and misty and things looked pretty drab.  The one bright spot was the quantity of flowers.  Roses, violets, strange berries, etc.  As we neared the Madeleine Church, which rose sombre and dark through the mist, we could see all around it on the sidewalks booths of brilliant flowers covered over with awnings and presided over by quaint women who called out their wares in an almost irresistible chant.  We went inside the church.  It is vast and dimly lighted and mysterious.  Nothing particular about the architecture stands out in my mind as I think of it now.  They are removing the sandbags from the columns in the portico.  Had lunch at Duval’s which is supposed to correspond to Childs at home.

After lunch we went to la Gare de Lyons where we practically spent the afternoon.  I forgot to say that I have received my assignment to Dijon and hence am taking my trunk to this station.  We have decided to check our own baggage and not trust it to the “Y”.  After much more parleying Kate and I embarked in a huge taxi with three trunks and three duffels rattling around on the roof.  As we arrived at our destination and were waiting for a “facteur” to bring up a charrette two American Captains approached us and offered their assistance.  We graciously accepted it, and ended by accepting also an invitation for dinner and the theatre.  I had completely forgotten the fact that it was Sunday but Gay Paree seems to go on the same no matter the day of the week.  It being yet early we rode around in a taxi ‘til about 5:30 and then held down a table on the trottoir of the Boulevard de L’Opera by ordering drinks (we had chocolate) for the sake of killing time ‘til dinner.  Our escorts, Warren and Cogbell of the 324th Infantry, had ordered a dinner at the Cafe de Paris which was all ready when we arrived there at 6:30.  It was a very gay place, greatly resembling Churchill’s, Murray’s or any cabaret in the U.S.  The only thing lacking was the music and dancing.  But such a dinner!  Fish that melted in your mouth, not to mention consomme.  Chicken, fried potatoes, endive salad, champagne, some kind of chocolate eclairs and last of all—real ice cream, fromage, biscuits and coffee.  Oh yes—and a liqueur which was as strong as anything I ever want to touch and which Kate and I merely tasted as we did the champagne.  While there we saw some very stunning girls, most of them with American officers, and some gowns—well, they were just “some gowns” that’s all I can say.

The theatre was the “Follies Bergere” and every other act was in English.  In fact the audience was just about one-half American.  I’m glad we went, but I was struck by the laxness and the excess of everything.  Everywhere there was continual smoking and drinking and carousal and the Americans were as conspicuous as anyone in it all.  Just to forget, to mark time until they should return home—that was the keynote of it all.  “Let us eat, drink, and be merry” not for “tomorrow we die”, but for tomorrow we must still be here when our one desire is to be home.  And the way Americans spend money!  No wonder prices are high in France.  Paper money they consider soap wrappers and they won’t take change for a franc because its too much trouble to carry so much junk in your pocket.

In the meanwhile it was raining hard.  We got to the Gare St. Lazare and found that we could just make the midnight train for Versailles.  But there wasn’t a seat in any of the regular compartments and we finally had to climb up on top of the double deckers and sit there in the soot, the wind, and the rain.  Of course the men wouldn’t let us go home alone so there we all sat for ¾ hour huddled up in a bunch, the four of us, bumping past stations with dim lights and strange signs, until about 1 A.M. we reached Versailles.  Then there was a walk through the pouring rain to the hotel.  We approached the house expecting to find it all dark and silent but, behold, a lot more girls had arrived and the place was all ablaze.  We asked the Mme. if the men could sleep there until their train left for Paris at 4 A.M.  She said, “mais oui”, she would give them the sofas in the salons and we left them to sweet dreams.  How sweet they were I was to find out later.

Journal:                                    December 23rd, Monday

The whole day spent in Paris [at “Y”] headquarters at Rue d’Aguesseau.  Such a confusion of people you never saw!  The usual process of standing in line began again.  Got my red workers permit with orders to return at 5:30 for instructions.  Had lunch at Palais de Geau [Geare?], now a “Y” canteen, formerly a skating rink.  Saw Miss Fitzmaurice and Miss Dallet whom I knew so long ago in N.Y.C.

P.M.  Shopped.  Bought a blue tam o’shanter for 26 francs.  Walked through the Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde.  Got a very fleeting glimpse of Paris.

On returning to Rue d’Aguesseau found that my transportation orders had arrived and that I was to leave for Dijon on the following morning at 7:45, as far as I could see stark, sole, alone!  This changed plans considerably.  We all had a hasty dinner at the YWCA Headquarters and caught the eight o’clock train for Versailles.  Kate and I sat up half the night packing.  She leaves for Nice tomorrow evening, and since we go out of the same station she was sport enuf to promise to go with me at 5:30 A.M. on Tuesday.  We said goodbye to our little maid Yvonne Menier to whom, by the way I presented my blue and white bathrobe.  Poor child— most of her belongings remained in Soissons when she evacuated in 1914.

My last impression of the hotel in Versailles is cold.  Kate and I crawled into bed about 12:30 with our minds set on awakening at 4:30.

Journal:                                    December 24th, Tuesday

Which we did.  My but it was dark and cold.  After getting dressed we went down to the hotel office and waked up the little maid who was asleep on a bed in the corner of the restaurant.  All the fox terriers in the place set up a racket and we thought the whole house would be on our trail.  After arousing M. Menier (Yvonnes’s husband who is on leave from the French army) we started up the street in bright moonlight.  Kate and I carried our suitcases while M. M. struggled with the duffel bags which weigh a ton.  We arrived in Paris in the pale gray dawn.  No taxis to be had—only a “fiacre a un cheval”.  In we piled and were trotted at a snail’s pace across the Seine southward.  Passed Notre Dame where we could barely see the three beautiful gothic arches.  In one of the doorways were piled the remains of the sandbags which are being gradually removed.

Arrived at the station, a facteur piloted me around from one bureau to another.  My trunk “etait faire registre” and to this day I don’t know how I ever got on the train.  But I did, bag and baggage, and after saying a fond farewell to Kate, settled myself in my compartment.  Opposite me was a handsome French lieutenant and next to him a Captain, both of them wearing the Croix de Guerre and the Captain sporting the Legion d’Honneur.  There was another French officer, and next to me an American lieutenant.  It was he who told me the sequel to our adventure of Sunday with Capts. Warren and Cogbell.  His name was Castine of the 324th.  We had lots of fun all the way to Dijon…

Upon reaching Dijon I bade goodbye to my lieutenant and made the acquaintance of Miss Stone, one of the “Y” staff who met me.  She piloted me to the Hotel des Cloches where I met Juliette Whiton of Batavia, N.Y.  the only other canteen girl in town.  We hit it off very well.  Got settled in out little room, where we were to share the narrow bed surmounted by a huge down quilt about four feet long, and went with Miss Stone to HQ.  Here we were greeted most cordially by Mrs. Gramberry and her husband.  They live on the ground floor of a house directly opposite the Hotel de Ville—in the quaintest little square all cobblestoned and lined with houses.  Their rooms are delightfully furnished with carved armoires, porcelain stoves etc. and the windows are hung with lovely English chintz.  Wicker armchairs complete the picture of homey cheerfulness.  After an interview with her we had supper at a cute little patisserie where we had omelette and delicious fried pommes de terres, jam and real ice cream again.  We are now on the last outpost of civilization.  After supper they broke the news to us that we are to leave at 5 A.M. tomorrow for Recy-sur-Ource where we will be assigned to the villages where we [will be] stationed.  Various Companies of the 6th Division.  That means setting up canteens, [each alone, by herself].  Imagine our feelings at being confronted with that kind of a proposition!

Miss Whiton and I fared forth to the station to see about baggage.  My trunk had arrived thank goodness and the nicest R.T.O. man checked it for me.  His name was L.C. Woods.  Those M.P. and R.T.O. men have a monotonous time of it.  They stick around all day in a dingy station and direct troops coming in and out…

Journal:                                    December 25th, Wednesday

Christmas Day in France!  Miss Whiton and I arose at 4:30.  Mr. Woods fixed us up at the station and we went out on the platform to wait for our train to be made up.  It didn’t start for two hours so we had ample time to watch the passengers.  The place was swarming with French poilus on leave!  Lots of American uniforms were visible in the half light, half darkness of a winter morning.  Such a chaos—such rushing back and forth, no one seeming to have any clear idea of where they are going.  We collected our baggage and sat on it, and beat a tattoo with our feet to keep warm.  We had no chance to eat breakfast but hoped we’d get fed sometime before the day was over.  Finally the train left.  In our compartment were six American officers—heaven only knows their names and regiments.  We passed the time of day and began to learn things about the 6th Division.  They landed in July, were in the Grand Pre drive—chased the Germans for several days, were then marched to the Argonne Forest where they chased the Huns some more, finally were sent to Verdun , whence they hiked it to their quarters in the southern part of the Departement of Haute-Marne.  They have hiked about 250 kilometers in all.

Arrived in Recy about 11 o’clock.  Dr. Tippett, the “Y” secretary, met us and showed us to our temporary billets, a bare room with the usual high bed and eiderdown comforter, many pictures of the virgin on the wall, a great high armoire of carved wood, and a fireplace.  We then had Xmas dinner with a very charming Mme. who is the school mistress of the town.  After that we went to see the men stand in chow line and the cook insisted that we partake of much chicken, potatoes, gravy, coffee, and pie.  We choked some of it down for politeness sake, but I never was so full up in my life.

Then Dr. Tippett (a minister from Cleveland) took us to his office and talked business.  He showed us the way the boys have been living ever since the war stopped, and how very much in need they are of some kind of a place like a “Y” where they can gather.  The 6th Division is quartered in eighty tiny villages and there is absolutely nothing to work with.  The boys are sleeping in barns and eating where they can and it is surely an approach to conditions near the Front as far as I can see. [1]  In a way I am very thankful I wasn’t sent to Nice or some such place.  I couldn’t have been with Kate anyway as we are to go out all alone!

About 3 o’clock Dr. T. took us in a Ford out to two villages nearby.  The first had a “Y” hut with a Christmas tree in one end, and the whole place was filled with greens.  We stayed there only a few minutes and went on to Aigny-le-Duc, divisional HQ.  Here we were taken to the officer’s mess and had supper.  After supper we danced to the music made by a mandolin and a guitar.  We then went to the “Y” Hut where a concert was given by the 52nd Regimental Band.  It was as fine a performance as I have ever heard…

The ride home was cold as a snowstorm had set in, but it really made things look something like Xmas.  It’s the strangest Xmas day I’ve ever spent, and it was so crowded with new experiences and impressions that I cannot possibly put them all down.

[1] The AEF had to wait most of the winter before going home as it took months to assemble the shipping required to handle the million or so waiting men.

Journal:                                    December 26th, Thursday

Miss Whiton received her assignment to Vitry [-en-Montagne]; Cos. L and M of 52nd and goes this noon.  In the A.M. we went to the canteen here [Recy] where Miss Anderson and Miss Waller serve cocoa to the boys.  Their hut has a partition and a counter and they have a regular kitchen.

After Miss Whiton had left I took a walk to the hospital and then dropped in at the canteen.  Stayed there ‘til suppertime and learned how to make cocoa in a large quantity.

After supper Dr. Tippett gave me my assignment.  It is to Bay-sur-Aube up towards Langres with Co. E and F of the 52nd Infantry.  I went to bed early in my little cold room with a mixture of feelings I must confess.

-o0|0o-

Chapter 2- Bay-sur-Aube
Chapter 3- Intervalle
Chapter 4- Nanteuil-la-Fosse

Francis Kerr Atkinson (1890-1976)

Francis Kerr Atkinson 1890-1976: Some Biographical Notes

These notes have not been researched in any substantive way, being largely what I remember from reminiscences told to me during my childhood and from direct experience later.

1890_GfaEkaALMy grandfather George Francis Atkinson, after having graduated from Cornell University in 1885, held teaching positions in zoology at the University of North Carolina, later of botany at the University of South Carolina, and then at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn. He had moved there with his wife Elizabeth Graham Kerr—formerly of Raleigh, NC where her by then deceased father, Washington Carruthers Kerr, had been the State Geologist. A daughter, Josephine, was born but died in infancy.

My father—Francis Kerr Atkinson—was born in Auburn, Alabama on the first of May, 1890.

In 1892 his father accepted an appointment at Cornell University as an assistant professor of botany and the family moved to Ithaca, New York where his sister Clara Packard Atkinson was born that year.

The family settled on the campus in a house at 5 East Avenue whose wooded backyard sloped steeply down to Cascadilla Creek. From visits in the late twenties I can remember the house which was eventually swallowed by the burgeoning engineering campus after WWII.

At the end of the nineteenth century the mix of public service technology then in Ithaca was interesting. There was no domestically distributed electricity, yet the telephone had arrived and a fully functioning electric street car utility served the town and the campus above. The automobile was a curiosity; all local transportation was by horse and carriage. Houses were piped with gas for lighting and cooking but central heating, such as it was, was hot-air and coal-fired. My father recalled arriving home to a dark house in winter whereupon his father would don slippers, turn on the gas and, after some diligent shuffling of feet on the carpet, touch his finger to the gas jet; lighted by the resulting electrostatic spark. A gas-fired “Geyser” in the bathroom heated water on demand but not without its dangers. One winter night while he basked in the bath his mother sensed that too long a time had passed and went to investigate. After having broken open the door she found him unconscious in the tub, victim of the Geyser’s stealthy coal-fired appropriation of the oxygen in the closed space.

Naphtha Launch
Naphtha launch

At the age of five (1895) Kerr was witness to the tragic drowning of his maternal uncle, William Hall Kerr, a successful textile entrepreneur on whose naphtha launch Watauga the families were enjoying an excursion in Annapolis Harbor. Six year old Philip, one of the four small Kerr boys—my father’s first cousins—slipped overboard, and his father, who evidently could not swim, jumped after him. Others managed to rescue the boy, but the father drowned [1]. Kerr’s mother and his young sister Clara were also on board.

My father disliked the name Francis and took his middle name as his first: Kerr [pronounced “car”]. In his early years he attended “Miss Hitchcock’s” school on the Cornell campus along with other children of faculty families, most notably my mother who was almost the same age—Elsie Sterling Church, daughter of Professor Irving Porter Church of civil engineering. It was there—after a discussion of the children’s ages—that one child blurted out to the young Miss Hitchcock: “Gee, you must be a hundred”!—one of my father’s favorite anecdotes. Kerr and Elsie both later attended Ithaca High School from which my father graduated in 1907 and my mother in 1908. He and Elsie played the violin in the high school orchestra [2]; my father kept on with it for the rest of his life—all through my childhood he practiced in the dining room on Sunday afternoons—themes and melodies that have lasted in my memory to the present day.

1908ca_FkaRTTaviDuring his secondary school years he kept a small but elegant inboard motor launch on Cayuga Lake—the onomatopoetic “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” after the sound of the engine. I have a series of photo’s of my youthful father off on a picnic in the boat with his family and their black cocker spaniel, Booker T. Washington; which probably says something about the times and my father’s Southern parental origins. He was always polite, fair, and deferential to black people although never, I think, able completely to accept them as a natural part of his cultural and professional world.

With the exception of an occasional vignette he never spoke in detail of his years as a boy and young man at home in Ithaca. He rarely mentioned his family or his sister Clara; an omission I never questioned until years later. Only near the end of his life did I learn from him that his parents had separated and divorced over his father’s alcoholism (probably around 1910) and, further, that his sister Clara had died, a suicide in 1917 in New York City [2]. He revealed these secrets to me with great emotion and I realized that they were born in a different cultural era where divorce and suicide were universally considered to be dark and shameful family failings.

BookPlateClara was a talented artist all of whose work has been lost except for a clever bookplate designed for her brother when he was at Cornell.

After the separation his father acquired a small rustic house in the woods and fields north of the campus at 138 Ridgewood Road that he called “Laurelwood”, where he lived and worked until his death in 1918. His mother moved to Manhattan with his sister Clara and, sometime after 1925, removed to Asheville, North Carolina where she died in 1952.

Kerr entered Cornell in 1907 and in 1912 graduated with a double degree in mechanical and electrical engineering. The engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi inducted him as a member. His classes in mechanics were taught by 1912_2 FkaFlyerProfessor Church, his future father-in-law. This period was barely five years after the Wright Brother’s success in 1903 and my father—an early member of the Cornell Aero Club—was active in the designing and building of tethered gliders and towed machines which were tested and “flown” on the open heights to the east of the campus. Cornell (perhaps my father) built one of the earliest wind-powered flight trainers.

Finished with university he immediately got a job in Schenectady with General Electric where, I think, he had had previous summer stints. He was there for more than a year and remembered having met and had exchanges with the eminent Nikola Tesla and Charles Steinmetz.

Eventually a Cornell friend, who was teaching in Missouri at the University in Columbia, invited my father to join him there. He accepted and spent three years as an instructor in electrical engineering during which time he broke his leg playing soccer and broke up with a serious lady friend. Asked why he didn’t stay in teaching he would say: “I could see an inescapable groove”—he meant a “rut”; he would indicate it with an undulating motion of his hand—“forming ahead of me.” He feared that teaching would be too narrowly restrictive and not sufficiently representative of the larger world where the important action lay.

1916_LVCoalCoIn June of 1916 Kerr began work in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania for the Lehigh Valley Coal Company where he began as assistant to the company electrical engineer. He told a story of a problem with a new electric traction locomotive which, when set up and ready to go, would not start on the advance of the conductor’s controller. He lay down next to the track close under the engine and asked the conductor to try it again, this time hearing a faint “click” on first contact. After some reflection he directed that the polarity of the connections on one of the two traction motors be reversed; and, lo, the locomotive started. He reminisced that, while lying close to the track in possible danger, it was fortunate that the two electrically mis-opposed motors had exactly balanced starting torques.

1918_FKAOne year later World War I overtook him and he enlisted in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) as an engineer in the officer candidate program. He finished training at Fort Dix in 1917 as First Lieutenant and sailed to France in 1918 as commander of the 78th Division, 303rd Engineer Train “comprising 125 men, 100 mules, 25 wagons and 12 motor trucks.” They were part of the 78th “Lightning” Division. After slogging eastward across France supplying timber and hardware to the builders of bridges across the river Aire under fire and cover of night near Grand Pré they saw several weeks of active service before the November armistice.

1919_H_L_FkaParis
Paris- 1918 (Kerr on right)

After the Armistice Kerr’s unit was sent to wait out the return home in Venarey-les-Laumes where he was billeted with a French family, Chapeau, for the winter and spring of 1919. During this period he became attached to the young son Fernand Chapeau, then about ten, and, over many years, sent gifts at Christmastime and small sums to help with his education [3].

After the War he put together a small booklet “Mules and Motor Trucks in France”; a reminiscence and detailed history of the 303rd.

1919_TrucksFrance001
Mules and Motor Trucks in France (1919)

It was while he was in France that his father died of the “Spanish” influenza [4] in Tacoma, Washington in November of 1918, interrupting a mushroom specimen gathering expedition in the vicinity of Mount Rainier. It is my impression that Kerr was given leave to attend the funeral in Raisinville, Michigan—which would have meant at least a month’s absence from his unit in France.

After the war Kerr returned to the Lehigh Valley Coal Co. where he remained until connecting with an old friend and fellow engineer, Roderick Donaldson, who had established a small consulting business in Manhattan and who sought a partner. In 1920 Kerr accepted a partnership and moved to New York City where he lived for several years at 502 West 113th Street.

As I have heard it, late in 1920 Kerr bumped into Elsie Church in the New York City subway. I suppose each must have known of the other’s presence in the city but hadn’t yet formally arranged to get together. Elsie had just taken a job at the Guaranty Trust after a summer of odd jobs at home in Ithaca. Following a springtime courtship they became engaged and were married in Cornell’s Sage Chapel on August 18, 1921. 1921_EscFkaWed
They honeymooned in France where they revisited Kerr’s Fernand Chapeau “family” in Venarey-les-Laumes; the son, Paul Debrion [5] of his mother’s godson in Clermont-Ferrand; Elsie’s Leandre Legal “family” in Hautvillers; and Elsie’s wartime AEF “canteen” village of Bay-sur-Aube.

Back in Manhattan Kerr and Elsie first lived in a small apartment on Tiemann Place on the Upper West Side, but by the spring of 1923 they were expecting a baby and had found a larger apartment on 113th Street in the same building where Kerr had lived with his mother before their marriage. Sadly, in July the child—a daughter—was stillborn.

Then, on January 13, 1925 I was born, as my mother liked to say, in “Hell’s Kitchen” where the hospital was located on the East Side in the forties.

Later that year Donaldson gave up his part in the consulting partnership and Kerr, who may have already entertained the idea of continuing on his own, gave that up after having received word from his first cousin Philip Kerr in Boston that his employer, the engineering consulting firm of Jackson & Moreland, was hiring. It was Phil who had been saved from drowning in 1905.

And so in October our family arrived in Boston, and by way of a night in the Beaconsfield Hotel—where, I am told, I spent the night in a bureau drawer—we settled into a second floor apartment in Brookline at 27 Claflin Road on Aspinwall Hill. Kerr began what was to become a successful twenty-five year career at Jackson & Moreland where he soon became a project manager directing the design and construction of electrical power generating plants, oil refineries, and industrial facilities.

On March 1st 1926 my sister Elizabeth Holley Atkinson was born in N.E. Baptist Hospital.

To be continued?


References:
[1] The press of the Wm. J. C. Dulany Co. of Baltimore published a small monograph entitled “William Hall Kerr” containing notes on the funeral services, a biographical sketch , and details of this accident.
[2] Clara Packard Atkinson (1892-1917) died in New York City, a suicide.
[3] After a search I was able to find his son Pierre, a mason, in Venary where I visited on two occasions.
[4] The “Spanish flu” pandemic killed 20 million people worldwide and 550,000 in the United States.
[5] Paul’s father, Henri Debrion, was (un filleul de guerre) of Kerr’s mother—as un poilu killed in a tragic military rail accident in 1917.
Also:  A recent search for the traces of Paul Debrion by Les Poilus de Madrid.


William C. Atkinson, November, 2017