Cornell Days: The Big Red Wheel (~1948)

The Big Red Wheel (WCA/author at left)

When spring finally comes to Ithaca after a cold and dismal winter the students at Cornell shed their winter gear, bid farewell to the endless grey above and turn their faces at last to the sun. It is said that Ithaca sees more cloudy days per year than the Olympic Peninsula, the record holder.

Waiter's Derby
Waiter’s Derby

April’s social centerpiece then was spring house party weekend the Saturday of which was Spring Day, a more or less pagan celebration featuring weekend long “dates” (“blind” or otherwise); women allowed—under some sort of chaperonage—upstairs in the fraternity houses; more alcohol than might be prudent; and widespread organized inanity. Among these: pie throwing contests, the hotel school’s Waiter’s Derby, the architect’s Dragon Day parade entry, fraternity and sorority floats and parties, and in 1948, the recently established Inter-fraternity Crew Race.

A fifty yard course on Beebe Lake crossed above Triphammer Falls. The rules were simple: human effort only (no motors, no wind), and five crew members. This last to eliminate sophisticated racing shells. Entries comprised anything that would float from rafts of beer kegs to brass bedsteads made seaworthy.

We at Sigma Chi decided to build a paddlewheel boat. The naval architecture and ship building expertise fell to me and to Al “Oop” Thomas.

We first conceived a Mississippi riverboat arrangement with a paddle wheel on each side but soon abandoned that idea as impossibly unstable; even at small departures from the vertical we couldn’t get the center of gravity below the center of buoyancy. We had thought at first that one boat and two wheels would be easier to make. And so it became a center-wheeler with a pontoon boat on either side.

48050002_BigRedWheelAl proved expert at building these using pine freeboards and a galvanized sheet iron bottom with carefully fashioned lock-seam joints. The wheel, eight feet in diameter, had eight paddles driven by a crank handle on either end to be turned by four of the strongest among us.

In deep secrecy we took the parts down to Cayuga Lake Inlet and reassembled them there for trials. It was windy and cold and the water choppy so we spent less time evaluating results than we might have. It seemed fast enough but the enthusiastic man-power overcame some of the structural elements which had to be re-detailed for strength. One crucial aspect of the design’s shortcoming went unnoticed.

48050003_BigRedWheelWe christened it the “Big Red Wheel” in homage to the world of Cornell “Big Red” sports and—incidentally of course—to the bawdy barroom song. The engine room comprised Bill Konold, Bob Rath, Ed Rorke, and Al Thomas.

Reassembled on Beebe Lake before dawn on the day of the race it passed a strength test; we were ready.

The race was almost an anti-climax. We churned forward way ahead of the competition. But owing to unexpectedly large counter-torque the stern was sufficiently depressed that we took on water at a rate large enough to cross the finish line essentially submerged. The rules had not addressed this submarine possibility and we were adjudged the winners—both for speed and originality of design.


That was the year we stayed for summer session and Bob Rath and I painted the Lansing high school building. The Big Red Wheel spent all summer on the lake gradually falling into disrepair at the hands of whoever could manage to keep it afloat.

Wm. C. Atkinson, 2016


The Hurricane of ’38

Why doesn’t any thing exciting ever happen around here?

That day I walked home from Junior High with Hughie Chapin. He peeled off on Hundreds Circle at Ledgeways and I went on to my house close by. Even if it seemed a bit calm, warm, and humid, this was an unremarkable September afternoon.

No one was home but our housekeeper Maude—Daddy in town at the office and Mother out and about in the car. Around three-thirty we became aware of a rising breeze from the southeast, coming in gusts and swaying the trees in our wooded lot. Soon green leaves began to fill the air and I went outside to see what was happening. By then the wind had risen hugely and suddenly, before my eyes, a huge oak crashed down partially blocking our driveway.

Wow! Excitement. I ran over to Hughie’s and, as I ran, other trees fell. So that by the time we two returned to Ledgeways there was nothing further remarkable about downed trees—they surrounded the house.

Unexpectedly (impossibly?) Mother arrived after tortuous weaving and backing through the neighborhood and we all decided to walk down to [Wellesley] Farms to meet Daddy at the train. The train was late. We walked back through the storm with other commuting neighbors. By then dark had fallen and at the house we discovered a large tree leaning and lunging against the second floor porch railing. Daddy took an axe and, in his business suit, cut the tree so that the top fell away allowing the trunk to spring clear. By midnight the wind had largely abated. There was no electricity and no heat nor hot water, and so to bed.

No school the next day. For weeks the air was filled with the aroma of torn leaves. The world was transformed; nothing seemed familiar. We clambered through the fallen trees playing house among the branches. Gradually after weeks and months the destruction was cleared by men, not with chainsaws, but with bucksaws, two-man saws, and axes. Fifteen mature trees came down on our quarter-acre lot; a lot underlain by ledge which gave roots only shallow purchase. The resulting piles of cordwood, neatly stacked here and there, eventually rotted away for lack of days and years to burn them in the fireplace.

The storm struck from the sea; a complete and disastrous surprise especially for those living in coastal areas on eastern Long Island and southern New England and the Islands. Although the Weather Service knew of the storm the news failed to reach the general public in time. The eye made landfall at New Haven and pretty much moved straight north up the valley of the Connecticut River. Consequently the strongest winds to the east were southerly and had added to their circulation the velocity of the storm mass itself; winds clocked at 121mph at Great Blue Hill. For decades afterward hikers in much of New England struggled over and under the decaying trunks in the forest—all pointing north.

The ocean surge was gigantic having come in on a spring tide. There are marks on the buildings in downtown Providence, Rhode Island thirteen feet above mean high water. There was little or no rain, most of it having caused flooding on the western side of the eye.

And so at last we had an answer to the adolescent’s perennial question: Why doesn’t anything exciting ever happen around here?

Later we heard funny stories about things that were supposed to have happened:

o  On the morning of the storm a lady in New Haven—let’s say—had just accepted postal delivery of an expensive barometer she had ordered from Abercrombie and Fitch. Upon opening the package it seemed to her that the needle was stuck at the extreme low end of the scale—near 28 inches of mercury. After much tapping, sure that it was defective, she repackaged it with a note and took it back to the post office.

When she returned home her house was gone.

o  A book store on Long Island had its display window blown in. One book remained on the shelf—Gone With the Wind. [At that time a contemporary novel; weightier than most.]

o  On the Web:

Wm. C. Atkinson, 2013


The Depth Perception Hurdle (1943-1944)

Things are seldom what they seem.

Among the many qualities required of every aspiring airman in the Army Air Force in World War II was the ability to distinguish the distance relationship between two similar but abstract nearby objects—that is, to decide which is closer and which farther without clues from the nature of the objects themselves or from their surroundings.  The perception of depth in this way depends upon the natural focusing mechanism of the eyes coupled with their ability to converge laterally upon any point in space.  I had no reason to believe that my eyes were any different in this regard from those of any other.

When called up by the draft at the age of eighteen in June of 1943 [just a week or so after graduating from high school] we were summoned to a building on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston to begin our induction into the Army.  After having filled out much paperwork and having sat through interviews by uniformed officers—one certainly a psychologist—we spent the rest of the day shuffling slowly through long lines stripped to our undershorts and undergoing various physical probings, needle-stickings, and examinations.  At day’s end we were free to return home for a period of about two weeks before reporting for duty and shipment out to Fort Devens and the duration.

Being drafted meant that you joined the Army in some as yet unknown and unassigned capacity: the infantry, artillery, intelligence, ordnance, etc. there being no obvious way at the outset to direct your course.  The idea of the infantry seemed worrisome—I had many high school classmates who served in that gritty service almost all of whom returned after the War.  But, as it happened on that afternoon, upon leaving for home I passed a desk with a sign and a recruiting officer looking for men to join the (then) Army Air Force.  I stopped by.  A limited number of applicants could be taken.  I filled out an application and found that I must return in a day or so for another round of induction indignities.  I went home with fantasies of flying beginning to fill my head.  It certainly seemed better than the alternatives.

At that next round I discovered that I had just barely met the Air Force body weight requirement.  The lower limit was 111 pounds for my height—I weighed in at 112.  (I had been previously turned down by the Navy V-12 college program for having been too short—I was 5’-2”.)  Among other things, after the eye test (luckily I was 20/20), there was a test for depth perception.


In a long narrow space about twelve feet from a chair was a large black screen with a small rectangular window cut out about the size of a post card.  Through the window I could see two vertical white lines about two inches apart and as wide as a pencil, both against a black background.  The operator showed me that the lines were really white sticks that could be moved by pulling the two strings he handed me; as one stick moved forward the other moved back.  The track carried a scale visible only to the operator for observing their separation.  I was to be given three attempts to set the sticks equidistant from me; side by side.  I pulled the strings watching the sticks move back and forth and stopping when they seemed even.

After my three tries the operator told me I was outside the allowed three millimeter limit and that I had failed.  My heart sank.  Was I for this to be denied the chance to join the Air Force?  “Yes; unless you can pass this test. You will be permitted two re-tests, one next week and one the week after that.”  But, gee, I had to report for active duty in a week and would be able to make it for only that one chance.

I fretted all the way home and immediately upon arriving I went to the basement and, several hours later, had fashioned a passable facsimile of the depth perception apparatus.  I began to practice.  When my father came home from work he enthusiastically joined me and we spent the evening I pulling the strings and Dad reading the scale and taking notes.  At first I wasn’t very good at it but practice seemed to work.  By the end of the week I could line up the sticks almost perfectly.  At the induction center I passed the re-test easily and began my wartime Air Force career.

Many months passed.  After induction at Fort Devens we cadets were shipped by train to Greensboro, North Carolina for a summer of basic training pretty much indistinguishable from that of any other Army service—drill sergeants, forced marches, heat, mud, mosquitoes, and poison ivy.  Thence to the University of Cincinnati for a fall of college-level courses in mathematics, physics, geography, and English.  It was during this period that were given ten hours of instruction in flying Piper Cubs.

WCA & Piper Cub J-3 (1943)
WCA & Piper Cub J-3 (1943)

Near the end of that year [1943] we were sent to San Antonio, Texas to undergo a rigorous classification process at the end of which we hoped to emerge as qualified to attend pilot, bombardier, or navigation school, graduation from which guaranteed you silver “wings” and a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Army.  Those not considered qualified were assigned to aerial gunnery or aircraft maintenance schools and graduated as non-commissioned officers.  I had decided that my chances of getting through the rigors of pilot training were slim and settled on aiming for aerial navigation as more suited to my temperament.

Once again we were confronted by a battery of many tests to prove aptitudes in mathematics, physics, reading comprehension, balance, coordination, reaction time, spatial manipulation, etc.  And again, near the very end: depth perception.

As I sat facing the white sticks with the strings in my hand I panicked. Nothing to do but try my best. I moved the sticks; I strained to see when they seemed even; three tries; I failed. One re-test permitted the next day and so, no chance to practice even had I the means to do so. I tried to think of some practice scheme for the barracks but had to give it up.  For a long day I agonized over my fate until the final hour.  I reported to the test and found myself assigned to a different test space (there were three) and a different operator. I sat down. The operator explained the test and moved the sticks to and fro and I noticed that he was standing, not at the apparatus where he could see the scale, but behind me. He had rigged up an auxiliary scale on the wall beside me but just out of my sight. It was crudely driven by two cords along the wall that passed my left ear and, right there—between two screw eyes—was a large knot arranged to limit the motion.  If I turned my head ever so slightly I could just see it out of the very corner of my eye.  The test began.  I watched only the knot—setting it each time as best I could guess midway between the two screw eyes.  It was a slim chance depending as it did on the knot’s having no built-in bias.  But… I “passed” the test!  I could go on to preflight training and aerial navigation school!

At least a year later [late 1944]—after preflight and navigation school at Selman Field in Monroe, Louisiana where we got our commissions and won our wings, after radar navigation school in Boca Raton, Florida, after meeting our crew and flying at last in B-29’s in Lincoln, Nebraska, after bombing and gunnery practice in Peyote, Texas, and after finally arriving in Kearney, Nebraska for overseas assignment—amazingly, I faced the white sticks yet again.  I failed, but it was by then too late.  In my final interview before we were to fly overseas to the Pacific Theater the debriefing officer looked up from my record noting the failure in depth perception.  Without hesitation I told him this story.

He commended my resourcefulness and said, in effect, “It’s guys like you that we need in the Air Force.”  He stood up; I stood up and saluted.  “Good luck,” he said.

I became an Aerial Radar Navigator and was deployed to Saipan in the Marianas to fly bombing runs over Japan in 1945, and, after the Japanese surrendered, we dropped supplies to POW camps in Japan.



Letters, Journal, & Diary Entries Written by Elsie S. Church of Ithaca, NY to her Family and Friends from Wartime France (1918-1919)

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.

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 negro 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 VanDuzer 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 very 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.



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.




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.




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.  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.


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.



Recey-sur-Ource, Dec. 26 1918

Dear Family:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


All the love in the world, Elsie


[1] Juliette Whiton

[2] The Lieutenant on the train to Dijon knew Warren and Cogbell and evidently had a sequel to the “sweet dreams” story.

[3] Recey-sur-Ource, 60 km NNW Dijon.




Journal:                                    December 27th, Friday


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


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


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


Journal:                                    December 28th, Saturday


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


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


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


Journal:                                    December 29th, Sunday


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


Journal:                                    December 30th, Monday


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


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


Journal:                                    December 31st, Tuesday


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


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


[1] A friend from Ithaca, I believe.


Bay-sur-Aube[1], Dec. 31 1918

Dear Edith [2]:


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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


Lots of love, Elsie


[1] Bay-sur-Aube, 65 km N of Dijon.

[2] Elsie’s older sister; my aunt.




Journal:                                    January 1st, Wednesday


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


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


Journal:                                    January 2nd, Thursday


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

A tragedy has happened this P.M.  The stonemason building the fireplace placed across the opening a stone about 6’ by 6’.  After he had begun operations on top of this stone, the weight proved too much, and the stone broke with an awful smash.  In the mixup the barracks door, which had been used for a scaffold, was broken for which Col. Smith gave us the deuce the next time he came.  As a result iron bars were procured and used instead of stone.  On top of this excitement we had a visit from the Mayor of the village.  It seems the men had taken some stones off the cemetery wall for the construction and, this being a sacriledge, he wished them replaced at once.  The Mayor is a picturesque old man who wears a dark cape with a hood.  His mother-in-law, who must be at least

eighty, may be seen anytime pounding her clothes down at the public wash basin or shoveling straw into a wheelbarrow in the stable.  The way the women work here is positively appalling.  Even the young girls.  They are as strong as oxen.


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


Journal:                                    January 3rd, Friday


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


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


They had a ragtime wedding which was a scream.


Journal:                                    January 4th, Saturday


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

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


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


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


Journal:                                    January 5th, Sunday


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


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

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


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

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


Journal:                                    January 6th, Monday


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


A.P.O. 777, 2nd Battalion

52nd Infantry

Bay-sur-Aube, Jan. 6 1919

Dear Edith:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Love to all, Elsie


[1] Becky Harris, daughter of Prof. Harris Cornell paleontologist.

[2] Probably Elsie’s high school French teacher.

[3] Elsie’s home address in Ithaca, NY.



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.  Rather 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.

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!  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 [1] 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 [2] 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] Helen Talbot Gilkey–Elsie’s friend from Pratt–whose son Arthur

was famously killed on K2, second highest mountain in the world, in 1952.

[2] Randolph Cautley, hometown friend from Ithaca.




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.




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 hardboiled 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.




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 but 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.



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.  Very 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.



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.




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




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



For continuation see file escsum19.doc

Chemistry (1930s)

…the book had an index entry for gunpowder.

In the depths of the Depression [ca. 1933] daddy came home one night with a lump of coal and a “recipe” that was then all the rage. The black lump was placed in a saucer and some water and ammonia poured over it, to which some blueing, salt, and a few drops of red ink had been added.  In a few days fanciful and feathery crystals of blue and green and white began to envelop the lump of coal.  The result was called a “Depression Plant” [1]—something decorative that all could afford in those desperate times.

On the Fourth of July daddy always produced a supply of fireworks, fire and cannon crackers, and weird things like “snakes”; little grey cones which, when lit with a stick of glowing punk, would erupt into an ever growing serpent of ash coiling and curling around. We could set off the firecrackers ourselves but the cannon crackers were reserved for daddy.  Out on the “East” lawn and on the back steps we set firecrackers under tin cans and broke them in half to make spitting “cat” fights. For after dark among the fireworks were Roman candles, fountains, pinwheels, and sparklers to end the day.

One year I was sent to my room for some forgotten transgression on a Fourth when daddy was making for us a special wooden cannon  supposedly to shoot firecrackers.  My punishment was exclusion from the firing.  My sister Holley told me later that it was a failure; it blew into bits. Yess!

On another Fourth, while fooling around and watching fireworks at the Bacon’s, I had several firecrackers in the bottom of my shorts pocket. Unaccountably one (but not all!) went off shredding my underwear amid frantic hopping and slapping of the smoking fabric.  I had to have a tetanus shot the results of which eventually kept me in bed for several days with a high fever and a painful and uncomfortable case of “lockjaw.”

Just before I was ten [1934] I was given a boxed chemistry set for Christmas and, for my birthday a few weeks later, a microscope kit.  The detailed memory of them has faded but the set had test tubes and some little vials of chemicals, litmus paper, phenolphthalein, some sort of spirit lamp I think, and things like tweezers, a wire test tube holder, etc.  So, I could test vinegar and ammonia as acid or base, magically convert water into wine, extinguish lighted matches in invisible carbon dioxide, and make tiny quantities of the poisonous gas chlorine, greenish in the bottom of the tube and fascinating because of its horror in the Great War.  Dark purple potassium permanganate and glycerine when mixed would sizzle and spontaneously burst into flame with purple smoke.

I could dissolve sal-ammoniac in water, put a drop on a microscope slide and, as it dried, watch the beautiful crystal feathers spread out like living ferns to fill all the field and stop.  Similarly one could watch emerging cubes of sugar and salt and, as my father showed me outside in the winter, the simple freezing of water.  One summer, in the mucky water from the pond in back, I found a rotifer with the microscope.

According to mother’s diary in 1937 [4/21, I was twelve] “Donny and Wm. made paddles for a boat and also gunpowder.”  I have no recollection of this day but I certainly remember my gunpowder of later years.

When I was almost fourteen daddy gave me a “real-life” chemistry set for Christmas.  With it was at least one book by A. Frederick Collins; “The Boy Chemist” (1925) or the “Boy’s Book of Experiments” (1927) the last mentioned being most memorable for its having an actual index entry for gunpowder.

The “set” comprised individual items that he had amassed and packed in several boxes: spherical and Erlenmeyer flasks, a retort!, Bunsen burner, ring stand, test tubes, glass funnels, a “thistle” tube, bottles with rubber stoppers perforated with holes for glass tubing, the tubing itself (in long straight pieces later to be cut with a file and softened and bent in the heat of the burner)–and chemicals.  Chemicals in real regular sized bottles.  Sulphur; potassium, sodium, and strontium nitrates; vicious (fuming) acids–sulphuric, nitric, hydrochloric.

He helped me set up a laboratory in the basement laundry room where there was water for the big soapstone laundry tubs and gas to be tubed up to the burner from a spigot he added to the two-burner wash-boiler stove. We had an old enamel topped kitchen table; we made shelves for the equipment and chemicals.

I think I spent more time bending and welding glass tubing and blowing glass bubbles than actually experimenting but as time went on several things stand out in my memory.

One was the making of oxygen and hydrogen by the disassociation of water with a direct electric current–the bubbles rising in each of two inverted test tubes filled with water.  A red-hot iron wire immersed in the oxygen would burn violently with sparks and the hydrogen tube, when inverted over the Bunsen flame, would go off with a pop reverting explosively to its original compound leaving water droplets on the sides of the cooling tube.

Another was guncotton and its dissolved form–nitroglycerine.  I started with guncotton (nitro cellulose) made by treating ordinary cotton with nitric acid then washing and drying the result.  It would burn in an instantaneous flash but I don’t remember trying to confine it as in firecrackers as described by Collins.  Just as well, maybe.

Nitroglycerine came later.  I can’t imagine how lucky I might have been for the making involved dissolving cotton in a mixture of two acids with heating over the Bunsen burner.  I learned—much later—that this reaction is highly unstable and requires precise temperature control to complete safely.  (In a similar experiment Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, lost his eyesight.) I poured the small amount of resulting yellow liquid into one of my mother’s tiny perfume bottles and suddenly realized that I hardly dared touch it further.

Finally, I arranged a flagstone on the ground below my sister’s second floor porch in back and gingerly took the small bottle upstairs and outside where I leaned over the railing and, centering it over the flagstone fifteen feet below—dropped it.  Nothing happened; and I guess I was well out of that one.

We had fun with elemental iodine crystals which we could get at the drugstore and which we treated more or less haphazardly with household ammonia.  The result was ammonium iodide, a brown substance so unstable when dried that the touch of a feather or a house fly could detonate it. We spread it “wet” in various places like the floor of my sister’s room where it would snap and crack making purple smoke under her shoes.  Later, in college, we made larger quantities but abruptly ended our experiments after an unexpected blast from a damp batch.

The rubber hose on the spigot of the washtub stove proved ideal for the making of paint can bombs.  The lid of an old one gallon can would be hammered on all ’round and a nail hole punched in the center of the top and in the side at the bottom.  With the rubber hose end held firmly at one of the holes the gas would be turned on [2]. The entering gas made a faint hissing sound and, as the can filled, the musical pitch of the hiss would rise gradually leveling off when the can was full.  Then, with a finger or a thumb over each hole, the can would be taken outside, set down, and a lighted match applied to the hole at the top.  A small flame, like a candle flame, would then burn steadily and quietly for what seemed like a long time.  Then, getting smaller and fainter, it would suddenly vanish as—BAM! the lid would be blown sky high.

We gradually learned that this was fairly harmless business and took the activity inside to the playroom where a can might be set to burn silently and maliciously under the player-piano bench beneath some unsuspecting musician.

Better and louder blasts were obtained with rectangular gallon screw-cap cans—cap on tight.  The result being a  large (and fairly neat) rectangle of sheet tin and two ends.  I learned once of a machine that shelled walnuts by a similar method.

Rockridge Pond (Bill & Loki, 1938)

Floating out onto Rockridge Pond on a home made raft we would poke the rotting bottom with long sticks.  Bubbles rose and could be captured in an overturned water-filled can.  Methane.  We ignited it to see the blue flash.

In the thirties any kid could ride down to the drugstore on his bike and buy all the ingredients for black powder in satisfyingly large quantities–sulphur and potassium nitrate; the charcoal we gleaned from the fireplace ashes.  Even potassium chlorate could be had which was a great blast and sensitivity enhancer; the only additive that would make a good homemade firecracker–plain old black powder made with only potassium nitrate was too slow for that.

Mix a little sulphur and potassium chlorate on the anvil and hit it a smart hammer blow.  Bam!  The hammer bounces as though having struck a rubber pad.

Somewhere we learned that one could take a 1/4″ machine bolt, just barely thread on the nut and fill the small cavity with kitchen, strike anywhere, match heads–the white part, very carefully shaved off the heads one at a time.  A matching bolt would be screwed carefully in and both slowly tightened to compress the charge.  Tossing the assembly onto a hard surface would detonate the match heads blowing the assembly apart.  I’m sure we never gave a thought to the potential danger of the flying bolts.

Cannon (1940)

In 1940 I made a cannon out of some 1/2 inch iron pipe and a couple of fittings.  It lacked realism and so I built a carriage that could vary the elevation, a recoil mechanism of rubber bands, and some giant 20d spikes to anchor it to the ground.  I painted it in military camouflage. We made a mold out of plaster-of-Paris and cast cylindrical slugs of lead to fit the barrel.

Dad was supportive but counseled caution—pointing out the obvious; that black-iron water pipe was not designed for use as ordnance—and so we always rushed to hide behind trees after having lighted the fuse.

The gun was a muzzle loader.  Pour in some powder (not too much the first time).  Add a small wad of newspaper, tamp it in hard.  Then the slug.  Another wad; tamp it in.  Magnesium ribbon worked well as a fuse, brilliant, hot, and slow burning.  Light the fuse; run for the tree.  The cannon bided its time: first sparks from the touch-hole and then, as though gathering its strength—boom!  We could fire a slug through a three-quarter inch pine board.

Once we took it to a small promontory overlooking Rockridge Pond where we set the barrel at an angle high enough, we thought, greatly to shorten the horizontal range.  We fired and watched for a distant splash. A second or two.  No splash?  Then, from the far shore about two-hundred yards distant, came a sharp clank.  Sheesh!  A slate roof?  A car?  We grabbed the cannon and ran pell-mell for the house.  I later learned in physics class that maximum projectile range is obtained at a barrel elevation of forty-five degrees.

One day I completed my finest batch of gunpowder.  I had used water in the mixing and grinding and had spread the black goo out onto newspapers to dry at low heat in the kitchen oven before final grinding. The finished batch half-filled one of my mother’s enameled metal salad bowls and on this afternoon it sat in the playroom at the far end of the workbench.  It contained potassium chlorate; I needed to test some.  So, at the near end of the bench, I set a pinch on the anvil and whacked it with the hammer.  Bam! As expected.  But…  What’s this?  A great hiss and rumble at the other end of the bench!  A mushroom cloud arose on a pillar of dark flame and spread out over the playroom ceiling [3]. In an instant my beautiful powder was gone and one of my mother’s better salad bowls left red-hot, blackened, and deformed—to say nothing of the soot besmirched ceiling and the smell of brimstone which soon pervaded the house.  This was around 1940 before the atomic bomb but it realistically foreshadowed that event in miniature. No one was home and I have repressed whatever lies and stories were fabricated and whatever family repercussions might have been the result.  It was my last boyhood batch of gunpowder.

[1] Depression Plant:
3 lumps of coal
6 tbs. blueing (added to laundry, the “Whiter than White” of the day.)
6 tbs. water
6 tbs. salt
2 tbs. ammonia
4 drops red ink or food coloring

[2] Not recommended for fuel gases heavier than air such as butane or propane.

[3] For years I have puzzled over how a spark could have flown the distance between the anvil and the bowl. I have lately come to suspect that it might have been the sharp shock of the hammer explosion that caused a detonation. If so, I was better out of that one than I realized at the time!

Wm. C. Atkinson, August 2002



Aeroplanes (1930-1943)

1912_2 FkaFlyer
My father, (Francis) Kerr Atkinson

My father was connected to flight as a member and builder for the Cornell Aero Club in 1912. He took part in the design and building of single-seat bi-planes which  were then “flown”—towed behind autos—around a large circuit on the playing fields above Schoellkopf stadium in order to learn flight control.  The Wright brothers had made their epic flight at Kitty Hawk only nine years earlier, and Wilbur his historic flight at Le Mans in 1908.

In June of 1919 my mother, too, took flight in an airplane over Paris. She was between assignments, having left her attachment to the AEF (American Expeditionary Forces) as a canteen girl in Bay-sur-Aube and waiting to join a Friends Service group in Epernay,

In her own words:

“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, it’s 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. So—along with four other adventurous souls we went with her to Le Bourget 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.”

19061501_ECA Caudron
Elsie Sterling Church at Le Bourget, Paris

“You can’t imagine 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 Sacré 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 la 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. The one I went up in was a Caudron.”

My own first memory of airplanes is that of having just stepped off the DL&W sleeper from New York City [probably on July 17th, 1929 with mother, my sister Holley, then three, and “Nanny” Bennett] to the platform at the Lackawanna station in Ithaca, NY where Aunt Edith [Church] had come down the hill in her new Dodge touring car to meet us.  I would have been four and a half.

Someone must have remarked an airplane in the clear sky and we all looked up.  “Aeroplanes” were hardly twenty-five years old then and still a novelty.  It was a biplane.  I was transfixed.  It was tiny but seemed to me to be extremely close like a drifting mote or toy that I could have reached out and taken into my hand and I long wondered how that illusion could have been.  Many years later I decided that it had been an optical illusion—that in reality there had been two planes flying in tandem and that my (slightly crossed) eyes had merged them into one seemingly much nearer; the way two images are fused in the stereopticon, or the way the bathroom floor tiles sometimes seem to merge and to hover in the air above the floor when you are musing on the toilet.

It was on this—or another of these Ithaca trips—that we had seen Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis as we passed through Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  It was elevated on display in the great concourse.  We climbed some wooden steps and mother lifted me up so that I could see into the cockpit [1].

For many years mother was part of a sort of therapeutic women’s “Rhythm” group who, as near as I could tell, spent their time dancing and swaying in flowing and diaphanous gowns, all with a classical Greek motif.  [Such a group would today be seen definitely as “New Age,” in fact, the same Noyes Rhythm movement exists still; I found it on the Web.

So it happened in the summer of 1932 that Holley and I were sent to Cobalt, Conn. for six weeks of family Rhythm group camp where, incidentally, I learned to swim in the lake and was exposed to the humiliation and the terror of boxing.  My memory of the adults is one of ghostly dancers in the waning light of day, in diaphanous gowns and crowned with flowered wreaths, clasped hand-in-hand, weaving in and out among the trees in the twilight.  Incongruously it was here that I first became aware of model airplanes.

The older boys—I was seven—had been given model airplanes to build at camp workshop.  They had wingspans of about 24 inches.  I was fascinated and remember that the wings were of thin silk somehow attached to bent loops of fine wire or bamboo.  At that moment all I wanted in life was to have a kit of my own to build but, in spite of tearful cajoling, I was told that I wasn’t old enough.  Model airplanes were deferred.


Planes were then uncommon enough that one always looked up at the sound of an engine overhead.  As the years passed flights increased—we would even see autogyros (planes with no wings but with helicopter-like free rotors driven by the forward motion of the craft)—and the novelty began to fade.

One afternoon in 1933 Holley and I were playing in the back yard in Wellesley [Massachusetts] by the inlet to Rockridge Pond when we heard a huge, deep, and growing noise in the sky overhead.  Suddenly, at first filtered by branches and then in the clear over the water, a huge silver airship loomed moving majestically eastward seemingly just above the treetops.  We ran pell-mell toward the house shouting for the others to “come see” but too late; it was immediately lost to view.  The next day we learned that it had been the huge American dirigible USS Akron en route to East Boston Airport.

Mother notes in her diary of 1933 that [daddy] helped William with an aeroplane and later, in 1936: “Wm. worked all P.M. on an aeroplane.”  The first was probably some crude assemblage of parts but the second could have been my first model in kit form.  It wasn’t of silk and fine wire but of balsawood and colored tissue paper.  The company that made the kits and the glue was Megow’s.  The direction sheet spoke of “templates” so I asked Dad what was a template and he had no idea.  This surprised me because until then I had always thought he knew everything there was to know about technology.

This model was the first of uncounted successors.  I set up a card table in my room and had an old soft wood drawing board of mother’s that would take straight pins with only moderately killing finger pressure—a permanent callus formed on my thumb and forefinger from planting endless pins to secure the work over the plan outlines while the glue dried.  Wax paper, eventually shredded by the cutting, covered the printed plans so that the glue would not stick.  Eventually “X-Acto” knives replaced the stiff single-sided blades borrowed from dad’s razor.  The glue was orange “Ambroid” and later clear “Duco” cement which built up on the fingers to be eaten off in layers.  It had a sharp chemical flavor and, when not quite dry, a real bite.

Often I would be up long before breakfast for days on end to have extra time to work on the current model.  Waiting endlessly for glue and lacquer to dry was a real frustration; an introduction to the virtues of patience.

The outlines of the fuselage bulkheads and wing airfoil “formers” were printed on thin balsawood sheets to be carefully cut out with the razor blade.  Some models had formers only for the wing sections; the boxy fuselage being made only of sticks.  The stringers, long and thin, sometimes of bamboo, were glued into notches in the formers and three-dimensional skeletons began to take shape eventually ready for covering with the tissue paper.

Covering was fun and went pretty fast.  A surface of the skeleton would be painted with banana oil which came with a brush in a little bottle and had the wonderful fruity pungency of the overripe fruit.  Then the paper would be laid on the oiled form and later trimmed around the edges.  The result when dry was loose and wrinkled but when sprayed with water (using one of mother’s charcoal drawing fixatif aspirators) and dried it shrank to a skin, tight as a drum, which could then be painted with lacquer which also came in little bottles and in various colors.

The result was a real airplane that would glide and fly when the rubber band (propeller motor) was wound up to “double” or “triple” knots and the plane released.  Some were “ROG’s” which meant they would take (Rise) Off from the Ground if given a runway with enough scope.  If the balance was right some would even land again at the far end of the basement playroom—or down the street—before veering off into some obstruction.

Daddy would sometimes take us to the East Boston Airport (now Logan) to watch the planes.  One fall [1936] mother noted in her diary that I had made a Beechcraft and in October she took me to Richard Knight Auditorium at Babson (Institute, now College) to hear Amelia Earhart lecture [she was lost in the Pacific the next summer].  We sat high up, in a balcony, and the afternoon light streamed through the vast arched windows.

I remember nothing of the lecture but after it there was an indoor model air show that used the great height of the hall to advantage.  I had never imagined that models could have been built like these—endurance models designed to circle, for hours it seemed, gradually gaining altitude and then descending, gliding down after their rubber band motors had wound down.  They were large—three or four feet wing span and light as feathers.  I think some of them weighed no more than three or four ounces.  The wings were of “gossamer”; actually films of collodion only a few molecules thick applied by immersing the wing skeleton in water, applying a drop of collodion to the surface where it would spread out instantaneously into an invisible film, and then lifting the wing through the surface to capture the layer.  The collodion rippled with rainbows like those seen in soap bubbles.

The propeller lobes were made the same way—collodion covered loops of bamboo like the wings of dragon flies.  They turned slowly, perhaps once per second, as the planes rose majestically gaining maybe a few inches of altitude at the end of each fifty foot circuit.  Each remained in the air for at least fifteen minutes it seemed.  I was fascinated but never aspired to enter that school of model building.

When I was twelve I began a really big model of five feet wingspan.  Dick Haward, a school friend, also had a big plane and for it a small gasoline engine.  We would try his engine in my model when it was finished.  It was common then to invite various school teachers to dinner occasionally and that spring my airplane was being proudly shown to Miss DeLura, the school principal.  She took it unexpectedly in hand and—crack—broke one of the stringers in her clumsy grasp.  I could have fixed it, and perhaps I did, but I have no recollection ever of having tried it out with Dick’s motor.

One Sunday in October of 1937 Holley and I were awakened unusually early by mother and dad and told to prepare for a surprise.  We drove into Boston and out to the airport.  We were to fly to New York City for the day!  The plane was, I imagine, a Douglas DC-3 37100301_DC-3and seemed in my memory to have had about two dozen seats in rows of one and two.  At 10:20a we taxied out to the runway and took-off.  What excitement!  We were enthralled.  On the way a steward(ess?) served snacks.  We landed in Newark and got to 42nd Street by 12:30.  We saw the science museum at Rockefeller Center and went to the Planetarium.  The taxis had folding jump seats in the back and we had lunch at an Automat—a wall of cubbies with glass, coin-operated doors behind which were sandwiches, chicken pot pies, shiny bowls of jello, and a corps of workers dutifully refilling the empties from behind—the grand daddy of all fast food.  Later we went to friends of mother’s [the Fairchild’s] for dinner.  We came home on the Pullman sleeper from Pennsylvania Station. This was mother’s first flight since her sight-seeing jaunt over Paris in 1919 and surely my father’s first flight ever.

At one time daddy worked on a model of his own design; a kind of helicopter device.  The rotor, elaborately constructed of thin paper, looked like an unfurled umbrella with curved vanes—like the chambers of a nautilus or the fine gills of a mushroom—on the underside.  I still have the propeller and the wooden stick frame that stretched the rubber band motor.  I haven’t the least memory of how it was supposed to have worked.

When I was fifteen I conceived and built a balsa wood and yellow tissue paper ornithopter; a plane that flapped bird-like wings.  I fashioned tiny cranks and levers out of piano wire with needle-nosed pliers.  A rubber band powered it.  It flew—sort of—mainly flopping toward the ground with a sound like a broken window shade and much sooner than I might have wished.

Gradually my room filled with models both flying and (more detailed) solid models aiming for realism.  Some were suspended on wires overhead.  My best was the Beechcraft, a biplane of about eighteen inch wingspan with staggered wings (the lower forward of the upper) and a radial engine.  I photographed them all once but the photos are now lost. Eventually the planes found their way to the attic to be retrieved several years later for the final act.

By 1942 the War was well under way.  Somewhere in that period a friend and I conceived the idea of simulating, in a small way, aerial combat.  This began by the opening of the front window of my corner room at 85 Ledgeways. Those models that would fly were wound up, anointed with kerosene, ignited, and launched out the window to circle, dive and to crash and burn in the driveway two and a half stories below.

WCA & Piper J-3

During my later service in the Army Air Force in training at the University of Cincinnati we had occasion to be taught to fly in Piper J-3s. We learned a long list of maneuvers in addition to simply taking off and landing with a minimum of jolting, careening from side to side, and bouncing clumsily back into the air. We learned to keep the nose up during turns—with the wings at an angle vertical lift is reduced.  I had trouble with the rudder controls because they were counter-intuitively the opposite of what I had learned as a kid on my Flexible Flyer. We memorized and executed a codified “series of turns” without losing track of our bearings, and had to be able to recover from a vertical tailspin in a prescribed number (like two-and-a-half) wild gyrations while trying to keep track of how many times the highway below had rotated. I was not much good at this emergency counting but in the end my instructors gave me a good report.

After the War, while a freshman at Cornell, I made a last detailed solid airplane model.  It was a B-29 carrying the markings of our 20th Air Force, 498th Bombardment Group on Saipan in 1945: T-Square 37 on which I was the radar navigator.  I have it still.

My Last Model Airplane (~1947)

[1] As of this writing I can find no proof of my ever having seen the Spirit of Saint Louis in Grand Central Station. An exhaustive Google subject and image search seems to confirm that the plane was never there on display. It is possible that it was the German plane “Bremen” on display in 1929 during one of our passages through the station. It had just completed the first east to west Atlantic crossing. But the plane was suspended in air with no possibility of having a close look.





Construction (1930s)

As school children we were endlessly fascinated by construction work, with the men and materials, but especially with the processes, the equipment and, above all, the machinery.

The machinery in general seemed muscular and open to the possibility of actually revealing to us how it might work—like anatomical drawings showing the tendons and bones of a limb.  It was angular, black, rusting, and oozed dark grease from its joints and pivots.  It ran on coal, hissing steam, and smoke.

Steamrollers had a great spoked iron flywheel on one or two sides of the engine.  The driver’s cab was filled with hand levers and long shafted steering wheels and covered with a flat canvas sun-roof that shook as the machine lurched forward and backward over the hot macadam steaming from water applied to keep the roller from sticking.

1932_Steam Shovel
Coal-fired steam shovel

Steam  shovels were tracked—as Cat’s are still—but the mighty torso of the machine carrying the awkward shovel arms and the cab and engine swiveled on a huge circular crown of gear teeth and the shovel arm, itself a gigantic rack, was thrust forward and back with pinions and greasy cables.  The shovel itself seemed to be the head of a giant beast with an articulated jaw—the hinge was the eye—and a row of huge teeth sprouting, oddly, like spiky hair from its forehead.  The teeth had no reverse reach (as on today’s backhoes) so workmen would have to hand-excavate the close-in stuff.

The behemoths clanked and smoked and, happily, were left at quitting time totally exposed and unguarded, metal chinking as it cooled, and various fluids sighing faintly to our ears as we took command of the controls to advanced the projects into the summer evenings.

Often a squat, rusty, and lurching diaphragm pump (sometimes left to run overnight) would be connected to two hoses one of which vanished into the turbid depths of an open hole or trench and the other, at labored intervals, belched forth gouts of muddy liquid into a canvas hose and then into a nearby ditch where the flow ran on to supply our dams and other grand and fleeting roadside civil engineering projects.

Hit-or-miss gasoline pump engine

Driven by a primitive one-cylinder, hit-or-miss gasoline engine—running at about 120 rpm—such a pump had a flywheel capable of carrying it, stumbling onward between frequent and random misfires, through a couple of cycles or so.  This gave it a characteristic and rhythmic but intermittent bump and breathy suck which I am certain any adult child of the twenties or thirties (who had endless time on his hands after school) would recognize instantly.

Smudge pot “bombs”

After dark the open pits and obstructions left for the night would be marked by crude black kerosene-filled spheres about the size of bowling balls with blackened wicks at the top burning dimly, smokily, and flickering in the darkness.  They were loose; but we never touched them; they seemed to us a little too dangerous—like the real bombs of our imaginations.

The heavy construction, machinery, and masonry workmen seemed mostly from southern Europe; swarthy from the sun, often mustachioed, and under banded fedoras and with bandannas at their necks.  I don’t remember much about the carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, and roofers except that they wore white canvas “farmer johns” and arrived at the jobs all together in the back of a truck. Individual autos were never parked around because they didn’t own cars as is common today.

After the workmen had left for the day we swarmed over the skeletal forms of the new house construction then burgeoning in our area, pocketing the coin-like knockout plugs from electrical boxes, sticking our fingers into the huge tubs of pristine white slaked lime left overnight by the plasterers to cure, and walking the gutters and ridgepoles arms waving widely—falling occasionally but usually able to hide the consequences from our parents.  Once, while balancing around a right-angled turn on a wooden hip roof gutter, I lost it and fell twelve feet onto a pile of bricks.  I had sprained my wrist in a fall, of course, from my bicycle [11/6/38].

Hod carrier

Often, too, we would hang around during working hours watching form-building, the pouring of concrete, and the laying of endless bricks and stones—the mortar mixed in great tubs with long handled shovels and hoes and the bricks and mortar carried, around and up ladders to high staging in wooden hods balanced on the shoulders of the carriers, to the masons who deftly plied their trowels.  We watched plasterers working their smooth magic over wire lath and were fascinated by the plumber with his roaring blow-torch pouring molten lead into oakum-packed cast iron bell-joints.  (Cinder-block and so-called dry-wall construction were not to come into use until after the War.)

Sometimes we would talk with the men and they might deign to answer questions.  Without realizing it at the time we were learning how it all goes together; how the world works.  We were even learning some small things about cultures different from our own and how to get along with them.  I can trace some of my later ability to enjoy work with others less privileged than I to encounters such as these.

As we grew older and bolder we stole.  Nails, lumber, hinges, tarpaper, shingles (the occasional piece of capped pipe—for a cannon).  Somewhere nearby and hidden in the woods a crude club house would take shape.  One day (panic!) a policeman found his way to a remote site and we had to raze that one.  But we saved everything.  We laboriously pulled and pounded out and straightened the nails and the structure rose again, phoenix-like, in someone’s else patch of woods.  It seems unbelievable, now, that we were never charged with theft.

There was the digging of tunnels, too.  Cut and cover.  It was hard, grubby work getting through the local glacial till and hacking through roots.  Damp, dark; and fun for a while but without the allure of a really swell shack with a sloping roof, a door and windows, a trap door in the floor, and an old kerosene heater.

And there were real, scary tunnels to walk through.  We would ride our bikes over to an aqueduct project nearby in Weston and sneak through a fence and into the open end of a huge pipe that we could stand up in.  We would walk in toward the darkness, our footsteps and voices echoing eerily, as the pipe gradually curved to cut off more and more of what little light filtered in from the now distant end.  As the darkness increased we would voice concern over what would happen if “they” suddenly turned on the water and then—suddenly convinced that the water was actually COMING—run like crazy for the distant opening.


But best was that sometimes there would be blasting.  Compressors and air drills shattered the silence.  The dynamite (pale yellow and waxy looking sticks) would be charged into the holes, a cap inserted and quietly wired up to the centerpiece—the iconic wooden box with the plunger in the top.  A huge blanket seemingly woven out of old steel cable would be dragged over the work by the steam shovel.  We would watch respectfully from a remove always considered too close by the workmen.  “Hey. Kids. Get back!”  The men were much closer than we were; we would step back about an inch watching and waiting.  Then, “Look: he’s about to do it.”  THUMP!  The blanket would leap mightily and little pieces of rock would fly, some falling near and behind us.  The workmen would move in and we, satisfied, would drift away in pursuit of other endeavors.


“Nilesville”: A Childhood Memoir (1930s)

In 1931 our family left a second floor apartment at 27 Claflin Road on Aspinwall Hill in Brookline for a new house in Wellesley Hills.

My parents had looked at houses for several months but finally decided to build.  A lot was found in a new and wooded area called the Hundreds Estate which later became affectionately known to its denizens as Nilesville after its owner and developer Harold Niles who had a large and elegant old house on a hill on the tract.  What was to become the geographic and demographic center of gravity of our young lives was a road loop called Hundreds Circle.  In the period between about 1925 and 1931 many of the lots were sold, houses built, and new roads made to accommodate them.  Mr. Niles took a personal interest in every prospective buyer and essayed to assemble an educated and congenial group of prospective residents.

An architect was hired, a Mr. Avery, and design and construction began apace in the spring of 1930.  There was much blasting of ledge in the construction of the garage and foundation.  In the summer and fall we would often take the old Dodge on Sunday and drive out to visit the site.  I remember these visits only vaguely; I was five and a half.  The lot was small, a quarter acre, but had room for a level lawn on the east side.  The lot was otherwise surrounded by woods with a pond in back, Rockridge Pond, owned as parkland by the Town.

We moved in to 85 Ledgeways on a snowy day early in January, a day during most of which Holley and I had stayed at the Henderson’s on Elm Street.  Mr. Henderson was a business associate of my father’s.  To this day I can see the view down the upstairs hall from my bed through the open door of my new bedroom that first night.  A view filled with a giant stack of boxes on top of which was perched our old black electric fan.

Ledgeways had not yet been paved.  By 1932 or so most of the lots had been developed but, in the depths of the Great Depression, there remained many vacant plots and tracts of open woods.  Mr. Niles commissioned none of the houses and few developers bought plots to build dwellings on speculation.  There seemed something not quite acceptable about buying a house identical to some other one nearby.  Each house, on a wooded quarter-acre plot, had ten rooms more or less with a one or two-car garage:  Capes, salt-boxes, French provincial.  Several of the houses were designed by Royal Barry Wills, a well known local architect.  None had the open plan so popular after the War.  All had two or three stories; “family” rooms, unheard of, lay far in the future.  Finished attic spaces tended to occupancy by the boys.  No family had a swimming pool and but one a tennis court.  Lawns were small or non-existent and nobody ever gave a thought to the condition of his neighbor’s patch of green.

Mr. Niles had laid out a complex and winding maze of streets up and down dale.  Each had a gravel sidewalk along which, on snowy mornings, slow and plodding, came a steaming, shaggy, and blanketed horse pulling a simple wooden V-plow upon which sat a hunched and bundled figure clutching the reins.  The only sound to break this muffled silence was the grate and grumble of the plow blade on the frozen gravel beneath.

The salient feature of this new population was homogeneity.  The adults were all professionals of about the same age (thirties plus) and all the children between the ages of zero and ten.  I was six and my sister Holley five.  These children numbered about sixty boys and girls distributed among about twenty-five families and among whom at least a dozen attended the same elementary school classes as my sister and me.  In the immediate group I can remember no only children, not a single divorce or the death of a child, and but one family broken by the Depression.

Some afforded live-in help- a maid, a cook, a housekeeper- leaving the mothers relatively free.  At our house we employed Maude Smith from Bermuda who had come with us from Brookline.  She had her own cramped quarters in the house over the garage and cooked and cleaned and cared for us for almost thirty years.  Holley and I spent endless hours talking to her in the kitchen.  Mrs. Lilja came once a week to do the laundry by hand, in a soapstone tub, using a corrugated galvanized washboard and hand-cranked wringer.  Mr. Daly toiled in the garden.  But my father pushed the mower until, as I grew older, the task fell to me.  The gentle sound of a reel mower was one of the muted, now lost, sounds of summer.

Occasionally, in the cool wetness of autumn, small bands of Italian women from another part of town silently walked the fringes of the woods moving slowly and stooping to gather mushrooms.  They seemed to us mysterious and somewhat gypsy-like.

FrozenCreamBefore dawn, milk (and eggs) were delivered to the kitchen stoop; the milk in glass bottles with wired-on paper caps and disks inside which, on freezing mornings, rose inches into the air on weird stalks of frozen cream.  The wires had endless hobby uses and were saved in a glass tumbler on the kitchen windowsill.  Unless canned there were no fruits or vegetables out of season; frozen food was as yet unimaginable.  Morning orange juice was obtained by squeezing oranges the night before.  Few had ever tasted avocados (alligator pears), artichokes, or broccoli and no one had ever even heard of bagels, pizza, yoghurt, margarine, salsa, pesto, or cous-cous.  On mornings when you were sick in bed and home from school you heard mother’s voice on the phone in the hall talking to the grocer or the butcher; placing her order for delivery that day.

Once a year or so the Fuller Brush or the Electro-Lux man would ring the bell; filling the living room with his wares while mother, trying to be polite, would finish by buying a token item or, sometimes and more exciting, an entirely new vacuum cleaner.

The community was tight-knit and revolved at first around the local Seldon L. Brown elementary school (Ms. Ella Buck, principal) although it drew from a pool larger than and somewhat separated geographically from Nilesville itself.  The Brown school was eventually converted to condominiums and today buses carry the local kids elsewhere.

Thus, we never lacked for nearby playmates and cars never became a necessary part of our social milieu.  We walked home from school for lunch and back again.  We walked, ran, and rode our bicycles everywhere.  When the time came even junior high and high school were within walking distance.  In the mornings we would gather at the shortcut by the dam at Rockridge Pond waiting for the stragglers to convene before setting off together for the mile and a half walk.  Coming home in the winter Holley and I could cut straight across the pond, running and sliding on the ice, through the snowy woods to our own backyard.

In kindergarten we sat in a circle of little green wooden chairs under which, on rare occasions, a suspicious puddle might form. In the grades we saluted the flag and recited the pledge, hands over hearts.  We sang America the Beautiful.  At recess we played I’m the King of the Castle (and you’re the dirty rascal!) and swarmed over the jungle gym and held long-jump competitions in leaping off the flying swings.  Infractions earned visits to Miss Buck’s office and we (as older boys) dropped our pencils often in order, while picking them up, to sneak a look up the skirt of the girl at the next desk.

Dick & JaneWe learned to read with Dick and Jane and to write by the Palmer Method (supposedly effortless swirling, slanting “O’s” in black ink on lined paper, wrists gracefully poised) whose upper and lower case examples ran in a panel across the top of the blackboard.  The lefties had a tough time with ink.  Our desks, screwed to the floor with seats attached, had filled ink wells in the corner and ink-stained lift tops under which we kept our notebooks, pens, nibs, gnawed pencils, grubby erasers, rulers, baseball gloves, macaroni guns, and comic books.  Except in winter, we looked forward to fire drills.  Every classroom had an American flag and an unfinished portrait of George Washington gazed down upon us.

Relatively few went off to private school.  Those who did became, of course, removed somewhat from the core group, especially as they grew older.  Through the years, the weekends, and the long summer evenings playing Kick the Can (“Allee, allee in free!”), Murder, and Capture the Flag we thought of ourselves as “The Gang”.  In the winter we skated on the pond (Hill-Dill and Crack-the-Whip) and sledded on Valley Road- running and flinging ourselves downhill on our Flexible Flyers in the days before salt and sanding.  We moved through Nilesville like a fluid never static always in motion and changing in size and makeup but with a core of stability and friendship that has lasted now for more than seventy years.  It seems truly remarkable.  I have never met another who grew up in such halcyon days.  Nilesville had insulated us more or less completely from the economic woes of the Depression era through luck, hard work, or foresight.

CaptureFew homes had more than one telephone—not even an extension.  It sat, usually, in its strangely expectant and upright blackness on a table in the downstairs hall.  Lacking a cord long enough to reach a nearby closet, no phone call  was private—all the family privy to the embarrassments of ones halting efforts to conduct a tenuous social life—especially as we got into the dating game in high school. One waited, nervous and hovering, until the moment might arrive to place the crucial call.  Sister or brother (finally!) upstairs, mother in the kitchen, and dad- not home yet but expected to burst through the front door at any instant.  Now!  Snatch the receiver off the hook, wait, wait, beating heart.  Then the operator: “Number please?” And you: “0434-J.”  Many families had party lines, the number followed by a letter.  Ours was 1546-W.  Often, before making a call, one had to wait for the other party to relinquish the line.  There was a kind of unwritten ethical code about the length of calls and about the temptations of “listening in”.

In Nilesville’s early years the adults organized elaborate New Year’s Eve parties at the Beacon School with skits and theatricals and sillyness.  At Christmastime, at least until the War, Marion Niles would have everyone in for cocoa after several hours of carol singing through the dark, chill, and snowy neighborhood.  And when it snowed it snowed!  And, although it seems impossible now to believe it, in those long-gone days it was actually pitch-black dark on moonless nights; the ebon sky filled with stars.

At Hallow’een (we had never heard of the threat “Trick or treat”) we dressed up in old sheets and carried our lighted jack-o’lanterns from house to house seeking the traditional handout and avoiding the older boys who might, and did when we were little, smash our pumpkins.  But, when we became older ourselves we, too, engaged in some nights of bad behavior of which dumping garbage and breaking street lights with stones was perhaps the worst.  Our mother would sometimes dress like an old hag, turn out all the house lights, except for one candle in the window, and terrorize the little kids who came to the door.

Early on Holley and I had a next door neighbor, Larry Rice, who spent many hours on the steps of his house fabricating fanciful stories in which we held the protagonist’s roles.  One summer he acquired a wholesale store of unusual whip tops and organized all of us into sales teams to spread them throughout the neighborhood.  Later he built a local gymnasium in the woods with a tennis court and established the Winter Sports Club (on Old Farm Road) where we boys spent Saturday mornings at basketball, ice hockey, track, gymnastics, tennis, and dodge ball under the tutelage of coach Pop Foster.  One rainy afternoon Pop took us all to one of the scariest movies I have ever seen: Night Must Fall.  Larry’s passion was tennis- he held a State doubles championship- and he coached a few of Nilesville’s boys to later excellence.

Radio was in the ascendancy. Television lay far in the future, although just before the War one family had a fascinating experimental set with a tiny two-inch screen displaying ghostly green cathode ray images.

Zenith radio (1940)

Importance was attached to getting home by five.  Between then and six on weekdays we listened to the radio- Little Orphan Annie (Ovaltine; secret Decoder Ring), Tom Mix (Ralston Chex; “Meanwhile, back at the ranch.”), Jack Armstrong (Wheaties, “Breakfast of Champions”), and Don Winslow of the Navy; fifteen minute shows one after another.  On Saturday night the “Hit Parade” was on and Sunday afternoons we had thirty minute dramas: The Green Hornet, I Love a Mystery, and the Shadow (“Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men?  The Shadow knows…”).  These sounded in the background while we played at Hearts, Battleship, or long and drawn out games of Monopoly sprawled on someone’s living room rug.  Some listened endlessly to the Boston Braves or Red-Sox ball games.

The Community Playhouse showed movie double bills, usually with a Disney Silly Symphony and a newsreel- Time Marches On with Lowell Thomas as commentator.  We laughed ourselves silly over Joe E. Brown as salesman Alexander Botts in the Earthworm Tractor series, laughed and cried with Charlie Chaplan, and fell fatally in love with Simone Simon (Girl’s Dormitory) and Kay Francis (The White Angel).  There I saw my first movie; Treasure Island with Wallace Beery as John Silver opposite Jackie Cooper’s Jim.  I see yet the evil pirate, a wicked knife in his teeth, slowly climbing the ratlines toward Jim ensconced below the crow’s nest with a pistol in each hand.

Bendslev’s ice cream parlor, at the Playhouse, often waylaid us while walking home from high school and there we would deconstruct the movies we had just seen over waffle cones, sundaes, and Cokes.

In those years the fathers went universally to their offices in town until noon on Saturdays and having even that half-day was a relatively recent departure from the six-day week.  “weekends” weren’t invented until after the War.  The men walked to the train at Wellesley Farms station in most weathers retracing their steps every evening.

Baseball had an early toehold as evidenced by more or less perpetual pick-up play in the street on Hundreds Circle at the house of the resident coach and self-proclaimed entertainment director.  I remember elaborate and exciting games of Fox and Hounds that took us miles into the woods, into territory we hardly knew, running pell-mell, strewing bits of newsprint behind us for the Hounds.

Eventually Nilesville had its own Sunday baseball team the Whops Workers—fathers, sons, and the rare daughter who fought to the death the Cliff Dwellers from the hinterland on the other side of Nilesville’s woods.  The games were played out on the abandoned fields of the Beacon School until finally the old building burned one night in a spectacular fire and the property fell to development.  Thereafter the teams battled it out in back of the Brown School surrounded by fans, hangers-on, and dogs.  The Wellesley Townsman saw fit to report on important outcomes.

Big Little Book

We read “Big Little” books, four inches square and as thick as a Bible, featuring the likes of Dick Tracy and Mickey Mouse; a comic book panel on the left page and large print text on the right.  We pored over the Johnson Smith catalog and sent away to Racine, Wisconsin for books on hypnosis, magic, and the Rosicrucians, and for “X-ray” machines (hoping, of course, to penetrate skirts), crystal radios, real electric motor kits, “Whoopee” cushions, hand-shake buzzers, and Ouija boards.  Little, tin “putt-putt” boats steamed in the bathtub on tiny candle power.  The crack of pearl handled cap pistols snapped in the summer air teasing the nostrils with the delicious aroma of gunpowder smoke.  Occasionally we made serious attempts to hypnotize someone in the group and sometimes nervously wondered whether we’d actually succeeded.  Mysterious and unsettling.  The girls played “jacks” and we played marbles and tossed jack knives for “Territory” in the dirt.  If you could hyper-ventilate and then have someone squeeze your chest hard enough from behind you would fall to the ground in a dead faint- our first daring brushes with death.

Passing fashion ruled for at least two months at a time.  By turns it was beer jackets (white canvas, with metal buttons, on which your friends wrote their names and sayings in indelible ink), yo-yos, polo shirts, broomstick skirts, saddle shoes, and bobby socks.  We boys wore corduroy knickers above our sagging socks until our first long pants in junior high school.  The girls wore shorts in summer but never long pants not even to school, except for snowsuits over a hopelessly crumpled plaid skirt in winter.  Jeans and “sportswear” had no existence; for roughing it outdoors we simply wore our “old clothes”.

Our parents church affiliations, all Protestant, ranged from High Episcopal to Unitarian with scattered pockets of unobtrusive atheism. Christian Science and Quakers were represented.  There were no Baptists, Mormons, or fundamentalists of any stripe.  Each affiliation seemed to have as much a social component as one of religion or a tradition of previous family religious upbringing.  Mother was Episcopalian and my father had no discernible faith other than that hard work, honesty, and engineering were the only agents capable of advancing mankind.  I seem to remember that Holley and I started out in the Episcopal Church (for a few months?) then changed for a several years to the Congregationalists, who made up a significant part of social Wellesley Hills, and finally descending to the Unitarians because that was where, we insisted, our best friends went to Sunday school.

In junior and early high school years our parents began to take a hand in shaping our social amenities especially in regard to the niceties of ballroom dancing and the interactions among us who had, heretofore, simply regarded ourselves as boys and girls- rough and ready members of the gang.  The elders had matured in an era of courtly Victorian formality and the monthly dances they promoted were the last pre-war expression of that old and dying order.  The Assemblies, as they were known, were the work of Mrs. Ferguson (an ample woman of a certain age, but perhaps undeserving of the epithet “battleaxe”) and her comrade in arms, Baron Hugo and his orchestra.

The Assemblies were held in an old ballroom upstairs at the Maugus Club.  Those of us new to dancing had had rudimentary instruction from our parents or more formally from others.  Dance cards were issued- only to the boys- listing the dances by number each followed by a line for a partner’s name.  As boys we scrambled to sign up our favorite girls- especially for the first and all important last dances- before they were invested by competitors.  Many a soaring hope was buoyantly realized or forlornly dashed in this process.  We dressed in suits and ties and the girls in elegant “formal” dresses; some wearing corsages on their bosoms or wrists.  Upon arrival we accosted a line of matrons and chaperones.  “Cutting in” by the boys was encouraged as a way to accommodate the “stags” and the matrons did their best to see that no unhappy girl sat for long on the sidelines.  Given even a barely discernable affinity between partners we danced as in the Irving Berlin song Dancing Cheek to Cheek– then to us the summa cum ultra of physical contact.  Baron Hugo indulged us mostly with the fox-trot and waltzes but with occasional exotica such as the polka, rumba, conga (long lines snaking around the floor), and the Lambeth Walk.  At the very end of this era the jitter-bug came swinging to the fore; a harbinger of the final end of elegant nineteenth century formality.

Our early insulation from the world at large was virtually total.  As children we knew nothing of bread lines, of Okies, of Gandhi, Prohibition, Communism, Kristallnacht, Guernica, or the Rape of Nanking.  Of “earth shaking” events I can remember only, the Lindbergh kidnapping, and the burning of the zeppelin Hindenberg.  We knew not even, really, of sex—which it seems we gradually unraveled more or less on our own from sources hidden away in our parent’s attics and dresser drawers.  Anyway, nobody ever got into “trouble.”  We began to experience the wider Town in junior high school and finally the wider World in high school but even then, in spite of the war in Europe, not really until the shock of Pearl Harbor and the advent of gasoline and food rationing and the blacking out of streetlights to darken the Boston skyline as seen from the sea.

On the Farm in Locke, NY (1932)

As adults we have sometimes speculated as to whether we were harmed in some essential way by our privilege and isolation as children in Nilesville.  Certainly there exist advantages to exposure to adversity, hardship, and the working people and cultures of the world.  My father would have been the first to espouse this idea—he sent us off to a hardscrabble, God-fearing, working dairy farm in New York State for three summers, and wouldn’t hear of isolating either of us in a “privileged and sheltered” private school.

But then, no one was ever exposed either to shallow values or to false respectability, empty materialism, ostentation, social climbing, or sham.  All our parents had a common grounding in sensibility, education, responsibility, honesty, modesty, and deep respect for others of all classes and faiths which certainly rubbed off on all of us.  Among the parents almost none drank, even socially, few smoked, and virtually nobody was overweight.

Nilesville was a narrow world within the wider world.  Inevitably and gradually its edges dried and it evaporated.  Slowly at first, as we kids grew up and left for the War and college in 1943 and ’44, and then more rapidly as we finally went off to claim our lives, as our parents died or moved to simpler spaces, and as new more disparate families displaced the original settlers.  The streets, many of the houses, even Rockridge Pond— now more a swamp than a pond—all still exist as before but our Nilesville has vanished forever.

Written on the occasion of our Wellesley High School Class of 1943 60th reunion in 2003.



“Speed-Park” (1959-1963)

Working for Henry Dreyfuss [1] at first seemed glamorous. World famous boss; office on West 58th Street in the Paris Theatre building, near the Plaza Hotel, around the corner from Bergdorf’s; surrounded by classy shops, galleries, and restaurants; Central Park’s horse drawn carriages parked outside; business lunches in the Oak Room; and the new MoMA only blocks away.

I began working there in 1952. But, after seven years (itch?), I began to have misgivings. I had advanced to the project management level and there was probably no reason that I could not have stayed on for a long career in design. In fact, not long after my announced departure, I was invited into a partnership with one of the principals who himself was leaving to set up his own shop. However, what had seemed alluring at first about industrial design—the freedom to create “exciting” new concepts—had become increasingly fraught with disillusion. “Form follows function” it was said, but often the form seemed lacking in support of the function.

I found myself in client meetings with engineers at Minneapolis Honeywell, Crane Co, Mosler Safe, Mergenthaler Linotype, etc. and gradually began to realize that I sat on the wrong side of the table. Too often it seemed to me that the engineers had a better hold on how best an item should work or be received or manufactured than we did, and our arguments as to how it should look seemed increasingly contrived. I remember an internal argument over whether a screw-head should be concealed beneath a more expensive, brushed metal cap and heard myself saying “What’s so bad about the fact of an honest screw?” And so, in 1959, I opted out. Henry gave me a nice watch.

Fortunately I had a line on a new job through a man I had met socially. Mihai Alimanestianu [2], who with his brother had escaped Ceausescu’s Romania by leaping into the night from a moving train, had invented an automated system for parking cars. He had financial backing and had an agreement with the Otis Elevator Co. to manufacture the lateral transfer machinery. He had ideas for a new version of his current device and took me on as machine designer and draftsman.

GarageSectionHe called his operation “Speed-Park.” One of my first assignments was to design his logo and letterhead as well as the advertising brochures. In addition I made several perspective cut-away renderings of the garage to make clear the mechanical principles involved.

The building of the first garage was underway on West 42nd Street. On either side of a two-lane driveway elevators moved up and down in towers which, at the same time, moved longitudinally on rails. On the elevators a comb-like forklift transfer device could pick up cars and deliver them automatically to parking niches, one-deep, on either side of the tower runway. After the motorist had left the car parked in place safety barriers rose and the car was lifted a few inches onto a grid shaped to interweave with the fingers of the fork-lift. The garage operation required only one attendant who oversaw a computer console that printed the receipts, directed the elevator to the closest available stall, and—at the end—calculated the parking fee. Owners could lock their cars.

Speed-Park Machinery

Mihai’s new device parked cars not one—but two deep on either side of the tower runway. This was more difficult because the forklift arrangement could no longer be simply cantilevered from the elevator platform; it had to roll back and forth sixteen feet on wheels. He had worked out the general mechanical arrangement and so I set to work with manufacturer’s catalogs and my college texts to make the calculations and drawings necessary for the building of a prototype—at Dreyfuss I had become a competent draftsman.

We occupied a small office on the East Side near 42nd Street. The job was interesting. It comprised structural, mechanical and hydraulic components operating in conditions of severely restricted space. Strength and deflection under load, cable and sheave arrangements, “bureau drawer” slides and squaring shaft , hydraulic extension and jacking—all had to be addressed. Office conditions, however, were stressful. Mihai’s secretary yammered incessantly on the phone and played the radio, snapping her chewing gum the while.

Eventually, to my relief, we moved to more elegant digs on East 57th Street in a building owned by Huntington Hartford, the A&P heir who was the venture’s principal backer. I had my own office and got a raise even though I had to pay for a new drafting table myself; Mihai explaining that he would compensate me later when money became less tight.

The construction of the machine prototype was now in progress at the Link-Belt plant in Lansdale, PA. I made many visits there to nurse it along. We had trouble with cycling speed because as the hydraulic oil changed temperature and density. I hadn’t the background in control theory to fix it, but Otis stepped in and added a modification of its elevator floor leveling controls.

BuildingThe 42nd Street Garage opened late in 1962. It seemed to me that it would be good to have a means of estimating the rate at which cars could be parked and un-parked using the known speeds of the various mechanical components and depending on the degree to which users might cause delays. I found a way of finding average parking rates using the volumes of overlapping prisms and pyramids whose heights were times in seconds and whose bases were dimensionless numbers of levels and bays. It was a way automatically to handle cases where elevator and tower moved simultaneously, where one had to wait for the other, and where the efficiency of the motorist became a factor.

TimeCycles-2Mr. Pinto at Otis Engineering was very interested in this work. At 42nd St. I had made stopwatch observations of my own closely confirming its results. In retrospect it would have been an ideal application for a computer program; the calculations were tedious and there were unique cases to consider. In this respect we were only a few years too early.

Mihai wanted a promotional film and so I enlisted the services of a photographer friend Peter Pruyn and an actress friend Naomi Thornton who played an attractive motorist. We made a five-minute film. Mihai was instantly dissatisfied with the result and demanded endless and frivolous changes—finally he rejected it and refused to pay the principals, and so we agreed that the footage would be returned unused to Peter.

By early 1963 some long periods of not-much-to-do ensued. I used the time to make the design and construction drawings for my eclipse spectrograph [3].

It gradually became evident that this enterprise was not going to take off. Also evident—not only to me but to others: Mihai was by nature a micro-manager and somewhat of a charlatan. For example, I packaged up the film for return to Peter and discovered too late that Mihai had secretly stolen it back from the outgoing mail. He never paid Peter or Naomi. Later he did grudgingly pay me for the drafting table, but only after having discovered that my new employer in Boston was to be a consultant on one of his future projects.

And so—time to move on. The garage operated for a year or so more but following a major tower failure—forcing drivers to wait weeks for their cars—it closed and was demolished.

Wm. C. Atkinson, 2013




[3] See Astronomy, An Adventure (1925-present)

B-29 Combat Mission Logs of Wm. C. Atkinson, Radar Navigator (1945)

20th Air Force, 73rd Wing, 498th Bombardment Group, 874th Squadron, Isley Field, Saipan, Marianas

Crew #121
Mission- 5, Tachikawa
Milne, Atkinson [author], Shaw, Harris, Foster, Spiller, Hyman, Norris, Jensvold
Wasowski (VanWormer, photographer?)
Logs from my notes taken at the time. Selected sophomoric, ungracious, and puerile passages have been expunged. The writer was 20 in 1945.

Strike #1 (night)                                    1-2 April, 1945

Target-     No. 357, Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima Aircraft 
                Company, Tokyo, Japan
Bomb Load-  35 500 lb HE's and 4 parachute flares.  (Gross weight 
                on takeoff 140,000 lb)
Aircraft-   T(square)-35, "Southern Belle"
Opposition- Flak moderate to intense, very accurate and coordinated 
                with searchlight batteries.  No Fighters

Southern Belle This was our first strike, our inauguration into the clan of combat flyers we had looked upon as out of our sphere of experience. We “rhubarbs” could not join in the tales and yarns of the missions to Japan. We were looked down upon and were told what it would be like, what the “score” was, but now we were off on our own to bomb the [Japanese] mainland. At last we, too, would have a tale to tell, we would “belong.”

It was not without due apprehension that we took off that night and watched, with eyes to remember all we saw, the lights and the hum of Saipan drop below under the wing and slip into the limbo [of] the night. The course was 341 true; Iwo Jima the first radar checkpoint.

[At Isley Field it was common on take off for the pilot of a fully loaded B-29 to hold the wheels to the runway until the final few hundred feet (the last two percent of the runway’s length); hauling back at the last possible instant to lurch over the road along the cliff edge; then diving full throttle for the sea far below, gaining airspeed while retracting the wheels; and finally beginning the long takeoff climb as the belly of the plane virtually skimmed the water. More than one of the crews failed at this maneuver, especially at night.]

Unlike the later missions no one slept on the 7-1/2 hour trip to the target. We were eager, ever so eager. Things had to work out; we dared not miss a trick. John (Shaw, navigator) did celestial all the way and there wasn’t an island or a ship that I missed on the radar for a wind [determination] or a fix to determine our position. Iwo appeared as a yellow ghostly friend on the scope to the right of us. John made a correction to course and we droned on [cruising airspeed 195 mph] between the stars and the vast chasm of the sea. The sea an enemy, the stars our guardians of position and course.

The time? About 0200 or thereabouts. Three hours later Norris [Capt. James R., pilot] informed us that we were within 50-100 miles of the Empire. For the first time since before takeoff the tension again became evident. Our stomachs tightened. I needed a drink of water. ‘Chutes, Mae-Wests, and flak suits were donned. Everything was checked. The C-1 set up again, RPM and manifold pressure juggled to the satisfaction by Van Wormer [Alan, copilot] and Gins [Ruskin Jensvold, flight engineer]. Spiller [Bill, central fire control], Whiskey [Walter Wasowski, left gunner], Harris [Henry, right gunner], and Rocky [Gerry Foster, tail gunner from Rock Island] checked [gun] turret operation and ammo. Max [Hyman, bombardier] turned on his switches, and checked his [Norden bomb] sight and the intervalometer. Milne [Dwight, radioman] made sure he cold get in touch with the air-sea rescue facilities by radio, John went on VHF. God, my heart was beating to beat Holy Ned.

B29 Navigator

I was to make a radar approach to the target while Max bombed visually by moonlight. It was the first time it had been tried in the Bomber Command. LeMay had taken over the 20th AF and [had] its tactical procedures changed to obtain better bombing results which [had been] fouled by the terrific winds and inaccuracies connected with the previous strikes from 30,000 ft. Tonight we were going in at 6,800 ft. Untried, damn low for B-29’s, and risky, we [were soon to discover].

[The radar was the Western Electric Eagle AN/APQ-7 or APQ-13 developed for navigation and for bombing at night and through cloud cover. It was electronically linked to the Norden bomb sight and the autopilot. By twisting a knob I could (alone) direct the plane.]

Everyone smoked.

We came in over O-Shima, the first enemy island of any size, on course. John had done us proudly. The control point showed in radar and I strained my eyes for the coast. Gradually it made itself evident and the IP [Initial Point] at Eno Shima appeared. We altered course. First flak! Capt. Norris and Max could see the orange flashes ahead of us. Although we weren’t in the [search] lights they could see icy fingers of light probing the sky in search of the “enemy”. We were alone as all night missions were flown as individual ships, formation being out of the question. Max saw the Tama River gleaming in the moonlight and the radar confirmed the position. He said he thought he could see the target and he set the sight telescope on it. Time hung motionless. Another minute. He started the rate motor and began to synchronize.

Then it all happened. Like a dream. “Lights converging on the boys ahead! Flak!” The intercom clicked and crackled. A light flashed momentarily on the wing from below and immediately snapped back. In an instant every searchlight in the area [they were radar coordinated] was on us. The ship must have shone like a Christmas tree in that intangible fingertip grip. Flak. We could hear it now. Thumping and rattling outside the ship. Odd. You’ll never hear anything like it on the ground. Max called up, “I can’t see; the goddam lights; I’ve lost the target.” Then there was a rock, a loud thump and number four [rightmost] engine roared into a mass of flame. The whole wing seemed afire and the radar compartment was alive with the angry orange light. Harris [right gunner], terrified, and justifiably so, screamed over the intercom. We were panic stricken. This was “It” really fitted in here. Max took a chance and said “Bombs away!”. Bill slithered out of his position and fumbled with his ‘chute, his hand on the bomb bay door, all set to jump. I was almost paralyzed with fear. We waited for the order to jump [I had my chest ‘chute on and my hand on the rear door handle.]. It never came. Harris broke in to say that the fire seemed to be lessening. Waited. The bombs had not gone away! The intervalometer was stuck. In the next instant Max salvoed. Everyone was confused and scared stiff, blue. Capt. Virgil Olds took over [he was from operations as backup co-pilot for support].

All this took less than a minute. The second that we were hit the Japanese lights went out! They must have been sure that we were cooked geese and gone after the ship behind us. We turned off the bomb run with the fire almost out. We never understood why [but Gins’ quick thinking with the fuel system controls can be probably credited with having saved us.] In nine cases out of ten a tank fire is fatal. The grace of God was with us. The turn was left; the bombs must have dropped a half-mile or so over.

A new scare developed. Although the fire was out the wing and flap were glowing around the edges of a hole the way a paper napkin continues glowing from a cigarette burn. It increased in size slowly and Harris kept the intercom alive and jumpy with reports of the increasing size of the hole behind #4 engine. Finally, even this ceased.

[We learned later that we had almost lost Rocky. He jerked his head left to see the sudden plume of flame pass the tail and then waited, patiently like the rest of us, for the order to bail out. Everything seemed to him suddenly eerily silent as the ship droned on for minute after minute. Finally, assuming that everyone else had bailed, and just as he put his hand on his ejection lever, he noticed that his sudden head rotation had unplugged the intercom connection to his helmet.]

The crew settled down, we made land’s end and headed for Iwo.

We had lost nearly 500 gallons of gas and the ship was so beat up that Norris and Olds decided to land at Iwo which was then only a week or so declared “secured” from the enemy. A three-engine landing on the dirt and muddy runway was successful, although it was discovered later that a Japanese shell had pierced the right wheel-well door resulting in one flat tire. Why the other didn’t blow will always remain a mystery.

Brief Cover [This photo appeared on the cover of the Air Force magazine “Brief” showing us coming in with #4 feathered at Iwo Jima that day. Iwo Jima had fallen to the Marines on March 17th.]

Iwo Jima was the most desolate and battle-scarred island I have ever seen. Nothing but volcanic ash, steaming fissures, and shell holes. The runway was dirt but plenty long [having been bull-dozed to 10,000 feet just days before].

The Marines crowded around as we marveled at the Japanese flak accuracy. We felt a blissful happy-go-luckyness that accompanied a safe return but in this case our bliss was strictly from ignorance. We didn’t know the half of it. The right inboard tire was flat, the rear section of #4 engine nacelle was blown off and the [upper] flap [skin] burned out in the resultant fire. The props were pitted with flak hits and there was a shell hole in the radar compartment; one in the floor and one in the top right over my head [evidently fused for a higher altitude]. A straight line between them missed me by about six inches.

A while later we heard the crack of a rifle and the twang of a bullet. The Marines unslung their carbines, squashed out their fags, and sauntered over to a clump of bushes not very far distant. At gun point three Japanese appeared, hands in the air, and were driven off in a 6×6 [truck].

It drizzled and rained coolly most of the time and Mount Suribachi was a sombre lump of indistinct grey rising at the end of the runway.

All thirteen of us piled into one Jeep with all our equipment and were driven to a Tinian ship. The boys serviced it, pulled the props through and we said so-long to Iwo, its war-weary soil and Marines. Back to Saipan and the sack with, at last, a story to tell. We “belonged.”

We only hoped that we were doing the Marines as much good by bombing the mainland as they did for us by securing Iwo.

T-35 returned two weeks later, flyable, but with much needed repairs still in evidence.

Lt. Pound and crew were ahead of us over the target and caught no small portion of hell themselves. Their ship T-38. They had a flap blown up and Summer sported a flak burst under his feet in the radar compartment.

[T-35 “Southern Belle” was originally assigned to the 462nd Bomb Group in China.]

Strike #2 (daylight)                                  12 April, 1945

Target-     No. 357, Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima Aircraft 
                Company, Tokyo, Japan
Bomb Load-  5 2,000 lb HE's
Aircraft-   T-23 ["Pocahontas"]
Opposition- Flak meager to moderate and accurate.
            Fighters neutralized by P-51 escort.

This time it was a daylight formation strike with P-51 fighter cover. The same old target, #357 [Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima Aircraft Company, Tokyo, Japan], the bane of the 20th Air Force.

Sofu-Gan was the assembly point. Sofu-Gan is an item in the very damn middle of the Pacific and at the end of the vast Nanpo Shoto extending south from Tokyo Bay. It is an item so small that it didn’t appear in the radar until we were almost on top of it and even that never would have occurred if John hadn’t had a small bit of luck on his last LoRaN fix. It is a mere finger of rock that sticks out of and breaks the surface of the sea like a stump in a swamp. Actually higher than it is wide. There is reported a Japanese navigation light thereon.

After circling in vain for some minutes we found a large formation of “T” ships, tacked on in the “slot”, and went into the CP [Control Point] at Omaezaki and thence to the IP at at Oso-Saki on the Shimoda peninsula. I could see the land at Numazu where we picked up our first flak. I was not on the [radar] set and thus could sit by Harris in the right blister to see what went on. The land was barren brown save for a few spots of side-hill cultivation and twisting roads. Then the coast again at Odawara as we paralled it and then broke out on the Tokyo plain with Musashino and #357 dead ahead.

Fuji San [This  photo  taken 13 April 1945. B-29’s of the 874th (T-square) Squadron based on Saipan, Marianas, passing north of Mt. Fuji. Picture taken from #4 in a formation of 12 aircraft. The B-29 intersecting the left ridge of Fuji is piloted by Capt. Jas. R Norris and crew (T-23) with Lt. Wm. C. Atkinson as radar navigator. This photo appeared first in Time Magazine and subsequently became part of an advertisement for the Boeing Aircraft Corp.]

It was then that I saw a black plane come barreling down through our formation with large red circles on the wings. The left engine and underside of the wing was afire. It spiraled astern and down, out of sight. I remember noticing how cracked and worn the paint seemed. It looked for all the world like a toy.

The next one was closer and exploded as I watched, the tail drifting more slowly than the fluttering fuselage and wings. Two P-51’s recovered from pursuit in a sweeping arc, slow rolled and shot up behind the formation. Lord it was a good feeling to have those “brothers -in-arms” near at hand.

Our formation neared the target. More flak. Heavy now. Then, “Bomb bay doors coming open; Bomb bay doors open, Sir,” replied the scanners and we waited, watching for bombs away. A minute or so and we saw the lead ship drop and as though the formation were one the 2,000 pounders fell away, to the rear, and to the target. I craned my neck over Harris’ shoulder in the blister. The water filtration plant the Japanese had tried in vain to camouflage drifted by. There was the stadium and the neat rows of buildings and test cells of the plant—#357. The train of explosives ripped across the eastern end—the assembly wings—like an angry stampede. All was obscured then by heavy smoke.

We turned and passed the inscrutable Fuji San riding all-wise, immortal, and serene it its perpetual bath of cloud. It gave me a sense of peace so out of tune with the work we were doing. Snow-capped and silent Fuji drifted to the rear—the symbol of the Empire of Japan.

Gins figured closely on the gas and we really sweated these last few minutes to Saipan. We could almost see the gas disappearing at its 400 gallons per hour rate. We got down with just enough to fill our cigarette lighters. Gins was OK.

Strike #3 (night)                                  15-16 April, 1945

Target-     Industrial Kawasaki and southwestern Tokyo.
Bomb Load-  184 70 lb gasoline gel incendiaries.
Aircraft-   T-29
Opposition- Flak heavy but generally inaccurate.

Here we were on another night strike to the Tokyo area. This time not without knowing what we were getting into after having been pretty well shot up on the first two strikes. I was told later by one of the boys in Squadron Operations that after our two first raids they really were worried about our safe return on this night.

The IP was made at Manazuru-Misaki and we made a “precision” radar turn [a 1/4 needle-width turn] on to the bomb run heading. We were reported to have had P-51 fighter cover but we never got so much as a look at any such comforting element in the battle.

It seems that since the last time we pulled a “nighty” the Japanese had by no means been out of practice with their damned lights and the long bluish beams groped around and finally caught us! Ow! Not again! Our props were de-synchronized to throw off the sound directed lights but there was no foiling the radar controlled ones. We climbed, turned, and twisted in a vain attempt to escape the lights. Not this time were we going to stick to the bomb run and get shot to hell. It sounded as if all the flak in Nippon was exploding in the bomb bays and returned the icy fear as it had on the first strike to the same target.

All this evasive action was doing my run no good. I had a fixed dropping angle set on the bomb pip and was to wait, make course corrections [at the radar I was connected to the Norden sight and the autopilot], and finally to tell Max to drop when the pip touched the mouth of the Tama river at Kawasaki. Every time the Capt. racked the ship up on a wing to dodge a light the [radar] scope picture would blank out. It was awful. “Bomb bay doors coming open” and that was the end of my efficiency as a “V” on that trip. The doors reflected the radar energy and produced an “H” indication on the scope. Hell’s bells! Target, coastline, and aiming point completely disappeared. The resulting confusion and maddening casualness of my intercom conversation with Max was humorous but nonetheless effective. Lucky? The bombs tacked right on to the end of a large fire and walked on through the city.

Well—then a funny thing occurred. Capt. Norris kept calling, “What’s draggin’, what’s draggin’?” and put the turbo’s and power settings to the limit. I couldn’t figure it. The air-speed crept from 250 indicated to 290! The ship was vibrating and straining in every rivet. Thence to almost 310, the red-line speed. Wow! Gins said “What the hell,” half to himself, and then Norris said “Oh!” in a very self- effacing manner. The needle on the IAS [indicated airspeed] dial crept back to normal. He had misread his airspeed by 100 mph.

The glare of the lights and the crack and thump of the flak dropped behind as we made for the sea south and east of Chosi Point. The coast slipped invisibly behind us for there were no lights to give away its position.

However, our worries were not over. About 100 miles out towards Iwo Whiskey reported a light following, it seemed, in our wake as though searching. “A light,” he said ,”like a star.” It would appear at 5 or 7 o’clock low, gradually gain altitude and move ahead to 3 or 9 o’clock level then turning as though making a pass on a pursuit curve. Switches and sights ready Rocky, Whiskey, Spiller, and Harris waited, sweating him out. Not to mention the rest of us. Finally they observed a burst of 50 cal. fire but could not tell whether it was directed at us. Either we lost him or he gave up and returned [owing] to our evasive action.

Saipan landing, interrogation, and coffee all in due course and without [further] event.

Barlow’s crew from Tinian went down over the target on this strike along with Pankin (N) and Charlie Barr (V).

Strike #4 (daylight)                                  27 April, 1945

Target-     Miazaki Airfield, Kyushu, Japan
Bomb Load-  17 500 lb HE's
Aircraft-   T-23 ["Pocahontas"]
Opposition- Flak moderate and inaccurate.  A few Japanese fighters.

We were sweating out assembly as usual. Why? He who misses assembly flies over target very much alone. We had found Sofu-Gan the time before but this was a little easier. Okino Shima was right on the tip of Shikoku (south western) and should have given a good radar return. John told me we were north of course. So, with the set on, I strained my eyes for the coast of Shikoku and finally it came in. I gave the Capt. his heading for Okino Shima.

Gad! It was close. Our ship caught the “T” Square formation on the last wheel before taking off for Ho Soshima and the target. We were at 20,000 feet and on oxygen (depressurized) so it was almost too much trouble to sit in [Harris’] blister to watch goings on.

The Japanese received us with plenty of flak though the squadron ahead picked up more than we. There was a burst or two fairly close but we heard nothing.

Those old bombs hit right squarely on the target in a beautiful pattern stating at the aiming point (a new runway) and stalking right on up through the hangars and barracks. The 497th BG ahead of us wrecked the east side of the target with an equally good pattern.

Some of the Japanese fighter pilots got pretty eager though we had only one closely pressed attack. John was looking out his window just in time to get a head on view of the attacker with his fifties flickering and ducked. Max had one hand on his sight and the other on the toggle switch and dared not relinquish the latter as bombs away was near at hand. Bill fired a burst from the upper aft and forward [turrets] (six guns) but could not depress them enough and the tracers streamed harmlessly over the Japanese’s canopy.

The formation split at sea to the south after a left turn and we returned to Base

Strike #5 (daylight)                                  30 April, 1945

Target-     Tachikawa Airfield west of Tokyo (primary).
            Hamamatsu prop[eller] works at Hamamatsu, Honshu, Japan 
Bomb Load-  23 500 lb HE's
Aircraft-   T-27 (But not the original "Torchy")
Opposition- Little flak.  No fighters.

If it was clear, no undercast, we were to fly up to Suraga Wan, make landfall at Masaki and turn to the right of Fuji San for the bomb run on the airfield at Tachikawa. However, there existed a complete overcast over all of visible Japan with only Fuji’s cone sticking out of a sea of cloud. We weren’t very long on course, Fuji had not dropped very far behind before we made a 1/4 needle-width turn in formation to the left with the volcano in the center [of the turn].

'Torchy' [T-27, “Torchy“. Capt. James R. Norris and crew. VanWormer standing 2nd. from left.]

The secondary target was urban Hamamatsu on the coast west of Omae- zaki. The banjo factory there now makes propellers. Since it was socked in the run was by radar. We made IP at Motosu-ko, the southernmost of a string of lakes northwest of Fuji, and rolled in over the cloud blanket to bombs away. Of course we dropped on the lead ship. Altitude 20,000 feet. Neither flak nor fighters were observed.

Hamamatsu is the most bombed city in Japan as it has often been used as a “secondary” for strikes to both Nagoya and the Tokyo area targets.

Scenically the trip was a flop but the clouds are a godsend as far as flak is concerned. This, our longest time over enemy territory, lasted 53 minutes.

On the weary way to Iwo Jima Milne picked up radio Shanghai and we listened to the Japanese news in English. Some reference was made [to] a probable weather strike. “They dropped their bombs an fled”. The news of the Okinawa campaign was given an unusual air by their reference to us as the “enemy”. “We attacked the enemy last night with dive bombers and strafing attacks with good results, etc.”. To be called the enemy is a little out of the ordinary on English speaking radio. I have yet to hear the Tokyo Rose.

Strike #6 (daylight)                                     5 May, 1945

    Target-     Naval aircraft works at Kure Naval Base, Kure, Honshu
    Bomb Load-  17 500 lb HE's
    Aircraft-   T-37 [never named]
    Opposition- Flak from naval units in Inland Sea moderate to intense.

In our minds there were misgivings about this mission. It looked like another “Cook’s” tour of Japan in the briefing and that is just what it turned out to be.

The plan:
Assembly at Shingu on the cycloidal tip of Shikoku.
Control point at Muroto Saki.
Turn over 34-15’N, 133-33.5’E.
IP at Mihara.
Target, Kure Naval Base.
Then a left turn to the south, back across Shikoku, and back to Iwo and Base. As it happened we were over Japanese territory for 0137 hours.

We assembled over, or rather, just off Shingu as the boys found a little flak. Very inhospitable of the Japanese. It was a rat-race! We looked and searched and circled and flew for 30 minutes looking for an extended nose-wheel or the flash of a red Aldis lamp on a “T” ship. At long last it was located and a close three minutes later we were off across the great peninsula south of Osaka to the sea between Honshu and Shikoku and on to the CP at Muroto-saki. Thence north to a TP [Turning Point] somewhere to the north and east of Mihara, the IP.

The bomb run was a good one though some of the squadrons dropped short. We encountered heavy flak from some naval vessels in the bays. Most of it was directed at B-29s ahead of us. The puffs of smoke were multi-colored, probably to identify the ships from whence [they were] fired.

I could not see the bomb impacts as we were on oxygen again but Photo-recon reported 95% damage to the target. There is another batch of aircraft that will never leave the assembly-line.

Our bombing has improved greatly in the last two months of combat operations.

Leaving the target we turned south and left in such a manner as to avoid the city of Matsuyama on the north west coast of Shikoku where heavy flak has been reported in the past. Land’s end and not a scratch.

I took the navigation to relieve John and we struck out for Iwo Jima. The sea was smooth [no whitecaps] and as a result we were unable to take accurate drift readings with the B-3 [drift-meter]. Nevertheless our DR [dead reckoning] was fairly good and we came in 20 miles right of course and Iwo. I gave Gins the ETA [estimated time of arrival] to Saipan and there followed a problem.

We hadn’t enough fuel to make Base. So to Iwo. Man, were we surprised! The air and traffic pattern was so full of B-29s short of gas and with flak damage that Walnut and Maple [control] towers at Iwo’s north and south fields were going mad trying to get all the ships in. I turned to VHF and listened to the tower calls:

“Maple tower from Happy 52. We have 300 gallons of gas and cannot stay in the air much over 45 minutes. When can you get us in?”
“Happy 52 from Maple tower. Keep circling, keep circling. There is a dreamboat at the end of the runway. This field will be closed for ten, one-zero, minutes, over.”
“Walnut tower from Mascot 35. In an upwind leg, over.”
“Mascot 35 from Walnut tower. Where are you? What is your position?.
“Mascot 35, repeat, 35 to Walnut tower. We are north of the field, we are north of the field. Give me instructions for landing.”
“Give us a call on base leg, over.”
“Brrsksk-k-k sput skt-tsnut tower to all dreamboats. Keep circling; come in over the fr-rs-st-stk and watch for a green light from the tower, over.”
“Walnut tower from Happy 52. We cannot stay up much longer, over.”
“R-akt-t skkatz-z immediately!”
Substitute and add at least 100 more calls, call signs. and ships to this and you will have some idea of the bedlam that reigned that day. The air was crowded with superforts, creaming all over the sky and nearly out of gas. Mt. Suribachi (Mt. Sonofabichi to the Marines) sat like a duck on a rock, silent but undoubtedly amused.

We circled for almost two hours and finally Mascot 37 received the OK to land. Gradually the bees were getting into the hive. Turned off the base leg and onto the landing glide with full flaps and gear down. Mushed in–and hit the runway. It was rough as hell, dirt-surfaced and filled with pot-holes and water. The mud sprayed from the wheels in a thick cloud and the dust from the prop-wash of the ship ahead obscured the strip. The ship lurched and sat back on its tail with an awful scrape. Then. “Walnut tower to Mascot 37, 37. Throttles, throttles! There is a dreamboat close behind you.” “Roger.” The props revved up and we moved ahead and pulled to the right as a ship ground past with its brakes screaming in short yelps.

Our ship joined a long line of B-29s taxiing to the parking area on a new, half-finished, “black-top” to the southeast. The dust was foul. We passed, it seemed, more B-29s than on Saipan in all four Groups. There were tail markings from all over the Marianas and all the [combat] Wings. A mess! Many minutes later a linesman waved us into a spot. Gins cut the engines. The immediate lack of noise seemed perfectly calm though the ships kept roaring and screeching by to park farther down the line.

Everyone piled out into the cool afternoon air of Iwo, stretched and had a smoke.

Rochet’s plane was sitting across from us with a crowd of interested spectators about. An ambulance had stopped by to take the tail gunner to a field hospital. He had a bit of flak in his thigh and a 50 cal. through the calf of the same leg. They had lost an engine over the target by a flak hit in the prop hub. The oil had leaked out and the engine could not be feathered [to prevent wind-milling] as the mechanism had been destroyed. It wind-milled until the engine froze with a terrific jolt. They were unbelievably lucky that the prop did not twist off and tear a gash down the side of the plane [as happened later to another]. [Rochet went down in May, rammed by an enemy fighter.]

Another ship, besides Creedon and “our boys”, had encountered an active [weather] front with severe turbulence and was almost thrown out of control. His bombs (2,000 pounders) had swung up on the shackles as the ship dropped suddenly, flattening the “tunnel”, and had then snapped down, torn off the racks, and gone away through the closed bomb bay doors. The doors hung in shreds.

[The “tunnel” was a long, padded, and severely restricted crawl-way over the bomb bays connecting the rear and forward main compartments of the airplane. [Once in the tunnel it was not possible to turn around.]

Although we were refuelled in an hour or so the field closed in. Isley Field was also rumored to be socked in. We were destined to spend the night.

Mt. Suribachi (of Iwo Jima flag-planting fame)

Iwo was the same only that men and machines had been at work since our first landing. There was still the drizzling rain, the grey volcanic ash, and the ever steaming fissures of sulphur and stink. We could see Minami Iwo to the south. A great volcanic cone rising from the horizon, misty purple and partly shrouded in clouds. Suribachi’s mute form receded into the mist and gloom as the last vestige of the day just gone lingered for a second and faded in the damp murk. Evening and we were still sweating out chow of sorts. Hey, bub! How about a wee bit of C- ration or a banana peel? Ignored. Nothing happened so we walked about a mile to the operations tent–this time they had one–but no chow. On the return trip to the ship we got lost but found at last the large black “T” and the 37. Just as we were getting to sleep on various piles of ‘chutes and in the tunnel a truck rolled around to take us to XXI BomCom HQ where we were fed C-ration and lousy coffee. Ran into Dick Drill and Adams, his bombardier.

The night was a long one as I tossed on the floor of the aft pressurized compartment with Harris’ feet in my face. Every so often a star shell arced into the sky–still Japanese hunting.

The morning crept in cool and mist-cloaked. The moisture dripped from the glistening ship and the silent shadows of the other planes could be seen row on row across the strip. All was at peace.

After breakfast Norris got a clearance for Saipan and at 1000 we were set to go again. Milne found and salvaged a life raft and bought a Japanese bicycle from a Marine for $20 which items we loaded in by the put-put [hatch] and left for Saipan.

The last thing I saw was Iwo’s tremendous cemetery from the air outlined in white like a great cross. Iwo is prayed for by every B-29 man in the Marianas. [The Marines suffered the heaviest casualties (50%) on Iwo Jima of any engagement in their entire history.]

Strike #7 (daylight)                                    10 May, 1945

    Target-     Oil storage depot at Tokuyama, Honshu, Japan
    Bomb Load-  17 500 lb HE's [largest overall B-29 raid to date]
    Aircraft-   T-37
    Opposition- Flak meagre to moderate and inaccurate. One fighter.

Heretofore we had been concentrating on the aircraft industries of Japan and the airfields of Kyushu in support of the Okinawa [offenses]. Now we were after the oil of the Empire. Our strategic bombing was following the pattern of the ETO [European Theatre of Operations].

We were eager and this looked like a good raid. It was! The Group won a commendation from the CO [Commanding Officer].

I slept most of the trip up but did get a radar run on Minami Iwo [to find the wind]. Iwo means rock, I think, and Minami means little. “Little Rock”. Only it’s not so little.

We assembled at the island of Okino-shima off Shikoku as we had done on the Kyushu strike. There was a small bit of flak from the island so we stayed reasonably clear of it. Got there on time this time. No sweating. Heck, Capt. Norris saw the damned point before I picked it up on the set. This T-37 hain’t got such a good radar set.

Immediately after turning on course for Oita on Beppu Wan I established myself in the blister beside Harris. We were pressurized [owing] to low oxygen in the aft tanks.

For the first time on a strike I had no fear or apprehension. I was merely interested to see what went on. I took notes and times (GCT) as follows:

0037- A flattop in Beppu Wan headed east.
0038- T-23 with Creedon and #3 smoking. He is dropping to the rear of the formation.
0042- We hit the control point at Oita or Kanuki-bana and turned for IP.
0045- I could see a fighter far to the right in a suspended pursuit curve attack on another formation. He fell away, came closer, and slid under us low at 4 o’clock. No attack.
0046- Creedon in T-23 smoking more violently.
0051- Bomb bay doors open on the deputy. Over the inland sea on course for Royodo-hama and Tokuyama.
0053- First flak for the day. Rather meagre and seemed to be only the smoke remaining from previous shots at the squadron ahead.
0054- Bombs away! Long lines of 500 pounders strung out in vertical lines below each ship simultaneously. As they fell away I saw a black object flash by twisting and spewing gas. Hell! Laugh? T-28 had salvoed his bomb bay gas tank.

I couldn’t see the impacts until we made the turn off target to the south. Those I did see were those of the 869th who were right behind us. The smoke was black and billowed in a pillar to 15,000 feet. The column was topped with a cap of white vapor. It mushroomed out at our altitude. When the bombs of the 869th struck the orange, boiling angry flames seethed up to 5,000 feet! God, what a fire oil makes. Gad, what a fire, period.

0100- Ships in the small harbors of O-shima put up a heavy flak to our left.
0104- Three flak bursts at 9 o’clock. Brown.
0112- Unidentified planes at 10 o’clock low about a mile away.
0115- Observed T-29 with one bomb bay door hanging open. We crossed the island of Shikoku south of Mitsugahama. And at
0117- we made land’s end over Tanoura and a river’s mouth.

I got a good look at Japan’s three main islands this time and all I can say is that it is the most god-awful rough and rugged country I have ever seen. Mostly barren with a few tree covered slopes. The roads seemed to be dirt for the most part and wound aimlessly through the hills. A few rice steppes and groups of houses scattered hither and yon in the valleys.

The Group won a commendation from the Colonel (Ganey) for its excellent results.

[GCT- Greenwich Civil Time]

Strike #8 (daylight)                                     19 May, 1945

Target-     Tachikawa Aircraft Works, near Tokyo (primary)
Bomb Load-  25 500 lb HE's
Aircraft-   T-37
Opposition- Little flak.  No fighters

After the abort on the Nagoya strike of the 15th and after not being scheduled for the strike immediately previous to this one we were reasonably eager to get off on this daylight mission to Tachikawa. Not, however, through any burning desire to sit and smoke cigarettes over the mainland. It was more nearly one of those “another day, another dollar” propositions. Our strikes are beginning to pile up–almost into the two digit bracket. Barlow’s crew went down with Pankin and Barr on the Kawasaki mission, their first. When buddies are lost you can’t help but wonder if perhaps you won’t be next on the list and that beaverish gleam pales and vanishes.

Briefing was, as usual, in that miserable hour between night an day when you’ve just about dropped off to sleep. The lights, the eye- rubbing, the groans, and the process of dressing in a half stupor find you presently in the briefing formation by S-2. Hardly able to stand. Off to the over-sized briefing Quonset hut at 0030.

We were to assemble this time at Aoga Shima in the Nanpo Shoto and north of nature’s insular prank, Sofu Gan. Thence to climb to 20,000 feet on course to target at Tachikawa. It didn’t look like a very rough raid.

The mess hall sported the usual [powdered] eggs, tomato juice, and coffee [with evaporated milk]. At 0130 we entrucked and drove the three or so miles to the line and T-37. VanWormer has been taken off the crew and we now have Lt. Seavey from Bangor, Me [an] extraterritorial province. Seavey found that the left outside wheel bearing was the wrong size and needed switching to get even brake clearance all around. The ground crew went to work and had the thing fixed just as we started to pull props and load. The Southern Cross hung low in the southwestern sky. We took off.

I checked the set and dozed most of the way up to assembly. Aoga came in on the set and after 15 min of circling we made formation and started for the mainland. At the start of the climb we ran into the weather that was to alter the entire mission. At 6,000 feet we disappeared into solid cloud. Wow! The formation dispersed like a broken string of pearls on a marble floor! We kept our course and climbed higher and higher. Higher still and finally at 22,000 feet we broke into the sunshine and burning blue of the sky. We leveled out at 25,000 feet. 16,000 feet of cloud!

This was all very interesting–when I found out about it. I had no more idea than the Man in the Moon that we had broken formation until Norris called up and asked me what the course was to the IP for Hamamatsu! I had assumed we had been in formation and hadn’t figured out a thing. My heart sank and I was a real beaver for the next many minutes.

The nearest B-29 must have been ten miles away. The formation was gone. The whole of Japan socked in like a cup of lousy coffee. After straightening out my muddled bombing problem [we] turned up Suruga Wan and [I] figured it would be just as easy to cross the bay with a long bomb run to Hamamatsu as to go to Motosu-ko and make a near 180 [degree turn]. We turned left and with a few course corrections were zeroed in on the yellow-green blob [on the radar] that was Hamamatsu. We passed Omae-zaka. Course 141 true.

There were, all of a sudden, ships all over hell and back. A lone wolf here, [a] three ship element there, some more single planes and a few larger groups that had managed to reassemble after making it into the clear. Some fellows were even creaming around below in the soup at the risk of an “egg” down the astrodome.

Hamamatsu was a strong indication on the scope and as soon as we came to the first sighting angle I gave Max the hack and he clutched [the Norden sight] in. It went perfectly as far as we could tell. Max’s pre-computed data needed very little adjustment on rate to check with my sighting angles. We must have hit the city dead center.

Bombs away. Just as a 17 ship formation slid in from the right and below us. They dropped at the same instant and were almost hit by our bombs. Later I heard Bob Hayes telling a wild tale of a ship that had almost dropped through their formation. Us, natch. That was an “A” Group. The 869th.

The only flak we saw was way off to the left and seemed to be tracking an imaginary ship across the sky . No fighters were seen.

Strike #9 (night)                                    23-24 May, 1945

    Target-     Southern Tokyo between Kawasaki and the Imperial Palace.
    Bomb Load-  M47-A incendiaries
    Aircraft-   T-37
    Opposition- Heavy flak. Ground-to-air rockets and a lot of stuff
                we never did figure out.

Well–we’ve definitely got our own ship now, T-37, and undoubtedly will have it for the rest of our strikes.

This was the first fire raid we’d been on since Kawasaki and ,in fact, the first night mission since then. Landfall at Omae-zaki as is the habit on all or most strikes to the Tokyo area. Some one of these days they’ll get wise; I hope not. From Omae-zaki we were briefed to proceed to a set of coordinates near the town of Toya and turn onto the run on the aiming point from there.

As we approached landfall we could see the glow of the fires, the flak, and the searchlights criss-crossed against a background of smoke. Even though we had “rope” to foil the radar controlled lights we knew darn right well that we were in for a hot time.

[“Rope”, “window”, or “chaff”: short lengths of aluminum foil in packages cut in strips of a width to match the enemy radar wavelength (0.5 in.). To be tossed periodically in handfuls from the aft camera hatch.]

At landfall the Capt. did a 1/4 needle-width turn rolling out on course for Toya right over Omae-zaki. I had to fix the IP position with ranges and bearings from Hachioji and Fuji San as coordinates are real hard to see on the ground, much less in the scope. Max and Capt. Norris could see Fuji off to the left in the moonlight and decided that it would be overcast right up to the target. Not so lucky.

We turned on the IP and just in time. Spiller and Max let out a sigh of relief as the ship leveled out between the two concentrations of lights; one to the north at #357, and the other to the south at Kawasaki. Neither saw us for a moment anyway. Harris worked his way to the camera hatch to toss out the rope at the prescribed intervals. He looked like an overgrown beetle in the flak suit and helmet. Then the lights. Max said that they’d seem to be coming toward us, almost touch the wings and then drop to the rear [fixed on the bright return from the chaff]. Wow. The rope was working and we all liked to think that it was. “Bomb bay doors coming open.”, Max informed us. The ship shuddered and lost some airspeed. It now indicated 230. The door showed somewhat on the scope though I could still see the AP. The bomb pip was lost in the ground return.

Flak could be heard now. That meant it was close. It sounded like sheets of tin, big ones, being snapped. The bursts not quite so close were like [heavy boots] being dropped on the floor of the apartment above. I could see the glow of the fires below on the fixtures in the blisters.

The intercom clicked and those dearest of all words were heard– “Bombs away.” No longer were we slaves to fixed course and airspeed. Scanners confirmed, I turned off the set and went to the blister like a two-year-old with a piano on his back. Harris was still dispensing rope.

We had a show on that night. Ground-to-air rockets were arcing upwards in white, fiery pursuit of the ship behind us. The fires cast a redness on the sky. Individual blocks and streets could be seen burning and elsewhere whole masses of city blocks were afire in sections with right-angled corners like the black spaces in a crossword puzzle. We had just flown through the smoke, rough like a cumulus cloud, and its acrid odor lingered in the plane.

Out over the bay. Safe for just a minute until we hit the opposite shore on the other side of Tokyo.

Whiskey cut in. “Sir, there’s a ship, a B-29, behind us at 7 o’clock level. She’s afire and going down. Wait. I see three, no four, ‘chutes. No more.” I craned my neck but could see nothing. Whiskey had a voice of rock over the intercom. Never rattled in the least. You’d never know but that he was as cool as a cucumber. Togane on the east side of the Tateyama was land’s end.

When your nerves are on edge you’ll fall for anything. Whiskey called in a light at 9 o’clock level and everyone got set for a night fighter pass. The amplidynes [remote gun turret motors] hummed as all the turrets swung to the left. We all waited for further developments. John, the brains of the outfit this time, quietly informed us that it was “just Venus rising in the east.”. And so it was.

Two crews from the 874th were missing. Both were pathfinders and had gone in ahead of us at about 5,000 feet which was murder. Zweifel went down with Faivre as his co-pilot. He was one of the oldest crews here with but a few missions to complete his tour. The other missing aircraft was flown by Capt. Olds, operations, and Capt. Miller, group navigator.

Olds was our stand-by co-pilot on the first of our raids and it was his quick action on the feathering button coupled with Gins results on the switch and fuel shut-off that saved us.

A submarine was reported to have picked up five guys who bailed over Tokyo bay. 875th boys.

Bill Hain on Thomas’ crew from the 499th also went down last night. He was a radar operator from Pittsburgh.

This was no “milk-run”.

Strike #10 (night)                                   25-26 May, 1945

    Target-     West Tokyo near the Imperial Palace.
    Bomb Load-  M47-A incendiaries
    Aircraft-   T-37
    Opposition- Rockets, flak, "foo-fighters," lights in a
                concentrated mass.

This strike was very much like the one before it on the 24th. There was a slight alteration of IP this time and also of the axis of attack. We were to [attack] west Tokyo in the vicinity of the palace.

Bombing altitude was 11,000 feet. A slight improvement in safety over the lesser heights of some previous nights I could mention. At least we were out of range of that god-awful automatic fire, the 20s and 40s [40mm anti-aircraft shells]. Omae-zaki is getting rather to be a joke by now but nonetheless, it was the Control Point again. We nearly missed it! John called me up to say that we should be within radar range of the coast, that is, not more than 100 miles out. I turned on the set, switched to the 100 mile range and waited. In about 15 minutes or so I was rewarded with a faint indication on the scope. It grew stronger and closer. I switched again to the 50 mile range, called up John, and spread my map. Nothing looked in the least familiar and we couldn’t match the [scope] picture with the map at all! Shaw was baffled. I unfolded the map to the east, studied it, and then the two sections to the west. The first was futile, but in the last and westernmost section there was a note of similarity to the scope indication. I called Johnny and we concluded that we were where it was almost impossible to be. True. We were west of Nagoya!!! At least 100 miles off course! Wow. West of Nagoya and about 30 miles south of Nakiri, Honshu on a raid to Tokyo. The [magnetic] variation had been set in wrong on the flux-gate compass [used by the autopilot].

The Capt. altered course along the coast to the CP. In 15 minutes we were opposite Hamamatsu and they could see the glow of the fires now at Tokyo 75 miles away. Hamamatsu was partly afire. I guess some of the boys had used it as a target of opportunity. A left correction took us over the Control Point and on course for IP. Again the boys up front could see the lights, flak, and fires. Course was checked on Ihaitake and its big brother Fuji San which glowed palely in the half-moonlight. The moon was slightly past [the] zenith.

IP. We turned. We wished we hadn’t. Lord, what a show! The Japanese had this one all figured out and we prayed that this was a one- night-stand instead of the show’s world premiere. Rockets, lights, flak, foo-fighters, phosphorous explosions and I don’t know what all.

[Everyone talked about “foo-fighters but I never heard any rational description of one or whether they existed at all.]

I got the position on Hachioji which checked out with the briefed bomb run.

“Pilot, pilot. See that thing out there? Looks like a rocket.” We wheeled up on one wing in an attempt to avoid it.

“It’s turning in. Looks as though it were following us.” Norris took the ailerons and Seavey the elevators. The ship went crazy in the air. Up, down, over, and back. Suddenly the “thing” exploded in mid-air and we never did find out what it was. Next on the program were the lights. We had no desire to see our names “up in them” nor in smoke either. The results were disastrous as far as my bomb run was concerned. In spite of the rope and de-synchronized props we couldn’t shake them. The scope was so screwed up from the turning and we were so seldom in straight and level flight that I stopped looking at the damned thing. I watched the dancing shadows on the top of the ship over the open camera hatch where Harris was tossing out the rope. Again we could hear the thump and whack of the flak as it exploded around our ears. The ship would heave on the close ones.

Excitedly Seavey called up all out of breath, “Drop the bombs and let’s get the hell out of here.” I don’t blame him. I was scared stiff. The bombs went “away” and we made tracks. Heading was about 40 degrees true and we were headed right for the heart of Tokyo. I told the Capt. that it was OK to turn but he didn’t hear me or something. I watched with my heart in my mouth as the transmitter pip [the scope center] slid over the very center of the enemy city. The flak was closer and louder. This took about a minute at the end of which I called again and we swung to the north, out of the lights and guns. As soon as the lights left us I turned off the set for the required 45 minutes and we turned right again to head for the sea over Chosi Point. We were confused and doing night pilotage. Harris, the Capt., Whiskey, John, and Max all had their ideas on the lay of the land and, as a result, we must have passed north, south, and under at least six Chosi Points before the grey moon glitter showed us to be indisputably over the sea.

We continued on the 090 heading for 100 miles or so then turned south to [fool] the fighters. We saw none. After turning on to a reasonable facsimile of the heading for Iwo we watched the glow of the great fires at Tokyo until we were more than 200 miles at sea. The bomb flashes were still visible at 100 miles.

T-37 had a flak dent in the wing and that was all.

Strike #11 (daylight)                                   29 May, 1945

    Target-     Yokohama
    Bomb Load-  M47-A incendiaries
    Aircraft-   T-37
    Opposition- Flak moderate and continuously pointed. Few fighters.

The first mission of any kind to Japan’s greatest port, Yokohama. Furthermore it was the first daylight incendiary raid we’d been on. Tokyo and Kawasaki were gone and now it was Yokohama’s turn.

For a break briefing was in the afternoon. This meant that we could sleep right up until chow time at 0100 and get in an extra hour. The reason for last minute briefings is the fact that the weather data had to be up to date. Evidently they expected no changes this time. When the awful hour rolled around we were nevertheless POed for all of that extra hour and the eggs and bacon left us stumbling around like sleeping pills.

Trucks, stations, engines, taxi, and at last take-off came around 0400. Later than usual so that it was daylight before we’d gone as far as Pajoros [northernmost of the Marianas]. Between Pajoros and assembly at Aoga Shima I read the latest TIME and drew a sketch of Harris as he slept in the sun by the right blister. I took a wind run on Iwo and Kita Iwo and a few hours later picked up Aoga and thanked my stars that it was daylight and not Sofu Gan.

We assembled without difficulty and climbed to 19,000 feet as we neared the coast. When the Capt. told us to don our armor-plated skivvies and ‘chutes I turned off the set and settled myself in the blister with much trouble and sweat. I had an oxygen bottle and a fouled up intercom connection. When we made landfall at Minami-Osaka (just west of old friend Omae-zaki) we depressurized and I started breathing through my Martian bagpipes all set to take notes with much effort:

0044- Landfall and general confusion as my headphone cord came undone and caught on the goddamn flak suit.
0046- Harris reports a fighter at 5 o’clock low. I almost broke my neck in a vain attempt to see it.
0055- Long pause while I proceed to get blue around the gills as I drag on an empty oxygen bottle at 20,000 feet thinking that my supply is OK as the gauge reads 350 lb/in2. I guess this… huff… thing is… whuff, whuff… broken, empty! Gotta get to the filler valve, filler valve. My head swam and buzzed, I got scared. I forced myself to crawl, well scrambled in cords, cables, maps, and armor plate to refill my empty bottle. With much exertion and completely out of breath I took deep gulps of O2 and came around in time to note that we were now over Manazawa and Fuji-gama. Whew!

0100- IP at Fuji San. Much effort expended with no rewarding view of the crater directly below us. Nothing but rice paddies.
0102- Over Sagami-gawa at Atsugi.
0103- Bomb bay doors.
0104- Fugisawa and Chogo.
0105- First flak. It was exploding just ahead of us and low and all we could see [were] the brown smoke puffs drifting by. It seemed to be continuously pointed fire.
0108- Kamakura to right, on course to target.
0108- Bombs away.
More flak, continuously pointed, and more audible than before.
0109- Over target. I leaned out and could see many fires on the south side of the city with white smoke plumes hugging the ground in a south wind. The smoke rose to the north in a great pillar with top about 20,000 feet.
0111- Futtsu.
0112- A 58th Wing ship with flak in the wing between #1 and #2 engines headed earthward and exploding in a blaze of flame.
0117- Land’s end at Amatzu.

I navigated to Base while John got in some well deserved sack time in the radar room. Milne got a radio report on some dye-marker 30 miles from land’s end well behind us. We had a wind shift and [Gins] sweated out the gas on let down from Agrihan to Saipan.

Strike #12 (abort)                                      5 June, 1945

    Target-     Kobe    
    Bomb Load-  M47-A incendiaries
    Aircraft-   T-37

Our second abort. This would have been our twelfth strike to Japan. We preflighted [inspected] the ship in the dark of morning, pulled props and took off for Iwo and the target. I was sleeping when I was awakened by an awful vibration in the ship. It stopped and I asked Harris what the score was. I seemed we had swallowed five valves in #3 engine and were headed back to Saipan. Just an hour or so out of Iwo. Norris made a successful three-engine landing at Isley Field and after getting all our equipment returned to personnel supply we hit the squadron area and the sacks.

Strike #12a                                             7 June, 1945

    Target-     Dock area of Osaka, Honshu, Japan.
    Bomb Load- 
    Aircraft-   T-37
    Opposition- Six flak bursts.  No fighters.

We all had misgivings about this one after the bad time the boys, including Creedon, had on the last Kobe raid on the 5th.

With no trouble at all we made it to assembly at Kita Iwo on time. We led the right element with Czerwinski right, Rich left, and Lt. Pound in the slot to fill in the box. Why they assembled [us] at Kita we will never know as the pilots had to fly formation [tiring] all the long way to Japan.

On arriving at Wing assembly at Okina-shima I turned off the set and went to the blister for the bomb run. There was a beautiful sight outside . The entire mass of Japan as far as you could see was solidly overcast and silhouetted against the whiteness were the P-51s. There must have been fifty of them though Max only counted 43.

That’s about all there was to the mission. On the way down the run we saw six bursts of flak, inaccurate. We dropped [bombs] and returned to Saipan without event. Definitely a
milk-run; no aircraft lost.

Strike #13                                             10 June, 1945

    Target-     Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima A/C Co. (#357)
    Bomb Load-  7 2,000 lb HEs
    Aircraft-   T-37
    Opposition- Flak moderate to intense. Moderate Japanese fighter 

Three-five-seven again. This time out to get the reinforced concrete western section. The engine test cells. This time or never as far as we were concerned. On previous strikes the eastern, assembly, wings had been almost completely destroyed. Our Group and most of the 73rd [Wing] were out to cream this while in the XXI BombCom were to hit nine other targets on Honshu.

A yawn, a muttered curse, and early morning takeoff as usual saw us at Aoga Shima around 0700. The radar was inop, kaput, with a burned out crystal as I only later discovered, but we had no difficulty locating the island. Our headache, however, was in finding the squadron formation. We milled around for some 20 minutes looking for the flash of a green Aldis lamp or an extended nose wheel on a “T” ship. No go. Rats–this business of tacking on to another bunch or going up in hopes of mission credit alone is PP. After a little we saw on the horizon a formation on course for the target. We made off in pursuit on the chance that it was the 874th and also for a little company. Finally after 170 miles of running we pulled into formation, our boys, at landfall though not in our correct position as lead of the right element.

Since the radar was on the foul [I] could take no scope photos so, with time on my hands, I went to the right sighting station. We were bombing from 19,000 feet but were partially pressurized at 12,000 feet. Seavey and Harris reported P-51s abroad which fact put everyone at ease to some extent.

And here I stopped writing on Saipan. It was six months ago that this all happened. The position data and much else has been forgotten. I shall, however, with the use of a sectional chart and some imagination, do my best.

We made landfall at, or somewhere near, Omae-zaki or Shizuoka on Suruga Wan. The IP was, I believe, Kofu north of Fuji. Thence we headed on [a] course that included a turning point and a CP to cross up the poor souls on the ground. Fuji had lost a good deal of its whipped cream to the increasing sweet-tooth of Old Sol and looked very un-Fujiish. Black with just a trace of snow in the crevices and fluting of the cone. The ground was spotted with cloud shadows. It looked as though the target would be overcast.

As we turned, by radar I guess, over Kofu I saw what looked to be P- 51s. Specks against a brilliant, steely blue sky bit I couldn’t say for sure. The overcast increased as we crossed the mountains and approached the Tokyo coastal plain from the west. The target lay about half way between the mouth of the Ara-kawa at Tokyo and the mountains at Ome. near Musashino. Max called up to say that it looked as though the overcast ended just beyond #357 and that we probably would have to proceed to secondary. This was not good news. Using one of the most heavily flak-defended area of Japan was considered generally a poor risk from the standpoint of longevity.

The lead and deputy lead [planes] opened their bomb bay doors and the squadron followed suit. Synchronization was impossible [here] and therefor the order was given to proceed to Hitachi.

Flak. Right over #357 we broke into the clear and I could see the continuously pointed fire exploding somewhere under our right wing every two seconds or so. Smoke brownish-black.

Next, and completely without warning, the Japanese fighters appeared. I guess the P-51s had stayed back in Tokyo to strafe. There was formation off to our right, same altitude. I saw a lone fighter buzzing around it in lazy roll-throughs and breakaways. Distance slowed down motion. He disappeared. I dozed off. Z-z-z-z.

The vibration and racket of Spiller’s twin fifties snapped me to consciousness again. The turret was right behind me. The intercom was buzzing with clock position calls, high, low, level, and everywhere as the Japanese pressed the attacks.

Creedon was hit and smoking in #3 (feathered). We gathered that he was hit; King flying. Norris dropped back for top cover and the fighters dropped back to jump on Creedon who was now lagging formation. Target yet a couple of minutes away.

Several attacks were called in by Whiskey, Spiller, Max and Seavey. The guns rattled and the [empty] shells clattered into the turret covers on the bottoms. All this was a great help to John on the navigation and Gins on the panel. Bill called in a twin-engine “Tojo” at 9 o’clock high and turning in. “Yeah, I see ‘im.”, Rocky answered an instant later. The ship shook. “We got him, goddammit we got him!” I couldn’t see but Whiskey confirmed the fact that the Japanese had spun in and gone down through the overcast.

Bomb bay door opened again. King managed to overtake the squadron though McNicholl had salvoed the bombs and closed his doors to gain speed. We both fell [back] in [to formation] just in time to drop with the squadron on the engineering works. The lead did a bang-up job–every bomb right in there.

We turned right and held a course to sea before we turned again on course for Iwo. Norris stayed back for a while with King and Creedon until they made Iwo. We landed at Saipan.

Rocky and and Bill Spiller got credit (1/2 apiece) for the fighter they shot down.

The Group got two commendations, one from Wing to all Groups at Hitachi, and one from Group Command. Every bomb in the Wing had struck within an 1,800 foot circle from the AP.

Creedon, King, and the boys had a mission they’ll never forget! It all happened in the same split second. 20mm shells from a fighter at 2 o’clock low. Number three engine shot out, Creedon severely wounded in the calf, the co-pilots throttle box wrecked, all fuel and oil pressure gauges shot out, and a 20mm explosion in front of “Killer” McNicoll’s flak curtain. Mac was spun around in his seat and dazed. He [evidently scuttled] the bombs and closed the bomb bay doors and then passed out. He doesn’t remember a thing about it at all.

At this date I know that Creedon is OK and will be able to walk after several skin grafts.

After a month-long tour at Lead Crew School (special radar bombing training) in the US during July at Muroc Army Air Field in California the T-37 crew returned to Saipan in early August having heard of the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb at Hickham Field on the way back across the Pacific.

There was one more combat mission from Saipan (Number 14 to Usaka Arsenal, August 14th) and, after V-J Day, we flew two or three times to Japan to drop supplies to prisoner of war camps. On several occasions we crawled out into the bomb bay to stuff notes into the duffel and, months later, received several grateful and humorous letters from the recipients–mostly English and Aussies.

We had close friends in the 497th BG whose ship was A-16 “The Fickle Finger of Fate” piloted by Capt. Dick Fate (Bob Hayes, V; Will Kessler, N; Lonnie Snowden, CP). A-16 took off on the night of October 5th for Kwajalein on its way home to the States. They had an oil leak a few hours out and decided to return to Saipan where they crashed on Kobler Field in the early hours of the great typhoon of that date. Twenty were lost.

Group BookReference: The Twenty Niner the Combat Story of the 498th B.G., edited by Capt. Michael J. Ogden and published ca. 1946.