Elsie S. Church, 2000, Steps Retraced

Eglise St. Hippolyte, Bay-sur-Aube

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

Friday, July 21, 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 22, 2000

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

00072217_BsA_ClmBouquet
Catherine and Mme. Boquet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 23, 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


 

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

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

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

In 1919 my mother was 29 years old.

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

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Chapter Four
Nanteuil-la-Fosse [1]

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

Hotel Roblin
Paris, June 25 1919

Dear Family:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will write again when I am settled.

Loads of love,

Elsie

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

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

Dear Ones at Home:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love me a lot and write often,

Elsie

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

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

Dear Edith:

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

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

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

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

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

1919_NLaF_ESC
Rufus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and lots of it—from,

Elsie

[1] In the end it was Rufus.

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

Dear Family:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must go to bed.  Loads of love,

Elsie

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

-o0|0o-

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

Dear Papa:

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

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

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

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

1919_NLaF_Trees
Picking cherries

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

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

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

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

Loads and loads of love,

Elsie

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

-o0|0o-

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

Dear Family:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o0|0o-

Line-A-Day:                             August 1st, 1919

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

Journal:                                    August 2nd, 1919

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

-o0|0o-

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

Dear Family:

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

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

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

1919_Hautvillers
Mme. et Leandre Legal

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

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

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

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

-o0|0o-

Here the available letters end.


Postscript

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

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


 

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

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

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

In 1919 my mother was 29 years old.

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

-o0|0o-

Chapter Two
Bay-sur-Aube

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the love in the world, Elsie

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

Journal:                                    December 27th, Friday

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

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

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

Journal:                                    December 28th, Saturday

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

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

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

Journal:                                    December 29th, Sunday

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

Journal:                                    December 30th, Monday

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

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

Journal:                                    December 31st, Tuesday

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

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

[1] A friend from Ithaca, I believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of love, Elsie

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

Journal:                                    January 1st, Wednesday

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

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

Journal:                                    January 2nd, Thursday

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

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

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

Journal:                                    January 3rd, Friday

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

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

They had a ragtime wedding which was a scream.

Journal:                                    January 4th, Saturday

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

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

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

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

Journal:                                    January 5th, Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Journal:                                    January 6th, Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all, Elsie

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

-o0|0o-

Journal:                                    January 7th, Tuesday

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

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

Journal:                                    January 8th, Wednesday

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

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

Journal:                                    January 9th, Thursday

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

Journal:                                    January 10th, Friday

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

Journal:                                    January 11th, Saturday

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

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

Journal:                                    January 12th, Sunday

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

Journal:                                    January 13th, Monday

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

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

Journal:                                    January 14th, Tuesday

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

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

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

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

January 13th, Monday

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

January 14th, Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loads of love, Elsie

Journal:                                    January 15th, Wednesday

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

Journal:                                    January 16th, Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loads of love, Elsie

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

-o0|0o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell everyone to write to me!

Loads of love, Elsie

[1] American Expeditionary Force.

-o0|0o-

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

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

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

February 9th

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

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

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

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

I’ll try and write soon again,

Love from Elsie

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

-o0|0o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o0|0o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonne nuit, Elsie

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

-o0|0o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsie

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

-o0|0o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loads of love, Elsie
                                                                        -o0|0o-

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


Chapter 3 Intervalle
Chapter 4 Nanteuil-la-Fosse


 

Francis Kerr Atkinson (1890-1976)

Francis Kerr Atkinson 1890-1976: Some Biographical Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naphtha Launch
Naphtha launch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1919_H_L_FkaParis
Paris- 1918 (Kerr on right)

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

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

1919_TrucksFrance001
Mules and Motor Trucks in France (1919)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued?


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


William C. Atkinson, November, 2017