| Home | Search | SBButler Letters |

SBButler Letters, April 1919

April 12, 1919
April 23, 1919

Letters to Eva April 1919


41 Nevers, France
12 April 1919. [Sat. ]

Dear Mother,

My last letter was 30 March. Just so that you'll know there's nothing in between. Last Sunday was one of the fullest days of my trip, and I couldn't get the letter in.

We drew a Cadillac eight for our journey and started out on a bright Monday morning, the 31st, after some days of rain. A fairly auspicious beginning to an all around successful trip. Beautiful weather just long enough to let us get back, & then a bit more rain. Achorn says he's always a good Jonah in that regard, and it least must have been someone else than I, for I recall quite distinctly that the weather man had no such compunctions on my Belgian trip.

The first day we made Rheims. This took us thru Auxerre, Troyes, Mery- sur-Seine, Chalons-sur-Marne, chief places along our route. First it was thru the Nivernais country, picturesque, with deep valleys, sharp, high well wooded hills; all covered with snow at the time, by the way, more than I had seen all winter. Then for a while we were thru a little section of Burgundy, following that, from Troyes up the Seine to Mery and across to Chalons on the Marne. I believe that we were in the champagne. This is much more open and level country. In our journey from the Seine across to the Marne we were in the vicinity of the great battle of Chalons of 451 in which Atilla and the Huns were defeated after terrifying Europe for nearly a century. As we approached the Marne, we passed many old camps which had existed behind the lines in the late war - aviation hangers, rest camps, training camps, stables, & evacuation hospitals; also great screens of pine branches which had been erected along the roads for camouflage, and every evidence of behind-the-lines activity.

Between Chalons and Rheims we stopped and looked over the little town of Beaumont - with not a living soul in it; we climbed up into a house which must have once been a fine place, and looked out over the little place, the graveyard of a once peaceful village. A little farther on we stopped and looked over some old French dugouts, not far from the road. "1914 Trenches" we were told by someone at Rheims, but whatever year label our informer put on them more or less authoritatively, I'm inclined to think they were fairly recently occupied. There was abundant ammunition in them which hadn't been lying around for four years; but not so abundant as to indicate that the dugouts were used as reserve dumps or anything of that sort.

It was an experience worth living thru to spend a night in Rheims, great ghost of a city. I found the hotel where I had gotten something to eat there the short time between trains on my way thru before, and found accommodations there. Candle light and cold but we were lucky to have a bed. John and I took a bit of a walk late in the evening thru the desolate streets; you can't imagine what it is like to do so. A few people have come back and are struggling courageously to reconstitute their homes. I noticed a family which had just come back that evening into a house without a door or a window, and I guess not much of a roof; they had gotten some straw & some wood and had started in a blaze in their old fireplace. At best, though, I'm afraid they couldn't have made a very good night of it, for it was pretty cold.

It was another experience to be in Rheims in the morning. We went up to visit the great Cathedral as closely as we could. The front is not badly destroyed, and one can readily appreciate the wonderful detail work of its facade; the hits were from the right rear, and that is the view from which best to get the measure of its destruction. The experience of Rheims in the morning was to stand in front of the Cathedral, where 5 years ago at the hour we were there all must have been business and bustle, and people filling the streets, and to sense now the almost complete silence, - a few scattered persons (post-card & picture vendors already), & the undrowned song of birds - as though we might readily be in the midst of a forest or at least where civilization had not flourished for centuries.

We acquired an artillery captain at Rheims - one Goodwin of Kansas City, & no connection with the Hartford Goodwins - who wasn't altogether displeased at an opportunity to get back to Chateau Thierry by a round about route in the back seat of a Cadillac. We took our time, and saw a plenty. We started from Rheims for Soissons first. Before we got as far as Tiomes we stopped at a spot along the heights of the Vesle, from which a view of a wide stretch of country is obtained. On the top of the hill was the lone grave of a British soldier; in his helmet on top of the grave were two postcards, one of a British soldier, one of a German. I acquired a rather good French bayonet from this locality. A little bit farther along we found American graves of the 28th Division, which fought up thru there last August.

At Fismes - another wreck, of course - we arrived just in time to see an excited crowd of French guards & German prisoners, and were accosted by the French non-com in charge with a request to take an injured prisoner to a nearby hospital - he had fallen off the roof of one of the houses he had been working on, but how badly hurt I don't know. At any rate, we gave them the use of the car for the short time necessary to convey him to a hospital. Another prisoner acted as our guide thru the town to the railroad station, as we wanted to take a walk up the track a way where Goodwin knew we could find battle relics. This German had been in England for sometime and could speak excellent English. Up the track there was plenty of evidence of events of last summer, American, French, & German evidence. American evidence was every conceivable kind of equipment which our chaps shed as they got going. There was French ammunition and German ammunition, not a few helmets, and even parts of Germans, who had been very lightly buried. We finally emerged with a number of trophies, and met the car where it waited for us by prearrangement. Then we went on to Soissons, where we had lunch. The Cathedral at Soissons, while not as fine nor as famous as that of Rheims, was nevertheless a beautiful structure, and from the front appears the greater ruin, especially because the towers are damaged much worse. One is admitted to the Soisson Cathedral, and, led by a French soldier guard, we climbed about it considerably and up along the edge of the roof even, as far as it was safe. To look from the inside out gives one even a better idea of what wrecks these buildings are.

From Soissons we took a rather indirect route thru Fere-en-Tardenois to the town of Chateau Thierry. Thru here especially we came in contact with the working parties clearing up the battlefields - German prisoners and French soldiers, and I have seen one of each carrying the same pail! We were sometimes stopped by prisoners posted as sentries to warn vehicles to wait until certain grenade explosions were completed. Once we waited some few minutes, and Capt. Goodwin, who speaks perfect German, was talking with the prisoner-sentries. I tried to get them all in the same picture when none was looking, but the sun wasn't right; not that the Boches weren't willing, for they saw the camera before I decided to put it up & didn't run away, but I didn't particularly care to have them in a pleasant pose just for the purpose. A great many of the fields thru there are already being plowed for this year, and it is interesting enough to see civilization creeping back into the great barren waste that was for four years No-Man's Land.

At Chateau Thierry, we made our arrangements for the night, then made a late afternoon trip out in a westerly direction thru Vaux, by Belleau Wood, to the town of Lucy, and back. The little town of Lucy has a church which was hammered to smitherenes, but a much venerated large crucifix hanging up in front on the interior which was untouched. Rather different from some of the cross-roads Cross images, minus a leg or an arm, or with most nothing left. On our way back we stopped and walked up into Belleau Wood, on a low but steep hillside along a brook valley; it is filled with boulders, excellent defense shelters; Yank dugouts and Yank equipment, such as hasn't been taken from this already much-touristed place, are much in evidence. And on the evening of our visit, the woods was filled with huge anemones, which hardly added to its martial aspect.

Along our road there were three little American cemeteries which have been fixed up very neatly.

We intended to start off the next morning and had supposed we had done our last battlefield touring, but the next morning at breakfast I got talking with one Capt. Carswell of the 9th Machine Gun Battalion, 3rd Division, who had been in the show last summer there, and had just come back to look over some of his old ground. So it was all off. I couldn't resist the temptation, and after letting him go once, I hunted him up again to see if he didn't want to look over some of his old ground in our Cadillac. What an interesting morning we then had! His company was posted along the south part of the town in June, and he showed us the first spot where he was ever under fire, also where his first man was killed. In July, the 3rd Division held positions all along the right bank of the Marne east of Chateau Thierry, and he was posted well over to the east, with headquarters in Crezancy. As we went along the road in that direction he explained with the ground itself as illustration the positions and action of the various regiments of the 3rd Division during the eventful days when the tide began to turn last July. Emir Allen's regiment, the 30th, was posted in the vicinity of Mezy, and I suppose I was very near the spot where he was killed. I hunted for his grave among two cemeteries there but was unable to find it. Carswell is a good soldier, with a good natural understanding of military tactics, and he had the whole action very clearly in his mind. Of course it was especially interesting to visit with him his own company headquarters in a house in Crezancy, and his own machine gun positions, in addition to getting his own explanation of why he set them at the particular points where they were located. He had one position protected by a railroad bridge, which commanded a field between it and the river, in which field there were officially counted after the action 1182 dead Germans; I have an extracted cartridge picked up from the position, the use of which may have accounted for one. The ground all thru this vicinity is pretty well cleared up, but there are still a few old rusty things lying around, and at indiscriminant spots about the fields there are little crosses with the inscription "Ici repose un soldat allemand inconnu" (Here lies an unknown German soldier), as a reminder, as long as they remain, that something happened here.

About two-thirty in the afternoon we finally got going in the direction of Havre, a journey of about 200 miles. We finally reached there at midnight. We passed thru a couple of very fine forests - mostly tall straight ash - on our way, and the rest was farming country. It has been quite a revelation to me so many fine forests over here; the conservation principle is very thoroughly enacted into law, and very thoroughly inbred in the minds of the people. Not a tree comes down but one goes up in its place, and only certain percentages each year may be cut, and everything is regulated so that the wood supply shall be perpetual and regular. It is a surprise also, I think to all of us, to find so much rural land in Europe where we have known that the average population per unit measure is greater than in our own country. Just to take our trip from Nevers to Havre, you couldn't possibly believe this country was more thickly populated than New Hampshire, say. Not only that, but thru France east of the Seine at least you can go for miles without seeing a house. However, the land is cultivated, but the tillers all seem to live clustered together in the little towns - never having gotten out of the habit of their ancestors in mediaeval days; at least there they don't live in their farms any more than they ever did in the days when they had to bunch together for mutual protection under the feudal lord from whom they held the land.

From Havre down to Tours the country differs somewhat from that east of the Seine. That it was always a safer part of the country to live, is, I presume, the logical explanation. After staying at Havre for two days we made the trip to Tours (station of Co. D) in good time (hit 73 once, but it doesn't seem more than 35 in a lighter car). From Havre to Caudebec it is the road to Rouen under the cliffs along the lower part of the Seine, which I have described to you before. At Caudebec we crossed the river by ferry, and took almost a direct southerly route. As I think back on this trip, I think of three distinct belts, as defined by characteristic features of the country. First, for sometime, we went thru the country of thatched roofed farmhouses & farm buildings; and buildings both in country and town, which have wooden beams about every two feet along their walls, with cement in between; this is especially so of the old ones. This is peculiar to this section, of all sections of the country I have yet seen, for everywhere else there is no wood in house construction all all, only stone & cement, ugly and dented in and misshapen. This country seemed to be especially a dairy & sheep country. Beyond that came a country of well kept orchards, actual fences, and prosperous farms which could almost be New England; for the character of the landscape itself was exactly like New England. Actual fences are rarities in France for hedges are the rule most everywhere. As we got down tearer the Loire and Tours, we were in quite a vineyard country, which was the third belt of the journey.

On Sunday afternoon, as we drove from Tours to St. Aignan and back we passed the numerous cave-homes which I wrote you about last fall, after my first trip to Tours from St. Amand. All along the Loire, too, the country is rich in magnificent chateaux.

At Havre we found Cos. A, E, & F hard at work whitewashing their barracks as was every outfit in the Motor Park. It is expected that the Park will be closed up about the first of May, and I am hoping very soon to have those companies nearer.

At Tours I did some inquiring around the office of the Director Motor Transport Corps as to what they had in mind for my outfit, and for borrowed Division Trains in general. As for our time of shipment home, it is entirely up to the M. T. C. when it wants to release us. I have begged to remind the proper person that of all the 10 Division Supply Trains & 10 Division Motor Sections, Division Ammunition Trains, loaned to the M. T. C. for duty, that we were the first to arrive in the A. E. F.

Personnel that's in divisions held intact know just when they are going home, for it's been on schedule known to everyone who gets copies of General Orders; but a poor mongrel, orphan outfit is out of luck. That's us. From the general character of my interviews at Tours I gather some hope of release in a month and a half or two months.

From Tours I went up to Vendome where half of B Co. is driving trucks for the 6th Cavalry (6th Cavalry is getting ready for the big peace parade). On the way back here I stopped at Romorantin - a big Air Service station - with the hopes of finding a clue as to Bert Phelps' grave. It so happened that it was right there in the post cemetery at Romorantin, so I have visited it, and taken a picture of it & the little cemetery, in case his mother should care anything about them. I also ran into a Sergeant Ramsdell, who knew Bert well & was with him in his illness; it was altogether by chance and I think I was very fortunate.

We got back here Monday night, and the rest of the week nothing very special has happened, except the last couple of nights I've been visited by something akin to a nocturnal female horse [nightmares - Sue]; guess I'll try the halter on the bedpost remedy tonight.

I forgot to mention that while at Tours I had a telegram from Greene who had arrived at Nevers only to get orders there releasing him for return to America. I got Nevers on the wire Sunday morning and found he had left for Casual Officers Depot at St. Aignan; so chased to St. Aignan and found him there, and had a chance to visit him for two or three hours. I suppose by now he's likely enough at port of embarkation and loaded aboard. I miss having him around a great deal.

I think I told you when I last wrote that I was going to take Sgt. Callahan along on the trip. I was glad to have the opportunity to do so, and I know that he enjoyed it very much. He is a good chap.

I've written the last half of this, Sunday morning, and it's now almost time to go down to dinner.

I guess you can begin to look for me when you hear me coming up the steps.

Lots of love to all
Sylvester

I have just re-read this, and as the writing is exceedingly difficult for me, I'm thinking it must be a complete despair for you.

S%%%%.


42 Poitiers, France
23 April 1919. [Wed. ]

Dear Mother,

Well, you see me shifted again. After exactly a month spent in Nevers, the Chief M. T. O. Intermediate Section decided to send Headquarters, 301st Supply Train, to Poitiers, to function as the Motor Transport Office of the area comprising the Department of Vienne, of which Poitiers is the principle city. And I have been designated as Motor Transport Officer of the area. Lieut. Fitts, with our present Co. C, had already been here about 10 days, before they ever thought of sending me here. I have under my supervision here a garage from which about 40 motor vehicles operate, & for which my Co. C supplies practically all the personnel; another garage in which is located a small Service Park Unit of 30 men, who do the motor vehicle repair work for the area; and a gas & oil station. I also have technical supervision over about 25 motor vehicles assigned to Engineer units in the area, not held by me or operated from our garage. Lieut. Fitts is in charge of the garage & I am also setting him in charge of an inspection system which will be inaugurated as soon as possible. There was a Lieut. Siekert in command of the Service Park Unit but he is going to be operated on for the removal of his appendix in a few days, so that Lieut. Achorn is going to take that over in addition to his duties as Adjutant of the Train. I arrived here Monday, two days ago, and am not fairly settled yet by any means; am still in the process of getting oriented and picking up the threads of my new job from my predecessor, a Lieut. Wilson, who is a splendid chap, & has lent me every facility for getting going. Poitiers used to be a center for several Artillery units in training, but never was really a great American center. All that are here now are about 4 companies of Engineers repairing roads thruout the area, a hospital unit, an M. P. detachment, a Q. M. C. detachment, and some students at the University. The place practically just waits on the Engineers to close up, before dissolving. That will be in about 3 weeks or a month. I have secured a sort of half-promise that this will be the last job, at least for my hdqrs. , in the A. E. F. , and from that as well as other reasoning, deduct a fair chance of our returning home in June. "Our" means only hdqrs. now, as my latest dope is that I am not likely to get the Train together again. There has been a big push, apparently started the last two weeks, to hurry up, clean up the various stations in the S. O. S. as quickly as possible, so as to keep releasing some troops for embarkation to America. Which sort of makes the dope I got in Tours the first of the month go by the Board; it doesn't change my particular status as to time of returning home much, but changes the determining factors.

We started down here on Saturday, with one touring car and one truck, with all our hdqrs. outfit and baggage. The first night we stayed over in St. Amand. Most all the men had special friends there and I allowed them to visit them overnight; and Achorn and myself stayed at the house where he used to billet when we were there last summer & fall, before we all moved down to the tents. It was interesting to see what a changed place it was; still a very few troops there, but even they will be gone in a week. Every building in our fine Motor Park, the product of Major June's genius, had been torn down, and, in general, there was little or no sign of the activities of the 76th Division during its corporate existence in the A. E. F.

Poitiers is a fairly large town in the west-central part of France, between 40 and 50 miles south of Tours. It is built on two parallel hills & in the valley between; because thus situated, it is terraced and walled to a marked degree, so much so that you feel much hemmed in whenever you walk. It is a very old city, with many historical relics, which I hope to discover. Before coming here, I remembered it only as the scene of a battle, to which the city gave the name, fought about 1346, in the Hundred Years' War; I think the Black Prince figured in it.

John (Achorn) and I are living together at 64 Rue Theophraste Renaudot, third floor front. John will move to third floor back as soon as it's vacated. It's not really quite as comfortable as my Nevers billet, but I'm getting to like it pretty well. John is a very agreeable companion, as well as having been my reliable right-hand man since Major June left.

Hope this finds everyone OK.

With lots of love to you & my best to all
Sylvester


| Home | Search | SBButler Letters |