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SBButler Letters, August 1918
August 4, 1918
August 13, 1918
Aug. 25, 1918
Aug. 28, 1918
Letters to Eva, August 1918
2 [No date but must be about August 4, 1918]
I have been in England a very short time and am now crossing the channel. The Major is commanding officer of all troops on this ship so I am pretty busy, but am about settled for awhile.
It's been a treat to see what little of England we did. It is a beautiful country, cultivated every inch, but kept neat and trim, and its gay with flowers. Hardly a house is without some little garden - especially pink ramblers, poppies, snapdragon, purple clematis. The whole countryside is a network of hedgerows; they fence off every field, and are really the backbone I should say of the whole beautiful English landscape. There is some little wheat grown, some hay land, quite a few stock farms - either cattle or sheep. There is hardly a house that isn't brick; in fact I don't recall seeing a wooden house. There are many thatched roofed houses in the country. There seems to be very little scattered population; the cities are most abruptly set off from the country; only a few minutes walk from perfect country you will see a whole town, made up mostly of rows of houses exactly alike - which is the only thing I don't like in England. Only a few of the fields have houses - I suppose it's the landlord system.
Bicycles are greatly in evidence and the funny cab-carts are the limit - look like a close carriage with the c___[note - I cannot read this word] & all the trimmings off.
The people are delightfully cordial to us, and are most friendly. The first evidence of that was in an English town we paraded thru a couple of days ago, on our way to the rest camp. The Lord Mayor & eminent citizens had a reception for us in an art gallery - 301st Supply Train & some other organizations. They had tables spread with cookies, sandwiches, fruit, lemonade, grape juice, cake, & delicious chocolate birds, and every one told to help themselves. The Lord Mayor gave the officers a speech, and his private secretary showed the Major & myself around the art gallery & museum, a very hasty trip which I hope I can finish up sometime. All the people in there left nothing undone to entertain us, & their whole heartedness & warm heartedness just went to my heart. The little boys are cute. They come up to you & say, "Hello, Buddy", want to know where you're from at times, want a penny others.
The dinky railway cars seem very strange. I like the passenger cars that way; It's so much simpler getting in & out, particularly when you have troops. Each 3rd class compartment holds 1 squad of men.
In the rest camp our men lived in galvanized iron huts holding about 40 apiece. We lived in cement bldgs. much the shape of our own officers' quarters in Devens, only had larger beds & larger rooms. Had a little stove over in the corner of the room. Every inch of the camp is cultivated, with potatoes more than anything - with lavender blossoms by the way.
A great deal of American money goes there, but one pays for the privilege.
The way I've started you might think I was on a little whirl-wind tour of Europe. I suppose we'll be in another rest camp soon, but many seem to be of the opinion if these are rest camps, they don't want to go to work. A lot of resting we did.
Please ask Father to look up if he can where in England the Butlers & Savages came from to America; if I am ever there on leave, I might get a chance to look them up.
Well, 5 pages is about all England can have, I guess.
Lots of love to all,
3 France, August 13, 1918
I believe my last letter was written the night we crossed the channel, so shall start from there; in so far as censorship regulations allow or give a chance for a connected narrative.
About the first greeting we received in France was from the women and children selling figs and oranges. On our hike to our first camp after debarkation they would spring up from no where, seemingly, whenever we stopped, in great numbers.
Our first night was spent in another so called rest camp the men in tents and we in little huts, 3 or 4 to a hut. We got our bedding rolls for the first time that night. We ate in a Y.M.C.A. tent which was running a special officers' mess, and fed on horse meat most of the time. The camp was full of flower beds, particularly by the officers' lines. The first impression I had of France was that it was all flowers.
From that camp we had somewhat of a train ride, the men in freight cars labeled Hommes 32-40, chevaux (en long) 8 (Men, 32-40, Horses- the long way 8). We were in 2nd class coaches. We rode thru country not much unlike New England - some wheat fields, some grazing land (all cows pure white, I haven't been able to find what the name of the herd is), some forest land & swamp. One would never realize it was such a densely populated land. However the delineation between town & country doesn't seem quite so distinct as in England.
The train brought us to this place, a small city of about 18,000, where we have been ever since, There is no camp here at all, all troops being billeted. Our men are billeted in a section of the town near the outskirts, in barns, lofts, attics, and what-not. They all have bed sacks, which they can fill with straw, and so are comfortable. The people are most kind to them & do everything they can to make the men comfortable. The companies do their own cooking on their field ranges, using government rations supplimented & varied with fresh stuff gotten from the inhabitants where they can buy or exchange from time to time. Our officers are scattered in houses about the town. Major June, Lieuts. Leviseur & Taylor, and myself are in a very excellent house, owned by a fairly well-to-do people. It is not occupied at all at present but the man of the house will probably return when he has harvested his crops up country. The house is kept by the proprietor's father & mother, very nice old people, & their bonne keeps our rooms swept & beds made. The major and I have feather beds about 2 ft. thick & tapestried canopies over the top! We often think of you folks back at home imagining us suffering the horrors of war, after we get buried for the night. Canopied beds are quite extensively used, even in moderate homes. The people aren't over particular about sanitation, don't mind what runs in the gutter, or how near their wells are to the cow pen, but they do have artistic household appointments and work hard to keep them up; I haven't seen a scratch on the beds or chairs or tables and they are all of beautifully grained wood, in this house at least. We have our organization headquarters in the kitchen. There is no bathroom in the house and my canvas bucket & basin have proved to be about the handiest articles of my equipment.
There are many strange new things, of course, to see and become accustomed to. All the houses are of stone or cement, & those not right in town are of one story only beside the attic. They seem located in such higglety-pigglety fashion, which the prevalence of high walls only serves to accentuate. The people are most cordial and welcome the American troops into their homes & buildings. The men are all trying hard to get the language. We fortunately have quite a few French speakers. The little French children are delightful; they are all learning the American salute and they do like to be noticed. They seem to learn "Good-bye" quicker than anything else & very often come up to you in the street, hold out their hand, & repeat that. At the city where we landed a number of them begged but I don't find that prevalent here.
We are living reasonably well, though there are lots of favorite dishes we won't see 'till we get back to the States. The lack of chocolate is one thing we feel a great deal here. It is absolutely unobtainable in all stores save one in the city, & even that is of very inferior grade. And of a great many staple articles of diet there is a very considerable dearth; shortages & the prices of necessities here would put a complaining American in the States to shame. Fuel is exceedingly scarce. Water is plenty, but is condemned for American troops unless hypo-chlorinated or boiled; I think after a while we shall have more sterilizing bags for hypo-chlorination but up to now the available water has been most limited. The first two or three days seemed almost unbearable without it, but I have gotten used to vichy, mineral waters, charged lemonade, & tea & coffee as substitutes much sooner than I thought I could. There seems to be an abundance of the various medicinal waters available. I expect they are pretty good for one, anyway.
There are a number of people around here outside of our unit whom I know. I met Gabriel to-night for the first time in France. I haven't seen Tom Beers but know where he is and his regiment has got a job which I guess is making them all swear.
Our first mail from the States arrived yesterday, which netted me just one letter, one from Ralph. I expect by the time this reaches you he's likely to be a 2nd Lieut. It seems strange that he's still back there when he could have beat me by a year to this fair country only for the unruly little organ in the alcohol bottle.[note - this would be referring to his appendix, I assume]
I have a great plenty to do everyday, but guess I can't write much about that - have to confine myself more to sidelines. Only I don't want you to forget if I write all about people & scenery & white cows that I'm not on a Cook's Tour or an Agricultural Experimentation Board. However I might be a little nearer to the push which is probably filling the American headlines & not mind.
Give my love to everybody and keep a whole lot for yourself.
P.S. I get lots of pleasure at times imagining I have a mouthful of your huckleberry pie with nice thick cream, & other delicious things I'll be primed for a few years hence, if I don't get too used to & fond of canned jam & corned willie, horsemeat, condensed milk, & hard tack.
My dear Sylvester
I think I never told you that I saw in the paper the birth of a son to Ruth Wilson. I don't know her married name. I will enclose a clipping about your classmate Lyman. Everyone has inquired so frequently whether you had arrived overseas, and all seemed glad to finally know that you had reached there safely.
The Fritz family, Raymond, Eleanor, Miss Cook, Miss Nemiah & Mr. Smith all came down from Worcester Sat.P.M., brought their supper & stopped on our piazza & ate it. I was very much pleased to see them all, and every one of them was interested to hear about you. Miss Nemiah staid here all night & the rest of the party had previously planned to stay at Aunt Elizabeth's - quite a house full for her. Raymond wanted to show them some of this part of the country. About eleven Sunday morning, they all started for the shore, where they lunched, then the Fritz family went on to Jersey for their vacation and the others went back to Worcester, except Miss Nemiah, who went to Cheshire. Her brother Royal is teaching there. The Roxbury Tutoring School of New Haven has bought the old Cheshire Academy & are going to make it into a prep school, and Royal is engaged as one of the instructors. I should think that he would come in the draft pretty soon. I hope by the end of the week, we may get a letter from you. To-morrow we are planning to move up the Furniture & trunks &c from the attic down home, so then we will finally have our things together. I think that I will leave your box of books down there, & the N.Y. Times.
Such glorious weather as we have had for the last five days, such a relief from the very hot weather. You got out of Devens just in time to escape the dog-day weather.
Alfred Chalmers is probably on the way over by now. I hope you will run across some of the friends & relatives in your journeyings to & fro. We took Aunt Sarah & Aunt Lucy to see Cousin Fannie Peace & Cousin Mary Penfield yesterday. The latter's son Raymond arrived just two days ahead of you overseas.
Did you have to have your "snorer" all the way across? I trust it didn't interfere with your sleep.
I can't realize yet that you are so far away, but glad you were able to go across, as you so much wanted to. Hope to hear good news of you all the time until your return.
Lots of Love,
4 France, Aug. 25, 1918
Your two letters postmarked the 16th [note - this would have been July 16th] were forwarded from Devens and reached me this week, but I was unable to answer during the week. I got quite a big mail all at once, your two, 4 from Eva, and 1 from Lucinthia. It was interesting to hear of Lucinthia's start in the big city, and I'm glad you took the trip down there with her. When the second of your letters was written I had left Devens; the first one probably just arrived the morning after I left. I got a call from Raymond over the phone about 4 hours before leaving, and found it a bit hard, my mind being so full of going away, to say in an ordinary tone of voice that I wouldn't be around on the next day when he and Aunt Lucy & the Coes might come up. As an afterthought I added a query as to how long they would be in Worcester in an attempt to hint I might be back in two or three days. You might be interested to find out how it worked.
I have been here three weeks lacking 2 days now. It seems rather tame but I suppose we'll get our chance in time. We most all of us have something to do, and the Major has been working day & evening on motor transport work hereabout. He has never shown up better. I never did hear him say "can't" to anything anyway, but the things he has accomplished since he's been here emphasize more than ever a faith I have come to have that his judgement is always right; and that he can do anything. One of his mottoes is "You can do anything if you want to". He surely has tremendous energy and can see into the pith of a proposition & see just the right thing to do with phenomenal accuracy.
We have our own mess now in a seldom used restaurant, with our old cook at the helm. And with only a few exceptions we're living almost as high as at Devens. The best thing I've struck in France yet, that is exclusively French, is the canteloupe; they are a faded pumpkin color & very smooth, lacking all essential outward appearance to a sweet American muskmelon, but inside they are surely very sweet and meaty.
There are lots of new things to get used to, some that by now it would be strange without. For one thing I'm afraid I'll never be able to sleep without a canopy over me again, so trust you'll have the spare room prepared. The constant ringing of bells, for what reason I don't know, is one of the mystifying incidents of every day life; all kinds of bells with all kinds of sounds - doubled up on Sundays, church days, funerals & weddings. They make it seem like an eternal Sunday. These funny little donkeycarts which plod along are typical of the slow, complacent manner in which the people work. (Perhaps I'm speaking early, but I have come to believe that the American has alot more energy than any European). Men in working around and some women wear the clank wooden shoes all the time. I wonder if they never give them corns.
Yesterday afternoon the Major , Fred Leviseur, & I drove M. Protat (who owns our house) and his little son Maurice out to the Protat farm, about 12 miles north. It was a strange old place. It is in very level country which permitted the long straightaway reminding me of those long straight roads in Jersey. The farm was quite large, mostly a hay farm at the present time, and some stock - white cows, sheep, pigs, horses, & geese. The house and barns surrounded a court yard, three sides of a square with a wall making the fourth side. Everything was of cement. All buildings & especially their roof have an aged, bent, uneven look. The house is 300 years old & the barns about 100. The entrance is in the center of the wall on the 4th side & opposite it the human habitation, though in the west corner of it was the pig-sty. On the left he kept his implements & in the next compartment his sheep. On the right side were his horses, cows, his geese & his hay. The stable man sleeps in the stable room with the horses. He lives just a little worse than the horses, I should figure, for I presume the latter get a change of bedding once in a while. He has a big bed over in the corner with two rumpled, dirty, dusty feather mattresses. Apparently that is one exception to the canopy rule. The proprietor had his canopy though, but it was a cheaper sort than those in town. The kitchen had a dark heavy appearance because the windows were so low. The dining room is in the same place & M. Protat entertained us at supper. His old housekeeper had made some omelettes and had brought down one of the huge round loaves of bread hanging up in the rack in the corner. There is of course no table cloth, but their tables are always very smooth and shiny. There were no serving dishes except for the omelettes & 1 fork. M. Protat cut the bread with his jackknife, very artistically; you can remember the workers with their lunches they used to bring up to the farm. The omelet was first rate and the bread pretty good. I expected to have the cheese forced on me by our host but he skipped me & I didn't even need to say "Pas de fromage, merci. Je ne peux pas le manger", which I had all saved up. The flies were as thick as on a loaded tanglefoot but I'm sure the old boy didn't even know I noticed them. They bothered the Major somewhat, who amused himself by tracing a direct air route between the barnyard piles & the already well-worked cheese. It was surely an interesting experience, and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Our host is a generous, good-hearted man, and is very fond of the Americans. Fred does most of the talking with him, for he talks French pretty well. He's been amusing him to-night telling how good Luty is at the lassoo rope, with illustrations, because of the wild indians he has around his western home.
I expect that by the time this reaches you Ralph will have gotten a pair of golden bars, perhaps just about be home for a little leave. I haven't written him from here yet, but shall try to this week. I haven't written anyone except you and Eva, but will try to get a little time off & send a few cards one of these fine days. I know anyway that you will be letting my letters, such as they are, go the rounds.
I'm feeling very kipper & am as fat as in my palmiest days, I should judge; and hope everyone at home is as well.
With lots of love to you and all,
5 France, Aug. 28, 1918
Do you see that F above? Well, I had started to write "Cromwell, Conn." absolutely inadvertently. Perhaps it's because I just happened to look at some of my snapshots to-night. [note - the F of France obviously started out as a C]
My second batch of mail came last night, with your letter written the 26th July and the Sunday before. Also one from Lucinthia addressed to A.E.F. sent as late as the 30th.
Some of your questions first - 1)with some others we were the last unit out of Devens. 2)Lucinthia did not see me. 3) I don't think I sent more than one bundle home just before we left. Perhaps Raymond told you I left some other things with him. And there are several others I wish I hadn't taken along. Unless you have already done so, please don't give any of my letters publication, as it is forbidden in orders. (You spoke about Mrs. Alling). And in addressing me, don't use the division no. I guess that's enough don'ts for one letter.
This week is much cooler and more comfortable than last, which was a scorcher. We have had no change since last I saw you. I'm riding a French bicycle around, now. They're frail, slender things, with correspondingly slender tires. They have no pedal brake but you can stop, in fact reverse the pedals at will, just as you can turn the stem of a watch the wrong way. The brake is operated from the handle bars - a convex metal piece over the front tire; quite effective, too, only rather hard to get used to. I paid off in francs for the first time 7 or 8 days ago; the size of the payroll was 52,000 francs which made it seem like a big one. With the franc the unit of value, you always think you have about 5 times as much as you actually possess, until you come to spend it. These pink & vari-colored art gallery 50 & 100 franc notes are quite imposing, but not made for an American pocket book.
I don't believe I told you our exact location. I never expected to be able to, but under certain conditions it may be done, which conditions are here present. Look at the center of the map of France - Paris, down thru Bourges to St. Amand-Montrond, a little town in the Department Cher, and you have my location. Only I hope it won't be by the time you are reading this letter. Of course the name of this town should never be used on an address. We've been here long enough now so that I know it a lot better than many towns in Connecticut. A year ago to-day you and I took our trip to Worcester & the bungalow, the night before I went to Devens. So it's a year on active service to-night, though our active service counted from the 15th. Two years ago to-day I left home for Pleasantville. There has nothing happened to-day to make the day continue to be eventful. Perhaps it's holding over a year.
Lucinthia says Ralph expected to be finished by the middle of August, so probably even now he has his commission. I'll be sending him along a letter soon, addressing it home for forwarding.
Good-night, and lots of love to all.
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