Have just gotten word that we may start out any day now so I may as well start and write you as intelligently as possible for a time for once out I understand you can say very little of what isn’t and nothing that is.
My uniform isn’t quite ready yet but will probably be so tomorrow or the next day and I am waiting for it in all expectation for in civilian clothes one certainly feels out of things. The streets are perfectly wonderful – a great mixture of all the costumes of the armies of the allies in all the colors of the rainbow – the French horizon blue and the English khaki prevailing. It would be a study in itself to know just to what everyone belongs and what all this insignia and decorations stand for.
I suppose you would like to know what Paris is like and tho I don’t know whether this will get by I will make a try. All the lights go out and everything closes at 9:30 and after that it is so dark that getting lost is easier than anything you can imagine for there are no street lights and all the curtains of the houses must be down so that no light shows.
The only kind of bread that it is possible to get is the regular war variety- brown, tough, quite good and eatable but not delicate. In the evening, that is after six o’clock, it is impossible or rather against the law to get any meat and the result is that dinner is rather a frugal meal of eggs, fish or vegetables. At noon all the stores close for two hours to let everybody have a chance to get fed up once for all. The prices of things vary tremendously. Some are still ridiculously low and some higher than your wildest dreams. Cream in a restaurant comes at about 2 francs a thimble full and shoes are about 100 a pair which disgusted me tremendously as I had to buy a pair of light ones to wear about town. On the other hand lodgings, carriages and wine and tobacco are ridiculously cheap.
There are a number of boys here from St. Paul’s, college, etc., that I have known at other times and it is quite like being in a city where I have lived before in that way, as you are continually meeting them wherever you go.
We have been to the theatre quite a good deal and I have seen a few sights, tho alone as Hunt has seen them all before and Stanley quite refuses to improve his aesthetic sensibility with churches and such. My French, however, isn’t getting all the practice that it might for nearly everyone makes some attempt at speaking English and refuses to let you talk French as soon as he discovers that you are not too proficient at it. Nevertheless it may be different at the front and I am hoping for the best. The current speech here is a strange mixture of English and French and others, odd but quite comprehensible.
The weather here is perfectly fearful but whether it is because of the cannonade at the front or simply natural I don’t know. It rains every single day for some little time, not hard but just drips then stops, the sun shines for a minute and then it starts over again.
The boys who have come back on leave from the front say it is perfectly wonderful. Something interesting going on all the time and enough to do to keep you busy without wearing you to a complete frazzle.
Yesterday Stanley and I went out thru the big hospital at Neuilly. It was perfectly marvelous the things they did. A man that had no face left was having one built and in a little while would look quite like an ordinary person again. All the men – and there were over six hundred with many like the one I have mentioned – looked healthy, very healthy and were all wonderfully happy and contented. The care they get must be something beyond imagination for even those who were about to die looked as healthy as you or I. This is no exaggeration and no one was more surprised than I was, expecting to see numbers of human wrecks and quantities of agony. If any one asks them if they suffer or are sorry they have lost an arm, leg, etc., they say simply “C’est la guerre” and appear glad to have been able to give anything they have had for the country. It is you will have to admit a wonderful spirit and I hope infectious to our troops who, I understand, will be coming here soon. If they do and we are taken over by the U.S. (Army) of which there is some chance, it rather looks as tho we (the ambulance) were in it for the war but that is only a possibility and a faint one. I will try to get off another letter before I leave but if not don’t be surprised at ambiguous or abbreviated correspondence.
With love, Paul