About Me

Born August 4, 1894 in Auburn, New York to William and Alice Beardsley Woodruff Hills. Younger brother Carroll Beardsley Hills and younger sister Mary Day Hills. Educated at St. Paul's School, Concord, New Hampshire and Princeton University, class of 1917

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Letter undated, some time in late October, 1917


Dear Mother -:

I met Billy Seward on the street today and find that he is going to America by way of England tomorrow. I now have about ten minutes to get everything ready for him to take to you from me.

The first package I gave to Penn to take home but he hasn’t arrived and I understand will stay in England. This one I hope will have better luck. In it there are two (illegible) not as nice as the last ones I sent, a package of photographs of practically all the places I have been and a bible which I picked up in a place the Germans had left rather hurriedly. I wish I had time to continue writing and explain everything. I am writing you a very long letter, a regular book, which when it is finished I will send. As you know I have received my commission and expect to go out very soon to Saumur or Fontainebleau to train for a while as an artillery officer. The chances look just at present wonderfully good both promotion and coming to America within a very few months. This all I have time for now. Good bye.

With love Paul

Letter dated October 21, 1917


Dear Mother-:

The first part o
f my war career is over and as usual in my case I am out of the frying pan into the fire for tomorrow I begin on the second phase of that career. To speak in more exact terms however the ambulance work is finished, taken over by the U.S. gov’t and tomorrow I take the oath of office as a 2nd lieut. Artillery, U.S.A. I wish I could write you how the ambulance service was relieved but just now it is not up to me to criticize the gov’t which is paying me.

I don’t know exactly what Stanley (Metcalf) will do. He passed his examination but is so homesick that he is thinking of throwing up his commission and going home with the chance of being a private in the infantry, a worse fate than which no one can possibly imagine.

We were relieved on Thursday, convoyed that day and the next and arrived in Paris Friday night, turned in the cars and were thru. It rained all the way and the car I was on had to be towed all the way. I must have been tired when we arrived here for the first night I slept 14 hours and last night 14 more and in the meantime have not wanted to do anything but eat and sleep. About tomorrow I shall begin and write you a very long letter all about everything but for the present, good bye.

With love Paul

Letter dated October 10, 1917

Dear Nannoo-:

I wrote Mother yesterday about the good luck that had come to me. I have passed my examinations and am now to all intents and purposes a 2nd lieutenant in the American artillery that is unless they make some new law in Washington annulling the appointments made on this side of the water. Getting the commission when I could seemed the best idea taking everything carefully into consideration tho I hated more than I can ever say to put off, as it has, coming home. I wanted to do that more than anything I know and now, tho it may be soon that I see you again the chances are that it will be a long time.

The mail just arrived at the minute and there is in it a letter from you, one from Mother and an absolute confirmation of my commission from Washington by cable.

It is perfectly great of you to send me all the clippings etc. They are very interesting and I think in one of your letters there is more real news than in any other I ever get. I think that the package you sent me has arrived and although I haven’t seen it yet I want to thank you very much. I received a notice today that there was a package for me at Morgan Harjes.

The weather here is perfectly vile and we have been working rather hard so you can imagine the result. It has rained now for exactly eight days at least 2/3 of each day. Stanley and I had made sort of a little house underground and it has rained so much that there is over three inches of water on the floor and the only way to keep dry is to go to bed. However as we are only there every other day and sleep the rest of the time anywhere we may be, it isn’t as bad as it might be. The roads now too, these dark nights are the worst things you can possibly imagine. From a military standpoint they are excellent for moving things unobserved and consequently everything in the country moves. It took me three hours and a half the night before last to go four kilometers. It has gotten too dark to write any more now so I will stop and write again soon.

With love, Paul

Letter dated October 8, 1917

Dear Mother -:

Things at last seem to be breaking in the right direction. I heard at last from my artillery examination and have been recommended for a 2nd lieutenancy in that branch of the service. As yet I have not actually received the commission but it is as sure as anything in that line ever is and all there is to do now is to wait for orders. The section, too is in the process of being taken over so it has all happened just about the right time. We will be here just a few more days and then when the men who have taken our places arrive , we will be set adrift. I rather hope I am not ordered to active service directly as I am quite fed up on the war in general and would like to go to Cannes for a little rest and quiet, Cousin Josephine having given me a standing invitation of the most attractive sort imaginable.

Since I wrote you last saying how wonderful the weather was it hasn’t stopped raining for a minute and we are living and working in a perfect sea of mud and have no chance to get dry or warm unless you go to bed which isn’t all that it might be as the tents are rather fragile and the only other accommodations are under ground.We have too, for the last few days been working rather hard so you can imagine our state, just walking, shivering cakes of mud.

I don’t quite understand the fall season here. It is colder than it is at home and as yet none of the trees have turned but are still green and fresh looking.

It certainly seems funny – everyone at home getting married or engaged and things. When I do get back there won’t be an unattached soul that I know. I feel it coming: I shall be the official Paul Clark of our crowd. (Paul Clark was, at the time, a still unmarried Auburn contemporary of the parents of Paul Hills. –Ed)

If you want to read a good book about the war and one which in my mind is the truest to the life of the French soldier get a thing called Le Feu (titled Under Fire in translation)
by Henri Barbusse. It is the book of the year here in France and one which everyone has read and talks about simply because of its wonderful reality.

I forgot in my last letter to put in the citation I told you about but I will put it in here for certain.

There isn’t a great deal more to tell you now so I will call a halt.

With love, Paul

Letter dated October 5, 1917

Dear Mother-:

Two letters from you came yesterday and it certainly was great to hear all that was going on at home. I haven’t yet heard any result of my artillery examination but hope to get the news soon. If I pass it, everything will be fine for we will go into training for a few months in the French methods and then either be sent back to the U.S to train troops there or attached directly to units here, but exactly what will happen to me I am afraid is looking a little far ahead, for I have yet to pass the exam and become a lieutenant. We are at the front again here at a place we have been before doing some work but mostly just sitting around and getting things ready for the riot which is due to start any day now.

I have just discovered much to my disgust that the “Esprit de Cor” (French army publication) which I sent you will probably never arrive since they contain a little too much accurate information. That remains to be seen, however, and I am hoping, for they are quite interesting. Driving here now isn’t nearly the sport it was the first part of the summer. Then it was light from about 4:30 till 10:30 while now it doesn’t begin to get light till six and is dark again by seven. If I get my artillery commission please don’t worry about me for certainly I won’t see any active service for a long time and when I do the casualties of that branch are not any higher if as high as the work I am now in and besides that I will be leading a more comfortable and pleasant existence 2/3 of the time.

I am enclosing in this letter a copy of a few more citations we have received which you can put in the family skeleton closet but which seriously speaking are very fair things to have. The first gave the section the Croix de Guerre with a palm, the second added a gold star and the third a silver star. I had a letter from Billy Seward here wanting to know what I was going to do, etc. He is considering the aviation and may enter that tho I can hardly imagine W.H. 4th as an aviator, can you? The weather here lately has been wonderful – hot, bright days with nights that were so cold that you could hardly keep warm. The moon is full now so our nights are consequently not quite all they might be on account of the Bosche avions, which every bright night persist in sailing over and dropping things on the depots of material near our cantonment. They are the damndest things (I mean the air raids). You are soundly sleeping when suddenly there comes a terrific riot from the anti- avion (anti-aircraft) guns right beside you, everybody jumps out of his tent in pajamas and helmet usually wearing beside that a blanket and sabots (wooden shoes) to see the fun. The air becomes full of search lights, rockets, bursting shells, tracer shells and the ground all around makes the most terrific noise. The bursting of the bombs, the anti-aircraft guns, all the mitrailleuses (machine guns), etc. After a little while it is all over and we go back to bed for another few hours. Needless to say they never hit the avions but they have a tremendous amount of fun trying to and likewise the Dutchman never does a great deal of harm.

I hope by this time you have gotten the little box which instead of mailing I ultimately gave to Penn Sefton to carry to you. (Pennington Sefton, also in the ambulance service and also from Auburn, New York. He and Paul Hills later married sisters, respectively Mary Seymour and Jane Seymour, also from Auburn.)

This is about all there is to tell you now.Before I change my nationality back to an American again I will have my photograph taken as a Diable Bleu and sent to you. In the meantime

Faut pas t’en faire – which is pure slang but expressive – et bientot la guerre est fini (and the war will end soon.)

With love Paul

Letter dated September 25, 1917

Dear Mother-:

I wrote Morgan Harjes (the French-American bank sponsoring the ambulance unit) to cable you that I was taking my exams for a commission in the American army but as I did not get to their office while I was there taking the exams, I do not know whether or not you have replied. I sent them a note to forward any such thing to me at section, but since then we have been all over northern France and the mail hasn’t yet managed to catch up with us.

As for the exam I don’t know yet whether or not I have managed to pass it. I traveled to Paris Friday night sitting up all the time, took exams all day Saturday and left again Sunday for the section which had in the meantime moved some fifty miles and took us a day and a half to find.

I am hoping and praying all the time for it seems like the last gasp, for a commission in America being entirely shut down and there being the best chance here. If I miss it I shall certainly be in the soup for fair with nothing to do but enlist as a private here in the sanitary service or come home and enlist as a private there with never a chance in either case to get ahead. Even Stanley, who would give his neck to get to America, is worried that he did not get by.

But enough of gloom and possibilities: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” I am now back at the front again in one of the old sectors which I know so well now that it seems like home. After a month’s absence, it isn’t much changed except that there is now a vast amount more troops and as for artillery it is practically wheel to wheel. Our division has only a few men in the lines up to now so our work is comparatively easy but it is a good thing since when they all sit up and the show starts in good earnest there will be work enough for everybody.

Being again in the same sector certainly gives one a funny feeling. Here I am still looking at that line of hills, just like the other side of the lake from Garnston (his family’s summer home on Owasco Lake in the Finger Lakes of central New York) and knowing that there isn’t any power in the world by which any one can go over and down the other side.

I had an awfully funny time yesterday. I had a new aide just arrived in the section and together we went up to a little town near the lines. He had never been under fire before and in fact hadn’t the slightest idea what war was like. No sooner had we arrived than Fritz started one of his periodical hates and shelled the place violently. Houses fell over, dust rolled out of everything and the noise was fearful. Naturally we retired under ground and waited but the thrill my aide got was wonderful to see. I don’t know whether or not he will ever recover as it certainly was a rough reception.

There isn’t a great deal more to tell you now but I will write again soon.

With love, Paul

Letter dated September 19, 1917

Dear Mother-:

Just after I had written you the other day asking not to send any more packages what should happen but that two should arrive.One from Benson & Hedges in England and one from you at home. Thank Papa ever so much for the tobacco which is wonderful and thank you for the cigarettes.They are perfectly great and that is something that here is as rare as a white crow.

You were right about the chasseurs being the blue devils that you read about. There two division of Chasseurs Alpins, the one we are with and another and a couple of divisions of “chasseurs a pied” which are practically the same thing but not quite as good. They are called diable bleu principally because of their character and wonderful spirit, being about
the best attacking troops in the world. The blue comes from the fact that they are dressed in “bleu foncee” (dark blue) instead of the ordinary horizon blue of the regular French soldier.

One should be, tho, a student of ethnology to be able to dope out exactly what a man is in the French army. There are men from every part of continental France speaking every dialect you can imagine and added to the other divisions from all the colonies: Moroccans, Tunisians, Senegalis, Spahis, chasseurs d’Afrique, Zouaves and the Foreign Legion. Most of the chasseurs with whom we work are from the Vosges or extreme southern France down next to Italy. They speak a language which is the weirdest thing you ever heard in your life. Every syllable is pronounced very distinctly and all the nasals have a “g” on the end of them with an “e” not quite mute on the end of that. This matin is “matinge” and soixante quinze is “soixanty quinzy”.

I am sending you a copy of the Esprit du Corps with a poem in it of real colloquial “poilu” French, the kind that every soldier of any sort can speak and understand.

We are still waiting in the sleepy old town I told you about to be called into action again and I imagine it will not be long now before we go, as everything has been ready for days now and all that is necessary is the order to move and believe me when we get there, there is going to be a hot time in the old town tonight as the preparations being made are enormous. I am hoping that my U.S. Army exam won’t interfere with my being in on the show as Fritz is going to go for the loop of his young life. Did Nannoo ever get any of the letters I have written her? They are quite a few and I have had no answers. There isn’t a great deal more to tell you now but I will write again as soon as I am able.

Good bye With love,

Letter dated September 16, 1917

Yesterday I got five letters from home all in a bunch after a previous gap of two weeks totally without mail. Things are certainly seen strangely in the line of mails. The picture of the Danes (Great Dane dogs) was among them and they certainly are wonderful. It is the greatest thing I have ever seen the way they have grown.

Well, as I told you in my letter from Paris might happen, the American Red Cross as such is done and after the next action which promises to be a good one we will all be wanderers on the face of the earth. I have cabled you what I am doing and hope you won’t feel badly about it, for having looked at it in every way, it seems the only thing left. There is only the alternative of signing up for the war as a private in the ambulance service which somehow doesn’t seem to me to be all that it might.

I was fortunate enough to meet an American major whom I knew very well in Paris and learned from him exactly how things stood. There are to be no commissions given out to civilians in America after the camp which is going on now is over, and the only way to get anything there is to enlist as a private and take your chances on making good. Here, however, there are still some chances and the result is that I am taking my examination for a lieutenant’s (commission) the next week. I am trying for the artillery since to me that work is the most interesting besides having the additional advantages of having a lower percentage of casualties even than the ambulance. There are besides other things to be considering. If I make the grade I become the proud possessor of an income of $2,000 a year which will take off your hands a financial responsibility which has already in my mind hung on too long. Last of all there is the real crux of the question which is that I have got to do something for the country and this seems in every way the best thing.

There are two boys from the club at college who I met and who have decided to do the same thing. Also, Hunt has taken his examination but has not yet heard from them, and Stanley is going to take his with me. The only drawback I can find is about getting home. I may be able to come a short time after I sign up and it may be a very long time. That I don’t like for I want more than anything else to come home and see you all and stay a while and I think you want to see me but “C’est la guerre” and some day it will be over and we will all be together again just as before.

I don’t think just now you had better send me any more packages since I have never gotten any of any kind and it is just a dead waste of energy and money. I don’t know where they are going but someone somewhere is profiting largely at my expense. This is all now. I will write more right away.

With love, Paul

Letter dated September 8, 1917

Dear Mother-:

Here I am back from “permission” and the division still on “repos”, however we go back again into action on Monday or Tuesday, I understand a little to the left of the places we have just been. I am not nearly as keen to get back as I might be or have been before for I have quite satisfied my curiosity as to what war looks like and feels like. Still it will be a change from this wonderful sleepy old town in the middle of Valois where we are now. The place is the most medieval thing you ever saw in your life.The streets are about eight feet wide and run all every which way. Most of the buildings absolutely have been there for over eight hundred years and some even longer. The middle of the town is on the top of a hill where the center is marked by a peach of a cathedral and it slopes down on all sides. It is without doubt the most picturesque and one of the most beautiful places I have ever been or heard about in my life. More than that too, it is large enough to have very fair shops and an inn which has managed to preserve in its cellars some of the wine of ages past. However, as you can well imagine the whole atmosphere of the place is sleepy and settled to an extent which palls. It will be a good place to live when one becomes old and wants to really settle down. Until you have been here you can’t in the slightest degree appreciate the meaning of that phrase. People settled here when France was still Roman and are still living in the same house.

But to talk of things more current. The soldiers are always giving entertainments and yesterday at one of them Maurice danced with Florence whom he had gotten the general’s permission to have out from Paris.(Maurice Mouvet and Florence Walton, Americans, were an internationally popular dancing couple at the time.) In spite of the fact that the music was a French band augmented by clarions and cors de chasse (bugles and hunting horns) they got away with it in fine style and the soldiers cheered loudly if for nothing else out of politeness.After dinner a few of us and some chasseur officers had a huge party with F & M. Every one kissed F goodbye and put her on the train back to Paris. That was just one day. Every day the soldiers are staging something. The other day it was a circus and one of the best you ever saw. There are band concerts three times a day and in fact everything to give them recreation and keep up their spirits.

I had really a wonderful permission (leave). Stanley (Metcalf) and I made our headquarters in Paris and as a number of people from the section were there at the same time you could always find some one to do just what you felt like. I traveled round quite a lot going to Versailles, Blois, etc., and enjoyed myself thoroughly. The more you see of France the better you like it and the French people. This is about all now.

With love, Paul

Letter dated September 1, 1917

Dear Papa- :

I found your letter at Morgan Harjes yesterday and was very glad to hear from you. I am going to make a try at telling you where I am going and have been tho it will be probably like the other attempts a failure since you have no idea and I have written about it several times.

We have spent the summer on what is known as the Chemin des Dames, which is that section of the front between Craonne and Moulin Lafeulx. At one time we lived at a place called Nailly and worked in front of that – at another time we were in front of Ferme Hurtebise and lived at a place called Villers en Prayes which is on the map near Fismes. In fact if you look anywhere along that line you will find towns that we have worked in or lived in. The Chemin des Dames itself is a road leading from Craonne to the left along a ridge and has been and still is between the French and Geman lines.

Good bye with love, Paul

Letter dated August 27, 1917


Dear Nannoo, (Grandmother Woodruff)

I got your letter just before I left the front for my “permission” (leave) which I am now on. It is rather a welcome relief to be where things are a little quieter and your next minute is a little more certain, tho as for that matter nothing is ever quite certain.

Stanley (Metcalf of Auburn, also in the ambulance service) and I decided to stay in Paris for our permission as a great many of the boys from the section were also in at the time and altogether we could have a fine bit of a time.

I had a very nice letter from Mrs. Brown inviting me to Cannes whenever I could get off. I think if everything goes well I will go there when my time is up for a few days if for nothing else to see that part of France for although we see a great deal of the country our operations are limited to that strip of country about ten miles wide behind the lines from St. Quentin to the Vosges which as you can well imagine isn’t just now at its best. It was great of Mrs. Brown to ask me and I only hope that I can get there ultimately.

I wrote Mother yesterday telling her how the Americans or rather the American administration over here is spoiling things including the Red Cross. Have her tell you about it. Heaven only knows what is going to happen next. The inrush has also naturally bounced the prices and we are paying just about double for the same room practically as we had in May. Food however, praises be, remains nearly the same and you can get a huge meal with very few restrictions very cheaply.

The restrictions, tho, are enough to make you laugh.Tuesday and Wednesday are no cake days. Monday and Tuesday are no meat before six o’clock days. Saturday and Sunday are the only days when can have hot water baths. You can only drink alcohol at certain set hours of the day and so it goes on, the rules always changing and no one paying much attention to them but each getting and using anything that they are able. I am enclosing in this letter rather an interesting little contrast of places I have lived this last summer. It was a case of alternatives – one day we would be in the wonderful garden where the swans are and the next in the small section of hell which was once a town. I have some really wonderful photographs, all of which I will send home to you when Billy McCarthy comes home as I do not dare put them all in one letter which might be lost or stopped and the pictures are absolutely impossible to ever be duplicated.

There isn’t a great deal more to tell you now but I will write you very soon again.

With love, Paul