Monday, June 30, 2008
Well here I am as usual in my O.P. (observation post) doing the same as I have done every day since I arrived while outside it is a beautiful Palm Sunday, as warm and bright as any one could possibly wish for and for a wonder with very little war going on. For quite a long time you could sit here and not even be persuaded that there is a war and a very terrible one going on. Then from one side or the other comes a burst of sound that is for all the world like a boiler factory. The shells that have been fired pass by with that uncouth sucking shrieking whistle that they make and then everyingis quiet again.
When I said I would probably have my Xmas boxes for Easter I was nearer the truth than I had any idea of. For yesterday they arrived in the regiment at the horse lines and now all I have to do is to send someone to go and get them for me. The mills of the gods certainly are slow. As for the uniform, I have given that up as a bad job and bought another one which I can just about wear out by the time the first one gets here. When I think of the civilian clothes I have left at home it rather makes me smile and I imagine that if they are of any use to anybody they had better be used up since by the time this war is over they will either be ruined by age or so out of date that they will be done.
I have gotten letters lately from the most surprising people. One from Kit Hunt andthen one from Emily Avery (friends from Auburn) and from a couple of boys I hardly knew at college. I wonder if it is whether they have just realized I am gone or just begun to miss me. I flatter myself it is the latter but rather think it is the former. Good bye. Paul
(Ed: Paul begins this letter with a long, apologetic explanation to his grandmother of how his personal financial affairs had become entangled and would be rectified at the first opportunity, before returning to report on life at the front)
I am still doing just what I have been for the last months and a half – observation work. I sit up in my airy perch and in the day time try to plot out the Bosche in his evil doings and give directions how to shoot him and at night do the same thing with the addition of watching for rocket signals which appear in every conceivable color and shape. My mania for fireworks is gradually being satisfied. You should hear the sector when it really gets fully going. Imagine ten thousand gigantic iron horses galloping wild and loose over the country and you have some idea of what it is like at least that is the only thing it ever seems like to me. The guns seem to just trample and trample and bellow and snort. And the funny part of it all is that to set the whole thing going all that is necessary is to lift one of those silly little French telephones from its hook and say about three words.This is about all now, Nannoo. I am sorry as the very deuce about that money business and will do everything I can to make it right as soon as I can.
Good bye With love, Paul
A perfectly great package of sox came from you day before yesterday and I want to thank you ever so much for them. They came in very nicely as I have been separated from the world without, so to speak, for over six weeks and without my heavy baggage was beginning to get rather short on things to wear generally.
As Mother has probably told you I have been at the front now for six weeks and over, after leaving school and although life here is never what might be termed enjoyable I imagine that I am making out with it all in an as agreeable style as is possible. My work is forward observation for the artillery which is particularly interesting if for no other reason from the fact that you see everything that is going on and have a hand in it all and more than that what you do see has a great deal to do with what does go on. Happily enough too spring seems to have come to stay and the weather during the last two weeks has been wonderful, quite warm and clear and dry. We have started to make a garden on top of our dugout – it seems queer, doesn’t it, that such things should amuse people whose present object in life is destruction. However it does and although some morning we will go to look for our garden and it won’t be there, it is fun making it in the quieter times.
Hearing about Papa’s being sick really upset me quite a bit and although I suppose he will be well again soon it gave me quite a turn being so absolutely separated and not really knowing within a month just what was happening at home.
The dogs must be perfectly great now. Mother sent me a picture of them which came yesterday and it certainly seems as tho Tar Baby had outgrown all his children’s ailments for he appears to be quite as large and upstanding now as Tyrant.
There isn’t a great deal more to say now, Nannoo, and besides it is getting close to four o’clock in the morning when my turn to go to bed comes so good bye
With love, Paul
Your two letters telling about Papa’s being sick came yesterday and the day before and upset me more than I can tell you. It doesn’t seem right at all in the order of things that he, always so strong, active and healthy should for no obvious reason be suddenly made temporarily an invalid. Here it is rather different and a day does not pass but that some strong man out of a perfectly clear sky is struck down and becomes suddenly simply someone that has been this or that and may be this or that when once again in the future he is on his feet. However, to have anyone in a place of peace and quiet ill seems somehow not at all fair and I can’t reconcile myself to it at all.
I am still just where I landed at the front up in my airy perch plotting out and trying to figure just what the Bosche is doing. By now tho as you can well imagine I am quite fed up with it and not a little bored. Spring seems to have fairly arrived and the weather the last week has been beautiful, quite warm and with wonderfully clear sunshiny days. Therefore I am getting less keen about staying in one place from which I only get away for two hours every other day. My leave which is due now for over a month seems to have been put off indefinitely so perhaps I may instead of going to Cannes as I had planned in the spring, it will be summer at least before I get there which is a time not so pleasant from everything I can gather.
My French is steadily getting better, I think, for I am still eating and living with a crowd of French and enjoying it as much as anything. I have dreams in French now very nearly as much as I do in English which seems to be quite an advance.
You wrote me that the coin of the realm is rather scarce at home. If you need it I can manage to send you fifty or seventy-five dollars a month for I am in the situation as long as I am at the front of not being able to spend, try as I may, the amount I get. It is the first time in my life that such a thing has happened and is certainly a unique sensation. I also the other day or rather quite a while ago spent the money I was going to send Carroll for Xmas on insuring my life in his favor for $10,000 which should anything happen I figured would help out not a little, especially since he will probably be in college then if the war doesn’t last for twenty more years.
You weren’t right in your guess about my being at (Ed: place name illegible) but tell Mr. Fougerey that I already have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the wine of that country.
A perfectly great package of sox came from Nannoo the other day and they were certainly welcome as I had just about run out here, having been separated from my heavy baggage for over a month. Well, this all now
Good bye. With love, Paul
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I suppose I haven’t been much lately on the correspondence but the fact is that I haven’t at present even enough time to wash and shave let alone write letters. I am still on the same work I have been that I wrote you about that is observation but there have been a lot of changes in the men and with it all quite a lot to do so the result is that about eighteen hours a day is my average and in the remaining six I sleep and eat. It is a great life, tho in the present weather conditions, chiefly mud, rain and snow all I can do is to wish it were all over and I could come home. Shooting Bosche may be good sport in fine weather, but when you have looked out into a night as black as a hat for about four hours with the wind howling about a gale and a mixture of snow and rain in the air, all the time waiting for something to happen that didn’t happen, war loses its romance with a sickly thud, and I can’t help thinking of the people who are at home in comfortable barracks, etc. And crazy to get to France to fight.
I have one thing I am glad about, tho. I am not forgetting my French and in fact am learning more all the time. The other observation officer and myself are taking our meals and sleeping in the same dugout with the French observers who are next to us and the result is wonderful, as when we eat we eat very well, and the abri is very comfortable comparatively speaking.
How is Auburn’s crop of brides and babies coming on? I dreamed not long ago that I came back and found that the whole town was made up of nothing but orange blossoms, wedding breakfasts and baby carriages all turned out with the most surprising speed. This is about all for now for I have got to work as usual, so good bye with love, Paul
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The last letter I write you was I am frank to admit rather vague for the reason that I hadn’t the slightest idea what I could say and as a result sort of talked around without saying anything. Now, however, I find I can tell you a few things.
We are again at the front and as I told you, having acquitted myself at school not perhaps excellently, but at least satisfactorily I have a new job. I came directly here from school and started work immediately finding everyone tremendously busy. You can see by the papers about where our sector is and at present I am somewhere on that line. Well, to tell you what I am doing: My present work is observation. I spend twelve of every twenty-four hours sitting up in a little observatory, that looks from the outside exactly like what it isn’t, and surrounded with every variety of telescope and with a telephone control that would be the credit of a small town. I plot the destruction of the Bosche. For helpers I have an observer or two,and a couple of telephone operators. There is another lieutenant who does the same thing and has the same staff for the other twelve hours. As a matter of fact we alternate every eight hours so that no one will have either continuous day or night work. However, as we had sort of a Cox and Box existence, each only seeing the other at the end or beginning of our work, you couldn’t say we were exactly clubby. I eat and sleep in a remarkable series of quite palatial dugouts underneath and am as a whole quite enjoying myself. There is certainly a real satisfaction in finding Fritz up to something, finding out just what and where it is and then giving the instructions necessary for blowing him up. That is on lively days, tho. On quiet ones I haven’t a great deal to do but just keep looking and keep other people looking as I am now while I am writing this which I am managing to do on the telephone bench with a charcoal brazier underneath my chair to keep away the chills of a dank Washington’s birthday morning. Writing on fete days seems just now to be my forte for the last letter I turned out if I remember correctly was produced at about the same hour on Valentine day morning.Pretty soon now I will eat my breakfast cold and consisting of almost anything I can find and go to bed. I usually when I am on duty at this hour manage to get up for dejeuner which is quite the event and what is more the big meal of the day. By the way it seems to be true in the American as well as the French army that the nearer the front, the better the food for we are really living quite well and know not the hardships of meatless and wheatless days, moreover since every day is a bathless one we don’t have the hardship of those.
By the way, when you were at Wells did you ever happen to have known a woman by the name of Morgan who married a Mr. Stanton. At (artillery) school I met a boy of that name who on learning my habitat said his mother was from Aurora and went to Wells. By the bye their present home is in Cleveland.
All sorts of interesting people are turning up. Tell Papa that I have meant to tell him for a long time that there is in the regiment an Edward E. Hills from San Francisco who is a descendant of the Joseph Hills side.
Must stop now. With love, Paul
I hope you will forgive the form of this letter and I won’t even go as far as making any rash statements as regards the substance making up for the form. Well, school is over and in some way I am not a little glad. I think I got a lot out of it but living conditions there weren’t all that they might be and the food not particularly favorable. It might have in some places been termed plain but wholesome, at best. More than that tho, I am glad to be back with the regiment. There is quite a lot in being able to come back to one’s old orderly and be with the same men and officers again. As a result of my school I have a new role to fill and hence the start of this letter, for it is practically all night work and just now it is very nearly four o’clock on a misty Valentine’s day morning, and I look and feel just like one of Bairnsfather’s pictures. (Bruce Bairnsfather, who served in the British forces, created the classic cartoons of men in the trenches in World War I, somehow making humorous scenes in the midst of the desolation --Ed.)
I got a whole lot of mail today from you. A letter written on your birthday and another Jan. 22, a letter from Nannoo and a Xmas card. Also Papa sent me al lot of clippings about this great war chest business.
It is great of you to tell me so much about the dogs (great danes -- Ed). They must be wonderful and I would about sell my soul to have one of them with me and try as I may I can’t seem to find any dog here I want.
I am glad you liked the picture I sent you for it is one I have liked ever since the first time I saw it and it is also of the “chasseurs” which still are in my mind the best troops I have ever seen and ever hope to.
This all now. With love, Paul
I haven’t been much on the writing lately but this school life if nothing else occupies one’s time and in strenuousness is up to anything I have ever encountered. From physical drill in the dawning till the end of studies at night we are pretty well on the qui vive with very little time to do much of anything else.
Lately too we have been doing a great deal of firing which necessitates wandering all over the landscape for observation. However there isn’t a great deal more of it and after, only the Good Lord and the high command of the armies know what will become of us and unfortunately both of them are particularly chary with their information.
I am sending you in this a picture which I had taken for my identification cards. It isn’t good but may serve to give you some idea how the trials and tribulations of the great war have somehow not managed to change me a great deal.
I never got my picture as a “diable bleu” (blue devil, member of the French army’s Chasseurs Alpins division--Ed.) but some time in the shadowy future if I ever manage to get to Paris again which I doubt, will certainly have one snapped as I still have my regimentals.
I have finally decided that the army is exactly like the mills of the gods. “Slow but exceeding fine” You remember that I wrote you I had lost a uniform overcoat and all my Xmas boxes had never arrived. Well, the overcoat arrived the other day and I have located the boxes . It will take at least a month to get them but they will be nice for Easter. The uniform is still among the missing but I haven’t the slightest idea but that some day it will turn up perhaps before the war is over.
Today too I got a letter from you dated Dec. 10, and a lot of clippings from Papa. It was great of him to send me them and take all the trouble for they were very interesting to me.
Auburn’s crop of war babies and brides certainly beats anything I ever heard of. I only regret that I am not home. I might perhaps be made a godfather or something to some of my friends’ offspring and have the privilege of donating silver spoons and porringers for the rest of my natural life. Were I home tho I am afraid that perhaps the present demand might triumph over the Hills boys hard luck and I should be snapped up. Carroll had better watch his step very carefully.
I had a letter from Will Shoen today. (Shoen and Paul were close friends and on the hockey team at Princeton -- Ed.) He is in France and I hope some day to be able to see him. It really gives you quite a lot of pleasure to know that your friends are beginning to arrive. I have met several Princeton and St. Paul’s people but none of my real friends and it certainly will be great to see some of them again. There isn’t a great deal more now so good bye, with love, Paul
I am still at school and quite enjoying life due chiefly to a wonderful break in the weather. For over a week now it has been warm and the last few days without any snow you would certainly say spring had come. The climate here has the advantage of being if nothing else even. It was cold for exactly one month with but one break of one day. Never above freezing and never horribly cold but just even winter.
Your two Xmas letters came Saturday and I can’t tell you how much I really liked them, especially yours. The description of everything you did was great and I could almost think for the minute I was back again home. Christmas here as I told you was the worst day I ever expect to spend in my life and to know that things went on home as usual and that some where things weren’t all upset was quite a relief. The letter from everybody else at home too that was at the party was fine and very good of them to think of me. I shall certainly answer them all sometime or rather if not all a few at any rate.
My only regret is that up to the present none of the Christmas packages have arrived and I am beginning to give up hope of ever seeing any of them. Also a new uniform and an overcoat which I bought and paid for in Paris have become lost somewhere and my wardrobe and appearance are suffering accordingly. Someday perhaps if I wait long enough everything will turn up. I have become quite a fatalist in that line. If you wait long enough everything turns out all right. If you have a bad day the next one or someday soon will be a good one again and things will go the way they ought to. The wait, however, is often not only aggravating but uncomfortable.
I think I told you that the orders had arrived giving everyone seven days leave every four months. When my turn comes I shall certainly go to Cannes tho perhaps Cousin Josephine may then see it another way if she has a house full of crocked up Americans. There isn’t a great deal more to tell you just now but I will write you again quickly. With love, Paul
I haven’t yet broken my record and have yet to remain one place more than two weeks. You will be glad to hear, and I am rather glad myself, that I have been finally sent to school. Practically all the old officers were taken away from the regiment and sent to school to specialize in one branch or another of the finer points of artillery while the officers just over from America will take their places until after the course is ended, which will be quite a little time from now at least tho just how long I don’t know.
We live at the school in a group of little wooden huts on the grounds of the ruined chateau. We are about six in a hut and have a stove which while it is running keeps the temperature at least above 0 but the moment it goes out everything freezes solid. Compared to my last quarters it is not luxurious and I particularly miss my orderly whom I had to leave behind. However the work is much easier than it was with the regiment so there are some compensations. Just before I left we had maneuvers for several days in the snow and I nearly froze to death. That however was an improvement on the last day when we started at 4:30 a.m. and did not get back till after dark and for the whole time it did not stop raining for one single second. Several of the horses got pneumonia but luckily only a couple of the men. C’est la guerre tho and now the maneuvers are over.
You would think from this paper (American Y.M.C.A. stationery) that I was really doing something but the Y.M.C.A. is the only really warm place in town and in that way alone does any amount of good.
This is about all now but I will write some more tomorrow.
Good bye with love, Paul
I have been very poor about writing lately but busy hasn’t been the word. I never in my life remember having had so much to do in such a limited time. We have been undergoing what is known as intensive training, which is all that the word implies and more too. From 6:30 a.m. when we get out until anytime after 9 p.m. when we finally get back to our quarters we haven’t one minute to even turn around let alone time to attend to our personal affairs. I understand that it will be over the 15th however, which is some consolation tho what they will do with us after that date heaven only knows. Your letter came Xmas day with the draft in it and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. You were perfectly great to send it to me, and it with what Mother sent me constitutes my Christmas for none of the packages ever managed to get thru, tho undoubtedly they will in the end. Everything here seems to come to him who waits provided only that he keeps above ground long enough to wait for that much anticipated moment. The sweater which you sent me too is wonderful. I wear it any time I am indoors as sort of a house coat and it fills the purpose to perfection. For as you know the winter heating facilities of French country houses according to our standards leave much to be desired.
I have up to now drawn my pay twice and am beginning to feel that I am quite a capitalist for it gives me much more than I need to live on and the balance I put in the bank. As I wrote Mother the other day, I managed to get a couple of days off and got to Paris. I saw Mildred Woodruff and had quite a visit with her, and besides that managed to get a few Xmas presents. I sent you two posters of the war which tho they may be a little lurid for your house I think are rather attractive or if not that perhaps at least interesting.
The part of France we are now in is one I don’t believe you have ever been in for it is quite out of the way and if nothing else wild, barren, cold and not particularly interesting but the amount of work we have to do keeps the mind off anything not concerned directly with the subject at hand. Whether that is fortunate or not I haven’t yet figured out but it has its advantages. This is about all there is to say now or rather all I have time for so good bye. With love, Paul
I haven’t written much lately simply because I haven’t been able to. I have been in the last two weeks transferred three times and besides that we have been going thru what is known as intensive training which doesn’t half describe just how intensive it is. You get up at 5, are on the road by 6:30, do not get back some times till 8:30. Then have critiques by the commanding officer and rest of the night you have to eat supper, sleep and eat breakfast. Christmas day I did have off but I couldn’t write then. Low wasn’t the word for the way I felt. I wanted to get off by myself and just do nothing. I don’t believe I was ever so close to being downright homesick in my life. I also got on that day five letters from you, Day (his younger sister – Ed.) and Nannoo ( grandmother –Ed) all written on or about Thanksgiving day. It was wonderful of you to send me the check and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you are doing for me.
Christmas here reminded me of nothing so much as that little poem by Kipling which ends “Another mocking Christmas past.” It wasn’t another and I hope there never will be another, but I think I crammed enough sensations into that one to last me some time.
Last Sunday I got Sunday leave and managed by traveling for two nights to spend it in Paris. I saw Mildred Woodruff and took her to tea. I also bought some Christmas presents and spent all my spare moments in a hot bath which may not be good for the constitution but certainly cheers up the inner man.
I sent Nannoo some more war posters such as I sent you a time ago. To you I sent a picture which I had been admiring ever since I first saw it about six months ago and due to the expense of which will have to do as a present to both you and Papa. I know he will like it, tho for you it may be a little militaristic. To Day I sent a little arrangement for her desk and to Carroll (brother –Ed) since I could find nothing sendable that he would like a simple check.
The marriage epidemic in Auburn certainly is the most screaming thing I ever heard of in my life and my frank advice to Carroll is to get somebody and settle down right off or he certainly will be left, while myself I have already put down as a hopeless bachelor with the only hope being to catch some one here or come home and be content with being my friends’ children’s “Uncle Paul” the rest of my life.
The Christmas books which you sent me and which I am wild to see haven’t arrived yet but “c’est la guerre” and perhaps if I stay long enough in one place they may eventually find me. Most other things have, tho some of them have been as much as five months in doing it, like the Brainard cigarettes which if I remember rightly started off in July and which I received exactly a week ago. The box is still half full in front of me so you can see that things ordinarily do come out all right tho some times it takes a terrifically long time.
Your cable sent Xmas came yesterday and I only wish I could have sent you one too but the lines for all greetings were closed for us. It cheered me up quite a lot and I appreciate it more than I can tell you. I wrote Morgan Harjes (the volunteer ambulance service attached to the French army in which Paul served before the arrival of American forces) to telegraph you at the first opportunity.
Your list of questions too I filled out and mailed to you today and hope they give you the required information. This is about all there is to say now or rather all that I have time to say. Good by. Lots of love, Paul.
(Those questions, a typewritten list, referred to in the last lines above, and Paul’s handwritten, mostly one-word replies, here in italics: --Ed)
Is Hunt (Talmage, Princeton friend with whom Paul Hills joined the Morgan Harjes ambulance service in April, 1917) with you? No
Has he returned to America? No. Is in legation
Did you receive cable sent you on our birthday? Yes
Have you received cigars sent by Mildred? Two days ago
Have you received sweater and socks sent by Alice Beardsley? Yes
Have you ever received cigarettes sent by Mrs. Brainard? Yes
Did you receive sweater and wristlets sent last August? Yes
How many times did you receive tobacco from Benson & Hedges from London? Once
Did you receive cigarettes sent by us for your birthday sent from here last of July? Yes
Is there any chance of your being sent to America in three or four months? Not a great deal now
Have you a moustache? No
Are you thin? No
Are you fat? No
Do you want any food sent you? No
Any sweet chocolate? No
Any warm clothes? No
Any underwear? No
Are you with any friends? Not old friends
Are the officers French or American? American
Are the officers a fine lot of men? Yes
How often do you get a furlough? Never a long one
Do you speak much French? No
Are the commands given in French? No
Did you receive cable sent you by Papa when we knew of your Commission? Yes
I have moved again and am I am glad to say now in a more comfortable place. I was transferred to the battalion staff and am now learning all about communications to and from artillery of every known form. It is a good job tho I imagine one that every one in the regiment finds fault with and has the added advantage of being if anything safer than being with the batteries themselves.
The army regulations, however, require that every officer make out a will so if you receive any notification of same don’t think that I am in any new danger or beginning to think I am. It is simply a rule. I made Carroll the beneficiary since all it is for is the personal effects I have with me at the time and six months pay.
I think the packages you have sent me must have arrived in France as I have had two notifications from Morgan Harjes of packages and have told them to forward them. It was great of you to send me the things and I can’t thank you enough for it must have been a fearful bother getting them off let alone that of getting the things together. Thank you all ever so much again and again. I only hope I get them for Christmas for the army I have discovered is like in one respect the mills of the gods; as to its fineness I haven’t yet determined but I am hoping for the best.
There is something funny I have never remembered to tell you. You don’t of course remember Reggie Windham. Well, I knew him years ago when we were at Swampscott. Then I knew him again at Manlius. Then he was at St. Paul’s with me tho a couple of classes above. Then he came to Auburn for a house party of Elizabeth’s. Well, the first person I met in Paris in the ambulance was Reg. He went out tho with another section and I lost him for six months. Then I met him again when we were taking our exams for the artillery. When finally I was assigned to a regiment, who is the first person I meet again but Reg, big as life and twice as natural, and now to cap the climax when I am transferred here who turns up directly after me but Reg. Isn’t that the strangest string of coincidence you ever heard of.
I received some cigarettes two days ago from Carolyn and have written her it was great of her to send them and to make it better they were perfectly wonderful cigarettes. I don’t exactly see why she sent them to me except that you had had her to dinner and made a wonderful hit (she couldn’t pay you enough compliments) But nevertheless it was wonderful of her and I give you a great deal of the credit. This is a rotten letter for I can’t seem to concentrate and write at all tonight but I will try to do better the next chance I get which will be soon for my new job is one of the gentleman’s type with short hours and late rising. This is all now. Goodbye with love, Paul
Again we have changed places and now are in a part of France the most miserable imaginable. There are absolutely no large towns and the country is bleak and absolutely desolate with great forests and great open places where nothing grows. Worse than that heaven only knows how long we are going to be here.
The only good thing I have been able to discover was that last night when we arrived after a three days march I found here waiting for me fourteen letters from home. It was wonderful as they were the first news I had had from home or from anywhere for that matter ever since I became a member of the American Expeditionary Force. I have been what one might term isolated, arriving as it were at an opportune or rather an inopportune moment as it happened.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed the letters. I sorted them all out according to their dates and have been ever since yesterday evening when they came till now which is the evening in reading them At first when I began I was worried that you had not heard from me but towards the end it seemed as tho a number of my letters had eventually arrived. I rather missed out on my system of numbering but I will try to begin it again now that I am settled down for a little time. It has worked wonderfully with your letters. By the way, one of your letters came that was dated Aug. 11 with a picture of the two Danes (dogs –Ed.) on the lawn which was very good.
I wrote you in one letter that I got the telegram you sent me on my birthday but evidently that letter never did arrive. It was great of you to send it and also the cables congratulating me on my commission which came yesterday with the other things.
The little sweater which you sent me is the must useful thing I have. The American uniform is too tight to get any heavy clothes underneath and that is just the thing as it is warm and takes up very little space. I haven’t yet put the hood or the wristlets into operation but I imagine that as it gets colder they will be just the thing.
I wish you could see the place I am living now; you certainly would smile. The town as I told you is practically nothing and needless to say the dwellings correspond. Another lieutenant and myself live in a large stone house the sole occupant of which is a woman eighty-five years old with a face like a withered apple. We have a huge bedroom with feather beds that you sink out of sight into but it is too cold to stay in and the life of the place centers in the kitchen.To look about the kitchen no one in the world could be made to believe that he was alive in the A.D. 1917. There is no stove. One side of the whole room is a huge fireplace with pots and things hanging down and a little fire in one corner. Right on top of the fire in the fireplace sits the old woman who I am sure is a witch. She certainly looks the part and is continually fooling with herbs and making messes in a big black pot and swearing perfectly vilely. She is honored to death to have Americans in her house for the first time. The kitchen which was what I began to tell about is floored with flagstones, roofed with hewn beams and walled with tile. Altogether taking everything into consideration including the old witch it is the most medieval thing I ever inhabited. Our only light is needless to say candles and I wouldn’t be surprised to wake up some morning and find all the guns and men gone and a knight in armor tooling down the road. It is a locality as apart from the newer France as anything could possibly be. As far as I can gather the only sport seems to be hunting wild boar and wolves with spears and dogs. Imagine it all.
I have got to stop now to do a few things but I will write you again soon. With love, Paul
I have rather a long story to tell this time and it is only a question as to whether I can get it all in, in the time I have which just at present isn’t particularly long and when such things are put off you know the answer: they never are told. The censorship regulations have been lifted a bit, I am happy to say and we can tell a little of what we have done.
Not quite a week after I became junior officer of the 5th F.A. (field artillery- Ed.) we were ordered into active service which news I am frank to admit disconcerted me not a little being so frightfully new at the game. We moved into the Lorraine sector and there proceeded to strafe the Bosch a little. I being the junior was left behind at the little town I wrote you from to care for the extra horses and material. Later I did get to the actual front and it certainly was a change from the fronts I had been on before; comparatively it was like a church, hardly anything doing and safer than living at home. It was a relief tho to feel that at length I had taken some really active part in putting the blink on the Bosch. After two weeks on the front the regiment moved down again and now we are in winter quarters where I imagine we will stay until spring, absorbing knowledge and trying to keep alive. A number of officers have already been sent to America to instruct by which sign I am kept alive in hopes that some time in the dim and dusky future my turn will come too.
Our work here is now and will be for some time principally organization, that is preparing for the winter. It is as I told you a perfectly miserable town and the task consists in making barracks for the men and horses so that they won’t die before spring and trying to arrange a program of learning for the officers so that they won’t all become raving maniacs before spring from ennui. It sounds simple enough but somehow it isn’t, considering the fact that we work in a sea of mud and only have about 7 1/2 hours of daylight.
Two of the packages arrived today from Ethel Beardsley at Cannes and to say the least they were most welcome. I can’t thank you enough for the hoods, wristlets and cards tho I am frank to admit that nine packs of the latter will certainly take me some time to use up. I am thinking of starting a regimental gambling den.
Today too is Thanksgiving day and therefore for the men a red letter day. There is very little work to do, only horse exercise in the morning and feeding and watering the rest of the time while the men in the meanwhile feed themselves to the fullest possible extent.They had a huge dinner this noon and at two thirty were still going strong. We officers had a quiet dinner in the house which serves for our mess and I could not help thinking of you all going this evening to Nannoo’s. Lord how I would like to be there. This and the time I went duck shooting on Long Island are the only times since I left St. Paul’s that I have been away, and now if you could see me sitting writing by candle light at 4:30 in the afternoon with the old witch sitting by the fire swearing at her cat Cocotte you certainly would say I was away.
I have got to stop now, with love, Paul
And many thanks again for the helmet, wristlets and cards. Had a good letter two days ago from Carroll (Paul’s brother –Ed.)
I have now been in the American army long enough to feel that I am quite a part of it, and moreover, being a part of that, a part of nothing else in the world, for never in my life did I feel more out of things and away from home. Since I have been out I have not had one word from home, from Paris or from anywhere. American efficiency isn’t all that it might be just yet as concerns the incoming mail and as regards the outgoing if it works the same way by now you probably think I am dead. Anyway I have written quite a lot lately to you, Carroll and Nannoo and maybe some day they will arrive.
As you can well imagine we did not stay long in the pleasant place we first arrived in but moved out into a much more disagreeable locality.
I am at present billeted with a charming old French couple who look after me as if I was their son and together with my orderly reduce living to a matter of doing the things you can’t tell other people to do for you. I have a great room in about the best house in town.
The bed is a huge four-poster affair hung with yellow silk curtains. The rest of the room is all long mirrors, long windows, blue paper and a marble fireplace. Very pretty but not practical since I don’t believe that for a moment since I arrived has the temperature been much over freezing in spite of the fire which I have burning practically all the time. The town itself is horrible, about 1,200 inhabitants in about two acres of stone buildings that stick up out of a sea of mud and look as though they were built at some antediluvian date. They are old but not attractive, so in fact quite the opposite, like some people.
All the inhabitants seem to be of two varieties, very dirty children and very dirty toothless old ladies.
Imagine a town like that, add a few hundred odd cows for scenic effect and then pile on top of the whole, suddenly, a battalion of heavy field artillery on the move to stay only about a week and you have our present situation. The height of luxury in some things and the height of misery in others. Just where we will go next no one knows but I only hope it will be somewhere warm for the rest of the winter. It isn’t that I am cold but simply that I’m never quite warm enough. That sounds queer but it is perfectly true. There isn’t a great deal more to tell you just now and besides I have got some wild duty to perform just now such as seeing if all the horses have their drink of water before they go to bed or all the men are tucked in or something. We have some of the craziest things to do you can possibly imagine. Good night now.With love, Paul
This is a fine time to begin writing to you when I have been away nearly six months and you have never had a line from me but you know how writing is and besides in my letters to Mother I have said practically everything there was and those letters were for the whole family.
Let me begin tho by congratulating you on your birthday today and wishing you many happy returns of the day and all the luck in the world great too that you are going back to Treats (Carroll’s school – Ed.) for from everything I can gather it seems to be a much better place than the Rosenbaum school which the family seems to have had in mind. Enjoy life too along with doing all the work you can and don’t be in a hurry to get into the army. If the war keeps on another three years, it will be plenty time enough and for the present one of us here is a great plenty.
My ambulance career drew to a close about the 20th of October. I went to Paris and came out to the American army a week later as a 2nd lieutenant in the 5th field artillery. I was very sorry to leave the ambulance for I imagine there I saw as much or more war than I ever will again and there were a great bunch of boys in the service which itself was great fun not too hard work and quite comfortable. Nevertheless I suppose we must all take our flyer at doing something and I don’t know but what I am better off where I am now if for no other reason than that I am paid and feel that for the first time in my life I am earning some money – can you imagine it, me earning something. It seems like a huge joke especially considering that about all I do is to boss a crew of men around, ride a horse and do problems in mathematics. That last I will admit is worth any amount of money but the others aren’t too difficult.
The guns we have are 155 mm. howitzers, about six inches in American measure, and go around the country drawn by eight horses. When you try to aim one of the things you have to take into consideration everything but the rotation of the earth for the shell takes about one minute to get there.
I have got a wonderful lot of war relics which I have managed to collect for you if I can ever discover any way to send them home which just now doesn’t look too promising. Did you by the way get the briquets I sent you and Papa. One lot I sent by Penn Sefton and the other by Billy Seward. If they never arrived, when you see either of them ask them for them. I also sent some glass from Soissons, a shell fuse, a trench ring and a Bosch button, in the box that was to come by Penn.
There were some rather good pictures I sent with Billy (Seward – Ed.). And I hope they arrive as I think you would find them very interesting. I did not take them myself not being much of a hand with the camera but the boy who rode with me on the car (ambulance – Ed.) took them and they are all of places I have been and stayed and I was there when most of them were taken. Will stop now. Best luck, love Paul
Monday, June 9, 2008
Tomorrow if I can get off I am going over to the nearby large town to buy some Xmas presents to send home to you. They will have to be small and compact and just how they will ever arrive heaven only knows but it will be worth while trying. It seems queer to be buying them now when all the leaves are still on the trees, all of a queer yellow pink color about like the 1st of October at home.
Today I have been officer of the day, sort of a general boss of the camp who walks around and sticks his nose into every conceivable cranny to see that everything is going well. One rather funny thing happened: we post a guard in the top of a church steeple here to look for avions. Today the sexton came along, locked up the tower with the two men in it by mistake and went off to get his coffee. It was my job to get the men down and then after that since their breakfast was long past to see that they got fed.
Another thing I had to do was to get the exact location of every one of the 675 horses that the battalion has billeted all over town. When I got thru I considered myself lucky that I had only 84 missing.
I think when I have done it a few more times I would be a good administrator for an orphan asylum. I think I had better call a halt.
I came out here from Paris on the twenty-ninth which gave me just enough time there to be able to get everything I needed and get off in good style.
Aside from the distinct effort of maintaining my dignity my work here couldn’t be easier or more pleasant. In the morning we ride or have target work with the guns which are what the French call 155 shorts and the Americans 155 howitzers (about 6-inch). In the afternoon we have lectures on gunnery and officer school which to my confusion consists mostly of mathematics. They however are not too complicated. In the rest of the time I study, censor mail or ride for pleasure. I am taken care of by an orderly who does everything for me but put me to bed, I eat good food, live in good quarters and for doing it all am paid about six dollars a day. The other regimental officers are a fine crowd and also the commanding officer. As you can see I am quite enthusiastic especially considering the fact that before it all happened I thought myself a wanderer on the face of the earth and without any particular calling.
It certainly will be a funny outfit if we ever get to the front. Only two of the officers beside myself have ever been under fire and none of the men. I imagine tho, they will get away with it as they seem a very adaptable crowd.
As for my address I think you had better continue to write me c/o Morgan Harjes since I may at any time change organizations and I can tell them bout it quicker than any one else.
I don’t know how the mail system is here yet but I understand that it is worse than anything ever heard of. The men kick and say their letters never do get home and their letters from there are months in arriving but as usual c’est la guerre and from the looks of the situation just at present it will always be c’est la guerre. Stanley (Metcalf from Auburn –Ed) up to the present which is a day after I began hasn’t turned up but there is still time. Must stop now rather hurriedly. Will write soon again. With love, Paul
Dear Nannoo: Well here I am theoretically an officer and I hope a gentleman in the U.S. Army. Officially now I am 2nd Lieut. P.W. Hills, 5th Reg. Battery F. Field Artillery. Can you beat it. It makes me laugh even to see it written down.
It was perfectly great of you to cable me and I received at about the same time two letters from you, one telling about the new letter of credit that had chased me to the section, back again to Paris and in fact had quite a journey. The letter of credit notification too came at the same time and the best part of it is that I myself did not need it. There was just enough of the old one left to buy my officer’s outfit and set me up in business, and now I am being handsomely remunerated to the tune of six dollars a day. The first real money I have ever earned.
I did tho lend quite a bit of it to Stanley who was absolutely broke and had to buy his outfit at the same time. He himself hasn’t come out yet but I hope to see him soon. Getting an outfit isn’t quite all that it might be especially considering that boots are a necessity and come at 300 francs a pair.
Everything however worked out wonderfully for me. I arrived in Paris from the section which was relieved at that time, the twenty-second of October just at the end of a wonderful action on the Chemin des Dames again and left the twenty-ninth for here. It gave me just enough time to get everything and enjoy a bit of a vacation in Paris. I was tho particularly sorry not to be able to go to Cannes but that, God willing, will come later when I get my first permission (leave-Ed.) from the American army and it looks as tho now the war were going to last long enough to let me enjoy several of those periods. I am tho sorrier that I can ever say not to get a chance just yet to come home.
My new duties aren’t particularly onerous. I get up rather early but on the other hand sleep all of every night. We ride, have target practice etc. with the guns in the morning, have lectures and so forth for the rest of the afternoon for a little while and that is all. We have good food and there are a wonderfully good crowd of officers, a great many of whom have done just what I have. I am at present leader of a platoon of about 40 men to whom as far as I can gather I am combination king, nurse, policeman and papa. It certainly is a strange sensation ordering, instructing and taking care of men old enough to be my father and who know more of the army than I will ever know.
I am very glad I am in the artillery since first to me it is without doubt the most interesting end of the game besides being one of the most comfortable and safest. There is too a wonderful chance for promotion since the service is being increased every day. It has however its disadvantages. I have to do a tremendous amount of mathematics and as you can probably remember that never was my forte. You should see me puzzling for hours over a range finder and then discovering finally that I only missed by some two hundred meters at the first try. Luckily tho there are observers and it is possible to correct after the first try. I will write you again very soon. Thanking you again for the letter of credit. With love, Paul