(For the duration of World War I, Paris was a train ride of only several hours from the battlefront, and Paul Hills made the trip to Paris several times on leave. On one of those brief trips, he met one of his many Auburn cousins, Mildred Woodruff, then living and working in Paris; she then wrote “Cousin Alice,” Paul’s mother, an account. It reads a little like scenes from a World War I novel, but it was a fact, not fiction, that the battlefront was somewhere between 50 and 75 miles from Paris for most of the war. Many American civilians were a part of the city’s international community from 1914 to 1918, and of course thousands of Allied military personnel were on duty there during the war. –Ed.)
Dear Cousin Alice (Paul’s Mother):
I almost hate to tell you that I have seen Paul again, but next best to seeing him yourself is hearing from someone who has, so I want to get a letter right off to you.
Friday morning early I was out in front waiting for a car when I saw a taxi stop in front of our apartment house and a good-looking American officer get out. Knowing that we are the only Americans living in this house I knew there was an even chance of its being someone for me, so I went back and to my surprise and delight discovered it was Paul – although I hardly recognized him at first with a mustache. He had arrived at midnight and was leaving again at five – had the 6 a.m. train not been taken off he would not have been able to stop over, so we thought we were in luck. He had come to ask me to have lunch with him and as I happened to be having a vacation I very promptly accepted. I met him at Brentano’s and he took me to the Café de Paris for lunch and I never had such a meal. He was all for going all through the long menu, but the waiter was forced to remind him that they were only allowed to serve three courses. However, by serving salad with the meat and forgetting to count the hors d’oeuvres, they managed to give us a marvelous lunch. Paul was so interesting that I almost forgot to eat. We did a bit of shopping together and he sent Cousin Will (Paul’s father, William – Ed.) a book, but we finally gave up trying to get anything for you, because we did not seem able to find just the right thing. He was so sweet and I am sure he did not think anything we saw was quite good enough for you. Next we took a taxi up to the Etoile and then walked almost the entire length of the Champs Elysees, just plain taking in the sights. We ended up by sitting outside a café – always an amusing pastime. We ran across a Buffalo boy who had been in Section 5 with Paul, (Section 5 was the ambulance unit attached to the French Army in which Paul Hills served before the U.S. troops reached France in 1917. –Ed.) so he joined us and I never heard more interesting, thrilling conversation. Paul had his orderly with him and I only regretted not getting a look at him. It was such fun walking with him and seeing all the exchange of salutes. I can assure you that I was pretty proud of my handsome young cousin. He looked and seemed very well, but we agree that we would be pretty glad to have this hideous war over and to get home. I don’t think any of us who are over here will ever again complain of Auburn being too quiet.
I am so sorry that Cousin Will (Paul’s father – Ed.) has been ill and glad to hear he is so much better. What a winter it has been!
Paris is very hectic these days, but tremendously thrilling as you can imagine.
My love to you both- Always affectionately, Mildred Woodruff