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, March 25, 2008

Letter dated August 26th, 1917

Dear Mother-:

Here I am in Paris for my “permission” (leave) and if Paris can be called a rest this is certainly one well deserved.

We worked the Chemin des Dames sector for just exactly one month without a single day’s rest and as you have probably noticed in the papers that is what is commonly known as a warm corner. I was at the end quite petered out and fed up generally with my nerves so on edge that I couldn’t sit still. From your last letter you have some impressions which added to those that Nannoo wrote in hers seem to tell me that you have quite some wrong ideas. In the first place I am not a lieutenant, at least that I know of, but still a “conducteur volontaire d’une voiture sanitaire.” That paper that I enclosed in the letter was my copy of the citation the section received for bravery, good works, etc. In the second place the transfer to the chasseurs was simply that the section as a whole was transferred to that division to evacuate their wounded instead of those with whom we had been so long. I am still as I started but seeing much more active service simply because the division is the most active one in France.

All this, however, was up until yesterday, for then the U.S. govt. with their customary blundering methods and misconception of affairs in general has taken over the whole
Red Cross and I understand is going to give to all the conducteurs their choice of signing on for the war or getting out tout de suite. The idea of signing on for the war as a private in the U.S. Army somehow doesn’t appeal to any of us and the result is that everybody is getting out. When that comes off I am going to start on a wild chase for a commission in the U.S. or English artillery or transport service for, from what I can gather, commissions are not to be had at home and here, although gettable, they are very difficult. Nevertheless don’t worry at all as to what I am doing when you get this for before I do anything definite I will cable you. Every time I think of the way the U.S. is bungling things I get so mad I can’t speak. Imagine it. Here we were running perfectly, members of the French army and doing work which, according to the French could in no way be bettered. The U.S. with their politics, etc., comes along and butts in and in a little while, according to everyone who seems to know anything at all, the whole business will be such a mess that nothing will be able to be done at all, there will be no conducteurs and how the poor wounded will be gotten out God alone knows. . The whole French sanitary service is frantic. But enough of disagreeable things for the present. I am well, happy and fat, with seven days before me out of the country where things blow up, men die quickly and everything smells bad and looks worse.

I had a nice letter from Mrs. Brown inviting me to Cannes whenever I could come so I have always a haven of refuge in time of need. It was great of her to do it.

I am sending you a small package of things I have picked up. Two cigar lighters which everyone over here in the war uses, as matches at the front are unobtainable. Papa may like them. The soldiers sit around and make them when they have nothing else to do.Tell him to give one to Carroll as he I imagine would like it for a souvenir although if he goes back to St. Paul’s he will not use it. For you and Day there are some other little war trinkets of no practical use but odd. There isn’t a great deal more to say now as I have told you all the news and all about the work at other times and if I keep on I may start in again on the American gov’t.

Goodby with love,


Letter dated August 14, 1917

Dear Mother -:

I got two letters from you the other day, one saying that you had had no letters from me and the other that you had just had two.The mail service is at its best short and extremely uncertain, and I rather imagine that you have gotten very few of my letters. I have written on an average of at least twice a week. However, perhaps you will get them all after the war when the powers that be see fit to let my indiscretions pass on. It was great of you to send me the cigarettes and I only hope they arrive by and by for I am spoiling for a real American smoke. Tell Day that I enjoyed her letter tremendously and will write her again.

I am writing this letter on a notebook across the wheel of my car as usual outside the old Cheval Blanc waiting for my turn. Yesterday was in many ways a banner day as far as excitement and interest went. In the first place the Germans took a very violent dislike to our town.

As usual I was cut off in the midst of writing that last to go out and since then two or three days have passed with just about the same variety of goings on. This morning we were decorated again for bravery and there was quite a celebration. Likewise some individual Croix de Guerres were given out to two of the old men and to the two boys who were gassed. It is a nice thing to have but I would rather have my lungs in good shape and theirs will not be so for time to come. That (gas) is without doubt the most devilish invention in the world. You can’t see it and it smells nicely. The first thing you know you begin to cough and choke. I got a good whiff the other day and couldn’t smoke for half a day and felt quite rotten.

Our work here in the sector is almost over, tho, and I can’t say that I am sorry. We will be having some time around the 20th for a “repos” and after that a new place. A little danger and excitement are fine but every day for nearly a month is rather a strain. Hardly a day passes without some hairbreadth escape or what seems to be the direct intervention of Providence, and always there is the continuous round of tragedies among the soldiers or brancardiers that you know and have spent time with. I wish to heaven the war was over.

I am sending you under a separate cover a copy of the little newspaper the Division prints and I hope you get it as it is quite interesting and although a little broad in places will show you something of the spirit of the men and the sort of French they speak.

In an attack the other day the division caught a number of Bosche. I carried four of them who were wounded, the oldest were only twenty, the other two were 19 and 18. Not any of them had the slightest idea that America had entered the war and when they found it out seemed quite discouraged. They were all thinner than rails and said they had not so much as seen a potato for eight weeks.

There isn’t a great deal more to tell you just now. As soon as we get in repos again, I will write you a regular book.

With love,


I think it would be a good idea if I numbered my letters to you and Papa and then we can get an idea as to how many get by. We will call this one number 1.

Letter dated August 4, 1917

Dear Mother-:

This is probably the strangest birthday it will ever be my good or ill, whichever you consider it, fortune to pass. I am on duty to stand by outside the dugout of the medical director and wait for orders. It is a twenty-four hour séance and usually there are no orders. I was a little lucky and in the afternoon took his nibs to S---- which relieved the monotony a little. Otherwise there is nothing to do but sit and read and watch the rain. This is the fifth day of it (the rain) and you can imagine what the roads with heavy traffic all the time are like. I have today read one book thru and wished I had another. The few French men around aren’t a great deal of help as they are Gascons and when I tried this afternoon to fall into conversation with them the effort socially speaking failed for they couldn’t speak French and I could neither understand nor speak Gascon. The result was that we struggled for a while with “pas beaucoup”, “ca va” and “mauvais temps” and the result was that both sides retired in disgust, the enemy richer by two cigarettes.

The weather seems to have completely quelled both sides for, tho here I am very close to the lines there is hardly a sound. Every once in a while a gun goes off and that is all, as much different from recent days as night from day, and a little relief too, for I saw a little too much war then.

The God that protects fools, drunken men, and college boys must also do a little looking out for ambulance drivers. One of our cars was towed in the other night with 68 holes in it. The driver wasn’t there when it happened but had gotten out for a minute to see what was stopping the traffic ahead in the road.

Last evening we had a big party. Our French lieutenant is leaving and we gave him a send-off. We had a wonderful dinner with several kinds of wine, sang and made speeches and had a fine time all within range of the Bosche and most of the people there having seen and done things that most people are glad never occur during their lives. Rather unique, wasn’t it? I wrote you Maurice and a few other curiosities were coming to the section. Well, they all arrived but M., who couldn’t have things just to suit him, is still consequently in Paris. The others were all fine boys and fell in with the work nicely, tho a little horror-stricken at first.

Aug. 8 – So many thhings have happened since I began this letter that I might just as well tear up what I have written and begin again but I will keep on just for the humor of the thing. Well, to begin with when I got back to camp Maurice was there after all, having just arrived and had the scare of his life. He was talking blue blazes and hasn’t stopped yet. He was quite scared his first day out but managed to live thru it, but I rather imagine rues the day he ever became attached to section cinq. You certainly should see him scraping the mud and blood off a car and taking a swallow of brandy with a crust of bread for his breakfast at 4 a.m. on the road. It was great.

Then Hunt T (Talmage) got wounded. He was sitting on top of a bank watching the war when a shell landed right beside him. It blew him off the bank and twenty feet away while a piece went thru his sleeve and part of his arm and another scratched his head. Rather a close call but he did not even have to go to the hospital while the poor beggar beside him was killed quite dead.

Then I got some very disagreeable disease and thought quite certainly I was going to die. However as it is only the good that do that at my extreme youth, I have staged a comeback and can move about today again.That is about all the news of particular interest for the present but I will write again when there is more

With love,


Letter dated August 1, 1917

Dear Nannoo (Grandmother Woodruff) ,

Your letter of June 29 came quite a while ago and I am very ashamed not to have answered it before. You were quite wrong about your letters being of no interest to me – they are very much the opposite and in fact the one I have gotten had more condensed news on it than any I have yet gotten from anybody.

We are again on service and I am writing this during what I consider a well merited day of rest, for during the 60 hours preceding I had had just five hours sleep. There was an attack and a great number of wounded to be carried. It rained of course as it always does when the French go to do anything and the roads being a sea of mud and the nights blacker than the ace of spades made the work doubly hard. The way we managed the driving was that one of us- there are always two on a car- crawled as far forward on the front mud guard as he could and shouted back the things that were in the way and there always are a good many. Donkeys and mules loaded with hand grenades and driven like sheep, not led, are bad enough but great double caissons of ammunition going at a dead run and drawn by six horses are the worst. I have hated to think what would happen should I bump into one of those donkeys and he should blow up but one of those caissons would completely obliterate me, the car, the blesses (wounded) and all. Then as you get nearer the front the roads are shelled and there is always the expectation of waking up suddenly twanging a harp or lying in a rear hospital. You go along the road hoping that the flashes and noise all round you are your guns and not shells coming in. One of our posts is 600 meters from the German lines so you can imagine there is lots going on. The locality also is the “Chemin des Dames” which is just now the liveliest in France.

The attack was a success and the division took two lines of trenches and a lot of prisoners – the roads all day have been full of them. They seem quite happy to be taken and I don’t blame them. They, however, are thin, terribly thin and from what they say sick to death of the war.

I am still growing fat and prospering and am not yet at all sick of the work and wouldn’t miss the things I am doing and seeing for anything. I do miss the lake, tho, and the luxuries of home will be certainly welcome. Give my love to everybody.

With love,


Letter dated July 30, 1917

Dear Mother-:

I haven’t done a great deal of writing lately but have the excuse of having been
busier than ever before since I landed in France. We are on service in the busiest sector of the whole line and as you can imagine there is no little to be done.

I think that perhaps if I told you what a day’s work is like you can get a better idea of the way we live and the work we do.

We are billeted in a woods about 8 kilometers (5miles) behind the line, at least that is our base of supplies and where we go back after service. Take day before yesterday as an example: I woke up about 8, had coffee and saw that the car (ambulance) was alright. Lunch or dejeuner was at 10 and at 10:30 the ten cars on service that day start out and go to the town which is our reserve post.

There we live in the “Au Cheval Blanc” which in its day must have been quite an inn. Now, however, it has no roof, the walls are mostly gone down to the 1st story, and the windows stopped with sandbags and stones. The thing in its favor tho is that it has an elegant big vaulted cellar into which all of us can get at once.

As soon as we arrive the three first cars get their directions and go on to the advance posts. Today I am at one called “Ferme –“. We go out from the town of the Cheval Blanc three streets that look like a war photo of “stricken France” and take a road that winds up a hill along the edge of a valley and then cuts up thru a ravine like our glen to the Ferme, which is on the edge of a plateau. The road through its entire length is protected with brush camouflage both above and on the sides. There is artillery firing on both sides which seems at times to raise your helmet right off your head. All along the road are big paper signs “Route battu. Defense de stationner.” (Battle area. No parking) Hence one hurries a little. The Farm itself is at the head of the ravine as Elmer’s would be to our glen. It might have been a farm once but now they might just as well call it the stone quarry or the macadam road in the making. It resembles these more.

The post itself is in a cave about 100 meters from the Farm. We put the car under a bank and go quickly to the mouth of the cave around which a number of men are standing, none very far away. The door of the cave is about as conspicuous as a woodchuck hole but inside it is immense. Without exaggeration you could put our house in it three or four times over. You go down thirty or forty steps and there you are: room after room but here and there with a candle by which you can see men stretched out sleeping. Some in groups are talking in low tones or playing cards; others eating, always with a knife out of a tin can. We go to the head of the brancardiers and find that just then there aren’t any wounded, talk over the news in a mixture of French and English and sit down to wait. Sometimes we sleep on a brancard and other times we go outside the door and watch the farm become further macadamized. There is a whiz over your head and a geyser of black smoke blacker than ink jumps a hundred feet out of the ground with a bang that cracks your head. Everybody ducks, says “Sale Bosche” or something like that and stands up to wait for the next one. Sometimes the whiz sounds too close and everybody slides head over heels on top of everybody else down the steps, and when the shell has gone to nearly the same place, all get up and laugh at each other.

By and by we get our load, put them in the car and go back by the Cheval Blanc where we tell another car to come and take our place. We take wounded on to the hospital about 10 kilometers away and come back to the C.B. where we wait again for our turn, usually about an hour, just long enough to get doing something or just asleep at night. At night, driving is more difficult since the roads are absolutely full of artillery coming and going, re-supplies and men. This keeps up all the time until the relief cars come up the next day at about 11 o’clock when we go back to the cantonment, have lunch, spend the afternoon cleaning ourselves and the car, have dinner and go immediately to bed. The next day we are usually in service again and it is the same things over again with variations.

I was writing this in the cave I told you about but had to stop for a load and now with everything finished am back again at the cantonment.

I have never exactly told you what the section consists of. There are 20 cars, 10 Packards and 10 Fords. There about 35 drivers, a French lieutenant , an American lieutenant, 4 French mechanics, 2 cooks and 4 or 5 other Frenchmen who do odd things.The drivers are all American volunteers like myself. Ranging in age from 1 older than you are to 1 younger than Carroll (his mother was, in 1917, about 50, and his younger brother was about 17). Most, however, are between 20 and 30. As an average they are a wonderful crowd and as sporting as they make them, perfectly willing if they are told to drive a car right over to Berlin and get the Kaiser.

The next time you hear anyone say anything against Billy McCarthy (from Auburn, New York) tell them what you think of them. In the last two months I have seen him do things that not 1 out of 10 men who criticize him would even consider for a minute. Takes his life in his hands to help other people and beside all that live a life that Sir Galahad himself would have not the slightest kick on.

This letter is a long lot of stuff about the way we live, and I hope it interests you. It isn’t very well expressed tho for I never was strong on that. If you want to get a better idea get a book called “Bullets and Billets” by Bairnsfather. If I had written it myself there will not be a truer expression of my own sensations. Substitute only an ambulance driver for a machine gun subaltern and you have it cold.

Good bye now, love


About my address: The one on the back of the envelope is for the censor and mine at present, but may change. All my mail is forwarded from Morgan Harjes and there is only one day’s delay. I think you had better keep writing me there since anything on the way when my address changes is as good as gone. Paul

Letter dated July 25, 1917

Dear Papa –

It was great of you to send me the tobacco and tho it hasn’t come yet it will be doubly welcome when it does arrive. I smoked the last of the good cigars a few days ago which I had been treasuring up for weeks. Good tobacco is the hardest thing possible to get and I haven’t yet quite gotten the taste for the French variety which is like nothing else you ever smoked. We leave definitely tomorrow for one of the posts where we have been before. I wrote you all about it before. It is the same place for which we received the citation I wrote you about and sent Mother the copy. Tell me if you get it. The Bosches have been raising the devil in that particular locality and it is evidently the job of our division to chase them out. It will be a messy time to say the least for they have been sending all varieties of troops up there beside our division, troops especially for attacking. They are not the kind of crowd I would like to have after me and I fear Fritz is going to have rather a thin time for the next few days.

I haven’t yet told you of some of the funny things that happened to me during our last action. We are usually quartered in amongst the artillery and after we have arrived the men come and make very formal calls which we are expected to return. You remember I told you of some artillery men with whom I had become very friendly and who had given men some photos. Well, I went to return their call just about the time they started to shell the German supply center and was very interested in watching them work the guns, when Fritz decided that battery was doing too much harm and that it should be put out of working order. Shells began to drop all around, not way off but right on top of us – a man standing a few feet away from me was killed and needless to say we and the gunners who were not working ran like the deuce into the abri under the guns, about ten feet under ground. The noise was fearful, the guns making quite a bit of it and the big Dutch (German) shells doing the rest. Every time one of them landed it was as tho your head was going to cave in. Than, all of a sudden came the worst row you ever heard. The whole ground rocked and for a moment no one could even breathe. To make a long story short, the gun above us had been hit and blown up. Fortunately no one was working it at that particular moment and no one was hurt but you should have seen the wreckage – a big hole and at varying distances, wheels, pieces of barrels, sandbags and shells that belonged to the gun. Needless to say I got a pretty good scare out of that and will hereafter be more careful about my calling hours. It does, tho, speak rather well for the strength of a French abri (shelter), doesn‘t it, considering that the blowup was practically over our heads. This is just one incident that happened to come to me – almost everyone has these of the same variety and the addition of them all would certainly make a great book. There isn’t a great deal more to say now. Perhaps after a few days I will have some more tales to tell or some more of the ones already past to write down but just now I am suffering from writer’s cramp. Good bye

Love to everybody, Paul

Letter dated JULY 18, 1917

Dear Mother-:

I wrote you just a note from the last place that we were, saying that we were starting again for the front. We are now in a little town about ten miles back for a few days before the division goes into the trenches. I was sorry not to stay longer where we were for it was a perfectly great place, not far from Paris and right on the Marne. It was a large enough town to have a good hotel and restaurant, and we could go swimming, canoeing, eat, drink and be merry and sleep in beds the first time for over eight weeks. It was too good to be true tho and we were only there four days.

Our division went into Paris for the fete (Bastille Day, July 15) and it was by that that a few of us managed to get the 24-hour “permission” (leave). I sent you a photograph from there and hope you get it tho people tell me it is doubtful. I have a number more very interesting ones, one of which I am enclosing. This is the way they bring the poor beggars who are wounded down to us. It was taken in a little place we were at about a month or so ago and is one of the best of its kind I have ever seen.

It is wonderful being with the new crowd. They are the best troops in France by far and their attitude is certainly a welcome change. They are chasseurs and most of them so neat and snappy that it makes you feel sloppy even to see them. Moreover instead of being gloomy and disheartened they are always cheerful and fooling around singing and raising the devil. They have, too, a perfectly great band which plays on occasion and is a great success especially considering that France just now is a music-less country. You should hear a Chasseur trumpet corps! Ask somebody who has and they may be able to tell you about it. I can’t as it is one of the most inspiring things I have ever heard.

I have cut off my mustache but miss it so much in spite of its weedy condition I think I shall try again. We are still in this town and may not leave for several days and then go back to a sector we have worked in before.

I will be glad to get into action again as the “repos”, changing divisions, etc., good fun as it is, isn’t quite up to chasing around at the front.

Last night a few of us went as the uninvited and likewise unseen guests of an entertainment of the officers of the division. It was great fun and a wonderful concert. They are doing everything they can to keep the men cheered up and in the best of form for the work to come and certainly succeeding.

There isn’t a great deal more to tell you just now. Will write tomorrow.

With love,

P.S. The pencil part of this letter was written two days after the ink part.

Letter dated July 17, 1917

Dear Mother-:

We are on “repos” again for a few days so I have another chance to write you a good letter. The last action was wonderful and as I think I told you very interesting. It was not quite as hot as the last sector before that but we had all the work to do that was necessary to keep us quite busy.

I was afraid for a time that we would not have any fourth of July celebration and I would miss that more than any thing but I think for noise this last fourth outdid anything that I ever have or ever will go thru again. Our post was right in the midst of about six French batteries of 75’s in a valley in which there were over three hundred guns. That day and night were particularly active and they were all going most of the time. You couldn’t speak or rather if you did it wouldn’t do you any good for no one could hear you. At night the same thing went on but the air was full of lights of all kinds and colors, star shells, and signals not just in one place but for as far as you could see. Our post was in what was left of an old monastery the true beauties of which, however, I could not quite appreciate since walking around in that vicinity wasn’t all that it might be. The artillery men, however, were wonderful to us and I became quite friends with two of them, one of whom gave me some wonderful pictures he had taken.

As I told you I was on duty on the fourth but Mr. Harjes had sent us out a lot of things and they brought us up our share. You should have seen us down in a cave eating lobster salad and drinking Champagne with the guns up above going to beat the band and the shelling coming in nearly as fast.

On the fourth, too, we were cited by the general of the corps for some sort of conspicuous action which also helped make that a gala day. I am enclosing my copy, save it, as it is probably the best thing in the line of papers it will ever by my good fortune to acquire. Yesterday evening, however, we moved out and are now in a peach of a little town way back and as quiet as they make them. You wouldn’t believe it but last night I couldn’t sleep because of the lack of noise.

Tomorrow we have managed to be transferred from our old division to the 66th Chasseurs, which is the crack division of France. It will be good fun to be with them but leaving the old crowd was like leaving a lot of old friends. The brancardiers (stretcher bearers) and doctors were a fine lot and we knew them very well. However, from now on I sport a beret which is some consolation. This is about all that has happened lately so I will stop.

With love, Paul

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Letter dated July 14, 1917

Dear Mother- :

Am just in Paris for the day on a 24-hour permission which the section was lucky enough to get today and having a fine time.

I think we are going back into action again with our new division the first part of the next week, which I hope comes up to the last place for interest and excitement.

Am enclosing a picture, the only one I can seem to discover of the profligate son on the field of battle. I hope you get it tho it may not arrive. If I get one in which you can see something of me beside a blotch I will send it Will write more when I get back to the contonment again. With love, Paul

P.S. Found better picture sending it instead. The little valley of which I told you is directly behind me underneath. (?)

Letter dated July 2, 1917

Dear Mother –

Our new position here is all that I imagined it would be in the way of being lively. However, it is wonderfully interesting, and there is a great deal more to see and watch than our last action. I don’t believe the military authorities would mind my telling you that we are on the line between Rheims and Soissons near Fismes. This is a particularly interesting sector just now since the Germans are trying to get back some of the ground that the French have taken away from them and there is something doing all the time. The last two days I have been at the advance post and worked to death tho it was all very much worth while. Today, however, I am on rear evacuation. The other cars bring down the “blesses” from the “poste de secours” and we carry them from here (a large field hospital) to the base hospital several miles back. This kind of work is rather lazy as we only get a few calls during the day and the rest of the time sit around and watch what is going on. There is enough of that tho to keep very well amused mostly in the matter of aerial work. A Bosche “avion” starts over the French lines to see what is going on and the French shoot at it with shrapnel. Then a Frenchman does the same thing and the Germans take a few cracks at him. The French shrapnel makes white smoke and the German, black, so you can always tell who is receiving the attention. Sometimes when there are as many as twenty “avions” of the two sides up at once the whole sky is a mixture of black and white balls of smoke that look mostly like cotton at first and then break up after a few minutes and drift off. You wonder why they don’t hit the wrong avion but as a matter of fact they never seem to hit any and each one is shot at an unbelievable amount of times. I have watched this business now for every day for over a month and haven’t seen a single avion brought down.

Then, if you want and feel slightly cold blooded, you can watch the doctors fix up the wounded. It is perfectly marvelous the things they do and the speed. If I ever get hurt I pray heaven it will be in France with one of the doctors who has had war experience to fix me up. I keep wondering at myself to see how used I have gotten to things. I can now sit around and eat crackers while watching things that a while ago would have turned me inside out completely.

When I was just writing this last we had a call and had quite a long trip with six “blesses” to two rear hospitals. Now we are back and will probably have nothing to do until about eleven tonight when according to schedule there will be quite a number since usually they bring them down at night after dark and it does not get really dark until after ten.

I got a letter from you yesterday dated May 13. From what you said I evidently made quite a faux pas in clearing out when I did but “c’est la guerre” and unfortunately I am not a mind reader. Nevertheless I suppose it is all for the best, and as for my young heart being put permanently out of commission I imagine it will be quite intact when the next opportunity offers itself.

Who do you suppose have come to our section today? – Maurice - the dancer – Hill of Fair & Warmer (?) – and Mrs. Castle’s brother. All the boys have already named them the circus and are thinking up the most horrible terrifying lies possible to scare them with. Can you imagine Maurice slopping in mud to his knees, sleeping in a manure pile and handling very disagreeable fragments of things? I can’t.

The Bosche is certainly a very annoying sort of person. This afternoon he persistently shelled a hospital, smashed two of the tents all to flinders and wiped out two rows of beds. If ever I get a wounded one I certainly will give him the ride of his life. I am beginning to believe all the tales of barbarism I have heard. There isn’t a great deal more now to tell you but I will write you again soon. Best to every body home.

With love, Paul

Friday, March 21, 2008

Letter dated June 25, 1917

Dear Mother-:

Tomorrow we are going into action again in one of the busiest and hottest sectors on the line. I am very glad of it as this last week of “repos” has gotten to be quite a bore. However I may not get a chance to write again for some time so if you don’t hear from me don’t be worried. All your letters – four of them – came day before yesterday and it certainly was fine to hear from you and all the news from home.

If Elizabeth’s wedding comes off according to schedule get what you can together of what I am apt to acquire in the way of a birthday present and buy her some sort of a wedding present. It doesn’t have to be much as I intend to get her something else when I get where I can buy things again but that will not be until after the first of September at any rate and I would particularly hate to be among the missing at the showdown.

I wrote Nannoo (grandmother) a long letter a couple of days ago and hope she gets it all in good time. The way all your letters here pyramided and then arrived in a bunch was quite remarkable, and I certainly hope that mine do not do the same thing. I will write Carroll (brother) the first time I get a chance and have anything to say and will be always more than glad to hear from him.

The division to which we are attached cleared out this morning and we follow tomorrow. There are big rumors that the Germans are starting something and have to be discouraged. I hope we accomplish our ends and take the Bosches for a good loop but such things aren’t apt to happen much these days.

There is no more now.
With love, Paul

Letter dated June 22, 1917


Dear Nannoo

I have been rotten not to have written you before but now I will try to make this a good one and see if I can’t make up a little for lost time. As I suppose Mother and Father have told you we came out to the front about the first of June and have until the last week been on the steady go ever since. I wrote Papa all about that and told him that he should show you the letter but if he happens to forget it remind him of it.

It was all wonderfully interesting, dangerous enough to make it exciting and something doing all the time. Since then we have been resting and getting repaired generally and will probably go into action again the coming week as that is about when our division is due again to go to the trenches. During the action tho that is past, a lot of things occurred which were rather funny.

There are two classes of wounded: “assis” who are too badly off to walk, and “couches” who can’t even sit up. One day one of the boys was taking a load of assis down from the trenches and stopped in a village to fix his car for a moment. When he turned around all the assis were sitting drinking in a café nearby. Another time we were taking some couches down and a shell burst near the car. All the couches, mind you men even too badly hurt to sit up, opened the car and got out and ran to beat the band. A lot of things like that took place and I can’t begin to tell them all. One of the best was to see us all one time run for the same small hole in the ground at the first sign of a shell.

I stopped writing here yesterday because I had to go out and in the meantime have gotten some mail from home. Four letters from Mother all written a week apart. It seemed great to get some news but as the newest one was nearly a month old, it took some of the glamour away. I hope my letters are not as long in getting to America but I rather imagine they are as everything from out here is gone over with a fine tooth comb.

You should see the place we are in now. I think you have been near it, but I can’t tell you where it is. It is a hillside village piled up like a Maxfield Parrish picture and only slightly ruined. We are billeted in the top of a barn, a place that I doubt very much if we would think good enough for the dogs and yet consider ourselves very lucky. It has rained the last two days and outside is a complete sea of mud. Moreover French mud is like no other that I ever saw, much worse even than the Auburn variety which I am frank to admit is going some. One redeeming feature tho is the food which is wonderful. Much better in fact than you can get in Paris by paying for it. They seem to send everything possible to the armies and Mr. Harjes himself does quite a lot for this section. The water tho is not drinkable and I don’t believe that anyone has had a drink of plain water for weeks. A red wine called Pinard is issued to everyone in vast quantities and between that and coffee we manage to keep fairly well flooded.

I am actually growing fat and have never felt better in my life. I have no hollows in my cheeks and with the embryonic mustache which I am attempting have a distinctly stuffy and well fed look that I never remember before having noticed.

Mother tells me in all her letters to cable her. It can’t be done, but if anything happens to me the authorities will cable, so assure her that as long as she doesn’t hear from me by that source I am doing fine. Any kind of correspondence except writing is absolutely forbidden out here and even in Paris you have to get a special permit to send a cable. They are, you see, very afraid that any news should get out which would be at all undesirable to have loose and more so now than ever as America has entered the war. Some of the articles in papers from America that I have seen are positively funny they are so far off the actual facts.

I have just heard that we are going into action again on Tuesday a little farther north than before. I am very glad as this “repos” had gotten to be a fearful bore and although quiet and restful gets rather on one’s nerves. Moreover the sector to which we are going is reported to be very lively so I imagine there will be plenty to do. There isn’t a great deal more to tell you now unless I go into details about the surrounding country which you probably know by heart as it is typical of this part of France. Good bye With love Paul

Letter dated June 16, 1917


Dear Father-: This is what you might call an original unabridged edition. Things that I
couldn’t quite write to mother for fear that she might worry but things which I think you would be interested in and like to hear about.

We are just today finished with what you might call a very active two weeks and have gone on “repos” for two days to get rested and fix things up a little. As I told you, you remember we are attached now to the oldest of the sections and one which sees probably as much life as is going on. During the past two weeks our division, that is the division whose wounded we take care of was holding a particularly hot sector of the trenches and we consequently had our work cut out. Two of the men in the section were wounded and nine of the cars hit and there is some mention made of decorating the whole section for bravery. Just a few words as to what it was all like:

Our forward relief post at which there are the ten cars being used that day was in a little town which was a couple of miles behind the lines but which the Bosches seemed to take a particular delight in “strafing” with large shells at irregular intervals during the day and night. This however was comparatively tame as you could always hear them coming in time to get below ground . Usually, however, there was vastly more danger from four or five people trying to get thru the narrow door of the abri or dugout at one time than there could possibly be from the effect of the largest shell in existence.

Then our posts of secours, as they call the places to which the men are carried for us to come and get. There were three of them practically in the trenches, little or big underground caves into which we scuttled after leaving our cars behind a nearby bank or wall. All the roads leading to these posts were under fire pretty continuously and getting thru was a game the thrills in which you can’t imagine. One of them the Bosche could see perfectly and the other two he just kept shooting at for fun and very well, naturally since he had just left that part of the country two weeks before. By the end of the time we were so blasé to shells that unless they were particularly near no one even noticed them.

As you can well imagine, tho, there were a great many very disagreeable features as well as the thrills and the fun of driving. Sitting practically alone in a very wet cellar just before dawn with the smell of the old dead not buried and the new blood of the freshly killed and wounded nearly suffocating you isn’t particularly pleasant. Add to that a noise so loud, of both the shells coming in and going out, that you have to shout to be heard across the room, and you have the idea of the way we spent a good deal of the time. Other times were once in a while quite the opposite but these were short, when there was nothing to do and things were quiet for a while. Then we sat around on top of the dugout and watched aeroplanes fight or walked around in the wreckage hunting for relics. I have found a couple of good ones that I hope to bring home some day. I forgot to tell you that the first place we tried to camp the German avions chased us out of having raided that locality two evenings in succession and made it decidedly unpleasant.

Now we have moved back as I said before for a slight rest. As far as I can see, it is going to be a fearful bore. Nothing doing but to but to sit around all day and fix automobiles and write and talk. I drive a large Packard and as yet have had no trouble.

This is all now. Nannoo (Paul’s grandmother) would probably be interested in this letter and mother, if you think she would not worry. I am a little afraid but use your judgment. Love to everybody and best wishes to Day’s birthday. Paul

Letter dated June 14, 1917


We are practically finished a rather strenuous two weeks and may go back any day for a rest as our division has already started to leave the trenches. Feeling fine and having wonderful time.

Letter dated June 9, 1917

Dear Mother -: I am by now becoming quite accustomed to a new mode of life which for utter strangeness has anything you ever dreamed of quite lashed to the mast. To begin with the meals – Breakfast at 9, lunch at 12 and dinner at 6:30 p.m. usually – All very good. Then we work driving for 24 hours. Then,10 hours to clean up the car, ourselves, etc., and sleep the rest of the time. At home we live in the rose garden of a chateau –very fine. Out, on duty, our posts are in a cellar in what is left of a little town of which there is no whole house and most of them mere piles of wreckage. The whole is pervaded by the odor of very hastily buried Germans. This is not so fine. Another post is in a cave in a hillside. The cave might be the setting of a war play. It is very comfortable but very noisy. The third is another cave. I am just now in the base post about a mile back waiting for a call to go and relieve the cars at the three front posts. They have moved a battery of heavy guns in across the street and I jump a foot every time they shoot. A few moments ago a Bosche avion sailed over and was chased out by shrapnel. It was a beautiful piece of work on the B’s part and he may have seen the battery. If so, we will retire to the cellar and the battery will move out. I have gotten so that I can sleep perfectly with a noise going on that would absolutely wake the dead. It is so loud sometimes that candle flames jump and flicker in the cellar. You have no idea what a weird sound shells going overhead make. It is something between a hiss, a shriek and a siren. Very interesting sometimes but at dawn the most mournful thing you ever listened to. I have just gotten the news of the English success at Ypres and everybody is very excited. There is going to be an attack here soon I am sure for the preparation being made is tremendous.

I forgot to tell you that Bill McCarthy (from Auburn, NY – Ed.) is in the section. We found him here when we arrived. Strange, out of 25 sections, isn’t it? Give Day (his younger sister –Ed) my best wishes for her birthday and tell her I have something for her. This is all now.Will write more soon. With love, Paul

Letter dated June 5, 1917

Dear Mother- You must be surprised to be having all these letters from me but just now I am in a very tiresome wait and must do something. We-the other boy on the car (ambulance)- and I are waiting in an “abri” (shelter) for “blesses” (wounded) One has come in but in the last hour all the others brought along have been dead and hence there is nothing to do but wait in this hole in the ground. Shells are going over from both sides and making a huge riot but as you can imagine crowded into a hole with a dozen “brancardiers” (stretcher bearers) on a very hot day isn’t thrilling. It doesn’t seem real at all to that this is war. The dead are so very dead – The shells sort of impersonal and everything happens so quick. This post is in a ruined town like the pictures in the papers but more ruined than any I ever saw in those and beside that becoming worse all the time. Will write you more later. The blesse (wounded) has not arrived but I am going to search food. Love, Paul

Letter dated June 3, 1917

Dear Mother – Your letter telling me to cable came tome here and I am very sorry but I might as well try for the moon as to try to send you any word quicker than a letter. We came out to the front lately and have certainly had a lively time since. The first place they sent us to the section had left and it took two days to find it. Then when we did it was in the midst of very lively action and still is. We traveled over most of France looking for it which was very interesting. We have already moved once since the Bosche avions (German aircraft –Ed) chased us from our first site. Our job is now to live a mile or two behind the lines and to up each, each of us, for a day (24 hours) at a time to evacuate the wounded to a hospital. It is certainly thrilling work and all that I hoped for. I go out again in the morning. We are now living at the place I am going to live when I become a millionaire – Remind me to tell you of it some other time. This is not very much of a letter but all I can say now.

Love to every body and the dogs. Paul

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Letter dated May 22, 1917

Dear Mother-:

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

Letter dated May 17, 1917


Dear Mother -

My letter from the steamer told you little or nothing but as a matter of fact that was typical of the voyage for little or nothing went on at all until the last two days. The trip was very smooth all the way for which I was duly thankful and the weather quite good tho not very bright. On next to the last day out, that is on Sunday we saw a convoy of food ships guarded by destroyers that rather gave everybody a little confidence considering the fact that we were then in the war zone and apt to be torpedoed. On Monday morning we got to the mouth of the river, however, without even having seen a submarine. We missed the tide in the river, however, and did not get to Bordeaux until early the next morning. My impressions of that city I don’t believe will go for a great deal since in the three hours we spent there before the train left, about all I saw was a vast amount of dogs of an unknown variety, a multitude of fat women riding behind tiny donkeys, and more cafes than I ever knew existed. There were also some German prisoners going thru which we got a very good look at and who I am frank to admit look big, healthy and happy.

The ride up (to Paris) was perfectly beautiful, the weather here being about like Auburn at the first of June. The country was wonderfully fresh looking and everything greener than I ever remember seeing before. The ride was thru the chateau country and although there weren’t very many of those architectural triumphs directly on the track we did get a fair enough view of a few.

The people who are running the ambulance affair didn’t seem to favor our staying with Hunt’s relatives as there is quite a little to do before we go out and that date is very indefinite. They have, however, put us up very comfortably. We live in the hotel about which you can read all over this paper and envelope, etc. and really as a matter of fact the location is wonderful. We eat at another hotel about a mile away up the “Cours de la reine” which is very fair indeed and where we get very good food, some things of course limited because of war but a great deal more than I expected. We got here about nine o’clock in the evening and the next day saw about our uniforms and signed millions of papers of every variety imaginable. I remember writing your maiden name on several of them and how many times I had been married, etc., etc.

Today we have seen about our baggage and done some more papers.

Just how long we will be in Paris is a question but it will probably be two weeks or so as it takes that long to organize the new section, get uniforms, etc. The uniforms, by the way, are the sportiest things you can imagine. They are English officers rigs all tailor made and wonderfully good looking. I am rather glad we are going to be here as long as we are for there is so much I want to see and do. Tomorrow I am going to buy a guide book and map and systematically start improving my mind in my leisure time. Today, I discovered too late, is a holiday.

With love,


Letter dated May 9, 1917


Dear Mother-

This will I am afraid be but just a line since there is really nothing that goes on to write you about. As you know well enough we got off Saturday. That day and Sunday I was very sick. The wind blew like blazes and the old boat just jumped all over the place. On Monday, however, I took a new lease on life and since then have been doing more than justice to all the meals that are put forward. The crowd on board are not particularly interesting. The fact is they are quite the opposite. There are about 90 missionaries, nearly that many ambulance drivers (of whom P.W.H. was one –Ed.) and about a dozen uninteresting women. With one exception: the actress of the Theatre Francaise, who as luck would have it, is as yet the only one that I have not met. Hunt and Stanley (Hunt Talmage from Princeton and Stanley Metcalf, a lifelong friend from Auburn who had been a Yale undergraduate and had also joined the ambulance service.-Ed.) and I do practically nothing all day but attend meals and sit around on deck reading. The meals are very good but even at that do not furnish the necessary amusement. I shall be frankly glad when we arrive since as you can well imagine all this is not too thrilling.

We seem from the map to be taking a rather southerly route, that is straight across instead of going any north(ward) and it certainly is an unfrequented one for as yet we have seen only three ships in the far distance, a whale and a school of porpoises. I got my inoculation Monday and will get the other before I get off the boat as the Doc says it is all right and none of them seem to have any visible effect. According to all the hot dope if we are not sunk we will land on Monday in time to catch the train for Paris that night. This is all the news and practically everything that as happened since we started so you can see that at its best it has been a very uneventful voyage up to the present. My French is improving wonderfully thru necessity tho it mostly consists of the sign language as none of the servants on board speaks a word of English.

This is about all now – if anything turns up I will write you some more but absolute placidity seems to characterize us all now more clearly than anything else.

With love,


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Letter dated April 17, 1917


Dear Mother -

I am as usual very sorry not to have written before but this time I have the excuse of really having been doing something worthwhile. In fact I have been playing a large game and seem to have won. You remember I perhaps have told you about Hunt Talmage, the possessor of two million in his own. He is going abroad to work in the Harjes Ambulance
and wants me to come along. I first went and saw the Dean who said much to my surprise that it was perfectly fine that I was going and of course I could have my diploma. Then I saw the military authorities at Governors Island who said that it was a good thing to go over especially to learn the ways of the country and I would be worth much more to my own country when the time came for us to send troops over there and incidentally could get a higher commission.

Moreover, the whole business is paid for with the exception of spending money. That is, passage over and back, subsistence while at work, board and room while on furlough in Paris, uniform, all these free. Added to these advantages Hunt’s aunt is a countess at whose chateau we are going to live before we begin work. The danger is absolutely nil as not one person has been killed in the history of this unit. The whole thing is endowed by J.P. Morgan and Harjes, his Paris agent who takes an active and personal interest in the work. (The Morgan bank, through its Paris office, Morgan Harjes, sponsored and financed a volunteer ambulance service serving the French Army in the period before the United States entered the war. Many young men from American colleges served in this and other similar ambulance services in the same period. –Ed.) This I know from Bill Armour who just came back and had the most wonderful time of his life. Mother, it is a chance that I will never get again and like which there will never be another and which, unless you are more averse than words can express, and will not help me at all, I am going to take.

Please don’t delay answering this immediately as I want to sail if possible with several more boys from here who are going to Salonika on May 5. That necessitates some quick work. The stay is for six months which will bring me home just before Christmas. Please, mother, don’t stand in the way on this as I am more keen about it than I ever have been about anything and you can manage it for me very easily by a few carefully chosen, rightly directed words. It will not be expensive at all (not nearly so much so as having me at home) and it is something that can’t be missed. Moreover, I don’t think I could stand staying here much longer. Bill Hump (Bill Humphreys, from Pittsburgh, was a close friend, college roommate and hockey teammate through school and college years.-Ed) has finally left to join the aviation corps and besides being alone in my house there are only three of us out of 22 at the club.

I am enclosing a form for a birth affidavit which I have to have as soon as possible to get my passport – fill it out and send it back quickly.

Good bye now.