Somewhere In France, 5/26/1918

Somewhere in France

May 26, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

We are finally landed on French soil. After getting into the harbor we stayed on board a couple of days while the other boats were being unloaded. We came off yesterday afternoon and hiked up here to a camp outside of the town. We didn’t go through the city itself but went around the edge of it. The boys were delighted with the pretty country and the quaint houses. The houses and trees and flowers are all different from what they have been used to in the States and everything is new and interesting to them. Almost every second house has a sign on it “Commerce de Vins”. The soldiers are allowed to have light wines and beer so the stores do a good business. Prices have gone up a great deal since the American soldiers came. The French Soldier makes five cents a day and of course can’t spend much out of that. The Yankees are willing to pay any price for what they want so prices go up. That makes it hard on the people who live here.

We are only temporarily located at this camp. The men come here from the ships and stay three or four days and then go on to other destinations. After you are here two or three days you have your turn at taking a bath. The last week on the boat we kept our clothes on all the time so we are about ready for a little scrub. The camp is very old. I doubt whether it has been much in use by the French of late. The barracks are of stone and the whole camp has a high stone wall around it. It is reported that it was built in Napoleon’s time and I suspect that is true. There are no lights in the barracks and the water system is crude and inadequate.

There are no French men of military age to be seen, just boys and older men. Even the young women seem to be scarce. Perhaps they go to the cities to work in factories and business houses. The women seem to run the farms and the taverns. The farms are not big, just a little patch and a cow or two.

The people out here in the country have odd costumes. Nearly everybody wears black, those who wear colors look to be fairly well to do. The men wear real broad brimmed hats, seemingly of plush. They have silk ribbon bands on them which dangle down several inches over the ends of the hat. Their pants are big and roomy and their coats very short and tight. The women’s dresses are very plain, rather full skirts and close fitting above the waist. Today being Sunday they all had on little white caps. The people here are Bretons, related by race more to the Welsh and Irish than to the French. They seem rugged, perhaps the people in town are different. The soldiers are common to them around here so they don’t pay much attention to them.

The first letter I wrote wasn’t sent away for some time so I put the second one in with it. I don’t expect that I will receive any mail for a long time. We will probably be on the move for some time and it may be hard for mail to find us.

We are all well and in the best of spirits and I hope the same is true of you.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Somewhere At Sea, 5/21/1918

800px-Hapag_Vaterland

SS Leviathan (Formerly SS Vaterland)

At Sea,

May 21, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

I suppose that it will take this letter three or four weeks to get to you and before then you will have received the two postal cards that I mailed at the dock. They were to be held until our ship arrived on this side and then mailed. Let me know if you received them and when.

We are still at sea and I don’t know when we will land but in order to get word to you as soon as possible I am writing this now as there may not be time after we get off the boat. The voyage has not been a hard one. It has been rather warm all along, overcoats having been used only occasionally at night. The sea has been remarkably calm. For six days there was hardly a ripple to be seen. Then for a couple of days it got a little rough but calmed down again and probably will remain so for the remainder of the trip.

So far I have managed to keep all of my meals with me. I haven’t been sick but there were one or two times when I felt a bit unsettled around the region of my stomach. A good many of the men have been sick nearly all the way and some have eaten almost nothing since they got on board. They get very plain food with very little variety and the kitchen and mess hall are stuffy and smelly as they always are on a boat, so that the men have very little appetite. They are all figuring on the big feed they are going to order in some restaurant when they land. They don’t seem to realize that what they can get in a French restaurant these days is very limited. I doubt whether the men will be allowed any time for wandering around. They are not recruits in a training camp anymore.

The sergeants were expectig to travel second cabin but were disappointed. There are a lot of officers on the boat and they completely filled the staterooms. However, we eat with the petty officers of the boat and have real good meals. The sailors have much better things to eat than the soldiers. We eat in a room which is away from the kitchen. We have porcelain dishes and eat all we want, and don’t have to wash our dishes after we eat. We have our bunks with the rest of the men in the hold. It is to be expected that as many bunks as possible would be crowded into as small a place as possible. They are arranged something like berths in a Pullman except that they are three deep instead of two, and from the floor you can touch the ceiling with your hand. The bunks are arranged in rows running lengthwise of the boat. Water is the most precious thing on the boat. It is hard to get any to drink and wash with and what we get is not very good.

I hope the package I sent home from Camp Merritt arrived in good shape. I had to do the best I could with what there was at hand. I have my violin and music with me. There is an order that musical instruments will not be taken but I decided to take a chance and walked right on the ship with my fiddle under my arm and nobody said a word. I have used it a few times on board. The YMCA has a little organ and in the evening we get it out on the deck and the men like to gather around and sing. I usually play a solo or two and someone sings, so we make up a little program. A couple of days ago Sgt. Fontaine and I played some numbers for the officers in their room. They have a piano in there. We got permission to go in there and practice and do so once in a while.

What we are allowed to write in our letters is not much. I could write nearly a book about the things we are not supposed to write about. I imagine that the letters we write now will be pretty strictly censored. After a while they may not be so strict. We will be allowed to write as often as we please, for the present, at least. Even though we write regularly the letters will probably arrive at irregular intervals. I will number my letters so that you will know whether you receive them all. If you number yours, too, I can keep track of them. The government discourages the sending of packages to the soldiers. There is so much of it to handle and the troops move around so much that a lot of the mail is never delivered. I understand that it is possible for the American soldiers to get almost anything they need from the army canteens.

I have been dabbling with French a little since I got on the boat. What I have learned in these few days is very little but I hope to learn more. Sgt. Fontaine speaks very good French and he has been helping several of us.

This letter will be mailed when we land and probably will go back to the states very quickly. We don’t know when we will get into port or even what port we are going to. It is practically certain that I won’t get to visit my grandparents because we are not going that way. We know that much and that is about all.

We don’t know when we will land but the rumors are that it will be in a couple of days. At any rate when you get this you will know that we are safe on French soil. So far we haven’t seen anything to scare us. We bombarded a whale yesterday and finished him up. The only excitement we have had.

I will write again as soon as we land and tell you more.

Love from

Joe

Evacuation Hospital No. 7, Am. Ex. Forces

Via New York

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Camp Merritt, New Jersey 5/8/1918

May 8, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

I was rather surprised to receive three letters from Mother this morning. One of them was due here a couple of days ago. It probably was delayed somewhere. Aunt Louise also favored me with a letter. I am sorry that I will be unable to see her at all. I will not even get a chance to telephone her now.

We expect to leave here tonight. Our bags are packed and have gone ahead. We will leave about two or three in the morning and will board the boat at ten tomorrow morning. The boat is liable to leave any time in the next two or three days. We found from some sailors we met in New York that the Vaterland is in port and is due to sail about Friday. We may be fortunate enough to get her. She is the largest boat in the transport service. There are a lot of soldiers going from here so I imagine we will need a good sized boat.

Some of the boys seem to be a bit blue about going. When it comes right down to it, it is not very easy, I will admit, but I know that it is harder for those at home than it is for us. I don’t think any of the men are afraid for anything that might happen to them, it is just the thoughts of leaving everybody and causing them the worry and pain that we know it does. Some men have nobody that they are leaving and some have drifted away from their home folks, so for them it is a comparatively easy matter.

If the weather stays like this for a couple of weeks we will have a fine voyage. We don’t know where or how we are going. We are taking enough rations for five weeks but that is just a precaution. When we get on the boat we will address postal cards and they will be forwarded to you as soon as the gov’t gets word by cable that our boat has arrived.

As I told you before, don’t worry about me. As long as you don’t hear from me you will know that I am all right. When any accident happens the gov’t gets word to the relatives immediately. Travel by sea is perfectly safe now. Possibly more so than in peace time.

Received the magazine today and am glad to have that to read on the trip. We can carry nothing of that kind with us. All we have with us is what we can carry in our little ration bags, our big barrack bags go in the hold and we don’t get those until we are located on the other side.

I will send my extra stuff home tonight. When I packed today I cleaned house and found a few things I will not need for a little while. I am still not sure about my violin. I will find out at the embarkation headquarters.

Well, I haven’t very much to say. I hope that it will not be so very long before we can be together again. I hope that when I come back I will find you both well and I hope that all goes well with you while I am away. I have no fears for myself at all and want you to feel the same way about it.

I must close now, sending lots of love to both of you.

Your son,

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Camp Merritt, New Jersey 5/7/1918

May 7, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

I am putting on a little style today, writing in real fussy paper and with pen and ink. This is the paper that is given out at the camp reading room. The place is just as nice and neat as the paper is. This is a stub pen, though, and I can hardly write with it.

I see by the New York papers that you have had it warm in Chicago, too. It has been really hot here and it is so damp that we feel it more than we used to at Ft. Riley. I don’t know what 110 would be like here. We had it that hot in Ft. Riley last summer.

Today the Company let some men go to New York again so it looks as though we would not go before Thursday as they will not be back till tomorrow. A regiment of Engineers went out last night, or this morning rather. Troops always leave here during the night. I don’t know why they do because everybody knows they are going a day or so before, at least we did with these men.

A new lot of cavalrymen came in yesterday, they are old timers having served on the [Mexican] Border a couple of years. Their principal occupation seems to be shooting craps. Gambling is prohibited in the army but their officers don’t seem to care. We have always been strict about that in our company but I have heard the last couple of days that some of the boys are playing on the quiet. If they would play for small amounts it would be all right but some men lose all thier pay as soon as they get it.

Received a letter from Father this morning, also a dues book. I think I can keep track of my dues all right. I would have sent enough to pay up in advance but I didn’t know when we would get paid again and I wanted some money to spend on the trip if the occasion arose. I understand that sometimes the men don’t get paid for a couple of months after they get on the other side. I don’t know what causes the delay. Maybe the U-boats sink a boat full of money once in awhile. That is possible of course. When the war is over the deep-sea divers ought to be in great demand. There will be a lot of stuff to bring up from the bottom of the sea.

I am rather surprised at John’s going into the Navy. He will learn how to scrub decks now. They have to work pretty hard. There are always lots of sailors in New York, more than there are soldiers. There are so many ships going in and out and as soon as a ship lands the sailors are off for a day or two. The day we were in we saw a lot of them and half of them were drunk. It seems easy for them to get booze although there is a law against providing soldiers or sailors with liquor.

I haven’t the address of Aunt Louise or of the Kessler’s so I haven’t written them. I could call them up and probably will if we have to go before I write them. I haven’t kept my addresses separately and I must have destroyed the letter that had those in.

I don’t think we are more than 75 miles from Philadelphia. If I had my Betsy I could drive down some time if I had time. This is almost a suburb of New York and the towns are so close together that you go from one town into another without noticing the difference.

There isn’t anything that you can send me that I am in need of. We can buy nearly everything at the canteen here at prices less than retail. Will write you again tomorrow. Have written you every day since I came except the day I was in New York. This ought to be the sixth letter.

Love from

Joe

Camp Merritt, New Jersey

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Camp Merritt, New Jersey 5/5/1918

camp-merritt-looking-south

May 5, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

This is Sunday and although Sunday is usually a quiet day this has been a fairly busy one for me. Last night I went over to the theatre and introduced myself to the musicians. Two or three of them are civilians from New York, the rest are soldiers who happen to be here. They asked me to come down and play with them while I am here so this afternoon I played for the show. It was by a company now in New York. “The Little Teacher” with some girl named Ryan as the star. It was a good show. We played between the acts as there was no music in the play. Tonight there is to be a musical comedy. I don’t know what it is. It will be rather hard to play the show without any rehearsal but that is what we have to do. The orchestra is pretty fair but rather weak on violins.

I enjoy playing again as it has been a long time since I did anything of that sort. I think the theatrical companies give these performances voluntarily for the soldiers. It is quite an opportunity to be able to hear and see all these things.

We still don’t know anything about our leaving. The company is still issuing passes so we probably will be here a few days yet. Men are continually coming in and going out. A lot of them have gone since we came and as many more have come in to take their places.

I haven’t found out definitely whether I can take my violin along or not. I have asked but haven’t been told which it will be. I must go to the “job” now as it begins at 7:20. I suppose I will be having a letter soon. So far I haven’t had any mail amongst what was forwarded from Ft. Riley.

Love from

Joe

© Copyright 2014 by Alice Kitchin Enichen, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Soldier’s Mail for May, 1918

May, 1918: Toul (Boucq) Sector

The La Reine (Boucq) Sector (also known as the Toul Sector) was the southeastern aspect of the St. Mihiel salient which was a bulge in the Allied lines remaining from the original German advance in 1914. This salient continued to threaten Verdun and Toul along with the entire right side of the Allied front (See detailed maps of this salient in the “Map Room”). The principle feature of the terrain in this sector was a ridge east to west from Flirey to Apremont with a highway running along it. The front line was anchored on the towns of Seicheprey and Xivray-et-Marvoisin, continuing into Bois Brule where it linked up with lines held by the French. The Germans had the tactical advantage of both observation and attack as the Allied front could be penetrated through several shallow ravines. In addition, the Allied trenches were in very poor condition and had drainage problems. The entire length of the La Reine Sector front was 18 kilometers and this was the first time an entire sector was completely entrusted to an American division.

During the month of May, the sector was enlarged on the right side to include Jury Wood and Hazelle Wood near Flirey. Relief of front line battalions occurred every fifth day when the men would be moved to rest billets in the rear where baths and steam delousing stations were available.

On May 10, at 0115 hours in a heavy fog, the Germans detonated 1,141 gas projector bombs containing over 20 tons of phosgene on the south slope of Hill #322, Bois de Apremont, St. Agnant and the surrounding trenchworks which were occupied by the 103rd Infantry. Additional incoming gas, trench mortar and high explosive fire was taken by the 103rd at 0525. A total of 33 men were killed, 12 wounded and 162 hospitalized due to gas from the night’s work. The 103rd Regimental HQ was relocated to Laigne from May 22-27 and then to Royaumeix.

Read about the Toul (Boucq) Sector here. See original film of the steam disinfection process for uniforms here. Also, read Sam’s May correspondence from the Toul Sector as he continues to live under fire in the trenches.

The Soldier’s Mail correspondence is published here according to the sequence in which it was written. Therefore, letters are organized in “reverse order” with the most recent at the top. To read them chronologically, readers should start at the bottom and work upwards.

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