Soldier’s Mail for February, 1918-1919


“Observation Post” by William Barnes Wollen

February, 1918: Chemin des Dames Sector

By early February, 1918 the 26th “Yankee” Division had taken up front line positions reinforcing the depleted XI Corps of the French 6th Army on the Chemin des Dames front, north of Soissons and the Aisne River. The Chemin des Dames had been fought over since the beginning of the war and the rocky, wooded terrain favored the German defensive line. In addition, the Germans enjoyed almost total air superiority in this sector and frequently flew low over the roads and trenches to strafe them with machine gun bullets.

The 12 battalions of the “Yankee” Division were spread across a front of 30 kilometers. The 103rd Infantry held the front line between the ruined towns of Chavignon and Pinon. Regimental HQ was at Vaudesson with a support battalion located at St. Blaise Quarry/Nanteuil and a reserve battalion at Vregny.

As individual companies took over the French positions (by platoons of 20-40 men supported by 2 or more machine guns) in shallow, knee-deep trenches along the northern edge of the Chemin des Dames plateau,  the balance of their battalions remained sheltered in reserve inside limestone quarries and caves along the edge of the ridge. The entire terrain was covered with shell craters and sections of abandoned trenches from past engagements. The outposts were occupied by men whose mission was “warning and sacrifice:” If attacked, they were to fight to the last man and resist capture, which would buy time for the main line of resistance to make ready. No reinforcements would be coming.

Read about the Chemin des Dames Sector here. See original film of the 26th Division in the Chemin des Dames here. Also, read Sam’s February correspondence from the Chemin des Dames as he adjusts to life under fire in the trenches.

February, 1919: After the Armistice

In early February, 1919 the 26th Division had arrived in the vicinity of the embarkation area near Le Mans. Division HQ was opened at Ecommoy on February 4 with the 103rd Regimental HQ located at Laigne.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s February correspondence from Laigne, France here as he continues to struggle with the boredom of waiting and the concern that AEF combat divisions have not yet returned home and may instead be redeployed to Russia.

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.

Prum, Germany 1/26/1919


Prum, January 26, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I have received quite a little mail this week, our mail now having been a little more generous than usual. It still comes all mixed up. On one delivery I will get letters mailed a month or more apart. There is no way to solve those mysteries. Perhaps it is that some come by way of England and therefore take longer to get here. I told you of my receiving a letter from Joe Wright and a day or so I had one from Mrs. Hannah. I have also had a couple of letters from Mother, two from Father, two from Gladys, one from Miss Phipps and one from the Walkers in Cedar Rapids. I like to get lots of mail and I shall be able to do more writing myself now that I have some time to myself. I have made out a sort of schedule of letters to be written during the next couple of weeks and if I follow it out closely I ought to be about square with everybody by then.

There is nothing of interest going on here. The operating room is not very busy. We hardly ever have more than two operations a day and often not that many. There are four of us on duty here and when there isn’t much to do we take turns being off duty. At present I am making use of a little vacant room in the building to practice in but I am afraid that it is going to be used pretty soon and then I won’t have any place to go. The room where I am billeted has no light or heat and it is getting too cold to practice there. I am trying to get a better room but haven’t managed it yet.

We are still living in blind hopes of going home some time. There are always plenty of rumors of “inside dope” floating around but there are no real indications of our leaving very soon. We are all ready to go home. Some of the nurses want to stay but they are the only ones I know of. They get $70 a month and don’t have any expense so they don’t have anything to lose by staying over here. Their work is easy now and there are privates in the wards who do all the unpleasant work so they have it pretty nice.

I am sorry to hear of Mr. Rimpler’s death. I suppose the flu got him. He always seemed to be in good health. I am surprised at the news concerning Mr. Richardson. I hope he recovers but the newspapers didn’t say anything about his condition. He is a peculiar fellow so nervous and impulsive. I doubt whether the Miss Murdock incident had anything to do with him.

The package of handkerchiefs and Gladys’ picture has not come and the strings have never gotten here. I don’t know whether those things are allowed to be sent to us. Perhaps they never got started on the trip.

Love from


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

Prum, Germany 1/16/1919


Prum, January 16, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

I missed writing to you last Sunday because I was away. On Thursday I heard that one of our ambulances was going into Coblenz to get some new parts or repairs so I asked permission to go in which was granted. We left Friday morning about eight o’clock. The country around here is very hilly and we went up and down pretty much until we got to Cochen on the Mosel and then we went right along the Mosel River for about thirty miles into Coblenz. About ten o’clock the sun came out and we had a very nice day for the trip. The country around here is very beautiful, there are so many hills and little woods. In the summer time it must be much prettier than it is now. The trip along the Mosel was fine. Just now all the rivers are very high owing to the unusually warm and rainy winter. We have had snow only two or three times and then just enough to show a little white on the ground. Christmas we had an inch or so which was the most we have had.

The ambulance came back from Coblenz Saturday morning but my pass was good until Monday so I stayed over. Uncle August lives in Metternich which is a suburb of Coblenz so the first thing I did was to look him up. He lives about fifteen minutes ride on the street car from the center of town. I didn’t have his address so I had to enquire and nobody seemed to know much about him or his whereabouts. Finally we found the mailman and he told me where to find him. He was surprised but very glad to see me. I had told him that I would try to visit him but would write him before hand but this time I couldn’t do it as I didn’t know that I could go until the night before. His wife was in town when I got there, the first time she has gone out, he says, in the year or more they have lived there. She came back soon and seemed a little embarrassed to have company come so unexpected, especially when there is so little food to be had and people don’t have much extra in the house. They were very nice indeed and killed the fatted calf for me but of course he isn’t so fat now as he used to be.

My aunt made potato and other kinds of pancakes and a couple of kinds of coffee cake and I enjoyed those things more than meat and the other things we have plenty of but the Germans don’t have. She is a very good cook and everything she made tasted good to me. Saturday was the day that meat was given out so they went to the butcher shop to get their weekly allowance of a quarter of a pound for each person. They told the butcher that their American nephew was visiting and they would like a little extra so he let them have about a pound and a half altogether.

None of the children were home. One son, I think, is still in the army and the other is in business in Dusseldorf. The daughter is married and lives somewhere quite a ways off. Uncle August has the little girl from one of the sons, the one that is still in the army. The mother is working and has three other children so the Bickels are keeping this one. She is six years old and they have had her over four years, ever since the war began.

They have a very nice little house there in Metternich. It is not very fancy or elaborate but it is kept up very nicely. There is a little bit of ground around it on which are fruit trees and currant bushes. This last summer they made enough from the fruit and currants they sold to pay their years rent. They have a little garden and a few chickens so they have a little food supply of their own in addition to what they can get elsewhere. They are right on the edge of the city so they can go to the farmers and get things and of course they can afford to pay whatever the price is. They are pretty comfortably fixed, financially and have property in several places. Things are very uncertain in Germany now and nobody knows just where he stands. With the riots and revolutions Germany is about as badly off as Russia.

I bought a little new music in Coblenz so I have some things to work on. Miss Schwarz also borrowed some music from her teacher so we are busy practicing on those.

The town of Coblenz has been almost completely taken over by the Americans. Their government buildings are used for our army headquarters, the hotels are taken for our officers and men. The big Fest Halle is run by the YMCA and they have concerts, movies, boxing or dancing every night of the week. We are allowed to go there on one day passes and the town is just filled with our men. They get along well with the Germans wherever they go and the people are very glad that they have them instead of the French or English.

I got a few films in Coblenz to fit my camera so I may be able to get a shot or two now but it is so rainy and dark that it is impossible to do very much. The German films are much slower than the American and don’t work as well with our cheap lenses. I took a couple of the Bickel family which I have not had developed yet.

I have lost my home here for a few days. The mother of the two milliners died this morning and as there will be other children coming here for the funeral they will need all their rooms. I have a little room in the hospital where I practice and I can fix up a bed in there for awhile.

My Christmas package came a week or so ago. It didn’t get here on schedule time but perhaps it is just as well as we had so much cake and candy around Christmas time that it was enjoyed all the more for coming at a time when there wasn’t so much sweet stuff around. The cake was in perfectly good condition and was mighty fine cake. There wasn’t enough to pass it around so I ate it all myself. It makes one feel a bit queer to eat something made in his own kitchen at home and by loving hands.

The razor blades will afford me a good deal of comfort. I haven’t been able to get any Gen blades over here at all. Toilet things are pretty scarce. A while ago I thought I wasn’t ever going to get anything to brush my teeth with but I have bought some paste here in Germany and one day the YMCA had some French paste that was a little better so I laid in a little. We can’t buy soap but there is always plenty around the hospital and those of us that work here can easily get some when we need it.

I have two American dollars to put in the billfold Gladys sent me. All the rest of my money is French and German and doesn’t fit. I have a pocket book which fits the European money. All the money over here is paper. There are paper bills as low as twenty-five pfennigs and for smaller change we use postage stamps.

I shall write to Mrs. Roberts and Mrs. Ballam and thank them for the candy. The other things haven’t come yet and I haven’t yet received the strings. -I am afraid that they are lost by this time. I couldn’t get any good strings in Coblenz and I am just about out, and especially need As and Gs. I am sure that if a couple were sent in a letter, so they wouldn’t bulge out too much, that they would get here.

I have had a couple of surprises this week. A couple of nights ago the man in charge of the mail said there was a Christmas package for me. I looked it over and couldn’t recognize the handwriting and finally I found the address in the corner. It was from Mrs. Hannah, in Altrincham, England. I am not sure of the names of all my English relatives but I think she must be my Aunt Sarah Ann. I remember hearing of Bob Hannah but I am not certain which aunt it is that married him. I shall acknowledge the package and say “Dear Aunt” without mentioning any names so I won’t make any bad blunders. The box contained half a dozen little mince pies or tarts as we call them and some almonds. Today I had a letter from my cousin Joe Wright who is a sergeant in Royal Engineers in France. If I remember right he is a brother to Isabella and is a couple of years younger than I.

There is just a little possibility of my going to Coblenz to do a little playing for the YMCA. I don’t know whether anything will come of it or not so I am not laying any plans. I am having a good time here and don’t care very much. Last night I had a fine supper of roast chicken, brussels sprouts, potatoes, apples and other things.

I am playing quite a little and have some time to practice so I am pretty well satisfied here except that I am so sick of the hospital and operating room work. It just seems like filling in the time until we go home and it looks as though that would not be for some time.

Love from


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

Prum, Germany 1/3/1919


Prum, January 3, 1919

Dear Mother and Father:

A couple of days ago I sent you Uncle August’s letter saying that he was coming to see me. He arrived on scheduled time and we have been having a good visit. He doesn’t know any English and I know very little German but we have managed pretty well. He had an operation on his stomach a few weeks ago which has cured him of trouble he has had for many years. He is in good health and good spirits. He is very active and energetic and seems more like 45 than 60.

Last night we visited at the Schwarz’s and across the street with the young people, Elshorst. They are all very wealthy and pretty proud like all old well-to-do families are over here. They invited us out and were very nice but I don’t think Uncle August cared much about it. We were invited to dinner today at another house just beyond the town limits and I didn’t know until too late that I had to have a pass to get there so we couldn’t go. He seemed to be glad of it.

I am going to try to get a pass to visit him at Metternich for a day or two. Everything seems to be well with him. One son was lost in the war, the others are in business and the daughter is married. He says that things have turned out for Germany just as he foresaw them. When he wrote to Mother he had to write things that would pass the censor while he really thought very different.

The food situation hit them pretty hard and I think that had a great deal to do with his stomach trouble. He went back at two this afternoon. I wanted him to stay longer but there isn’t anything to do here and we couldn’t talk enough to fill up another day with it.

I enclose a letter which he wrote. I was very happy to have him here and hope I can get to see him again before we go home, whenever that may be.

Love from


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

Soldier’s Mail for January, 1918-1919

January, 1918: Neufchateau Training Area

In January, 1918 the 26th “Yankee” Division concluded its preliminary training for the Western Front in the area of Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France. On January 23, word was suddenly received that the 26th Division had been assigned to reinforce the depleted XI Corps of the French 6th Army on the Chemin des Dames front, north of Soissons and the Aisne River. Hasty preparations were then made to complete the insurance forms, write home to loved ones and make ready for the move to the Front.

Read about the Neufchateau Training Area here. See original film of the 26th Division at Neufchateau here, including Sam himself standing Color Guard following Evening Parade [far right edge of frame at 06:19]. Also, read Sam’s January correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the winter continues, the men look forward to packages from home and Sam suddenly hears word that he and the boys are finally heading for the Front.

January, 1919: After the Armistice

On January 8, 1919 orders were received for the 26th Division to begin preparations for return to the United States. Movement orders were received on January 17, but the day prior to the 103rd Infantry’s scheduled departure, their commander Col. Percy W. Arnold was tragically killed in an accident. After burying their Colonel with full military honors and much sadness, by January 21 the troops were finally marching to the trains which carried them to the embarkation area near Le Mans.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s January correspondence from Sarrey, France here as he struggles with the weather, the boredom of waiting and the frustration of hearing that other units which only recently arrived in France have already returned home.

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.

Prum, Germany 12/31/1918


Prum, December 31, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

Just a few minutes ago Miss Schwartz came down to the hospital with the enclosed letter from Uncle August. I was indeed delighted to hear from him so soon and look forward to seeing him day after tomorrow.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve but we have no celebration scheduled so I shall probably go to bed early while you sit up and play cards with the Beethams, if you do as you usually do on New Year’s Eve.

Received the Tribune, concert program and letter from Mother yesterday. A few more packages came but mine hasn’t showed up yet. I have been visiting very regularly at the Schwartz’s and also with some young people who live across the street from them and they certainly have made me feel at home. We have been doing a lot of playing and have had very good times.

I am working this afternoon but we are not busy so I took time to write a note and send this on to you. Will write more later.

Love from


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

Prum Germany, 12/26/1918


December 26, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

Our Christmas excitement and celebrations are now over so I can settle down and write a letter. We had a very nice Christmas and there was enough going on all day to keep everybody from getting too homesick. At midnight Christmas Eve there was a church service. We didn’t have the choir out but I played the organ. Christmas morning we got up at six and went through the halls of the hospital singing Christmas carols. It was raining on the 24th but during the night it turned cold and when we got up there was an inch or so of snow on the ground, the first of the winter.

We had two morning services at the church, at 8 and 10. The church was decorated with greens and a large tree with the usual ornaments and candles. There were large congregations and the choir did very well for its first appearance.

We got back to the hospital just in time for dinner and we had a very fine one. We got some live pigs and killed them so we had roast fresh pork in addition to stewed chicken, potatoes, peas, bread and butter, mince pie and pudding. The Y.M.C.A. gave us cigarettes again, cookies and chocolate. In the afternoon we had the party which the nurses had prepared for us. They had a tree and had made fudge, cookies and chocolate. The Red Cross had donated stockings filled with nuts, candy, cigarettes, oranges and a handkerchief. The girls bought up a lot of little toys and odds and ends in the stores here and had a fish pond. Sgt. Hill and I played most of the afternoon and later we danced. It was a very fine party and we are deeply indebted to the nurses for all the pleasure we had. It was a busy day and when night came we were tired enough to go to bed early. We thought of home a good deal during the day and knew just about what would be going on at certain times.

Sunday evening after writing to you I went with Mr. Huber, our Y.M.C.A. man and visited at his house. He stays with people named Schwartz and they have a beautiful big home and an American Steinway grand piano. Their daughter has just come back from school in Munich and plays piano. We spent the evening playing and they were very nice to me indeed. I am invited out there this evening again. It is so long since I have been in a real home that I hardly know how to behave anymore. The daughter, Conny, studied English in school so we can understand each other pretty well. I had her write a letter to my Uncle August for me, telling him that I was here and anxious to hear how things were with them. She told him that for the present it would be impossible for me to go to Dusseldorf but I would like to have him visit me here if he could manage to come. He will answer through Miss Schwartz and we will probably hear from him in a few days.

We got some mail the night before Christmas but there was none for me. Only five or six of the men have received their packages. They will be coming along pretty soon I suppose. I am still looking for the package of strings. Our moving around has delayed our mail I suppose.

There can be no doubt but what this was the happiest Christmas the world has spent for some time. The German soldiers are nearly all at home and a good part of the French and English are too. Those of us that are here wish we were home again but on the whole we are pretty well satisfied that we are through with the fighting.

So far there is no indication of our going home very soon. It looks as though we are going to stay here awhile. My regards to everybody as usual.

Love from


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

Somewhere in France, 12/9/1918


December 9, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

Our long expected orders to move have come and we are now on the road. We don’t know exactly where we will finish up at but we are not headed homewards and we probably won’t be for several months. I don’t know whether the censorship has been lifted yet or not. I understand that it is supposed to be but we have had no orders to that effect so instead of saying where we are going I will let you use your imagination. I don’t think you will guess wrong.

Our mode of travel dosen’t promise to be very comfortable considering the fact that it is the middle of December. Through somebody’s error or neglect we haven’t enough cars so a lot of us instead of being able to ride in nice (?) comfortable (?) box cars have to ride on the top of flat cars between piles of stoves, tents, and lumber, any place where there is room to squeeze in. Another fellow and I were fortunate enough to make a place big enough for two of us and stretched a little canvas across the top so we have a little protection which means a lot in this miserable cold rainy weather.

There has been some hitch in our travel arrangements. We loaded Friday and left that afternoon. We rode a couple of hours, about fifteen miles and we have remained in the same spot for three days with no prospect of getting out. Fortunately we have quite a little food on the train and we have sent after more so we are not likely to starve even though we are marooned in a desert place.

Yesterday we sent up to the town where we used to get our mail and we got quite a little. My share of the lot was a letter from Mother, one from Father and one from Gladys. Gladys’ letter was written on the 14th of Nov. after the war finished. The other two were from the first week of Nov. It is funny how letters get all mixed up in coming over here.

I hope that Father’s hand is well again. My Betsy never balked on me that way. If she did it would lay me up for awhile. Mother’s letter had the list of addresses in. I doubt whether I will ever be able to see any of them now. Several of them are in base hospitals and they will not move up with us. I know only two or three on the list. I understand that aviation units will be among the first to go home so Gordon ought to be home soon.

We are glad to be getting out of this devastated country. I wonder how the people will treat us where we are going. I suppose they will have to be at least decent and they might even be friendly. If Mother wants to send me a letter addressed to Kr. Pr. street I may be able to forward it the remaining short distance.

My strings have not come yet but I look for them to show up sooner or later. The YMCA work must be all off by now and I don’t care so much now that we are likely to be pretty comfortable so I can have time and a place to practice.

I don’t know when this will get off to you. It generally takes a little time to make postal arrangements at a new place so if there is some delay you will understand it.

Love from


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

Somewhere in France, 12/1/1918


December 1, 1918

Dear Mother and Father:

This is the first of December and it really feels like it. When we got up this morning we found the ground perfectly white with frost and the puddles of water were frozen hard. It is the coldest day we have had but it is only a little below freezing. We would much rather have it this way than rainy and muddy as it has been ever since the middle of August or first of September.

We haven’t a thing to do but sit around and wait for our orders to move and for transportation. In order to keep us from having too much time on our hands we are fixing up this place as though we were going to be here a long time. We have a bath house up now. That fills a long felt want. Where we were before we had a fine bath house but here there was nothing. We have a make shift one up now which is better than none.

I am still in my little dugout. When we first settled here we didn’t expect to be here for over a few days as I didn’t bother fixing my place up. But when it began to look as if we were in for a little stay here I got a little stove and fixed the place up. The Germans left dozens of little stoves around here and the railroad is lined with big hills of coal of all kinds so we are not lacking for stoves and fuel to keep us warm. I found a kerosene lamp so I can read or write letters at night so I don’t have to go to bed at six every night now.

Several of the officers passing by have been curious to know what was down in here and have looked in. They think I have about the best place in camp. It’s nice and home like and I have gotten rather attached to it.

I had a letter from Alice Atkinson this week and also from Mrs. Davis. Alice was still at Dunkirk, Belgium and was expecting to move in another day or two. Mrs. Davis was in Cedar Rapids. Mother probably has heard from her lately and knows more about her than I do. I judge that she is doing very well in Denver. I suppose I will be having some letters from home by the next mail that comes in.

We tried to have something of a celebration on Thanksgiving. The day was not cold.

Love from


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

Soldier’s Mail for December, 1917-1918

December, 1917: Neufchateau Training Area

In December, 1917 the 26th “Yankee” Division continued its training for the Western Front in the area of Neufchateau in the Vosges region of northeastern France. Supervised by the French Army, the training process included constructing a full-sized system of fire, cover and support trenches large enough for a battalion front which were used for practical exercises in attack and defense. This network of training trenches was nicknamed the “Noncourt Sector” after the nearby village of Noncourt and was used by all units to develop their skills in trench warfare. The Noncourt Sector trench system was called the “Quartier de la Sapiniere” (Sapper’s Quarter), with the earthworks named in honor of the New England troops: “Trenche de Boston” (front line of observation), “Trenche de Newport” (line of resistance), and “Trenche de New Haven” (support line).

Gas training also began on December 10 after the arrival of a shipment of 25,000 small box respirators and 6,000 gas masks. Due to the limited number of qualified instructors available, the men were trained one battalion at a time in a very preliminary fashion. Sam also found his responsibilities increased with the assignment of Drum Major for the 103rd Infantry band, leading evening Parade around the Ville each night.

Read about the Neufchateau Training Area here. See original film of the 26th Division at Neufchateau here, including Sam himself standing Color Guard following Evening Parade [far right edge of frame at 06:19]. Also, read Sam’s December correspondence from Liffol-le-Grand as the winter deepens, the first casualties due to illness are buried and Sam prepares for war on the Western Front.

December, 1918: After the Armistice

After the cessation of hostilities following the Armistice, the 26th Division was in such bad shape due to battle casualties that it was sent to the rear rather than join the Army of Occupation in Germany. On the march, it passed through the area between Gondrecourt and Neufchateau, finally stopping on November 23 at Montigny-le-Roiwhere Division HQ was established. The 103rd Regimental HQ was located at Chauffort.

As the Armistice was not a formal peace treaty, the men continued to maintain their training although leaves were now permitted. Military censorship of the mail was lifted, enabling the troops to more clearly reveal the nature of their whereabouts and activities. Prisoners were returned by both sides in early December. At Christmas, the 26th Division was honored both as the Division with whom President Woodrow Wilson shared Christmas dinner, and that which furnished the Presidential Honor Guard at AEF General Headquarters in Chaumont.

Read about life After the Armistice here. Read Sam’s December correspondence here as he experiences his first furlough since arriving Over There, and also finds himself back in the hospital on Christmas Day to ensure he dosen’t fall prey to the Spanish Flu.

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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