Category: france

‘Wednesday, June 11 1919 – I used to kick abou…

‘Wednesday, June 11 1919 – I used
to kick about the rain – but thats gone – so I’ll have to complain of the heat
and it sure does get hot in this country. Worse than Missouri in August – We
were ordered  to this place [near Verdun]
to dig up bodies – at the rate we are getting this job done we will be over
here until about 1925. I’d like to get home to see everyone but there is no chance
– absolutely none – we can get away before July.’

Source: James
Robert Davis, M.D., Medical Corps,  816th
Pioneer Infantry Division – Missouri Over

‘It was a very gruesome task, and many of these people who worked for the graves registration
service had no sense of smell or taste – From the film footage I’ve seen, on
the procedure of disinterment and the processing of remains, it seemed that
they all became an automatism and were just doing a job. They had to set their
emotions aside. How could one cope if you were emotionally involved with every
remain that you would have to process?’

Chester and
Gertrude at War: Evansville WW I soldier honored century later –  Courier &

Video showing WW1 US Contractors
and army personnel removing the American dead from battlefield graves and moving
them to larger national cemeteries, or on ships for repatriation to the United
States: Burying the
Dead – From the Civil War to WW1

WARNING: The videos published on these pages contain
graphic content and may be upsetting
to some people.

                  “Looking fro…


“Looking from our hospital grounds over the bay of
Brest towards AMERICA”

‘Brest, in fact, is a state of mind as much as a state of mud. Soldiers come to Brest, the embarkation-point,
with their minds eager for home; delays occur; officious officers issue and
countermand orders; the result is that the place is thronged with half-crazy
boys whose one thought is to get home – I never knew just how much I wanted to
get home until I reached Brest.’

The Literary
Digest, Volume 60 – Photo: 1919, American medics in
– Henry
Tracy Lilly World War I Scrapbooks, UNC Libraries




                                                        “Dashing in goggles”

Lee Byrd was a 23-year-old mechanic from Accomac, Virginia, who deployed in October 1918.
He wears a sleeveless leather vest over his uniform. And goggles, which is just
awesome. There’s also Byrd’s choice of props. He’s seated at a
table with two bottles of wine, looking suave and relaxed.

For most of African Americans this was their
first time out of their own communities. So they were going overseas, and this
exposure to French citizens and civilians renewed the sense of fighting for
equal rights in this country. He is so European looking that it’s clear that
he’s being exposed to something different culturally, and it’s something that
they brought back with them.’

Batson – exhibitions coordinator for the beautiful True Sons of Freedom
exhibit, Library of Virginia


                                                         “I get the blues once in a while”

‘Monday May 5 1919 – The dope is that we
will sail the 15th, but it will probably be
about the 30th, but anyway, I’ll be home the first of June sometime, about the
same time I went away. I get the blues once in a while sitting around like
this not doing a thing, and the weather is so nice it seems a shame to be
wasting time in this country.’

 In Le Mans, France, American soldier’s
letter home – History of 318 Field Hospital
Photo: spring 1919, Le Mans, American soldiers in a library, some of them looking
rather bored and pensive –The American Library in Paris Collection

                                   “Who even k…

                                   “Who even knew if there was still a road to Roubaix?”

‘The riders knew little of the permanent effects of the
war. Nine million had died and France lost more than any. But, as elsewhere,
news was scant. Who even knew if there was still a road to Roubaix? If Roubaix
was still there?

As they neared the north, the air began to reek of
broken drains, raw sewage and the stench of rotting cattle. Trees which had
begun to look forward to spring became instead blackened, ragged stumps, their
twisted branches pushed to the sky like the crippled arms of a dying man.
Everywhere was mud. Nobody knows who first described it as ‘hell’, but there
was no better word.’

In spring
, through terrible weather and ruins, cycle racing returned to Europe. Three hellish bike races took place
in devastated northern France and Belgium: the Tour of Flanders (”a brutal one-day bike race on jagged cobble roads”), the Paris-Roubaix (this wasn’t a race, but a pilgrimage – Henri Pelissier) and the Circuit of the
(”this race was a way of celebrating life, while keeping an eye on
death” – Jean-Louis Ezine)

Text & photo sources:

Riding in
the Zone Rouge: The Tour of the Battlefields 1919 – Cycling’s Toughest-Ever
Stage Race
–  Tom Isitt

1919, le tour renait de l’enfer

Riding in the Zone Rouge: The
story of cycling’s toughest ever stage race

of the North, Paris-Roubaix 1919


yet a land for tourists”

tours to the battlefields had begun as early as April 1919 and visitors, duly informed
by the Illustrated Michelin Guides to the Battlefields, travelled to view the
devastation for themselves; “the
ruined villages are as the shells and bombs left
them. Everywhere are branchless trees and stumps, shell craters roughly filled
in, trenches, barbed wire entanglements, and shelters for men and ammunition.
Thousands of shells, shell casings, rifles, gun-limbers, and machine-guns lie
scattered about. Corpses are occasionally seen.”

stray from the road invites trouble, since the paths are too often bestrewn with unexploded
shells and the battle zone is not
yet a land for tourists.’

After the Ruins: Restoring the Countryside of Northern France
after the Great War  
– Photo: 1919, Northern
France, American volunteers working with Anne Morgan touring the battlefields
and ruins on a day off – Réunion des
Musées Nationaux, Grand Palais.


                                                     April 1919, Laundry Day in France

“Sergeant Rowe acquired the laundry job here, and it nearly cost
him his good fellowship. “My laundry back?” – “My shirt is torn and
three buttons are missing!“ – “Where is my O. D. handkerchief?” – These
and a million other questions nearly changed Sergeant Rowe from a pleasant
noncom, into a dogged-faced grouch.”

WW1, US Army
life – Twelfth U.S. Infantry, 1798-1919 – Photo :
April 1919, in the Sarthe sector, France – Louis Le Meur et Philippe

Note: During Spring 1919, in
the Sarthe sector, located inland France, at the junction
of railroads leading to the ports of Brest,
St. Nazaire, and Bordeaux, the US troops were sent to camps or billeted in nearby villages. Before
sailing home, service records were checked, equipment was inspected, new
clothing and personal articles were issued as needed, medical
examinations were conducted, and the men were deloused. Texas Military Forces Museum



“I attended eleven o’clock mass at Notre Dame Cathedral”

“I was in Paris Easter Sunday, 1919, and, although
not a Catholic, I attended eleven o’clock mass at Notre Dame Cathedral.
It was packed with people. Practically
every Frenchman had lost either an arm or a
leg, or had been severely wounded.
Their chests were covered with medals. That afternoon I saw the gardens of the
Tuileries and visited Napoleon’s Tomb. The French certainly are past masters
of theatrical staging. And the sights that Easter Sunday afternoon — after the
armistice — were unforgettable.”

Hanson, American soldier in Paris. After the war, Hanson became
a famous landscape architect and real estate developer in Southern California – An Arcadian Landscape. The California Gardens of A.E. Hanson
– Photo:
1919, end of mass at Notre Dame de Paris, showing nurses and wounded decorated soldier(s) leaving
the cathedral – Gallica, France

“The sky seems lighter but we are not sure&hel…

“The sky seems lighter but we are not sure… Is morning here…? The whole world holds its breath to
hear the crimson Gallic rooster crow !”

May 1919, “To
France” by Ralph Chaplin – The home book of modern
verse: a selection from American and English poetry of the twentieth

Photos: WW1 French soldiers holding the precious French
rooster they found in the rubbles – La Contemporaine – Read about
the Gallic Rooster, a symbol of France. And here: Notre Dame Iconic Rooster Retrieved


                                                          “Friends of the Gargoyles”

The postcard vender
whose booth
is nearly at the foot of Notre Dame de Paris says
that before the war he sold many cards representing
Notre Dame either as a whole or in detail; but very few that showed pictures of
the gargoyles.

“Well, now,” he says, “I
have never enough, for all the American soldiers
come in and say to me—’Gargoyles?’ They are as interested in them as children,
and want to know where on the cathedral these
elephants and bears and crows are placed; then I show them a big photograph of
Notre Dame and they proceed to hunt the fantastic
beasts in all the corners of the
cornices and galleries where they lurk!”

The New France, Volume 3 – Photo: Spring
1919,  Happy American soldiers visiting Notre Dame de Paris – Gallica France