Category: war is hell


                                                   “DON”T BE ANGRY, ONLY AMAZED”

“At Peronne the retreating Germans left a large wooden sign
on the ruins of the Hotel de Ville. The sign read: NICHT ARGERN, NUR WUNDERN (Don’t
be angry, only amazed) – After three months in Germany, I realize how
universally applicable the sign is. The whole character of the people,
their outlook on life, and their social relations, were so unlike anything I
had ever dreamed of, that I could not analyze the soul beneath it all. Before it one stands aghast, perplexed over the possibility of its
being real. Of this German soul, as well as of its works on the field of
battle, one can only say: ‘Nicht argern, nur wundern!’”

1919, The Atlantic Monthly – Photo: After WW1, Peronne, Northern France, “Don’t
be angry, only amazed” – This photo can be zoomed in here


“Gillette Face”

“Some of the places here
are in tough shape from artillery and wanton destruction, but as Sherman said, "War is Hell.”

Outside of having a clean face,
which is compulsory, or rather the “Gillette Face”, we all have them,
but I won’t vouch for the rest of myself…”

WW1, American soldier in France, The Gillette Blade – Photo: 1918
or 1919, France, American ambulance drivers, snapping a “selfie” after their
morning shave, Weber State University


                                                                Keep Off the Grass!

horrid old war, the things that have been happening
to us. The war seems to have put up a great big sign in love’s Garden of Eden, to make us keep off the grass. There, isn’t that a poetic idea? I’m
going to make a poem out of that, sometime.”

1919, Keep Off
the Grass
– Photo: 1919, Base Hospital No. 65, Kerhuon, Brittany, France,
American nurses
holding a sign reading “Keep Off the Grass” – State Archives of North

Dear Dad

American Lieutenant Thompson was an executive assistant to
the chief of the AGRS. His job became an intensely personal one when he sought out the body of his own brother,
Joseph. Thompson related to his father how his brother’s remains were
retrieved and described the personal effects that were found with him:

Dear Dad;

I intended to write mother, but I can’t tell
her as much as I can you. When you read this, you can explain to her
everything that you wish.

I have just taken Joe from his grave in the woods to a lot
in the national American Cemetery at Romagne, France. I had to supervise the
work myself. I made a personal inspection of the body, which I’d rather die than do, but which had to
be done. I’m going to be very plain in telling you, and know it might hurt, but
I know you will wish to know. I am awful glad that it was I
that could do it, and not any of you, as it would have drove any of you insane.

I found in his clothes: your last letter to
him, a pocket knife, fountain pen, his diary, testament, Book of Psalms, another
book with annotations of all mail received and sent, some small pictures he had
received from home, about 10 Francs in money, two watches, a few German coins, and German postcards.

His diary is very interesting, and his Psalm
book is wonderful, and shows that he died with a clean soul. .

The poor kid prayed for peace and God gave it to him, Dad. How thankful I am that God gave it instantly. He was prepared to die, and did not
suffer. I am happy over the thoughts of it, but God only knows how I miss him.
I loved him so much. Dad, these things are worth
the world to you. I shall preserve them carefully; although they are in
pretty bad shape, owing to the dampness of the ground and body. 

Joe now rests in the Romagne Cemetery, with 35,000
others. It is a beautiful place and our national Monument in France. I pray that
you will let his body lie there in peace. I know he would wish it.

As I stay over here longer, and see how well our cemeteries here will be taken care of, I am more convinced
that our Joe should remain here. I have had one experience of moving his body, and it was so hard that I wish now that
you all would allow it to remain here as a part of our country’s great monument
to the world war.

I know Ma will be pleased to have this stuff. To see his own writing will be more to her than his body. Please let it now Rest in Peace.

I feel now that I
have accomplished everything possible.

Write soon, Dad, and love to all.

Your Son, Art.’

May 1919, France – the entire letter here: Grace Under
Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War
(scroll up to the
beginning of the letter )

A letter to mamma before the battle

Dear mother,

We are about to enter
into the first drive that the United States has made in the war, and some of us will not live through it. But mamma, I want to let you know that I am
willing to give my life gladly. Mother, we may not meet on earth again, but some day we
will meet and there will be no sorrow there. And if I go, mother, in my
last minutes on earth my thoughts will be of the dear little mother who alone
has fought the battles of life for the last fourteen years—long years—to raise
me to where I am now.

I have gone through many hardships
since I have been over here that it did not look like I could go through, but I
went through all o. k. and I am glad I have. It does not matter what
hardships I have gone through, they could not compare with those you have
suffered for me. I know I am not worth half the trouble you have endured for me,
but if I had lived to come back one aim in life for me was to
show the world that I could be somebody, and most of all to show mother how
much I love her. 

With love to mother, I remain your son. God keep
and bless you till we meet again.

Corporal Rufus Shelton.’

Rufus Shelton was killed on
May 29, 1918
, in the Battle of Cantigny – this
beautiful letter, addressed to his mom was found In a pocket of his uniform.

See Rufus Shelton’s entire letter
and story here

As we think of the Armistice, we still have te…

As we think of the Armistice,
we still have tears in our eyes. Those are tears of profound relief; relief of not
fearing death anymore; tears of joy for being alive; but above all, tears for peace — 
that loud rallying cry: “Never Again”.

November 1918, a French soldier’s thoughts after the
armistice – René Plard – WW1, France, French soldiers in their trench. Mémoire et Histoire


                                                           “A certain breathless horror”

“I have seen the wounds of France — the
entrails of Reims and the guts of Verdun, with their bare bones thrown naked
to the insulting skies; villages in dust and ashes—villages that lay so low
that they left no mark beneath the snow-swept landscape; walls that stood in
wrecked and awful silence; rivers flowed and skies gleamed, but the trees, the
land, the people were scarred and broken. Ditches darted hither and thither and
wire twisted, barbed and poled, cloistered in curious, illogical places. Graves
there were—everywhere and a certain breathless horror, broken by plodding
soldiers and fugitive peasants.”

After the WW1 armistice, US
Army Major J. E. Spingarn
writing from Germany where he was serving. Photo: 1918, exploring the snow-swept ruins of Reims, France. La Contemporaine

“November 10 1918 – Good God, what a day…

“November 10 1918 – Good God, what a day! Could this be really
the end? Or will we have to fight tomorrow? Anything would be better than
this uncertainty. Unable to say a word, we stare at each other in silence with
only one thing in mind: the end! Before these talks of peace started, we
thought that this war would never end.”

French soldier’s diary – Carnets de Guerre et Notes de Marceau Denoncelle – Chtimiste – Photo :
WW1 French soldiers in their trench. La contemporaine


                                                        The only thing in our minds

November 8 1918 – In
front of us we can distinguish the silhouettes of the Lorraine forests; how many machine-guns are hidden in there? The
attack was set for the 6th, then postponed until the 10th. Then we suddenly
learn that Germany is sending envoys to discuss an armistice. Foch has given them seventy-two hours to
sign. This is the only thing in our minds at present. If the armistice is
signed, it’s peace; if not, it’s an immediate
attack, and butchery in all its horror.

A French
Soldier’s War Diary 1914-1918
– Photo: WW1, France, tired and anxious French soldiers –  Ruffineck44,

                                 “Everything e…

                                 “Everything else under
the sun but ourselves and our work”

“We work 48 hours at a
time. We see much of suffering and waste and blood and pain; we smell
powder and drugs and wet blankets and trench mud, we see the price that’s paid
for every trench when we see the human scrap that’s thrown back for us to pass
on back to the discard. It gets to you; it’s depressing and maddening
sometimes. Now, with such a routine what do you think a fellow is going to
want to write about when he
writes. It’s going to be anything else in the world. We don’t
even talk about the work among ourselves. We talk about everything else under
the sun but ourselves and our work.”

WW1 American
ambulance driver’s letter in France – Harold M. Page, Illinois Ambulance
Unit –  University of Illinois Archives – WW1, France,
American ambulance drivers relaxing after work – Cape Fear Museum