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A Bord de Rochambeau le 2 de July, 1917 - Dearest Mother- I started writing you a letter on ship stationary, but it runed out entirely too bulky to mail as a letter, and the stationary ran out anyway so I shall try again on my note paper. Do hope that you can manage to read this fine scrawl. To go back - You know our date of sailing from my last letter from New York. For a number of days the sea remained as calm and level as a billiard table. Save for one boy (who has not yet lasted a full meal at table) there had been no trouble with "mal de mer" (?) up to some two or three days ago. Then a little wind came up, and a few feet of water, the boat rolled a little and the general health of the passenger but was considerably deranged. There were many vacant places at "dinner". I stole to my cabin, hoping to use the pink and brown capsules to good advantage, but come one had beaten me in the "stealing" and my "Mothersill" was not. They all laughed at a remedy for seasickness, but someone took mine. However, I felt shaky only that one afternoon and evening and have been in the very best of health "before and after". Save for that day and yesterday evening, the rocking of the ship has been only barely perceptible. It's too long to pitch any great deal. The first two or three days we sighted quite a number of ships, freighters, mostly, with one passenger and one Belgian Relief ship. The last two days we have seen none at all. Which causes me to think that we must be considerably out of the regular path. Also (I may be wrong here) I have gained the impression that we are doing our faster traveling at night. It seems as though we are going much faster after dark than before. Absolutely no light is permitted on deck after dark, under penalty of arrest. All of the windows and port holes have stiff covers which are in place from sun up to sun set (or rather-set to-up). The passenger list (of which I enclose a copy) is composed of about 200 of us, some Red Cross people, twenty-five men in Y.M.C.A. work, five or six millionares and - esses, a few ordinary American, and the rest French men and women. There are a few children. The crew is entirely French; only a few speak English at all. The "gareon" at my table knows "Charley Chaplin"/ we christened him Chas. the first day out - and no more. He is really quite enjoyable. It is rather a task to attempt to make them understand one's self. However, we manage all right. A French class has been organized by the Y.M.C.A. and it is hoped that we will know enough French to say "Good Morning" When we arrive at Bordeaux. We are hoping. The leader of the class has an injurious mode of instruction. He "leads" a sentence like he would a college yell. By repetition and class shouting, we gradually assimilate the sounds of sentence or two, whether we do the meaning or no. For instance, we are now able to sing, short hymns, but I doubt quite seriously whether many could give a very lucid translation of the same or could write it. I can hold quite a conversation now - if the other party doesn't break in in the middle of a sentence. Then it is truly disastrous and I flee. In desperation I asked the waiter one day, "Verstehen Sie Deutsch?" and think even now that I was very near assassination. I've got to learn French. The Steward announced that he found some more stationary. You should see the scramble. Yesterday we had church services - Episcopal - and last night at one end of the deck a song service and at the other, an impromptu dance. The evenings on deck are really quite delightful- although the latest was a bit foggy. I enjoy them very much. Day before yesterday-that is, Saturday- we had an informal "track" meet. It was more like the "stunts" at the picnic than anything else. One of the most difficult tests for the judges was to conferr honours for the ladies' cigarette rolling contest. It was hard to tell whether the results should be called cigarettes. Before I neglect it - some business - I rather imagine that I owe the Review of Reviews Co. something, for I had no cancelled checks from the Columbia Bank from them. However, they did not send me a statement at the Waldorf, as I explicitly requested, so I have no means of knowing how much - or whether I do or not. If I do - it will something like $7 or $8 or $10.00. If you hear from them, I would appreciate if you people would take care of it and let me know. You have my address. There is a runner afloat as to picking up a convoy today or tomorrow. That would please all of us. We have been given explicit instructions as to conduct in case the ship is to be abandonned - (In three languages - the instructions) It gets rather morbid after a while - although I suppose it is quite necessary. Each person has a place assigned to him in a certain boat. (mine is number 9). He is given a sort of a ticket embittering him to that seat. I have been a little curious to know what would happen in case he lost the ticket. Seth and I have organized the whirl players. We play more whirl than any other game. I'm looking for two more bridge - auction - players. We could enjoy a little auction. There is quite a little gambling on board - although not much among we fellows "Penny-ante" poker is about our size. I took two hands at that myself. Won a little one night lost it back the next - and quit, which proves me quite wise. Must go to eat. it's 10:30 A.M. Two days later I must have neglected to state that meal hours are trifle different aboard boat than at home. "Petite dejeuner" - our breakfast is from 7:30 to 8:30. "Dejeuner" come at 10:30 and "dinner" at 5:30. Coffee is served anywhere anytime. Tea is served on deck twice during the afternoon. I have acquired quite a tea habit. For the first, or nearly first-time I can truthfully say that I really enjoy a cup of hot tea. It is always cool and usually a little chilly on deck, and something warm comes in mighty nice during the afternoon. The last two days have held a number of interesting happenings. Yesterday afternoon a "concert" was given in the "conversation salon" or writing room, for which programs were sold for a quarter. The proceeds went to the American Red Cross - about 900 francs. There were songs and musical numbers, a comedy skit, recitations and the like by the passengers. The ambulance units each were called upon for songs; we sang some school songs - and when we were through "Reggie" - a seven-year old - voiced the general sentiment. "Rotten!" It was. In the first place, none of us could sing; in the second place, none of us knew that we were going to sing, and in the third, none knew what we were going to sing. The remainder of the program was very enjoyable. The Leland Stanford unit had some of their glee-club along, so they managed better. Last night a bulletin was posted, forbidding passengers to undress that night, because of the danger from submarines. Everyone slept on deck, and I wish to announce myself emphatically as in faron of the death by slow torture of this person who suggested a steamer chair as a subtitute for a bed. Tonight I sleep comfortably - on the soft boards of the deck. If need be - but not in a chair. My back is practically broken - hasn't recovered yet. But really, it was comical to see the people on deck.
Huddled up in piles of blankets and coats, a life-belt clutched in one hand (in most cases) on the deck, in chairs, anywhere and everywhere. No one seemed to think or care the appearance he made. The three of four fat men were the most amusing. I did not sleep very much, but walked and watched the others until the "wee small" hour. I suppose it really was a dangerous part of the trip, but I could not see that it did any great good to worry over the situation. All sorts of rumors were - (and for that matter still are) - afloat. One was that we were under convoy of some French battleboat. That satisfied a number of the passengers - particularly the few women aboard. (All of which goes to prove that even little rumors have their value and good points). However, we did not have the pleasure of saluting a "U" boat last night, in spite of the precautions. Personally, I am rather glad so many are taken - even if not needed. Yesterday afternoon - to go back a little further - the life-boats were all swung clear of the davits and have been hanging ever since over the edge, ready for instant use. They are provisioned with good and casks of water and accomodate from 53 to Sixty-odd. My boat (number nine) is supposed to hold fifty-three, but as yet I have been unable to figure how fifty-three frown persons could possibly get in. It could be done, I suppose. Also, there is just one woman assigned to number nine. I have been unable to think how embarassing it might be should there be any necessity for using the boat. (Not that I suppose she would really care a lot if they were needed, so long as she was in some boat. All of which goes to show that it is really
the trivial things of which one thinks). Also today - by way of more near calamities - we sighted a submarine - or a whale. I rather think it was a whale. At any rate it took just a few - a very few - seconds for the boat to execute a beautiful half circle and for the gunners to train our submarine pucturers on the U-boat - or whale. At any rate - again - U-boat or whale, it took only a very few more seconds for the object to submerged. I think it must have been a whale. Since then, our path has been a beautiful zig-zag - a ort of blind dodging. Also, machines for creating a smoke screen behind which we might hide or run have been placed on deck. Perhaps I have neglected to state that we have two big guns mounted for and aft - for emergency use. Also a crew of very good gunners from the French navy, who demonstrated their ability by blowing a barrel to pieces during the early part of the voyage. The guns are loaded and ready for use at all times. All day we have been passing through a section supposed to be regular submarine fishing ground. Their have been quantities of wreckage afloat - which seems to bear out this supposition. Pieces of wood and barrels have been quite the usual thing. Early this morning we passed a freighter headed for the West. The latest rumors have it that we will be in the harbor between midnight and four o'clock today, and we have been instructed to have all mail in early this evening.
This seems to bear out the rumor, and I will have my letter in the mail quite early. I hope this will prevent the delay of having is pass through the hands of the censor. (If that is so, it will be the last letter for some time that I will write and not have opened twice). Lastly - please do not try to send bundles or packages to me - by mail - at any rate. From the looks of the rooms at the New York office, more fail of delivery than are delivered. Letters will of course be more than welcome - but packages are too expensive and cost too much time and trouble for you folks to bother with them. The assurance of delivery at any immediate future time is not all all great. Thanking you in advance - etc. etc - and all that. I will write home as often as I may, but please don't be worried if letters are not particularly regular. There are so many ways for mail to be delayed or lost. My love to all of you, especially to Mother and Father - Please write often. Ned. From - James Edward Henschel. 21 Rue Raynouard, Paris. France - To - Mrs. L.H. Henschel - 3236 Euclid Ave., Kansas City, Mo. U.S.A.
Tell the ladies of the Athenaeum that we have arrived safely. We do not know just what our work will consists of, due to a reported shortage of ambulances. it will be, however, either in ambulance, transport, food, or munition service with the French Army. Express again to them for Coburn Herndon and myself, our sincere gratitude that they have made it possible for us to be here.
From the service of James E. (Ned) Henschel, Co. B Reserve Mallet--French Army, American Field Service, Quartermaster Corps, General Hdgts., and Motor Transport Co. 831.
|Date||July 2, 1917|
|Year Range from||1917|
|Year Range to||1917|
Henschel, James (Ned) Edward
World War I
American Field Service (AFS)