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no. 2 October 1/1917 Dearest Mother- Your letter came in the mail last night and I am hurrying to answer. You must forgive me if this is disjointed - for I am pretty tired. Things have moved pretty rapidly around here of late and there have been a good many changes - for better or worse is beyond me. For six days successively my car went on convoy without a let up - the trips ranging from two of about twenty hours to four which kept us on the road more than twelve. So you can see - Mother - I have not had much time to write. We hear rumours of a big offensive in the very near future - and from the way we have been working I have no reason to doubt the rumours. There are big guns - naval guns - mounted on especially constructed flat cars instead of the regular gun bases - the shells for which - as one
of the fellows pretty aptly put it - look like nail kegs. From these monstrous affairs to the diminutive but very destructive thirty-sevens and trench mortars - there is a vast range of other guns - but the chief thing is the number of them. Every where that we go we see guns - little guns - big guns - but guns and more guns - and all moving today. There are the big "parcs" filled with shells of all sorts - more than you can imagine. It is marvelous - truly marvelous - and every day new parcs are being constructed to be filled in their turn with more shells - and emptied and refilled over night - and always to the front. We carry - say in a convoy of twenty cars - more than ten-thousand of the famous "75's" from a parc a little nearer the batteries than our camp - to a parc a little nearer the batteries than the first parc - where the
caissons come and go in a steady stream of horses and wheels - leaving a pile of "empties" and taking the new shells to the batteries. Or perhaps - when a battery happens to be so situated as to make it possible for camions to run near enough - or may take them there ourselves. This is not often. This big war machine never ceases to amaze me. It is always new - always changing - and always wonderful - but the thing that impresses itself on me is the fact that it is so stupendous and yet moves along as smoothly as it does. We will leave on a convoy at one o'clock perhaps to start on a trip that will last all night. We arrive a the first loading parc in an hour or so - and find a hundred other camions - all loading perhaps with different material - perhaps no two convoys intended for the same destination - yet
in a few hours we are all loaded and all started from the parc - and seldom a mistake. we leave the parc at five or six or seven in the evening - and travel along a "route gardee" on which there may be four different lines of traffic at once - with ambulances and staff cars and motor cycles interspersed between - sandwiched in. The later it gets the more crowded the road becomes - and never a light - It is wonderful. The road system is handled in a rather peculiar but remarkably efficient way. On a few of the less important routes, traffic takes care of itself the same as it would on any road anywhere - in spite of the heavy traffic - But on the main travelled routes - where everyone must go - and get somewhere - the situation is entirely different. A [ms illegible: 1 wd] for even a few minutes would seriously de-
moralize the work of literally hundreds of men - so there are certain regulations which one law of the strictest kind. In the first place there are the road police - soldiers who occupy positions along the road much the same as crossing patrolmen do in our cities - with this difference 0 that failure to obey their slightest gesture means courtmartial. Their work is very important and there can be no quibbling. On a "route gardee" or guarded road - stopping is absolutely prohibited - as it turning around, or passing vehicles in front of one. On certain road - such and such a speed must be maintained - while on others this speed may be "defendu" or forbidden - and another rate maintain. There are roads that can only be used for traffic going in one direction. There are certain bridges that must not be used for passage with loaded camions - and others that are not used except
when returning home empty. Even the time of day and night must be considered when a convoy leaves - for certain roads are impassable in the daytime, because they are exposed to view of German observation balloons. Then again - after starting - plans must sometimes be altered - because of German shell-fire. For instance - on yesterday morning a convoy left - but was not permitted to enter the loading parc - because of "arrives". Then - another instance of a more common sort - the other day miles of camions were held up for hours because the roads ahead chanced to be shelled. It is these precautions and strict adherence to these many regulations that renders our service safe at all times. Very seldom are we in any real danger - in spite of being in the "war zone". The part of the work most enjoyable to me is at the same time
that part which is the most difficult - the night trips. One must keep constantly on the alert or he stand considerable risk either of wrecking his car or of loosing his convoy - one of which is about as bad as the other. [ms illegible: 1 wd] for I have been fortunate and have not had an accident - have not even been into a ditch. This is rather unusual as a record - for with traffic as congested as it is at all times - the return of a convoy complete with out even a slight accident is more the kindness or providence than the result of careful driving. Still - we always are as careful as possible. One instance will show you our difficulties. [diagram at left margin] The diagram represents a road. No one is a string of wagons - two, returning camions, empty - three - our camions, loaded - four - big guns moving up - five - a string of pack mules - and
at the side of the road - six - a country out of troops - headed for the trenches. We encountered this at midnight - pitch dark - and it lasted for miles. Of course - this is not the general rules - four lines usually met with. In the middle of this "orderly confusion" - a staff car with some officer or other got into the middle of our convoy - and was just as anxious to get out as we were to have him. There is no danger of our getting [ms illegible: 1 wd] but the plight of a poor motor car - lost between two convoy camions - whose drivers are guided shifty through the mediums of hearing - if he does not carry a rabbit's foot - God pity him! SO that's the way it has been - especially for the past week or more. We have had plenty of work - more then plenty - not quite enough sleep - no time to wash or to clean
up - returning to camp at eleven and rising at four - and then without warning - nothing at all to do. Our camions - those of our peleton - have been taken over by Frenchmen and we have nothing to drive. Also - I spoke of changes - the American officers have been and still are here - enlisting those who wish to do so in the American army. With most of us it is a case of "Hobson's choice" - and we took beans. Some of those who feel that they can afford it are not enlisting - but waiting to be released and then to return to Paris and choose a course there. The American Field Service is defunct after today - may her bones rest in peace! Amen! being very satisfactorily broke, I decided that I had to draw somebody's pay pretty soon - and seeing no way to get to Paris - or to live after arriving there - I applied for enlistment. So I am now a member of the
regular army of the United States until the guerre is "finis". During the physical examination I began to feel desperate - for first came the eye test - and I could not read their chart - (the dust is no good for eyes). They let me by this - and my heart showed difficulties - due to excitement probably for they waived that trouble. Then appeared a broken arch and another little souvenir of the Mexican trajedy - and I was informed that I was no good in the army - save in the quarter-master corps - all of which made me feel like a physical wreck. I am considerably cheered up though now for I find that the Q.M.C. includes this service, as well as piloting motor-cycles, light trucks and staff touring-cars - counting potatoes and overcoats. SO I signed up, will choose some service with the smell of gasoline attached - and pray for the war to end. Until further
same as before. Your letter mentions a package enroute. Many thanks for same; it is still en route. Again, I reiterate to the utter waste of good paper and ink - please do not bother yourself sending me things. It please me lots - Mother - but honestly the trouble is not worth the candle. Some postal clerk - or clerks - are smoking millions of cigarettes and consuming tons of perfectly good American tobacco - sent to us who are "r-r-isk-king our li-i-ves for c-c-c-country daily" (bring on the sad music, professor) - and we must smoke the Spanish moss and tarred hemp sold by the French government at exorbitant prices under the guise of a tobacco stamp. C'est la guerre; maybe I may some day be the privileged proprietor of a post-office. You know - as nearly as we can figure - about
one package in ten sent through Rue Raynouard arrives - about one in three went sent "Par B.C.M." So - your next parcel should arrive O.K. Papers and magazines are erratic. About half of the fellows get them all the time - the other half - never. I belong to the privileged "other half". Regular subscriptions seem to be delivered more frequently than private donations. So please don't both; it really is too much trouble and expense. Besides - I am now a pampered pet and perfectly happy and contented. My "mail received" now numbers sixteen en tout - which is more than I should expect. There is one other thing that I must mention - and then I retire to my downy couch for the remaining hours of the night. We are in receipt of a clipping from the Missourian giving a letter from one Gentry, in this
service - in which he gives a harrowing and heart-renching tale of dangers manifold - marvelous escapes - exploding shells and the like that is disconcerting to say the least and turns the rest of us green with envy. We really intend to look the gentleman up and hear the tale from his own lips; he is a favoured son of fickle fortune and seems to have a monopoly on all the interesting experiences of this war. Now this is what I am driving at; if you read extracts from letters in the papers harping on things of this sort - as you will - for I guess it is human nature to [ms illegible: 1 wd] of a horrible experience - when there ought to be one told - whether the experience is true or not - you must take it with a whole cupful of salt. "Man that is [ms illegible: 1 wd] of woman is of few days and full of trouble" and if he can't run into trouble
needs must manufacture it. As our mutual Bobbie Burns told us - "You should no' paint at angels men, but try an' find the devil" (which if you will trouble to look it up - will be found a horrible misapplication of his lines) - and so we do. Read the things - most of these published letters are delightful literary productions - as fiction of the first order - but don't believe them. I am a first-class "embusque" - have a perfectly safe and wholesome "job" and am seeing Europe and the war with the least possible danger - and am glorying in the fact. I could not join the infantry or artillery or aviation - or anything with danger attached if I wanted to and I'm not certain I do) - for they won't let me. But speaking seriously - you must not worry about me. My only hardship is the lack of "whole flocks"
of letters from home - so you can see that I am not so bad off after all. We have a job with enough work to keep things from growing monstorous, with not enough danger attached to show us up as cowards, and with plenty of food. And we can buy chocolate and jam and nice smelly cheeses and bread and tobacco - such as it is - and when occasion makes it necessary (French holidays and the like) perhaps a bottle of Champagne - which is better in eight or nine different ways than beer and whiskeys such as made American and Canadian soldiers notorious. You see mother - I am telling you everything quite frankly - And we work too much of the time to acquire any serious vices. Besides there is no room for such in the war zone; we are isolated in too small a town - too deserted a one - to be
dangerous. So you must not worry. I am having a great time and am acquiring the rest of a liberal education - And I haven't time to be too home-sick. One thing more - My letters are all addressed to you, but they are sent to Father and to all of the rest of the family as well and just as my love always goes to you with letters - so it goes to Father as well. If I tried to write to both my letters would be endless repetition - and that would be bad. You must appreciate that already - but wanted to say it. With all the love in the world- Ned. To: Mrs. L.H. Henschel 3236 Euclid Ave. Kansas City Missouri U.S.A. From- J.E. Henschel TMU 133 Convois Autos. Par B.C.M. Paris.
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||October 1, 1917|
|Year Range from||1917|
|Year Range to||1917|
Henschel, James (Ned) Edward
World War I
American Field Service (AFS)