Full transcription of text follows:
"Somewhere in France" July 8/1917 - Dear Folks: We are at our training school at last. Still our trip has been without any unnecessary delay thus far. We arrived a Bordeaux the 4th at 6:00 P.M. (or as we have to figure it now, 18:00) without having had any undue excitement. There is still some question as to whether our "submarine" was a whale or no: it seems to be the general consensus of opinion that it actually was a submarine. Our reception in Bordeaux was quite gratifying; it pleased us very much. Whenever one sees a French flag, there is an American flag. It seems fine, and makes one feel good. The French spirit is wonderful. You people at home can not appreciate it. The patience and determination, the quiet, uncomplaining, enduring sacrifices is beautiful - and really as wonderful as it is beautiful. One meets the "poilu" or private, who is home on leave or permanently, because of wounds - and he never complains or grumbles. it is always "Bon jour, Monsieur" and a smile. It is a case of life and death with them. Winning the war with them is something more than a duty; it is a sacred obligation, the fulfillment of a prayer, while with we Americans at home, it is taken more or less as a part of the day's work, something, disagreeable that must be done. If only the American back home could "get" the spirit that the French have - why, with
all of the tremendous [ms illegible: 1 wd] and abilities that our country has, the war would be a different proportion. The Frenchman has given everything he has for three long years, and still is hopeful and smiling. We in America don't know the meaning of sacrifice. Just wait a few months; America will know then as well. The appreciation of France for the presence in [Paris] and elsewhere of American troops can not be over estimated. If you at home could know that - even as we who have been here [ms illegible: 1 wd] than a week do - it would do your hearts good. I tell you, we can not make too great a sacrifice. If we one to do our share, we must do many, many times that which we have already done. We are now at a "training camp" for transport - munition drivers L- P- (For very obvious reason anything more definite would be impossible). We are near the front, and can hear very plainly the heavy guns. Airplanes fly for overhead at times in the day and night. I have been a large camp for French soldiers at L-, where can be seen men of 45 and 50 and young boys. All for France. Also, wherever we go, there are German prisoners, working on docks, or roads, or farms - wherever possible, to relieve Frenchman for
other military service. (I saw "other" - because there is no service in France now but military service). Our work will consist of driving transports big 5 ton piece. Arrow trucks. It will either be more or less dangerous then the Ambulance Service; that does not matter. The important thing is that France needs right now munitions transport drives more than she does ambulance drivers - and that is why we came, or why I came at any rate - to do the most possible good wherever I am most wanted. I think that is the spirit of all in the American Field Service. I want to explain that fully, so that the ladies who were good enough to pay my expenses would understand just how and why I am driving a truck instead of an ambulance. Our status is exactly the same in one branch of the Field Service as in the other - with the single difference - that whereas the Ambulance Units are assigned to divisions of the French Army. Had one busy when the particular divisions are busy and idle when they are idle, the transport sections go where ever the fighting is. Where ever the offensive is severest will be found sections of the transport - munitions. (In that way perhaps you
may in a way be able to follow me about. We will be here for eight or ten days, and then we will go direct to the front - wherever we are needed most. Also, do not address letter necessarily to the written address in the upper left hand corner of the envelope; that for the time being, at any rate - will be merely the place from which my letters are sent. Until I tell you more definitely, address letters to 21 Rue Raynouard, Paris, as I have told you. When we know the number of our section, I will write telling you further. By the time that you receive this letter, we will be in active service. No. 21 Rue Raynouard is a wonderful place an old home or chateau dating back to before the French revolution. The lady who owns it donate it to the service. In the center of Paris, it is a home such as one sees in the cinemas/moving pictures) with enormous gardens and terraces - old subterranean tunnels, conservatories and all of the rest. Of course now it is not kept up properly and tents and barracks have been erected on the grounds, so that everything seems more or less torn up, but the more I saw of this place, the more I became convinced that at one time it must have been a wonderful place. Benjamin Franklin lived there for two years, I was told, and a great number of French celebrities. On the walls there still remain old French documents with big seals, framed. I enjoyed our two days stay there very much, although we were very busy and our day time was pretty well taken up. Paris itself seems a wonderful place to me; I
have never in my life seem a city that in the remotest resembled it. There are big old trees, wide streets and parks - and even in this war time - wonderful gardens, all through the busiest parks of the city. I have not seen a building in Paris yet (or for that matter almost in France) built other than of stone - of course I did not have much opportunity to see things as I would have liked to have done. However I am going back again some time and do some of the many things and see more of the many wonderful things to be done and to be seen. There is only one way for a stranger to get around and that is to hail a "taxi-metre" (pronounced "toxy-met") and write your destination. If you try to say it, you may wind up at the opposite side of the city. Riding a taxi is much more common here than in the States; the fees are very low. It costs about twice as much to ride a taxi than a train - way, and there is no worry as to getting off at the proper street. Incidentally it is impossible to tell anyone how to pronounce French; it has to grow in one. The customary thing is to run a sentence all into what sounds like one word. I can now figure out what a newspaper is trying to say, by means of gestures, a pencil and a few American
[ms illegible: 1 wd] words make myself half-way understood, and every once in a while can make out what a Frenchman is trying to tell me. I hope to be able to talk a little French by the time I active. We have to learn the French manual of armees and it's rather interesting - although confusing - to be called down in French by a French officer, and not know what he is saying. There is no doubt as to his intention, however. Before we left Paris we were equipped with a rifle (a very old model) a steel helmet, and a gas mask - and identification tag. It looked as though we were being equipped for strenuous service. I tried my mask, and have not quite decided whether I would rather be asphyxiated by Bosche chlorine gas or by the horrible French compound in the mask. It is a sort of soapy mixture that is very disagreeable. Our helmets - or tin-cans" or "stew-pots" while quite heavy, were received by us quite gladly. Some of them have been used before; Seth's had an ominous looking dent in the side. (This cheerful news should be deleted). I found out by reading a French newspaper that the French "Poilu" and the British "Tommy" had been joined by the American "Teddy" - Which shows that "Teddy" is pretty well known and though of here. So I suppose we are all "Teddies". The hardest thing that I tried to do was to take a bath. I knew the word for bath - "bain" - but could not find any place open (at 9:30 P.M.) where I could
get one. Finally at one hotel, the lady in charge called all the guests together, and told them I wanted a bath. One of the guests could speak English and directed me to a hotel where they had them. It was amusing and a trifle embarassing to me (and me only) but it shows the French courtesy better than anything else that I have experienced. I would like to know a place in America where the same courtesy would be extended to one - where the guests of a first class hotel would have their dinner tables and go to considerable trouble, merely to [ms illegible: 1 wd] a passing stranger, to get a much need bath. I must close now. I will write as often as I can and tell you all that I can. One must not write too long letters, or they may never get past the censor. I heard just now that they do not like to trouble with extra long letters, and that such might be indefinitely delayed. With love, Your son - Ned. To. L.H. Henschel 3236 Euclid Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri. U.S.A.
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 8, 1917|
|Year Range from||1917|
|Year Range to||1917|
Henschel, James (Ned) Edward
World War I
American Field Service (AFS)