Full transcription of text follows:
July 19, 1917- Dearest Mother- [ms illegible: 1 wd] at last - our training; the rumor is that we leave for the front tomorrow for active service. This is probably true, as we have had all of the regular preliminary training finishing up yesterday with the night drive. On this we started out at one in the afternoon, and drove for twelve hours. After dark we drove part of the time with and part without lights. It was interesting work and good training, for I understand that the greater part of our driving will be at night. If lights are permitted I personally would rather drive then at day. I have not heard from home yet save the letter which you forwarded from Baxter Bond - and a bill for &9.00 from the Review of Reviews. It came on the same boat that I did. I suppose that you folks have written, but letters have to go through so many hands that delay is almost certain. I have written only two or three letters home since arriving at Chevigny, and hope that you have heard from me before now. The lack of system at tending the Field Service is - I think - responsible for a great deal of delay in mail. Our work at C- has been very interesting to me. Every day we have driven over parts of the surrounding country, through the small towns and villages. We have consequently seen the great part of the immediate. The system of roads seemed to me remarkably
fine, but a Frenchman instructor apologized for them, saying that it was war time and consequently the roads in Northern France were not in good condition - because of the enormous auto truck traffic. They must be remarkable roads in peace time. The scenery is the most consistently beautiful that I have seen. All of the villages give the impression of being old - and I suppose they really are. The buildings and fences are all of stone; I doubt whether the French know what barbed wire was before the war. They know now - at least the use for it. We have passed miles of trenches and barbed wire entanglements, built by the French as protection for Paris - all constructed after the Germans had been driven back of Soissons. Parts of the roads are hidden by screens constructed of brush. The city of Soissons has been the scene of fighting so long that it is now practically bombarded to pieces. There are few buildings there that fail to show the effect of shall fire. One building - or group of buildings - built in 1620 as a sort of armory or barracks for troops, although on the river Aisne itself, seems by trisk of fate to have been spared. two cathedrals in the city have been virtually wrecked. When the Germans evacuated the city, they destroyed all of the bridges, and on the approaches to one of them painted "Gott strage England". A curious coincidence is that the bridge - or temporary superstructure - was constructed by English engineers and the bridge is now known as the "Port de l'Anglaise" or English Bridge. The German sign is still on the approaches. The other day in our drive we passed something horrible -
an old battle line, with the entanglements, the trenches dugouts approaching a hundred feet deep the graveyard and all the rest. The little town of Nouvron - or what was once Nouvron - was in the battle front, and now stands as completely, demolished as I ever hope to find a place. The trenches and entanglments are on a plateau some two miles or more wide and extending in each direction as far as one could see; we were told some thirty to fifty miles - a perfect maze of ditches and wire. The German dug-outs and bombproofs are marvelous works of construction, but when one thinks of the labour it took to build them - stone and timber lined - all of the work done by poor devils who instead of having the privilege of using them, had to live in the trenches and crawl through the wire. Oh, it's fine. The sight of that town all blown to pieces, and the pitiful graveyard - and all so unnecessary and useless - it sort of made ones blood boil. And this was just the start. It is mild and commonplace compared with what is going on at the present front. I wish that as a part of the training given American troops, they would merely show them a few of these shelled towns. It would make them appreciate more what we are
up against. I wish that they would see the little fellow six years old, with a wooden leg, because of the bombardment of a little village during the German retreat. Our mechanic - whose home is in Boston and was in the battle of the Somme and wounded there - told us of seeing Belgian children with their right hands cut off. This mechanic is a little Frenchman who is going back to America when the war is over. He made a pocket light for me - which by the way, is very useful, as matches are hard to keep and harder to keep in condition. On the 14th of July - the French 4th - we had a holiday and a glorious meal & several courses, with the usual "vin rouge" and champagne in addition. And by the way - if the food which we are given is any gauge, I can not see that France is a "starving nation". We get absolutely all that we can eat - in fact we are all over-eating - and the food is of the best. Prices are high, but really not any higher than at home, I believe. Butter and sugar are the most scarce articles of food, butter being word somewhere from #.80 to $1.00 a pound. We all eat cheese instead - tons of Camembert. In fact, I, and all of the others - have acquired a cheese-and-chocolate appetite that threatens to wreck the treasury. There seems to be no particular restriction on food - save price. Our food is first rate army "grub" and I am beginning to be able to drink their near-vinegar. I think that we will in time be able to persuade the French that water has another use than for bathing and watering horses
Yesterday we went through [Pierrefonds], where the "Chateau de [Pierrefonds]" of Victor Hugo's "Three Musketeers" is located. It is the first real castle that I have ever seen. The Chateau was built originally in 1395, and has been twice rebuilt the last time in 1850 by Napoleon the Third, who occuppied it as a palace. It certainly is one. I have been thinking ever since seeing it that would be a horrible task to take it with axes and arrows. With all the moats and drawbridges and dungeons and the like, it brought back to mind Sir Walter Scott and Ivanhoe. The place is really tremendous. I am enclosing two postcard views of the Chateau, but they can not give a very good impression of the magnificence of the place. My address - as far as I know - will be as follows. J.E. Henschel - Section Group Americaine, TM 526, Peleton C, Convois Automobiles, Par B.C.M., Paris, France. What it all means - I can't say 0 but they tell us that all of that constitutes a letter. As I have said before
do not address letters to the data inscribed where we ordinarily put a return address. We leave for the front tomorrow and have been told that the above will be our address - so really although we have an idea - you really know as well as we do where we will be. Don't try to send any packages; I imagine the mails are overburdened as it is. I have never been in better health. With love, Your son - Ned. From - J.E. Henschel, TM 537 Convois Autos Paris, France. To - Mrs. 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.
|Year Range from||1917|
|Year Range to||1917|
Henschel, James (Ned) Edward
World War I
Castles & palaces
American Field Service (AFS)