I hardly, remember at all what I did in the summer of 1917. I missed Ethel dreadfully, and since she wasn't at home, took on the ambulance work on Sundays. The week I divided very evenly between the Committee on Women in Industry and the Red Cross Motor Corps. The Sunday runs of the ambulance were hard work, but never without an incident. Usually we went to Humphries and brought patients back from there to Walter Reed Hospital, a round trip of about fifty-five miles.
One evening I was driving with my girl orderly beside me. We had three very sick soldiers, one unconscious and one delirious. The road from the camp to Washington was only just under construction and a thunder-storm on the way out had so mucked a part of the road just before the main highway that we were mired. The girl orderly loped off down the road until she found two kind young men and ran them back to pry us out. In the middle of our troubles our third patient made a sign that he felt seasick. Our new ambulance was our pride and our joy. My orderly almost automatically snatched what proved to be a brand new hat from the head of our kindly rescuer, thrust it under the soldier's chin with a pleading, "Goodness sakes, don't spoil the ambulance! Use this."
It may have been just a case of man standing by man. The seasick man, out of respect for his brother's hat, settled back and didn't use it.
The rule was that no man, unless in uniform, could accompany us on Motor Corps work and it was very rare that an officer had time to volunteer to come along. And my fleet-footed orderly couldn't always find husky arms to conscript on the lonely country road. The girls used to change tires themselves with extraordinary speed when we had a critical case inside. They used to get up at 4 A. M. They followed behind green troops on country hikes and carried the canteen workers back and forth.
The work was organized in March, 1917, at Miss Boardman's request, and a few days after war was declared, the organization was complete. Ethel designed the Corps uniform, long gray coat and breeches, high boots, leather belt and a service cap. What stormy meetings we used to have and all about the uniform. Some thought breeches wouldn't become them. Some said their husbands would never, never let them wear such things. Some, who knew beforehand how beautifully they could wear the uniform, turned out quite incapable of driving a car. Once we got the coats and breeches made, they became so popular that the national motor service of the Red Cross followed the example of our Washington Corps and the breeches dispute became a lost cause.
The members qualified themselves for their service by taking courses in first aid and motor repair work, and they received stretcher drills from officers of the 6th Engineers and became very skilful in lifting the injured, placing them on litters, loading and unloading ambulances, and carrying the stretchers into hospitals and houses. When I went to Europe in the autumn of 1917, Mrs. Floyd Waggaman became Commanding Officer pro tem., and I resumed command on my return the following spring. In September, 1918, when I went across again, I resigned and Mrs. David Fairchild took my place, followed later by Mrs. Carter. The best work was done while I was overseas during the influenza epidemic. Then the Motor Corps members went in and out of houses, carrying the stretchers themselves. In all they carried as many as two thousand patients to the hospitals. They did a yeoman's service. Members of the Corps were on duty for twenty-four hours at a time, sleeping on cots in the garage between calls.
New York, November 12th, 1917--- My sister Elise, going over for the Red Cross, Dorothy Kane, Dorothy McCombs, and Lydia Taber, going with the Duryea Relief Committee in Paris, are all sailing on the St. Louis with me tomorrow. I am going to London first to make the report Mr. Gompers wants on welfare work for women in munition factories, particularly in high explosive factories. Then on to France to see munition works and then to tour the hospitals at the front so that I can speak and write for Red Cross publicity work when I get back.
Paris, December 11th , 1917. From London we traveled to Paris by Southampton and Havre at night. As there was no direct train connection to Paris with the boats we had to spend the day in Havre. I was so excited about seeing Ethel again that any delay was a hardship. I went over to tea with Mr. and Mrs. Brand Whitlock. The minister is most cultivated and seems more like an European scholar than an American Mayor. He was magnificent during the invasion, and is greatly beloved by the Belgians.
Ethel and Helen Astor met us at the Paris station last night, having come up from Bordeaux. Ethel has grown too stout, notwithstanding her hard work with the Y. M. C. A. They have left Brest, where they spent six months, and are now establishing a restaurant and club at Bordeaux. This is Ethel's twentieth birthday.
December 12th. Ethel tells me that she wants to marry Henry Russell. I think that she is too young, and she has so much character that I have always felt she should marry an older man. However, we are going to Saumur to see Henry after Christmas, which we will spend in Bordeaux.
Paris, December 13th, 1917. It's settled. Yesterday I met a prominent member of the French Government. He says the Red Cross have told him that they hope I can see some of the hospitals at the French front. "Of course you can," he said. "Why not?" "Will you be ready Sunday-Monday?" "Would you like somebody to go with you?" This morning he telephoned early to ask which trip I wanted to take, one to Verdun or to the devastated region around and beyond Noyon. For no particular reason I chose Noyon. He told me to expect a Government motor to be at the hotel door Monday morning at 8:30. Ethel goes along. M. suggests that I wear my Red Cross uniform and Ethel her Y. M. C. A. so that it will be perfectly evident we are not on a joy ride.
Noyon, December 18th. On the trip yesterday, already at Senlis, only one hour from Paris, we saw many ruined houses in a Christmas setting of snow, and trees spotted with mistletoe. German prisoners mending a road, wire entanglements, trenches and graves. We stopped for a half hour at Compiègne and the French G.H.Q. We came on here to Noyon for lunch with General Hombert of the Third French Army, his staff and several visiting generals. Headquarters is a charming old house set back in a courtyard which was occupied from the beginning of the war until March, 1917, by the Germans. When the French left the town three years ago, the old lady who owned the house placed all her money and jewels behind the books of the top shelf of her library. When she came back this year, before the French Government requisitioned the house, she found them untouched. Not a single book, she says, has ever been displaced. The cellar and walls have all been searched. The story is told with great avidity in order to show that the Germans were after loot and have no interest in literature.
The luncheon was delicious, served on snowy table-linen with fine regimental silver tankard and dishes. Now that we are in the army zone we have white bread, a delicacy these days. The General tells me the chef was in the Waldorf in New York until called to the colors in the fall of 1914. The talk was all about the whys and wherefores of the Cambrai failure. Many complimentary references to General Pershing and most intense interest in General Wood and what his future is to be. It was a great temptation to linger over the coffee and cigarettes. But the delightful officer who was acting as our guide reminded us that winter days are short, and we tore ourselves away. From Noyon on to Chauny every house in ruins. It gave me again the same sick sensation that turned me cold when I first saw Pompeii.
From there we traveled on roads that were camouflaged by screens ten or twelve feet in height, made of chicken wire with green boughs stuck in on either side of them. Every little while we came upon a sign "Point vue par l'enemi." At these points the chauffeur would go at such high speed that it almost took our breath away. Before leaving Headquarters we were each given a gas mask and shown how to use it.
As twilight fell over the flat snow-covered fields we came to the spot where a dignified stone marks the grave of James McConnell, an American aviator, who was killed in action there March 17, 1917- In the midst of devastation far from home and friends a tiny American flag and bunch of withered flowers on the grave were tokens of someone's thought and appreciation.
Not many miles from there, we drew up at the Hackett-Lowther Unit, a canteen and little theater run by Englishwomen since the very early days of the war. For pulling wounded men out under fire and other acts of bravery, one of these, Miss Hackett, now has the rank of Lieutenant in the French army, and the Croix de Guerre as well. She wears a uniform very similar to that of our own Red Cross Motor Corps, except that it is khaki. It was an experience to walk through the Compiègne streets with her and see the poilus salute her as if she were a cross between a saint and the regimental mascot.
All the afternoon and ever since reaching Noyon we've heard the steady roar of the guns, like an approaching thunderstorm. Every little while the pop-pop of the Avion machine guns battling overhead pokes holes in the monotony of sound. One can distinguish the French and Boche planes by the smoke of the gunpowder, the French almost white, the Boche nearly black.
On a hill commanding a fine view of the surrounding country stands the abandoned tower of Prince Eitel Fritz's hunting lodge during the German occupation. At Cugny we visited an evacuation hospital close behind the lines. The nursing staff and matron were all Americans. The operating, sterilizing, and X-Ray rooms are on wheels as this hospital is attached to the Third French Army and goes with it everywhere the army is ordered. Just now they are all packed up ready to move at any moment as the French are expecting the British to take over this part of the line, and have been expecting it ever since Cambrai. The nurses were only semi-trained until they came here and are now militarized. One of Ethel's friends, Mimi Scott, has acquitted herself so well that she is in charge of a ward. Deep shell holes on either side of the hospital bore evidences of a recent bombardment. It was freezing cold and nearly dark when we went into the ward of the Grands Blessés. The groans and ravings of several desperately wounded and delirious officers were unbelievably dreadful.
Noyon, December 19th. After spending about two hours in the Ambrine Hospital at Compiègne yesterday, seeing burns of every variety and intensity treated, apparently without causing the least suffering to the poilus, we motored to Ribécourt. There 250 German prisoners were being taught to make bricks and with them restore houses in the vicinity. They also make wooden furniture and cook. The French officer in charge had until the outbreak of the war lived in the Argentine, and he combines industry and efficiency with much charm. The prisoners are well fed and comfortably housed, but look sullen and dull. It is funny to constantly meet about twenty Fritzes marching along the highways or in groups, mending the roads, always guarded by just one French soldier, usually quite a small one.
Very cold here and much snow. Yesterday and again today our motor had to be dug out of piling drifts several times. Our officer guide is distressed each time and has been profuse in apologies. He couldn't have said more if he had deliberately and intentionally run us into the drifts himself. These French manners certainly do oil the machinery of life.
Blérancourt, the headquarters of the Morgan-Dike Unit, is a very attractive place and the work well organized. As we lunched to the accompaniment of the cannon, I wondered if they are not a little too dangerously near the front to do any very extensive reconstructing. One would hate to have such fine efforts lost and the much-heralded spring offensive looms only a few months away.
A native of Nesle, whose family were refugees, but returned a few months ago, said to me today, "I want to leave, it isn't safe, the Boche will come back. The trees aren't cut down, just the houses demolished for spite alone; it was so that there would be no cover for a retreating army." One wonders ! But wouldn't it work both ways and handicap the Boche too, eventually? But these peasants are sometimes wise men and see what the rest of us don't. However, officials of both the American and the French Red Cross at Ham, and Nesle and Roye work hard at inducing the people to stay.
Yesterday at Coucy-le-Château, which was once the most perfect example of feudal architecture in France, we were only three-quarters of a mile behind the French line and could distinctly see the German lines.
I am writing in the hotel where we spend our nights and am already in my nightly attire for the front,---the warmest underclothes, breeches, two pairs of stockings, two sweaters and a fur coat. Yet even this doesn't keep out the penetrating dampness that seems to be the habitual atmosphere in French provincial houses in the winter.
The hotel is just restored and we are the first guests. The pretty pale green room that we occupy is the only one yet finished. The proprietor, a Parisian, is considered most enterprising to dare rebuild his hotel on the Germans' heels. Loud explosions and raids are still frequent. One alarm came tonight at dinner. Lights went out, and we finished eating by the light of one smelly oil-lamp, while our teeth chattered with the cold.
December, 1917---Paris. Eight of us dined last night with Eleanor and Major Belmont in their own salon. There was a most delightful and original man there, Charles Dawes of Chicago. I'd heard of him but had never met him before. He sat opposite to me but we hadn't been introduced. He drank café au lait and in the middle of dinner pushed his chair back and began smoking a long cigar. Suddenly he demanded of Major Belmont, "I thought you said I would meet Mrs. Harriman here tonight. I wanted to meet her after the way she wouldn't be bullied by Walsh on the Industrial Commission." Major B., "That is Mrs. Harriman over there."
"What?" leaning forward, "I met you in the lift yesterday and went to the concierge and asked, 'When did Mary Garden arrive?' There is only one back like that in the world." The diplomatic service lost a treasure when he went into banking, I thought.
Christmas Night---Bordeaux-1917. We have had a very happy Christmas and a ,.very strenuous one too. Such a rush, as the last few days they have been getting the Y. M. C. A. building ready to open today.
Dinner was served in the restaurant, but the Cafeteria is not yet installed. The officers and soldiers who came seemed very satisfied with a few exceptions. It is delightful ,to find how Ethel has developed with the work and responsibilities here. She has so much decision and poise. Helen and Vincent are lovely to her, and I think her wonderful vitality and spirits give them great pleasure.
December 30th---Paris 1917. We stopped at Saumur, the Artillery School, to see Henry. He is a nice, gentlemanly boy. I told him that we couldn't talk of weddings yet awhile. Saumur is where in President Roosevelt's administration Guy Henry and Fitzhugh Lee were sent to the Riding School. I heard the Colonel at Ted Roosevelt's wedding introduce Guy over and over as "the best horseman in the U. S. Army."
January 3rd, 1918. McCoy on leave from G.H.Q. is in Paris, and we decided to go on a picnic yesterday to celebrate the new year. We set forth for Barbizon by the 11:28 train to Melun. There was so much to talk about and laugh over that we skipped our station, and escaping at the next found there was no train back for much too long a time; so we set forth on foot through the forest of Fontainbleau. Ethel was right when she used, as a child, to call this a "forêt enchantée." Through the crisp air over the dry deep snow, we took our enchanted way; every twig and branch was laced in glistening ice. From far away a dozen times we caught the sound of cowbells and once the report of a boar hunter's gun. We made the ten mile walk to the Inn Charmette by four o'clock. Luncheon was never so delicious. Outside through the window we saw the snow, the sunshine and the houses with leaded windows like a corner of a Dorset village.
Just as we seated ourselves a British General walked past the window with a cortège of gun carriers and dogs, and bringing up the rear were boys bearing in a cloth his "kill," a huge Russian boar. McCoy and I shouted to each other together, "What a Christmas card." It turned out to be General Gage. We found him and his wife and boys taking their goûter when we went to dry our feet. Why I keep hoping to get my feet dry I don't know. They have been wet since I first put foot in Havre. I have learned what a graphic expression "cold feet" is. Back on the tram to Melun, McCoy pointing out to me the landmarks, where the British retired in 1914, and where Lord French had his headquarters, and much, much talk about our own G.H.Q. Then to Paris in time for dinner.
January 10th---Abbeville. Eleanor Belmont and I arrived here this noon to go over the British line of communications. We were met by a motor from British G.H.Q. and lunched with Miss McCarthy, matron in chief of the B.E.F. She belongs to Queen Alexandra's Royal Nursing Service. In the afternoon went over an ambulance train and visited No. 2 Stationary Hospital. Dined with Nurse McCarthy, Colonel Gallie and Colonel Thurston, whom I knew at Government House in Bermuda.
Friday, January 11th---Rouen. Visited hospitals all morning. No. 9, of course, interested me immensely because it is the Lakeville U. S. A. unit with the celebrated Major Cryle in charge. I couldn't help feeling the contrast in the appearance of that hospital and those run by the British. Major Cryle seemed to sense this because without my saying a word, he remarked that ours were simple and workmanlike and the patients did just as well as where there was more attempt at gay decorations. In all the British the walls are painted a cool sea-green and bright flowered chintzes are hung at the windows and used as quilts. Where quilts are not practical the blankets are red instead of the gloomy black or brown in vogue in our military hospitals. The English surgeons say they have learned by experience that an attractive environment helps speed the wounded to recovery. So they gladly allow the British Red Cross to supply these little touches suggestive of home. I hope our Army Medical Department will decide to let our Red Cross do the same.
Saturday, January 12th. We returned to Abbéville and on our way to Etaples went through Montreuil, the British G.H.Q. At Etaples we saw the motor ambulance convoy run entirely by women, and the first British cemeteries, thousands of little crosses on the slope of the ground on the Channel's edge---all looking towards Blighty. One of the soldiers said, "We open thirty graves a day."
Sunday, January 13th. Stopped at Le Toquet. The Casino once so giddy is now the Duchess of Westminster's hospital. My note book is crammed with notes. We lunched at the Hotel Louvre, Boulogne. We went over a hospital ship loaded with 300 wounded; one man with no arms or legs still smiled at us. What is there in human beings to make such miracles possible? At General Dublin hospital, where they are doing wonderful face surgery, there are 520 beds. Blanchie Lennox is in charge of the Red Cross stores, but she is now in England on leave. Saw Lady Hadfield, sister of Mr. George Wickersham, at her hospital where she is a splendid executive. Spent night at the Hotel Louvre, Boulogne. Air raid tonight.
Monday, 14th. At No. 13 General, Wimereux, there are two Harvard Units. Colonel Patterson is C. O. and Major Cushing and Major Binny are there. Everywhere we find the W. A. A. C.'s doing all kinds and variety of work. The war has literally swept everybody out of the old ruts and everything now seems natural.
Sunday, January 27th, 1918--Paris--Ritz Hotel.
Maitland Kersey is here as King's Messenger. He asked me to lunch with him and with General Pershing, who happened to be in from Chaumont. Afterwards we went up to our sitting room to see Ethel. The General says he doesn't approve of war marriages, but I asked him if he didn't think an officer could do better work if he were safely married than worrying as to whether or not he would eventually get the girl he was in love with. He said, "Well, there is something in that." He even relented enough to say he would come to the wedding if he were down from Chaumont. He won't, though. He is doing a colossal job, and when working hasn't another thought. History should give him his just due. Called to Washington in May, 1917, and ordered to France with a staff of twelve men, he was told to set up an organization to win the war. No ports, no docks, no adequate transportation. He began at once organizing a general staff. Miles of docks for landing men and supplies have been built since. At Bassens, opposite to Bordeaux, they are building docks so that it will be possible to unload thirty-six ships at one time.
Under his direction camp sites, railways, hospitals, reservoirs, and telegraph and telephone lines, have been planned. No one can possibly appreciate what has been accomplished in seven months, unless he has been here to see. There is a lot of complaining and growling that things are not yet as they should be, but that is inevitable. I suspect disgruntled officers sent home because of incompetency, do a great deal of the talking. An Army engineer at Bordeaux told me that the work which must be done in France in a year requires as many supplies and as much equipment as it took to build the Panama Canal in ten years.
Paris---January, 1918. Whistler should have etched the British Salvage plant at Paris. Old Frenchwomen sit on stools on the floor industriously sorting out the trench coats, waistcoats, breeches, kilts and tunics ; those past recovering are sent home to England for rags. The old women snip off buttons and mend underclothes. One lot sit with knives doing nothing but scraping mud and lice eggs off garments. It's not easy when it comes to the kilts, for the pleats of the seven and one-half yards of cloth used in each are veritable cootie county-fairs. There are fourteen different kinds of kilts in use in the British Army, each with a different plaid and its own peculiar form of pleating. The officer who showed us about, however, said: "But nothing is too much trouble for these wonderful Scotchmen. They can have their kilts." Some overcoats so stiff with blood and mud that they could "stand alone" seemed almost human. The British General who was with us says they send back to England 20,000 tons of unusable clothing a day. There were today 109,000 jackets and 60,000 great coats in the storeroom, all made over and cleaned ready to be sent back to the front when called for.
January 31, 1918. Yesterday my darling child was married to Henry Russell. The wedding in the American Church was small and simple. No bridesmaids, and all the men, of course, in uniform. Her uncle, Kay Vanderbilt, gave Ethel away, and he and her Aunty Anne gave her three beautiful, what she calls "wriggly" bracelets, one of sapphires, one diamonds, and one rubies.
Dr. Billings, from Groton School, performed the ceremony, assisted by Dr. Beekman the rector. Ethel's gown was white satin made by Worth. I put on her tulle veil the way she used as a tiny child to tie a handkerchief around her head and play "Beggar girl, Mummy." After the breakfast in our salon at the Ritz, Cole Porter played the piano and everyone sang, Ethel sitting on the floor, among her friends. And she said, "There were more of my friends here than there would have been if we had married at home."
Toughy Pine had come from Tours, Billy Taylor from somewhere at the Front. Anne had kindly lent her motor to take the bride and groom out to Fontainebleau where I have engaged them an apartment for a few days at the "France et l'Angleterre." The chauffeur kept sending up word that it would be too late for him to take them out if they didn't hurry; so Ethel and Henry tore away from the choruses. Helen Astor and Willard Straight have done everything imaginable for them.
In the evening there was a bad raid and Eleanor Belmont and I, after gazing from an upstairs window, went out and stood in front of the hotel. The French machines carried lights to distinguish them from the enemy, and it was pretty to see them darting about. "Quite mad," people today say we were.
February, 1918---Angers. Have been on an inspection tour with Dr. Lambert, Ruth Morgan, and Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant who writes for the New Republic. We stopped several days at Tours visiting hospitals and aviation camps. Issoudun is a 6,000 men unit, and there are 500 German prisoners there doing the building.
At the second aviation instruction camp at Tours whom should I see paring potatoes, altogether concentrated on making corkscrews out of dirty peel, but one of Ethel's old beaux. "A. W. O. L., I suppose?" I said. He looked up very sheepishly and then went back to his medicine.
It is February, but it is so mild this morning, the earth is so damp and the buds so sticky and straining to burst that it might have been April at home. As we passed through town after town along the banks of the Loire, we did not see a man all day except a half-dozen gnarled grandfathers working in the fields. The black-gowned women with set expressions seldom looked up from their work as we passed. The children had plenty of time for us, waved hands and threw kisses and made quite an event of our coming. Our route is directly down the American line of communication. Twice we passed convoys of American troops in Ford ambulances, and once we caught up with a bevy of army trucks. Late in the afternoon we stopped at a hospital in a beautiful old building. I told the nurses about the American doughboys I had met at noon who trooped across the street as soon as they caught sight of my American uniform. They had troubles to tell after only forty-eight hours on land. They were just up from St. Nazaire and wanted me first of all to explain French money to them. One said: "I went to pay for my lunch, the old woman talked monkey. I couldn't get her nohow, so I give her this." He showed me a ten franc bill. "I says, you take this Dix note and keep the change." The exchange is normal and so the poor boy had paid far too much for his whistle. Nearly all of the American boys are homesick. The ocean seems unnecessarily wide to them, and they can't see the beauty of the poplared roads, aching for cornfields or rocky Massachusetts hills. Just because they are so big and so well built---no one compares with them here except the Australians and New. Zealanders---they seem more childish and appealing.
Savenay. This hospital used to be a school house; now it is an American army hospital with ten thousand beds. The water supply is inadequate. The American engineers are now busy about a mile from here building a reservoir which will hold one hundred million gallons of water.
Behind the Administration building they are putting up some wooden barracks to hold 70 and 100 wounded each, and also a nurses' home. The commanding officer here has rented a hundred-acre farm where he is growing vegetables and planning to have poultry. It will be a very decent place to convalesce. There are three operating rooms which will compare favorably with the best in New York. This morning one of the most noted aurists in America has been here performing adenoid operations. After dinner we were asked to the weekly dance for officers and nurses, and we found ourselves in a corner of France-at-war not quite to be believed. American jazz shook every corner of the room and everybody danced with that peculiar delight in a first ball plus the kind of gaiety Thackeray described on the night before Waterloo. The pianist was the leader of last year's Princeton Glee Club. The banjo boy talked to me about his uncle the Senator. Most of the orchestra were college men; the orderlies came chiefly from Princeton and Yale.
When I get back to the U. S., though I came here especially to see Red Cross work, I must give the Y. M. C. A. its due; their rest-rooms and reading-rooms are really homelike places, and movies every night are a godsend.
We found a peasant kitchen just outside the hospital gates where a rosy-cheeked middle-aged widow in a white cap made us welcome at her table. Copper kettles gleamed on the walls; sausages by the hundred, savory and inviting, hung from one corner of the room to the other ready to be cut down when called for. At small side tables gray-haired peasants talked together over their own bottles of vin d'Aufin, which they park on a convenient shelf and take down from visit to visit. One tableful of doughboys sat sniffing the chickens which an old woman was turning on a spit; and another tableful of them were making away with a platter of "Crêpes," the French version of the flap-jacks "Mother used to make."
From Savenay we went down to St. Nazaire, the port of debarkation for so many of our troops. At noon a transport of marines was landed, and at sunset we encountered them again at a grade-crossing clustering around the doors of their box cars, singing, "Where do we go from here, boys?" We have just come from a camp near St. Nazaire where the Nth regiment is stationed. The mud around the camp made you think of the third day of creation. Ham F. was the officer of the day. As soon as he heard we had come he got hold of the leader, and had him take his orchestra to the Y. M. C. A. hall and give us a concert. When there was a pause in the jazz Ham would buzz in my ear, "Superb morale this regiment." The music became louder and gayer. Ham was telling us about the Nth. "You can't beat it anywhere. We have no fights at all. It ought to get a chance to show what it can do at the front." He was earnestly pouring, pouring, in the hopes that I would soon be spilling, spilling, praise of the Nth on to G.H.Q., when in dashed a corporal almost too breathless to salute. "Beg pardon, sir; serious shootin' in Company D Street." This was the end of Ham's perfect tale. The band-master was really glad to see me. He had always been fond of Bordie. He talked to me a long time about parties and one thing and another he'd played for in the last ten years. As I walked away somebody else, as chatty as Ham, but with no desire to sell me the regiment, turned up and put it this way. "The Nth is just one damned brawl after another. There won't be a bit of fight in us by the time we get to the front."
February, 1918---Chaumont. Came up here several days ago to speak at the Y. M. C. A. When I saw the C. in C. in Paris, he told me to let him know when I was coming. So I wired. Colonel Boyd met me at the station and took me to this hotel crowded with officers, where a room had been engaged. Sam Babcock, working with the Red Cross, was the first person I ran across in the dining room. He seemed happy to meet someone fresh from home, and I was enchanted to find him. Today we are going over to Neufchâteau to see the big hospital at Bassoil. The first afternoon Bishop Brent came to fetch me in a G.H.Q. motor to see the Cathedral and then to the Chaumont hospital where we found Harold Barclay. I liked the sight-seeing, but most of all I appreciated the privilege of having that time to listen to the Bishop.
February 26th, 1918---Chaumont. When I returned to the hotel, I found a note from Colonel Boyd asking me to dine with the C. in C. at the Château, and saying they would send a car for me.
It was a delightful evening. There were a few generals and several colonels and officers of lesser rank. General P. seemed very busy and went upstairs almost directly after dinner to do some writing. He asked me to stop as long as I could, as he said the officers enjoyed an opportunity of talking to an American woman. He told me to come to his office at ten the next day to talk business. After he had left the drawing-room there was general conversation, the officers seeming much more free in the absence of their superior, to express themselves about the air service. There is a vast amount of discontent among the fliers who feel the West Pointers don't understand either them or their service. Everywhere I go, I hear the complaints of the fliers. Colonel Bolling and Major Green, since General Foulois' appointment, seem to be in an anomalous position in Paris. As ever, there are two sides, but if the war continues any length of time, the air service should be divorced from both the army and navy, and have a Secretary of its own sitting in the cabinet; that is my snap judgment. On the way back to my hotel Colonel Boyd acknowledged that there were hitches between the army and the air force, but he thinks cooperation will come in time. It is a delight to meet anyone so devoted to his chief. General Harbord was at dinner, but Logan, McCoy and de Chambrun are all away. Bishop Brent took me around to see the French annex to "1718." (1718 H Street, Washington, has for years been the most delightful bachelor quarters in the world. Henry Fletcher, Willard Straight and others have at various times lived there.) All the 1718ers can't help building little annexes, with something of the spirit of the beloved good address, in whatever corners of the - world they find themselves.
At ten in the morning I went to the Commander-in-Chief's office. There is nobody like him; he is one of the few men who can tactfully say no without giving you any of the depressing "turned down" feeling. He listened to everything I had to say, and I said out every complaint about army administration that I had heard in France. What he thought I don't know, but he wasn't in the least resentful. I feel very keenly that the world is full of misunderstandings because people don't know how to hear complaints calmly and because so few people are willing to speak out and "not to lose face," as the Chinese say, if no notice is taken of their suggestions.
Sam Babcock and I lunched together; then Colonel Collins took me to Langres, a beautiful hill town with a view from the city wall, that on clear days includes Mont Blanc itself. It was disappointing to miss Willard Straight; he is at the Staff College here.
Bishop Brent is devoting much of his life at present to creating better relations between the British and American troops. He was terribly shocked when he first came to find the amount of ignorant, quite irrational rub between them. I took his lead and my speech at the Y. M. C. A. tonight was about better understanding with the British. The doughboys crowded round after the meeting, as they always do, and asked the most touching questions. "Say, Ma'am, did yer ever know my Aunt Mary keeps the store at Duxbury, Massachusetts?" "Say, Ma'am, can yer tell me nuthin' about the Texas onion crop?" My third and last day was a rush. After a hurried once-over inspection of the officers' club at Neuf château, I lunched at the mess with Colonel Winship and General Mitchell, who is the smartest looking American officer that I have ever seen.; made notes on the big American hospital at Bassoil ; and in spite of several blow-outs on the way, got back to Chaumont. The Paris train was dark and dreary, but Ogden Mills found me on it, and we talked all the way, not about politics this time, but about the queer way life twists, how unexpected everything is, how relationships, like people themselves, live and die, and how one must go on, on, on, whatever happens.
March 8th, 1918. Tomorrow morning at 8, I start for Havre. I must, in order to make my boat from England for America. Ethel leaves at the same hour for Bordeaux. It's a tug to leave her behind, to have the ocean between us, an ocean with submarines in it, at that.
I quote a letter to Ethel, written from London,
March 19, 1918.
With the good fortune that has followed me all through this trip, I found a calm channel at Havre yesterday. In the streets were the same flower vendors as in Paris, with spring piled high on their stalls, golden brown from the Riviera, scarlets and blues from the Midi, and the little fresias that we love. I wanted to send you some for farewell.
As I stood on the quay at eight in the evening, I saw quite a large hospital ship, one of the "Castle" line, go out. We followed her in just two hours, and although the night was most tempting on deck, I was so tired that I went almost at once to my room, and lay down on the bed, fully dressed. It seemed only a few minutes when there came a knock at my door and a voice said: "Please get up and put on your life preserver; something is wrong." It was 1 A. M. and we must have been in mid-channel. With my life preserver hung round my neck, I stepped into the passageway where hunched against the partition were British, Canadian and American officers, and a few women. Everyone seemed calm enough in spite of the noise of running and shouts overhead. A strong smell of something burning made me ask a British officer opposite me if we were on fire. He nodded. I slipped on deck through a door forward which I had discovered earlier in the evening. It was pitch dark except for the stars. The flashlights carried by the officers went on and off like giant fireflies. As soon as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I made out two destroyers on our starboard side from one of which, across a narrow plank that swayed gently to and fro, a procession of men passed carrying burdens on their backs. How they managed to avoid slipping off the plank and what they could be bringing aboard, I could not see. Another very large destroyer was slowly circling around and around our ship, and presently it hove alongside, and a voice called sharply through a megaphone, "It is not safe for you to wait longer. Go full speed ahead. The rest we will take to Southampton ourselves." The two destroyers dropped astern. We were under way again. Below I found the ladies' cabin, halls and all the staterooms filled with British wounded, men from the Italian front and men from Flanders, men in all stages of convalescence. These were the burdens I had seen on the backs of the sailors crossing that narrow plank in mid-channel. Another hospital ship had been sunk. Ghastly. Two hundred of these twice-brave men with us.
In one stateroom alone, there was a man with appendicitis, a man so ill with pneumonia that he had to sit up all night because he couldn't breathe lying down, and a man with no legs.
The passengers collected all their cigarettes and chocolates and went about distributing them. Never a word of complaint, only smiles. What patience and pluck. You would have laughed at the sleepy passengers, as they sat on the floor the rest of the night, their heads nodding as they pillowed themselves on life preservers which still hung about their necks by the Captain's orders.
Several hours late we docked at Southampton. Ambulances were on the dock. Everyone took it as a matter of course. There wasn't a single hysterical passenger. People stand by through all sorts of nightmares and carry on calmly. It is wonderful.