Today's letter is a long one full of interesting information. I've cut out a little but not much so bear with me on the length of this post. We have a personal note; descriptions of the work being done; the operating of the Friends mission; politics; religion; Spanish flu and life in 1919.
This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from letters that my grandfather, Garfield V. Cox, wrote home from France during his service with the American Friends Service Committee during and immediately following the end of World War I. For the first half of his time in France he was stationed in Ornans near the Swiss border. The first diary in this series is from the first letter he wrote after transferring to Aubreville near Verdun in the war zone. The second describes a hike he took along the battle lines in the Argonne Forest and the third is from a letter to his mother and father in which he recounts that same hike but also describes some of his work and the conditions he and his crew were working under. The fourth described his climb up Mt. D'or in which he gained a panoramic view of the Swiss Alps. The fifth discusses the travails of German POW's at the hands of the French.
1st April, 1919
Dear little woman:
This has been the first ideal day we’ve had for a long time. It was cold this morning, but the sun rose clear and by noon it was comfortably warm. Three of us slipped up on the hill by the ruins of the church that overlooks the town and took some pictures at noon. The same three, Oswald, Mack, and I finished one house and started another. Two Ag. Boys drove horse & wagon to Jubecourt for a load of hay, a third went to Verdun, and a forth to Bar-le-duc to get a suit (uniform). We had at dinner today besides ourselves seven German prisoners and six fellows working on the South Aubreville equipe house. The latter expect to move into their house tomorrow. Meanwhile they’ve returned to Grange for the night. From now on we are regularly to have
the samefour German prisoners working with us at the freight yards and one to help the cook in the kitchen.
I don’t know what the weather is usually like in various parts of France but it sounds in these letters like they had a long winter and late spring much as we are having this year here (… I type as it snows several heavy, wet inches on April 1st in upstate New York).
That strikethrough comes into the conversation a little later on either in this letter or one of the next.
But I’ll go back and take up my story where I left it off. Sunday afternoon I wrote a letter to father and mother. In the evening Henry Scattergood came and was present at our meeting. After that I had a long talk with him about the possibilities of revolution in America and about the probable attitude of the capitalistic class. He himself is becoming quite a socialist for a millionaire. He told me of this personal talks back home & recent correspondence with a number of wealthy captains of industry in which he was trying to point them to the handwriting on the wall. He is here buying American Army dumps for the mission and then reselling what we don’t need. He is getting into touch with some of the French officials. He says they at last are beginning to realize that Germany can’t pay them enuf to save their financial situation. “They are scared stiff.” Repudiation may be the only way out.
Well! Lots to unpack in this paragraph. Is Grandpa waiting for the revolution? He never quite says he approves or disapproves but here and elsewhere the most straightforward interpretation is that he is waiting for the revolution to occur and quizzing a prominent leader of what he thinks the chances are of it happening back home.
This is 1919. The Russian revolution has just happened… is happening still. The horrors of the totalitarian regime of Lenin and then Stalin have not happened yet. Socialism is perhaps at its highest point as an ideal. An ideal on the cusp it seems of taking the world. Later in life my grandfather becomes a Professor of Finance and Dean of the School of Business at the University of Chicago and is most definitely NOT a socialist or even what we today would call a liberal. After returning to the U.S. at the end of summer he teaches one more year of Public Speaking at Wabash College and in 1920 takes a job as a teacher at the University of Chicago while beginning his own studies in economics eventually gaining his Ph.D. in 1929. It seems to be during this time frame and those studies that he changed from the idealistic young man we see in these letters to the mature Professor of liberal (in the classic sense) ideas we see in his later writings on political economy but exactly how that happened and what changed his outlook remains in the dark at the moment and perhaps may always.
Henry Scattergood was a championship quality cricket player in the U.S. He was a leading Quaker and philanthropist engaged in the original Red Cross and American Friends Service Committee mission. After his cricket career he went into various businesses including Insurance and became active in reform politics in Philadelphia.
By “repudiation” is meant the government defaulting on debts. As is well emphasized in the history books, France and England laid a heavy burden on Germany to repay war costs. The purpose being to help England and France get out from under their own war related debts. In a 1916 speech my grandfather wrote for grandma’s younger brother (that was quickly buried when I wrote about it on the first day of DK4) he talks about how war would become obsolete and unthinkable in capitalist society due to the costs and impacts on productivity. Obviously he did not foresee the development of the military-industrial complex and the “war economy.” But here and elsewhere he talks about the dangers to France from its own war debt. I don’t know if it is in the upcoming letters (this is only my second time through them) or if it was in previous letters I’ve skipped over here but he talks about how the French government wanted American troops to stay in France because they were worried about revolution and did not trust their own army not to side with the revolutionaries.
But let’s move on and read about how the mission is developing…
We have a new member of our equipe, Thurman Markle, who has just come over. His home is southeast of Fairmount, and he is recently engaged to Eura Ratliff, Pauline’s younger sister. He drives a second truck which has been assigned to Aubreville, and yesterday morning I started with him to take of [sic] box of glass to Clermont and to go on to Les Islettes for a load of tile. But we had engine trouble all the way to Clermont and consumed two hours going five kilometers. So we went on to the garage at Grange to have it worked on. On the way Bill Price passed us in an auto! I had just heard he had been called up from Ornans to become sous-chef of the building work. At Grange I found things greatly developed. The whole place hummed with industry. In the court were a lot more trucks just given as [sic] by the army, and also twenty more motor-cycles. I ate dinner in the dining hall I helped to build there three weeks ago tomorrow. I believe not less than 200 people sat down to dinner there yesterday. There were a good many women. It reminded me of Earlham, and oh how I wished for you to share the hour with me! It was the day of the agricultural meeting when Ag. men were there from each equipe. I talked with Willis Ratliffe, come up from Sermeize to attend this meeting. I ate besides Walter Abell who had just come up from Ornans and had a fine talk with him. I saw Jim Norton and his wife, and also Mr. Biddle. Besides, there were several fellows just arrived from Ornans. There are only ten left there now, and poor Holmgren is one of them. If his discharge doesn’t come this week he is to go to Dole to work till it comes.
After dinner Markle and I went to Les Islettes, got the load of roof-tiles, and bro’t them to Aubreville. Then we worked with the boys who, with seven German prisoners and one truck, had been all day hauling sections from cars to house sites.
I liked Thurman’s brother Loren whom I knew at Ornans, but I like Thurman even better. He is just my age, is a farmer through & through, is head over heels in love, has saved $3,000 to start up with (his father gave him a good chance), and he warmed up to me mighty fast when he sensed the depth & reality of my sympathy. I showed him your picture last evening. – Oh, yes: George Riley, our English cook said Sunday that he had been seeing pictures of the Am. boys’ girls for a year & a half & he had yet to see the first good looking one. I immediately produced your picture, and he said (& he is brutally frank at all times) that your picture was the first good looking one. He went on to describe your character & hit it pretty well.
Thurman is sitting besides me writing to Eurah. He has just learned that she has been sick with the “flu”.
These letters begin in October 1918 during the worst of the infamous Spanish Flu epidemic that killed between 50-100 million from June 1917 to December 1920. One of the amazing things about the first few letters is that here he is going off to the war zone and the talk is completely dominated by the fear and death of the flu. His heading to war is clearly a secondary danger and in fact about 40 died from the flu aboard his boat and were buried at sea during his travel across the ocean. In these circumstances those last two sentences combined with the knowledge that letters took about 3-4 weeks to get from the U.S. to France meant that poor “head over heels in love” Thurman is writing home to his love Eurah knowing and fearing she may well already be dead.
While the above couple paragraphs is hardly the most exciting or newsworthy on an international scale it does give a good feel for life in the “equipe’s” and the hustle and bustle of the work they were engaging in. I’ll skip the next couple paragraphs but will include the last couple lines because they are sweet.
Last evening I read quite a while (for the first time) in Well’s “Joan and Peter”. Tonight I am tired and am going direct to bed now. I dreamed last night that I was with you in a chair car somewhere in Am. and we were dancing to piano music! Good night and don’t let me wake you up when I get up.
I don't know what picture of grandma he carried with him but here is a good photo of her from a couple years before.
George Riley would clearly have been a nutter if he had not said she was good looking!
The mission was primarily a Quaker one but it was originally under the auspices of the better known Red Cross and there were YMCA men there as well. One of the activities they would engage in was religious meetings and discussions. One of these was “Christian Endeavor” which on its first mention my grandfather is quite disdainful of and refuses to get involved in but later with no intervening explanation he mentions his participation and even leading the discussion in them.
I didn’t get to continue this letter last night as I had intended and I wont have very much time tonight. Last night I took pity on George Riley, the cook, and helped him clear the tables and wash the dishes. By that time Christian Endeavor was beginning with the topic “On the Fence”. It quickly developed into a question of whether there is a personal God & if so what he is like, and the discussion waxed hot and boiled till bed time. It closed at a point next door to politics and Jenkins asked me my opinion of La Follette. From that, he turned to questions about the trust-worthiness of papers all the way from “The World Tomorrow” down to Collier’s.
It is paragraphs like this that make me wish he was in the middle of courting Grandma and therefore would have to explain to her what his “opinion of La Follette” was! I think it is safe to say that his opinion was highly favorable as was hers. She being a daughter of Wisconsin and the one letter I have from her father to my grandfather mentioning La Follette quite favorably and making clear that father-in-law felt an intellectual kinship with his son-in-law. I also know from other letters that Grandpa and Grandma were subscribers to “The World Tomorrow” which I had to look up as I had never heard of it before. It’s full title is “The World Tomorrow: A journal looking toward a Christian world.” It was a political magazine founded and run by pacifists and socialists in 1918. During its first years its editor was Norman Thomas, a six-time Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America and later an associate editor of The Nation. Later contributors included Reinhold Niebuhr and grandfathers friend Sen. Paul H. Douglas.
I am not sure if I included in one of the previous letters a line in which he states he was elected by his equipe to represent them at the upcoming meeting of the mission. Here I will skip a few more paragraphs about their work and bring us to the beginning of that meeting.
This morning Cooper & Tom Steere from Neuvilly came by and took Libby & myself with them to Grange. Arthur Parsons was there representing Ornans and Vincent Nicholson was up from Dole. The first session began at 9:30 A.M. (theoretically 9:00) and lasted till 1 P.M. Then we had an hour for dinner. After that was a session from 2:00 P.M. to 4:00, then fifteen minutes for tea, and a resumption of business till six o’clock. I then came home and have ever since been telling the boys about the doings of the meeting.
When I got home I found here a copy of the Fairmount News of Feb. 10th containing the first installment of my letter! I got the copy of Feb. 17th nearly three weeks ago! I wonder if I shall get that of the 13th at all.
I’ll say good night now and try to finish this in the morning before I start for Grange – we have another day’s business ahead of us yet.
I am not completely clear on this but I believe that my grandfather had a job with the local paper in Fairmount when he was in either high school or perhaps home from college. There are a couple hints that he was once “Jimmy Olsen Cub Reporter” but nothing to confirm it. In any case, his parents apparently passed along to the Fairmount News a couple of his early letters which upset him greatly. He says that if he had known they were to be published he’d have spent more time polishing them. The upshot was that he made arrangements to send polished letters to the paper to be published.
I include here jpegs of one such article. It is undated so I do not know if it is the one he is referring to or not. Given the content I suspect it may be. Reading through it just now though I see it includes a reference to my comment above about the French government wanting American troops around in case of revolution. Click on the image’s and if you can’t read them select the larger size at flickr.
Friday morning 8:00 o’clock (Apr. 4)
… Several things said or decided at yesterday’s meeting may interest you. In view of many touching appeals which have come to the Mission from the inhabitants of the Somme, for whom we worked in 1916 but who were subsequently driven out again, it has been decided to reopen that field and try to complete the work started & lost there before. We are also to begin work next week in the department of Varennes. The medical department is rapidly withdrawing from the field to get out of competition with the returning French doctors. Henry Scattergood drove home impellingly the point that other departments, too, were not here to do everything but only the first stages of pioneer work, that we must do things quickly & get out.
We have 62 trucks & 34 Fords on the road. The army has given us 24 liberty three ton trucks, 12 motorcycles (sidecars), and 11 bicycles. We now have 563 members in the Mission. To meet the needs of the returning people we have created a purchase & sales Dep’t which has on hand at this moment 1,250,000 francs worth of material to sell at cost to returning refugees. The Gov’t is unable to deal, it seems, with that situation.
There are three classes of people with whom we work. The most prosperous is that which has been able to stay with its property throughout the bombardment, poorer are those who had to flee but fled in time, and worst off are those who were caught and have lived on the other side of the lines. We have to deal with these classes on different bases. Some of the peasants have money, & all they want is for us to give them a chance to buy; others are objects of charity for the present.
In the news paper clipping above he mentions the story of one such family from the Somme. A later letter will tell of an experience with one of the more prosperous sort.
Today the question of the principle of employing German labor us to be fought out – also several other matters of much interest.
And that discussion in a later letter is indeed interesting.
He covers a little more about trying to get additional men for his equipe, hoping Holmgren will be able to join him again, enjoying riding in a motorcycle sidecar and imaging them traveling America in one and then adds this…
I am enclosing another souvenir, a couple of papers which the allied army shot over into the German trenches in hollow brass cases resembling shells. Quite a number of these still lie about in the Argonne forest. Markle has a couple of the shell cases & also a couple of Wilson’s liberal speeches printed in German. I’d like to know what effect that propaganda had on the Germans.
Unfortunately while several little items he sent in these letters survived these propaganda pieces did not. I imagine they were of interest to other family members and got passed around a lot.
The meeting has begun so I must mail this and go in and listen & perchance argue a little if necessary.
With all my love,