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This is the seventh 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. The sixth included discussions he had with a Quaker leader on the possibility of revolution in America and the beginning of a Mission planning conference he was attending. This is continued in this letter.

Aubreville, Meuse
5th April 1919

Dear little wife:

It is eight o’clock and just growing dark. The sun has shown very little today, but the air has been warm for the first time this spring. I’ve just returned from an hour’s stroll with a 19 year old – at that point I fell to talking with Thurman Markle (he received a letter from Eurah Ratliff today) and it is now 9 P.M. I began saying I had been for a stroll with West, an Englishman, tho’ he was incidental to the stroll. We walked through the village and up the hill to the ruins of the church. From there just at sunset we had a pretty view of the surrounding country. About the church are the fresh graves of many French soldiers. Just back of the church we found a group of zig-zag, stone lined trenches and gun emplacements. These had been heavily bombarded by the Germans from the Argonne, for there were many large shell holes, and heavy fragments of bursted shells strewed the ground. We wandered beyond into an orchard where the ground was carpeted with violets and cow-slips. I’m enclosing samples to make the walk seem real to you.

92 years later…

04-05-1919 Letter - Dried Flowers

… I think the flowers have dried a bit but they seem very real to me.

We passed through an abandoned and destroyed American army camp, and dropped down the south slope of the hill into the village of Coucelles which is almost as badly ruined as Aubreville. From there we followed the round around the hill back to our shack, stopping on the way to call on our South Aubreville friends. I proposed to Caldwell & Lindley that we go to Verdun tomorrow and the whole equipe jumped at the idea.

“Coucelles” is actually Courcelles directly south of Aubreville.

You may recall in the last letter, April 1, 1919, that poor “head over heals in love” Thurman Markle had just heard that his beloved Eurah Ratliff was sick with the flu and that this was still during the time of the very deadly Spanish flu. He does not say here that she has recovered but the receipt of a letter a few days later is a good sign that she has survived.

Just as an aside, I don’t think Eurah and Thurman ever married. A Eurah Ratliff Marshall from Indiana, of the appropriate age, a graduate and later trustee of Earlham College shows up later in the history of the 57th Street Meeting in Chicago of which my grandparents were founding members. She married Eli Howard Marshall of Grant County Indiana and they are buried in Grant County which is where the town of Fairmount is. No idea what happened to poor “head over heels in love” Thurman.

You may recall also that he (Garfield) was a representative to the planning meeting of the Friends mission and that he closed his last letter as he prepared to “go in and listen & perchance argue a little if necessary.”

After I mailed my letter to you yesterday we had a full and intensely interesting day of discussion of Mission and church problems. In the morning it was decided that a special committee should begin the collection of source materials for three future books on the Mission’s work in France. One is to be a scholarly & balanced history, a second is to be to this work what a college annual is to students, and a third is to be a simple booklet written in French and in two parts, the first being a simple statement of our principles and the second a description and record of our work. This third book would be sent to each family whom the Mission had helped. This would be an indirect method of keeping our ideals green in the memory of our French comrades. I proposed the thing myself.

One of the things I will have to find the time to do is to visit the American Friends Service Committee Archives as well as the Peace Collection at Swarthmore College. I don’t know if the books suggested above were ever written. A quick search suggests not but perhaps they were written but have simply been passed by through time and only a deeper search will reveal them.

We also thrashed out some recommendations concerning the future social work of the Friends and finally appointed a sub-committee to work on certain propositions bro’t forward. Among the more significant of these were (1) the development of a Friends International Press Bureau which should give the world the truth about significant social movements. We would maintain embassys in every civilized country – men trained to find the truth & with integrity to give it to the world whatever the personal cost. (2) the creation and maintenance of a mobile unit of young Friends who would do difficult social and national service free, each able bodied young person who could do so giving a year of his life to this work in home or foreign lands: (3) the granting of a special membership with us to all non-Friends whose ideals are such that they wish to unite with us in practical activities without giving up their membership in another church (such an arrangement now exists temporarily for such members of the mission as wish to avail themselves of it – Mr. Libby, for instance, is one of these special members while remaining also a Congregationalist.

I think I mentioned already that my brother and I will probably give these letters to the American Friends Service Committee archives at some point. They clearly have lots of such material already but I wonder if they have first person accounts of participants in some of these foundational meetings. The AFSC was only formed in 1917 in response to America entering the war. My grandfather played a small role in the steps leading up to its creation, later became a working member in France, participated further here in these early organizational meetings and later in life was a regional executive committee chairman for the Midwest states for many years and also sat on the AFSC’s national board. It seems appropriate that their archives be the final repository for these letters.

I’ll skip a few minor pieces and bring us to this important one…

… Afternoon we discussed earnestly for two hours the question of employing German prisoner labor….

… Now concerning employment of German prisoners. Some insisted that we could not honorably use involuntary labor. Others said use the prisoners in order to get the opportunity to feed them better. Still a third position was that we should pay them regular workman’s wages besides. But the first position was gradually set aside because it was felt that we could not keep them from having to work involuntarily, even if we refused to use them ourselves, and that refusal to use them would rob us of the opportunity of ameliorating their present condition - & this last is the great practical consideration. The third position seemed not to meet the point because we couldn’t pay them till after they’d returned home and Edmund Harvey felt it was doubtful whether we’d ever get to pay many of them, since they don’t even know what their addresses will be. It was finally decided to feed those we employed morning and evening as well as noon, and to rotate employment so as to help as many as possible in the long run. Also we ask the Philadelphia & London committees to set aside a sum of money the same to be contributed after the war to the amelioration of conditions in Germany. I was appointed on a special committee to make definite plans for procuring and distributing the extra food required in feeding these men who work for us. This committee met Sat. at 9 A.M. at Grange so I returned to it. At the same time a committee on the future of the Mission was meeting.

And so we have the resolution of the problem of employing forced prisoner labor. And perhaps a clue to the strikethrough of “the same” in the previous letter. Perhaps the idea of rotating prisoners so as to be able to feed more of them was already under discussion.

Edmund Harvey is no doubt this man:

Thomas Edmund (Ted) Harvey (4 January 1875 – 3 May 1955) was an English museum curator, social reformer and politician. He sat in Parliament first as a Liberal and later as an Independent Progressive Member of Parliament (MP). He was also a prolific writer on Christianity and the role and history of the Society of Friends.

His wikipedia entry contains an interesting bit of information about British history in regard to Conscientious Objectors.

Throughout the First World War and until 1920 Harvey, in the Quaker tradition, engaged personally in relief work in the war zone in France on behalf of the War Victims’ Relief Committee of the Society of Friends.[22] But Harvey’s dilemma over support for the government as opposed to his religious beliefs surfaced when he and another Liberal Quaker MP, Arnold Stephenson Rowntree, helped to draft the part of the Military Service Act 1916 that provided for the possibility of conscientious objectors being required to perform non-combatant duties in the army. There was disagreement among Quakers about the sort of service, if any, which conscientious objectors should be asked to do, and Harvey and Rowntree were accused of arrogating to themselves the right to specify what objectors might do and of misrepresenting to the authorities the extent to which they could speak for Quaker opinion.[23] He also served as a member of the Pelham Committee, the body charged with trying to find suitable occupations for conscientious objectors during the War.[24]

Now there’s a “sticky wicket.” These men are MP’s in a position to affect the law favorably for their fellow conscientious objectors yet not in a position to truly speak for that larger community. If they don't act they leave the treatment of C.O.'s to the tender mercies of non-Quakers. If they do act they collaborate with government in limiting the free exercise of individual conscience so critical to Quaker beliefs.

Both Friday and Saturday I appealed strongly to the head of the Works & Building Departments for more men for Aubreville, but every job in the district is undermanned so I gained no promises. However, I have Abell and Holmgren determined to come here at the earliest opportunity and I had a long talk with Parsons (Ornans chef since Price) which he will take back to the boys at Ornans, & I hope it may induce some of them to ask to come here.

While I am used to reading “chef” as in “french cook” he is apparently using it in place of “chief” in these letters.

The work issue comes up in later letters so I include this paragraph by way of setting the stage of later discussion. I’ll snip most of the rest of the letter.

… Six of our fellow go to Clermont at nine o’clock to be discharged from the army….

It is not completely clear to me but the impression from statements like this in these letters is that most of the C.O.’s were drafted into the army and remained in the army while assigned to the Friends Units. This meant they had to go through the same discharge process and were subject to the military the entire time though this later does not seem to have been much of an issue.

Also, I think perhaps my grandfather volunteered for work with the Friends and was not drafted into the army. I’ll have to go through the letters again but I don’t recall a single word from him regarding being discharged or otherwise subject to military rules or regulations at all. During his many discussions about vacation time and when he will come home it appears to be entirely up to him to decide when he will return and he makes no mention of having to wait on military paperwork. There is also the suggestion in a letter from his father-in-law that it is inappropriate for a college professor to be doing this sort of manual labor and that he ought to have paid someone else to do it. While wealthy men could pay for other men to replace them during the civil war I am not aware of any such provisions being allowed during World War I.

I forgot to say that Edmund Harvey was here yesterday noon dinner, and that afternoon Jim Norton and his wife came by on bicycles and stopped for a while. They went off so happily together that it made me sort of envy them. When I see the bright moments over here I wish you were here with me, and then the next day I’m glad you’re in Platteville.

He goes on awhile about the difficulty of writing and the lack of stamps. Apparently the British mail went through their military for free while the American mail needed stamps once it reached the states consequently the British Friends who larger ran things didn’t understand the need for providing stamps.

He closes with this…

… when I got back, letter No. 58 from you awaited me. Letter 57 in which you first speak of your cold hasn’t yet reached me. You have consistently told me you were better before I learned you were not well each time.

Jimmie must be close about here somewhere. But I’ll not try to answer your letter this time. Ida M. Tarbell & William Allen White (author of “A Certain Rich Man”) were making a round of inspection of our Verdun work today.

Garfield

I guess Ida Tarbell needed no introduction! Unfortunately I have no idea who “Jimmie” is. I’m not aware of any family members of appropriate age named James. Nor have I been able to find anything on “Jim Norton and his wife” mentioned above.

An interesting habit in these letters which his mother also used in hers was to write a “p.s.” up and down along the left hand side of the page. Such as the one in this letter…

I include more of those tracts which our forces distributed by means of shells.

But again, no propaganda tracts survived… though the dried flowers sent home from overseas husband to wife did.

Originally posted to Andrew C White on Tue Apr 05, 2011 at 10:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Genealogy and Family History Community, History for Kossacks, and Community Spotlight.

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