This is the eighth 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. The seventh continued discussion of the conference and the problem of employing German POW labor. This letter returns mostly to the subject of the work they are doing.
MISSION ANGLO-AMERICAINE DE LA SOCIETE DES AMIS
FRIENDS WAR VICTIMS RELIEF COMMITTEE
Aubreville Meuse; France
10th, April 1919
Dear little woman:
You used to smile because mother spoke so often of the kind of weather or the temperature. Perhaps I’m getting to be like her, for the first thing I tho’t to write was “It is raining tonight after raining all of last night and part of today”. But I am happy for I received this evening letter No. 57 and a letter from mother written March 11th…
… You caution me to quit work in plenty of time. Our fellows aren’t having any trouble booking passage within a few days of when they want to. It is not like the army situation….
The heading is typed print on stationary he has been using the last few letters. Stamps are still hard to come by but apparently they now have their own Society of “Amis” stationary to write on.
The logistics of moving an army from one continent to another were as complex then as today. Perhaps more so. But here we have another oddity. The Friends required discharge from the army but once they received it they were on their own in regard to getting home. Regular army I’m sure did not receive their discharges until they arrived back in the states and were mustered out. Regular army had to sit and wait for army arranged transport home. Friends discharged in France were on their own but were able to easily book private transport home.
This particular letter begins with what are clearly responses to whatever she wrote in “letter No. 57.” For instance…
I’m sorry Ruth stole our name for her boy and I’m sorry, too, about your cold.
Grandpa’s sister Eva had a daughter named Ruth that would have been 20. I don’t know anything about her line of the family so it is possible that she had married and had a boy at that time. Unfortunately that means I don’t know what their planned name for their first son was to be. And then there is this…
But the news about your reelection and raise in salary, and the possibility of Esther being in Indianapolis next year are good to hear. I hope Mabel can take your place.
Reelection to what? I don’t know. Grandma spent this year teaching at Platteville High School in Platteville, Wisconsin. The reelection must be something in regard to her job. A raise in salary is always good news. In similar passages in earlier letters it is clear she feels overwhelmed by the job and is considering quitting. She didn’t feel up to the task but apparently grew into it as the year went along.
Esther and Mabel are the sisters of Grandma "little woman." My older siblings talk sometimes about “going out to the farm” but as Aunt Esther died when I was one year old I have no memories of going out to her farm in Harvard, Illinois. Unfortunately this means that I do not have the same connection with the Wade side of the family as my siblings do. Old family photographs make it clear that during the 50’s the Wade-Cox-White family gathering place was Aunt Esther’s farm. Aunt Mabel I do remember. I recall in particular her speaking at the memorial service for my 80 year old grandmother of her memories of changing her diapers. Great-Aunt Mabel lived to be 105 and did much of the genealogy gathering on that side of the family. I believe the idea was for Mabel to take Grandma’s place teaching at Platteville once grandpa returned and they went back to Wabash College in Indiana.
And this interesting tidbit…
I think the word “dance” is invariably offensive to father & mother. It would be better for you not to use the word without explaining tactfully (I don’t mean “apologizing”) what the dance is.
There have been a few mentions of “the dance” but none extensive enough to make it clear to me exactly what is being talked about. It is related to the school but it does not seem to be a prom. But I’m just not clear about that. Father & mother Cox were Wesleyan Methodists. Dancing has been viewed as immoral at various times by various groups so I did a quick search of “Wesleyan” and “dance” and came up with this from just a few years later… (pdf)
New York Times
March 13, 1921, Asbury Park, N.J.
The eighty-second annual session of the Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church went on record today as opposed to all dancing, condemning especially a new dance recently named the “Wesleyan” by the American National Association of Dancing Masters…
… introduced the following resolution, which was adopted unanimously:
“Whereas the American National Association of Dancing Masters has created a new dance which is called the ‘Wesleyan,’ in order to conciliate the Methodists on the dance question;
“Resolved, That the Methodist Episcopal Conference view this action of the Dancing Masters’ Association with disdain, and hereby register their protest against this most disgraceful attempt to associate the name of our revered founder with the modern dance and its shameful and sensuous heredity, and to name an unholy dance after the name of the holy Wesley is nothing short of an outrage against decency and a direct insult to every Methodist; and be it further
“Resolved, That we maintain an incessant and unrelenting hostility to the dance institution in every form, regarding it as inimical to purity, destructive to piety, a menace to our church work and a source of unmitigated moral evil, wherever permitted and practiced.”
Yes, well, there we have it. Perhaps grandfather is right my dear Congregationalist-turned-Quaker grandmother, it might be best not to talk about dancing teenagers with great-grandmother and great-grandfather.
And for genealogy fans there are sentences like these…
Twenty-two years ago today my folks moved to where they live now. I remember it well. That makes me feel old.
He had to have been 4! He’s 26 and feeling old. Yesterday was my 50th birthday. HAHAHAHAHA! On this day at age 26 I probably felt hung over. Oh, and I had probably been dancing the night before. LOL One thing I'm certain I didn't feel was old.
But now I know exactly when they moved to the farm in Fairmount.
He has now finished replying to her letter and moves on to talking about his work in France.
Tues. forenoon I worked at house erection. That day & the next were as fine as one could imagine. Afternoon Gerig and I went to repair a room for an old man whose sons were killed in the war and whose wife died two years ago. The man owned, a large number of buildings here, and has some money to live on now. He is staying at Bar-le-duc and wants a place to live here so he can clean up his lots. He said, however, that he wouldn’t insist on a new house just for himself, if we’d repair a room in one of his houses so he could live in it. We worked a while, but found the job hopeless. The walls can’t be made safe, and we found floor sills rotted away and even the bricks of the floor crumbled with age. Beneath this room was a cellar with an arched stone roof. American troops had occupied the cellar last fall and had left there all sorts of war paraphernalia, including a stretcher. We decided to build the old man a two room house.
This story of the man who has lost his entire family wanting just a little help, just enough so that he can get to work on cleaning up and rebuilding himself, makes an poignant juxtaposition with the story of another man further below.
Wednesday (yesterday) I enjoyed especially. Till 2 P.M. I worked alone with a German fellow named Carl Krause from Hamburg. We had some good talks. He knows some English & I a little German so we got on pretty well. He says it was bad diplomacy that brot Am. into the war, that capitalists and a few professional militarists caused the European war, & that he is glad Germany did not win, for it would have meant she’d have to arm even more heavily for the future. After two o’clock two other fellows helped me. They are both emphatic on the point that the world was tricked into a war by a few people of whom capitalists were chief offenders.
The more things change the more they stay the same. Bad diplomacy, capitalists and militarists tricking the world into war. Seems we’ve seen this movie recently.
Today these same three fellows have helped me. Krause bro’t me a picture of himself with his autograph & gave me his Hamburg address & asked me to write him after he is released. I value the picture as a rare, personal souvenir. He also showed me a picture of his parents & four sisters, and one of his sweetheart whom he was to have married soon had he not gone to war in August 1914. He served constantly till Nov. 2, 1918 when he was captured by the French.
One of the others gave me two belt hooks with the Prussian crown on them, and several small German coins which I shall give to father.
Sadly, the picture of Carl Krause (or any of the rest) does not appear to have survived and is not amongst the collection of papers, letters and photo’s that came into my possession recently.
In the lead-up to America entering World War I a huge propaganda campaign was engaged to villainize and dehumanize “the Hun” or German people. It was deliberate to refer to the enemy, which was primarily Germany, not as the Saxon cousins of America’s English forebears but rather as the “Huns” of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. “Huns” were Asian invaders of Europe (never mind that was about 1500 years before) and not the good European stock of which Americans were made. All the easier to demonize, dehumanize and… to kill.
But here we have men working together and being human together. Common interests, common concerns, common wants, common needs… and a common enemy in the “capitalists and a few professional militarists [that] caused ... war” for their own benefit and the deaths of others.
Cultures differ but I doubt our Arab brothers and sisters interests, concerns, wants and needs are all that much different then ours. I saw a headline earlier that said a witness at Peter King’s Muslim Witch Hunt hearings stated that Muslims are taught to hate America. My immediate reaction was that these hearings are designed with one purpose in mind and that is to teach Americans to hate and fear Muslims.
Yesterday our boys went to Grange again for their army discharges, but didn’t get through, so they went again today and are now free men. On the way back their truck left the road & smashed into a tree; Lindley’s knee was slightly hurt.
I am so tempted to say “Par-teeee!” But these were mostly all Quakers so I suspect an alcohol fueled celebration was probably not the cause. But an inattentive celebration may well have been.
Raymond Jenkins told me Tuesday that Paul Whitely is to arrive here from Sermaize Saturday to help him in Ag. work. We’re surely getting a bunch of old acquaintances together.
Paul Whitely comes up a lot in the earlier letters. He was apparently a friend from back home in Indiana. He was a conscientious objector that was drafted, refused to serve in the army, was convicted, and spent time in prison at Ft. Leavenworth until the war ended when he was released and went to France to serve with the AFSC. Apparently one of the things that happened early on was that many C.O.’s were tricked into showing up once drafted thinking that their C.O. status would be recognized and they would be assigned non-combat roles. The army took the stance that by showing up they were consenting to full service and would assign them to combat units. One of the early tasks the AFSC took on was to advocate for these men, provide support for those whom remained in combat units and to try to get the ones that refused out of prison. Paul Whitely was one of these last.
We are building a house now for M. Thibout, a bourgeois whose winter home is in Paris. His family have been contractors since the time of Louis XIV, and he is exacting and “fussy” – extremely so – about this job. He gets on my nerves hideously. But I’ll not relate the situation. Sometime when we go over these letters together I can tell you about him. For instance…
I thought he said he would not relate the situation. Guess this fellow bothered him enough he had to tell at least part of the tale…
… he insisted upon going into the adjoining yard & exchanging sections with an old lady who was absent and could not therefore protest at having her house materials culled so that his house might contain all the best materials & hers the worst.
It is 10:30. Now that it is getting quiet about me, I must go to bed!
What a guy! M. Thibout just got on my nerves too.
Friday Morn. April 11.
It is still raining and everywhere is a sea of mud. That means heavy ill fitting boots and holes in my socks. But it won’t last always. Before long the sun will be out again bright and beautiful and it will seem mighty good to be alive. Price brings word from Ornans that about April 1st they had the heaviest snow of the winter.
Wed. morning I and Krause went to the lumber yard at the station for some planks just as the ten o’clock train for Verdun passed through. As the train stopped some two score American lieutenants looked out of the car windows, saw the tanks in the streets & the ruined town, and rushed out with their kodaks to climb all over the tanks and take pictures of them. Their evident excitement struck me as humorous. It was evidently the first trip of these gallant officers into the war zone! They also stared at an airplane flying high above us.
My “veteran” grandfather laughing at the “greenhorns”! At Ornans there had been an airfield next to where they were working so they saw airplanes taking off, landing and flying regularly. Grandpa had an offer to fly at one point but ended up turning it down. One of the few surviving photos is a very dark, barely discernable one of him talking with one of the pilots next to his airplane.
It is evening, 9:30 in fact, and raining. Nothing “different” has happened today. Three of us (plus two Germans for the six hours they work) spent today on this same house for M. Thibout. Several sections and timbers for the house were missing, so we’ve had the delay of making new ones from unsatisfactory material. And Thibout seems to forget that we are building a temporary house, and that we are giving our time instead of being highly paid by him for our work.
It does make me wonder, if the ungrateful and selfish Thibout is a contractor, why are they building a house for him in the first place? But Thibout’s grandson is probably a Wall Street banker today in great need of tax cuts and bailout funds supplied by unemployed and barely surviving Americans to pay bonuses to his already wealthy executive staff.
Some things never change.
I sure do like the old man that lost his entire family and asked only for help in recovering one room for him to live in so that he could take it from there in cleaning up and rebuilding himself.
It will be two weeks day after tomorrow since I wrote last to father and mother and I haven’t the stamps to send to both of you now so again I’ll enclose to you a letter for father & mother and ask you to send it to them the first time you write.
Aaargh! This means there are more letters that didn’t survive. The enclosed letters that get mentioned like this a few times did not get saved the way ones sent directly in their own envelopes did. Aaaargh! Darn the British for not providing stamps!
It is 195 days since I left you, & in half that time I shall probably be on the ocean on my return. I wish it didn’t mean speeches and skimping in travelling and visiting. I like to let go sometimes and plan as if we could do just whatever we ourselves preferred after my return.
Can you hear the rain hammering the tar-paper roof?
Lots of love,