July 1918


July 2/18

Have had an opportunity in the last few days of looking the town over a bit. It is small, about 1000 people, the streets are narrow and the houses old, the front entrances of the houses are anything but attractive, each has its manure pile out in front, right on the street. Apparently in this country a man’s wealth is determined by the size of his manure pile. Our billet is conspicuous by the absence of this—another point in favor of the Madame.

july-2Directly across the street from our billet the old village church looms up. In its tower is a [unclear]  which strikes every fifteen, much to the disgust of Capt. Ross, Sweitzer and myself. One of the French officers attached to our Regiment said the large hand moves faster coming down than going up and I guess he is right, as the time is always changing. Four French officers and an interpreter have been attached to the Regiment as instructors, Capt. Forteau and [Luit De’Sanceron?] will remain with us. All are bully*  good fellows.

*I had to look up the fact that “bully” is indeed an adjective.

July 4/18 

Just to think that today is the 4th and what a difference over the kind I have usually celebrated. All over France it will be celebrated in wonderful style. In Serqueux there was a field meet by our soldiers, the band played and the natives were out in force. It was a holiday for everyone. The village crier was out early this morning, beating on his drum and jabbering away in French telling the towns people the news—just to remind us that we are not so very far away from the front lines. The aeroplanes are flying over continuously and once in a while we can faintly hear the boom of the big guns at the front. We are approximately 50 miles from the nearest lines.

A French fighter plane (c. 1917).

A French fighter plane (c. 1917)

July 8/18 

Have been working mightily hard in the office the past few days. All my men are new at the work and there is a great deal of supervision necessary. The Madame does every thing possible to make us comfortable.

Well, I have got them—the French cooties*—I can’t imagine where they came from but they sure are some biters, big red blotches all over my body. Funny thing, they go after Sweitzer one day and let up on me, then vis-versa. Holcomb, my orderly, claims he found a kind of flea in the bed so I have placed him on guard. The French captain, Sweitzer and myself took a long walk over the hills today. This is certainly some wonderful country, about the most beautiful I have ever seen. It indeed seems a shame to put such a country into war.

*”Cooties” is an archaic term for lice.

July 12/18

We all are working hard, building trenches, grenade courses, rifle ranges, etc. under the supervision of the French officers. For the last few nights we have been having a school, in the same house with Ross. Sweitzer and myself are the two village school teachers. They are just as anxious to learn English as we are French, and we have some interesting sessions. My French is rotten, I can’t seem to get my tongue around these French words.

july-12One of the school teachers is very pretty, typical French type, dark with big brown snappy eyes—as usual I made a break the first thing—my lack of knowledge of the language was responsible—I was trying to pay for a pretty compliment, the only one I could think of was petite so I boldly said “vous avec un petite face.” Well “face” in French is not exactly the same as in English—it means the other extremity*—so you can imagine how I fit.

*Not quite—goes to show how Cap, although fluent in German, never quite grasped French (just like his great-grandson). “Face” does indeed mean “Face,” but “vous avec un petite face” translates more or less to “you with a small face.

“It indeed seems a shame to put such a country into war.”

July 14/18

Today is the big French holiday similar to our fourth of July. The American troops are celebrating in the same way, I believe it is the anniversary of the French revolution.* We had another field meet on the plateau, the natives were all out in their Sunday clothes. I went to church this morning, catholic service all the way thru. I got up and sat down with the rest. The Curate had a wonderful sermon, so they say. Once he said something in French and I got up when the rest did. I afterwards found out it was volunteers for a donation to the church of fifty francs—I got out without paying.

At five o’clock the major of the town invited the colonel and officers to the Mairie to have wine, etc. —everyone was present at the prescribed time. Certainly was some time, all the champagne you could drink and all left in good spirits. It is a general custom on this day, they say. The local fire department was out in force in uniform (everybody in France wears a uniform of some kind), they all got [zigzag?]† and the town crier was beating his drum and crying far into the night.

*Bastille Day: commemorating the beginning of the French Revolution with the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789.

†My new favorite euphemism for “drunk.”

Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

Storming of the Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

July 17/18 

Had a big Divisional maneuver yesterday. We marched to the supposed scene of action, distance about 10 kilometers, started from camp about 5:30 A.M. and arrived in time to form our lines and advance on the enemy at 9 o’clock. It was some exercise, we advanced fully 6 kilom. in formation and thru fields, over streams, mountains, etc. Lieut. Haverstick was to meet us at a designated point and bring our lunch but he lost the way I guess. Stopped the advance about 2 p.m. and H—* found us with the lunch, he was sure welcome.  M. Guignard and I remained behind while the others continued the advance, I was [to] stay at original P.C. for orders. G— talks English fairly well but can’t understand our slang phrases. Spent the remainder of the afternoon giving him a line on the real American language. It was a scream the way he used the slang. Mighty tired tonight.

*Cap frequently uses em dashes to abbreviate names.

July 19/18 

learn-englishWe have established our mess with Madam Barbeau, a remarkable old lady of about 70 years. She has just turned her house over to us completely, and her maids together with our cook and waiter are preparing the meals, which are by the way wonderful. We have everything imaginable to eat and some remarkable French dishes prepared by the ladies. It is that feminine touch about everything that puts on the necessary finish.

School still continues but I can’t do much good, feel that I am learning a little but still get the stuff so mixed up that I don’t dare to open my mouth. Ross is making a big hit with the pretty instructress, think there is a bad case started. I got hold of a box of candy at the commissary in Bourbonne and brought it in tonight. They went crazy about it, impossible to get candy here in France and we all seem to crave it more than anything else.

July 21/18

Sweitzer and I went for a walk this afternoon, today being Sunday. Did not go to church this morning, can’t see those long-winded French sermons, and then I’m afraid I’ll stand up again at the wrong time.

beautiful-dayBeautiful day and our walk was wonderful, finally ended up in Bourbonne les Bains, (Bains stands for bath, they have one here but about the only one I have seen in France). Bourbonne is a city of about 6,000, very old and interesting. We roamed around for a time trying to see some pretty girls—but they are not around—they have got to show me these beautiful women of France that we heard so much about. I haven’t found them.

Went to a picture show, an American picture with American actors but all the explanations were in French so couldn’t make much out of it. Later when we were walking around we saw a big crowd gathered in a small park and went to see what the excitement was. There in an improvised stage was a real girl from the States no other than Elsie Janis putting on some stunts as only she is able. Gee, but it did seem good to see and hear an American girl again. You got to hand it to her coming over here as she has, when she could be commanding almost any salary back home.

July 24/18

An American singer, actress, and performer, Elsie Janis was eventually dubbed "the sweetheart of the AEF."

An American singer, actress, and performer, Elsie Janis was eventually dubbed “the sweetheart of the AEF.”

For the past three days I have been busier than the “cooties.” Drew money for the entire Regiment at the quartermaster today and have been paying the regiment off. Had the whole batch of it, about 380,000 francs, in my trunk in our room. For two days I didn’t leave the room, had my meals sent down, two guards were posted outside. The place looked like a mint around there for a couple of days. This French money is a fright, didn’t know a franc from a centime when I started but feel as if I could run a French mint now. All companies have been paid and fortunately I checked out just ten centimes short, less than three cents. Once I had heart failure, tho’t I was about 10,000 francs short. Some of this money looks like Chinese, I strung it like beads for convenience. Last night Ross came thru our room on tip toe, I was half asleep, didn’t know what it was, reached over grabbed for my gat and yelled “who’s there,” he yelled just in time “Ross, don’t shoot.” Little more and I would have let fly. The colonel had a big Cole eight closed car issued to him yesterday, it’s a peach and I am anticipating some good auto rides.

“I was half asleep, didn’t know what it was, reached over and grabbed for my gat.”

July 27/18

Capt. McCarty, Roberts, Sweitzer and myself took the Colonel’s car today and drove to Langres to buy some clothes and other personal effects. Langres is certainly a wonderful place, situated on a high hill overlooking about the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The city is about the oldest in this vicinity, the walls which surround it being built by Caesar. The streets were very narrow and the buildings of the oldest type, many of them having been wrecked by recent air raids. It was a wonderful trip over typical French roads and beautiful country.

Langres, France

Langres, France

July 29/18 

I woke up about 2 a.m. last night scratching for all I was worth, the old cooties were working on me again. They worried me so I couldn’t sleep, so got up and painted all my bites with iodine. Looked like a spotted leopard but it worked fine.

late-julyThe YMCA opened up a hut in town today, had some candy, cigars, cookies etc. to sell. Mr. Bender is in charge and is taking his meals at our mess.

July 31/18

Well, the village school has closed. The little black eyed instructress is to leave tomorrow for her home in Leon. She seems hit hard over Ross and is very much dejected about leaving. We in the house that have been gathering each evening for an hours conflab will miss her instructive French lessons. She tried to show us a few French dances last night but we couldn’t do much good.

There are constant rumors about our moving but nothing definite.


  1. Lynn Hill

    Interesting how “real English” slang has changed during the past century. I would love to get zigzagged with some good French champagne! Bully for Cap!,

  2. Chandler Hill

    Favorite line: “Apparently in this country a man’s wealth is determined by the size of his manure pile. ”
    Love it!

  3. Fabien

    For the text about “July 14/18”, the unknown word with a question mark is the french word “Mairie” for town hall in english. I organise a exhibition in september, about the american troops in Bourbonne Les Bains and in particular about the 92nd afro-american division. Thanks for the sharing of the story.

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