CHESTER REED WRITES FROM FRANCE
Mr. & Mrs. George F. Reed of Amenia Union received the following letter from their son, Chester, who is in France, possibly in April of 1918.
I have just come in from playing ball – Battery B vs. A. We got beat, but then it has been quite a while since I last played, and I got a lot of fun out of it.
This is a very beautiful part of France. The season is quite a little earlier here than in Dutchess county. The leaves are all out and the grass is tall and rank. Everything is so green, and as the weather has been so fine ever since we arrived, our life has been quite a contrast to that in our last camp in the U.S.A.
Everything is so interesting that we spend all of our spare time roaming around camp. The camp is a very old one – in fact, they say it was used as a training camp many years ago. Every building that I have seen so far is made of solid stone and concrete. Most of them show signs of age, but they are good for many, many more years.
Everything, even the smallest piece of paper or bread, is saved and utilized in one way or the other. The more one sees of France, the more he realizes what conservation of the natural resources means to a nation.
Every piece of ground is made use of. The fields are small (we would call them gardens), but the soil seems to be very fertile, and I guess it is fairly productive. I think they must work the fields most of the time, because there are no weeds to be seen. They remind me of our market gardens that one sees out through the middle part of New York State.
Our cooking is done on field stoves by regular cooks. There are no tables, so the men squat down on the ground with their mess kits between their legs. It makes me think of camping days at old Long Pond.
The Y.M.C.A. is here furnishing the writing paper, athletic goods, cigarettes, etc. to the boys. We would not know what to do without the building displaying the red triangle.
I forgot to say that this camp is made up entirely of Americans. The big gray army trucks go whizzing along just as they did in America and almost the first thing I saw in striking terra firma was a “Henry Ford.”
It was hot the day we left the boat and our march to camp would have been rather trying, had it not been so interesting, especially since I had not had a bath in two weeks nor had my clothes off in three days.
The minute we struck land, the kids began to swarm – little ones, big ones and middle-sized ones. All they could say was “cigarette” or “penny.” Most of them wear great wooden shoes and stockings that come just above their shoe tops.
They followed us all the way to the big gate, and we sure had some fun with them. They laughed at us, and we laughed at them. We would throw a pack of cigarettes or a penny in among them, and you should have seen them dig in and claw for them. It was more fun than a circus.
Sunday 2:45: that means it is a quarter of nine at home. I wonder what you are doing. Maybe you will take a spin in the Buick and go to Millbrook. I wish I could be with you, but I never mind. I sure will make up for lost time when I get home. It will be a month or two before I hear from you, so you must make it a good long letter when you write. What has been going on since I saw you?
I thought I would see you again before leaving, but it was all so unexpected. That’s the way it is in the army.
You are continually in my thoughts, and I am praying that God will be with you until I come back to you. I know you must worry a lot, but, little Mother, I assure you that I am in good hands, and am in good spirits, as well as in good health. As Pop would say, “It’s as loose as ashes and twice as dusty.”
Old Fritzie wants to look alive when we begin to send over the lead pills. Have seen Ross Coffin and Velle with in the last day or two and guess I will have the chance to see some of the Amenia boys in a few weeks.
I am writing on only one side of the paper, so that if anything is cut out it won’t include that which may be all right. Will also number my letters 1, 2, 3, etc., so you can tell whether you are getting them all or not. This is No. 2. I wrote it on the boat.
I must wash some clothes and clean up before retreat, but will commence another letter in a day or two. Your “soldier boy” is well and happy.
HVT – 8/24/1918
CHESTER REED WRITES CHEERFUL LETTER HOME
Somewhere in France
July 17, 1918
Dear Home Folks:
Well, by this time you have probably begun to think that I have forgotten all about home and writing letters. We are at last at the front in a quiet sector, it is true; just enough going on to make it interesting. We left our last camp a week ago tomorrow and pulled in this one two and one-half days later in fine shape.
I think everyone enjoyed the trip, at least I did, as it was a good chance to see the country. Everything that could be done to make us comfortable was done. The old field kitchen was run out on a flat car and set up, so when we were in our cars sleeping or looking out the door, our beans were cooking and we could have a hot meal. Our bed sacks were also placed in the cars. We used them to sit on in the daytime and to sleep on at night.
I spent most of my time looking over the country we were going through. It didn’t take us long to get out of the sand section, much to our relief, and into the farming communities.
I saw thousands of patches (I can’t say fields) of wheat and oats. The wheat was fair, but I didn’t see what we would call a good crop of oats on the whole trip – the average height being somewhere between a foot and a foot and one-half. I didn’t see a field of corn anywhere.
When the train stopped in a village or city, we were usually allowed to get out for ten or fifteen minutes. I bought some “eats” at several of the Red Cross canteens.
Everywhere you go over here it’s soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. You wonder where they all come from. Our train hit its destination about eleven o’clock Saturday night and daybreak Sunday morning found us in a swamp here in a patch of woods a few miles…
I wish you could see us here in our camp. You would think it quite a sight I know. It seems more like a picnic than a war game so far. I am bunking with Helgans, a good old scout.
The other night about one o’clock, a gas alarm came in. It was just a drill, but of course, we didn’t know that. I had an awful time waking him and advising him of the necessity of climbing into his mask. It took him a long time to get it through his head, but say, when he finally did get wise to himself, I wish you could see him move. He covered me up in the blankets and almost threw the tent down in his haste. I almost kicked my mask off laughing.
The other day we entered a chamber that contained a very low concentration of tear gas. Believe me, I didn’t stay in there any longer than I had to, but all the same, tears streamed down my cheeks and my eyes wouldn’t stay open for a long time.
Most of the trees here are hardwoods and everything is so green. It is very pretty. The weather has been fine so far, too, but I think we will get more rain than we did in the last camp.
I hear we are to be in this locality several months. It is in fact a training camp for both sides. There is very little danger and you have no reason to worry. For my part, I will take this in preference to what we have been having in the past.
I am feeling fine and all that worries me is that you are worrying about me. Don’t do it, Mother Reed. Your boy is all right. Have Pop take a cottage on one of the lakes and go there and have a good rest. He could go back and forth in the car, the same as we did a couple of years ago.
My thoughts are with you all the time. How I love you all and am hoping the time when I can be with you again will soon come. This is awful writing, but I am sitting out under a tree writing on a cigar box and it doesn’t work anything extra.
It is nearly chow time, so I will quit and write again in a day or two.
Barrels and barrels of love.
HARLEM VALLEY TIMES – AMENIA, NY – November 9, 1918
CHESTER REED EXPORES GERMAN DOUGOUTS
Mr. and Mrs. George S. Reed of Amenia Union recently received the following interesting letter from their son Chester in France:
October 5. 1918
Dear Home Folks:
I have written so few letters lately that it comes hard, but I know that you want to hear that I am still on the job and that Battery B is doing its share in proving to the Hun that he is in for a good licking. You made a good guess all right as to where we first went into action, but that of course was three months ago, and we have been on several fronts since; not always in the thick of it, but I’ll say some of the places we were in were hot enough for me. At least I know what H.E. and shrapnel is and have become quite proficient in the art of making a high dive into a dug out when I hear one coming my way. “Fritzie” has had his troubles lately, though, in this sector and has been too busy in digging out to cause us much trouble. We have got it all over him in more ways than one. His aeroplanes are seldom seen over our lines, but hardly a day passes that I do not see squadrons of ours flying in a regular formation heading for Germany. They always remind me of a flock of geese, each one knowing just which direction to turn and when to do it. It is a pretty sight to watch them dip and turn to avoid being hit by the anti-aircraft guns. The minute the enemy gets their range they turn and dive almost straight down to a lower level consequently their range is much shorter. They fly along a little ways at this level and then make some more turns and begin to climb. Their guns get one once in a while, but they waste a lot of ammunition and about all the good it does is keep our planes a little higher up. Two or three Hun planes have fallen right here in the last two or three days. As to artillery, I don’t believe they have got any around here. We send over two hundred shots to their one. Our battery has advanced two or three times within the last ten days and if we are not relieved shortly will probably go ahead again before long. Never mind the relief, as long as they will run we will follow them, if we have to walk to Berlin. Every chance I get now I go on an exploring expedition.
The Germans didn’t let the grass grow under their feet when they got out of here, for they left thousands of dollars worth of supplies. I wish I could carry everything I found. My old room would be a regular arsenal upon returning if I could. Have been in their dugouts which were dug in a hundred feet under the ground. They have stoves, chairs, tables and good bunks in them and on several of them they even had electric light rigged up. They must have had their wives and children with them I guess.
One of the boys found a Mauser ten-shot automatic revolver and a lot of ammunition for it in one of them. It is in fine condition and has wonderful sights on it. I offered him two hundred francs for it, but he wouldn’t take it. The only thing I am keeping is a German bayonet. Would like to keep the rifle too, but that, of course, is out of the question. We found a few packs of German cigarettes and I have been smoking them lately. They seem to be an expensive brand but they are too strong for me. The note-book from which I am taking this paper also comes from this dug out where I found the bayonet.
Just think, we have been in France almost six months and will soon be wearing our first service stripes. Time sure does fly: day after tomorrow I will have been with Uncle Sam a year. We hear good news every day now and everyone seems to think that our work “over here” may soon be over and we will be on our way back to the good old U.S.A. before long.
Mother’s letter written September 8thand Pop’s which was written the 16thcame yesterday. They were such nice letters and you don’t know how good it makes me feel to know that you are not worrying about me. As I said before, all you’ve got to worry about is how you are going to feed me when I get back. We get lots of good nourishing food, but then, what won’t I do to those old-fashioned fritters and maple syrup that mother makes and home made sausage and pancakes won’t go so bad either.
We are encamped here in the woods, some of us in our shelter tents and some in the old German dugouts. For my part I take the tent every time in preference to a dugout (when Jerry isn’t busy) because I like the air. Three of us sleeping in one tent, that gives us six blankets and an extra shelter, half of which we throw across the front of the tent, thereby making it lightproof. In that way we can see to read or write at night and besides it makes a whole lot of difference in the warmth of the tent. It rains every few days now. I suppose we can expect that from now on, as they say it is the rainy season.
They say we are to get a full new setof clothes before long and a hot bath. That sure does sound good to me: not only because I am dirty, but because I want to get rid of some of the livestock that I am carrying around with me. I try to find time to read my shirt every day but they don’t seem to diminish any as I find just as many each time I look it over. Almost any time of the day now you can count two or three of the boys with their shirts pulled off. This morning one of the boys had the nerve to say that he didn’t have any “cooties.” One of the others immediately said that he would bet twenty francs that if the guy who said that would strip he would find twenty “cooties” in his wardrobe. There was quite a little excitement for a while. But I guess they found the twenty all right as some of the others helped it along by placing some on the underclothes when the guy wasn’t looking. It is “chow” time so I will ring off for this time.
Heaps of love,
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