Amy Owen Bradley.

Back of the front in France; letters from Amy Owen Bradley, motor driver of the American fund for French wounded; online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryAmy Owen BradleyBack of the front in France; letters from Amy Owen Bradley, motor driver of the American fund for French wounded; → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



Columbia Sftnibersitp
in tlje Citp of iSeto gorfe




^' 4








Gift of

MAR 2 2 1929


Sbptbmbxb, 1918












These letters from a young American girl in
France to her family, were written without
thought of publication. She is still in France
and has therefore been unable to revise them her-
self, or correct errors due to the haste with which
they were written.

They are the simple record of what she has
seen and felt in France, in doing work that has
taken her from Brittany to the Alps.

R. M. B.


Winter in Paris 1

Brittany and Iti Hospitals 14

A Visit to Verdun 41

Pershing's Troops Arrive . . . . .57

Back of the Front at Nancy . . . - 6S

Chambbry and Our Soldiers on Leave . . . 103




Interior of A. F. F. W. D6p6t at Quimper . Frontispiece
Exterior of A. F. F. W. D6p6t at Quimper . .14

Miss Key with a German prisoner and a French doctor 24

United States flag on Mairie at Quimper ... 26

Sisters at a hospital 30

"Maggie" in center of a ruined town .... 43

The morning shave, back of the trenches ... 48

Pet baby wild boar 50

** Somewhere" near Verdun 56

Motor of Zeppelin at Bourbonne 71

Remains of a "Taube" at Champenoux ... 74

Poste de Secours 99

American soldiers at Chamb^ry 121

American soldiers on Y. M. C. A. steps at Chamb^ry . 128

Belgian tuberculosis hospital at Chamb6ry . . . 133

A. F. F. W. D6p6t at Chamb6ry 143



The American Fund for French Wounded
started its work of emergency relief for the suf-
ferers in France in April, 1915, as a part of an
English organization. By December, 1915, the
desire to help France and to testify to the deep
sympathy with her cause had resulted in such a
rapid growth of the organization in this country
that an independent American society was formed
with a central distributing depot in Paris.

The work in America has been carried on by
many hundreds of committees throughout the
entire country. In these committees thousands
of workers have for more than three years given
countless hours of labor, preparing and packing
surgical dressings, hospital supplies and garments,
refugee clothing and comfort bags. Over 40,000
cases filled with these supplies have been for-
warded to Frauice in that time, besides motor
cars and trucks for the delivery service of the
Fund, and sums of money for immediate emer-
gency calls.

In France, these supplies have been distributed


from the Paris Depot and from the many branch
depots and dispensaries, this work being carried
on with the approval of the French Government
and in cooperation with the American Red Cross.
It is hoped that these letters may help some of
the many devoted workers of the Fund to follow
in imagination their handiwork until it reaches
those who are so sorely in need across the sea.



Winter in Paris

Paris, October 31, 1916.

Here we are, arrived safely, after spending our
first night in Bordeaux, and I am staying with
Uncle Owen and Marie.

The statue of Alsace-Lorraine in the Place
de la Concorde still wears her mourning wreaths,
but she holds a French flag in one of her hands.

We went yesterday to see the headquarters
of the American Fund for French Wounded at
the Alcazar d'Ete. The office is near the Champs
Ely sees in a lovely place surrounded by trees,
and the sun comes pouring into the workrooms.

At present, in the mornings I am to file papers
containing requests, and in the afternoons to
pack comfort bags. We are to work in shifts
of five hours a day each, which doesn't sound
very appalling, but it is quite strenuous.



It makes you realize how near the Germans
got to Paris to go out to Neuilly, and see the
trenches and barbed wire on the old wall of
Paris. We walked there with some Ambulance
boys who were on the steamer. They wore their
uniforms for the first time, and were tremendously
proud of them. Every time they meet an officer,
of course they have to salute. They were very
shy about it, and when they saw an officer com-
ing, half a block away, they would tell us not to
laugh or look at them, and as of course we met
about three officers in every block, our conversa-
tion was constantly interrupted by saluting. We
would be laughing over something, when suddenly
a wooden expression would come over the boys'
faces, half a block would be paced in silence, and
then a salute hke a railroad signal moving up and
down would follow, when the conversation would
resume its natural flow. These Ambulance boys
are probably going to the Argonne section, —
one has already gone, and bade us a very cheerful
and desperately serious farewell. That section
is no joke.

One of the Ambulance boys thought he would
see Paris the other day, so he wandered about
(reaUy to practice saluting in his uniform).
Finally, being tired, he sat down at a table in a
cafe to rest. When he got up to go, he picked up


his gloves, and was greeted by a piercing scream
from a Frenchwoman near by, who said he was
going off with a pair of gloves belonging to an
English officer at a table opposite. Neither
understood French, but the English officer left,
seeing that some kind of row was up, and not
wanting to be involved in it. The woman, how-
ever, hung on to the American, and yelled for
the police. Meanwhile a crowd gathered. A
passing voice came out of it, — "There's one of
those Ambulance boys in trouble again." The
pohceman asked him for something, probably
his "permis de sejour," and, as he couldn't under-
stand, he didn't produce it. Then he and the
woman were both hauled off to the police station,
where, naturally, he swore that the pair of gloves
he had were his own, made in the U. S. A.,
showed his "permis de sejour," and was let go
at once. When he got home, he found that he had
two pairs of gloves I

The Ambulance men certainly do have odd
experiences on account of being unable to speak
the "lingo." At Bordeaux, Ehot's bags failed
to get on the train because he didn't have a ticket,
he got one of the few porters, exclaiming,
" Vous-me-ici ! " and ran for the ticket window.
There was a whole line of soldiers buying tickets,
but, nothing daunted, he seized the porter by one


hand, and rushed down the whole hne of soldiers,
tipping each one a franc (as he had nothing
smaller). They all laughed, and let him get to
the window and buy his ticket. He said he was
bankrupt from that time on.

Paris, November 30, 1916.

Yesterday in the metro, I saw a common soldier
on crutches get into the car, A colonel, with a
very careworn face, got up and gave him his seat
saying, *'It is hard for you to stand, my boy."
The soldier was only a lad, and he blushed and said,
"Merci, mon Colonel," and had a frightful time
keeping his balance, while trying to salute. The
Colonel held him up while he saluted, and helped
him to the seat. When he got off, the car was
crowded, and the Colonel helped him to the door
and out.

My work has been changed, and I now drive
a Ford to do errands about Paris. The car,
whose name is "Lizzie," is painted gray, with
red crosses and " Comite Americain pour les
Blesses Frangais " on one side, and " American
Fund for French Wounded " on the other. I've
had her for two days, and take care of her as well
as drive her. I also wear a uniform which con-
sists of my leather coat with shoulder straps,
marked A. F. F. W., and a blue felt hat with A. F.


F. W. on the hatband. Nobody in Paris knows
what it means, as the Motor Service of the A. F.
F. W. has had uniforms only a week. Hence
every one stares, especially as most women in
France don't wear uniforms in the street (one
does not even see many uniformed nurses). How-
ever, I've discovered a way not to be stared at,
and that is to stand near the door of the metro,
where they take you for a new variety of ticket-

The first time I had Lizzie out I was to be a
messenger, and I left her in front of the Alcazar
d'Ete while I went to lunch. When I came back,
lo ! there was a flat tire, and I proceeded to take
it off" and put in a new inner tube. No sooner
had I started to change it, than six soldiers emerged
from the atmosphere, in their atmospheric blue
uniforms, all asking if they could give me a "coup
de main," and they would not let me put the tire
on myself. Then I needed an electric tape,
and the lieutenant rushed off to a near-by taxi
and got a piece for me. At last I started
out, but lo! Lizzie was in a vicious mood,
and the tire went flat again in about two feet.
I had to take it ofi" again, and again to my
aid a French soldier sprang, full armed with
a monkey-wrench, from the pavement of the
Champs Elysees.


Paris, January 1, 1917.

The night before Christmas, I thought of you
sitting about the fire, and hanging up the stock-
ings, but it made me too homesick to think of it.

On Christmas Eve, I went to a canteen party.
There was a big room in which were three long
tables filled with soldiers, — every kind of soldier,
all in their rain-and-sun faded uniforms, for they
were going back to the front the next day. When
we got there, they were all eating under a ceiling
festooned with red, white, and blue, and the en-
tertairmnent was ready to begin. Various people
sang French songs for them, which they politely
clapped. Then a woman with a magnificent
voice sang a song in French about Christmas
night. There was a dead silence, then "Un,
deux, trois; un, deux, trois," and they all clapped
in rhythm. It is thrilling to hear, and they do
it when especially pleased. They shouted and
stamped their feet for more, but they were not
to have more from her then. The entertainment
went on ; Harvard and Yale songs were sung by
the Ambulance boys, accompanied by mandolin,
guitar, and piano. Those were wildly applauded
in the same manner. A Belgian started to sing ;
he had a fearful voice, but he was good-naturedly
clapped and cheered. Then one of the Ambulance
boys got up and sang "My Laddie," and "My


Little Gray Home in the West," in one of the
sweetest, truest voices I have ever heard. The
poilus hstened so intently that you could have
heard a pin drop. Of course they couldn't under-
stand the words, but they loved it, and yelled
"bis" and "encore." When he had sat down,
they all began calling something. At first we
didn't know what. Then we realized it was
" Tippe-re-ree " that they wanted, so we all sang
it together. The poilus sang, too, though heaven
knows how they pronounced the words, or whether
they sang in French or Flemish.

After that, we passed candy to them, and every
one of them said, "Merci, Mademoiselle." When
I came to one of the side tables, where the seats
were against the wall, I handed the bowl to the
end man and told him to pass it down. That
went very well ; they smiled their "Merci, Made-
moiselle" across the table to me, until the bowl
came to a colored man as black as soot. He took
it from the next man, reached it across the table
to me, and said, " I want it from your own hands,"
so I had to pass it up the rest of the way, leaning
across the table !

Then the black man wanted to sing. He sang ;
— the song was about a Belgian saying good-bye
to his relations. A verse was devoted to each —
Mother, Father, Sister, Brother, Wife, Little


Girl, Son, Aunt, Uncle, all listened to with great
patience. Each stanza was droned out in a deep,
sad voice, while the singer rolled his eyes to the
ceiling in a kind of amen at the end. After the
"Uncle," he began on the "Cousins," and the
poilus saw no end. They clapped vociferously,
and yelled to him to sit down, which he finally
did among cheers, claps, and laughter. When
they'd finally got him seated, a young, sensitive-
looking French soldier arose. They all shouted,
"un camarade — un poilu!" He cleared his
throat and began, at first very low and timidly,
a song about "La Lune," and the rest all joined
in the chorus. It was quite lovely.

At the end they all stood up and sang the " Mar-
seillaise," until the welkin rang. Then they shouted,
"Vive I'Amerique!" "Vive la France!" and,
though no Enghsh were there, "Vive I'Angleterre ! "

When they went out, we gave them comfort
bags to take away, and they went off gloating
over their peeps into them.

On Christmas afternoon, Marie and I went to
a hospital to distribute comfort bags. All the
men were as dressed up as they could be under
the circumstances, and were smiling at us from
their beds when we came in. We gave each one
a bag. They were dehghted, especially as the
bags came from America, and were particularly


nice ones. A good many of the bags contained
musical instruments, such as mouth organs. Most
of the men didn't know how to play them, but
one poilu did, and I dare say strange and weird
sounds were issuing from that ward by morning,
for, as one soldier said, "We have plenty of time
here to learn." A good many of the bags had
messages in English in them on postal cards.
These we translated for them, and they loved
them, especially the ones from children. One
man had a tiny pink looking-glass in his bag.
He considered it a treasure of untold value, and
kept picking it up and looking at it, back and
front, every few moments. I really don't know
whether he liked the back or the front better.
In some of the bags was chewing gum, and as we
hadn't time to take it out, Marie made them a
speech, and told them not to swallow it or they
would be ill. She said that the Americans chew
it for good luck, and then spit it out.

When we went away, the men called " au re voir"
after us, and one of the sisters, a tiny lady in
a white coiffe, kissed us on both cheeks "to thank
you for my poilus."

Paris, January 6th, 1917.

This week I have done absolutely nothing but
lie on my back under Lizzie, or else scrub and


arrange her from above. She has a nervous,
temperamental disposition, poor dear, and one
never can tell what she will do next. She has
really been an awful trial to my nerves during
this last month, as I have driven her nearly
every day, and every day she has done something.
There's nothing I don't know about 1914 Fords
by now. First, her carburetor leaked perpetually
for a week, — awful ! when gasohne is 3.60 francs
for five Hters. Neither they, at the Ford place,
nor we, at the garage, could find out what the
matter was. It seemed to be plain cussedness, —
however we changed the carburetor. I wrote you
before, that the first day I drove her she had three
tire-changing fits, — last week she had another
speU of them in the other rear tire. The tires
were completely worn out, so we got new ones.
You'd think that would be enough, but no, we
took her all to pieces and cleaned out the carbon,
for the second time in two weeks, and put her
together again. She wasn't a bit grateful, how-
ever, and the next day obligingly dropped off her
gasoline pipe for me. It had come unsoldered.
I must say to her credit that she had the sense to
do it in the garage doorway, and not at the
Place de F Opera or the Champs Elysees or
the Arc de Triomphe (why add insult to injury ?)
or the Faubourg St. Honore which she had chosen


as fitting settings for her other tantrums. How-
ever, it took two days to get it soldered on again,
as it is almost impossible to find people who can do
the job, which takes about fifteen minutes perhaps.
Was that enough? No. The next day I took
Cousin Bessie to do some errands needed for her
trip to the front. Lizzie had fits again. The
next day I took her out to the Ford place as oil
was leaking through her piston rings, and she went
on two cylinders, — which made her motion hke
that caused by Dummerston "Thank-ye-ma'ams."
They couldn't mend her till the middle of next
week, and I have spent the last two days in paint-
ing her outsides, which were completely bare in
places. Of course I got under her to paint the rods
below, that were all rusty. When the paint fell on
my face, I felt like Michael Angelo painting the
ceihng of the Sistine Chapel. I also got a lot
of it in my hair, which so helps one's personal
appearance 1

If there is one thing in fife that I never expected
to be, it is a coal heaver. The business as con-
ducted in Boston has never appealed to me.
Nevertheless, — I have been one. It is almost
impossible to get coal here. You have to fetch
it yourself. Barbara Howe, from Boston, and I
went to get some the other day, on the way
home from work in Lizzie. We finally managed


to get a bag containing a scant two bushels, I
should say, and paid ten francs for it. Miss
Howe had just received a letter from her family,
commenting on how luxuriously she was hving
in an apartment by herseK! She told me that,
just as we were heaving the bag up the steps,
and we collapsed with giggles, and could go no
farther for some moments, to the astonishment
of the passing inhabitants of Paris.

Paris, February 2.

Monday, Dorothy and I went to another hos-
pital. It was run by sisters, and was as clean
and neat as a pin, and very sunny. The men
were all in little rooms, two or three together,
and all convalescent. They were making little
chains out of beads, very patiently, and seemed
glad to see us. One man, who was plastered all
over with medals, and had one leg, took great
joy in telling us which medal was which, but
wouldn't tell us how he got them. A man with
one arm said, "Yes, when one has only one leg
the medals are good as a consolation, only you've
got to do something to get them." He didn't
have any medals, but seemed to think it un-
necessary for him, as he had both legs.

We have just heard the news of our having
broken relations with Germany. Dorothy and


I were out in the motor the morning the news
came, and an old gentleman nearly fell out of a
passing taxi trying to salute us. At the hospitals,
they aJl say that they hope soon to welcome
our country, as well as ourselves, as allies.

Marie got a letter from her filleul, telling how
he had hung a big sign over the trench proclaim-
ing that the U. S. is now against the "barbares,"
which greatly enraged the opposing Hun. Also
aU along the front they have fired salvos of the
75's to arouse the Roches, and to celebrate our
breaking off diplomatic relations.

I do hope our supplies won't stop coming on
account of the submarines and the break with
Germany. The need is so terrible, and still as
great, if not greater, than ever.

I have just got S.'s letter about her house-
party. It does seem so jolly and cozy and safe.
It is a good thing that there is a spot left on earth
where one can laugh, just for the joy of laughing.

The number of wounded is a thing one never
gets used to. It is awful to see every other
soldier wearing a "wounded" badge. Imagine
if every second man in the Roston subway wore
one, and nearly every woman were in deep black.
It's terrible to think of. However, more and
more, one perceives the courage behind, and that
seems the greatest thing of all.

Brittany and Its Hospitals

Le Mans, March 8, 1917.

This postal shows where we (Mrs. Lee, Katherine
Key, and I) are to-night, after a very cold journey
across snow-swept plains and hills from Char-
tres. We went to see the Cathedral again, and
it was magnificent in a moment's sunshine with
the dazzling snow outside. We are traveling in
the Ford truck, Maggie (so called because she
was given by the Magnolia Committee), on our
way to Quimper, where the depot is to be estab-
hshed for the distribution of hospital supplies.

Quimper, Brittany, March 12.

We are getting the depot open slowly. The
things are untangled from the red tape of the
railway station, and to-day we have been to the
Board of Health.

We have two adorable French soldiers who work
for us. They are both from the invaded region,
— one from Lille. Both have had operations


A. F. F. \\ . Depot at Qlimpek


lately, and one has his head and ear done up in a
bandage. The other has his nose stuffed up with
cotton and has been wounded three times. They
insist on working terribly hard, and it is all we
can do to keep them from overdoing. We pay
them two francs a day, which seems little, but
is the regular pay. One of them hesitated about
taking it at first, but said that as he had had only
five cents a day since the beginning of the war,
he would take it, as he needed it. He certainly
did. When he first came to us he looked woe-
begone, but now he smiles and shaves and looks
a httle pinker. We gave him a comfort bag,
and he was delighted to find a pair of socks in it.
He said he hadn't any, as they cost too much,
so we gave him an extra pair and a sweater.
When he saw the pajamas that we were unpacking
he asked the usual question: "What are they,
Mademoiselle?" I explained and asked him if
he had a nightshirt to wear at the hospital (he
is still staying there) and he said, no, so I told
him to choose one. Having red hair, he promptly
chose a pale pink one with bright pink facings.

The other man has a Croix de Guerre with a
star. We asked him how he got it, and he ex-
plained shyly that he was the first to enter the
Fort de Douaumont when the French retook
it, during the battle of Verdun. He said he was


not wounded there, but at theChemin des Dames,
which was — "Whew-w-w-w," worse than any-
thing he had seen "with hand-grenades and ar-
tillery you know, — the longer the war lasts, the
better they know how to use those things." He
said that at Verdun he was up to his hips in mud
most of the time, and no one could fire a gun,
as (except for the artillery) it was all "very near
with grenades." Now, he lifts crates for us as
if they were dominoes, and washes the windows
till they shine like crystal.

Quimper, Brittany, March 19, 1917.

This is the most lovely spot you ever saw, and
it is spring and warm. The primroses, and gorse,
and violets, and little daisies, and jonquils are out,
and the lilac buds are just bursting open.

On Sunday we went to Concarneau. The
sea was the most tender spring blue. It was
so peaceful and quiet that I could hardly be-
lieve we were in a Red Cross car, bowling
along to take supplies to two hospitals filled
with wounded and sick soldiers. The roadsides
were sprinkled with little farmhouses. Through
the open doors of some we saw the beautifully
carved, but deadly, closed, Breton beds in the
main room, in others, very modern iron beds,
thank heaven ! All the people were out strolling


on the roads in their picturesque Sunday clothes,
the women in their immaculate starched caps,
and the men wearing embroidered waist-coats
with buckles and velvet streamers. The children
are dressed exactly like the grown people, long
skirts and all. They stroll with their cows and
horses, hens and pigs, casually down the road,
so we have to be careful not to go too fast. Every
now and then, we pass a soldier on leave, with the
others. Once we passed one of their two-wheeled
vehicles filled with women in white coiffes, an
old man, and in the middle a soldier. One of
the girls had her arm around his neck, and he had
his about her waist. They were driving toward
the railway station.

When we got to Concarneau we went first to
a lovely pink house ; it was beautiful against the
blue sea, and was in the midst of a box-hedged
garden, on the top of cliffs overlooldng the water.
On the front gate was a Red Cross flag, and they
took care of twenty-five convalescent soldiers
there. The soldiers certainly must have a serene

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryAmy Owen BradleyBack of the front in France; letters from Amy Owen Bradley, motor driver of the American fund for French wounded; → online text (page 1 of 9)