The letter was written from “somewhere in muddy France” on November 10, 1918. That was the day before the Armistice silenced the guns in World War I.
The eight-page missive was written by James R. Hall to a miss named Edith. He had just returned to his unit after spending several weeks in hospitals recovering from wounds. He noted although he was “knee deep in mud” he was glad to be back with his company.
After he left his hospital bed, he informed Edith he had hobbled around on crutches for six weeks before he was returned to duty.
Hall had been a soldier 18 months and he observed each month he spent in France seemed like a “thousand years.” He was delighted with the letters and newspapers Edith sent him and noted he would rather read her cheerful letters than “become a general.”
There was not one mention of the battlefield in the long letter. It was filled with observations about the country he was in, the different food (fried snails and garlic), and the “female barber shop” where, in addition to cutting hair, “they attempt to paint your hair and eye lashes.”
He sympathized with Edith when he learned the street car she rode was charging a 6-cent fare and noted he could ride all day on a tram in France for a penny. He wrote he was “glad to learn you had such a grand trip during your vacation.”
He had received a card from her sent from Kansas City. He related the note almost made him homesick because he “spent many a day in old K. C.” before the war when he was a traveling salesman.
He referred to France as the country “God forgot” but noted he had good things to say about the people there. He observed he was treated “simply grand” while in the hospital. “Two French girls from some French society use to bring me flowers and grapes about every day.”
Like most soldiers serving in a war he was looking forward to coming home. He wrote he hoped to tell Edith all about his experiences on some “moonlight” night when he returned from the war, but he was worried she might not be able to read his letter. He was writing it while wearing his overcoat to ward off the cold and using his mess kit for a desk.
The letter was written a 101 years ago from “somewhere in muddy France” by a soldier from Detroit, Mich., who listed his unit as Company No. 9, 20th Reg Engrs. American E.F.
He survived the World War that was titled the War to End All Wars until the next one came, then it was given a number.
A copy of the letter was given to me several years ago but I was unable to find further information on Hall or Miss Edith after he left the military.
Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.