Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Lieut. Thomas Henry Boyd
From "Somewhere in France" comes a letter of interest from the son of Dr. John H. Boyd of the First Presbyterian Church, describing in a very interesting and amusing way the quaintness of a "real live chateau in Sunny France". Following is a letter of Lieut. Thomas Henry Boyd, Company "F", 364th Infantry, to his wife:
Somewhere in France, Sept. 5th.
I will start a letter though I can't say how far it will get. We are on the move now, which is all right only we don't get very far. We left our home of the last five weeks with all our valuables that we didn't throw away, on our backs, and started out to see France on foot. We didn't get very far, and luckily, too, as the packs were terrible in weight. The biggest one in the company, including rifle, weighed 105 pounds. Mine was far from that but I had too much. We are all traveling much lighter now, but it hurts every time I throw anything away; in fact it took a hike and a sore back to make me do it, but go it did. Now I am down to bedrock but I've still got a heavy load.
Unfortunately I took F Company over a short cut and got to our destination 45 minutes before the rest. I did this by knowing the lay of the land, and for my trouble was speedily appointed billeting officer and spent the rest of the night getting everyone a place to sleep. If you think it is easy, march 800 men into a French village at 5:30 P.M. and get them fed and a place to sleep before darkness makes moving impossible. It couldn't be done at all if it were not that the towns are all organized for such a thing. The first to visit Monsieur le Maire, and he tells you what places and where and how many are available; then the only stunt is to find the places. One thing the job did for me, I noticed on the list "Chateau, 3 officers", and grabbed that off for Company F, so that the captain, Cutler and I, are in a real live chateau in sunny France. You viewed many a chateau from the outside and read about them, but you've never lived in one and thats where I beat you. My ideas about one are different now and you haven't missed much. The best part is the park, probably 5-10 acres, surrounded by a big stone fence with a big iron entrance gate. The stream runs through it with nymphs playing on the banks in the shape of doughboys washing their feet. In front of the house is a big formal garden run to seed. The big lawns are run down too. The house is a very large one, square and four stories high, with a wide porch and benches where we sit out and smoke and talk [having lots of time for that in the army]. Still it is thus if we ever do get the time. Behind the house are pasture, stables, etc; now all deserted save for one lone cow and chickens. In past times it must have been a fine place, but it is all deserted now.
No men here, but four generations of womanfolk; an old, old madame who sits up by a window and sews all the time, and I've never heard her speak a word; madame and her daughter, possibly 25 or 26, then the cutest little girl, aged six, who plays with us whenever we come around. She's the only clean child I've seen in France. They are very superior people, and Mlle. speaks English a little. The little girl is the daughter of a son [brother of Mademoiselle] who was killed in 1914 at the Marne. Madame is her grandmother, and the old Madame her great-grandmother. That will give all the relationships. The little girls mother died last year. There are three other boys. One an aviator, captain, another a doctor in the army, and the last a prisoner in Germany for two years. Quite an interesting place, all right. Our rooms are exceedingly large with a ceiling fifteen feet high, I guess. The bed is massive with a big red canopy, a la luis XIV stuff and a big crucifix made of silver, and if it ever falls on me during the night I'll be a casualty all right. The antique furniture and candlesticks would make your mouth water. Around all the rooms are wonderful old steel engravings of famous French events; and nude woman seem to have been the taste of whoever chose the statuary and pictures. There is a whole room full of pen and ink pictures that I would like to have, done by Mademoiselle, who must be very clever. One called "The Soldiers Dream" is wonderful, but I won't describe it. All I can say is that it is only a dream from an American soldier's viewpoint.
Also Madame has shown us a lot of old prints and passports issued during the French Revolution and signed by Robespierre and others, showing that they were important people then, too. Mlle's fiance is a major and was here yesterday, but seems to have left us, and I haven't seen her today and maybe she went to. The little girl didn't know the family news today, as we pumped her with little satisfaction. Now this is the nice part of the story. The inside of the house is in great dis-repair. The floor sags in a dangerous way. All I hope is that it doesn't go through while I am here. It is very interesting to have lived in a real chateau. It is called that on the map, and everyone here calls it "The Chateau". All I need now is a dugout and I will have done France completely. I will get that soon enough, no doubt, although we are held up now for some unknown reason.
Besides being billeting officer I was detailed to get an officers' mess going, and I have a peach. We have a very attractive place with a private kitchen, so we installed our own cooks, furnishing our own light and waiters, and life is really very nice. We are not doing very much but resting, and a little drill or exercise to keep in condition, and the rest of the time the men loaf, but with only three officers with the company we seem to be occupied all the time.