Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Lieut. Edgar Piper, Jr.,
The following interesting letter was received by Mrs. Edgar B. Piper, Marshall St., from her son, Lieut. Edgar Piper, Jr., giving details of a brief respite from soldierly duties. September, 1918.
I got back from my vacation two days ago and feel as if I owned the earth. At any rate I have seen a great deal of it in my travels, for we did not settle down to stay in one summer resort for our whole leave period. Instead, after a few days at Deauville, we started back for Paris, intending to get a night train through to Bordeau—from whence we should have gone to Biarritz--not intending to leave any sightseeing to the chance of another permission later on. But we got in to Paris too late, and the next day, being Sunday, we lingered to see the sights, hoping to learn of Some other convenient summer resort from some of our friends.
During the morning we walked up the Rue de l'Opera and out the Boulevard des Capucines. We were looking for a fiacre, but all were engaged or were anxious to take some opposite direction. Our excursion was planned to take us along the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Accordingly we started off on foot and at the end of the Boulevard des Capucines we looked into the big church of La Madeleine, then walked down Rue la Royal to the Champs. It was quite a long walk, for Paris is immense. The Champs-Elysees is several blocks wide, and there are several parallel drives running the entire length with grass, trees and flowers between. Several times I had seen the Palais Royal in traveling about Paris and we passed it again in our walk. It would take a person's breath away for a year. It is a big glass and stone structure in which they hold art exhibitions and events of that nature, and it seems to be bursting with bronze sculpture. Further on you can see the Pont Alexandre II., which is the most beautiful bridge I ever hope to see. It is big and heavy and flamboyant with gilt statuary and immense bronze lamps, but everything is so well proportioned, you might think it was made by a jeweller. There is nothing cheap or second rate in Paris—at least that was my impression—and everything is kept clean and beautifully fresh. The gardens and parks and boulevards with all their trees and flowers hardly seem possible in such a troubled world, but they still exist in all their glory.
We spent most of Sunday in Tuilleries Gardens, where a big fete was being given for the soldiers of the allies. There were band concerts by Italian, British, French and American military bands. It seems that the Americans attract the most attention; and I think a great many musicians would envy the young band leader of our –––th Infantry band for the applause he got that afternoon. He looked about twenty years old and reminded me of Howard Barlow, and his band needed no apologies, either.
I was surprised to see the number of gendarmes in the Tuilleries that afternoon. They were everywhere in groups of twenty and thirty, all perfectly groomed with the brass hilts of their swords, and all their buttons polished to dazzling brightness. But all Frenchmen are not yet dead—as the war news shows.
I almost forgot to mention the other beach we went to. We thought it would be well to run down to Britany, and so we changed cars at St. Nazaire and went to La Baule.
This beach resort was perfection. It was a cove several miles wide, with a sandy beach. The water is so shallow that at low tide one can almost walk out to the horizon. There are hundreds of fine stone houses along the shore, and we found rooms near the beach in a pension. The whole thing was 17 francs a day apiece—and the meals were the most perfect a hotel could serve. Everything was spotless—and the waitress, also, who wore the Breton peasant costume with a funny white lace cap.
I would like to go back to La Baule and spend the summer any time. The people are very interesting, the beach is very pretty, and the bathing is "soo-pairb!" But I had promised the famille Paulez to come and spend a day or two with them before I returned. Accordingly we set forth at 3 :30 one fine afternoon and got to Nantes about 6:00; had dinner; went to the theater; and I started off alone at 11:29 for La Rochelle. The train got in there at 4:00 A. M. and I left on another train for Niont at 7:50 A. M. and I got in about 11:30, finally reaching Coulon at about 3:00. You ought to travel this way awhile. But for some reason that I can't explain, it doesn’t seem bad. Perhaps the pleasant anticipation of seeing something new offsets the bother of sitting up all night. But I laugh to think how disagreeable it would have been once upon a time not to have had a berth on the night train between Washington and New York.
However, I had another wonderful time at Coulon. Everyone is always agreeable there. We made one or two little trips to places in the neighborhood—one to St. Liguaire, which is the most out-of-the-way place in the world. None of the people looked as if they had ever once stepped outside of their quiet enclosure. We went to a small inn and had them serve us a dinner at a petit table out under the big trees on the bank of the canal.
Perhaps there is more to tell, but we are rather busy. My first two days here were spent in getting moved from Caiffe Barracks to Canclaux. It was quite a job and we are not altogether settled yet. This building was a monastery once it seems, and later it was used by Napoleon—they even say old Nap occupied quarters in the place. But if he had the rooms that were assigned to the officers of our squadron, I'll say he was well bitten for his pains. We have an orderly room looking through the cloister into the garden of the inner court. Canclaux adjoins the local cathedral, and hence the impression that it was formerly a monastery. The vaulted ceilings and the deep cloisters are further evidence.
There may still be interesting news but I'll have to suspend for a time.