Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Fred Lockley, correspondent for The Oregon Journal, gives illustrations of the spirit of gratitude and welcome that exists in the hearts of the French people.
At a French Mediterranean Seaport. --- I wandered into one of the old cathedrals of France. I met a priest. His eye lit with pleasure at the sight of my uniform. He grasped my hand, laid it against his breast, and said: "So I feel. Vive America. Vive Meestiar Wilson. My heart grows large with love. I greet you. I salute you. France --- all France --- is glad of you." In another old church a white-haired priest tried to welcome me. He said: "English I speak a few; but not much some"; and then, his English being exhausted, he told me in French how welcomed we were.
In cities and villages all over France, I have visited ancient cathedrals or small stone churches. It matters not; go where you will, there are three figures you always see: Christ on the cross, the Virgin and Joan of Arc. I climbed one day the long, steep way to the summit of the high hill that overlooks Marseilles. On its crest there rises the beautiful and famous church of Notre Dame de la Garde, the pride of Marseilles. As I sat in the darkened church I looked at the reverent worshippers and then contemplated the church itself. Here, carved in marble, is a life size group --- Christ on the cross, the Roman soldier thrusting the spear into his side, the women kneeling at the foot of the cross. Here are crossed swords, and cases of medals given by the relatives of men who have fallen on the field of battle. Here are crosses of the Legion of Honor and other military trophies. Here, suspended from the lofty ceiling, are a veritable fleet of ships. There are ships of all kinds, wonderfully and beautifully made models, perfect in every detail, made by sailors who desired to show gratitude for being saved from storms, or to invoke divine blessings on their voyages. Here on the wall are hundreds of memorial tablets. The one nearest me was in remembrance of a captain who served Dahomey and the Soudan, and fell in defense of France. Scores of paintings adorned the alcoves. Back of the alter, on the sides of the church, and on the lofty ceiling, biblical or historic scenes were represented in wonderfully wrought Mosaic work. Here, 20 feet high and 50 feet long, was a Mosaic of Joan of Arc. First the peasant girl in the meadows with her sheep; then the angel handing her a fiery sword; then the 19-year old peasant girl clad in armor and mounted on a charger, leading a host of knights into battle; then her trial and, last of all, simple and heroic Joan bound to the stake with the flames leaping around her, and the Christ and Mary looking down in sorrow and pity upon her. In every church you will find innumerable candles burning before the statue or the portrait of Joan of Arc. Soldiers' mothers, wives and sweethearts tie the photographs of their loved ones in front of the statue, and always you may see women kneeling in supplication before the image of Joan of Arc.
I have been talking to a British soldier who said: "Thank God, you are in at last. And your boys are giving a good account of themselves. You will pardon my plain speaking when I say I believe if you had come in a year sooner you would have stiffened Russia's resolution and kept a million Germans on the eastern front. You would have had upwards of a million men of your own here. You would have had thousands of airplanes here, in place of a mere handful, and Germany would now be suing for peace. But the past is past, and we will buckle down together to put autocracy once and for all time out of business.
"You are getting a taste of the submarines off your coast. We have had them for several years. It will help bring the war home to you. It will help the people to realize the need of providing the money to carry on. Your resources have as yet been scarcely been touched. We have paid the price in blood. I hope you will get off more lightly and be called on to pay largely in bullion rather than blood."