Letters from Oregon Boys in France
Compiled by Mrs. Frank Wilmot 1918
Paul F. Cadman
We're having a holiday and a full blown snowstorm to boot. Most of the fellow student officers have gone to a certain big city to celebrate. But "Corona" and I decided to stay home and see if we couldn't combine efforts, and get some tardy Christmas messages through to a lot of good folks that we wanted to write to long ago and just didn't. We've got a good store of hard wood and a fine little stove and best of all a real electric light. Now what do you think of that for a good setting for a Christmas party?
[Just here "Corona" rebelled. In fact she broke a ligament of great importance and it took me nearly two hours of my good holiday to perform the operation. While I was at it I gave her a good bath and no little adjusting with the result that she is now purr-fectly happy.]
Sunday afternoon one of our French instructors left for a two-day Christmas "permission." The very last thing he said to me was "bon Noel" and I know by the way he shook my hand that he meant it from his heart. Nevertheless it struck me as rather extraordinary and I was still thinking about it when I picked up the American weekly edition of "Le Matin" and read the fine sermon by Paul Van Dyke which is attached hereto so that you may enjoy it. There is no doubt but that few of us will be able to enter into any festive spirit of merriment, but the gladness of our Christmas is none the less real for:
"We worship the Prince of a true peace, founded on justice. Behind the dark mists we see the stars and we say to each other: 'Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.' For though the year shall bring hardships, to many of us pain, to some of us death, it shall be happy with the only happiness that can be welcome to men and women of honor who walk without shrinking, the path of duty."
I share with you the full joy of the English victories in the Holy Land. I must confess to a certain more or less mystic wonder as I read of the rescue of all those Holy Places about which we have read and studied so much and which have entered so deeply into our prayer and praise. Can you think what it means to be living now to see the Romance of the Crusades acted again with vigorous reality? Sometimes it seems to me that we have entered again into a Modern Dark Age, but all around us there are the signs of the coming New Renaissance and this is the eve as it were of the nativity of the great Age of Light that is to come, in which will be the fulfillment of His Promise as to the coming of the Kingdom. If it ever comes to you that the world is lost, just remember that this can never be while there are being enacted here in France every day, the most wonderful acts of Faith and Hope and Love that the human will can perform.
How's this for a bit of real optimism? It comes from a German concentration camp and was written by one of those dear, hard boiled British Tommies. He sent it to the Continental Daily Mail so that all his friends could have it for a New Year's card:
That you've had, Old Year -
And it isn't the time to mourn.
So here's a toast
To your dying ghost
But two to the year new born!
New Year, there's work,
And you will not shirk -
You'll show us what you can do -
You shall not die
Ere the message fly.
All's well with the world anew.
Then there's another proof that God hasn't forgotten us. The symbols are more wonderful than ever before. The other day I was up in a big airplane doing some practice firing observation, and after we had reached about a thousand feet, the Mountains came into view. The Mountains that every traveler has learned to love; the Mountains that we have all loved. And there they were, all white and silent with a pale flush on the side of the afternoon sun and deep shadows on the other side bringing out the wonderful heights and depths. And I sat still and almost felt like resting up there in my tiny car. Do you remember when I was a bit of a chick how we used to see the great white clouds piled up, and how we imagined that we could stretch out on one of those soft white folds and enjoy all the loveliness of the sky? Well, you can almost do it in these days. We circled and circled and finished our work at nearly three thousand feet; then we began a slow wheeling descent, and there were the mountains again. I turned to look at my pilot and he was looking too. I saw them again about a week later from the tiny basket of a great Saucisson or war balloon, and from the position that day, we saw one you have seen in a picture, and we caught a glimpse of a Great Forest that's famous for its beauty. And only a night or two ago I stood in the wireless room here at our camp and inside of an hour I heard the daily war Communiques dotted and dashed off in the International code from Petrograd and Berlin, Paris and London. Somehow it was good to feel that we had at least one thing left as a connecting link. And every day we work in the field with wonderful instruments to measure that have all been invented since the war began. Geologists and Geodetic experts say that they are indispensable for their work in the future. All this, together with the memories of the Ambulance days, where we saw the marvelous work of the war surgeons, giving sight to the blind, making the lame walk, and literally building new members out of borrowed flesh and blood and skin. All this with the daily examples of the fine courage of the human heart, leaves little room for doubt.
A morning or two ago we woke up to find our little hill top buried in a blanket of fog. After breakfast we made our way down to the gun practice and for nearly an hour we worked almost in the dark. Then suddenly the fog lifted as a veil from the wonder work of some artist or sculptor, and there were our woods all etched in whiteness; every tiny branch, every spray fringed with the frozen cloud breath. I remember once when I stood in the window with one of you and watched our first real snow storm. We opened the window and let some of the tiny flakes fall on our coat sleeves, and then wondered at the forms, so delicate, so minute, and yet so perfect. Can it be, that in some way, still unknown, we come very close to "His Truth, Through Wonder." Is this what Tennyson thought when he plucked the flower from the crannied wall?
Would you like to know a little more about my Christmas? I can imagine yours. Think what a good time I'm having attending your Christmas parties in New York and in Alameda and Berkeley and some other places. Do you know that you have already announced twenty boxes on the way? Four of them came in time for Christmas, and the others will come I know. You have turned me into a veritable Santa Claus. From three of Floss' boxes and one of Aunt Alice's I had enough good things to send some tobacco to the Poilus who are attached to our camp and I also sent some to a good French lieutenant who has been a prisoner in Germany for a year. Then I took a small platter and pasted the paper babies all around the edge and filled it with stuffed dates and little chocolates and worked up a little conventional design out of Nabiscos and crowned the whole with silver papered chocolates. This went down to the barracks for the truck drivers. As soon as the tissue paper and red ribbon comes I am going to take a jar of jam and a box of dried fruit to the good lady who does my washing. I shall tell her that it came from you. It took twelve of us just six minutes to finish that box of Lenhardt's chocolates. I am quite sure that in all, I have been able to give about twenty pounds of good tobacco to our French friends here who have suffered so severely from the tobacco famine.
Now we're going to have a real turkey dinner and I'll tell you about that shortly.
And now it is Christmas night and very late. The party is over, and another rich memory is added to our store. I won't name the courses on the menu but I'll just say we had a real turkey, cranberry, plum pudding dinner, with all that goes with it, and we sang old home sons while we ate, and after dinner we stood around the piano and sang some more and everybody forgot the war for a minute and our hearts turned to the home land. About 9 o'clock I took my ukelele and went down to the Y.M.C.A. hut. They have a rough planked barracks with a big fire place at one end. All the men had been enjoying Christmas packages with all sorts of trinkets and bon bons. Many had on funny masques and all were in the best of spirits. Take it all in all, the average American private is very fine stuff. Well, they all gathered in and I sang them all the old timers like "Tune the Cow Died On." [That song is a life saver and I am indebted to Aunt Annie for it.] And "You Must Think I'm Santa Claus" and then all the Hawaiian songs. They joined in the choruses and when we sang "Aloha" there was the sweetest little harmony that you could wish for with the lights out. I sang about as badly as ever and was as hoarse as a toad but they didn't seem to care a bit. The man who invented the "uke" will have a box seat in heaven.
So passes Christmas, 1917. The carols are sung and the gifts are given. Tomorrow comes the day "with its busy round of care" but the Love of today will carry on through all the year and The Star shall lead us through "What is to come."
Excerpts from a later letter follow:
There is a strange star in the evening sky. They say that it is very old and that it travels far. The last time it looked down on us it found the religious wars of the Middle Ages marring the fair surface of Planet Earth. After all these centuries it may have returned to see if the world had learned the lessons of love. How disappointed it must have been on first glance.
The mail has come; the first in weeks and it brought me 28 letters. They are more precious than the fine gold of Ophir. I shall read them all when the times are a bit steadier. How I should love to tell you of the sudden call, of the hurried entraining, of the long marches on horseback in the wonder Spring nights, of the coming into the breach to stop a hole, of the strangeness of the war-in-the-open after more than a year in caves and debris, of the moment of uncertainty, when all might have been lost and when the heart sank with fear and then the coming of confidence as our batteries began to range and our glorious Marines began their march to the very heat of the fight. The rest you know - the papers have told you all. We put in our first 72 hours without sleep and of this total I spent nearly 60 on motorcycle dispatch riding and as a liaison officer. Slowly the order has come and the line has straightened and is recoiling after the big bend. IT WILL HOLD.
This is just a bit of a message but there will be something better soon. It carries all the old-time love and faith. It will take more than a war to shake it.