Letter from “Chic”: France a Beautiful Place But Wants Christmas Dinner at Home–Is Learning French
Somewhere in France, Sept 25, 1918
I think by today you will have received the card telling of my safe arrival, which I know will make a big load off your minds. I wrote a letter while on the boat, just after meeting our first …… and we succeeded in scattering a couple others. They might as well pull ….. The letter was short as I didn’t feel good enough to write, but as soon as we struck land I straightened out quick and now I feel just great. I’ll tell you it was a good feeling after the long ride the day when the sun rose over the horizon and we saw land and it was France. It was like a dream; I could hardly realize it and haven’t really yet, as you know most of us are Minn. boys and talking always of the home places, it makes it seem that we are there and not so far away. Leaving the boat we sang “Goodbye Broadway, Hello France,” by request of the kind Y.M.C.A. and who furnished our amusement on the boat and who was to return home again on the same boat. Then we marched thru the city, which is a very large one, staring at the sights. Many were laughable too. The buildings are all of stone, all the same height. The streets so narrow, two U.S. trucks can’t pass each other; if they meet one of them has to back up. We didn’t seem to excite the people any; it’s so common there to see long lines of khaki coming in. As we passed a U. S. military police, I heard him say” and still they come.” As we cheered and sang going down the street, little children came up and touched our hands, saying “hello”. I was surprised to hear so many of them talk American quite well. They all wore the cute short stockings, leaving the knee bare, and the boys sailor caps without the visor.
The people are slow and backward. We passed a place where the old ladies were out on their knees near a little creek doing their washing. The country folks come to town in funny high two wheeled carts. I like it here though. The country is most beautiful. Wherever you look you see long hedges of green bushes which seem to divide different farms. Along the roads the hedges are about ten feet high, nearly covering it, making it very pretty. But it make the roads awfully muddy after a rain.
We are at present camping near the city. This is called a rest camp where all the boys first come. At night we sit near our little tents watching the beautiful moon and singing our songs. Then we stop to wonder how things are at home and what you are doing. When I do, I always remember we are ahead of you in time now, nearly five hours; so you are just thru with dinner.
I heard the ….. came here and it would be fun to meet Edgar. There are quite a few engineers here too and I’ve been looking for Elmer. The U.S. is putting up many buildings around here and we have been helping a little this week. I was acting sergeant with a group of men doing carpenter work about a mile from here putting up barracks to be used for the soldiers after the war. From here we go to our training camp some distance from here. I expect mail waiting there: haven’t seen a letter for a month now. I ought to have a big stack.
Clarence Kirkpatrick had the Mirror I wanted. I still have it and look it over every once in a while. Herb Maschke must be at some hospital or still by the port on detail work as I haven’t seen him since we got off the boat. Isadore Kaplan went to the hospital for a few days and expect he’ll soon be back. Only some little disorder.
A paper called the New York Herald is printed in Paris, so we have something we can read and see how the line is moving. We are all learning to talk French and it is lots of fun. The people are all willing to try and teach us how. We point at objects and ask them what they call it in French. Most of the talking we do with our hands and make awful faces trying to explain what we want.
Things are looking good here and we will soon be getting ready to sail back as we expect the war to soon end. Have a big Xmas dinner ready.
I’ve enclosed a little paper that was printed on the boat. Some interesting things in it.
The letter is getting long so will finish. Hello to everybody.
Lovingly, Ernest Hagquist