Letters From Our Soldiers
Letter from Lieut. Vance Haynes to his sister, Miss Ethel Haynes, of Mt. Airy, N.C.
France, Nov. 13, 1918
I have just completed one of the most interesting trips of my whole experience over here. I left Paris last week by rail and boat to England, thence to London and flew back to Paris across the English channel. While flying over the channel I wore a life preserver in case my motor should stop and I should be forced to light in the water. It was a very clear day and before I started across I climbed very high to enable me to get started in the right direction. Coming over there were many ships and steamers under me. They looked like toys—at one place I could see England, France and Belgium at the same time. Had to light for two days on account of rain. By the way just as I was landing in France they had heard the good news of peace, so they were celebrating, shooting guns, cannons, rockets, etc., and raising such a commotion. I thought they were shooting at me thinking I was a Boche, but soon they stopped till I had time to land.
Arrived here just outside of Paris yesterday. Went into Paris last night and you bet they were celebrating peace. The girls were kissing every American they came across. The streets were crowded with people singing, dancing, drinking—sure some wild night.
It is a great feeling to know that our mission has been accomplished that we can return feeling that we’ve done our bit.
The wings enclosed were my first “Brevet.” They have flown all over France and over the lines. I can fly every ship that is used at the front, in fact have flown most every type. Perhaps some day will do the “loop the loop,” “Emmerman turn,” etc., for you all. The good luck card is from a girlie friend in Paris.
Very glad to receive your letters.
Letter from Sephas Lewis to his sister, Mrs. W.F. Lambert of Brim
France, Nov. 3rd, 1918
I will answer your letter just received date Sept. 29. Well I will never forget the date as that is the day the big drive began. If you could have seen me that day you would have addressed your letter to St. Peter or somewhere else, for you would never thought of me getting it. But I have told you in a letter previously written on the 29th inst, and also on the 8th of Oct. Well the 9th found us lined up ready to go over the top at the break of dawn, so off we go and the Boche begins with his whisbangs, as we call his light artillery and machine guns. Well things looked blue but we could look behind and see thousands of boys coming forward and you know you have got something behind you and the Boche knows it too, for he begins to get busy. Some fight to the last, some come with hands up calling Kamerad, others retreat. Well in the evening of the 9th we were near our objective when we came near a town. Some of the buildings were on fire. There came an order down to my Lieutenant to send a patrol in this town so he called me to take the first platoon and go through the town. Well I thought I was getting enough of this town work as I was a country lad. I was quite content to stay out of these towns. But I could only salute and, yes sir, and go. I got my men well scattered before we got there for I kindly suspicioned something. Well I think the Boche knew what was coming for when we hit the town the wisbangs began to fall everywhere. It looked impossible to go through there, but I had men that would go with me any where. So we went through. The shelling was so bad the lieutenant sent a runner to me and gave me orders to bring the men back. When I got back and checked up all of my men were present except the lieutenant’s orderly who was killed. He said, “Well Lewis I didn’t aim for you to go to Berlin with your patrol,” so we dug in for the night and got a relief the next morning and went out.
We thought we were going to get a good rest then, so we got back a few miles behind the lines and pitched tents for the night and the next day moved to a village just a short distance away. There were good beds and chairs any everything was quite comfortable, but to our surprise, orders came the second day to move to the front.
Our first sergeant had gone to the officers’ training school so the captain sent for me to come to headquarters and I was to act first sergeant, so off for the front.
Clyde Shelton of the old Mt. Airy company was appointed sergeant in charge of the first platoon. So on the 17th we were to go over and pay the Boche another visit and we gave him a very warm time for we had the Australians behind us with the artillery and believe me they are on their job. They kept the artillery up with us and things went on nicely. In the evening we were meeting rather hard resistance but by night the Boche was moving as fast as he could. He had hoped to get the night ahead of us but we got on to his plans and at dark we went over and when morning came we were right on his heels.
Again at the usual hour we went forward that day. All day we were fighting at close range and it was a warm time, you bet, but the boys don’t seem to care for they take everything easy. Just to show you they don’t care, on this last evening we were just under a little rise in the field and to our left was a large turnip patch. While we were waiting for the trench mortar battery to get ready some of the boys would go for turnips and Jerry kept a good lookout on his turnips. Every time we would get near the patch they would fire with three-inch guns and machine guns at them. So it was rather difficult to go but they only laughed at each other.
Well as I have told you enough war stories, I will try to touch something else.
This being Sunday, We have just returned from church, had a good service. We are all quite well and in the best of spirits. I think the war is only a matter of days now. I hardly think it will last until Christmas. So give my love to mother and the rest. I think I will soon be home. I think a quiet life will be all right for me.
Letter from Corp. John T. Hancock to his father J.T. Hancock of Rockford, N.C.
France, Nov. 24, 1918
My dear old Father:
No doubt you have seen in the papers that Nov. 24 was to be a day that all soldiers were to write to their fathers, so it was called “Dad’s Xmas day letter”—you remember we had “mother’s day” last May when we all wrote our mothers, so I guess they decided to have “Dad’s” day to keep him from getting jealous, ha! Anyway it gives me pleasure to write you today for they have given us privilege that heretofore we haven’t had concerning what we write.
Well it is a most beautiful morning, is pretty cold but the air feels so fresh and good, the trees and grass are as white with frost as if it had snowed. The wind hardly ever blows here so you know what frosts we have these still long nights. Seems like the nights are longer here than they are over in the States.
Well pap, I’ll try and tell you something of my trip for this first time. I only stayed in Camp Merritt two days and nights, then we boarded a train and went to Hoboken, N.J. Had to march about a mile to the docks where the Monster Transport was lying waiting for her load of men. There was no cheering, nor no crying, everything quiet as we passed along, finally we came to the gang planks. Well I’d heard all kinds of tails about what the boys would do when they go there, for I’d heard that the hardest thing a soldier had to contend with was to walk up that gang plank. I confess I was a little bit nervous, but I believe it was from joy, for I know I was real proud to go aboard that vessel, and every other man seemed to be in the same spirit. Our Ft. Morgan bunch was the first to load on, went on board Sept. 24 about 11:30 a.m. Well they continued to come on board until she was loaded. Don’t know for sure how many we had on our vessel but about 3,500. I was in line going to supper—I heard a whistle blast and felt the ship quivering from the vibration of her engines—we were off! I never felt prouder in my life. I hurriedly ate my supper and went up on the top deck and a prettier sight I never witnessed in my life. We had cleared the docks and were steaming out down the river. Could see hundreds of ships of all sizes and in the meantime it had been cloudy, but just then the sun came out and we stood there watching for new things, and the clouds or fog seemed to rise like removing a veil from something and there were the tall skyscrapers of New York glistening in the sun-light. It sure was a beautiful thing to witness. After about 30 minutes ride we passed the Statue of Liberty, something I had longed to see. There was a faint cheer, a shout and then everything was silent for we heard the whistle for “everybody on deck.” Of course most of us were already there, but we had to be as quiet as possible, for it was a drill, something we all hated, but was for our own benefit. It was teaching us how to get on deck and to the life boats in case we were struck and had to abandon ship. As soon as we were dismissed I beat from decks down and went to bed. I never slept better in my life than I did that night. Well I could write a big book of the happenings coming over but haven’t stationery enough, ha! Anyway I got sick, what I mean S-I-C-K, two days out. It lasted me for about 24 hours, I had severe headache, the grippe, and I think the Spanish flu, from the way I felt, for I sure felt bum most of the way over. I went into the hospital once and asked for something for my cold. They run something up my nose and down my throat, gave me a good spraying with something—any way I didn’t go back anymore, but we all got a spray in the nose and mouth every day to prevent the flu.
The sixth night out we got rammed by another ship. Well of course naturally most every one thought we were struck by a torpedo. So the alarm was given “everybody on deck quick.” Well we had been having three drills every a.m. about daybreak so I thought it was a drill call. You see I was sleeping so sound that I did not feel the shock at all.
We were supposed to sleep with our clothes on, also life jacket belt with canteen full of water, but I had my shoes off (they were hurting my feet) life jacket and belt, so by the time I got these on I was the last one I think out of our apartment, except the man punching us along half asleep. I looked at my wristwatch, it was about 3 o’clock in the morning with no lights.
Finally I get on the top deck and everybody was lined up waiting for orders. Of course there wasn’t much of a line for they were packed in there like sardines, but when the cold wind hit me full in the face I felt some better, so I began to ask what was the trouble and grumbling about getting us up there so soon for drill, but I didn’t ask many questions for over behind some big boxes lay some blankets that some of the boys had been sleeping on up on the deck, so me and another big fellow lay down on these blankets and went to sleep. I made out pretty well for a few minutes until some officer made us get up. Well he had been gone but a minute when we laid down again for I was sick and I guess had a fever. I remember everything well but I didn’t care for anything so I “flopped” again and stayed there until the sun came up. Then we were allowed to go back and eat breakfast. After eating I began to ask questions, they told me we had been rammed and several fellows were killed and several jumped overboard. Well of course I couldn’t hardly believe it, but later found out it was true.
It was a bad looking hole it knocked in, but luckily it was mostly above the water line, so they made it into port O.K. without further accident.
We landed the 5th of Oct. at Brest, France. It is in the extreme northwestern part of France. I was feeling fine by this time. The city sure did look pretty from the ship where we landed. We marched about three miles to the camp. We all were about wore out when we got there for we were not used to marching after being at sea eight days. The women and children were out to see us, little boys and girls would run up and want to shake hands with us. I was fatigued almost so I handed one little boy my rifle and he took it and marched right along behind me for some ways, he sure looked proud too. The gun was almost as big as he was. Finally I took it and thanks him. He smiled, saluted and left me. The children in France are exceedingly bright but most the poor little fellows look dirty and ragged.
We stayed at Brest two days then went to Angeres. That is a pretty good town of about 80,000 population. We were divided there and sent to different organizations. I was sent here to a trench mortar outfit, as replacements. Most of the boys who came here have been assigned to batteries. We are now at Vitrey. It is a small place but in a pretty country. We are in the eastern part of France, it is about 70 miles to the front, or where it was when we came here. It isn’t but about 75 or 100 miles to Switzerland from here, so you see I am quite a distance from home.
I haven’t seen Paris. We went south of Paris, came through Tours, came through Rheims also. I have bene here since Oct. 19th and like this place o.k. We had a dandy feed this morning. French fried potatoes, sweet corn, hot biscuits, jam and butter. We are going to have beef steak for dinner.
Well pa, there is lots of things I could tell you that might interest you that I’ve done since I came here, but have not the space, don’t think I can get all this in an envelope now. Anyway the war is over. I’ve never had to go to the front and know your prayers also mama’s have been answered, for I know you never wanted me to have to go to the front, if it could be possible for me not to. But we must take our hats off to the brave boys who have been in the trenches for over a year. We must also sympathize with the fathers and mothers who have had their sons killed in battle, for you know they loved them as good as you love your son, but I would have given my life, and will yet if necessary for my company. But of course I am thankful and happy the war is over and I can soon return home to tell the story of my adventure to you face to face. So don’t worry about me, for I am feeling fine now and there is nothing to hinder me from soon being home if I can just keep my health.
Must close, give my love to all the family. Here’s hoping you will have a Merry Xmas and happy New Year.