After Spending a Day or So in Liverpool Misses Heath and Lee Continued their Journey to London. . . Converse With a “Sure Nuff” Southern Negro
Dear Papa and Folks at Home:
Even though I am now across the Atlantic, here in England, I have not forgotten that to-day 52 years ago you came into the world and though it is too late to write a lengthy message, I wanted to begin it to-night, so as to wish that you may have many happy returns and that you will make all kinds of good resolutions and to say that you are constantly in my thoughts and prayers, and I do trust that all will go well during my long absence from home, and as this letter will in all probability not reach you till about Christmas Eve, in the language of Nixon Waterman:
“Here’s a greeting to you Dad,
Just to tell you for a father, way back yonder:
And the older that I grow
Then the more I come to know
That the ties which bind our lives
Are growing fonder.”
Just as I was leaving the club house in New York, your letter came, and you may know that I left my native shores in better spirit, because of news from home—I am afraid that I just missed one from Mama, as I almost know one from her was on the way, but hope it will be forwarded by the New York office and that all of you have sent letters on to me. I want you to write me often, not short notes, but real letters—when you get down to business, you can do it and I shall expect them.
To-night at the dock, I wish that you could have seen the demonstration of feeling on the part of all—the deafening yells for the returning English officers and soldiers, then they gave them in return—a general feeling of thanksgiving for a safe voyage, then a grand shaking of hands, and “good byes.” We were met by Y.M. men and women who managed matters in a most efficient manner—none of our baggage to bother with—then a ride on the “Overhead” (elevated), then a ride on a “tram” (double-decked bus) to the Adelphi hotel which is the finest in England, so one of the English Majors told us. We enjoyed our dinner so much, as it had somewhat a different flavor to that served on the boat coming across. It being Sunday night, the hotel was crowded, and truly, you would have thought that you were in one of the magnificent hotels of New York as there were so many American officers and it appears to be their headquarters. We were waiting outside the dining room when some of the Englishmen from the ‘Orontez’ came up. They were most courteous, and even the Colonel himself was busied with having us soon seated—they became hosts in a way, and said that they were so well treated in America that they wanted to return some of the kindnesses shown them. Before we could get anything to eat, we had to sign a card stating our purpose for being there and that we hadn’t had meat in the hotel before that meal. Dessert is sugarless and all drinks too. Fruit is too expensive to serve. After dinner, we all came out into the lounge to hear the music and watch the women smoke! I only saw two or three men in the lounge in civilian clothes and they had wound chevrons on their sleeves and not but one man in the dining room except in uniform.
Monday, November 25th—I certainly did enjoy the soft downy bed and pillows last night and would have enjoyed them longer had I known I would be staying here all day. We were told last evening to be ready to leave to-day at 2 o’clock, so hoping to have a peep at Liverpool we got up real early, and just after breakfast were advised that we would be here till to-morrow some time, so we spent the morning in the museum, in the public square walking around, then had lunch at the Y.M.C.A. canteen, there we talked with some happy soldiers and sailors who were here on their way home. We hurried back to the hotel to be informed that we would leave here at 11 to-morrow, and could do as we pleased during the afternoon. At Knotty Ashe, a suburb, is one of the biggest American camps (“Rest Camps”), so we decided that we would like to see it. The car ride was through an interesting residence section and we gathered a fair idea of the homes and gardens these people have. We were graciously received at several of the huts by the men and women secretaries, but more so by the men themselves. This camp is brim full of American boys on their way home, and when many groups of them spied us, they yelled –“From God’s Country.” Many of them have never been to France, but seem anxious to be getting home. They asked many questions about New York and every where, and in each hut, one of the men called out the states we represented, and the boys responded seemingly so happy to talk with some one from their same State. On the car going out a soldier began talking who turned out to be from Virginia and he personally conducted the crowd. He seemed so glad to see we Southerners and I talked with quite a lot. In spite of the drizzly mist and black mud we enjoyed the trip immensely. After going to several huts, at most of which we were served hot cocoa and cakes, we went to one hospital in which I discovered a negro from Charlotte and another typical “cotton patch” boy from “way down in Georgy” who said, “Yesm, I cum fromGeorgy and I ain’t been no fudder dan here and I don’t want to go no fudder—I would reether go back Souf to my old home”—at about this time many negro soldiers began to congregate around me, one of whom was a very typical cold black greasy faced fellow with the whites of his eyes quite in evidence whose beautiful white teeth appeared like miniature tombstones, who at the first opportunity, gave me the old time bow and pulled off his cap and with a broad grin on his face said,
“Bless de Lord, dese white folks look like home—soon I laid my eyes on you I knowed you was from some where Souf,” and to the question as to whether he too had been at the front, he promptly said: “No m’am, thank God—we was all ‘specting to be sent but got in good spirits soon as we heard that Uncle Sam had ordered many nigger regiments to the front lines and we knowed right den dat somefin was guine to be doing and sho enough the Germans had to come to de armisstiss and since den, you know Miss, dat dere has been a secession of hosterilties and I am sho we will all be soon sent home.” Knowing the negro as I do, I could have spent an hour very pleasantly with them but limited time would not admit.
In talking to some of our own soldiers, they stated that it was very amusing to watch the native Englishman looking on and listening to our pure Southern negroes, in their drills, antics and inimitable songs.
One soldier I talked to said that they had almost nothing to eat for a while and that he had known four or five boys to smoke alternately from one cigarette—think of it!
It seems that the American camps are to be cleared out in England as soon as possible and the camps to be turned over to England for her own troops’ use until demobilization. I was astonished and regret to know that the greatest degree of friendliness and brotherly feeling does not exist between the American and English soldiers. I am hoping that this is true only “Over Here,” but as we were coming home we talked with two American officers, one of whom was from Edenton, North Carolina, and the other from Easley, South Carolina, who was a graduate of the Citadel at Charleston, both were in the 30th Division and at the front—the Lieutenant from South Carolina, said the American privates like the Australians and the Canadian best, but that he believes and hopes the unfriendliness of Americans and Britishers will all be overcome. These two men got up, took off their gloves, and shook hands with me right in the car when they heard that I was from the “Sunny South.” The Citadel graduate was wounded, a bayonet stab in the neck and just out of the hospital. He, too, said that they lost heavily when he was in the fight.
I have seen soldiers and soldiers every where, in fact almost every man is in some kind of uniform—so many of them are wearing pretty blue trousers and bright red ties—I made enquiry, and all Allied wounded while recuperating, wear that combination, which with a white shirt seems so patriotic with the red, white and blue in evidence.
I am tired and have a bad headache, so will go to bed early tonight.
Tuesday, November 26th—We enjoyed our good soft beds again last night, for no telling what a contrasting type we may be sleeping in soon in France. We were only up in time to get our bags packed, have breakfast, pay bills and get to the station at 11. In this hotel, all of the employees are women and children with one or two exceptions—two unusual things, we had linen sheets and electrically wound clocks in every room—elevators everywhere—they are called in England “lifts.” Women conductresses on all cars. Another English expression “Enquiry” instead of our Information Bureau. In our rooms were instructions about pulling the curtains before turning on the lights, penalty for not observing the same—“Exhibition of Lights” was their way of saying it.
We traveled like “elites” from Liverpool to London in first class Salon cars, in which there were only four compartments to a coach with chairs, one couch and tables just like a sitting room. It was grey and misty outside and the smoke form the engine didn’t rise quickly, consequently practically all view of the country was obscured, yet at times we did get peeps at the thatched roofed houses and the beautiful green pastures with large numbers of grazing sheep. Everything is much greener here than at home this time of year, saw many gardens with cabbage, etc., all looking as if they would be eatable. There were 59 girls and women on the train, so we spent some of the time getting acquainted.
Many came in on other steamers than ours and it reminded me of a class reunion to meet some whom I had met in New York City in the several conferences. One of the ladies said that we should be glad that we didn’t leave New York City during the epidemic, for on several boats four or five “Y” girls died and were buried at sea, so I am beginning to think that all that has happened was for the best. We had a lot of fun jumping off the train at the various stops to purchase our lunch, as there are few dining cars in England. Food is expensive, fruit especially, think of it—a shilling (24 cents) for a medium sized apple, and bananas are also a shilling each. We spent some time telling each other of the typical English expressions we had noticed. In the compartment we found this—“Five pounds ($25) provided for anyone who stops the train unnecessarily.”
We arrived in London about 4:30 p.m. and it was good and dark, misty, rainy, dim lights, much like you would imagine this city to be in reading about it. The “Y” people met us and we were escorted to the Imperial Hotel on Russell Square. I find the city to be very much congested, so only 22 could be assigned rooms, the rest of us are to sleep in the “Turkish Baths,” but we younger ones think that will be an interesting experience and having enjoyed the luxury of the Adelphi at Liverpool, won’t complain at all. Some of us have just had dinner at the Holborn restaurant, one of the noted ones of the city, but could not be served any meat, which means other than ham or bacon, nor anything but a small “dash” of sugar, but you know that I am not a crank about what I eat, so I enjoy everything—if others have done without, I can too—the baths referred to are ready so I will go to my little cot by saying good night, with the thought that you so often repeat at home and which you have told was the custom of your Mother—“Sweet rest and pleasant dreams.”
Wednesday night, November 27th—Here I sit in the Imperial Hotel, London, England, and can’t realize it at all and the night before Thanksgiving too. Fortunately we secured a room to-day so are more comfortable than last night but even the hard cot at the baths didn’t prevent me from sleeping well. At breakfast a Canadian Doctor sat opposite me, so we had a chat. He had been at the front for nearly a year when the armistice came and has been here for two weeks leave. He says that we must see the battlefields of France, as much of them as we can, for everyone should in order to fully realize the terribleness of it all. He says that the only Hun to consider is the dead Hun. The most horrible thing he related to me was that the test for prisoners to be forced to work is that you could reach around the arm above the elbow with thumb and forefinger touching—imagine a strong man so emaciated as that forced to hard labor. Two of his Doctor friends were prisoners themselves and related this and other terrible punishments to him, and furthermore that many of the prisoners fell dead at night upon returning from a day’s toil.
At 10:30 we met at headquarters to be advised that Paris at present was so congested with men on leave, who for the first time have been allowed to go thee, that we can’t possibly be sent over for 10 days unless vital changes take place.
King George and two sons went over yesterday. We will perhaps have an opportunity to see London and surrounding country in the meantime, and hope to go to see Major Peck in Cambridge. When the meeting adjourned, I met up with Miss Mills of our conference who has been in London for three weeks so she offered to pilot me around. First we walked along Southampton Row, Kingsway, etc., then to Cavinish Square to have my passport stamped by the American Consulate office. By the way, as we were walking along in front of a man’s furnishing store, were polished brass plates “Heath.” I looked further and the owner’s name was “Henry Heath”—my mind immediately reverted to “Our Henry” at Matthews and I was tempted to go in and announce myself. We strolled all along Regent Street, corresponding to Fifth Avenue of New York and I was much surprised to see so many beautiful dresses, suits, etc., in all the show windows. Practically every man we met was in uniform or had a brass plate showing disability discharge from a certain regiment. It was most interesting to note all of the various insignia, for they wear a different one for every organization and each part of it. Many of the officers and privates were adorned with several wound stripes and war crosses and too we saw many, many on crutches, and many with only one arm or leg and faces terribly disfigured and nearly all the older civilians had on black arm bands. I realize already that we Americans know nothing of the sorrows and horrors of this world struggle, and anyone in America other than those wearing a gold star ought to be thoroughly ashamed to have even thought to have uttered a complaint.
We stopped at a little restaurant on Regent and had waffles and syrup and a piece of apple pie for lunch, then walked on to Pickadilly Circle where seven streets converge, a most interesting place to me, then on to the Mall a long wide boulevard which runs from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar square. All along on display are German guns, marked as to when, where and by whom they were captured—on the way to the Mall, as we were going through Waterloo Place, we were fortunate enough to see the change of guards at White Hall, an old historic building. These men are mounded on beautiful black horses, and they are much befeathered, bearmed and bebooted—red coats one day, blue coats the next, with white riding breeches. Next we went into Westminister Abbey and sat for a time during a service, then we had a bus ride back up to “The Old Curiosity Shop” immortalized by Dickens. By this time night was overtaking us, so hurried to a place to secure Emergency Ration Cards, which we were required to do so on account of being in government service for an indefinite period. These cards contain coupons and are cut out each time you make a purchase of sugar or meat. Will send one of these home as they are interesting. On the way to the hotel, we stepped into an Italian restaurant and had an egg omelet, fried potatoes, butter beans, toast and a delicious marmalade and it was the best meal I have had since leaving home, good and hot and I shall patronize it often. We are required to take breakfast at our hotel but the other two meals were we please. Later we went to Eagle Hut, the largest canteen in the world, which is located on The Strand (Broadway of London). It is wonderfully arranged and artistically decorated, has large reading and writing rooms with large open fires, billiard tables, huge dining room and mammoth concert hall for all amusements. The decorations evidence that it is distinctively American.
I have just happened to good luck. One of the Y.M.C.A. women also waiting here has an invitation to go on a tour to-morrow and has asked me to accompany her.
I find myself to-night wising two wishes. One, that I could be home with you all to-morrow for Thanksgiving, and another that all of you could be here with me, then we could be so thankful and happy. Good night—pleasant dreams—much love.