Letters Home: Celia Hutt, 1919

As we learned in Marion Owens’ letter home in 1919, Miss Celia Hutt was also serving her country in Paris that year.  Here are her own words from the August 14, 1919 edition of the Skidmore News (Skidmore, Missouri), page 1:

Miss Celia Hutt Writes Interestingly of Her Experiences.

Paris, France, July 24th, 1919.

Dear Mamma:–

I came up today after lunch to write you a little, knowing the mail goes tomorrow.

We are very busy sending the Red Cross workers home as fast as they can be released.  They sail from different parts, a few from Brest, Le Havre, Marseilles and Genon.  The offices of the headquarters here will move the first of the month, but continue to address me here and I will get it.  I don’t know when I will leave Paris, perhaps by September first.

Many of the girls who came with me have gone, but I feel that there is so much to see and do that I should stay as long as I can.

My room mate, Miss Morris, expects to sail on the Le France on the 2nd of August.  The “Y” is sending home everyone they can spare — I shall miss her for she is so good to go on trips with.  Last Saturday noon she and I and Geraldine Doherty went to Camp Romagne — really if I could go into detail and tell you the whole story it would be much like a tale written to amuse.  in the first place Miss Morris is “Y” and Geraldine and I are R. C.  The Verdun sector is a forbidden area and only in rare instances is anyone permitted to enter that zone.  I had a grave to look up at Romagne, which is one of the largest Am. cemeteries here.  Geraldine was going as courier and to explain this you must understand the wretched uncertainness of the French mail and telegraph systems.  Much communication is done by courier.

My room mate (Mary is her name) was told Friday night that under no condition could she go, but we told her to go to the Head of the Leave Section.  She was hopeless, but persevering and left the hotel Saturday a.m. with her comb and toothbrush done up in a paper.  The train was due to leave at 11:50 Saturday a.m. and I rushed to the station and in some manner explained to the guard that my friend had my ticket (which was not the case) and got out onto the platform.  There was no friend and no train there, but presently Geraldine came through with her third class military ticket and a cake of chocolate.  I had bought some peaches and pastry and the peaches were getting soft and leaking through the paper and I was frantic with thinking the girls would surely miss the train.

We waited until after twelve and in the meantime asked every French official we saw if there was not another train.  They all assured us that we were alright and that the train was late in being made up.  It finally backed in and in the same moment Mary appeared with her permission and a round trip ticket which they had provided her with.

We were not crowded going up, in fact had a compartment alone and the train was an express which reached Chalons at 3:45.  We had to change here, but had only 40 minutes so we went up to see the cathedral and stopped on the return to get some food, but were only able to get a piece of sausage, cured with garlic, no bread.  My roommate had had no breakfast and none of the three of us had any lunch except what we had brought.  We tried at every station to get bread, but were unable to find any and the train was a very slow omnibus train which stopped at every cross roads.

There were four French officers in our carriage and they were quite entertaining.  At one station after they had all gone except one, a French refugee family of two men, a woman and three babies got into the carriage — imagine ten in where there were seats for eight.  This officer mentioned bread to Geraldine in a joke and immediately this French woman unwrapped a loaf which she was carrying in a newspaper and offered it to Geraldine.  You must picture this loaf as at least 2 feet long and round and narrow.  She had to accept a piece and I must eat a bit to save the woman’s feelings, but you can’t conceive of anyone dirtier than the refugees and we were almost sick at the mere thought of having eaten it.

They all got off shortly and G– got off again to see if she could find food and failing, got back on, when a poilu came up and asked if she had gotten any and gave her a half loaf of “Pain Militaire” which is the military bread baked in round loaves the size of a frying pan, but is really baked in baskets.

We reached Verdun at 9:50 and it was drizzling rain.  There is no Red Cross there, no railway transportation office, no “Y,” no motor transportation corps, in fact, nothing American, but we were directed by a French soldier to some Am. boys who were near the station and they told us of a hotel and took us to it.  We were unable to get a room there, but they sold us some bread and cheese and we were directed to another place where we were taken in.  This one had 22 rooms, but was so demolished that they had only been able to make 8 habitable.  In fact, only in the past month have any of the hotels in Verdun been opened.  We were given a tiny room, with a __ bed and a candle to go to bed by.  We three slept in that bed under a French featherbed and never wakened until we were called at 6:10 for breakfast, consisting of a cup of chocolate and bread and butter.

Our train left at 7:00 for Dun-sur-Muse, which is a small village where a transportation camp is located.  We got there about 8:00 a.m. and the boys gave us some coffee, bread, butter and jam.  We waited about an hour and were taken in a Red Cross ambulance to Camp Romange, about half an hour’s ride.  The distance from Verdun to Dun is short, but we went so slowly and stopped so often that by the time we reached Dun I had all the daisies, poppies and corn flowers I could carry.  You see on an omnibus train you get out of your own carriage on either side.

We got to Romagne and asked for Major Bickford, a man whom I’ve mentioned, from Seattle, and he drove up in a Cadillac ready to take some of the girls to Verdun so we all climbed in, too.  It was perhaps ten o’clock.  We drove all over the front, which had been fought over for four years and which is sown with all kinds of ammunition, explosives, barbed wires, wrecks of aeroplanes, ambulances, tanks and all sorts of firearms, gas masks, etc., the trees, grove after grove, dead from gas and shell fire, every bank a small underground village of dugouts, every foot of the sod plowed up with shellfire, but the grass and flowers hiding it all as best it can — every big hill a stronghold and on all sides trenches and pontoon bridges across the marshes — here and there a listening post or snipers next and every village just a heap of stones.  Miles of the round camouflaged and I remember one very large bridge which had been blown up, the piers camouflaged and a new bridge built a few hundred yards away to deceive the enemy — the whole approach to the old one was used for concrete dugouts.

We drove through Forges, Bras and many other villages which were completely destroyed.  I’ve a picture of the highest wall standing in Forges which I will bring, but I am so afraid to entrust the pictures to letters.  The road was rough and full of shell holds, so by the time we reached Verdun we were nearly famished for food and very tired, but we couldn’t miss the opportunity of visiting the underground city of Verdun.  It is built under a hill upon which is a citadel surrounded by a wall and a moat.  I’ve no idea how many thousands could live in this great stronghold, but we saw their bakery and ovens where 125 loaves were baked at once, saw their hospital and reading rooms, all electric lighted and steam heated.  Then we visited the Catholic school and church which is pretty badly shot up.

Our train left at 6:25 so we had an early dinner at a hotel called “Coq Hardi,” meaning the brave cock.  We reached Chalons at 9:45 and went to the French Red Cross.  There were two lovely French women in charge, who took us into their private office and served us a dinner.  There were two reclining chairs and a couch in this room so we turned out the light and went to sleep.

A French soldier called us at 2:10 for our train and we left at 2:40, reaching Paris at six a.m. — went to our hotel, had a bath, slept until 8:00 and got to work at 9:00, as usual.

Don’t think this trip was particularly strenuous, nor so different in any sense from many I’ve taken, but I’ve simply had time and inclination to write at length upon this one.  They are all full of such funny incidents, unique experiences and interesting sights that I could write volumes.

Love, Celia.

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