The War Mother Goes “Over There”
By MAJOR Louis C. WILSON Q.M.C.
The Quartermaster Review
A MOST tremendous appeal to patriotic fervor, to gratitude, and to sentiment, is now materializing in the pilgrimages provided by our government for the mothers and widows of our countrymen who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War, and whose bodies remain in the soil on which they fell in the great cause. History fails to show that any nation at any time ever undertook before a pilgrimage of this kind or magnitude, regardless of the extent of its appreciation for lives laid down and for the dear ones left behind to mourn.
These gold star mothers and war widows will, in their journey to and from this American sacred ground in foreign lands, be truly guests of our grateful nation; for the plans, both in major items and in the smallest of details, contemplate their complete convenience and comfort.
THE ARRANGEMENTS FOR A TYPICAL WAR MOTHER AND WIDOW
Let us, for the purpose of illustrating the extent of such plans, take a concrete example of a mother who is eligible for the pilgrimage and who has accepted the invitation extended by our government. Her name is Mrs. Brown, and she lives next door to us in the little western town of Smithville. We have known her for many years, and we knew her boy, too. In fact, we saw him off that day when the whole town turned out to say “Goodbye” to “our boys” when they were leaving for the training camps were all so proud of them, but now, as we look back upon that day, it seems, somehow or other, that Mrs. Brown, and the mothers or wives of some other hometown boys who did not return from that mission, were outstanding in their affection for and pride in their loved ones. We mention this to show what interest we have in Mrs. Brown’s comfort in this, what will be to her, perhaps, a wonderful experience, permitting her to see what has been done by our government to perpetuate the memory of her boy, and of all the other heroic dead who lie in consecrated ground across the sea. Knowing her as we do, and realizing the many steps that have been taken to make comfortable her trip to the last mortal resting place of her son, we are looking forward to hearing her relate all her experiences upon her return to Smithville. We know that the recollection of the trip will be a source of great comfort and reflection for our next door neighbor.
But let us anticipate, at least to some extent, what Mrs. Brown will tell us about, when she gets back home, by running over a few of the arrangements made by the authorities in charge and with a view to seeing that she will have never a worry or care.
Mrs. Brown is making her plans as though some “influential” friend, with “means”, had invited her to take a trip to Europe, which is exactly the case. Her host has, by letter, made suggestions to her as to a number of things, such as to the advisability of taking along only clothing that is simple in style and of medium weight and warmth, and that she should be sure to include a pair of comfortable walking shoes, and by no means to overlook taking a warm coat and a pair of overshoes. He has also advised her to take not more than two pieces of baggage, the total weight of which will not exceed 100 pounds. All these helpful hints and suggestions, Mrs. Brown will, of course, follow to the letter in planning to sail on the United States Lines S. S. “George Washington,” on May 21, 1930. All the 5,000 or more mothers and widows making the pilgrimage this year will travel on boats of the fleet owned and operated by the United States Lines, an American corporation. Mrs. Brown is going on the “George Washington” because that sailing fits in with the system adopted so that mothers and widows from the same State could travel together in the same group. In fact, there is a widow in our town going at the same time as Mrs. Brown, which will make it pleasant for both of them, more especially as to the train trip to and from New York.
SHE LEAVES SMITHVILLE AND ARRIVES IN NEW YORK
So, in ample time before she is to leave Smithville, Mrs. Brown will receive personally from the local ticket agent, a railroad ticket to New York, including Pullman sleeping car (lower berth) reservation together with advice as to the train she is to take. About the same time the postman will bring her registered mail containing a check to cover her meals and incidental expenses while traveling to New York. Of course, in many cases the traveling mothers or widows will be able to make the entire trip to New York without change of cars, but this is not possible in Mrs. Brown’s case and she will have to change at Chicago, but the arrangements have not overlooked this opportunity to provide for her comfort and she (if she were alone) or rather she and her companion. the widow, will, when stepping off the train in Chicago, be met by an agent of the railroad, who will recognize the badge which each of all the pilgrims will be furnished for just this and other courtesy-recognition purposes; and this representative will care for their baggage and extend every possible consideration, including the conducting of them to the train they will board for New York.
When Mrs. Brown (and all that follows applies equally to her companion, the widow) arrives in New York, she will be met by an officer of the Regular Army, in uniform, who will provide transportation and escort her to her hotel, where a room, meals, and high class accommodations for every convenience, have been arranged for her in advance by her host. It should be stated right here that if Mrs. Brown, or any other of these pilgrims, should become indisposed or ill at any time on the trip, medical and nursing attention will be immediately available, this having all been planned and provided for.
But, to go back to Mrs. Brown, now comfortably in her hotel where she will have time, during two days, to rest up from the journey from her home town, we find that she has already met other mothers, and also some war widows, who form part of her group and whose common bond has started friendships that will continue throughout the pilgrimage and, perhaps, throughout her life.
OFF FOR EUROPE
But sailing time draws on and the War Department representative provides Mrs. Brown and the others with the necessary transportation and escorts them to the pier and on the boat, where an officer of the Regular Army at once assumes the pleasure and the duty of looking after their welfare during the entire voyage. Mrs. Brown is delighted to find that she has cabin class accommodations aboard ship, that her baggage is in her room when she arrives, and that her stateroom companion is also a fellow traveler as a guest of the American nation bound for the same destination. The seasickness that Mrs. Brown had somewhat timidly feared did not materialize. While she noticed that a few of the others were somewhat indisposed for a day or so, she also saw such solicitous care of them taken by those delegated by the War Department to attend, that she will probably laughingly remark that she believes she has missed some attention by not having a touch of seasickness. However, she will undoubtedly enjoy the sea air, the deck chairs and steamer rugs, the attractiveness of the boat and all the comforts that will be afforded her during the eight days of the voyage. All the pilgrimages have been scheduled for the months of May to September, so as to accommodate the comfort of these travelers to the most pleasant sailing season of the year.
Some mothers and widows, Mrs. Brown learns, are going by other boats, to visit the resting place of their loved ones in the Brookwood Cemetery in England, and they will disembark at Southampton or Plymouth. Mrs. Brown’s son, however, lies in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, so she, with others, will leave the boat at Cherbourg. When they reach that port, they will be met by a Regular Army officer and will be assembled into smaller units of about twenty-five each, depending on the respective cemeteries in which they are especially interested. Mrs. Brown and the other members of her unit will travel by rail to Paris where they will find that all arrangements have been made, prior to their arrival, for their first class hotel accommodations. After a day of rest, they will attend the placing of a wreath, by them, on the tomb of the French unknown soldier, and in the afternoon, a reception will be held in honor of these American mothers and widows, in which the French war mothers and widows, and French government officials and prominent civilians will participate. After a good night’s rest, each group of mothers and widows, in charge of an officer of the Regular Army, will proceed, by motor bus, to a small town in the vicinity of the cemetery to be visited, the establishing of this town as a temporary headquarters making it possible for the pilgrims to visit the final objective of their trip -with as little difficulty and fatigue, and as much comfort, as possible, for the period of time to be spent in the immediate vicinity will be about seven days. Considerable thought has been given the routes to and from the town headquarters each day, so that they will vary and thus enable the mothers and widows to view the points of historical interest and especially some parts of the battlefields where American troops were engaged. The program, including, of course. lunches, and hot drinks, at appropriate times, likewise contemplates rest periods. As before stated, there will be no time when competent medical and nursing attention will not be immediately available.
One of the outstanding events of the trip upon which Mrs. Brown will undoubtedly love to dwell when she relates her experiences to her friends and neighbors when she gets back home, will be her surprise and pleasure when she saw the beauty and peacefulness of the war cemeteries. She has learned that, with the exception of one, that at Suresnes just outside of Paris where lie men who died in Paris hospitals, all the cemeteries in France where American troops are interred, are on ground captured by American troops, so that in the main our boys “over there” now lie where, or near where, they fought and fell. Mrs. Brown will be greatly impressed by the trees, the shrubbery, and the flowers and by the white marble headstone in the form of a cross, over three feet high, which marks her son’s resting place, and which has inscribed upon it her soldier boy’s name, his rank, his organization, the name of his State, and the date of his death. While her mother pride and love will naturally be centered on this one, she will note with general pride that all her boy’s comrades who lie there, if of the Christian faith, have similar markers, while those of the Jewish faith have a star of David instead of a cross. She notes, too, that at intervals there is a headstone with no name upon it, which indicates that it marks the grave of one who is unknown, and she reverently reads the inscription “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” And as she looks around to drink in the beauty of the scene as a whole, Mrs. Brown sees the unfurled Stars and Stripes of Old Glory, floating in the breeze and symbolizing our Nation’s tender and protective care for this bivouac of its soldier dead, an interest that will continue in its zeal through all the coming years.
Upon the completion of the program at the cemeteries, Mrs. Brown and the others of her unit will be conducted back to Paris where, for about five days, they will be afforded opportunity to visit points of historical interest in and about that city.
Upon conclusion of her stay of about fourteen days in France, Mrs. Brown will be provided with transportation, and proper escort from Paris to Cherbourg where she will take the steamer for New York. On the return trip she will find that the uniform provision for her welfare and comfort continues down to the smallest detail. Upon arrival of the ocean liner at New York, the groups will be disbanded and each mother and widow will be furnished with her railroad ticket to her home, including, of course, Pullman ticket (lower berth or chair, as the length of trip warrants), and funds to cover meals and other expenses, to her home, and each traveler will be personally escorted to the train and every other possible courtesy extended.
BACK HOME AGAIN
Back in our home town we are looking forward to Mrs. Brown’s trip with keen pleasure, and how interesting it will be to hear her tell us all about it when she returns! We know how enthusiastic she will be in detailing all the many kindnesses that our nation, as her host, extended to her and the others, how, outside of a few purchases she made from a purely personal viewpoint, the wonderful trip meant no outlay of funds by her, for did not her host provide custom fees, tips for bell-boys and maids at hotels and on the boat, tips for porters, waiters, stewards on the steamer, baths and laundry, steamer chairs and rugs, drugs and medicines, to say nothing of interpreters and guides, all the railroad and steamer fares, all the automobile and bus transportation, and many other incidentals too numerous to mention?
But, above all these essential evidences of a Nation’s solicitude for these mothers and widows who will be able to participate in these pilgrimages, there will be the outstanding fact that each one was afforded an opportunity to visit and see the last resting place of one who to her was the greatest hero of them all. What a golden field of memories in reflecting upon the loved one who served and fell in serving!
Mothers and Wives of Nebraska to Make First Voyage to France
The Quartermaster Review
Gold star mothers of Nebraska will have the privilege of making the first pilgrimage to France to visit the graves of their sons who were killed in the World War as a result of a drawing contest at the White House on Feb. 7 in which Mrs. Hoover, wife of the President, participated. An announcement on the subject was made by the War Department Feb. 7 as follows:
The act of Congress which authorized the pilgrimage of mothers and widows to the cemeteries of Europe provides that invitations shall be extended to all eligible mothers and widows in the name of the United States. In considering how this should be done, the War Department decided that the fairest way would be to have the names of all of the States, territories and possessions placed in a container and drawn by lot. As the pilgrimages have aroused such general interest throughout the country, the Secretary of War thought it most fitting to ask Mrs. Hoover to determine the priority of States. Mrs. Hoover graciously consented and the ceremony was held at 11 :30 a. m., Friday, Feb. 7,1930, in the Red Room of the White House.
The name of each State and overseas territory was written on a small card and placed in an unsealed envelope before being deposited in a silver bowl. Mrs Hoover drew the envelopes one at a time from the container and handed them to the Honorable Patrick J. Hurley, Secretary of War, who extracted each card from its envelope and read aloud the name of the State written thereon. The card was then passed to Maj. Gen. John L. DeWitt, The Quartermaster General, who caused a record to be made by Col. W. R. Gibson, Q. M. C., showing the order in which the names were drawn by Mrs. Hoover. This record thus becomes the official guide of the War Department in arrange the pilgrimages.
The following witnessed the ceremony:
Gen. John J. Pershing, General of the Armies; Maj. Gen. B. H. Wells, representing Gen. Charles P. Summerall, Chief of Staff, absent from the city; Maj. Gen. B. F. Cheatham, U. S. A., Ret.; Ltc. Col. C. B. Hodges, Infantry, military aide to the President.
The States were drawn by Mrs. Hoover in the following order:
|9.||Porto Rico||36.||North Carolina|
|11.||South Dakota||38.||New Jersey|
|15.||District of Columbia||42.||Louisiana|
|25.||Canal Zone||52.||South Carolina|
Practically every state will have its quota of mothers and widows making this pilgrimage in 1930. All those who signified such a desire to go this year will be sent.
The Quartermaster Review
HON. PATRICK HURLEY,
SECRETARY OF WAR,
WASHINGTON, D. C.
My dear Mr. Secretary:
No doubt you are receiving many letters, and will receive a great many more, from the Gold Star Mothers making the Pilgrimage overseas to visit the graves of their sons dead on the field of honor.
I hope, Mr. Secretary, that you will read these letters personally, because in your position you must have to read many things that cause you great trouble and annoyance. Indeed. often you must get just plain mad with a world-I had almost said a country-which seems to be filled with injustice and ingratitude. Well, then is the time, Mr. Secretary, to turn to one of these letters about the Pilgrimage and how it is conducted and the sun will shine again for you.
Very few of the general public have given a thought to the vastness of the undertaking assumed by our Government in engaging to transport to France some 5,000 women, nearly all of whom are over sixty years of age. Many of these have to be brought from points involving a railroad trip as long the journey across the Atlantic, many more wholly unused to the discomforts of even easy journey, and every last one of us having something or other the matter with her!
What a task to take these aged and broken women on a trip of this character, guarding them against every discomfort and, in many cases, returning them to their homes in better physical condition than when they left them!
The difficulty of those in charge is increased by the fact that many of the mothers are afflicted with serious diseases and do not know it, and most of those who do know it cannot be persuaded that their ailments are serious.
Many a lovely, silver-haired old lady with an avoirdupois of 200 or so, and a blood pressure of an even higher figure, has caused doctors and nurses to tremble by diving headlong into one of those bountiful menus, to be found nowhere on shipboard, and eating everything from soup to nuts, and as like as not, finishing off with a generous wedge of mince pie-yes-believe it or not ! Mince pie in June and then complaining of a roaring feeling in her head, so that she had to be put to bed! I have seen it happen!
I must allow myself a criticism-too much rich food served on shipboard-something should be done about it!
However, I’m not going to do anything about it for the officers and crew showed us every attention, the doctor and nurse on the “America” were faithful and devoted to the sick and everything on board ship revolved about us.
From the sanctum sanctorum of the Captain to the lowest depth of the hull we were piloted by friendly guides who explained all the mysteries of navigation and we emerged from these sacred spots as ignorant as when we entered. Opera stars sang for us-even encores! Great musicians played for us, celebrated dancers tripped the light fantastic for us, a great literary lion came forth from his liar to tell us what his books were about and so passed the time until we landed in Cherbourg.
Here, our group of eighteen women, ultimately bound for Bony cemetery, was taken over by Lieutenant Robinson, accompanied by Dr. Maxwell and Miss Steelman, the nurse.
The long journey to Paris remains in my memory as just a beautiful spring day, through a lovely country-a vision of cultivated brown earth, green fields, apple blossoms and golden laburnum with those three people going back and forth in the compartments looking after our comfort.
Lieutenant Robinson! I wish I could do him justice! I wonder if he will always be as charming as he is now? Then, and always, throughout the Pilgrimage, on hand to tell when we were approaching something of interest-explaining things we did not understand-under that boyish exterior and unassuming mien such a thorough knowledge of French history-such a perfect mastery of the French language, such infinite patience and courtesy in explaining military tactics, at times, to a bunch of interested but stupid old women-the older and stupider, the better he liked them!
How touching to see the interest he aroused in our oldest member-an Irish woman 73 years of age-when he appeared at the door of the compartment on the journey to Paris and said:
“Now watch for the next large town-Lisieux-we are due in about ten minutes. There is a large shrine built on a hill to some little nun who lived and died there. I think they call her a little flower.”
“Little Flower,” said Mrs. G., rousing up, “Shure an’ a great saint she is!” And the old lady seated herself by the window and watched earnestly-her rosary beads slipping quietly through her fingers-and was rewarded by an excellent view of the shrine of the little saint.
At least France would have rewarded her with two things never to be forgotten-the visit to the sacred grave at Bony and the view of the shrine containing the body of a real, honest-to-goodness contemporary saint. While we sat in silent sympathy with her pleasure, the Lieutenant came back; he was trying to find a companion for Mrs. G. at the hotel in Paris-her roommate from the ship being very ill and booked for the hospital on our arrival in Paris.
“I’m very sorry, Mrs. G.”. said he loudly into her deaf ear, “but I can’t find anyone for a roommate for you at the Paris hotel but a little Italian woman. Will that be all right?”
“Av coorse it will be all right,” said the old lady. “I don’t care who you put in the room so long as you don’t put a Frenchman in there!”
After an astonished silence of about 5 seconds this normal sentiment met with the cordial approval of all present.
Col. Ellis and his staff were on hand to meet us at the Paris station and I was delighted to find two American friends on hand to greet me. After our bus had left for the hotel the Colonel approached my friends and told them how pleased he was to see that someone was at the station to greet any of the mothers. He promptly invited them to the reception to be held in our honor the next day where he treated them with every consideration.
After four days in Paris, during which the more feeble rested and the active shopped and went sight-seeing in our luxurious bus, we were joined by our sick companion from the Paris hospital, the mother of an unknown soldier buried in Bony, and with the nurse in the seat beside her and Dr Maxwell in the seat behind her, we started on our ninetyfive mile trip to Bony.
What a delightful way to travel! No time-tables-no tickets-no worry about baggage-no racing for trains at ungodly hours-not having to lift a finger! Like the lillies of the field we toiled not neither did we spin, yet Cleopatra in all her glory, but traveled in a canal boat compared to us-or grand us-our skilled French chauffeur whose strong arm was always at the disposal of the feeble when we alighted-our incomparable courier, Mr. Frazier, who handled our forty suit cases-mended straps when they broke-repaired truculent locks-scoured rooms for forgotten articles when we left, nothing escaped his eagle eye. I tried four times to lose a 5 cent wash cloth but in vain. Did Cleopatra have a leech for her ills to be mentioned with Dr. Maxwell? Certainly not!
And who was Marc Anthony I’d like to know, compared with that slender figure in neat khaki on the front seat, his boyish face alight with enthusiasm, as he explained to a group of faded old women the history of the great country which has been a battleground off and on, for thousands of years and in which now the tragedy of their own lives is written?
Our welcome from the city of San Quentin, our headquarters during our four days’ stay, was a warm one. Lieut. Robinson had impressed on us the fact that the people of San Quentin took the visits of the mothers very seriously, and indeed they did. The mayor gave an address of welcome before we started on the twelve-mile trip to Bony, and a committee of ladies from the French Red Cross gave us each a beautiful spray of flowers for the grave of our dead. They do this every two weeks during the Pilgrimage as a fresh group of women come in.
We were taken to many places of interest, to Peronne where our boys of the 27th Division entered into heavy action, and the Mayor gave us the same hearty welcome as his confrere at San Quentin, he even went a step farther and served champagne which we all drank standing in a toast to both our countries and nobody walked out on it either!
During our stay many of the women asked to be taken to special places not on the tour. I asked to be taken to Busigny where my son’s body lay in a British cemetery for two years. I wished to see the old priest who visited his grave frequently, and my request was granted.
Others asked similar favors and they were all made possible. When it rained one day on the way to the cemetery the Lieutenant said : “Don’t worry. There will be umbrellas and overshoes with the caretaker.” There were. Memorial Day in the lovely peaceful cemetery! How glad I am I left my boy there! How heartening to see the kindly French peasants streaming in from every side, their arms filled with flowers for the “bans soldats Americans.” The little children dressed in their best, singing songs with patriotic fervor-the kindly American caretaker and his young French wife preparing cups of “American coffee” for us-sent by our own Government knowing how much
we missed it-the old Mayor of San Quentin delivering a fiery oration about the care those graves would have as long as San Quentin and Bony should stand the fine speech by the head of the Paris Post of the American Legion – the equally eloquent one from the head of the French Veterans of San Quentin-the friendly and cordial speech by the Mayor of our own New Orleans who came by aeroplane, and the final benediction by the old cure of Bony, his venerable beard waving in the warm spring wind-the raising of the Colors which we watched with the assurance in our hearts, that those two flags floating from the lofty staff in the middle of the cemetery, were indeed, symbols of a friendship that shall be as enduring as the freedom for which they stand.
The last moments, as each Mother made her way silently to the grave dear to her heart for a final visit before leaving on the first lap of the long journey home.
So we reached Paris at last and the same watchful care that took us on the funeral journey attended us on sight-seeing tours and shopping trips, and I hope no one will ever tell Mr. Woolworth what some of the mothers passed him up to buy in France.
It was a tired group of mothers by this time and the few widows were more tired than anybody, so that Lieutenant, doctor and nurse had to work hand in hand to conserve their waning energy, and our courier, Mr. Frazer, had many a surgical job on valises stuffed with mementoes of the trip.
And so westward over the Atlantic, this time a more troubled voyage. Perhaps the ocean felt it should do something for us, so it staged a real storm and 90 sick women testified their appreciation-one even contributing a broken arm and another a lame back. Home again, in the hotel in 57th Street, saying farewell to many, many friends and promising almost as many letters none of which have been written, I think.
And now, Mr. Secretary, you and Uncle Sam have a problem before you! What is going to be done with this crowd of haughty, spoiled, and unreasonable old women whom you have indulged and pampered into believing they are a troup of queens and then turned them loose on a mass of bewildered young relatives who thought that a little perfunctory care and attention was all that mothers ever expected or got. But not now! And so little conclaves of these young people can be found comparing puzzled notes and saying: “Mother never was like this before, Why, Jim is out now teaching her to drive the car and she is learning it, too. She intends taking her friends out in it and I don’t know what we are going to do – the car is hers, you know.”
“Did you hear about Aunt Sarah? Takes her breakfast in bed every morning and does the crossword puzzle before she gets up – nobody can have the paper until she is finished-the paper is hers, you know.”
“Well, old Mrs. Smith has her household by the ears, She is giving what she calls a ‘Conondrum Party’ for her Unit of the Auxiliary, learned about it on board ship.”
“What’s it like?”
“I don’t know, but it’s an awful lot of queer cooking and her family has to do it, and you have to look up a lot of things in the dictionary I believe. She’s asked 48 people and you know what a mess it makes in a house, but the house is hers, you know.”
So you see, Mr. Secretary, that Uncle Sam and you have a problem and after you have it settled you can go back to the German Reparations and the Depression, they- will look easy to you. And any time they look too difficult just take up a letter from one of the Mothers and you will know what rest, appreciation and gratitude are.
Very sincerely your friend,
(MRS.) EDITH A. MCCORMICK.
284 Eastern Parkway,