The Voice of Anne Morgan

Anne Morgan's War: Rebuilding Devastated France, 1917–1924
September 3 through November 21, 2010
Audio: 

Wartime radio address, 6 December 1939
16-inch gramophone record produced by Recording Service, Providence, Rhode Island, for the Columbia Broadcasting System
The Morgan Library & Museum, gift of the estate of Anne Morgan, 1952

In late 1939, during the tense early months of the second World War, Anne Morgan delivered this address from France to an American radio audience. It is the only known recording of her voice and is presented here for the first time since its original broadcast. Morgan asked Americans to provide humanitarian support for "people like you and me": the French civilians who had been evacuated from their homes after Great Britain and France had declared war on Germany. "Can you imagine being told instantly to leave home and hearth," she asked, "no time to take anything—no time even to think?"

Some two decades after she and the volunteers of the American Committee for Devastated France had labored to rebuild communities devastated in the first Great War, Morgan watched as those very towns were threatened once again. Characteristically, she sprang into action. As head of the hastily-formed American Friends of France, Morgan sought "to reincarnate here and in America the spirit of the old Committee for Devastated France." To those Americans who spoke of the "phony war" afoot in Europe, Morgan argued that the current "war of nerves" was very much a real war in the lives of the affected civilians. She called on each individual to "face his own conscience and act accordingly."

Read the full text of the address:

At this time the Columbia Broadcasting System presents Miss Anne Morgan, daughter of the late J. Pierpont Morgan, who will speak from the French capital on the humanitarian work of the American Friends of France. Miss Morgan heads the group of American volunteers now carrying on social service work among civilians who have been moved from the evacuated portions of France. Go ahead, Paris.

This is Paris. We are bringing you a talk by Miss Anne Morgan, long known for her work in behalf of the French Republic. She is the founder and president of the American Friends of France. Miss Morgan?

Good afternoon fellow Americans:

It is true that so far the French people have escaped the bombardment that wiped out the Poles and that is now the lot of the brave Finns. This does not mean what we hear you call a "phony war." As each new country is broken under the swastika, hammer, and sickle, the French feel their turn comes nearer—perhaps next spring, perhaps in a few weeks, perhaps tomorrow—whenever Hitler and Stalin make up their minds to tackle France in a big way.

That is why, when war broke out, the French government ordered the immediate evacuation of a large part of Alsace-Lorraine, those coveted rich provinces separated from Germany by the Rhine that were restored to France after the last war. That is why, further to the northeast in the Aisne and the Ardennes—where in the last war German invaders burned towns and villages, devastated fields and orchards—the people today look in the direction of the Belgian frontier, wondering whether they are doomed to a similar fate.

Sons shouldering arms beside fathers who are fighting in their second war, women thrown out of work by the closing of offices, shops, and factories, scarcely able to make ends meet with their breadwinners gone, for how long they dare not think—it might be forever. That is what is happening to people like you and me in France during this "war of nerves."

Can you imagine being told instantly to leave home and hearth—no time to take anything—no time even to think? Animals left in the pastures—grain uncut in the fields, keys turned on all earthly possessions, not knowing when, if ever, "home" will be seen again?

The declaration of war meant for France alone the migration of ten million people, the greatest migration of human beings ever known in the history of the world. Six million civilians had to be removed not only from frontier sections but from Paris and other large centers to safer quarters away from possible bombardments. Simultaneously a fully-equipped army had to be moved into the front lines. This problem could obviously not be met adequately by any country which had not considered war as the beginning and end of all its thoughts and preoccupations for many years past. The effort that France did make in a little less than a year in producing a modern war equipment of undisputed quality and efficiency has meant calling upon the utmost strength of which the country was capable.

During this war of nerves (which is nevertheless a war, and a new one in its quality because shared equally by army and civilian population), it would seem timely that the American Friends of France—known over here as the American Committee for Civilian Relief—should carry on the work started in the last war by the Committee for Devastated France. We knew it would be essential for us to work under the army; even the passive defense is under army control. We therefore secured an interview with the General in Chief, and by authority of General [Maurice] Gamelin we established ourselves in the second military region in the very quarter where we have since 1917 continued our center of Blérancourt.

It is from this afflicted region of France, lying between the rivers Aisne and Oise, that I speak to you. Its inhabitants saw the horrors of invasion and the suffering entailed by battles of the last Great War, and even before that in 1870. It is they who, out of devastated and blood-stained wilderness, created anew a country more rich and fertile than ever before. Their courage and willpower to live is marvelous.

We, the American Friends of France, have never abandoned the territory so fiercely reconquered by the combined power of the American and French armies. Once the great work of reconstruction [was] accomplished, we continued to guard the populations which had been so cruelly treated and were yet so courageous. We learned to love them, and it seemed only natural that our cooperation of the war time should be carried through to peace time collaboration in a French organization of social and school hygiene.

The name of Blérancourt has become well-known in both France and America as the center of a museum of Franco-American cooperation. Perhaps less is known of our efforts in the way of social service. Faithful to our task and our traditions, the American Friends have gathered here, as a base, young women from both France and America. Some are dressed in the blue nurses' costume, others wear the khaki uniform, according to what post they hold in the general organization, but all are heart and soul attached to their work and worthy of continuing the wonderful undertaking of their predecessors of the last war. The peacetime social service activity was vastly increased: where in the former we were responsible for twenty villages, we have now to see to more than forty-eight and have equipped eleven new consultation quarters for young mothers.

This, however, is only one aspect of the activities of the American Friends of France. Knowing by experience the horror and suffering which inevitably accompany quantitative evacuations, we wanted the Committee to devote all its efforts to minimizing the misery and anguish. For this reason it is that we created a center at Revin, important town of the Ardennes district.

Our nurses visited the ill and infirm and all who were unable by their own means to participate in a hurried evacuation, or who for one reason or another could not bear up with the fatigue of a long migration. We organized a series of postes de secours, or relief stations, which, should necessity command, could within a few hours be turned into rallying and food-distributing posts. Finally, we stored a large quantity of clothing, unperishable foodstuffs and covers, to enable us to help the needy in many ways. An evacuation train carrying off 650 volunteer refugees in advance of the general evacuation was got off with the help of the American Friends under the care of our own nurses and successfully transported to the Western coast section. We believe our social service and school canteen work in the Revin region can usefully be carried on all through the winter, thus keeping the population in close touch with our organization and eager to turn to us for guidance should an emergency situation arise.

It is worth looking on the map to locate this region and imagine what would happen to the population of a department that stretches along the frontier and sends the point of a sword up into the region of the Belgian border, should Germany again come through Belgium. The population which lived under the terrific conditions of the Uhlan occupation of 1914 yet cling with utmost tragic strength to their homes, knowing what would happen if they didn't.

As we planned the work in the Aisne and Ardennes, we received an emergency call from the Ministry of Hygiene to proceed to the arondissement of Bellac in the Haute Vienne, located in central France, and look after 25,000 evacuated Alsatians who were living miserably crowded into sixty villages and hamlets scattered over a beautiful but poor countryside barely able to sustain its normal population. The people are sympathetic and try to do their best, but almost overnight they saw their own numbers doubled. They cannot squeeze many into their modest cottages, no matter how willing. There are not enough spare beds and blankets and kitchen space. Consequently, the aged women and children have had to huddle together, sometimes twelve in a room, sleeping on straw, cooking in the open, shivering for want of warm clothing and blankets. Elementary sanitary arrangements increase the danger of disease. Robust youngsters grow sick and thin under their hardships. Many of the Alsatians cannot speak French and the villagers cannot understand the Alsatian dialect. This adds to their loneliness.

The American Committee is working in close cooperation with local authorities and the Alsatian native mayors to improve conditions. Our teams of workers include a French woman doctor, trained nurses, some speaking Alsatian, and chauffeurs driving nurses about their distant rounds. Already our cars and trucks with their titles of "Comité Américain de Secours Civil" secure an unusual welcome wherever they go. From them step the French diplômés workers who understand the needs and desires of the people, and the American chauffeurs who go into house after house and so carry the message that our American members wish to express.

We are trying to direct carpenters and other craftsmen where they may resume their trades. Materials and tools will have to be supplied and markets [the radio broadcast is interrupted at this point, but the text of the conclusion of the address is supplied here from the original transcript] be opened for the output. We already employ numbers of Alsatian women to knit from wool supplied by the Committee the socks, pullovers, and children's garments which we distribute. We pay them a few francs for each article. Recreation rooms with magazines and newspapers are planned in the more accessible villages.

As I have said before, we of the American Friends of France are seeking to reincarnate here and in America the spirit of the old Committee for Devastated France. We are seeking in America to reestablish in every state small committees who will find themselves in touch with our French friends and their problems. Our national office is in New York at 3 Sutton Place where information may be obtained by those who wish to help, but state committees are being formed as soon as we can find leadership.

Although our own work over here must be small in scale compared to the problem as a whole, it at least has the value of creating as far as it goes an opportunity of a message from individual to individual. We are convinced that America is a world power and as such must face her responsibilities, for her traditions and ideals are as much at stake as those of England and France. No one wishes America to declare war today, least of all our allies. To my way of thinking, our government is facing its responsibilities with every power at its command, but ours is a democratic state where every individual should face his own conscience and act accordingly. We, the American Friends of France, are seeking simply to create a means by which we may reach those individuals who feel with us that France and her civilization is one of the great pillars of the world. For that reason we wish to help her women and children in their hour of travail and strain.

You have been listening to a special Columbia Broadcast with Miss Anne Morgan, daughter of the late J. Pierpont Morgan, speaking direct from Paris. This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.