Letter from Anne Morgan, 10 March 1919

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

Letter from Anne Morgan to her mother, Frances Tracy Morgan
Blérancourt, 10 March 1919

Dearest Mother,

This week I have two good letters to thank you for, one of Feb. 9th and one of the 17th. Just as I get as far as that comes yours of the 12th, so you see the mail is as uncertain as ever.

However the main thing is that your letters do all sound much more cheerful, and it is a joy to see that you are better. Over here the days go rushing on with no chance of getting through more than one tenth of the things that are to be done. Of course we are very sad over the failure of our Drive in America, and above all for what our office tells us is the reason, in the widespread lack of sympathy which has grown up between France and America. There is so much at the back of that in the general political situation that it makes it all much worse, but one feels the trail of the serpent everywhere. It does seem to me that the only way to even things up in the next world is for [President Woodrow] Wilson and the Emperor to be given over to each other's exclusive companionship for a few cycles as a preliminary to any other punishment which is to be meted out to them both. One reads the papers day after day, and it seems incredible that so much should be said and so little worth while is done in any direction, the whole world seems to be crying out for real leadership and with the exception of [Georges] Clemenceau there seem to [be] none in any country. Of course our own charlatan, talking of the rights of the "people" and acting as the greatest dictator that ever usurped authority, is the most destructive force of all at the present moment.

[Henry Cabot] Lodge's speech in the Senate produced a great effect over here, and was published quite fully in the Figaro, much more so than in the English and American papers, on the other hand Wilson's speech was published with the most insulting phrases printed in italics. Of course the whole situation is discouraging in the extreme and the general morale way below what it was during those hard days of July.

Well our work is a joy, but we are a little sad when we are told that we mustn't count on more than twenty thousand dollars a month. It is hard, for the need is now, our opportunity is tremendous, to be useful we must assume certain financial obligations for unless we start real execution before the summer, nothing will be done till next year, and it is impossible to see how these people can get through another winter. All they ask is to be helped to help themselves, even after the terrific struggle of the last four years.

Take the man up here who is the acting mayor Camelin, La Comblay. A man fifty-two years of age, he his wife and two daughters were all civil prisoners, which meant while slaves, all winter long, the girls broke stones and loaded them themselves into carts, for eight months their only food was beetroot that is given to cows, they slept at night on bare floor with one blanket apiece. At last this October they were liberated as they were in the Ardennes, but the only son was killed at the front just five days before. Poor old man, the only time he broke down was when he was telling this, and the visit to their ruins of this boy just before he was killed, he had heard nothing of his parents all the four years of war and he told his friends he wanted to see again the home which was the last memory of them he had. As soon as they had been liberated the old man left them all in Paris where he too could find work, just to assume at once the duties of Mayor at Camelin. With no one to help him he applied at once to the Préfecture for two communal horses with which he could go up to Chauny, some ten miles away, which is the food distribution center for the region. To get these horses he had to walk on foot for three days, sleeping in the fields and finally reached Laon. Then began his real work, every week he had to fetch all the food for his commune, family after family came back, now there are over one hundred and twenty-five individuals, all helpless, all discouraged, all needing help and all turning to him for instructions as to what step they should take to mend their houses, to clear their fields, to secure the bare necessities of life, and he more helpless than they. With it all his courage is indomitable, and it will mean much to the community that we are now there to help him. This week we are bringing to him the governmental official who has power to employ men to clean the fields which have no explosives, but which are choked with barbed wire and trenches, all the able men in the commune will be employed in this way, then we are going to give him what is more precious than diamonds, five thousand kilos of the potatoes that we saved last autumn, and he will plant one thousand for the American Committee and four thousand for the commune; in this way they will feel that at least something is being started.

This week we had made a very important appointment for him with a contractor from Paris who is a very good friend of ours, he didn't turn up, so we asked M. Duane to stop in and see him which he did, they had their talk, but La Comblay never told him that he had not kept his appointment because in the next room lay his mother-in-law who had just hung herself, the strain and the sorrow had gone on just too long. It was all so tragic, but he was so touched because we were able to send five miles in one direction for our own doctor, six in another for the gendarme [police] for the formalities, and then the next day we found a priest who was willing to come, for the funeral, and we were there to give him the kind of help he needed and the kind of sympathy he felt. Forgive such a long story; it is just to give you one picture of so many we are living among.

A joyous picture this week was the visit of Milham, brother-in-law of the man who was chef de culture of Blérancourt and has been with us as the head of one of our farms all the way through. Milhem came to us as soon as he was repatriated in August and we placed on one of the small farms. He had come back to see his own farm at Audignicourt and found it so hopelessly destroyed that he made his deuil [said goodbye to it] and never wishes to see it again, on the other hand he found there all his buried treasure and now wishes to take over from us the farm on which he is working where his wife and his surviving children are happy in their own home, and where he can begin a new life on his own, always realizing that nothing will ever replace for him the traditions of the Aisne.

Our Vic center under Miss Parsons is doing the best kind of work, both she and her sister [Alice and Margaret] have done things in just the right way, and the whole morale of the group is what one longs to have all the others show, but alas, that is not the case. Our kids at Boullay-Thierry are getting on famously, many of the older ones are going to get their cetificat d'étude [elementary school diploma] in July, which is a triumph for the teacher, Gaulier, who is a man in a thousand and devotes himself to the children from every point of view, and they are all as happy down there as the day is long.

Goodbye, Dearest Mother, please give no end of love to all the family and above all to Blythie. You do not say any more about your summer plans, are they still in the air?

Always your own devoted daughter