World War I

May 26, 1918

Dear Family,

Oh, things are so different over here than they appear to be from the far perspective of Rochester or even New York……
Mother, you may remember an article by Margaret DeLand quoted in the Post Express and very bitter on the subject of girls coming to France to work, saying that their motives were not worthy ones and that they were not useful after they came. It made me made and I remember you were angry over it…..when I came over here and saw Mary Jennings, she said Margaret DeLand was in the Y.M. and bitter about girls.

The other day, we were in Mary’s YMCA post office with one or two men and eating chocolates and rather giggling when an unassuming old lady came to where Mary (was). Then Mary got up and said “I am going now”. As we were calling on her we thought that was queer but we trailed out after her. And she told us outside that that was Margaret DeLand. She had tactfully gotten us out of there before we could do more to confirm Mrs. DeLand’s ideas of girls in France.

With love,


P.S. This letter is not the kind that one let’s other people read. It is not newsy and is gossipy and not to my credit. Therefore keep it in the bosom of the family and be bored as you like with it.

Esther Steele
Image thanks to the Rochester Historical Society

Pension Galilee, Paris June 4, 1918

Dear Family,

My rotten type-writing has doubtless irritated you before this so I wont waste space in apologysing (sic). Even if I am rotten I greatly enjoy using the thing. Fletcher says I could get 200 dollars for it anytime here but I like it too well myself to part with it.
I can easily imagine the sensational head-lines in the papers at home—especially the Times Union—about events here in France. Of course about the Drive you know a great deal more than we do. We do know that the Germans are in the neighborhood of the Marne but it is astonishing how little real horror that occasions in the people right here on the spot. In the former battle of the Marne I used to imagine vividly the consternation of Paris and the crowds of people evacuating the city with Lares and Penates tied up in sheets, trudging along on foot and weeping and wailing in true refugee style. Instead of that the restaurants are still gay, the shops are full—nobody mentions the evacuation of Paris except a few hysterical Americans. Like the giraffe, “there aint no such animal.”

Raids are the simplest little things you ever knew and I am in a position to know because we have had a great collection of them in the last 2 weeks—every night but one for 11 or 12 nights. Only a few of these are worthy of the name—some are almost false alarms and I regret to say that I slept through the most spectacular and most noisy one that we have had yet. Fletcher said he did the same. Evelyn and Mary were on night duty out at the hospital and they said it was a wonderful sight. Search lights and shrapnel lighting the sky above the city for an hour or so. The sick boys at the hospital—all from the trenches, some of them directly and others after stops in other hospitals—are too funny about the raids here in Paris. They never cease to grumble about the siren that gives the alarm, saying that they can stand anything up in the line—shrapnel, barrage and all other noisy and death-dealing devices—but they cannot sleep through an alert in Paris. It is an alarming sound but I am getting acclimated.

June 24, 1918

I had forgotten how big and strapping American are. They are splendid physical specimens but hard to move in bed and splendid swearers too when they come out from under ether. They groan when they see the French wine pitcher coming but hail the milk pitcher with cheers. It is wonderful to be taking care of our own boys.

une 27, 1918 5 Rue St. Louis

Dear Family,

I spend a great deal of time reflecting on the impressions of the War gained by different people under different conditions. And I cannot decide which gives one the truest impression—the distorted and sensational headlines and elaborations of the American papers combined with imaginative conceptions of those who are not on the actual scene; or the calm and retrained news in the papers here and the stories of the wounded and other people right down from the front lines. A head line in the Times Union that the Crown Prince’s Army is marching into Cantigny is a thousand times more terrifying than the tale of a wounded American soldier suffering from shell shock from the concussion of a shell that “got” his pals, who helped hold the line against the Crown Prince at Cantigny and who you feel will contest every foot of German advance until it is too late for the boche to profit by whatever temporary advantage he may have at present.

A wounded Marine suffering from shell shock, with round eyes staring as they always are in that condition and extremely nervous so that he talked all the time, told me that very thing in regard to the front line trenches. He was telling me all about a certain famous battle which I’ll bet drew whole front page head lines at home (and deserved them too) and finally he said reflectively “It sounds pretty bad when you talk about it here away from the line. But when you are up there it is not so bad. Fellows sit around talking just as they do here and its all part of the game.” I have a feeling I have written you this incident before but it made a great impression on me. It seemed queer to me at first that every man who came down from the front did not have some mark about him to show what he had been through. I thought he ought to look differently from other ordinary mortals and act differently. But he does not—that is, the regular man on the line. We all know of cases where great changes have taken place. For the most part it seems to simplify their philosophy of life and death and pleasures and such things.

June 29, 1918

Bath day on Wards A & B and it is funny to see what a party the men make of it. Everything they do is a party. The men are French on these particular wards……all the agile ones help the helpless and there is much nakedness and much scrubbing with jokes and laughter. They always wash their feet first

July 14, 1918

We had a wonderful party on the Ward in the afternoon. All the blesse who could came in from other wards and all the nurses and doctors. We play games and sang and shouted together. Dr. Osmun played his mouth organ for us to march to in Musical Chairs until he almost dropped with exhaustion and in Going to Jerusalem Gustav won the prize after a close contest with Helen. When we formed a circle there was a great crowd—Americans, English and French, doctors, nurses and orderlies, amputees and cripples with casts and slings and crutches. I never had such a good time.

Then Renaud, flat on his back, played the Star Spangled Banner on his flute and we all sang with him. Then the Marseillaise and how they did sing, all the bed cases lifting up their heads to shout—Francis, Grandpere with his leg amputated way above the knee, Bebe who has the Croix de Guerre, and all the others, shabby, child like and gay, these brave soldiers of France.

In the evening we had a perfect supper party at the Nurses’ Home for the Canadian officers, playing games afterward and later dancing and it was gay with Headquarters Red Braid and candle-light and flowers and everybody dressed up. Past midnight when we were singing someone called, “Come out and hear the guns!” We went out into the court. There was a great throb and thunder of bombardment, a horrible and in a way a magnificent roll of sound, a steady roar of tremendous magnitude. We went back sobered to the house and sang our national anthems, French, English, American and O Canada, then joined in a circle and did “Auld Lang Syne,” marching around. Then good-nights. A few of us stayed in the garden for a while in the moonlight to listen to that dreadful surge to the northeast. All night long it continued and nobody slept much.

August 1, 1918

As Mary and I passed the billet for Canadian privates today on our way to work we looked through the red curtains of the open kitchen window to see what we could see. Then we stopped and leaned on our elbows on the window sill. For on a table well out of reach were 12 delicious looking pies. As we were leaving with a sigh, a Canadian came up behind us on the street, grinned when he saw the objects of our admiration and stole us a pie! We hid it under Mary’s cape and went on our way rejoicing.

August 8, 1918

The guns never stop. I spent my time off in the garden and there was a constant rumble and thump off in the northeast like the stamping of mammoth horses in a great stable or the slamming of gigantic doors.

-- Esther Steele

Vancouver April 10, 1918

Well, I am a real soldier now and training every day. We have been training for the last two weeks and we go on an all night hike tomorrow night. Training at present is mostly marching and gun practice. A little later we will go on the rifle range.

-- Private William Elbert Carr, 318th Engineers

Ft. Hancock, NY March 18, 1918

Dear Polly,

Everything at the fort is the same as I left it. I was in bed at 10 p.m. last night and I missed my dolly at my side. But never mind, pet. When this war is over, we will make up for lost time and will never separate from one another.

Well, dolly, take good care of yourself and take in some good shows and don’t sit home and worry as you know worry wont bring you anything.

March 19, 1918

John and I was to the show last night and they had a couple of would be actors and actresses. They were so punk that the boys just had to laugh at them. The guys were saying that if they couldn’t bring anything better than that around here then they should bring nothing.

Fort Hancock May 6

When I got in the barracks, Joe Goldstein was still awake and he says well, Henry, I was waiting for you. Did you bring anything good to eat and I said sure and I opened the box that ma sent and it contained those mondel cookies that ma makes and a large box of assorted chocolate covered nuts from the Asters and a box of the large jumbo bleached salted peanuts from Sibleys.

July 14, 1918

Our company was paid this morning and all the boys are rich again. They certainly do like the bugler when he blows pay call and that’s about the only time they do like him as when he blows other times, it means “wake up” “work” or call to quarters which means go to bed.

July 27, 1918

The boys are playing the Victrola now. We got some new records from the YMCA yesterday and we play them all week and when we return them we get new ones. Some of the records we have here I heard home and it makes me home sick when I hear them but if the allies keep up the good work they have been doing the last couple of weeks I think it wont take very long before we will be back home.

Monday August 19, 1918

Joe Goldstein received a bunch of Rochester papers today so I will get a little home news from them. It looks good to see a Rochester paper again even if it’s a couple of weeks old.

Saturday morning I was sitting in front of my tent whistling the song Sweetheart from “Maytime” when I received your mail and in one of your letters you wrote that you bought the record by the same name. Now isn’t that strange that I should be whistling the song when I received your letter?

Sunday August 25, 1918 (near one of France’s largest cities)

Max Meltzer and I had dinner at the YMCA after which we went out to look the town over……..walking along one of their main streets, we came across a Jewish temple. It is a large building built of white cut stone with a large court in front. We walked in the place and met the janitor who showed us through the place. I was never more surprised in my life when I walked inside and saw how beautiful it was. It has a large auditorium and balcony and marble stairs leading to the oran kodash. The janitor who is also Jewish opened the oran kodash for us and in it was 12 cit-a-tor-ahs just like the ones we have in our shool. They have a large bim-me in the center of the temple for the cantor and his choir and they also have a beautiful large organ. It certainly is a nifty place all the way through. The rabbi of the temple whose name is Schwartz is out of town………we were told by the janitor that the rabbi wants all the Jewish soldiers to come there for the holiday and we promised we would if we could get off. He will see that we will be taken care of. Each member will take one or more soldiers to their homes for meals, etc. I think that is very nice of them. The rabbi speaks English and Jewish.

October 17, 1918

Dear Polly,

I received your letters and also the pictures you sent me…… certainly are getting fat from the looks of the picture.

-- Private Henry Nievert, 57th Artillery C.A.C. supply company

March 26, 1918

Dear Sister,

Received your letter also the handkerchiefs and candy before I left Camp Devens and the calendar you sent is just what I wanted.
John Knapp was in the same company with me in Camp Devens, also all the other Rochester fellows but down here we are all mixed up. I am in the military police now and start to do duty tomorrow.

Tell Hilda that I am waiting for that box of bull she is going to send, tell her to fill the box right up because it makes such a delicious desert fried and smothered with onions. The feed down here is fine, get some kind of pudding with every meal, get beans about once a week.

With best wishes to all
From August

Somewhere in France
July 8, 1918

Dear Sister,

I thought I wrote home and told you I was not sea sick on the way over. I was on the same boat with Joe Becker, he died 2 days before we landed and was buried at sea.

The German artillery is firing at us very day but they have not hit us as yet. We got some good cooks in our company. We have flapjacks about three times a week for breakfast and a lot of beef stew for dinner and we still have some kind of pudding every day, mostly rice pudding.with raisins in it.

Well, I will have to close as we are going to move tonight and I want to get a few hours sleep.

From your brother

August 3, 1918

Dear Sister Mary

We are moving to a different section of the country now, hiking nights 18 to 20 miles with a pack on our backs that weighs about 80 pounds. You are mistaken if you think I have not been up to the front. We were in the trenches three weeks in the Alsace Lorraine sector.
I don’t know where we are going. The officers don’t tell us but I know pretty near all the roads in France I have done so much hiking. I had a train ride for two days before we were in the trenches and I think we are going to have another one.

They have a lot of old buildings in France. I was in a bunch that was built in 1650 and there are a lot of barns and houses that are from 100 to 200 years old.

We are having fine weather over here for the last two months but at night when a fellow is on guard it is chilly and we all wore overcoats until a week ago when they took them away from us and some of the boys are wishing they still had them. I got to go on guard tonight. Guess what I am going to guard? A bar-saloon. The water over here is not very good so we are allowed to drink beer and wine and every time we get to a town we are only in it a few hours before the town goes dry. They cant make it fast enough for us.

From your brother

August 25, 1918

Dear Sister,

The towns we are near now are all shelled to pieces and we don’t get time to go to church. Last Sunday we were digging trenches and I am writing this letter during the time they give us for a little rest between digging. We got a priest who travels with our regiment but he cant be with all the companies on Sunday. Before we went to the front he gave us general absolution and most of the boys went to communion. I went and now we have to go to confession as soon as we get the chance but the chance has not come yet and three weeks have passed already.

The German people are all sick of the war. We captured a German while up at this front and he says they are all ready to quit but the money men keep them going. They are being beaten all along the front and are tickled to death if they get captured. The one we captured was just back from a two week furlough but he said he’s got a better one now and wanted to know if we were going to send him to America.

Juzencourt, France
January 15, 1919

Dear Sister Mary,
I wish I was in Heckens boots and was discharged. I am sick of this job but cannot quit and now that I am a corporal I am getting disgusted with it more every day. A fellow has to take too much hell. If one of the fellows in his squad does something wrong, the corporal gets called for it. I wish I was a private again.

January 27, 1919
Juzencourt, France

Dear Sister Mary,

We get regular meals now that we are away from the front but I could eat more a lot of times. I went hungry a lot of days when the war was on, some days only one meal and that a cold one. We went sometimes for 2 and 3 weeks without a hot meal. One day they handed me a biscuit and said there is your dinner.

-- August Roesser

Pfc. Henry Cornelius and Marie O’Keefe

August 21, 1917

My Dear Henry,

I hope these few lines find you well and happy, just as happy as you were when I saw you Saturday and as you were all day Sunday. We are well here. I hope you and Bill don’t see the guard house for being late Sunday or maybe you werent late.

I felt so sorry for Charlie after the train pulled out. He cried so hard, I thought his heart would break and when Emma saw him cry she began and then that made Margaret feel bad and she started. I had some bunch on my hands. I kept up the best I could and I guess some of them, especially Margaret have the idea that I do not miss you just because I didn’t cry but I think my heart was too near broken to cry but I thought if I could cry I would feel better, but tears would not come until Monday noon when I was in church, but I think those were tears of joy and thanksgiving not of sorry, because I was thinking of you and your going to Confession and Holy Communion. You don’t know how happy I was Sunday morning. No one does except myself. All my prayers for the last two years were answered. May God bless you for doing it and I am sure He will do it, dear. My prayers from now on will be in thanksgiving, also for your safe return to us and that you will be a good boy. Try to be and I am sure you will. Take any good advice given you and keep out of bad company for you know that is the worst thing of all. Say your prayers each morning and night and before going to sleep ask God to forgive you any sins you may have committed and then if anything should happen (but I am praying nothing will) you will be prepared. Don’t think I am lecturing you or bawling you out for I am not but these thoughts came to my mind and I had to express them. God bless you and take care of you is my only wish.

Loads of love and kisses from Marie to her soldier boy.


P.S. Some parts of your letters are very sad but the postscript you put on the last one nearly broke my heart. Don’t you ever think I will forget you for I wont. If you think of me one half as many times as I think of you I will be real happy. There is not an hour of the day passes without a thought of you and sometimes a prayer for your safe return to your Marie.

October 25th, 1917

My Dear Henry

I havent much news for you this time but I hope these few lines find you well and happy and that you are enjoying yourself. Everyone here is fine. The weather here has been pretty good up to this week and it has rained every day since Monday. We had snow twice, once on Columbus Day and once on Friday of last week but neither times very bad.

Our Red Cross work is coming along fine. It is very surprising all the work that is being done. The Second Liberty Loan is going through fine. John took up a bond and I am thinking of taking one also. If all the money that has been and is being raised and all our brave boys who are fighting or training to fight does not win this war for us I cannot see what will but I feel sure we will win and win bravely. Keep well and be a good boy and we will all see you back with us again soon.

Say, have you found a little French sweetheart as yet, or am I your little French girl as you said the day we were in Syracuse. Ha Ha.
Again closing with lots of best love, luck and kisses from Your Little French Girl with an Irish name.

Henry and Marie

November 17, 1917

Oh say I came near forgetting it. Sufferage won in New York State on Election Day. Just think, we vote next Spring. It doesn’t interest me very much. Edgerton was re-elected Mayor and the rest of the bunch wouldn’t interest you a whole lot. You always said I was boss so now I am since “Votes for Women” has been passed. Ha Ha.

December 15, 1917

I could not help writing you these few lines today. Do you remember what the 15th of the month is? Five months ago today you left Rochester and I am praying real hard that in five more months we will see you back safe in Rochester again.

I have a new hobby since you left and I bet you cant guess what it is. I am saving all the war pictures I get either from newspapers or magazines and I have over a hundred of them. I am also saving patriotic poetry and I have a few pieces which appeal to me greatly. One is “Soldiers come Back Clean” which so nicely describes the dangers to mind and soul and asks our boys to be real good boys and comeback to us so.

Here is something else which might interest you. 494 of Rochester boys left today in the draft. Just think about _ thousand. They left in three divisions. The boys go to Fort Hancock somewhere in New Jersey. Our chauffeur at the office left with them.

At present we are having a Red Cross campaign here. I don’t know just how much they have to get but I hope they get it all. I know they got my dollar for it goes for a good purpose.

Say I hear a lot of the French girls. Give me a good idea of them will you. I suppose you have found a lot of them by not, or maybe not.
Well, dear I guess I better close or the censor of this letter may get angry at reading so much. Write me whenever you get a chance as your loving letters help to cheer me up. Will now close with loads of best love, luck and kisses from Little (BIG) Marie. P.S. What do you think? Everyone tells me I am getting fleshy. I cant believe it, but maybe I am. I hope so at least.

Marie O’Keefe

January 19, 1918

My Dear Henry,

Here are a few more lines from Rochester. Hope they find you real well, the same as I am. Everything in Rochester is about the same, only we are still without much sugar, and are now without coal. All the factories have shut down for 5 days starting Friday A.M. the 18th and opening again Wednesday A.M. the 23rd and then everyplace, stores, and all are to close each Monday for ten weeks, just think to save coal.
Sunday, oh it was so slippery, the walks were just like glass and the wind blew terribly. After dinner Sabina and I went down to the hall to set the tables for the banquet the club boys gave Gus. After supper we went back again and I wish you could have seen the dining room, all American flags, etc. the center table represented the Army and Navy, with a tent, ambulance, submarine, gun and Red Cross nurse, of course these were only toys, and places were draped with flags for the other nine boys who are in service. We had dancing, singing, etc. but I didn’t dance for I was too tired. Everything was fine but I suppose I hadnt ought be telling you all this for it may give you the blues but never mind when you come back I will see that you have just as good a time as anyone else and maybe a better time, what do you say.

I was over to see Grandma and Aunt Sarah at night and they were also asking for you even though they don’t know you. Grandma says she hopes you find the Kaiser and if you do to bring him back to her.

April 6, 1918

My Dear Henry

Your aunt went to a meeting so the three of us had supper together and after supper Celeste’s beau called her up and said he was coming down but she told him we were going to the movies----one thing I’ll tell you I did not enjoy the pictures in the least. They were terrible. “The Zeppelin’s Raid” was the name of it and if war is really what that picture showed I certainly ask God to put an end to it real soon and bring Peace to the world. You may think I am foolish but I cried for fully a half hour and I don’t know when I cried so much. I nearly broke my heart

May 29, 1918

Hello there Henry,

After supper I was telling my fortune and the cards said I would get a letter and some good news soon, and believe me when your letter of April 17th came to me yesterday the 28th it was good news.

Now I cant tell you how happy I was when I got it. The mail man handed me the office mail and said here is one for you from “Over There” and I could hardly believe him for I came near giving up hopes of getting any more as it was nine weeks ago and a day since your last letter came. I sat down at my desk and to tell you the truth was afraid to open the letter but just the same I did and was so glad to hear you are so well and I assure you we are all well too. I am also so happy to know that you were on the firing line and that you came back safe.

Henry and Marie

November 13, 1918

My Dear Henry,

Well, here is the excitement I was going to tell you that happened on the date of your last letter November 7th. About one o’clock in the afternoon an EXTRA came out that PEACE was DECLARED and you should have seen this town. The news spread like fire and before 2 o’clock every place in town was closed up and Main Street a wonderful show of people, parades, bands, noise and everything imaginable. It came so suddenly it was hardly believable. I went back to the office after lunch and watched the crowds from the window until I could get a car home. Well, just before going to bed Dad came home and said he heard that the news of Peace was a fake. That of course took all the good out of us.

Well, the next morning, Friday the 8th, the truth came out. The papers were published and believe me Rochester was a real disappointed place. Business went on as usual but we all felt the end of the war was near.

John wanted to bet with me that Germany wouldn’t sign the Armistice but I didn’t like to take him up for you know those D—m Germans maybe wouldn’t have and I’d have lost my money but at 4:15 A.M. Monday morning I was sorry I didn’t take him up for the news that the Germans had given up struck town. This time it wasn’t a fake. I woke up and heard the whistles and bells and thought it was 6 o’clock. I didn’t hear Dad around and was just going to call him when the woman next door hollered Hurrah and with all the doors and windows closed it sounded like Help. Mother heard it the same time I did and we both jumped out of bed, thinking her house was on fire or something but when we opened the door, she hollered Hurrah again and with all the noise we knew that the end of the war had come at last and that all our prayers were answered.

-- Marie O’Keefe to her beau, Pfc. Henry Cornelius

July 3, 1918

My Dear Mother and Father,

These days are the most vivid and eventful ones I’ve ever experienced, of course……think of the most exciting moment in your life and multiply it by 1000 and you see what I have every moment of the day.

Our nerves get rather unstrung at times. This savage game is quite a box in the ear. The nearer a man is related to a brute, the better he stands this game. (Penny was killed just a few weeks later)

-- Vernon Penny

September 9, 1918
Mr. George Penny, Rochester, NY

My dear Mr. Penny,

I am taking the liberty of writing you, as from the NY times yesterday, I noticed an account of the death of Vernon Kellogg Penny.
My son, Harry D. Pixley, is Lieutenant in Headquarters of the 27th Division and at present is detailed at the nearest railhead to the 27th Division.

Apparently, your son was in that same company as I had a letter late last week giving me an account of your son’s death. I am giving you below a copy of what he had to say. My son’s letter reads in part
As I am away now from the town when the bomb struck pretty near to us, I can tell you about Vernon Penny being killed. He was one of my motor drivers. The Captain and another Lt. came into town in the car and got out of it by my billet at 12 a.m. and then Vernon drove it into an alley 4 houses below mine. The two officers woke me up…….just then we heard the sizzling of the bomb. The Captain pushed Peppard into the hall and followed. They no more than got inside when I was thrown up against the door jam going into my rooms, the Captain thrown to the floor and Peppard hit in the head by a flying door panel.

The house had the entire roof torn off and every window blown out. All this was from concussion and the houses around us fared the same.

I was barefoot and in my pajamas with a steel helmet on. You can imagine my looks………then my orderly came in terrified, saying the place he lived in was destroyed and the car ruined. Not seeing Penny with him I ran down the street with the Captain and we found the house where we messed in ruins and the car a complete wreck. In front of it 5 feet away two bomb holes big enough to bury the car. I looked under the car and in the debris but finally found Vernon about 20 feet away in the cool green grass, lying silent. He never knew what pain was. He certainly did his duty and his mother should be proud to think she had a soldier ready to do his duty for his country. Just before I left town I went out with a sergeant and planted some flowers (annuals) on his grave. It was the only thing I could do.
(Vernon Penny, East High graduate, died July 24, 1918 at Arneke, France from the effects of a bomb that had been dropped by a German plane)

-- George Pixley of Utica

November 5th, 1918
To Commanding Officer, Base Hospital 13, American Expeditionary Force

Dear Sir,

I am writing to inquire about the condition of my son, Private John E. Harmon, Company C, Sixth Engineers. He was injured July 16th and has been in Base Hospital 13 since that week. He writes home very frequently but he gives us so little information about his wound that we are at a loss to understand why he has been in the hospital so long. Any information or explanation which you can give would be gratefully received. John is our only son and his father, who is eighty four years old, is trying to run the farm without him during the war. You can imagine from this how anxious we are to hear about his condition.

Yours sincerely,

Marion Harmon