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The Western Star, November 11, 1921.

ELZA HOLMES WRITES FROM FAR AWAY FRANCE

The Western Star is permitted to print the following extracts from letters received by Mrs. Elza Holmes from her husband, who has been in France for about a year in the service of the U. S. Government, being connected with the American Graves Registration Service.

Writing from Romagne Sous, Montfaucon, Meuse, France, under date of June 28, Mr. Holmes writes:

"We have been in above named town for several days, but the name of the town is bigger than the town. It was entirely blown to pieces during the war. I am going to try to tell you all the good features, as well as the bad ones. This is the largest American cemetery in France, for two reasons. The first is that more Americans were engaged here than at any other place. The other is that they have the "G. R. S." and are still finding dead soldiers in the Argonne Forest and bringing them into Romagne for burial. There are many thousand American dead in the cemetery. I am going to send some pictures of it as soon as I can go down town and get some. I had some, but a fellow borrowed them and has not brought them back. We live in regular soldier barracks. They are just a shell of a room, 25 feet wide and 100 feet long, with rows of bunks on both sides. There are about 40 men in the barracks I am in. In these 40 men you will find all kinds. The other night, at what we call bedtime, which is around 10 o'clock, near my bunk there was a poker game going on. A little farther down the line there was a fellow making himself a sandwich over a little alcohol stove. Down further a fellow was playing a mandolin, and so on. No two want to do the same thing at the same time. The only way to get by is to learn to go to sleep with any kind of noise, and I have gotten to that place. We have no kind of privacy at all. At the present time I am writing this in the presence of 40 other men, and most of them talking on different subjects. Then our mess hall is a wonder. You can hardly imagine all the bedlam that takes place in there - where they (that is about 400 of them) all get to talking at once, because they are short on waiters and everyone wants to get waited on at once, and everyone can find some one to talk to, so it is wonderful. However, it don't worry me very much. I just take it as it comes.

"Now for the other side of the story. The Government is doing all it can for us. We have a baseball diamond and have games every evening. Also they are preparing a tennis court. We have a picture show, put on by the Y. M. C. A. We have shower, baths, a doctor, if any one gets sick, and a jazz band. We have lots of amusement. One peculiar thing is that France, as old a country as it is, as thickly settled as it is supposed to be, and it takes just 7 hours to get 20 miles away. We are sure almost lost up here. Another peculiar thing up here is that it doesn't get dark up here until after 10 o'clock at night, and the dawn begins to break about 3 o'clock in the morning. At noon it is so hot we can hardly stand it, and at night I sleep under four army blankets, with my leather coat over my feet, and sleep cold. Then, on top of all that, one never knows when or why. I mean that there is so much army mixed in with it that it is almost impossible to satisfy the men who are in charge. If you miss the filling of a tooth chart or fail to note a broken arm, maybe off comes your head, and you get a trial, and probably a trip back to the States. I never have been called yet, but some of the fellows have. So you see it is not all roses, by a whole lot.

"Tell Mrs. Metzker that I visited her son's grave a few days ago, and it is nice and well kept, and if she will write a request I may be able to get a picture of it, although they are very strict about such things. The job was close home to me a few days ago. I prepared a body to be sent to I. W. Gill and Co. of Wichita, Kans. There is another man here from Kansas besides myself. He is from Fort Scott."

Under date of July 16, Mr. Holmes writes:

"I am sitting on the side of my bunk and writing on a chair, and am sweating wonderfully. I can't get used to the country it is hot and cold, all in the same 24 hours. Now it is so hot the sun just almost blisters, and last night I slept under four army blankets, and wasn't a bit too warm. Can you beat anything like that? And then we are "up in the air" all the time. They change commanding officers every few days, and each comes out with a new bunch of orders, until we don't know what to do, nor can we be certain how long we are going to stay. The rumor comes out every few days about how many they are going to send home on the next boat. However, the idea seems to be that they are going to weed out the ones who have been a. w. o. l., and the ones who are habitually late on their jobs. If that is the case, I have a very good chance, for I haven't lost a day or minute.

"July 14th was "Bastille Day," which is the same to France as our 4th of July is to us, and the organization observed the day up here. We started the evening before with a big picture show, singing, music, etc., and the next day (the 14th) the Paris A. G. R. S. ball team came out and, although they had not been beaten before this season, we beat them unmercifully. The score was 16 to 4, and they went home feeling rather blue. I don't know just how the French celebrate the day, as there are very few French in this town - in fact, our laborers are made up of Germans, Russians, Poles, Luxemburgers, Spanish and French. Just imagine such a mixture. Their barracks are about 200 yards from as, and we can hear fights every once in a while. They have their own barracks, so that we do not mix with them any. They are the dumbest looking bunch of men that I ever looked at. They look like cattle, and act a good deal the same."

Writing from Ramagne, France, under date of October 13, Mr. Holmes says:

"It is still very hot here. Don't know just how long we will be here yet. Some are going home and some are dying. Don't want to spend the winter here. We have only two stoves in a 100 foot building. That is about as open as out of doors. The light is very poor - not sufficient to write or read by."


WWI Draft Registration card for Elza Orville Holmes of Coldwater, Comanche County, Kansas.
Draft Registration card: Elza Orville Holmes of Coldwater, Comanche County, Kansas.

United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls.


Also see:

Obituary: Elza Orville Holmes, The Western Star, January 28, 1967.

Harrison Metzker, WWI Casualty

WWI News Articles from Comanche County, Kansas


Thanks to Shirley Brier for finding, transcribing and contributing the above news article to this web site!

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