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John Doyle writes to sister, Mrs. Frank Rauen

Plattsmouth Journal, November 18, 1918


From "Johnnie" Doyle, an Old Plattsmouth Boy, Who Has Been in France for Some Time.

Railway Artillery Supply Depot,

A.E.F., Ordinance Division, France,

Oct. 20

Dear Sister and Frank

       It has been a long time since I wrote a letter to you, so I will give you a long letter, in the first place all is well. Maggie writes often and all is well over there. I tried to get a leave to go there but at present none of us is allowed out of France, you know the reason is because we want every man on the job, until we have completed the rout to the Kaisers [sic] bunch which is going along swimmingly, they have decided once more not to go to Paris for a while yet, the Crown Prince promised them a great time if they could ever break through and get there and they were about to accomplish the move at a place called Chateau Thierry on the river Marne about the 1st of last June, but the Yanks stopped them, the Yanks were not at Chateau Thierry when the thing first started, and the French and English were about all in, the English had lost a lot of their Artillery and lots of men, the French were exhausted pretty well, when they called on the Yanks who were on another front, they didn’t have to call for the Yanks twice, they rushed there on freight trains, auto trucks, wagons, horse back, mules, donkeys, shanks mare, marched, run, swam, and in fact they took every conceivable means to rush there, and they didn’t get there a moment too soon, well every company has cooks, tailors, shoemakers etc, in it, but that day the cooks and shoemakers, and bakers, and tailors shouldered their guns, rolling pins, pegging awls, the tailors took their flat irons, and the consequences were when they got through the Crown Prince and his bunch of Huns beat a hasty retreat towards Berlin, and from that day it has been a continuous retreat for them, the Kaiser cursed the untrained Yankees that day, and the Kaiser captured a few of them, and just for to make his people feel better and offset his murmuring subjects he exhibited the few Yanks he had as you would wild cats in the circus, the Yanks heard about that exhibition, and then they swore revenge, and they surely are getting it, you know all about the various moves and retreats as well as we do, God bless the American News Service, they show all, give all, and describe all before the battle is 24 hours old, we all feel on easy street now, we have had some sleepless nights, and more than some have any idea of, for when they were not fighting you on the field, they would hover over you during the night trying to find your sleeping places and trenches to bomb you, we all have bomb proof trenches for such occasions, a little joke on that subject will be in order — a while back they bombed us here where we live at, well the only thing the air-o-plane hit was a French toilet, well nothing smells worse than a French Toilet, well the French soldiers and officers being woke out of their sleep and getting a whiff of the horrid smell decided the Germans must have a new brand of gas, so they all put on their gas masks, after a while us American soldiers went around to see what damage had been done and we seen the French running around with their gas masks on and they wondered why we didn’t have ours on, they tried to tell us to be careful as the Germans must have dropped a new style of gas shell, well they thought we were fools, and we thought the same of them, and after a while we convinced them that the shells were the same old material that the Chinese used to load their stinck [sic] pots with 2000 years ago. The French looked a bit sheepish about the joke for several days after.

          I have just returned from a trip of nine days along the front. I was up all along the Vosges mountains, and in Alsace Lorraine and in German Territory, our boys were using an old German Frontier custom house for a wireless station, the Vosges mountains surprised me, they have better towns in the mountains than they have on the plain, the hotels were all steam heated, electric lights etc, and scrupously [sic] clean, and the attendants were the ideal of politeness, in fact they kill you with kindness, these are the places and the people that France is so anxious to win back, old Alsace Lorraine, which the Germans took away from the French in 1870. They hang on to their old French customs, their language, and their unexcelled way of dressing, they are really worth fighting for, up around Belfort and further on towards the German Frontier I run across lots of Germans, in fact an old German woman directed me on my last mile of my trip where the Yankee Artillery were located, the French soldiers didn’t know and she did and not making any bones about it, she proudly give me to understand she spoke German and wanted to know if I could Sprechen Sie Deutsch. I told her Nicht Ver Steh and we wagged our ears at each other and smiled, but the little old fat red faced German woman brought fond memories of another one I used to know in old Plattsmouth, and I wondered if she was any relation.

          I then went on and found the lads where my load was going to and delivered the goods across the German Frontier, we gassed up, but [sic] some of Germany’s water in the radiator, eat some of our travel rations and had a smoke, we did all this so we could say that we had eat, smoked, and fixed up our trucks in the much talked of Fatherland. On our way back we stopped in Belfort for the Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, everybody was feeling their best for the newsboys were hollering out all kinds of encouraging headlines, before I had delivered this stuff to go up in the Toul sector and deliver some stuff, I was in the heart of the fighting sector, everything was knocked down, the fields all torn up, there was our old trenches just abandoned, the boys had gone over the top a few days ago. I seen a few of the results in some of our boys’ graves with Khaki [sic] painted crosses on them. When they are Kahki [sic] painted it means they died in action, the crosses are always handy, the Chaplain and a burial party handle that part of the war business, well at this place I picked up a German machine gun, an American of the latest model, and one of the French Chauchats of which the Americans are armed with some, all kinds of other equipment layed [sic] all around, the reason of this is when the boys go over the top they doff everything but their guns and ammunition, and coming back or digging in they will doff everything but the celebrated German Luger [sic] revolvers, it is a fact that when they start in, they often deicide what each one is going to get, and a German Luger revolver is the greatest prize for a souvenir a soldier can get, there is quite a few got Iron crosses, for it is another fact that the Germans throw them away, and give them away in disgust, when they see how they have been duped by their powers that be, some of the Germans talks as good English as we do, and they tell you straight out that they have had their fill of this thing, and they all refer to the Kaisers six sons, none wounded or killed, although the Kaiser is continuously bellowing in his speeches that they will lose the last drop of German blood before they will give up Alsace Lorraine or take a defeat.

          Now I must go back to Belfort in this, I dropped in the Y.M.C.A. and the place was crowded and I asked the boss how he would like to display my German machine gun, he jumped at the chance and loaded me up with cigars for the suggestion, the boys certainly investigated that gun. They took it apart and put it together again several times over, then I placed our latest Heavy Browning machine gun beside it. It looked like a beautiful strong polished race horse at side of an old plow horse, our gun is far superior in shooting, looks, workmanship, and wear and tear, thanks, many thanks to our great American workmen and our great American machine shops who turned out several hundred thousand before the scheduled time. This is where your money goes to in which you spend for liberty bonds, but don’t you see the results, why if we got beat we would never go back, but you see as I always propheisied [sic], but I know that you often thought I was simply trying to encourage you, when I got over here things looked blue enough, last winter was a holy terror, we didn’t have enough fuel, every one was encouraged to cut everything down to the minimum in the fuel and eats line, but thanks to the British they have captured Lille which means that we can get all the coal we want now, that place is noted for coal, and we have it, the Yanks have a large coal area staring them in the face, but they have a terrible country to fight over, and you know the Germans have held that for years and have everything fortified as well as these experts know how to fortify, but watch, before Christmas, yes before Thanksgiving the Yanks will have it, they scooped off that great sector which the Germans had built summer resorts, beer gardens, etc., because they figured we have held if four years, and Me and Gott will hold it four more.

          The last place I was in before I got back home was Troyes, there I went to a Vaudeville and Movie theatre, they had on a Mexican Border play, when the Yankee cowboys came to the rescue of the imprisoned American girls, and killed the fancy looking Mexican bully or outlaw the audience went wild, then a girl came out dancing and waving that great Crepe de chine dress, where they throw on butterflies and flags, etc., from the movie machine, well they showed the British flag, it got 10 minutes applause, then they showed Italy, it got about 10 minutes, then they showed their own. It got about 10 minutes, then the Belgian, it got about 15 minutes, then they showed the American, they all stood up at that and went plum bug house and they were still yelling their lungs out when I was about 8 blocks away, they certainly show their regards and respect and love to America, the girls flirt and wink and blink more at an American than all the rest put together, and the odd part of it all is, all the rest of the bunch seem to pick up their lingo better than we do, us fellows can’t Polly Vo Francais at all like the rest of them, it is comical to listen to a genuine Cockney Englishment [sic] talk French, and the Irishman is worse.

          You know in order to talk French the proper way you must wag your ears, and wave your hands at an awful slant up behind your ears just like a Jew does when he tells his son to pull down the blue shade. I want to sell a green suit, and all the girls carry a little French-English dictionary, and it has all kinds of little short sentences, so when they pass you they will say, Kiss me quick, and in the morning they will pass you and say, Good night, Hello baby, and a thousand other remarks, these girls are all good girls, but is a great national custom to flirt, but they pull this stuff off a thousand times oftener with the Yanks than any other, furthermore, they are learning all the American catchy songs, they don’t sing others, at least I never hear them, I will say they sing Tipperary, but that is the only one, and the biggest reason of that is we were not here when that song was so popular, they show their great love for America above all others and make no bones about it, the kids are all trained to salute American soldiers, even the smallest little things are trained, and the very military way they do it is a caution.

          Then in the restaurant we have lots of fun, they are always harping about where is your bread ticket, well Americans don’t think of such small things. You are supposed to go some place and get a bread ticket, the residents get a book for the month for each person. The old restaurant keeper and me got in a good natured wrangle because he didn’t want to give me bread, well a good looking dame sitting at the same table finally handed me one out of her book and then I proceeded to monge {sic, correct spelling is "mange"}, which means to eat, and the eating was fine, it would do you good to see the French eat these days, no matter how good looking they dig in and devour a meal like they meant business, they don’t have a morsel on their plate, and take particular pains to wipe off the plate with a piece of bread. This is in every individual case, they are trained [illegible] to do this. I notice they do and I have seen doctors and nurses and pretty girls do it, they all lick off the tips of their fingers so as to furthermore guarantee that not a taste gets wasted, they pay no attention to you as you sit across the table when pulling off these stunts, don’t forget they have their table napkins and they well know how to use them and they have a million beautiful table manners. I just mention these little things because you won’t see one of our dear Yanks girls licking her fingers at the table. All those funny dressed girls and boys and men and women who we see pictured in the American newspapers and who are termed greenhorns, I see on the trip through the Vosges. They have the wooden shoes we make so much fun of, but they don’t wear them on all occasions. They wear pretty shoes to their weddings, parties, etc., and from my observations they would be fools if they didn’t wear high wooden shoes when around their daily work, for most all of them have the barn on one end of the house, and it is the height of one of the mountain farmers ambition and all other French farmers to get a mountain of cow manure outside of his house, the seepage causes terrible dirty mud, hesto presto, consequently the wooden shoes, furthermore on wet and muddy days in the fields where they work the wooden shoe is the only thing to have. Then you see the man with the funny-looking pants and a red sash or other color tied around the waist, and a red cap which makes them look like gypsies, and all Frenchmen wear a moustache, they say a man isn’t a man who doesn’t wear one but Yanks are noted for not wearing one to offset dirt and germs etc, let alone having it full of soup and chewing tobacco, and still we make the hit with the girlies, but take it all in all the French are wonderful people, I have seen terrible old men and women, and thousands of the prettiest girls plowing, haying, hoeing, reaping, herding cows and sheep, picking grapes etc., all the fighting men gone to the font, all soldiers graves buried in the different fields where the fighting has been , are kept up by the people who own the land, they are decorated with natural and beaded flowers and with a French flag. Last decoration day we Americans went all over our different localities and hunted up the French graves and placed on each one an American flag, each grave has a little rustic fence around it, the different farmers view with each other who has the best kept Poilus grave (Poilu means soldier).

          I have written you this big letter to make up for lost time, send it on to Lillie and Eva when you have read it. I nearly forgot to congratulate Lily and her hubby about the baby, more power to them, hoping the next will be twins, I have sent Eva’s letter to Maggie and she will send the baby some little present. Eva bravely keeps up her interesting newsy letters. Lily is now a busy housekeeper, but they are getting there, which one is next, glad to hear Pete is still on deck, he must have come from county Kerry, an Irishman once told me the people from Kerry were never at home, they were always roaming about, tell Rose I hope she is well with her baby Dorothy, and the nurse is naturally on the job these days, and last but not least Maggie, I will never invite her to my home when she is on her wedding trip if she doesn’t write to me. Some one told me she don’t know how, and I won’t believe it, she will have to go some though to beat Lillie and Eva, that is how Lillie won such a nice husband I believe, writing nice letters, she certainly captivated me. Enough.

Write soon, love to all.


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