Peg* had gone in the spring of 1917 to Paris to work for the Committee of the Children of the Frontier.
*Webmaster's Note: "Peg" and "Doll" were the nicknames for twin sisters Marjory and Dorothy Cheney.
In October, Dorothy sailed on the Rochambeau.
One afternoon Lucinda Bateson, who worked for the Children of the Frontier, drove us to Presles where a group of little boys were being looked after in a convent which was under Peg's direction.... A Mother Superior, who looked like a grenadier surprisingly clothed in a nun's dress, let us in through a doorway in a blank wall into a bare graveled court. There was nothing green in it, no color anywhere – gray walls, gray sky, black dresses, black pinafores. The childrens' cheeks alone glowed red and their poor little hands were purple, puffed up like pincushions with chilblains. The class room was so damp that drops of moisture trickled down the walls. The children sat in rows on narrow benches and chanted Latin prayers in union – In Spiritu Sancto and a kick on the shins of the boy next.
The office was a big bare room which had been a studio. The north wall was all of glass which made for the maximum of cold and sunlessness. At a table in the middle sat the head of the paid office force, Mme. Galaza, a handsome dark woman from the Midi, with a violent temper and strident voice. The little typists scuttled about in terror under the lash of her tongue and the poor doddering old refugee who tended the stove would become completely befuddled and fill the room with clouds of black smoke which settled down in dust over all the desks and papers. At intervals there would be an eruption through the door of Mr. Acacia's private office at the side and some poor creature would fly out driven before his wrath.
I was given a desk and started typing and copying, which I did slowly and badly. There followed unhappy days of doing odd jobs and ineffectual bits of work. Whenever I ventured to ask Mr. Jaccaci to give me something definite to do he would pat me on the shoulders and say, "My child, your work will be what you make it," which made me feel worse than ever for I so obviously had not made it anything. But for occasional chances to visit the colonies and but for the absorbing life of war time Paris outside the office, it would have been too hard to find one's vague romantic expectations turned into a realization that all one was doing was to help eat up French food.
Peg found Mr. Jaccaci too dictatorial, and both sisters asked Mr. Jaccaci "if we might leave as soon as we found something else to do. We left him with a feeling of warm affection."
January, 1918 – started at the Red Cross, 4 Place de la Concorde. She did interviewing and greeted visitors with requests.... Paris was being bombed.
At the thought of leaving No. 4 Place de la Concorde, I realized with a pang how absorbing it had been and how much I should miss the beautiful old building that used so discreetly to house very different scenes, before it swarmed with American men and women working at tension, anxious to be doing the great things of their imaginations, and fretting at the small things of reality. They worked with great good will and great inexperience, great unselfishness and also with snobbishness, jealousy and heartburning.
Nurse's aide and interpreters in the wards. "Nurses' aides wore a satisfactorily romantic costume, a blue cotton dress with white muslin bonnet, collar and cuffs while on duty; and for the street, a long dark blue cloth cape with a red cross on a white backghround over the heart, and a blue silk French coif.
[Descriptions the barracks down to the cold water in the wash basins.]
Due to communication confusion, Dorothy and Mary Hoyt were treated as actual nurses' aides, even though they had no training and thought they were going to do interpreting. "We were expected to attempt anything that could be asked of a nurse. Since that was the accepted way of training [in France, which had no nursing schools], the doctors and nurses were patient and helpful in teaching us."
Helping in the small room where dressings were changed ... amputation ... pain ...screaming.
After working all day, called to the American hospital, being bombed.
Back to their regular hospital.
I finally got to bed at 3 a.m. and up again at seven the next morning and worked all day getting the glass swept up and the ward in order. There was a report that the hospital was to be evacuated and people were leaving town. It was impossible to know if it were true but it seemed very doubtful, at least, that the American hospital, opened the day before, would be closed again.
It was a great relief the next day to be moved to another ward under our new young doctors. Our old ward had become completely demoralized after the departure of Dr. Chauvin and, moreover, all the decent beds and mattresses had been carried off and our men had been given hard, lumpy corn husk ones. I met the Médecin Chef one morning and asked if I might spend some money that had been given me to buy new ones, and perhaps that touched his pride.
[She bought a tomato in the market for one of the patients.]
There were no cubicles and we slept in beds close together. There were cooties in the beds. We slept in our clothes to be ready to go down to the cellar and at the sound of the guns it looked like an old picture of the "Last Judgment" as we all rose from our beds and ran. At night I would put on my "costume de cave," – change my dress and tie my head up in a white coif to keep out cooties and coal dust – and at dawn I would creep out and up to my bed upstairs for a few hours' quiet sleep before changing my clothes again to go on the ward.
The nurses asked me if I would go on night duty alone that night. I protested that I was not a nurse and was far too ignorant and incompetent to look after 40 men alone, for night duty meant double duty, looking after one's own ward and another strange one.... [but she did] the first night, 2 men died.
Sat on a park bench facing the sunset "and wept bitterly." One lived on the surface for weeks, and even months, and then suddenly the calm would break and waves would rise and sweep over one of revolt and despair at the cruel, senseless waste and agony of war. I could hear the guns and hated them all with all my soul and for the first time felt no accompanying thrill of excitement. No one paid any attention to so usual a sight as a woman weeping.
The W.C.'s were disgusting and constituted the one hardship of the life there.
Went to Chantilly with Peg, a hospital installed in the racing stables on the estate of Baron Rothschild.
[Had to return to Beauvais, military orders, because supposedly 1500 wounded coming in. But they didn't]
I asked to be relieved and on September 7th did really bid a final farewell.... To have had the chance to serve them was a thing to be deeply grateful for. It is not possible to measure the beauty of their courage, of their forbearance, of their qualities of wit and quick perception and their courtesy.
Two weeks' leave in Normandy, then to Paris, and sent to Héricourt at Belfort. Flu ward for American soldiers – cleaning them and the ward as well. Put on solo night duty. No place to empty the slop buckets. One faucet of cold water for the whole floor.
Two orderlies to help. That night a man died. Supper. Then 2 more men died.
In those weeks I grew to love a quality of spirit that belongs to humble people, an acceptance of hard things and a feeling that what happens to them is not very important. Men died in a sort of heroic humility, facing that last moment alone without expecting any more fuss to be made over their deaths than had been made over their lives.
Back to Paris. We went to bed as soon as we reached the hotel and it seemed impossible to be lying in a luxurious bed in a gray paneled room with an open fire, and a glistening white bathroom with hot water to be had for turning a faucet, and to be eating a delicious meal served by the most correct and deferential of servants in a tail coat – but I was happier with a plate of beans slapped on the table by a boy who called me "Sis."
To Villers Cotterets
Military hospital was a chateau built by Francois Iier Cared for "darkie officers."
The next day the signing of the Armistice was confirmed.
Then to Strasbourg
January – went to the front to visit, after the Armistice. "We went through country that had been fought over and over by both our men an the French. It was strewn with the waste of war. There were great ammunition dumps everywhere, and a whole town of deserted barracks and hospitals and hundreds of abandoned camions and gun carriages all left to fall to pieces. The banks were honeycombed with dugouts and shelters and the fields were scarred with the zigzag line of trenches. It was the last bare ashes of war, after the flame had burnt out. It was bitter desolation.
We knew as we sat in the train that was taking us back to Paris that never again would we start out in the cold gray of early morning from the Gare du Nord, from the Gare de L'Est, wondering what was ahead of us....
The day we landed in New York was clear and sparkling. After the gray murk of Paris in winter the sky seemed incredibly blue and the air exciting. It was unreal and the most natural thing in the world to be with our beloved family again. For the first time peace seemed true – and there were no soldiers anywhere.
This edition of one hundred copies is printed in December MDCCCCXXIX at the press of Finlay Brothers in Hartford, Connecticut, United States of America.