Cpl. D.E. McMillin
Cpl. D.E. McMillin, 13th Engineers.
Some where in France.
1 November, 1917.
My Dear Friend:-
Thinking that perhaps you among others would like to have a glimpse of the war here in France through the eyes of a participant who has been here just long enough to think he knows a little more about it than most of the generals, I am going to try to give you it as I see it. Possibly I had better begin at Chicago for that is where we laid the foundation for our, so far most interesting expedition.
I enlisted May 24th at the Railway Exchange Bldg, and was sworn into active service and used there for about two weeks in the recruiting office after which we moved to the Municipal Pier which we now look upon as being an ideal place to quarter but which we were getting pretty tired of when we left it July 21st after some intensive training.
We had a most pleasant trip across the states making the trip in Pullman cars to our embarking point, where we met the greatest reception we had thus far had. As we left Chicago rather quietly and entered emediately into a night ride we had not realized we were fit subject for so much demonstration. But here they knew something was coming from the presence of our transports (out of which the “Lucky 13th,” drew a converted mail cruiser) and had their whistles tied down on every engine in the yard together with the numerous shop whistles.
This did not last long for Uncle Sam had things timed and we “set sail” early that after noon (July 23) the Statue of Liberty faded away in the after noon’s sun rays and we were thought to be a mad rush for the other side. This mistake was however corrected when two days later we found ourselves comming into a large harbor of the place we had been told to go so many times back in the States but which we had always thought we would avoid. I am sure we are not blamed for this act as I am quite sure you would have done the same thing under the same circumstances. It was here that the time grew tiresome and we were good and ready to attack the most daring submarine when one week later the coaling barge cut loose from our side and we felt the drum of the engines on our own craft which we were certain was startig on The Voyage, And no one would have doubted it had they seen the passengers several days later. Oh! No I wasn’t sick but two days but in that time I would have concentrated all the German Subs afloat or submerged had I had my wish.
We landed at an English port on Aug 12th and with no more delay than we encountered at the port in the States we started on al all day ride across England arriving at a concentration camp about dark. Here we were glad to catch up with two of our companies which had gotten on another boat which had had a little more excitement than we had experienced inthat they had exchanged shots with a “Sub”.
It was from this camp that we went to London for one grand and long to be remembered day. A fine ride brought us to that Village about 10 o’clock and soon after our march began, to end in the Royal Green Gardens just beyound the Royal Palace where we had the best meal we have had since leaving the U.S. and which was served in a most efficient way to 5,000 troops. We were here for about an hour and a half when time caused us to resume our march back to the depot. Here we were greeting and at the same time bid Farewell by the “Womens Free Club” of London. It was a tired but proud happy bunch of fellow who crawled into their squad tents that night realizing that it was the first time the Stars and Stripes had ever been carried by her defenders through those streets and that it was the first time on that occasion for foreign groups to march there since William the Conqueror’s time in 1066.
This covered the most important features of our trip up to the last dash which was across the English Channel and which brought us to our destination. Our landing was again followed by a day train ride, this time, in the course of which we came with in sight of Paris, the closest I have been to that place so far, tho expect to go there on furlough before so very long.
We reached our first stop in France which was a town of about thirty thousand, late at night and or about three weeks occupied the second story of what used to be monesteries but which have been used for other things since the over throw of Catholic rule by the Government, At the present time the first floors are being used for stables. Some of these were built as far back as 1648. The one our company was in, was built in 1654. The first Sunday here I attended services in a Cathedral built in 1658. The town is located on a very pretty river and was occupied for eight days at the beginning of the war by the German, tho there are no traces of them in that part of the country now. During our stay here we were sent out in detachments to stations along the railroads leading into the city to study French ways and methods of railroading and then took our last train ride which brought us up to where we are now located. (Censorship forbids me giving you more definate details, locations ect.)
We are now up behind the lines and have taken over about 60 miles of an important French railway system and are delivering amunition, food stuffs, fresh troups ext, to worn out troops damaged equipment and some times “Boche” prisoners. (Boche being the French name given the German) Most of the detachments are with in range of the big guns and some of the 13th can tell you what the whistle of one or more shells sound like. The most thrilling sensation I have experiences is the air raid, and do not think I have exaggerated it when I say they are “Thrilling”. During the day the French and German exchange observation plains which cross over and take photographs of the country and on their return lay out the rpute for the bombing machines at night. Then they try to see who can raise the most —-. From Sept 12th til Oct 3rd when the rainy season set in they only passed us up three nights. On one occasion they dropped 15 bombs. On these occasions the ones who follow the example of the French take up their abode in dugouts, caves or trenches but the most of us curious, typical Americans put on our steel helmets to protect against the falling shrpnel and get out to see what is going on. So far we have not had a casualty and as most of the 13th have either played foot ball or have their pictures in the rogues gallery there isn’t such an aweful good chance.
The artillery is starting in and as it is cloudy we can go to bed with out worrying about the air raids and listen to the rumble. Wish you all could have this experience.
We find the French to be a very friendly lot, who try to under stand us just as hard as we try to understand them. It is rather hard to learn their language as the most we have to associate with, are as busy at the war game as we are. It has just been up the last week or two that some of the families who’s homes are up in this region got up their nerve enough to return and every few days now we make the discovery of a new inhabitant in some of the little villages which are scattered all around us.
Their return of course necessitates the opening up of stores, which I presume they formerly ran and where you can now buy some of the small necessities of life. Most every-thing is high prices. Eggs 4 francs per dozen of 80¢ butter about 80¢ per pound a 10¢ can of sardines we pay 1 fr 50 centimes or 30¢. The thing missed most is sweets. Candy is an unknown quantity and the only substitute is a very poor grade of chocolate which comes in the bar about the size of Bakers bitter chocolate and we pay 1.50 for it. Pastries of any kind are not to be had. The Government has put a stop to the sale of bread which we could get when we first came over and which is a little bit better than war bread.
All these deprivations were forgotten however on the arrival of about 35 sacks of good old U.S. mail. Out of which I drew five letters and two boxes of home made candy. It has been about three weeks since our last mail and all were beginning to get anxious. No one knows how good letters go over here and strange as it may sound things you never paid any attention to when back there are of the greatest interest now. We get newspapers which are all the way from three weeks to six weeks old but they are devoured just the same especially if they are the “Home Paper”. I have been fortunate in getting several Graphics but second class matter is side tracked for first, so I know I have more comming.
Up until Oct 4th when the rainy season set in we could hardly realize we were not in the States, so identical were the woods and country in general. Since then it has been more like the spring of the year back there. We have had very few days of sunshine since then and consequently not many visits from the “Boche”.
Now as for myself I have been used principally on the clerical end of the job. I was made Corporal about two weeks after I enlisted and up until the companies were split up over here for railroad work stayed with the squad. At that time I became the company clerk being more closely associated with a good friend whom I had known in La Crosse and who is 1st Sergeant of Co.D. About two weeks ago I was detached and assigned to work at Regimental Headquarters which again placed me in very a pleasant position being under one of our best Officers of the Regiment, Thos P. Horton who is now Acting Adjutant of the Regiment and who is also from La Crosse.
In all I consider myself very fortunate. We are the first American forces to go into active service in France, the first to really experience shell fire and bombing. I have never regretting enlisting when I did, and can see many disadvantages if I had delayed.
Now I think I have given you an idea of the thing over here and I am just as anxious to get word from the States, so tell every one to write and if I can possibly find time I will try to answer.
Give every one my best regards reserving a share for yourself I am Your Friend,
Corp. D.E. McMillin
Msv1_M1. Violette Collection of WWI Soldiers’ Letters. Mudsp Collection V1. Truman State University Special Collections.