100 years ago Norman Derr delivered 15,000 Christmas gifts to French soldiers in the trenches.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Norman Derr’s Christmas delivery of 15,000 gifts to French trenches on the front line I am reposting the letters she wrote home to her father which described the event.

In Miss Derr’s last letter she describes the distribution of 15,000 Christmas gifts as follows:

“Ambulance 12-1, December 23, 1917.

A royal snowstorm is raging through the valley, bearding the bright fringe of icicles above the doorway, and painting all the little brown barracks white and cosy like a Christmas village.  It’s a perfect setting for a Christmas story.

During a recent visit to Paris to recuperate from a severe attack of bronchitis I paid a visit to the head-quarters of the Red Cross to ask them what they could or would do in the event of my Christmas cases, expected from home, being delayed or sequestrated. I was referred to a dear little lady, Mrs Denny, a much more powerful person than her size and sex would indicate.  She was cordial enough, but firm on the point that she could only provide for soldiers in the trenches, and not in hospitals.  That drew from me a confession of my dream of three years, and before I left it was promised that if I could get right of way with the army, I could have control of 15,000 pairs of filled socks.

How did I suppose I could wield such vast numbers? I didn’t; I just took it on faith that such an opportunity it should not be missed, and that there would be miracles.

As soon as I could, on my return to my post, I had an audience with the medical inspector general.  That august personage looked first incredulous, then amused, and said I had no notion of numbers, that it was attempting the impossible, but that if I liked he would speak to the general in command of the division of the army.  Twenty-four hours later I was summoned to meet the medical inspector general at the office of the chief medical officer of the ambulance. With a quite altered manner he informed me that the commanding general was much touched by my generous intention on behalf of his soldiers, and that if I really thought I could handle the matter he would give me all possible facilities.  Then I set to work in earnest to get my scheme of operations in shape, and writing supplications for help on behalf of my ambulance that it might not be neglected while I went afield.

Many Letters.

Having received masses of letters from the United States heralding cases from Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Hartford and other places and knowing that there might be delay in getting them, I got an order on the 10th of December, with permission to go wherever I thought I would find my cases- a great mark of esteem to show a nurse.  I went off with many misgivings, for I wasn’t at all sure of finding anything, and if I did, there would be all the transportation system of the interior to wrestle with.  It was a still, star light morning when I started.  The east was still deep violet, and a pale crescent moon was slipping down to the west- too pale to light my way, and I lost it several times lugging my bag across the frozen fields.  The little train kept whistling impatiently, and I couldn’t see it for there was no light on account of enemy aviators.

Altogether I felt breathless and uneasy, when suddenly, clear and sweet as clarion, as if rung  down from the stars, came these words – I think they are St Theresa’s – ” Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee, all things are passing: God never changeth.  Patient endurance attaineth to all things: alone God sufficeth”.  And then a great quiet descended on my heart, and it has never left me through all this stormy time.  I had need of all my sangfroid in Paris.  After telegraphing all the ports to try to place my cases before starting off on a wild goose chase after them, I paid a courtesy call at the Red Cross and that which should have been en route weeks before we not even filled, much less packed.  The dear people had apparently forgotten that, in war time, cases don’t arrive like letters.

The Helpers

All I saw of preparations were three open cases in the court of the packing department, with my name on them, and a little ambulance driver in khaki struggling with an unaccustomed saw.  All praise to William Barber, who took his carpentry job quite as seriously as saving life on the battlefield, for which he received the “Croix de Guerre” and “Medaislle Militaire”. I am not going to bewilder you with the peripatetics,  telephoning, interviewing, auto chasing and money- spending of those days.  Suffice it that some heavenly ministrant took me by the hand and led me to do just the right thing at the right time.

That austere-colonel at the railroad station for the armies of the west telephoned to my army and got permission to put my cases on the train that makes the run in twenty four hours instead of four to five weeks.  The Red Cross gave the auto trucks to deliver them; little Barber hammering and managing like a Trojan all the while.

Dr Richard Cabot of Boston, whom I have had at last the great pleasure of meeting, had given ten thousand francs that the socks might be plumper, but at the very last I discovered that, because of the famine, they had not been able to give tobacco.  A poilu Christmas without a smoke- impossible.

That blessed M. Patten, director of military affairs said he wanted to help but that tobacco was not to be had. I telegraphed to the army, got permission to buy from reserves and M Patten gave the funds.  Every one’s heart seemed softened, changed; everyone kept his promise.  There was not one weak link in all the interminable chain, and four days later the impossible had been accomplished.  On the last day of my stay in Paris I secured funds from an old French gentleman for the purchase of 1,200 pounds of biscuits – my own funds were low, and I had 15,000 glasses of wine to supply out of my own savings.

The story of the biscuits is worth telling you. A gentleman, who had done his part, gave me his card to present to a wealthy friend of his, which would obtain me an audience and the biscuits.  I followed instructions, and stood at the door of the gentleman’s library waiting summons to enter.  The door opened and there stood the expected Pere Noel in dishabille.  He had understood that his friend was there himself.  Recognizing my Red Cross uniform as an appeal for aid, he waived embarrassment, smiling benignly under his wreath of silver hair, and bade me tell what I wanted.  I remembered Joffre’s words about ‘ never retreating’ and was I not campaigning for biscuits?  There were a few interchanges about the war and our mutual desire to help, and I went away with the biscuits assured, and a deepened sense of God’s goodness and human kindness.  He was a naturalised American and left his orange groves in California at the outbreak of war to help his beloved France, and was expecting to enter Metz with the victorious allied Armies.

 

“The journey back to my post was distinguished by our nearly going off the rails – another miracle, for we didn’t.  Then passed two days getting in biscuits and cigarettes from neighbouring magazines, at which both England and American sections helped.  The socks had already arrived from Paris in a sealed car.  With the assistance of some convalescent blesses, and English ambulance drivers we set to work to make 15,000 tri-colored parcels, with six biscuits and a package of cigarettes in each. As fast as we tied, Gallois placed each package beside its sock, and when the case was filled it was marked and piled out of the way.  One might tell the story of this week and call it ‘the saving of Gallois’.  This sturdy little ‘Joyeux’, who belonged to the regiment of criminals, and had never before known a higher ideal than to steal well and not be caught, was quite transformed by being trusted, and the consciousness that he was doing good to his comrades.  I knew that he had been in the Galleys, and was considered a ‘Mauvais Sujet’ who would steal everything he could lay his hands on and sell it at a profit, but I believed he would find his soul packing tri-colored packages.

Ambulance Reserve.

“It was breathless work to keep all the threads with the army, Paris, the direction, the store houses, and my workers going.  Once the biscuits gave out and I had to borrow from the ambulance reserve.  Another time, the paper, and we had to go on with compresses which made fearful inroads on my hospital supplies.  But I felt like Benvenuto when he cast his Persens – no time could be lost -so adieu compresses, which didn’t look too surgical tied with tri-colored cord.  Then the paper arrived, and on flew hands-blue with cold faster than ever, so that on Sunday night, while ‘Fritz’ was pelting bombs on the moonlit batteries nearby, the last bright package was laid beside its socks, and of all those 15,000 sacred little blue packets of cigarettes that had passed through so many hands, unknown and doubted, there were just three missing and they were found on the sandy floor afterward.  What do you think of this as a recommendation for ‘Poilus’ and ‘Tommies’ taken at random, and one notorious ‘Joyeux’?  I believe that Gallois has washed his slate for good, and I am unspeakably proud of my new convert.

“Such devotion I have rarely seen in all these wonderful three years.  For one whole day he worked with a sprained wrist and made no sign because he was afraid it might worry me and retard the work.

Christmas Eve.

“Christmas Eve afternoon was devoted to preparing a little fete for my own ward.  Comfort bags were to be selected and filled, etc, and at half-past eight the little tree was lighted.  A rather poor little tree, for all the brightest trimmings had gone off to gladden the front.  There was a surprise for me too.  All the week I had noticed ‘poilus’ going steadily off with fragments of ‘tric-colored papers from our factory, like birds at nesting time. Imagine my astonishment to see the long white ward grow gay as any carnival with garlands and festoons and wreaths, stars and little pines covered with tri-colored roses, growing out from the walls, and every conceivable device in paper and pine needles that an ingenious ‘poilu’ can invent.  As I entered, a great acclaim went up, and the French and American flags, lifted by invisible hands, rose from behind two beds on either side of the ward and met overhead.  It was a very perfect love feast, and Pere Noel- Gallois enchanted – was as merry as in past years.

The Morning.

“On Christmas morning at 11 o’clock a captain came with the general’s auto to take me to lunch at headquarters, and with us were carefully stowed our helmets and masks, the famous American flag Mr Keats gave me and several thousand tiny silk stars and stripes,o just arrived from Judge Buffington, of Pittsburg, in the nick of time.

“The commanding general of the army corps received me in his study.  He thanked me with the inimitable grace that is French for what I had come to do for his soldiers, and then we sat down to a delightful lunch.  Another general and several other officers being the invited guests.  Lunch finished, the auto was ordered to carry us to the front lines.  Our host put me into the auto with the regret that his occupations prevented him accompanying us, and sent his chief ordnance officer instead, and thus the first stage of this unforgettable campaign was finished.

“As we proceeded on toward the front lines great snow flakes fell swiftly, cleaning all the soiled spots left by the early morning rain.  At ———-, where 900 men were gathered, another general met us, and there were more compliments and more formalities.  Then we passed into the ‘baraque,’ where the battalion lined up, and the musicians of the regiment struck up the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ as we walked through those bright-eyed ranks to where a laden tree dazzled at the farther end.  I had sent a great box of pretty things on ahead with the gifts, partly new, partly saved from last year, and among them those joyous scarlet Atlanta bells saved from last Christmas.  They had know how to use everything to the best advantaged.  Where to place the great star, with its silken trophy, and how to make the snow fall naturally among the tinsel garlands. The commandant spoke a few warm words, and I wanted to follow with a little address, but my throat was too husky from a recent attack of laryngitis and emotion to say more than how we loved and looked to them.  And then, one by one, they came forward to take their packages, each with its tiny American flag stuck into the sock and all piled on Mr Keats’ banner which made a right noble altar cloth.

The Music.

“The musicians played on so that giving and taking were set to rhythm and though the tears were running down my cheeks all the time, none of us was the sadder for that.

“My escort was uneasy lest the distribution should take too long, so I asked the commandant standing beside me, if he, too, would hand out to the men. “Mlle” he replied gallantly, “It would mean so much more from you”. But all the same he did hand out the next two packages.  The little chasseur who received them looked fixedly at his officer, laid down the packages and then glanced at me eloquently enough. We all three understood. “Mlle”, said the commandant no longer the officer, but the man with an imagination, ‘you see I was right, “Bravo” petit Jeune.’

“There was such a glow and warmth, and gladness of glance and sound in that poor ‘baraque’  that I longed to linger there.

“Now I must tell you of other scenes.  Taking our departure, on, on our auto went in the driving snow, through woods and over crests to a ruined village on the lines.  No warmth nor color here: all white and gray and still: no sound, not even a gun shot, no touch of tenderness save the snow that clung shieldingly to those ghastly ruins, and muffled the steps of those helmeted figures that passed through as shadows through a dream.

“It was the war in all it’s grimness.  We descended at the entrance of the village and walked along through gashed and crumbling walls under the strips of dingy ‘camouflage’ that hung in wan mockery of bygone festivals, to mask any movement in the streets.  At the center of the village the commandant, in beetling helmet, stepped out from the angle of the wall and bade us a grave and martial welcome, and led us into a covered alcove, where a company of silent figures were drawn up in the shadow.

The Light.

“The only light came from two sputtering wicks and a dying brand on the hearth, for the day was nearly done, but it was enough to show the boughs of mistletoe hung from the ceiling, two tiny flags crossed on the wall, and, oh, those unforgettable faces.  Oratory, the finest, would have been out of place, and I had lost my voice.  All I could do was to put my heart in each package as I gave it. Ah, how poor and small they seemed lying there on the rough table, and there were not enough to go around, the last instalment having been delayed by the snow.  But they understood, and I felt it as I took their hands.  When they had all filed away to their posts, we went to the mouth of one of the trenches, and then down, down underground where men with eyes like cave men sat in the shadows on their billets of straw. I saw that look that I had seen in the drawings of Lelee.  I saw that, but I saw another take its place as I murmured a word of greeting and held out my little American flag, and that other was worth living, yes, dying for.  Oh, to have lingered there, to have talked to and comforted them, but there was my suite on tenter hooks to be off.

“One more glimpse of crime and atonement – the shattered church – and at its base a broken wheel, and over all the merciful, shielding pardoning snow.

“We had scarcely left the village when a violent barrage began, which would have effectively checked our progress had we been going the other way.

“At ————–, two kilometres back, we had another festa much like the first, if anything more touching and the strains of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ mingled majestically with the cannonade.

“After this, tea with another general, and then home over glittering roads, past woods and chateaux, ancient and eery under the moon, and the 15,000 had had their Christmas.

“Faith steps out upon the seeming void and finds the rock beneath.  What wonders can be wrought by earnest effort to alleviate and cheer.

“Of all the things heralded from the United States the princely package of Judge Buffington, of Pittsburg, alone reached me.  The cases from Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Hartford and other places if not lost will undoubtedly arrive later.

“It will be a great disappointment to the donors as well, that their precious bounty failed to arrive for Christmas, but the belated gifts will warm and cheer these war- stricken hearts all the same.

 

 

 

 

 

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Vitry Le Francois, 27 December 1915

The letter Norman wrote from Vitry le Francois, Christmas 1915 featured in the book “Mademoiselle Miss” published in 1916. However  the newspaper in New Brunswick, New Jersey printed a less edited version of her letter which provided a fuller account of the events she described to her family.

 

It was over a month ago, when the stress of death and swift changes was at its height, that for once in my life I had a flash of forethought for Christmas; and when the Government offered me six days’ leave of absence to which we are entitled at this time, I refused it instantly. Mothers who love their children don’t go off and leave them with empty stockings then. And the poilu (French soldier) more than any other creature in the world, I believe, does love to be diverted.

I happened to tell my scheme to the young chemist who assists in the operating room. As he is enthusiastic to forward me in every way, from carrying wounded to providing me with chocolates which quickly disappear down thirty-three throats (to his great disappointment),he said it was a great idea but too much for me alone, and he suggested interesting his mother and her Paris friends. A tremendous lift as I didn’t hold exactly a lone hand. Then there is a dear bonnie old dame who plays the role of fairy godmother to my salle. For a long time I never knew who she was or where she came from; but twice a week, just at soup-time, in would trot the dear, quaint creature, all tied up in a woolen fichu with a huge basket filled for the whole family. Sometimes it held baked apples all sticky with jelly, sometimes a thick savory soup steaming hot, sometimes tarta, or ripe pears always a digestible inspiration. She’d slip in, set the basket on the table, and slip out, often before I had time to thank her. Later I found it was Mme. Nebout who keeps the tiny shop in the rue de Frigincourt; and I was almost sorry to place her, she was so like a figure out of Hans Andersen. One day I caught her on the fly to ask if she could help me order a tree. The keen, wrinkled eyes just danced. Not only she’d help me, but these pilgrims horticulteur who’d give me one if she said so, and she’d give me all the ribbons, and some handkerchiefs, and there was a confectioner who had bonbons to spare. So immediately I took heart and saw my little festa taking stately proportions. A little thinking at night after I had cuddled under my eiderdown, and these pilgrimages to town, of an hour end a half each, three days before Christmas did the rest; and Christmas Eve you couldn’t have found a prettier tree in the whole Republic than lifted its glimmering branches towards the rafters of Pavilion V.

Mme. B., my young friend’s mother, sent me a portly case with many bonbons, cigarettes, twenty pipes, and biscuits in profusion; and my good dames that house me so cheerfully tucked ten francs under my breakfast plate, and I myself stretched several points, “for Xmas comes but once a year.” So that at half-past six on Christmas Eve when the Medecin Chef came, very nervous, to preside over the lighting of those precarious candles, permission for which I had planned and plead so ardently, he saw a quite enchanting sight.

All the fourteen windows of the salle garlanded with ivy for which a faithful orderly had ferreted in the neglected environs of Vitry; all my twenty-nine wounded (the family is lacking four) propped on their pillows in anticipation; and in the middle our Tree, all a-glitter with bright globes and dozens of candles pinned on with many prayers that they would not make mischief,and bent under the weight of my tiny gifts attached with tricolor. At the very top a tinsel star constructed by me and an able-handed patient, with the tricolor at the topmost point above the stars, mark you! and little silk flags of the Allies clustered below, with a microscopic Stars and Stripes. All this was surprise and excitement enough, but no one was prepared for the grand coup that was to follow.

After the tree was lighted I flew off to the Salle de Pansements with “Grandpere” and a few minutes later out stepped as perfect a Père Noël as ever walked through the pages of a story book – A French Pere Noel – no Santa Claus. A blue-gray cape –mine ,but don’t tell – covered him from top to toe, and on the long white beard and peaked hood the fresh snow glistened cheerily a combination of mica, boracic acid, and cotton not at all banal in his

 

 

hand a knotted cane and classic lantern, feet tucked in deep, turned-up sabots, and on his back a basket with oranges and cakes for the whole hospital. You should have seen the joy and astonishment that accompanied his triumphal progress from pavilion to pavilion, several of us following to distribute the goodies!

Once when we went into a Salle d’isoiment where a poor fellow was languishing in the last stage of septic poisoning, there happened something strange and infinitely touching. He must have taken the apparition for something heavenly; for first a dazed look came over his face, then a marvelous smile, and he stretched out his arms. I bent down and whispered a Christmas message, and put an orange in his hand. It was his last consciousness.

“Grandpere” acquitted himself masterfully, made enchanting little discourses as if he had been a real actor instead of a simple peasant from the Oise; and Medecin-Chef, who at first had been dubious about the undertaking, was enchanted. When the distribution was over, I filled the arms of Père Noël with red roses (ordered from Troyes) to distribute among the infirmieres, and he made an effect in red, white, and blue,blue mantel, white beard, red roses altogether delightful. After that he gave to each of the doctors a little box daintily engraved with a wreath of flags and filled with dates I had stuffed at midnight. And then I began the distribution in my salle. Each wounded soldier had a “Poschette de la Victoire” four sheets of writing paper, four envelopes, and an ink pencil tied with tricolor a tiny mirror (they adore to look at themselves!), a tiny comb in a case, a bright package of bonbons, and a package of cigarettes. Tiny things, but all I could afford, and you would have thought Paradise had opened for them. There were fountain pens for my three infirmiers and Christmas Day I made Russian Tea and there were lots of cakes.

Thus passed Christmas of 1915, and to think I didn’t have to endure even the least pang of uneasiness for anyone!

I forgot to mention that one of my wounded made a speech from his bed, and every one cheered for “Mlle. Miss.”

 

 

Norman Derr, Former Brunswick Girl, Now a French Lieutenant

A recently published newspaper archive reproduced in the extract below explains  how Norman Derr’s private letters to her family were used as the basis for the original “Mademoiselle Miss” book printed in 1916.

Although a summary of this information was given in the introduction to “Mademoiselle Miss” it is interesting to read the original report which was full of enthusiasm for the forthcoming publication of Norman’s book.

 

The Daily Home News

New Brunswick, New Jersey, June 27,1916

 

Norman Derr, Former Brunswick Girl, Now a French Lieutenant

 

Granddaughter of the Late Mrs R W Latham, of Livingston Ave, Making a Name for Herself in French Hospitals- Has Issued Book of Experiences.

 

During the past five or six months it has been the occasional good fortune of a small circle of New Brunswicker’s to read extracts from certain private letters written by a nurse-soldier stationed at the front, in a French hospital town. Those to whom this rare privilege came clamoured for its extension. The marvellous letters should be given to the public.

No one, especially no French sympathiser should be excluded from their perusal, and the people New Brunswick in particular might be justified in claiming a right to a share of the delightful privilege for she from whose heart and pen they came, passed much of her childhood and of her girlhood days in our own town. For two generations immediately preceding her, her ancestors dwelt among us in the hospitable house once known as Llangollen.

It is of especial interest to New Brunswick that the writer of these rare letters is Miss Norman Derr, granddaughter of the late Mrs Robert W Latham of Llangollen, daughter of Dr and Mrs E Z Derr, and niece of Edward Latham, Mrs Louise Robbins and Miss Kate Crawford Latham. The latter was with Miss Derr, in Europe, until Sept 1915, at which time Miss Derr entered the hospital service at Vitry-le Francois with the rank of Lieutenant.

Many of the letters are addressed to Miss Latham, while others have been written to Miss Derrs parents, and in these spontaneous outpourings one recognises an enthusiasm and a naturalness which probably could never have existed had public perusal been in the writer’s mind. Just now how the devoutly wished consummation has been reached it would be difficult to assert but the fact remains that within a few days these letters are to make their appearance in the book form under the title of “Mademoiselle Miss”, a name which her devoted children (as Miss Derr calls her wounded charges) have bestowed upon their noble American infirmiere. All this has been accomplished by a group of enthusiastic strangers to whom the letters found their way.

An introduction has been written by Dr Richard Cabot. The book is to appear in the blue grey of the new French uniform and all profits go to the Wounded French Relief.

The entire undertaking is purely philanthropic. The publisher’s interest in the work and the cause is so great that he is assuming the responsibility without deriving a cent of profit from the transaction, and the book dealers everywhere (W M Reed of New Brunswick among the kind helpers) are following his example and selling without profit.

To give an idea of the eagerness and enthusiasm with which the book is waited I will mention that in one Western City alone five hundred copies have been ordered. Perhaps no more effectual appeal could be made to the ever generous and responsive public of New Brunswick than by submitting to them an extract from one of the letters in question. Please bear in mind while reading that each purchase of the book represents just that much aid to the brave company of Wounded French Soldiers.

The following is extracted from her letters:

“Vitry le Francois, 27 Dec 1915”

Book published, September 2016

mmc-front-coverIt is now possible to purchase a book containing all the letters from the blog “Mademoiselle Miss Continued” together with new material from General Mondesir concerning Christmas 1917 and unseen photos.
All profits from the sale of the book will be donated to the International Red Cross Award for Nursing.
The publisher is ‘epubli- http://www.epubli.co.uk.  As the illustration above shows the full title of the book is “Mademoiselle Miss” More Letters From Norman Derr An American Nurse Serving With The Rank Of Lieutenant In A French Hospital At The Front, 1916-1918. To order the book on the publisher’s website enter the full title in the search box, (top right on opening page). This creates a link to the correct order page. Full details concerning purchasing details are then available.

1918-‘A Picture of Mademoiselle Miss At Her Work’

The final letter to be posted (date unknown although as the letter was published in the Jun- Dec 1918 “Methodist Review” I assume the event took place earlier that year) was unusual as it was written by an American ambulance driver. He was nursed by Norman and described how she cared for him. He also offered a touching glimpse of the high esteem Norman was held in by those French soldiers she had nursed in the past.

The letter also reveals that over 40,000 copies of ‘Mademoiselle Miss’ had been sold in aid of the French Wounded Fund.

The Methodist Review

A PICTURE OF MADEMOISELLE MISS AT HER WORK*

* A private letter written from an army hospital in France, by Cyril.B.Smith, a Syracuse University student, in Ambulance Service at the front.

I am out of danger and on the road to recovery. My head still aches dreadfully and I have few good nights of sleep. But there is one joy that has entered my life here that I must tell you about. When I was brought to this hospital my cot was in a long wooden barracks. On every side there were men with high fevers, severe wounds, bronchitis, pneumonia, and other ills. The room was long and narrow, with a double row of cots. It was not as spick and span as one would expect a hospital to be. The cots had not clean sheets, the walls were not white as they were meant to be, but somber dingy gray, darkened by the smoke from the two coal stoves that heated the big room. The sick and wounded did not have clean night shirts; some had none, and slept in their clothes.

The second night I was there I had my vision. She was an infirmiere, an American nurse. She brought me malted milk and little refreshments to augment the scant rations accorded me by the hospital. She was a beautiful creature, between twenty-five and thirty years of age, although she tries to impress one with the idea that she is old enough to be one’s mother.   Day after day she came to my cot always with the same radiant smile and the same gentle touch of her hand. She came after her own regular duties for the day were finished, usually around nine o’clock. So all day I would look forward to her coming; and when she came, her blue-gray eyes were brimming with kindness reflected right from her heart. I am telling you this to show how a touch of kindness is felt by a soldier who has left the joys of life behind him.

The fact that I was a compatriot caused her to tell me something of her work; and I learned a great deal more about it from her “enfants,” as she calls her patients. She is Miss Norman Derr, author of a book, Mademoiselle Miss, which has had the huge sale of forty thousand copies. It was prefaced by Dr. Richard C. Cabot. The profits from it are all turned over to French War Relief. She has been in France seven years, in the pursuit of art until war broke out, when she gave herself to her present humane work with an ardor and a courage that would do credit to the bravest of men, in nursing the wounded in hospitals at the front. Many times she has been under fire and bombardment. Her name has been mentioned for bravery time and again in military honors.

I wish I could tell you of the immensity of her work. Through her, the generosity of many Americans at home is being carried directly to the simple soldiers in the trenches. At Christmas time, in guise of Santa Claus, she gave Christmas stockings well filled to fifteen thousand soldiers in the front line. Later she carried beautiful comfort bags to the soldiers who had volunteered for a ‘coup de main.’   Never imagine there is any joy in making the attack called ‘coup de main’

Sometimes the attacking party consists of only a dozen men. They volunteer for the dangerous work, and go back behind the lines to practice for the attack. I have never seen any outbursts of joy among those fellows. Those of them who come back, and often there are very few who return, are awarded the Croix de Guerre. Miss Derr was asked by the general of the army to visit those heroic volunteers to brighten them up. She told me how hard it was to instil any cheer into the hearts of men facing such grim prospects and desperate chances. How successful she was only the few soldiers who came back can say. Do you wonder that the poilus to whom she ministers call her “Petite Mere”? One of the many soldiers whose lives she has saved came all the way from Marseilles to see her, taking the time from his brief leave of absence. He had to pay his fare from his government stipend of five cents a day.

She has been especially good to the “Joyeaux.” They are men who, before the war, were serving terms of imprisonment as desperate criminals. They were taken out of prison and put at the front to fight. They are used for attacking in desperate raids. (The name given them indicates French public opinion.) God knows their lot is a hard one. They are given the worst trenches and their work is always the most dangerous. In the hospital they are treated by many nurses on a par with the despised Boches. But with their “Petit Mere” everything is different. Their grateful letters would move on to tears. One fine looking fellow, who is undergoing, under her influence, a complete psychic change from the criminal condition and spirit into something nobler, adores her. Once after he had recovered in hospital and was back at the front, he had something on his mind that necessitated Miss Derr’s advice and consolation. So he left his company for a brief time when it was resting, and sought her in her hospital. For this breach of military discipline he was locked in the guardhouse; but he counted that all joy.

One letter written in the criminal trench, up to his hips in mud so he could not keep his letter clean, contained a little blue flower, which he had picked in ‘No Man’s Land.” Looking over the parapet he saw it. A desire to risk his life for his “Petit Mere” made him desire to pluck that flower out of the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, to send it to her; so he crept over and crawled across through mud under fire from the enemy, amid exploding shells, and got back with his blue flower which made his letter an homage to his benefactress. Such a spirit as that has been developed in a professional criminal!

The power a nurse can exercise over a man’s soul for good is as great as the power she can exercise over his body. And it is wonderful how much religion there is in a dying soldier, a good sound religion of Faith, Hope, and Love. It is a great joy to be in a hospital that has two hundred barracks, over two hundred doctors, twenty groups of operating barracks, a big hospital accommodating ten thousand sick and wounded, and to find in that tragic place of suffering and death, amid the bustle of medical and surgical activity, a soul that has made every sacrifice for her “enfants” – the soul of an American woman.

No copyright page found

Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 2

Subject: Theology; Methodist Church

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt

Language: English

Call number: 31833017365286

Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive

Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Collection: allen_county; americana

Notes: No copyright page found. Page 838 missing from book.T his digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book

 

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Easter 1918 -‘How I played Easter Rabbit on the front’

AMBULANCE 12-1, SECTOR 233

EASTER 1918

While the memory of it is still fresh I must tell you how I played Easter Rabbit on the front.

First, however, that you may have the picture framed, I must take you back to a certain gray and windy week day many weeks ago, when Colonel Guerin sent the queer little omnibus of the division after me. I piled bright comfort bags on top of it, and drove exultantly off to the camp behind the lines where our young heroes come to train for those inimitable “Coups de Main” which are the peculiar glory of the army. There was to be a special “concours” that day in all the most daring manoeuvres with all the deadliest engines. I was invited to see it all – a trust of the very first magnitude, for there were many things, as you can imagine, not to be repeated – after which I was to distribute the prizes. At the entrance of the miniature ‘champ de bataille’ –a tract several kilometers square containing every variety of surface, hill and wood, ravine and open field, and even a marshy dell where artillery might get most successfully stuck- a triumphal arch had been erected for me to walk under. As we entered, the colonel, followed by his captains, all those gallant young “diables bleus” (as the Boche call them), drew up in salute and then dispersed in squads to their various posts. From one to another we went, and each taught its terrible, vivid lesson, explained by their most surprising captain – a priest who had doffed the robes of sanctity to win five palms and four stars in his “croix de guerre.” As we stopped before each piece, at the invitation of the colonel, I fired several shots, sometimes coming plumb on my objective – a feat sufficiently out of keeping with my costume to delight those spirited veterans. Then, after the different pieces of the “first line” had been fired, came the different methods of assault, capturing of the enemy’s batteries, etc, and you saw men go over the top, and blue forms creeping among the tree-trunks, crouch and fire, leap forward and crouch again to fling those deadly grenades, as deadly for the assailant, unless he is careful, as for the enemy. Then all was smoke and flame and blind struggle and uncertainty for an instant, and when the curtain lifted the battery was ours. All the time colored smoke and flag signals were being made, and the thunder of guns raged about a much-contested fort in front of us. At the end of the program we followed the combatants back to the starting point, and were about to inspect the ammunition magazine before the prize-giving, when the colonel abruptly asked if I didn’t want to give the men a “bel exemple” by throwing a grenade myself. My first sensation was blank astonishment, my second, admiration for his faith in American nerve and forearm (feminine), my third, enthusiasm to be able to furnish a “bel exemple,” so I said, “Certainly.” Whereupon the colonel and his suite discreetly stepped back – why I only realized afterwards – and the be-palmed and be-starred captain advanced with me a few rods and produced a grenade, which, he explained, was perfectly harmless until a little key in one end was bent back and withdrawn, whereupon it might immediately explode unless I kept my thumb firmly pressed on a kind of flat steel spring on the side; otherwise I could hold it four seconds!

After these reassuring instructions he handed me the weapon. I drew the key, holding down the spring most conscientiously, I can assure you, and, despite the slander on feminine collarbones, threw the thing to a safe distance, that is to say, at least thirty yards. It obediently exploded with a great noise, tearing up some ground. Great applause from the rear. The captain, pleased with his pupil, then produced the most powerful grenade made – the other was only half strength – and the same performance was repeated with a bigger noise and more scatteration.

Whereupon, we all, in the best of spirits, went to enjoy the fruits of our labours. The colonel, with admirable tact, withdrew and left us to ourselves, so there was no constraint. Squad after squad filed in gravely with their guns and helmets, and filed out again, swinging their bright bags and smiling, and one could only think of the flowering of Aaron’s rod, and be thankful. When everybody had been thus decorated I was taken off to tea by the colonel and his officers, and then put into the little omnibus to drive home in the sunset. You may know my thoughts were busy as we threaded the woods and crossed the crest whence the wounded city of the “twin towers” glimmered rose and gold as I had seen it on that dreadful day last July.

If you have misgivings about those bags that were originally destined for the wounded, calm them. It is a grave error, too often made, to imagine that a man must be nearly cut to pieces before he needs or deserves to be comforted; and the particular comforts contained in a comfort bag are peculiarly fitted to rejoice the heart of the foot soldier, and lift it too, thereby having a military value as well. The socks and handkerchiefs, the chocolate and tobacco, the writing paper and knife, the comb and mirror, and other surprises, are things he always wants and almost never has. If he is going to the attack perhaps he will send the pretty sock home to his mother or fiancée as a souvenir. Don’t think me hard and suddenly changed to our beloved blesses. Of course he comes first and foremost, like the Bible among books, which we leave out of every day discussions on comparative literature. But he was a combatant once, just as glorious and somewhat more useful before he was wounded; and that is a fact that many good people seem to forget. All these three years I have been dimly feeling that, and I think that must be the reason why I just had to get to the front despite all the powers of evil hidden under the hide of smug bureaucrats who tried to bar the way- now I know.   A few days after the “Concours” a “planton” came bearing a note from the colonel in which he announced that I had been named “Grenadier d”Elite” of the regiment and endorsing my diploma “bravement gagne.” The diploma itself is a museum piece, and I would have sent it to you but for the risk of the mail; then, too, it may be useful some day as a testament, eloquent beyond all others, to my military trustworthiness, for I am very probably the only woman in France who possesses one. You may imagine that now there was a stronger tie than ever between me and my brothers and that was why I broke the traces and braved the avions – that does sound ridiculous after all I have been through- but you can’t imagine how afraid I was to be killed in Paris instead of at my post, and went there to obtain supplies for my Easter celebration. This morning early I embarked in the creaky old omnibus and away through the fickle, fragrant spring sunshine to ———- where the colonel stood waiting at the door of his quarters with his suite to conduct me to the mess room. Lunch was a most charming function and the bivouac atmosphere lent special piquancy to the grace of the host and the courteous bonhomie of the company. After Pershing had been well toasted and Wilson and our army and your own most humble servant, we adjourned up the hill amidst fruit trees beginning to flower and were met at the top by a salute and cheer for Mademoiselle Miss. The interior of the braque was gay as a carnival and a monument to French ingenuity. The woods, too, had been pillaged of their best treasures, budding boughs cunningly hid the rafters, and the long table over which I passed the coveted gifts was covered with moss and wee flowerets and dells and fairy woodlands, a veritable miracle in landscape gardening. Again the colonel had the good taste to withdraw, and for nearly three hours we had the merriest time you can imagine just as thought the fate of the world were not being decided a hundred miles away. It was the kind of an afternoon one wants never to come to an end, and the sign and symbol of it was the supernal rainbow that suddenly blazed above our lines at sunset to bless and illumine my journey home. I suppose you are wondering a bit what I am made of to be able to talk and think on laughing themes when the Somme lies bleeding and Paris is torn with horrors, and so many of my children, perhaps Galois, for he has gone with his battalion, have found nameless graves since I last wrote. But that is what we learn at the war, to live day by day, rather moment by moment, for otherwise one couldn’t live at all.

No copyright page found

Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 2

Subject: Theology; Methodist Church

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt

Language: English

Call number: 31833017365286

Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive

Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Collection: allen_county; americana

Notes: No copyright page found. Page 838 missing from book.T his digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book

 

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May 10th, 1918 – ‘Finding a little oasis of affection’

May 10 —You remember me telling you of the visit of the American doctors here last winter, and my pleasure in meeting their very remarkable chief, Col. Ashford. He has returned with a new “team” and came to see me the first day. I gave him and a notable associate tea the next day, and we examined the distressing problem of Americans stranded in French hospitals. I had valuable and poignant data to present on the subject, and they are keen to rectify the lacks in the evacuation system….. My life continues crowded, though I am less of a nurse just now than “Cantiniere,” and cheering up bureau for the defected. So many of the children, beside Galois have been wounded in the Somme region, and they write pathetically that they want their “petit mere,” which calls for many letters. Several of the divisions, near here last winter, returned recently and have been in cantonments and villages around about for a little while before going back to the front lines. So many came to call that the “Medecin Chef’ jestingly declared that he would put a sentinel on the road, and only let them pass one at a time. I gave them all tea and sandwiches (more of a luxury than you might think with butter 7frs. a half rancid pound.), and as much welcome and cheer as I knew how.

Whenever I am tempted to get restive at the fate that holds me here inactive, I think of the joy of all these lonely souls finding a little oasis of affection amid the cruel desert whose boundaries no man see, and I am comforted. If my cup of tea is going to send a man off to the trenches with a better heart what more constructive thing could I be doing? Now the last battalion has mounted and I won’t hear any more of them for some days. When Kara Mustapha and Hadj Mohammed – two lone waifs from Fez – came to say goodbye Kara slipped four hard-boiled eggs, still hot, into my apron pocket, and Hadj pressed a five-franc note into my hand. You see they take me literally as their “Maman” to whom offerings are made at parting. To refuse both would have broken their hearts, so I took the eggs and gave one the “Medecin Chef” and one to the “Gestionaire,” but refused the note. I had a difficult time with Hadj, who insisted that he had belonged to me, was I not his “Maman”?

Mark you, I have never done anything for Hadj but give him a kind word and a few cigarettes; but all these exiled hearts hunger for affection. It is their one talisman against the shells. I see a great deal of the American section 640 who invited me to Thanks-giving dinner last fall. During the winter I saw little of the section. It was off getting its costly experience and didn’t often evacuate here. Occasionally one of them would drop in dripping to get warm by my mite of a stove and, unless I was busy with a patient, he had a most sympathetic listener and a cup of something hot; but these ambulance men are not much on recounting their exploits. It has been too often repeated by the sleek “embusques” at home and in the rear, “If you can’t fight drive an ambulance,” and its iron has entered into their souls. I use all the magnet I possess to draw it out every time I get a chance, for it is a poisonous lie. Perfectly true that nearly every section gets months of perfectly stupid, safe service – sort of to and from the station thing- but when it is in action it is in action in a way to test the mettle of the bravest. There is not a man in the trenches who would have changed jobs with 640 when it was evacuating Rheims a little while ago. When I looked down upon that gigantic brazier from the hill, consuming away the pride of France there under the soft spring stars, it did not make the sight any more bearable to think that my brothers were ploughing through the midst of it. Any poilu will tell you there was never anything finer than the way 640 evacuated Rheims- the bravest joint action made by all the sections round about – and it is the only one that has had no citation….At least, however I could show them publicly what I thought of their conduct. Invited to an occasion I arrived with 37 baby croix de guerre, wrapped up in the Stars and Stripes, and pinned on the crosses, beginning with the lieutenant and ending with “cookie”, amid one delighted roar of cheers. I had explained that the accolade should go with the real decoration of which this was a similar prophecy.

No copyright page found

Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 2

Subject: Theology; Methodist Church

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt

Language: English

Call number: 31833017365286

Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive

Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Collection: allen_county; americana

Notes: No copyright page found. Page 838 missing from book.T his digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book

 

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April 12th & 24th-‘My hapless American ambulance driver’

The Methodist Review

Excerpts from Private Letters of “Mademoiselle Miss”

AMBULANCE 12-1, April 12, 1918

…. But who would not get out of focus in this great, sleepy deserted village; all the troops I love, all the good officers I know, even to the general, gone up yonder into the furnace, and I nailed to my post. I only note that years have brought some advantage for instead of getting into a perfect paroxysm of restlessness as I would have done once, I am trying to let my bark glide calmly with the current only with her decks cleared for action so that no time need be lost if a chance presents itself. Do not imagine that I am idle; every minute is taken, sorting materials, packing, unpacking, dispensing, and it would take two months to write all the letters I owe on the subject. Despite the hundreds and hundreds of cases that I have opened in the interim, there are cases that have followed me about unopened, and what made me hold on to them was not so much their contents, for they could have been so thankfully used anywhere, as the hope of some time thanking their givers. I always have this hope on opening a case, but it is not often enough fulfilled. What happens is that I go in the night or instead of eating my lunch, to open a certain case that I think holds the articles that, for the moment, I want most on earth. I generally find them and a card, or a list, with the name of the person who has made me happy. Overflowing with gratitude I want to write while the inspiration is fresh. Of course that is impossible, for my patients need me, so I put the card in my pocket, and if I don’t lose it I find it weeks afterward among a pile of similar souvenirs tucked away with conscientious care. By this time I have accumulated many more pressing tasks, and so the dear person who has packed that case, and put so much love, thought, and sacrifice into it, is relegated to the limbo of loving memory.

 

April 24 –All quiet in our budding valley, so quiet that one has to stop one’s mind from working, or, at least, hold it within the visible horizon, in order to keep steadily at all. And since keeping steady and not only seeming but being serene is everyone’s cardinal duty, at present, perhaps in itself that ought to be enough occupation. War not only consists in charging over open country, but in waiting wearily and molding in damp holes as well, and sometimes the latter part demands the greater valor. Thus I try my lesson of waiting. I think I told you of my hapless American ambulance driver who had the misfortune to get stranded here with pleurisy. For two weeks I respected the convention and limited myself to taking him fruit and lemonade and a word of cheer. But as time passed and his so called infirmier never thought to bathe him or do anything else, in fact, I kicked over the traces and gave him baths, etc, on the sly. By a delightful coincidence his fever – over 104 degrees during nearly three weeks – began to fall after the first one. When he was able to eat I bribed soldiers who brought me chickens and eggs, and my case for some time had been to fatten my American – not so easy a matter, since he measures almost six feet three inches tall and had lost over sixty pounds, at the same time I wrote letters in all directions scheming to get the poor fellow into the hands of our own people, a crying necessity in every case, in no way provided for by our authorities. A brave American lieutenant offered me an auto as far as E—— and a man of his section to conduct White to Paris – White’s section having gone to the Somme.

The ‘Medecin Chef’ was persuaded to return him officially to his corps, and Tuesday morning, with many hot water bottles, for the air was sharp, we trundled our patient carefully along through the soft brown hills and reached E—–in time to stoke him up with hot chocolate, and arrange for a private compartment before the scheduled arrival of the train. The train was nearly two hours late, during which time I stretched out my patient on the quai, and when it came there was hardly a corner to stand a musket in. A pretty dilemma for a man whom the least over-exertion might kill outright. I flew despairingly from one end of the platform to the other, and in the last compartment of all came upon a party of train officials who had just laid out their lunch in style. To persuade them that they must get out, and to hoist my American in, took less time than I do to tell it, but they piled like creatures mesmerized, and I don’t believe to this moment they knew why. White was stretched at his full lank length on the coveted seat with my lunch box and the last of Mrs Buffington’s chocolates ready to open beside him. “All is well that ends well’.

White left to official devices would now be restrained in some town of the interior, dependent upon chance to get him with his own people, and a chance that it might take many weeks to realize. The other day I had a unique experience – one that for picturesqueness and pathos could not be surpassed. The British War- Relief Society had sent me masses of civilian clothing, no easy thing to dispose of in a military camp far from all centers and rather a white elephant to house. I asked “Medecin Chef” if he could not find me some refugees. The dear man set to work, wrote to the mayors of all villages in the vicinity, and found there was quite a colony in the hamlet of S—, and on Sunday we went together in a “Camion” full of cases and played at beneficent fairies in the queer little school-house. “Medecin Chef” worked as hard as a poilu and as cleverly as a woman. Everything from old linens and baby caps to overcoats and shoes were classified on the school benches, and in the middle was a table with bags of candy among flags and toys (again that blessed Mrs Buffington). Then the cracked old bell was rung, and in they came – the homeless ones who had clung to their bombarded city all these years only to be driven out at last now by the flames. Old men and women, girls and mothers with their babies, and not one went out without a smile or a tearful blessing that it seemed somehow must make its hallowed way across the sea. Could you have seen the “Medecin Chef” trying a shawl on an old women or a bonnet on a baby your heart would have uttered a special hallelujah. And their city? It wears its martyr’s crown of flame. Perhaps no generation has witnessed such a dazzling horror since Nero looked on Rome. A few nights ago I saw it first. I had walked through the balmy afterglow, the young moon was setting, the great stars rising – village and valley seemed at prayer. Then a turn in the path revealed the hellish horror. Miles of city mounting in straight red flame to heaven, and belching smoke that hid the horizon stars. O merciful God, do not let the smoke get into the eyes of our souls! Do not let it veil the star of everlasting love! Let us hope, and write on the cities’ sacred ashes “Sursum Corda”.

No copyright found

Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 2

Subject: Theology; Methodist Church

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt

Language: English

Call number: 31833017365286

Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive

Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Collection: allen_county; americana

Notes: No copyright page found. Page 838 missing from book.T his digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book

 

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February 2, 1918- ‘An inspiration and a promise’

A VISIT TO RHEIMS WITH THE COMMANDING GENERAL

By “Mademoiselle Miss”

Ambulance 13/1- February 2, 1918

At my last writing I was on the eve of a historic trip to Rheims with General de Mondesir. As so rarely happens in this world, the event far surpassed my fairest anticipations. It was not only a trip of picturesque and archaeological interest, but it was also an inspiration and a promise. The memory of that tragic but ever victorious city gilded by the afternoon sun of one of those rare, still, lustrous days that belong to no season, having the finest charm of all of them, should be enough to sustain me through the grayest days in the calendar. The General’s auto came for me at 11 o’clock and carried me through hills and valleys to his headquarters, where the severe lunch table was adorned with mimosa that one of the officers had brought from Nice. After lunch the General and I seated ourselves in his luxurious auto, with the brisk little tri-color unfurled – sign that the general of a Corps d’Armee is on board – and away over steaming brown levels, for the mists were taking flight, to “la ville Martyre”. Just now, since shells are dropping all the time, regulations are very severe, and entrance is forbidden to all except actual combatants. But for General Mondesir all doors are open. We left the car at the threshold of the most devastated quarter and wandered through the ruined streets filled with sunshine but empty of all life save a straggly cat or two, and a few old women seeking kindling among the debris. Utterly amazing these old women of Rheims, as seasoned to danger as any veteran in the trenches, wearing their fulled white caps as though they were steel helmets, and looking for firewood in the very spot where a shell had fallen a little while before, and where another might fall at any moment! By devious ways that took us through all the most impressive vistas of desolation, we came at last to the cathedral. How can I ever describe the unearthly glory of that spectacle! It seemed as if the very fire from heaven had descended upon those dauntless towers, and that it was not merely a temple that one saw, but the high altar itself, whence exhaled all the prayers and hopes and aspirations, all the courage and will to conquer, of this beautiful land. In the open place, surrounded by a tiny grille, and unscathed amidst all the destruction, stood the statue of Jeanne d’Arc, upon her high-stepping charger, the very soul of la Pucelle, come alive in bronze to defend the citadel. The General and I were photographed beside her. Then the old guardian unlocked the portal of the cathedral and we passed into the interior, all patterned over with sunlight- no longer irised as of old- and giving glimpses of the azure vault that former worshipers had missed. Particulars here are perhaps in order, but you may imagine all you like that is grave and glorious. I have bits of thirteenth century glass that are worth a king’s ransom. As we left the cathedral, shells shrieked over our heads, but somehow one couldn’t imagine there was any danger, and we went quietly on seeking various points of vantage from which the General has made truly rare sketches. As the daylight turned from gold to rose, we went to Saint Remy Church, very beautiful and less wrecked. As we returned through the valley of the Veste, roofs and walls had melted to a mist of green and violet, but still the twin towers burned like lighted tapers, and the evening star arose, a sign of promise, in the ardent west. The General gave orders to make a detour of several kilometres in order that I might see the reflection of the charming little church of —–“amuse itself,” as my companion expressed it, in the tiny lake in the gloaming. Just at dusk we reached —–, seat of the headquarters, where the General had to be at a certain hour to witness the testing of some signal apparatus .   Here I thought my conge would be given me, and that I would have to eclipse as soon as possible. But not at all. I was led to a lovely old terrace where vines clambered, and one looked down upon the gray, sleepy little village nestling among gnarled apple trees, half melting into the background of silent forts. A few moments we stood there musing on the dreamy loveliness of a scene that Gray might have copied for his elegy. The village clock struck five. Suddenly there was a rush and a long whizzing sound up into the windless air, and out spread and fell slowly the most beautiful rocket I ever saw – like a downfall of golden caterpillars. Then another, and another, and the test was successfully over. So ended the day in a triumphant burst of beauty. Christmas for me was the threshold of heaven, but the memory of Rheims will help me to live on earth.

“Extracts from a private letter (not intended for publication) by Miss Norman Derr. Published in The Methodist Review- Volume. 101,Series 5, Vol 34, Part 1, 1918

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Volume: Vol. 101, Ser. 5, Vol. 34, Pt. 1

Subject: Theology; Methodist Church

Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Phillips & Hunt

Language: English

Call number: 31833017365229

Digitizing sponsor: Internet Archive

Book contributor: Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center

Collection: allen_county; americana

Notes: There are no chapters. No copyright page found. This digital copy is from a photocopy of an original book

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May 3, 1917- ‘My two dainty plump stockings’

May 3, 1917 New Brunswick ‘The Daily Home News”

‘Mademoiselle Miss” (Norman Derr) Tells Of Work in France

Mrs George Keller, of 24 Park Terrace, Hartford, Conn, has received a very interesting letter from Miss Norman Derr, formely of this city, daughter of Dr and Mrs E Derr of Decatur, Ga, formely of Boston, Mass, who is doing hospital duty in France. Miss Derr came home several months ago and visited her parents and then returned to France. Miss Derr is perhaps better known as “Mademoiselle Miss” the name of a popular book consisting of letters which she wrote concerning her work in France.

The letter was recently published in a Hartford paper and is as follows:

Troyes, Feb, 26, 1917

My Dear Mrs Keller,

When I look at the date I shudder with apprehension of what you must have been thinking all these weeks when ship after ship came in without a word of that royal cargo that went forth with so many blessings last November. At least without a word from my heart to yours, for the newspaper which the description of your festa (of which I enclose a duplicate) and the one letter I had a chance to write to Mrs Perry to be circulated, are altogether too vague and impersonal. Besides in that letter, written painfully at midnight under difficult conditions, while I had much to say of the Christmas of the ‘poilus’, of the dazzling great tree and general jubilation, I said nothing of the Christmas of “Mademoiselle Miss” that she celebrated all alone in her cold little room that New Year’s Eve when the 1440 children were all in bed, each with a happier thought and bright gift tucked under his pillow, I wanted to tell you about myself: but when you think of me all alone with the 1440 and the work that meant and when you know that all through this Siberian winter we have had no coal in the ambulance and that I finally succumbed to a pretty serious attack of bronchitis from which I am just emerging – I think, no, I am certain, that you will forgive me.

“Won’t you please gather together all those dear, loving hearts who have so ingeniously plotted the sweetest surprises that I ever had in all my life, and give them my most affectionate thanks?”

“It was at midnight when I found it, the day before the fete, as I worked in the eerie chapel by lantern- light sorting out my treasures, remarking parcels to eke out my supply for the 1440. When you are equipped to cope with 550 and you find yourself facing nearly three times that number, and you’re not much of a mathematician, it is – well – somewhat strenuous! I was delving down into your magic box, piling up those wonderful socks in rows to be reserved unmolested- all the comfort bags had to be rifled! – for that ‘grande blesses’ – (O’h they never was anything so wonderful as those socks! You see how they struck our most unsentimental of medicine chiefs who was apparently indifferent to the Star of Bethlehem and Santa Claus and even the great flag made out of candy bags which was a masterpiece, I do hope there will be more next year! Suddenly, I came upon a great cluster of holly and drew out my two dainty plump stockings that had lay among the others like a pair of fairy-slippers on a shelf of sturdy sabots). I read the card and I can’t describe to you the emotions it gave me to think of being remembered from so far and so long. (My Christmas was the children’s; it had never occurred to me that I would have one of my own – nor had it to anyone else!).

“With admirable self-restraint I tucked my treasure in a corner, and New Year’s Night when the last oranges had been distributed, and Santa Claus relieved of his pack and Cotton-beard (he was a “blesse” too and glad to get to bed after his arduous labors), I hurried home through the frosty moonshine, hiding my treasure under the cape that had so recently decked Santa Claus, hurried to bed for it was too cold to enjoy anything sitting up, and played I was a little girl again.*** It has always been one of the unreconcillable features of growing up that I couldn’t – or at least didn’t – have a Christmas stocking any more and now here in war-time I do love daintiness, so exquisite in their blue-bird wrappers that I have carefully folded away to keep always among my poilus’ letters – I was especially touched by the little Madonna in the metal case: I used to carry it always in my apron pocket and was most deeply distressed the day I lost it, perhaps in pulling out a bandage hurriedly.

“Altogether my solitary Christmas celebration given me by my unknown Hartford friends, was a very sweet one, and I went to sleep with tears that were not sad, and a better courage to work at dawn, half a world away from home.

I had two filled with – “just what I wanted!” Yes, truly! It was most uncanny. How could you have divined my favourite talcum powder, that my lips would be chapped and that I would have no cold-cream, that my wash-cloth holder would be perforated, that most of my stockings would be in holes, that my laundress would love my handkerchiefs, that it would be impossible to find safety-pins in Troyes etc,etc, etc?

March 10 – Do forgive a penitent who is far more unlucky than indifferent despite appearances! You’ve heard of the ‘crise de charbon’ which has thrown civilians of France into consternation and you will imagine that it isn’t easy to recover from bronchitis in a room like a vault with no means whatsoever of heating it and the thermometer below zero. The first part of this was written beside the coke fire of the good cobbler’s wife opposite who took compassion on my cough and used to give me Tilassel and let me sit and toast among the sabots most of the day – bless her heart! But the cold is getting more intense. I got worse again and for a week or so it was a tough fight; now since I have found a room for a little less sepulchral, things are better and I hope soon to be off to the front – ah, when one thinks of the trenches one is heartily ashamed of being cold in Troyes and if I was miserable in a house with solid walls what must the ‘blesses’ suffer in those frail barracks!

“They never lose their cheer- speaking of them I want you to know that the dearth of everything for their comfort is getting more and more appalling.

Please help me all you can! I can’t tell you yet where I shall be but it will be an important post, and you may be sure and make everything tell to the utmost. The American Clearing House forwards cases with amazing promptness, but, oh we never have enough!

Acknowledgment to:

The New Brunswick Free Public Library

Historical New Brunswick Newspaper, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Funding in part has been provided by the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission, Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and the New Jersey Historical Commission/Department of State. The project was also made possible with the permission of The Home News Tribune.