Dear Dr Cabot
Surely you must have prayed and God heard, for a Miracle was wrought for our Christmas. Humanly speaking the difficulties were too many to be mastered —-far greater even than I had foreseen —- but from the evening when I saw you and everything looked so impossible, and there was no tobacco and no transport (nothing even packed) and no one apparently alive to the gravity to the situation, it seemed divines spirit began to work all along the line. The hearts of the Red Cross and the Army and the Railway people at Noisy le See were all changed, everybody did exactly as he promised from the General-en-Chef to the little joyeux who nailed up cases morning noon and night (and never stole a thing, to the utter surprise of everyone but me – I trusted him) everything arrived in the nick of time, when a single delay might have been fatal, and there wasn’t one weak link in all that interminable chain.
That good Mr Patten, you possibly know, gave money for the tobacco which I ordered from the army, and I added biscuits from my own little fund, and from Monday until Sunday I and a few valid blesses and any stray American or English ambulance driver that I could inveigle, made tri-colored packages in a freezing barrack, and as fast as we tied, Gallois packed each chausette with it’s accompanying package. Breathless work! Fifteen thousand packages to make and only six days! Once the paper gave out because the train de ravitaillement that was to bring it was delayed: and on we went with compresses — ( May the Peter Bent Bringham Hospital forgive me! For I think just once it was quite as useful as doing pansements, don’t you?) Just when there were no more compresses the paper arrived, and hands all blue with the cold flew faster than ever, and by eleven o’clock on Sunday while “Fritz” was pelting the moon lit batteries near by, the last bright package was tucked beside its sock, and the fifteen thousand were completed!
Before seven o’clock on Christmas day, fifteen thousand poilus had had their greeting from America plus a quart de oin for good measure. I went myself in the General’s auto and saw on three different points of the front such scenes as were worth one’s life to have witnessed, and yet I never wanted to live so much as now, in order to have more like them. If only you could have been there too! What would I have not given to make you feel the glow of that baraque at G—– that had never been bright before, with it’s tree grown refulgent out of the careful savings from last year at Troyes, and Miss Strawbridge’s generosity last week: to make you see the joy in the faces of the men as they filed forward to take their package, each decked with a tiny American flag while the musiciens du regiment played the “Star. Spangled Banner”!
We left with a feeling of glad sound and warmth and color and safety and light hearts behind us, that quite crowded out the war. On thru the swift-driving snow to the ruined village of C—– just on the lines– There all was dead and silent,white and grey, and the only touch of tenderness was the snow, that clung shieldingly about those ghostly ruins and muffled the steps of helmeted figures that passed soundlessly as shadows thru a dream. Not a gun-shot nor a bird-note nor a human voice to break the spell. In a covered alcove of a ruined wall, the grave old Commandant with a handful of men received us- The only light came from two sputtering wicks and a dying fire-brand (for the day was nearly done,) but it was enough to show clusters of mistletoe hanging about overhead, two wee flags crossed on the wall, and oh, those unforgettable faces! They took their little packages, each with such a touching word or look of thanks, and went away into the snow. Had you been there you would have said the proper things to them. As for me my voice, already husky with laryngitis almost choked with the intensity of it all; but I managed to murmur something about the meaning of the gift and whence it came,and how we all loved and looked to them. Then I was taken to the entrance of a boyau, and back to the village again and down to the caves where I pinned little flags on those whose packages had been delayed on account of the snow. Some of them spoke to me in English, but of all this my pen is too feeble to give you an impression—— We had scarcely left the village when a violent tir de barrage began—-Another miracle, for despite all my supplications my “suite” would have never let me go, had it come a little sooner—–Another festa somewhat like the first two or three kilometres back, then tea with the General of that Division (I had lunched with the General of the Corps d’Amiens) and home again with many pauses on the snowy upgrades to B—–.
There are a thousand anecdotes and pictures that I long to share with you and will some day. Forgive this bare and untidy skeleton. But I have rather a bad cough, orders from the Medecin-Chef to lie still-do nothing, and such an appalling mass of bills and business letters to attend to in two languages.
This is just to let you know how my heart is overflowing with gratitude, and how I pray that all the brightness you have shed may be reflected fifteen thousand-fold upon your coming year.
Faithfully – Norman Derr
(written along the side of the letter – I omitted to say that yesterday I had a beautiful letter from the General du Corps d’ Armee, in which he gives our little fete a military national recognition, which cannot but be gratifying to the Red Cross.