The next four letters were from Norman to Dr Richard Cabot whom she had written to before in 1916 (see 9 Nov 2013 posting for the background to the correspondence between them).

In 1916 Dr Richard Cabot with Ella his wife toured the United States to rouse Americans to support the Allies in World War I (possibly using Norman’s book ‘Mademoiselle Miss’ for fundraising). Dr Richard Cabot’s younger brother Hugh, also a doctor, enlisted in the British medical service before the United States entered the war.   Dr Richard Cabot himself joined the United States Army Medical Reserve Corps and served in France, 1917-19.  He served as chief of medicine at U.S. Base Hospital No. 6 at Bordeaux.

It appears from Norman’s letters that she was on leave in Paris in November 1917 and met Dr Richard Cabot there.  Her letters convey her enthusiasm for the ambitious task she decided to take upon herself and the support she received from Dr Richard Cabot in achieving it.


Ambulance 12/1

Sector. 233



Dear Dr Cabot

I have a long story to tell you, and the hearty, helping hand you stretched out to me on that unforgettable evening in Paris, makes me feel sure you will lend it your sympathy. What a boon it was– that visit! You can never know, and if there should come a moment of ‘defaillences’ and my heart should sink amidst the difficulties that beset this remote path I have chosen, I will think of it and it will give me courage.

The enthusiastic way in which you spoke of Christmas makes me hope– a most ambitious hope– that  you will want to help me now in a task far vaster than any I have before tackled. It almost takes my breath away, when I think what I have undertaken all by myself; and yet it is such a wonderful opportunity, so much greater than anything that could have come to me by just my trying for it, that it seems it couldn’t fail just because I am a frail instrument.

Does Christmas in the trenches interest you as much as Christmas in a hospital?—–It has always seemed to me that if I could be allowed to carry a ray of loving cheer into that frozen gloom, where men wait almost longing to be wounded, it would be worth everything—–everything, almost more than helping to alleviate them when they are.  Their spirits are too often wounded these days, and that’s worse——-for every reason.  When I went into the American Red Cross the other day and asked Mrs Denny who is head of that Department what could be done for a poor infirmiere, who due to the Regulations of the R.C couldn’t hope to receive any cases from America, she said she wasn’t interested in hospitals, all her Christmas fund being for the fighting man.  Now it has been my dream ever since I came to this front to stimulate my friends to give me so much that after my own hospital was supplied I would have enough to make a few yards of trench happier, off yonder over the hill.  The summer’s furious work that made writing impossible and then my illness and finally these drastic (tho’ doubtless necessary) measure of the R.C had given the death blow to all my hopes.  I told her this, and she replied that if I would undertake to see that a division of the Army got it’s packages she would turn over 15,000 to me!——-I answered that I could undertake nothing until I had seen my General, and went away hardly daring to believe I had heard the truth.

A few days ago I saw my General, who seemed really touched and diverted by the scheme (if you knew him you would understand what a Triumph!) and promised to interview de suite the General of the Division.  The upshot of all these “audiences” is that every facility is to be given me in the shape of carrions, escort etc to carry my treasures to the nearest cantonments to  the trenches, where I shall see several thousand men on their way to or coming from the relives, and whence I can organise the big distribution there (in) the trenches themselves.  The one point where I have been so far unsuccessful is in getting permission to “prendre pied dans la tranche” myself.  To my great chagrin they just wouldn’t cede there, on the ground that it was far too dangerous, that I might walk for a morning and not see a hundred men, while one or two kil. behind I would find thousands who just as much needed encouraging, who were nearly as much as exposed, and where there I could much better direct the distribution.  Force majeur! and nothing to do but accept their conditions, tho they were denying the special blessedness I wanted most—–After all, for the crusty, unimaginative old veterans that they are, they’ve really done a wonderful thing, and I must make the most of it.——–

There must be some charm, some setting–one can’t just deal packages out of an auto.  I want a tree (ssh, it’s just as well to keep that dark from the General until it’s lighted: he’d be sure to think that childish, and afterward he’ll be sure to be delighted) that means accessories; and of course a great deal of money must be spent independent of R.C packages.  But don’t you think it’s worth it? And don’t you think hot, sweet coffee and cakes will be grateful after cold soup and ‘singer’?

I have between three and four thousand francs that I can spend for this but that isn’t much over 15,000.

Then today I had a letter from dear Mrs Denny which is somewhat disappointing. I had hoped the packets were going to be handsome as everything we have done these past years.  But it appears funds failed at the last moment, and they are only to contain a package of cigarettes, a pair of socks and two or three pieces of bon-bons–Not much, is it? when one thinks of the distance they are to travel and the mission they are to fill.——-If this wholesale way of doing things doesn’t altogether terrify you, and you really think you can get us some money, which would be rather do——help improve Mrs Denny’s packages, or buy a supplement of tobacco, or chocolate etc which would be distinct? Perhaps you can see better than I which would be wiser and either would make me equally happy.  With what I have, I think I can manage the tree and cakes & coffee and sugar. I hope to get cheaper thru the Service de Sante.  Somehow, it just must be a success; it’s too blessed an opportunity to be missed and then there’s that point of National pride too, because it’s America’s gift.

O, if you will only help!

Everything must be sent grande vitesse as I am writing Mrs Denny. It should be addressed:

Mlle Norman Derr (Infirmiere Militaire)

H.O.E de Bouleuse

en Gare de Mery Prancy, Marne


Forgive this too lengthy letter.  The chatter of my “sisters” gets more hilarious as midnight approaches- I am writing in our baraque where we are all shivering around one rusty impotent stove- and it’s almost impossible to concentrate.

A little American ambulance driver who has been so wretched here with articular rhumatisme and no comrades and no knowledge of French, and who, thanks to my manoeuvres is to be evacuated to the American hospital tomorrow, will mail this in Paris, that you may get it sooner.

How eagerly I await your answer, perhaps you may guess—–

Hopefully and faithfully

Norman Derr

Don’t think I’m abandoning my own ward.  That is arranged for; for the moment it is empty, as for the rest of the hospital there are far fewer blesses than I expected.

 Courtesy of the Harvard University Archives