Below is the final letter written by Norman in September 1918 which was eventually published just after the Armistice of November 11, 1918.
Norman Derr, of Atlanta, Writes Thrilling Letter of Last Days of War
Miss Norman Derr, of Atlanta, who was among the first American women who volunteered her services for France, who has been decorated with the Croix de Guerre for bravery under fire, who has the rank of lieutenant in the French army and who is still in service as a nurse in a French hospital, has written a number of letters relative to her experiences.
During the great German drive the French hospital unit with which Miss Derr is serving, was stationed near the front. It was compelled to make a hurried retreat, and in a recent letter she tells of her experiences during that trying time.
“Ambulance 12/1 – September 9,1918
Another stage in this memorable Odyssey is accomplished, and we have come to anchor in the mutilated park of a ruined chateau beside the Marne, filled with all the shocking and pathetic debris of battle, yet still lovely, for the roses and dahlias still blow bravely in the ruined parterres. The first sight that arrests one on arriving under the shattered thirteenth century towers is the grave of a Boche, with his camouflaged and blood stained helmet propped against a crude unpainted cross, and near is a torn rose bush with one perfect snowy bloom.
“As I look out through my broken window into the lopped and lovely park, where autumn winds shriek and strain the limp, dead limbs, I think of that other chateau which I reached in the time of roses a little over a year ago, and all the far-off radiance of the summer when our hearts were so full of the hope of going forward.
“Now, we really are going forward, but across what a wreck of vain illusions. With kaleidoscopic vividness all the scenes of this strange year flash before me. I see the bombardment of that lovely chateau in the sunset, and the wounded, roughly wrenched out of their fracture beds, being hurried away over a hill at Rheims. Finally, that lurid midnight of the 27th of last May, when suddenly without other warning than explosions increasingly near, the hospital was flooded with the wounded, shreds of flesh and blood, such as I have never seen; and at the same time came and was executed the distressing order to evacuate them all, regardless of their condition, and the personnel with them. I pleaded with the chief medical officer, as I have never pleaded before, to leave the badly wounded and me with them, but he was peremptory, so there was nothing for me to do but to climb into the last auto with the few belongings I had had time to get together, and a heart as heavy as though I was responsible for the whole retreat and could have prevented it by remaining.
“O’h! the hideousness of that retreat. It seemed as if the very dawn shrieked “shame” at us through the tongues of the “obus” shrilling overhead. Oh, that unutterable journey to Epernay, delayed by the advance of fresh troops rushing to the combat! O’h, that still more unutterable week in that vast shambles on the edge of the town, where hundreds died on the ground outside the ‘baraques’ utterly unable to cope with the overwhelming inrush of suffering humanity. Hideous, yes, unspeakably so; yet, do you know, in looking back I don’t see so vividly the anguish of those lonely dying nor the ghastly fosse in the court where over 100 unidentified bodies were put, as I do the triumphant spirit of those Englishmen who had been brought there to die, and knew it, and made no sign. I never felt quite so useful in my life, for I did everything from carrying stretchers to taking down name and home address. A pretty unsatisfactory job when one had, perhaps, to stop one’s writing to stop a haemorrhage , or even perform a rite sadder still, but when one thought of the families in England it was well worth while….
On the Marne
“Here (Dormans on the Marne) it is literally like camping out on the battlefield. The little prosperous town that used to perch so coquettishly beside its winding river, is nothing but a pile of ruins, with ways dug through to permit the passage of troops. And here in the Chateau park, ploughed up with shell holes, ‘obus’ exploded and unexplored, still cling in the trees and among their roots the melted motors, and nearby the casques of their carbonized occupants as they fell. Trenches for the living and trenches for the dead are everywhere. Traces of the conflict are fresh as if it had happened but yesterday, and as one climbs the hill to the once lovely birch wood that crowns it, the fight seems to have grown ever fiercer. I am no ghoulish collector of gruesome souvenirs, and wouldn’t think of sending a cartridge shell in a letter, even if I could, but I think the enclosed print of general Foch, found in a trench from which the enemy had been driven, will have a special meaning for you. It has weathered, intact, the battle and the storm, and found thus in an enemy trench has all the force of an oration on “Hope Among the Ruins”.
“In fact, everything about here breathes the same note, even to the little groups of civilians looking for cherished fragments on the site of their destroyed houses, and the gay fanfares of the regiments in their cantonments. So be of good courage, we will all be home soon.”
The Atlanta Constitution: November 17, 1918 with permission of Proquest Historical Newspapers Atlanta Constitution (1868 -1945)