May 11, 1918, [from Kenly]. “Have been putting off writing until I had soloed.”

Tuesday [May 11, 1918]

Dear Mother:

Have been putting off writing until I had soloed. Expected to do so two weeks ago, but bad weather interfered and delayed me. However, finally got away with my tryout last Friday, passed it and then took to the air alone for my first solo flight. Got off the water all right and then completed the two fifteen mile rounds of the bay. Was up 40 minutes. Got along fine but I surely did have a sort of feeling of, “oh, why did they let me go up”, when I hit the first air bumps. Have been going fine since then and have in 10.20 hrs in the air alone now. My first few rounds of the bay rather resembled a snake’s path, but am getting better now. I have been up 3100 feet by myself tho went up 6300 once with an instructor. Will get in 3 and a half hrs a day from now on as have passed my 10 hrs of solo. Up to 10 you’re only allowed an hour and a half. Wish that Horace could come down here and see the planes and flying boats we have. All the big boats are equipped with Liberty motors and they are all performing marvelously. Don’t think that he would say that the Navy wasn’t well-equipped. There seems to be no scarcity of the Liberty motors as far as our needs are concerned. We have an English captain from the Royal Naval Air Corps attached to the station now to assist in instruction on the big boats.

He is some flyer, has two German planes and one submarine to his credit. Hope and expect that I should qualify and get my commission by the last of July. We have besides the elementary flying, to qualify in the big boats now before we are thru. Will get a two weeks furlough when I finish and then will probably be sent to one of the elementary training stations for a couple of months training in executive work. The hope is to train us so that we will be able to handle any sort of job when we go across. Don’t think that there’s any chance of any of our company going across until late in the fall so there’s no need to worry about my being rushed across.

We are working pretty steadily now from 6 a.m. till 8:30 p.m. as we have classes and then we clean the planes up at night. Am getting so brown that don’t think you will know me. You all never did say whether you received that company picture of us at Tech. Will send Carl‘s uniform this weekend as had to have the coat realtered first. I had the bottom pockets taken off for my use as we only have two on our uniform and then when I got your letter had to have them put back on which was some job.

In regard to the matter with Mr. Hughes have written him and will take care of that myself so don’t bother about it.

 

Tell Bell enjoyed her letter lots.

Love to all, John.

P.S. don’t let the fudge and chocolate cake stop. I need them.

 

 

 

May 11, 1918. “Meanwhile, on this ‘Mother’s Day Eve’, just want you to know that the older I grow in years and wisdom, the more I appreciate all you’ve done for and been to me and being at this distance brings it home to me more than ever.”

May 11, 1918. This is his “Mother’s Day” letter. The number of apartment dwellers is up to eleven, but the apartment is still a success.

Tonight for instance we had a nice dinner and then adjourned to the sitting room—after getting out of “Sam Browns” and blouses and into sweaters and slippers—where some have been chatting and some reading. Now I’m in the “petit salon” next to the “grand salon” or sitting room where quiet must be maintained, while some of the bunch are beginning to get “the Saturday night bath.” This latter is an institution here perforce as, owing to scarcity and high price of coal, most landlords and hotels will give you from May 1st to November 1st only on Saturdays and Sundays. Our apartment is located just off the “Étoile” where the Arch of Triumph is, in a very nice quarter….

Monty describes more of his daily routine either because his direct discussion with the Censor has loosened his pen, or because he is seeing it for the first time in the good weather and putting pieces together leading to the juxtaposition of this work and the situation of the men in the trenches along a front sometimes less than sixty miles away.

Yesterday I got away from my office a bit earlier than usual so walked out [along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées] and, except for the preponderance of men in uniform and army automobiles passing up and down, it was hard to realize that the trenches were only sixty miles away. I have grown so used to seeing the officers of the different allied armies that I think little of it but suppose you would find it most interesting and, after these months, I even am struck by it once in a while. First perhaps you’ll see a British staff car with the officers having the crimson band and gold visor on their caps which gives their staff officers the slang name of “brass hats”. Then you’ll see the blue of the French, the field green of the Italians, our own khaki and occasional Belgians and Portuguese—a most interesting picture when one stops to think of it.

Or maybe he has gotten into the mind of his “chauffeur of the past several weeks” who is “fresh from the States and frankly interested in all he saw. I’ve had much amusement from watching him looking around as he drove and taking in all the sights—and he surely has many amusing questions.”

He reports a letter from Kate that arrived in “only 18 days from Columbia here, which was pretty good I think.”

He dwells for a moment on Marion, which “must be pretty now and would surely like to see it.” His mother and sister Mabel have been “keeping busy” and are involved in undefined “war activities.” He regrets that “being so far away” means that “I can’t help in any way.”

However, some one of these days when the Bosche has been put where “this won’t happen again”, I hope to be back and take these cares off your shoulders. Meanwhile, on this “Mother’s Day Eve”, just want you to know that the older I grow in years and wisdom, the more I appreciate all you’ve done for and been to me and being at this distance brings it home to me more than ever. So with lots of love and hoping to be with you again when the next Mother’s Day comes,

“Your red headed Son.”

 

Transcribed Letter:

c/o Q.M.U.S. Troops,

A.P.O.702, A. E. F.

May 11, 1918

Dear Mother –

It’s Saturday night and as I probably shan’t have time to write tomorrow, shall write my regular letter and my “Mother’s Day” letter at one and the same time.

Have surely been getting lots of enjoyment out of our apartment – as I think the whole crowd has. Tonight for instance we had a nice dinner and then adjourned to the sitting room – after getting out of “Sam Browns” and blouses and into sweaters and slippers – where some have been chatting and some reading. Now I am in the “petit salon” next to the “grand salon”, or sitting room, the former being reserved as a writing room where quiet must be maintained, while some of the bunch are beginning to get “the Saturday night bath”. This latter is an institution here perforce as, owing to scarcity and high price of coal, most landlords in hotels will give you hot water from May 1st to November 1st only on Saturdays and Sundays.

Our apartment is located just off the “Etoile” where the Arch of Triumph is, in a very nice quarter and only five minutes walk from the Bois de Boulogne. Going to and from work now I take the Avenue des Champs Elysees, the most beautiful Street in Paris and one of the most beautiful there is. Yesterday I got away from my office a bit earlier than usual so walked out this street and, except for the preponderance of men in uniform and army automobiles passing up and down, it was hard to realize that the trenches were only 60 miles away. I have grown so used to seeing the officers of the different allied armies that I think little of it but suppose you would find it most interesting and, after these months, I even am struck by it once in a while. First perhaps you’ll see a British staff car with staff officers having the crimson band and gold visor on their caps which gives their staff officers the slang name of “brass hats”. Then you’ll see the blue of the French, the field green of the Italians, our own khaki and occasional Belgians and Portuguese – a most interesting picture when one stops to think of it. My chauffeur for the past several weeks was fresh from the states and frankly interested in all he saw. I’ve had much amusement from watching him looking around as he drove and taking in all the sights – and he surely has many amusing questions.

Had a letter from Kate this week of April 20th only 18 days from Columbia here which was pretty good I think. Enjoyed it very much and will write her direct when I get a little more time. Also had a letter from Horton – have rather a hunch his he’s either over here or on his way by now and hope I’ll run into him some of these times. Just yesterday I saw one of my law school classmates and one is continually meeting somebody you knew or whose friends you knew back home.

Know Marion must be pretty now and would surely like to see it. you and Mabel seem to be keeping busy as usual from your letters but I don’t want you to work too hard on these war activities for you have enough worries of your own besides them. One of the hard things of about being so far away is that I can’t help you in any way with your affairs. However some one of these days when the Bosche has been put where “this won’t happen again”, I hope to be back and take those cares off your shoulders. Meanwhile, on this “Mother’s Day Eve”, just want you to know that the older I grow in years and wisdom, the more I appreciate all you’ve done for and been to me and being at this distance brings it home to me more than ever. So with lots of love and hoping to be with you again when the next Mother’s Day comes,

Your redheaded Son

 

Thomas C. Montgomery

2nd Lt Inf. R.C.

 

 

 

May 4, 1918. “Well I guess the Bosche will be over tonight”.

May 4th, 1918. His letter shows frustration with the mails. Though letters are now getting through, “I’ve about lost all hope on the package proposition for have never yet received any cigars beyond those shipped in November and December.” He’s now proposing to “discontinue” the service he has so meticulously detailed in his letters “as so many are lost and there is a fairly regular supply at the commissary these days.” There seems to be a bit of routine settling on his life in Paris.

Apartment life is suiting him after four days—“it’s much better than hotel life.” The first challenge has been to keep the cook “from doing things too well.” His concern is the cost since the apartment is cheaper than the hotel as long as the cook doesn’t feed them too well.

“(Continued May 6th)”

“Yesterday I spent most of the day out at the St. Cloud Country Club,” which he describes as being “close to Mount Valérien, one of the famous Paris forts at the time of the Franco-Prussian war.” He is making plans to see Versailles;he has been “saving it up until spring.”

He reports “a quiet time with regard to air raids and the big gun lately but guess I’d better knock on wood.”

It seems rather strange to associate a beautiful night with the idea of death and destruction but now when it is a clear night, one’s first thought and remark to your friends is “Well I guess the Bosche will be over tonight”. However, they’ve really reached the city only four times since I’ve been here.

That ends the letter.

 

Transcribed Letter:

c/o Q.M.U.S. Troops,

A.P.O.702, American E. F.

May 4, 1918

Dear Mother: –

Had several other home letters this week, some as late as April 6 but none from you home folks. Guess some from Marion will be getting through to me this next week. However, I’ve about lost hope on the package proposition for have never yet received any cigars beyond those shipped in November and December of two boxes and some pipe tobacco each. Guess you might as well discontinue trying to send them as so many are lost and there is a fairly regular supply at the commissary these days. Was talking this week to one of the chief men in the Postal Service over here and he told me that besides the packages stolen and rifled after they reach this side that on one transport recently 40 bags of packages had been opened and rifled.

We moved into our apartment this week and it’s much better than hotel life. There are eleven of us with a cook and two maids to take care of us so we are pretty comfortably fixed – and the cook is some cook. Shouldn’t wonder now that I am nicely located I may get transferred some other place – you can’t tell in the army where you’ll be next. Our only trouble with this cook is to keep her from doing things too well. She wants to feed us so well that to allow her to do so would make it more instead of less expensive than hotel life. However, after several interviews in which much French was passed think we’ve finally got her to understand our point of view on the matter.

(Continued May 6) Had our first thunderstorms Saturday night but it was followed by two wonderful spring days yesterday and today. Yesterday I spent most of the day out at the St. Cloud Country Club which is beautifully situated on the heights just outside the city and close to Mount Valerian, one of the famous forts at the time of the Franco-Prussian war. Now that the weather is good, think I shall spend some Sunday soon out there at Versailles which is, of course, one of the show places around Paris. Have been saving it up until the spring as it is said to be most beautiful at this time of year.

We’ve had a quiet time with regard to air raids and the big gun lately but guess I better knock on wood for you can’t tell when they will commence again. It seems rather strange to associate a beautiful night with the idea of death and distraction but now when it is a clear night one’s first thought and remark to your friend is “Well I guess the Bosche will be over again tonight”. However, they’ve really reached the city only four times since I’ve been here. No other news at this time, Love to all, Carl

Thomas C. Montgomery,

2nd Lt. Inf. R.C.

 

May 1, 1918 [to Mabel]

On May 1, 1918, he writes Mabel. “Have given my stenographer all the work she can handle for an hour or two and, having nothing particular for an hour…shall try to get off a decent letter.” This probably explains the handwritten five pages that follow.

He refers to her letter of March 31st that reached him April 27th “which wasn’t so bad.” Her letter got through in less than a month.

He is surprised that anyone “back home” has the idea that he is “an interpreter” and decides “to clear the air on that” by giving a description of what he is doing. He recently had a conversation with the “Chief Censor in France” which results in his understanding that there is “no objection” to writing about what he is doing.

He then describes the evolution of his job beginning with the “Lease and Contracts Dept.” attached to the Chief Quartermaster. “When Hq. was ordered to leave here in late December…I was left in charge of that department for three weeks—some job too as it included the operation of all our Paris buildings.” After some further shuffling, he is “in charge of the making of all leases for Paris and vicinity and also in charge of some 25 buildings.” He enumerates a French architect “attached to my office” which also includes a stenographer and an interpreter. Plans are under way to extend his leasing duties to all of northern France and to diminish his role in building management. This suits him because he cares “little for the repairs and alterations and operation of buildings.” And he sees an opportunity “to get out of Paris from time to time and see something of other places.”

He is already getting out a lot within Paris. He and the architect “chase around the city” every afternoon “for one to three hours” in his designated and chauffeured automobile. This has given him a good sense of the city and he is “constantly in contact with the French.” He describes the architect as “one of the best in Paris.” “We get along beautifully together and he calls me his “élève,” or pupil, in French and it’s quite true that I’ve made most of my progress in French because of being forced to speak it with him.” Monty also conducts his business in French with the officers at the Ministry of War, “and you ought to see me ‘parle’ing with them in French. They are very forbearing of my bad French and we get along nicely.”

The weather is still grim—“a rotten April here, either rainy or cloudy nearly all the time and always cool.” Looking for “decent days,” he is forecasting that May will be the best month. “Practically all the trees are in full leaf and you get some beautiful views riding around the city, particularly along the Seine or the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, probably the most beautiful street in the world so it is said.” All he asks for is “a little sunshine.”

He closes with his apartment news. “Ten of us are moving today into an apartment, or rather two apartments.” He expects to gain proficiency with his French since the “cook and two maids” speak no English.

Transcribed Letter:

 

c/o Q.M.U.S. Troops,

A.P.O. 702, A.E.F.

May 1, 1918

 

Dear Mabel –

Have given my stenographer all the work she can handle for an hour or two and, having nothing particular for an hour until some of my French friends will be coming in, shall try to get off a decent letter.

Your letter of March 31 reached me last Saturday, Apl. 27, which wasn’t so bad. Enjoyed all your news and glad to get the pictures of Olivia and Bell. Sorry to have missed Charlie and Ernest but they must have gone to the wrong place or some “bonehead” soldier at the information desk in this building gave them bad information for have been in the same office & same building ever since I came to Paris Nov. 28th, nor have I been any further than the suburbs during that time. Don’t understand how anybody back home got the idea that I was an interpreter and, to clear the air on that will tell you what I am and have been doing – having talked to the Chief Censor in France recently and finding there is no objection to it. When I came to Paris I was attached to the Lease and Contracts Dept. of the office of the Chief Quartermaster, Lines of Communication. When Hq. was ordered to leave here in late December, my Chief in the department was ordered to the place where they were to move to lease the necessary buildings and I was left in charge of that department for three weeks – same job so it included the operation of all our Paris buildings then when Hq. left, my boss and I being the only ones who knew anything about Paris leases and buildings, I was left here in charge of the making of all leases for Paris and vicinity and also in charge of some 25 buildings and have so continued.

Have a French architect attached to my office – who speaks no English – a stenographer and an interpreter. My superiors are now planning now to divorce me from the management of these buildings, which includes repairs and alterations on all buildings occupied by our army in Paris, and use me all the time on leases and contracts, both in Paris and Northern France. May say this doesn’t peeve me at all as I like the lease and contract proposition all right and care little for the repairs and alterations and operation of buildings. Also it will give me a chance to get out of Paris from time to time and see something of other places.

Have had an automobile assigned to me and nearly every afternoon this architect and I chase around the city for 1 to 3 hours investigating buildings we are thinking of leasing interviewing proprietors of said buildings and booking our repairs and alterations in progress. Consequently I’ve come to know the city pretty well and also I am constantly in contact with the French. Usually have a stream of providers and contractors from 4:30 to 6:30 every afternoon, these being our hours for receiving such people. This architect is one of the best in Paris and particularly has business ideas more in accordance with ours than most of the French. We get along beautifully together and he calls me his “eleve”, or pupil, in French and it’s quite true that I’ve made most of my progress in French because of being forced to speak it with him. My work also brings me into contact with French officers at the Ministry of War from time to time, one of them pretty often, and you ought to see me “parle” ing with them in French. They are my very forbearing of my bad French and we get along nicely.

We’ve had a rotten April here, either rainy or cloudy nearly all the time and always coal [sic]. However, now that May has come I’m hoping to see some decent days for a change, this being the month when Paris is supposed to be at its best – and it is – but a little sunshine would be a great help. Particularly all the trees are in full leaf and you get some beautiful views riding around the city particularly along the Seine or the Avenue des Champs Elysees probably the most beautiful street in the world so it is said.

As stated in the previous letter ten of us are moving today into an apartment or rather two apartments on the same floor, where we shall be housekeeping for ourselves. We’ll get some exercise in French there too as, of our cook and two maids, not a one speaks any English. Will have more news of that in my next letter.

Love to all, Carl

Address mailing until further notice to c/o. Q.M.U.S. Troops, APO 702, and think maybe it’ll reach me more easily. Note also it is now “Inf.R.C.” meaning “Infantry Reserve Corps” instead of “Inf U.S.R.”.

O.K. Thomas C. Montgomery

2nd Lt Inf. R. C.

 

 

 

April 7, 1918. “The Bosche let us have two long distance shells yesterday….”

April 7, 1918. He opens with “nothing much to add” since he’s under the censor’s blade not to discuss anything of “real interest, such as the present offensive.” [note]

He spends a paragraph on spring, noting that one of the boulevards he frequents has a swath of elms followed by a similar row of sycamores: “it looks like spring where the elms are and still winter where are the sycamores.”

The Bosche let us have two long distance shells yesterday, his first in several days, but with no damage. Saturday and Sunday seem to be favorite days for dropping them in; haven’t heard any yet this morning but shouldn’t wonder he’ll favor us before the day is over.

He recounts feeling “pretty envious” over the departure of a friend who is “sailing for home tomorrow.” We haven’t heard much from Monty that suggests homesickness or feelings about his situation. Though he misses being in South Carolina during spring, he gives us a bit of insight into his own ambivalence as well as engagement with the excitement of the war. “As much as I’d like to get home for a while and see you all, guess I wouldn’t like to go if I couldn’t come back here again before the show is over.”

To the end of staying for the rest of the show perhaps, he asks his mother to send “the extra khaki uniform I sent back from New York and one extra pair of khaki trousers.”

 

Transcribed Letter:

A.P.O. 702 A.E.F.,

April 7, 1918

Dear Mother: –

Don’t believe I have anything much to add to my letters of a day or two ago as one doesn’t discuss matters of real interest, such as the present offensive[1], in letters owing to certain rules and regulations promulgated by the Censor.

We’ve had a truly April week so far as weather is concerned, alternatively showers and sunshine. The trees are getting out their leaves in good shape, that is all except the sycamores of which there are a great many in Paris and which seem to be very late. One Boulevard I travel every day has sycamores about halfway in elms the rest; consequently it looks like spring where the elms are and still winter where are the sycamores. Was out through the Bois de Bologne a couple of Sundays ago and it looked really springlike there. Want to get out that way again this afternoon for it should be more beautiful every week now

The Bosche let us have two long distance shells yesterday, his first in several days, but with no damage. Saturday and Sunday seem to be favored days for dropping them in; haven’t heard any yet this morning but shouldn’t wonder if he’ll favor us before the day is over.

Saw a colonel I know yesterday who was sailing for home tomorrow which made me feel pretty envious. However, as much as I’d like to get home for a while and see you all, guess I wouldn’t like to go if I couldn’t come back here again before the show is over.

No more mail from home yet but was talking to a Post Office man yesterday who told me they were handling a big bunch now and guess something ought to show up soon.

Love to all,

Carl.

 

O.K.

Thomas C. Montgomery

2nd Lt. Inf. U.S.R.

 

P.S. Wish you could send me the khaki uniform I sent back from New York and one extra pair of khaki trousers which think I left in my big trunk along with another blouse and pair of trousers. The uniform I wore to New York is my best khaki and there shouldn’t be any difficulty in distinguishing it from the others which I bought from the Q.M. . Guess they’ll reach me by June and think I may have some need for them this summer.

[1] Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive (March 21, 1919, code named Michael) was an attempt to move victoriously before American troops were well integrated into the old battle lines. It was the first significant movement on the Western Front since 1914, a move emboldened by additional troops from the Eastern Front and the advent of the “Paris Gun” which began its “bombardment” on March 21, 1918. Frighteningly successful at the time—and Paris was an objective—the German “Spring Offensive” exhausted itself at great expense to both sides by the end of April, never reaching Paris.

April 3, 1918. [from Kenly] “It looks like a whale with wings….”

[April 3, 1918]

Pensacola Fla.

Sunday.

 

Dear mother:

Still enjoying the rest down here and gaining flash. Think that pretty soon will be back up to normal again. Got my first flying last week and it is fine. Understand from the new regulations published last week that we are to do most of our flying as pilots of these wonderful flying boats that I wrote about last week and that it will consist almost entirely of submarine patrol. Surely hope so as these machines are marvelous. Two English officers came down last week and the boat was put thru its stunts for them and understood that they said it was far superior to anything across the pond and the Liberty Motor was a wonder. Everybody down here is tickled to death [about] it. It looks like a whale with wings and it did 105 miles an hour at some times on Tuesday. It makes these little Curtiss planes that we are learning on seem and sound like a Ford by a Pierce-Arrow.

Please tell sis to my remembrance of the wheels was they were to be returned and $18.75 credit allowed on them.

Please try to send me some chocolate fudge in quantity once a week and a chocolate cake occasionally as have before remarked the food is rotten. Eat dinner and support the YWCA cafeteria but have to go to breakfast at the mess hall. Also don’t forget to send me a “State” sometimes as they can’t be bought down here.

Love to all, John

I’m enclosing a little service pin that that you might like. Also please tell Bill that she can send me any more of Horace’s plain white shirts that he doesn’t need.

 

 

March 25, 1918. [from Kenly] “Have been sent up here to the detention camp with the rest of my company….”

Transcription of letter from John Kenly Montgomery to Mother:

Friday

[Original header crossed out. Following written in:]

Naval Air Station

Squadron I

Pensacola, Fla.

 

Dear Mother:

Have been sent up here to the detention camp with the rest of my company because one of the boys in the previous flights brought measles in. Understand that we are to be kept here three weeks. It is a swell location about a half a mile from the rest of the yard up on a little hill in a grove and there is a good breeze all the time. All we have to do is drill raw recruits I mean regular sailor who sent up here for three weeks upon arriving. We are living in tents two men to a tent and the food is very good. The only drawback is that we all had to have our heads clipped close so that we look like a bunch of shorn lambs. Never saw such a ridiculous looking aggregation in all my life. We took some pictures of each other this morning and will send some prints home as soon as possible. Am enclosing a picture of our company taken at Tech two days before we left. I am second from the end on the left and really my face was not as soiled as it looks in the picture. [no photos in the envelope].

Was mighty sorry that couldn’t come by at home, but the Navy gives no leave coming from ground school here and so my request was turned down as were numerous others. Furthermore we didn’t know until Monday morning where and when we were going, whether to Key West, here, Miami, or San Diego. We finally got our orders that morning to leave that afternoon. Came on Southern by Spartanburg and Greenville. Surely have enjoyed the coming South again as was tired of the north, both weather and people.

Ran into Jason [?] Roberts from Zion yesterday on arriving. He is down here in the machinists school but has an application in for transfer to the aviation in hopes to go up to Tech about the middle of April.

Please send me that pair of khaki pants of Carl’s old uniform as can wear them around the Navy Yard as we don’t have to wear jackets except at inspections and when going on liberty. Also send me that pair of gray baseball trousers, they are the ones without any padding of any sort, the old gold and black stockings, the pair of baseball shoes with iron spikes on them, and my black baseball glove, as they have a baseball team down here and will have considerable time to practice up here at the camp.

Tell Sis [Mabel] that I wrote that I tho’t best to send those wood wheels back and get the allowance on them. I said that sometime since.

[single sheet follows; two numbered sides, 1 and 3. Hints at a missing page.]

  1. That money I wired for was to get a khaki uniform up in Boston as we have to wear them down here entirely and they are cheaper in Boston than here. I got one in Boston with two pairs of pants for $30.00 and down here the same suit is $39.00. Had to buy a monkey suit [….]
  2. [….] ready made army Kaki for $20.00 apiece here. It is cheap stuff and not regulation naval uniform, but can get away with it around the yard and use the good uniform from Boston for dress. So if you can send me $40.00 more think that will be all I will need as when get my commission [….]

March 24, 1918. “…the new gun… bombarding Paris from a distance of 75 miles….”

March 24, 1918. He writes to his mother about “the new gun[1] with which the Bosche is supposed to be bombarding Paris from a distance of 75 miles.”

[Y]esterday morning, as I was shaving in my room, heard an explosion as of a bomb and a few minutes later, while on my way to the office, the alert was sounded. Everybody thought it was a daylight air raid and we continued to hear an explosion about every fifteen minutes until along in the afternoon. This morning again I was waked about seven o’clock by the wail of the siren which means an air raid and shortly after the explosions began again. They are still continuing at this time, 11:30 A.M., at about 15 minute intervals so it seems there must be some truth in the supposition that some kind of a long range gun is operating with aerial torpedoes which are in some way timed to drop at Paris.

This is a good description of the “gun” considering it has been in use for less than 24 hours. It is in fact about 75 miles distant and it’s just a big gun; the shells are large artillery shells and no timing devices are involved. The mystery if there is one is that they seem to arrive silently without warning. More?

Monty is nonchalant and actually rather fatalistic about it all. “Am going out with a friend for a long walk in the country this afternoon for a little exercise and air. I don’t see any use sticking around in a cellar as some people seem to be doing, or a great many of them, for if one of these torpedoes is ticketed for you it will get you and that’s all there is to it.”

“No mail from home since the 27th of January but am looking for a bunch any day now.” There is a mail backlog at both ends.

[1] Monty’s detail is fairly accurate considering that his letter is written the day after the first shell hit Paris. The gun was a technical achievement quite apart from the fact that is was neither very effective nor efficient. It was intended for shock value and domestic propaganda. By most accounts, the gun operated from March 23 until August 9, 1918. The number of rounds fired is a disputed 320 to 367, killing approximately 250 and wounding 620. The worst event killed 88 and wounded 68 on March 29, a scene described later by Monty when he meets a survivor.

A lot is written about the “Paris Gun” which Monty sometimes refers to as “Big Bertha” and which the French routinely called “La Bertha.” The guns were mounted on rail cars and relocated frequently during the several months of operation. Their use coincided with the final German offensive of the war and they disappeared completely after the war (despite an apparent understanding that one be made available to the victors), apparently too valuable as technology to fall into enemy hands. The gun fired the first manmade stratospheric projectile from such a distance that the rotation of the earth had to be considered in calculating the trajectory.

 

Transcription:

A.P.O. 702, A.E.F.

March 24, 1918.

Dear Mother: –

Have just been looking over the morning papers which give a fairly full account of the new gun with which the Bosche is supposed to be bombarding Paris from a distance of 75 miles so suppose there is no harm in writing about it. Friday night, after nearly two weeks without a raid, the alert sounded but nothing happened and the all clear signal came in about an hour. However, yesterday morning, as I was shaving in my room, heard an explosion as of a bomb and a few minutes later, while on my way to my office, the alert was sounded. Everybody thought it was daylight air raid and we continued to hear an explosion about every 15 minutes until along in the afternoon. This morning again I was waked about 7 o’clock by the wail of the siren which means an air raid and shortly after the explosions began again. They are still continuing at this time, 11:30 AM, at about 15 minute intervals so it seems there must be truth in the supposition that some kind of a long range gun is operating with aerial torpedoes which are in someway timed to drop at Paris. But by the time you get this letter the home papers and magazines will probably have a good deal more dope about it than I can give you, so it’s hardly worth while to say anything more about it as it’s all guesswork so far.

The weather has continued fine all this past week end and is getting very springlike though it’s still fairly snappy in the early mornings before the sun gets well up. Am going out with a friend for a long walk in the country this afternoon for a little exercise and air. I don’t see any use sticking around in a cellar as most people seem to be doing, or a great many of them, for if one of these torpedoes is ticketed for you it will get you and that’s all there is to it.

No home mail yet since 27th of January but am looking for a bunch any day now.

 

Love to all,

Carl

 

OK

Thomas C. Montgomery

2nd Lt. Inf. U.S.R.

March 17, 1918. To Kate: “It broke quite a bit of glass all through the city.”

“Your letter of Jan. 27th is the latest home letter to reach me….”

“The A.E.F. are quite excited these days over Mr. Baker’s visit and you hear much discussion as to its probable effect on the general welfare of the A.E.F. and also on the conduct of the war.” Monty describes again the air raids that coincided with the visit and claims he was not “overly curious, it being my third raid.” Nevertheless, he’s not taking chances. “From now on think I shall take to an “abri” as they call the cellars which are thought sufficiently strong to be good protection. All such are labeled at the street entrance with the number of people they will accommodate and there is a good sized one right across the street from my hotel.” He describes the tension between curiosity and safety and concludes “the cellar is a bit healthier. In the raid of Friday a week ago I was standing in the street in front of my hotel watching the shrapnel bursting in the sky when a big one hit about 400 yards away and got the full benefit of the flash and explosion.”

He goes on to describe “the munitions explosion near Paris Friday.”[1]

I had just finished lunch at the Officer’s Club and was sitting there talking to some other fellows when a strong puff of air hit us and we heard the sound of breaking glass—it also made one’s ears feel pretty funny for a moment. Everybody lit out to the front to see what had happened and we all thought it was a daylight raid by the Bosche but then saw the big column of white smoke rising several miles away and figured out it was a munitions explosion…. It broke quite a bit of glass throughout the city.

He is happy to report that his French is improving. Dinner with French friends went on for three hours during which they spoke “nothing but French.” “One picks up quite a few new words and forms of expression on an occasion of this kind. Your ear has to become trained and mine has certainly had sufficient opportunity for the past four months with consequent beneficial results.” His felicity with language has brought some benefits, including “an invitation last night from some French friends to visit them this summer at their summer home on the coast of Normandy.”

He describes office life and his routine. “I’ve been around seven to seven-thirty getting away from my office every night this week and that’s a fair sample of all of us on office work.” He tries to cut back on Sundays “for this seven days a week will get your goat sooner or later.” His Sunday routine is to come to the office “for a couple of hours in the morning and catch up with odds and ends and write a letter or two, as this morning, but take the afternoons for a good walk.”

“I prefer, and I suppose you folks do also, to get my letters out on the typewriter and Sunday morning my stenographer isn’t here. Have an Irish girl who has been in France for fifteen years and speaks French as well or better than English. She is older than I am and nobody’s good looking child but fairly efficient which is more than my last one, a French girl, was. At that I’ve seen very few of them who can touch our American stenos for efficiency and I often long for one like Miss Gentry who was with Bomar & Osborne.”

He reports on cigar receipts and supply status and again recommends the “box at a time” method of shipment. He proposes that she send his letter home after she has read it “as I have little enough time to write.”

[1] This explosion at 1:45 PM March 15, 1918 destroyed a munitions factory in the industrially intense suburb of La Courneuve, seven miles northeast of Paris. Between 16 and 30 were killed and thousands left homeless from destruction of buildings within a mile radius. The American Red Cross is praised for its responsiveness. As Monty reports, the explosion shook the center of Paris.

 

Transcription:

A.P.O. 702, A.E.F.,

March 17, 1918

My Dear Kate:-

Your letter of Jan. 27th is the latest home letter to reach me and enjoyed it thoroughly. You seem to be some busy lady but hope you’re fine time among your many and various activities to drop me a line again some of these times. Glad to hear you and Frank have come to know Jim Manning, tell him to write me and let me know what they are doing with themselves at Camp Jackson. Was interested in the news about Capt. Fitch[1]-it was probably best that he went out peacefully for I don’t believe he would ever have lasted as far as the trenches in command of a bunch of enlisted men.

The A.E.F. are quite excited these days over Mr. Baker‘s visit and you hear much discussion as to its probable effect on the general welfare of the A.E.F. and also on the conduct of the war. I think it ought to be beneficial all round for it’s impossible to fully understand the situation over here without having seen it yourself. He certainly got a warm welcome his first night in Paris for the Bosche came over and staged a bombing entertainment, their second in four days. This time I wasn’t overly curious, It being my third raid, and circumspectly stayed indoors. From now on think I shall take to an “abri” as they call the cellars which are thought sufficiently strong to be a good protection. All such are labeled at the street entrance with the number of people they will accommodate and there is a good-sized one right across the street from my hotel. This curiosity is all well and good but I’ve been uncomfortably close to where a couple have dropped in previous raids and I think the cellar is a bit healthier. In the raid of Friday a week ago I was standing in the street in front of my hotel watching the shrapnel bursting in the sky when a big one hit about 400 yard yards away and got the full benefit of the flash and explosion.

You will have, of course, seen in the home papers something about the munitions explosion near Paris Friday of this week. I had just finished lunch at an Officer’s Club and was sitting there talking to some other fellows when a strong puff of air hit us and we heard the sound of breaking glass – it also made one’s ears feel pretty funny for the moment. Everybody lit out to the front to see what had happened and we all thought it was a daylight raid by the Bosche but then saw the big column of white smoke rising several miles away and figured it out as a munitions explosion which it turned out to be. It broke quite a bit of glass all through the city.

My French continues to improve little by little; one night this week another officer and I had dinner with some French friends who speak no English at all and it was nothing but French for three hours with all kinds of subjects of conversation. One picks up quite a few new words and forms of expression on occasion of this kind. Your ear has to become trained and mine has certainly had sufficient opportunity for the past four months with consequent beneficial results.

Paris is now beginning to show signs of the coming of spring and I shall be more than glad to see it-guess in a month or six weeks one will be able to see better reason for the it’s being called “Paris, la belle”. What is out near the Bois de Boulogne Friday afternoon and saw bits of green here and there. Of course that and Versailles are the show places in the spring and summer and I’ve been saving up going to see them until that time. Incidentally; had an invitation last night from some French friends to visit them this summer at their summer home on the coast of Normandy. Only hope that I’ll be in position to get leave and take advantage of it.

Everybody continues to be awfully busy and all army circles; I’ve been around seven to seven-thirty getting away from my office every night this week and that’s a fair sample of all of us on office work. I’ve quit doing anything more than is absolutely necessary on Sunday for this seven days a week will get your goat sooner or later. Usually come down for a couple of hours in the morning [Sundays] and catch up with odds and ends and write a letter or two, as this morning, but take the afternoons for a good walk. I prefer, and suppose you folks do also, to get my letters out on the typewriter and Sunday morning my stenographer isn’t here. Have an Irish girl now who has been in France for 15 years and speaks French as well or better than English. She is older than I am and nobody’s good looking child but fairly efficient which is more than my last one, a French girl, was. At that I’ve seen very few of them who can touch our American stenos for efficiency and I often long for one like Miss Gentry was with Bomar & Osborne.

As you seen from my letters home, I’ve got two shipments of tobacco and cigars all right but if any others were sent, they haven’t come to my sight yet. It’s better to send cigars only a box at a time and then if one is “submarined” buy some mail handler, the loss isn’t so great.

You might send this letter on home after you read it as I have a little enough time to write. Regards to any of my Columbia friends, particularly Miss Degraffenried, who has probably forgotten me by now, and love to yourself and Frank,

Yours, Carl

OK

Thomas C. Montgomery

2nd Lt. Inf. U.S.R.

[1] Obituary in The Iron Trade Review, December 27, 1917, p. 1393. Captain Thomas William Fitch, Jr., age 39, died in a New York hospital on December 21 following treatment for “chronic ulcerated stomach”. He was President of the Columbia Steel & Shafting Company, Carnegie, Pa. His assignment at Camp Jackson (Columbia, SC) came in August 1917 following a short stint at Camp Oglethorpe, GA where he had been posted in May 1917. Apparently he was known to Monty from Camp Oglethorpe. The enlightening line in Captain Fitch’s obituary is he “was a grandson of William Tecumseh Sherman of civil war fame…” and his last past was Columbia, SC.

March 13, 1918. “Friday night one bomb hit about 400 yards down from my hotel….”

On March 13, 1918 he writes his mother that he didn’t get around to a letter “Sunday as was busy all morning—my usual time for writing.”

He reports on “several things of interest in the last week, chiefly the two Bosche air raids, one Friday and one Monday night, the latter coming on Secretary [of War, Newton] Baker’s first night in Paris, perhaps to show him what they could do.” The air raids occurred about 9:00 pm in contrast to the recent midnight raids. Monty “had just settled down with a cigar and a book in an old sweater, when the alert was sounded.”

I room on the fifth floor and that isn’t considered very healthy in such times—the cellar being preferred—so…I sauntered down to the cellar after a while there with all the other occupants of the hotel. I decided it wasn’t much place to stay so got my book again and came over here to the Y.M.C.A. Officer’s hotel across the street where I read in more or less peace until eleven o’clock when I went on to bed being very sleepy, though the anti-aircraft barrage was still going and an occasional bomb coming down.

“Friday night one bomb hit about 400 yards down from my hotel and it was some bomb. I was down there about half an hour afterwards and there was a taxi down in the bottom of it (the hole), having run in shortly after the hole was made. Both times the raid ran on until a little after midnight which interferes a bit with one’s time of going to bed.”

“it was quite a surprise to find Mr. Baker was over here but am glad he came as there’s nothing like seeing the situation over here in order to really understand it.”

He describes a newsy letter from Kate postmarked January 27, received within the past week, and a note from Annie Covington who sent him a muffler and there was his mother’s letter of January 16. “Am looking for a letter any day addressed direct to me” since everything up to this point has been forwarded from elsewhere. “[L]etters so addressed should reach me in a shorter time….”

Monty then addresses the increasingly spring like weather noting “tonight the air had the first real softness of spring” and he thinks Paris will be “even more worth seeing than usual in a month or six weeks when all of the trees are in leaf. At that I’d swap it any time to see South Carolina again about this time.”

Transcription:

 

March 13, 1918

A.P.O. 702

Dear Mother –

Didn’t get to write my usual letter Sunday as was busy all morning in my office – my usual time for writing – and the afternoon was so fine that I spent it in the open – Sunday afternoon being the only one when I have any chance to get around for some exercise.

We’ve had several things of interest in the last week, chiefly the two Bosche air raids, one Friday [March 8] and one Monday night [March 11] the latter coming on Secretary [of War Newton D.] Baker‘s first night in Paris, perhaps to show him what they could do. Both times they came early, about 9 o’clock, as against 12 [o’clock] Jan. 30th. Monday they interfered seriously with my intention of spending a quiet evening in my room. Had just settled down with a cigar and a book in an old sweater, when the alert was sounded. I room on the fifth floor and that isn’t considered very healthy in such times – the cellar being preferred – so I put on my blouse and sauntered down to the cellar. After a while there with all the other occupants of the hotel I decided it wasn’t much place to stay so got my book again and came over here to the YMCA Officer’s hotel across the street where I read in more or less peace until 11 o’clock when I went on to bed being very sleepy, though the anti-aircraft barrage was still going and occasional bombs coming down. By the time I write you’ve probably read an account of both in the papers at home so there’s nothing to add to these reports about the small damage done. Friday night one bomb hit about 400 yards down from my hotel and it was some bomb. I was down there about half an hour afterwards and there was a taxi down in the bottom of it (the hole) having run in shortly after the hole was made. Both times the raid ran on until a little after midnight which interferes a bit with one’s time of going to bed.

It was quite a surprise to find Mr. Baker was over here but am glad he came as there’s nothing like seeing the situation over here in order to really understand it.

Last week I had a very newsy letter from Kate of Jan. 27th and also one from you about Jan. 16th enclosing a note from Annie Covington. My regards again to Annie for both the muffler and the note. Am looking for a letter any day addressed direct to me at A.P.O. 702 and any letters so addressed should reach me in a shorter time than heretofore.

The weather has been great the past week, fine every day though an overcast continues to feel good in my migrations around in a machine. Have seen bits of green showing on the trees in the several places and, as I came it up from the office tonight the air had the first real softness of spring. Imagine this Paris is going to be more worth seeing than usual in a month or six weeks when all the trees are in leaf. At that I’d swap it any time to see South Carolina again about this time.

Hope you are all continuing well and that Kenley is progressing with his work. Wish you’d send me his letters or a copy of them.

 

Love to all,

Carl

 

O.K.

Thomas C. Montgomery

2nd Lt Inf. U.S.R.