One of my New Year’s resolutions for this year was to close out my storage unit. The monthly fee could definitely be put to more productive use than to store plastic totes of papers and objects wrapped in tissue paper and the only thing standing in my way was the utter lack of storage space at home. I started in March by bringing home each new box only after dispersing (or disposing of) the contents of the previous haul, but the year is closing out and suddenly I have a pile of The Great Historical Unknown in the living room. It doesn’t help that the oldest material was at the back of the locker, and by old I mean that’s where the Civil War era spectacles and cigar boxes of cut-throat razors are hanging out.
One box in the latest batch is packed with old papers – a 3 x 4 foot plastic vault of WWII ration books, blueprints, site surveys of farm buildings, order pads from the dairy, inventories of carriages and repair records, and, tucked away in a very worn copy of Walt Whitman poems, a letter home from my grandfather when he was an 24 year-old infantryman billeted in a French shack with 20 other men and an old iron stove.
The letter is on lined paper worn tissue-thin with age and written in blunt pencil. Parts are illegible but most of the script has survived the last century remarkably intact. His C.O. has scrawled “OK” on the last page in ink, presumably approving it for mailing. I’ve transcribed what I could below. Pvt. Raymond Harrison Barnard survived the war and married my grandmother in 1926; my mother was born in ’28. He died on his farm in Bloomfield, Connecticut in 1947.
November 17, 1918 Dear Folks:
It is almost ten days since I wrote you last. We have been billeted here in the woods six days. The first two days I was too cold to write since then we have drilled four days till dark. Winter’s coming on now and we have to keep moving while out of doors to keep warm. There are about 20 of us in this hut. There are no windows so that we leave the door open for light. We have installed an old stove like the one in the <old?> house but it has no place to set a kettle on it so we can’t cook. The floor was awfully muddy when we arrived but we have had some fine weather which has done well to dry it up.
Last Thursday (I think it was) I heard the bells of the nearby villages ringing for a long time and we figured out that the armistice was signed. I look forward with great hope. M. I would be surprised to get home in three months if we don’t have to go somewhere to do guard duty. We shall doubtless move from here soon.(We had a bath 3 days ago and are to be paid today!) I do not know what is to become of us. The company is being reorganized (we have more replacements) but I hope to stay with them just the same. I am willing to do my part. Have been with the company now nearly 5 weeks and have received no mail yet. I hope you hear from me more frequently than that. If we are not to be sent home till spring I hope we will move to some town where we can have warm billets. This isn’t so cold here but all the shacks are sort of open work. We may go to Germany to do guard duty.
We have better bunks here and I have got so much regular sleep. I feel much better and that bad cold in my lungs is gone. The 3rd day out of the trenches we stayed in a small town called Francourt. I and a fellow named Montgomery went to the river and took a bath. The water was ice cold but we pretty near rid ourselves of the cooties. We marched up here as a reserve division. I get if the Germans hadn’t signed the armistice we would have made a smashing drive right thru this sector.
Today is Sunday and we are not working so we have all washed and shaved and taken turns at getting wood for our stove. We stayed one night and part of a day in a town on our way here and I bought me a knife, pipe, h’d’k’f’s, soap, matches, etc. We have had manouvers twice since arriving here and yesterday afternoon we had a regimental review. We are all longing to be home. The war is finished and we are not needed over here much longer. Yesterday as we came back up the hill with our carts and guns a Frenchman passed us on a horse. He said “Now this war is finished and you won’t need them again.” Let us hope that is all true.
The new Srgt that just came up said that all along the line the French were drinking wine and ringing the bells like everything. I’ll bet I will ring a few bells when I get home. Door bells at least. We had a fine Lieut in command of our Platoon. His name was Gregg. His home was in or near St. Louis. I asked him if he knew any people named Filley. He said yes. My pal Dwight Filley was killed at Chateau Thierry. He was a fine Lieut. He was sent to a school and I have since been put in another platoon. The Lieut Commanding my new platoon comes from the batallion with which I trained at Salle-sur-Cher.The boys fixed our stove pipe so that the stove doesn’t smoke so bad. When I get home I guess I will go up to the Wilcox lot and put up a shack there. I keep imagining what I will do when I get home. We will all get together soon. I haven’t heard from Ray Watkins since I left Salle. I suppose you may hear from him through his mother. I’ll bet there are a good many fellows in the new draft who are glad the war is finished. Well, you will hear from me again soon.
Love to all,
Pvt. Raymond H. Barnard, MG. Co. 140 U.S. Infantry
OK. 2nd Lt. ? Herman A Huston