November 18, 1918, the letter home

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.

WW1 letter 1 nov-17-1918-a

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

American E.F.

OK. 2nd Lt. ? Herman A Huston

10 thoughts on “November 18, 1918, the letter home

  1. Amy, the Smithsonian has archives from a number of wars..I just uncovered a great deal of history from my step dad’s ww II experience and was steered in that direction. Oral History that can’t be replicated. Can send u links for the process if you like. ..and maybe Winton bury Historical Society? Meg Gross Howard

  2. Hi Amy, I found this very interesting. Especially because as children we never heard anything about our grandfather. We were always told it was to upsetting for grandma. I think the historical society would be very interested in this. Thanks for sharing! Beth Barnard O’Neill

  3. Very neat. As I think you know I am PR of a friend’s estate and am trying to figure out what to do with letters to high school girlfriends and such. Time passes, and our kids aren’t going to be interested in the same sort of things we are. In my mom’s house (last I knew) were College diploma’s of great grandparents. She (my mother) did genealogical research the old fashioned way and has gobs of notebooks and stuff. Things were done to her standards, and we haven’t been able to find anyone to take them. We kids have room to store a flash drive (there are no closets in our house) but not a collection of papers we might look at once in a decade.

    So your going through one box at a time makes much sense to me!

    • The storage issue is daunting! I’m grateful to modern tech for my scanner and hi-res camera so that I can share the high points, but the sheer weight of (crumbling) documents and textiles is overwhelming if I look at it too long. There’s a reason we built a house that’s only 1200 square feet.

      I have a tree on, and now this year they’ve moved to a web-based platform. I am starting to upload photos and scans there, where I can tag it to the correct people. Have you thought about doing that? It has been very handy for all the handwritten notes about births/deaths/marriages, etc. that are stuffed into every Bible in my collection. Some of them are hysterical. One says: “Royal Wilcox wed Mary ? in 1850, was she the one who owned a plantation and was killed in a steamboat accident?” At least on the web I have a chance of finding out if someone else chimes in about an ancestor who died on a steamboat on the way to her plantation.

      The tree is titled: Pollien Burnham Miller Barnard and Beyond if you want to check it out.

      Nice to hear from you!

  4. Hi: I am Mike Forader, a retired Navy Officer, and a native of Bloomfield from 1954-1972. Used to live on the house at 11 Capewell Dr, on Tunxis Ave just down the hill from the Company 3 Firehouse, where my Dad was a volunteer Fire Engine Driver. I do enjoy WWI and WWII historical tidbits. What I wanted to ask was the Lt Filley that was KIA at Chateau Thierry, was Filley Pond in downtown Bloomfield named after him??

    Best regards, Mike Forader III LCDR USNR-RET

    • Hi Mike – My maiden name is Bxxxxxxm, and I think my brothers and I used to go skating on your pond? In answer to your question, I believe the Lt. was actually Oliver Dwight Filley, 1885 – 1965 but I haven’t looked up his military records yet. I believe the Filley Pond/Park was given by his grandfather, “Captain” Oliver Filley, 1784 – 1846, who also owned LaSallette (the Filley House, or the Pinney Farm).

      Nice to hear from you!

  5. Amy

    That is an amazing letter!!! I am a lifelong Bloomfield resident who remember both families so well. Is it possible the historical society receives copies of any of your transcribed letters?. We have folders of information on many of the prominent families, including the Barnards, Watkins and Filley to name a few. Ray Jr was good friends of my parents. Thanks Mary Murray

    • Thank you, Mary! And yes, I’m corresponding with the WHS..I’ve also sent my mother’s notes on their early meetings and Raymond Harrison’s diaries from Wintonbury Farm. I hope to have a few more pieces ready for them over this winter.

  6. Hi, Amy.

    My family has a cache of letters from an uncle in World War II, and because of it I learned that various parts of the US military have their own websites and archives. I looked for the US 140 Infantry and didn’t find a website dedicated to it, but I did find a history published in 1920. Your grandfather is listed in it!

    There may be a military history site somewhere that would be interested in having your transcript and photos of the original letters, too. Here’s the history I found:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.