July 31, 1917

Dear Ma:-

At post, as usual, and with lots of time on my hands, so I will narrate a few of the latest happenings. About six days ago, the town where we have our cantonment was shelled, but not much damage done. The Bosche used pretty big shells and tore up the earth pretty well, but they only destroyed very little - broke one rail of the railroad track. The Frenchmen said they were at least 240's (240 millimeters). They only fired about ten shots, but the military head of the village ordered all civilians to leave the town. Perhaps we would have gotten more, but I heard it said that a number of Bosche military orders have been captured lately, and they all emphasize the necessity for economy in shells.

The night before I came out here, I woke up and everyone was rushing to the windows. I stood up in a vacant one and saw half the sky all lit up. Someone said there had just been a big flash like a huge explosion, but just when we were beginning to think it might only be a village on fire, or a house, there was a tremendous rumble and the air pushed two of us right in to the rooms from the window sills. Then we went up on a hill near the cantonment, and saw that it was some sort of a munitions depot on fire about four miles away. We watched some little explosions, and saw the fire sort of rise and fall. Then all of a sudden, a huge cloud of smoke rose and grew like an enormous mushroom. From the base, we could see shells and things thrown up and exploding in the air like a Fourth of July mine. In some seconds, the sound arrived and the air had that same sort of pressure without wind. Then the fire got low and we went to bed.

I came out here on the 28th, and it happened that that night the Bosche and French had some fairly large patrolling parties out and they met. Eight Frenchmen were killed and 10 Bosche taken prisoners. Of course, some men were wounded, and it happened that they were brought to the posts de secours of this and one other poste de'evacuation. I made a trip at 10 and got back to bed about 12:15. The other car here made a trip at 12:30 and had to wait at post until 3:30 for the Blesses. I went out again at three and worked till six. That night Eckley (the other boy) and I surely did enjoy the coffee in the thermos, the bouillon cubes and a box of sardines. It happens that there is a little fireplace and a coffee pot here, so we can get hot water when we want it. Now I must go to lunch, but I will continue later.

- - - -

The staff car has just come around with mail, and I find two letters from you and one from Dad and Betty.

I thought I had written that every fifth week the French line misses a trip, as there are only four boats, and it takes five weeks for a round trip. However, if you mail them, they come automatically via England. We get a great deal of mail that way. I wouldn't send things via ambulance boys, as many of those packages never get to their destinations, it seems. We heard a rumor that the Chicago had been sunk. Is that so?

I was greatly amused when you said that you were sending soda mints for digestion, for two reasons. First, we are a sanitary section and medicines are always available; and, secondly, I have had what we all call "trots" (I can't remember the correct English name) for nine days, but am cured now with some Poilus medicine I took last night. A boy came out yesterday and found me cutting wood and doing odd jobs, and he said: "I should think you would be as weak as a puppy after nine days like that", but I am not. I am fine and merely subject to what all the Poilus and everyone eating army food get occasionally.

My funds are 0. K. - still have 400 and a few francs in the bank. I spend about 50 francs in four weeks out here only.

By the way, before I answer the next letter, I might say that Charley Bayly, the sous-chef, just came in the staff car and said that the medicine principal had telephoned congratulations to the section for the work that we did in the little fray that I mentioned in the first part of this note.

I am glad to hear that Brad is going into aviation. Lots of the boys here are contemplating it as soon as their term is up in the ambulance. Here the age limit is 16 years and the examinations aren't so rigid as in the States because there are far less men to choose from. Besides, the boys figure that the French have 3 years experience behind them, and also they have very good machines, officers, system of training and there is more opportunity of rising or getting transferred to the American Flying Corps with a commission.

The malted milk you sent has been wonderful. The boy who is here with me is Harvard '18, and we happened to be talking of Cambridge. It was about 9:30 last night and we were watching it rain and waiting for an expected call when he said: "What wouldn't I give for a malted milk at the college Pharmacy?" I didn't say anything, but poured a white powder in a cup and added some hot water from the fire and said: "there you are". That is only one instance, but I have had them in the afternoon, between 10 A. M. lunch and 5 -P. M. supper, and also about 9:30 at night, as all we get between those meals is a cup of coffee at 5 - 6 A. M., if we want to get up that early.

This morning I was lucky enough to get a couple of eggs, which I fried, and with coffee, malted milk, sugar and condensed milk (which by the way is supplied by the section) and bread with some jam that Shaw had, we made quite a meal.

Don't worry about me standing up against the roughness of it. I love it, but as a sergeant told me last night, every man in the French army is subject to disorders and gets them, too, when he eats certain army food the first time. I know, though, you will worry over my case, but please don't. Here everyone laughs at it. So do I, and why not? It's nothing serious. Now I am going to prepare afternoon tea. Many thanks for all the things.

Harvey.

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