Trumbull – Friends, Roamers and Countrymen (2) – From Jackson to a French Coastal City – September 10, 1944

 

Marian Irwin

Marian Dunlap Irwin

And now some late news from Marian. “Practically a week since I’ve been here in the fair city of Jackson – – and high time that I got a letter written to you. On the last day of our trip we had tire trouble – – not too bad, really, and considering the roads we went over I’m surprised we didn’t have more. One of the trailer tires went out and we had to use the spare for the car, but as it was the last day of the trip I didn’t mind too much – – I was sure we could limp in for the last hundred miles and we did. We stopped by the Camp to see if we could reach the fellows by phone to tell them we had arrived safely, and while I was waiting in the Provost Marshal’s office for the message to be put through, the fellows arrived at the gate ready to go out for the evening. We really timed that meeting well and Lad, wonderful person that he is, had already found a place for me to stay, so I didn’t have any house hunting problems the very first night. We are looking now, however, for an apartment, but they are few and far between. I have plenty of time during the day, however, and if the weather were just a little cooler it would help a lot. It is awfully hot and very humid and the nights don’t cool it off at all. There are thundershowers quite frequently and they help a little. Lad’s present training set-up consists of night classes – – he is to do part of the instructing – – so I might be able to see him just on weekends. I’m waiting to see what Lad’s hours are going to be before I look for a job. It will help if I have something to do and also keep my mind off the foul weather. Two letters from Ced last week – – one written in March which failed to reach us at Pomona. He mentions a package we were supposed to have received, which we are tracing.

Daniel Beck Guion

And another letter from La France. “It is early morning in a coastal town, and I am sitting by a window of a second rate hotel near the waterfront. A dismal rain accentuates the drab grayness of the narrow street – four stories down. Most of the windows up and down the street are still shuttered tight from last night but slowly the place is becoming alive. Across the way, the door of a stenographer’s school is opened. One of the American soldiers greets the young lady who has appeared by saying, “Bon jour” in rather bad French. The girl looks up and smiles. “Cigarettes?” questions the soldier, holding up a package for her to see. She nods, still smiling. He tosses the package down. It lands in the street in front of the door. She runs out, picks it up, says “Thank you” in equally poor English, waves goodbye and disappears into the building. A few men pass by dressed in faded blue trousers and shirts, wearing dark blue berets. They are on their way to work – – perhaps to work for the Americans who have recently arrived. They seem quite oblivious of the rain as they pause in front of a shop to exchange a few words with the proprietor who is loitering in his doorway beneath a bedraggled French flag. A few more shutters are thrown open and I can see a woman shaking out the blankets of her bed. Down the street in the direction of the docks is a hotel with a gaping hole which reveals a mass of charred beams, rubble and a bed half hanging over the edge of the remaining foundation. The destruction has been wrought perhaps by the blowing up of the harbor installations, but more probably, by an American bomb before Jerry pulled out. Back up the street the woman has finished making the bed and is standing just inside the window fixing her hair. There is electricity in town but many of the houses must wait until the wires are repaired before they can have lights again. I hear above the drizzle of the rain a sudden splash on the pavement. Someone up the street has emptied a basin of water out of the window. All this I have just seen in the rain. But yesterday noon it was quite different – – the soldiers were forming a “chow” line; the street was alive with khaki, the rattling of mess kits, the voices of many children who played or watched nearby or even canvassed the line for “souvenirs”, bonbons, chewing gum, insignia, pocket knives, etc. A small girl stood near the rinsing pan, insistent that each passing soldier should permit her to dip his mess kit into the hot water and hopeful, of course, that she would be rewarded occasionally. Older folks stood in doorways looking on with amused tolerance.”

Dan         And that’s all this week. DAD

Tomorrow, a Birthday Poem written by Grandpa. Judy Guion

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Trumbull – COMMUNICATION CENTER 42928 (2) – Dan is in France – August 6, 1944

Dan-uniform (2)

Page 2       8/6/44

Did I ever tell you the story of the three divinity students at Yale, a Protestant, a Catholic and a Jew were comparing how far each might eventually get in their chosen professions. The Protestant said he could start as a curate, become rector of a large parish, advance to Archdeacon and eventually become Bishop. The Catholic snorted and said in his church after becoming a priest, Monsignor. and a Cardinal in tern he might eventually become pope, which is right next to God himself, and what could be higher than that! The Jew shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, one of our boys made it”.

And so I am pleased to report to you today that “one of our boys made it”. Dan is in France, as evidence of a v-mail letter written from “an orchard in Normandy”. “I am sitting at home in front of my tent while around me a Normandy farmer and his entire family from little Josette (who carries their cider and black bread) to le grande mere (who wields the rake) toiled to gather the hay for the winter fodder. It is a far cry from London, which city we were quite ready to leave, as you must realize. Only distant rumbling of guns keeps us from forgetting the war which seems so out of place here in the peaceful countryside. The channel crossing, although significant, was effected without incident. Our experience with the local folks thus far has been gratifying. We have been able to buy fresh eggs and cherries, which was virtually impossible in London. The people have treated us with the utmost cordiality. My French studies are bearing a bumper crop of fruit now. Please send me as soon as possible a small pocket dictionary (French – English). Also please send some soap. It is scarcer here even then it was in England”.

COMMENT: Once, long years ago, I took your mother, before we were married, to a performance of a light opera called “The Chimes of Normandy”. Little did either of us realize at that time that one day our son would be where he could hear those same chimes, perhaps peeling out the Angeles at close of day. Dan’s words recall Longfellow’s Evangeline:

          Sea fogs pitched their tents and mists from the mighty Atlantic

Looked on the happy Valley, but ne’er from this station descended

There, in the midst of its farms, reposed the Acadian village.

Strongly built were the houses, with frames of Oak and Chestnut

Such as the peasants of Normandy built in the reign of the Henry’s

Thatched were the roofs, with dormer windows; and gables projecting

Over the basement below protected and shaded the doorway

There in the tranquil evenings of summer, when brightly the sun set

Lighted the village street, and gilded the vanes on the chimneys,

Matrons and maidens sat in snow white caps and in kirtles

Scarlet and blue and green, with distaff’s spinning the golden

Flax for the gossiping looms, whose noisy shuffles within doors

Mingled their sound with the whir of the wheels and the songs of the maidens

Solemnly down the street came the parish priest, and the children

Paused in their play to kiss the hand he extended to bless them.

Then came the laborers home from the field, and serenely the sun sets

Down to his rest and twilight prevailed. Anon from the belfry,

Softly the Angelus sounded, and over the roofs of the village

Columns of pale blue smoke, like clouds of incense ascending

Rose from a hundred hearths, the homes of peace and contentment.

But to return to the practical, a box containing your French – English dictionary, which has been reposing in the bookcase here patiently awaiting your summons, together with five takes of ivory soap and a tube of lather less shaving cream which I have found be very good for a quick, shape, all packed in a box is already on its way to your new APO number.

Dan, next time you write have your secretary jot down somewhere in fine print whether or not you ever received the box of soap, toilet articles and smoking materials I sent you so long ago. I read somewhere the mosquitoes in Normandy were pretty bad. How about flies? Would you like a flyswatter for your tent? In case you run short of soap, I should think some of your lathering shaving cream would do as a substitute. Anyway, I hope the package reaches you promptly. It was mailed about August 4.

Tomorrow, I’ll post the next installment of this long letter. We’ll hear from California and Grandpa’s additional comments.

On Thursday and Friday, we will have the final sections of the letter.

Judy Guion

Observations From Normandie After D-Day – Dan Writes Home – 3 Aout., 1944

Dan-uniform (2)

Normandie, 3 Aout, 1944

Altho much of the novelty of our new surroundings has worn off, I am still impressed by the casual manner in which the people here live their lives while whole villages and towns are bludgeoned into stark masses of rubble and the roar of planes fills the sky and the endless stream of trucks, jeeps, tanks etc rumble incessantly toward the front, camouflaged in their own tattle-tale dust clouds. Norman folk carry pitifully small bundles that represent their personal possessions are crowded into the steep-sided gutters that line the narrow roads. They are people who are returning to their homes – many of which are mere spectral walls, some of which are miraculously untouched.

In odd contrast to the villages and roads, the countryside has made no compromises with the old man Mars. It is as if he set his feet down only in certain villages which lay along his path, and no evidence of his passing exists beyond the tall, thick hedgerows lining the highways. It is haying time. Fields are dotted with piles of sweet hay, with men kneeling beside them, tying the hay into neat little bundles by a dexterous twist of a strand of grass. These bundles will be fed to the horses and cattle when winter comes, later in the year, to Normandy.

War is fickle. We seem to have been projected into a countryside that scarcely admits the war is going on. I cannot help remembering the day we left London to come here – the sirens were moaning plaintively and we saw several buses laden with evacuee children. Yet here, so much closer to the front, evacuees are returning to their homes! Only at night do we hear Jerry’s planes – usually just a few scattered bomb-reconnaissance planes. We can no longer hear the guns from the front.

I have spoken to many French people since coming here, and I am gratified to know that my French classes at Richmond were thoroughly worthwhile. I have difficulty in understanding French when it is spoken rapidly but that, of course, is to be expected. The following bits of information I was able to catch from those Frenchmen who were persuaded to speak slowly:

Rations under the Germans – 2 pkgs (40 cigarettes) per person per month; 2 small pieces of crude soap per month; no chocolate or other candy. Cider is made in December. If it is made right it will keep for three years (if the Germans and the Yanks don’t get it!) From the hard cider is made “Cognac”, more properly called “calnados” from the country that manufactures it. Even more properly it might be called rot-gut apple jack by those who have the temerity to try it. Eggs are not abundant because it has been impossible to find grain for the poultry.

The German soldiers, recently here, were youngsters from 16 to 20 years old. They were largely service troops, and very poorly fed – “even the dogs would not eat their food” said one reliable source. They often became so hungry that they would munch grass! Some returned from furloughs in Germany almost in tears, with reports that their families, their homes, their friends had all been killed or destroyed in the allied air offensive. Germans visiting French homes were quite agreeable when they came along to a house, but if two or more came together they were distrustful – afraid that what they might say would be held against them by the others.

I have taken every opportunity to talk to the people, hoping to become proficient in the language while I have the opportunity. I talk to the washerwomen who come to the stream running below our camp. I speak to the farmers working in the fields near us. I speak to the children who long ago, learned to ask for “shooly goon” and “bon-bons” from every passing soldier. I visit the farms each evening and gossip with the families – reviewing the war news, asking for cider or cherries, answering questions about America (“are there many elephants there, and camels in the deserts?”) I help two charming French girls with their English lessons, patiently striving to make them pronounce the “th” without a “z” sound.

It’s a very healthful life, living out-of-doors, getting plenty of sleep, appreciating food that would have seemed unpalatable in London, enjoying every minute of this new and absorbing life. Because things here are more exotic than in England, I count this experience second only to my sojourn in Venezuela, and I thank the fates that pull the world’s strings for giving me this opportunity. Packages received here in France will be much more appreciated than they were in England because here we can buy nothing except cider, cherries and an occasional egg.  All the villages, hamlets and cities are “off limits” to all American servicemen and what rations of cigarettes, candy and toilet articles we receive are doled out meagerly by the army, free of charge and at irregular intervals with the plea that we take only what we really need.

                                      Particular requests

                   Cashmere Bouquet soap

                   Gillette’s Brushless Shaving Cream

                   Chocolate bars

                   Any 35-mm camera film (except type A Kodachrome)

                   Half and Half smoking tobacco

 

The rest of the week will be taken up with a long letter from Grandpa, with a lengthy letter from Ced in Alaska and another from Marian, Grandpa makes appropriate comments to them all. 

Judy Guion

Trumbull – Dear Sons – News From Dan – August 25, 1946

Trumbull, Conn., August 25, 1946.

Dear Sons:

Well, hay fever (or something) has caught up with me at last. In other words right now I’m feeling pretty low and such is my frame of mind at present that I’m not even enthusiastic about taking off for New Hampshire, which act I promised myself to do a long time ago as a ruse to foil my faithful little annual visitor. If I can get up ambition enough to take off this week you will hear from me next from the Lake.

Dan’s letter, which arrived this week, luckily furnishes substance for this screed, as otherwise not much in the way of interest would arise from the present state of my mind; Dan encloses two interesting snaps of Chiche (Paulette) and the baby, and writes: “It has been quite some time since I last wrote, during which time I have been to Nancy, where Chiche came to spend a week with me, and to Metz where Chiche and I found a hotel with bedbugs, to Longuyon to survey another cemetery, to Calais for the long-awaited baptism which was celebrated quite successfully, albeit somewhat less bibulous than is usual in France, to Languyon again to finish the job, to Paris and Versailles, to Calais for a week’s leave where we were alone for the better part of a week, the rest of the family being away, also on vacation, to Liege (where you found me this morning) enroute to Holland where two more cemeteries will be put on the map. Also during this long period without word from me I have decided (and abandoned the idea) to buy a Jeep. Once again we are planning to come home in the fall, but I have not yet ironed out the details. Speaking of ironing, the G.E. iron arrived, but being 1,000 watts is a little too powerful for Calaisian fuses although the voltage is O.K. I have taken three movies (8 mm) of Chiche and Arla and some of the family. Please continue to send me cigarettes. I shall be needing extra money before we sail to fill out my currency control book which keeps track of American dollars to which each American is entitled. I have credit for $500 for which I have no French francs to convert. I have several additional photos of Chiche and Arla, some in 3rd dimension color. I shall send them to you if I can pry them loose from Calais. That is all for now except we think of you all more and more — and Arla is wonderful. It’s Love. Dan”

I’ll start in sending cigarettes to you again, Dan. Probably five boxes of 10 cartons each, weekly, beginning next week. This will be a total of 500 packages in all which at $1 a pack should give you the requisite $500. Perish the thought, but if you don’t come home this fall, send me the proceeds and I’ll simply have to hop on one of these reconverted liners and visit you. Speaking of photos (and we were certainly delighted to get the two you sent) I am enclosing, with Lad and Marian’s cooperation, some recent views of our two little tykes. They continue to gain and had to have their formula increased just recently, both in quantity and strength. A card from Jean says: The Gibsons are leaving today (19th) so this will be the last mail for a few days. We are looking forward to seeing you soon. The weather has been pretty awful — not too much rain but cloudy and cold.”

Well, another Trumbull Fireman’s Carnival has passed into history. I must be getting old. I didn’t even go down there one night. It wouldn’t seem the same with Bob Peterson gone. Things are running along about the same here, except that we have been exceptionally busy at the office. I really ought not to go away and leave Dave to handle it alone but he says he likes it (bless his heart) and maybe in my present state I wouldn’t be much help anyway.

Sincerely yours,

DAD

Tomorrow, a letter from Ced and on Friday, a letter from Dave to “Mr. Guion”, (his father and my Grandpa) who finally made it to New Hampshire.

Judy Guion

Trumbull – Dear Gilbert & Sullivan (2) – News From Dan – July 14, 1946

Page 2    7/14/46

But to Dan’s letter:

From Gorron on Maine, July 4th. “Looking at the upper right-hand corner you might jump to the conclusion that I have descended on Northern New England, but such a conjecture would hardly be accurate because Gorron is located where the ancient provinces of Brittany, Normandy and Maine come together. Last week I was at St. James in Normandy, about 30 miles away. This section of France is quite rich in these lean days. It seems that farmers are rich and city dwellers are poor — a state of affairs quite at variance with normalcy. It’s all done with black-market butter and cheese and meat and potatoes and wheat, etc. You can readily see why France’s morale is considered low. One quarter of France feasts every day while three-quarters verge on malnutrition. But to see these country towns you would swear that they were poverty-stricken. Electricity and high prices are the only outward signs of modern progress. We are staying at the most chic hotel in Gorron. Each room is furnished with one electric light placed in such a position as to do the least good for any given purpose, one washbasin, two pitchers of water and a covered pail to handle all wastewater and any other byproducts that are normally destined for a bath-room or toilet in places where they are in vogue, like Paris or America. The streets are narrow, dirty and winding, with “exposed plumbing”, if you could call an inverted sewer by such a name. Running water, where it exists, is due to a combination of natural rains and gravity, such as a brook or a spring. But the food is wonderful – ample, well cooked and varied. To get a good idea of French character and conditions I suggest your reading a book called “The Last Time I Saw Paris” by Elliott Paul. (https://www.amazon.com/Last-Time-Saw-Paris/dp/1900209136) He describes his life in a section of Paris about a 10 minute walk from my hotel, just across the Seine. I live on the “rive droite” (right bank) while his Latin quarter is on the “rive gauche” (left bank). I think he captures rather well an American’s impressions of France, with such gems of description as “The ice cream was like snow over which something melancholy had been spilled.” I have enclosed two composite photos, arranged thus because brother-in-law Maurice hasn’t yet learned to subdue his headstrong camera, which delights in recording such bizarre and unexpected items as chamber pots, headless bodies and light streaks. Mail and packages are slow in arriving. Just before I left for Normandy the bottles arrived, the movie camera, shirts, etc., are still en route. Incidentally, insurance of parcels is useless after the package leaves New York. The only safeguard is registered mail. Anything can be registered — postcards to pianos. However, I have heard no further reports of postal thefts and I presume it is safe to send most items by ordinary means. Expensive things should be registered on general principles. It has been nearly two weeks since I left Calais. It is the longest period of absence since Arla came to make life wonderful and I am hopelessly eager to get back. Mail service (French) to this rustic corner of France is frightful. It takes about three days for a letter to travel about 300 miles. Consequently, during two weeks I have received two letters from Chiche, although she writes every day. The situation is aggravated because I moved from the St. James address before French postal efficiency had succeeded in delivering a letter written five days earlier. (The post office is closed on Sunday, of course). Today should be glorious, being the Fourth of July, but we plan to work as on any other day, then take time off later when we can put it to better advantage. I’m leaving for Paris Friday night. Will be in Calais Sat. eve.   Dan”

Tomorrow, Grandpa’s reply to Dan and other news of friends and Trumbull happenings. The rest of the week will include another letter from Grandpa and one from Ced, with a unique take on the birth of his niece and nephew.

Judy Guion

Trumbull – Dear Off Spring (1) – News From Dan – March 3, 1946

 

Trumbull, Conn., March 3, 1946.

Dear Off Spring:

What more appropriate salutation could be found for the first letter to you in the month of March — the windy month (no reflection intended on the character of your letters, nor mine, I hope).

Here’s a letter dated Feb. 17th from Metz (where Dan is working): This is to introduce one Mr. Loveridge, a punching bag artist from Bridgeport. By a quirk of destiny I met him at the breakfast table of the officers mess this A.M. He is with Camp Shows, playing the Army camps with a troop of entertainers. He knows Mackenzie well and several others from Trumbull. He has promised to look you up as soon as he gets back — probably about the middle of April. His wife may call you on the phone even sooner. It was rather a pleasant encounter for me since I am living a hermit’s life where mail is concerned. My brief visits to Versailles and my long absences on field trips keep me well behind on news from home. Last letter received was dated Jan. 13th and I cannot hope to get another until I get back to Versailles about the 22nd of Feb. Chiche, who suffers in some measure the same antipathy as Dick toward the use of mail service, has failed to keep me posted on news from Calais, except a telegram which informed me that I have suddenly become twice and uncle. Renée, her sister, has given birth to twins – a boy and a girl. I hope that having twins does not “run in the family”. This section of France doesn’t seem too completely modern. There is a town through which we pass each day (we commute to St. Avold from Metz) that is distinguished by its manure piles, stacked in the front “yard”, practically in the street. On chilly mornings steam rises into the air on both sides of the road. It is said that a man’s affluence may be judged by the size of the manure pile outside his front door. It is quite possible however that the horses have separate living quarters in the homes. People speak half German and half French around here. Some of the land records, originally in German, were changed into French after the last war and back into German by the Nazis. Now, I suppose, they will revert to French. And I am looking forward to the day when I will “revert” to America. Love, Dan.

And  now for the inevitable comments. On Feb. 26th, the very morning your letter arrived, Mrs. Loveridge did call me up, saying she had just received a letter from her husband telling of meeting you. From what she says he is sort of an “Ernie Pyle”, gets a great kick out of being “one of the boys”, likes to have them call him “Pop” and tell him all their troubles. She talked about 20 minutes. The checks you enumerated have all been received and credited to your account, so you may now feel doubly free to use your U.S. purchasing agent without stint. As for the twins idea, I wouldn’t feel too sure you are immune because on my mother’s side of the family there were also twins, she having had two uncles Isaac and Jacob, who resembled one another so much even their own mother had difficulty in telling them apart. I am glad home still looks good to you because, while I can be reconciled to the fact that you must stay overseas a few months longer, it would be very difficult to have you become “acclimated” and decide to make France your home. In fact my whole life is psychologically in a state of suspension as it were, sort of passively waiting for the day when you and Dave, and appurtenances thereto, shall have completed your obligations to Uncle Sam and are free to come back to Papa.

The rest of the week will be filled with the rest of this letter – all five pages of it.

Judy Guion

Trumbull – Dear Chillun (2) – News From Dan and Paulette – December, 1945

Page 2    12/16/45

And now for the distant ones. Just as we are beginning to wonder when will hear from busy Dan again, out pops a letter, usually short, with a promise to write again later and give us the lowdown. The last one from Aix, France, dated Nov. 30th, says: “I’ve seen So. France at last. We drove through freezing fog from Versailles to Dijon two days ago and from Dijon to Marseilles (via Lyon and Aix) yesterday. We are staying in a first-rate hotel where thermal springs furnish hot water that put patent medicines to shame – – isn’t anything they won’t cure. I’ve been on the go since I popped up to Calais last Sat., and I am still fatigued, so I’ll tack on my latest order from S.R. (Sears Roebuck) and sign off until another evening when I intend to tell you more about what I have seen and done since renouncing the Army, God bless its impoverished soul!”

O. K., Dan, old Benedict, thy orders shalt have my earnest attention; in fact, Sears already have the latest one you sent, and if they maintain their usual ration you will in due time receive about 50% of the items therein listed, but unless you are receiving better service in package deliveries than usual, it will probably be 1946 before they finally reach you. Meantime I will be interested if any of the packages containing your T-shirts have arrived yet.

But that’s not the only news from France. Daughter Paulette has written another welcome letter (ably translated by Dan). She says: “You see, Dad, not yet do I write you in English. I don’t dare. I am not yet good enough in English. Life here in Calais is not very gay but the merchants are beginning to regain their courage. Houses are being rebuilt, but the food problem is always the same, which isn’t saying much. Here at home my two brothers are continuing their studies. They like Dan and everybody else also finds him charming, and now with his officer’s uniform he looks stunning. How disappointed you must have been to know we could not be in Trumbull before next year. I should have liked very much to have joined you sooner but unfortunately our good intentions proved futile, and while I am upset to have kept your son from you, your patience will be rewarded by the fact that we shall be three instead of two. It is such a wonderful happiness for Dan and me, and here at home there is much joy also. The arrival of baby is the constant topic. He will be like a tiny king. We still have the bassinet which belonged to my youngest brother. When I speak of my baby it is always in the masculine because I believe it will be a little boy. I hope so much that he will resemble his Papa. Is Alfred still in Trumbull? I am impatient to meet all my brothers and sisters. And Dave, have you news of him?”

Tomorrow, the conclusion to this letter. On Friday, two Christmas cards for Ced.

On Saturday and Sunday, more Special Pictures.

Judy Guion