August 3, 1924.
Dear Papa and Mama:
Our last letter from you was dated July 12 but I imagine one or perhaps two will be waiting for us when we arrive at Lucenere at 23:40 tomorrow evening. Each place we visit seems totally different from everything else we have seen. I wrote after our visit at Waterloo. The next day we were especially fortunate in witnessing a Civil service of marriage among people of high degree. While we were in the City Hall where all marriages in Belgium must first be celebrated (not all in Brussels but all in the City Halls of the various places) officials began to come in uniform and ur guide found there was to be a wedding + arranged for us to be admitted. Saturday is the day for them but these people had a special arranged permit. Soon the Brugemaster himself came in to perform the ceremony. This is the same Brugemaster who was imprisoned by the Germans for three years for causing little annoyances, such as once being ordered to take down the flag of Belgium from the City Hall cutting down the flag staff also, so the German flag could not be put up etc. After the war he was re-elected by Brugemaster. The bride beautifully dressed with long viel and train trimmed with ermine fur and all her attendants came in. The bride enters and leaves with her father in law, the froom with the mother in law. After the civil service they usually have a religious ceremony at the church. We did not learn who they were but were glad to have been present. These last two days have been among quite different tho. Yesterday we visited Verdun and the Trench of the Bayonets. We have been in the scenes of the War all the time. In nearly many places we have seen the trenches and dug outs, in others we have seen the fresh ground which has covered these over and in others the damage has been effectively repaired but there are far more evidences of it left than I had supposed like San Francisco after the earthquake. Every where people are busy rebuilding. Every where there are quantities of new houses sometimes whole new villages. On these two days we have driven by automobile about two hundred miles. We have been in the trenches (German, French, American) have seen the German officer quarters -- usually dug-outs of concrete. We have been in the first aid hospitals dug in the safest places in the ground. We have been in any number of destroyed churches, the big cathedral at Verdun with shell holes in the roof as large as a whole room. Every where along the roads we come across graves of soldiers in the midst of the fields or by the roadsides. The French marked by a white cross, the Germans by a black one. Many stand lone by themselves but every few miles are cemeteries of either all white or all black ones or mixed ones. We went into one dreadful little one chapel -- a temporary building where are row after row of coffins standing piled one on top of another, there must be several hundred of them. Candles are burning beside them all the time and a priest is there, perhaps more than one. They are raising money to build a larger mosulem to bury them in. We also went to the Trench of the Bayonets. This is really more terrible than the chapel that I just described. For here is a trench in which two hundred soldiers were caught with firing on all sides of them where the shells of the enemy plowed up the ground burying them alive. Many of the bayonets stand out above the ground supposed to be held in the hands of the dead soldiers. An American from Philadelphia has placed a concrete arch over the length of the trench as a memorial. There are many of the barb wire entanglements still on the ground and shell holes everywhere. In some places are the bare trunks of many trees killed by gas. These are being removed as fast as possible and new growth is springing up. A few years from now this will look quite different. We went through the Fort Veux, a terrible place. Of course there was lighted by electricity but now every third one of the party had to carry a candle. The cots on which the soldiers slept are still there, the hospital where surely no one could ever get well. The slits through which the carrier pigeons were sent out with their messages and the places where the pigeons were kept. The well is in the fort, which ran dry and left them four day with neither food nor water. They became so thirsty that they licked the mostures from the dampy earthen walls, for this fort is cut out entirely in the hill-side like a huge cave. At Verdun we were not allowed in the citadel as all unexploded shells have not been removed yet and it was not considered safe. Today we went to St. Michael and saw much more of the same thing. In addition we visited the third largest of the seven cemeteries in Europe where the American soldiers be buried. 4134 are buried here. This ground has been bought bought the by the U.S. and belongs to our nation. The American flag floats over it and it is as neatly and beautifully kept as any one could wish. The little white crosses (the Jews have a star instead of a cross) are in perfect regularity so in whichever direction you look there are perfectly straight lines. Thousands of trees have beens et out this year and the place is being improved right along. Unlike the French cemeteries the ground is not left bare but grassed over which makes it much more beautiful.
We go on to Stroudsburg tomorrow for half a day -- then to Lucerne. I will put in a few poppies Arthur picked in the fields and trenches today. These he says came from the American cemetery. He is enjoying himself so much.
Mr. Plimpton knows Margarite Beard well. He returned from Europe on the same steamer with her the year the war broke out and she taught with him, too. He is a very fine leader. Nothing is too much trouble for him.
I am sorry this letter is not better written. I have to write when I can get it in for we have little free time.
With much love,
It is so lovely to be having this trip