104th Aero Squadron,
Well there isn’t any startling news to tell this time. We have heard a few things since I sent the cable to you on Tuesday, but I won’t mention them because in the first place I don’t believe them, and in the second I don’t want to raise your hopes in vain. If I can get to a cable office to let you know when I sail I will send you word, but if I can’t do that then you will, I hope, be surprised to receive a telegram from the States saying that I have landed safely.
Things are just as dead around here as ever. There has been no special excitement since my last attempt at a letter. The weather has been trying hard to behave, but has made only a partial success of it. Today started out beautifully and with bright sunshine, now it is raining and in a few more minutes the sun will probably come out again. But that is sort of a change to have a chance to cuss the weather for being uncertain. Up to the time we came down here the weather was all the same, rain and more rain. We always thot that the town of Belrain was correctly named because we had nothing but rain while we were there.
This letter is not an example of good typewriting, but that is because first this machine skips and then it piles up three or more letters in one place, but if you can read it I should worry and if you can’t, you aren’t missing much.
Monday Lieut. Waters and I went to Bordeaux and managed to kill the day very nicely, which after all was what we went to do. We leave here at 11:22 and get to Bordeaux just in time to have lunch at a very nice little restaurant that I discovered on my trip there in June. Then we stroll around and see the sights which are mostly few and far between. Then about 3:30 we settle down on the sidewalk in front of the Café Bordeaux with a glass of beer and proceed to watch the crowd go by till time for the 5:00 or 5:44, either of which gets us home in time for dinner at 7:00. It is rather a pleasant diversion and breaks the monotony of sitting around here all the time. Hope you are all well and enjoying good health as I am.
Lots of love to all,
104th Aero Squadron
Well we reached here Okeh on the 14th. The weather was bad so we didn’t fly down. Capt. Reynolds came down ahead in his car and I came along with the truck train. We didn’t leave Belrain till about 2:00 o’clock, stopped at Bar-le-Duc for some lunch and at Vaucouleurs for dinner and reached camp at eight-thirty. Not at all bad time, for we spent fully 2 ¼ hours at Bar-le-Duc and Vaucouleurs. We had a bunch of one-ton G.M.C. trucks which accounts for our speed, but at that they carried nearer two tons than one.
We are well situated here, but in typical military quarters. However, for once, the squadron is all in a bunch. We have a building for headquarters, dining room (?) and kitchen being in the back end. Then come two buildings for the men which gives them ample room, and space at one end for lounging, etc. About fifteen to twenty feet away is our building, same as the others only divided into nice large room by corrugated iron partitions. In the front part of the building is a loafing place about 20x30 with a large stove. George Clark and I live together. Inasmuch as the partitions don’t come to the roof we put a ceiling on our chamber and tar paper on the floor to cut out drafts. We have a small Boche stove which throws a heap of heat and we burn coal, the first I’ve seen since last May. The buildings are all new, never before occupied, in fact just completed, so they are perfectly sanitary.
We still have our mess dishes, etc., also our good cooks and the rest of our mess personnel. We eat at the same place as the men only at different hours, breakfast at 9, lunch at 1, dinner at 6:30, and even tho we are all anxious to get home, are going to be as comfortable as possible.
How long we will be around I can’t say, haven’t any idea. It is all a matter of transport, to the coast and then home. The squadron is ready to move now. We came down here with supplies, records and everything in such good shape that we could have left five minutes after we reported but things aren’t done that way, not in the Army. However we hope for luck.
Just before I left Belrain I received your letter of Dec. 16th. Yesterday, lucky day, I drew two, the family contrib. of Dec. 25th and 26th and the one of Dec. 29th. Today I am hoping for some in between the 16th & 26th.
I am glad you had such a good Christmas, I’m only sorry I wasn’t there too. Better luck next year, maybe. I am glad my cable came so nearly on time.
Thank you all for doing my Christmas shopping for me, I sure appreciate your trouble. Sis said there was some money left, please give it to Dad.
Now that we are on the money question, I don’t know if I told you that my monthly allotment stops with December. The original was only for eleven months and I don’t think it is worth while to renew it now in view of future uncertainty.
Also one of these days Dad may find some money to his credit at the Old National. I think the easiest way to wind up my Guaranty Trust account as I can’t get to Paris, is to have them send it home. I haven’t much of a balance there as I haven’t sent in any pay checks lately but have cashed the vouchers at the Q.M. At present my balance at the Guaranty Trust is a little over $140.00, it may grow larger if the rate of exchange drops any more. Then again I may write another check or so and it may be smaller before it gets to Beaver Dam. But when we leave here for the coast I’ll write them to send my balance to Dad. Then he will have something to apply on my insurance premium in March and the rest to use as he sees fit. By the way please pay my Masonic dues for 1919 out of that money when it comes.
Don’t worry about my stripping myself of cash. I have almost $200.00 (mostly in a Government check) with me and will collect about $218.00 more at the end of this month for I can still collect flying pay this month, tho this is the last in France, unless something happens. It is going to be a little hard to come home and drop from $225.00 to base pay ($166.67). I naturally lose the 10% (16.67) for foreign service and until I get back to work in the States I can’t draw the extra 25% for flying.
If the state of my finances allows, when I get home I’d like to contribute a new boat for Sunnyslope. We will talk it over then. I may collect all or part of that $280.00 back pay before then, hope so.
I sure was tickled with that Dec. 25th and 26th collection of letters. It was like talking to each of you separately. It came as a surprise, for I didn’t look for it so soon.
Did you ever get the little book “Yanks”? It was to come thru Stars and Stripes. How about “Dad’s Christmas Letter”, did that come on time?
No chance for travels now. Anyway I’m satisfied. I’ve seen all I want to see of war-time France. I’ll be back in a few years, maybe, but not until I’ve seen all of America. Wait till you see my map of France with all my trips marked on it, “some bum”, you’ll say.
I’m sorry to hear about Mr. Sharkey, for he surely was a good man. His family will miss him.
Must stop now or you’ll be tired out with this letter. Lots of love to all,
The images above showcase Mortimer's current stationary. Note the 104th Aero Squadron insignia featuring a silver sphinx with blue background.
104th Aero Squadron,
American E.F., France,
It’s a long time since I tried to write anything on the typewriter, so I think that I’ll take this opportunity of getting a little practice. Not that I have anything at all to write; quite the contrary, but a little try won’t hurt anyway. I know that you won’t throw this out of the door without first opening it and seeing what it contains.
Well I am all ready for the Christmas celebration to come and do its worst, for my Christmas box came yesterday afternoon. It has been a rather hard struggle not to open it, but now that the first victory is won I imagine that I can hold out until “D” Day at “H” Hour. The box came thru in perfect condition and seemingly without a scratch. Will tell you what I think of the contents when I have made a careful inspection of the same. But I will warn you now, in advance, that if it contains any such useful articles as socks, mufflers, sweaters, wristlets, helmets, or anything on that order, there is going to be one big holler which you will hear without straining your ears in the least. I feel perfectly safe in saying the above, for the weight of the package eliminates any chance for such articles.
This morning I sent you a Christmas cable in which I mentioned the arrival of the box, for I know you will wonder if it reached me. I hope the cable reaches you in time, but on account of the many which will no doubt be sent, I am afraid it won’t get there as promptly as it should.
Since I last wrote I have received your letters of November 24th and 27th. Just at present they are down at my billet and for the life of me I can’t remember anything in them which I particularly ought to answer. I will look them over when I go down and may add to this what I find. But at any rate I will catch it in my next.
There isn’t anything startling new here. We are under orders to turn in our equipment prior to demobilization, but that probably won’t begin for some days. Then we will no doubt go to some concentration camp (hope it is in Southern France) and wait until the transport is available for us. It is barely possible that some of us may be detached from the outfit and kept over here, but the way looks pretty clear now to avoid any of that.
Several of your letters have mentioned Sister’s typewriter and how constantly she used it. As yet I have to learn where it came from, what make it is, what she intends to do with it, how and why she got it and in fact a detailed explanation of the whole affair. But I suppose that the information will be in one of you earlier letters which has not yet reached me.
We are planning to make our own Christmas, as well as the enlisted men’s, a real huge one. For ourselves we are going to have a jazz band (colored) and possibly some American nurses or telephone girls to liven things up a bit. Will report on the day when it is safely over. There are only two things which the A.E.F. can add to make the day any happier for me. One of these may come thru, but I think the other is hopelessly buried. The buried one is my promotion to Captain, there isn’t the slightest of that coming now. The other may never come either, so I won’t tell you about it, for I want to surprise you, but I think it is fairly certain to come sooner or later, if not before Christmas.
Lots of love to all,
For their Christmas celebration, Mortimer mentions a desire to hire a jazz band. For more on jazz during World War I, click here.
Yes I’m back at the squadron, returned last night after three days in Nancy where I had a really good time. Found a bunch of mail piled up here among them your letters of Oct. 24, 27, 29, 31, Nov. 1, 3, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15 and 21. Some welcome and who said Friday the 13th wasn’t my lucky day? That’s the day I enlisted also the day on which I had my first crash in an aeroplane. But I came out of those things rather lucky, didn’t I? There isn’t any excitement here, except that we are all on our toes to get home. We are sure it is coming soon but not before the first of the year.
By the way, please pay my Masonic dues for 1919. I have a receipt for dues to Dec. 31st 1918, so am all paid up to the first of the year.
Had a letter from Steve Clark who told me how much Mrs. Clark had enjoyed some flowers sent her by you during her attack of “Flu.” Hope none of you have had the “Flu” as it sure is nasty.
All of our flying clothes have been furnished by the Government and we will have to turn them in before we leave. I have a $100.00 Leather Coat (reaches to my knees) with which I hate to part, but I guess I’ll have to. The other things are an ordinary denim combination (like overall union suit except for straps at the ankles and wrists and a tight collar), a fur-lined teddy bear with a big fur collar and electric heating wires ($85.00), a fur-lined, knee length coat with fur collar ($125.00), a fur-lined helmet and face mask for extra cold weather ($30.00), fur-lined boots to wear over my other shoes in cold weather ($25.00), big heavy fur and fur-lined gloves ($20.00), ordinary wool-lined one finger mittens ($10.00), goggles ($8.00) a sweater, brown, big and heavy ($7.00). Besides I have a special helmet with phone receivers built in, for my plane is equipped with a telephone between pilot and observer while most planes have only a speaking tube, which works pretty well, but the phones are better. My rubber hip boots are Govt property also. All this stuff must be turned in. I’d hate to have to pay for that $500.00 worth of stuff and it takes an awful lot of room to carry also. I also had a steel helmet and a gas mask to use when I went up to see the Artillery and Infantry. Always took the gas mask along in the plane, too, in case of forced landings at the lines.
So Bill is still up to his old tricks, coming home early when he shouldn’t.
Guess I won’t know the house when I get home, you’ll be so swell. I agree with Bill about the marble-topped table. (Hard on Huz & Bus tho)
I’m sorry to report that Lieut. French’s pup is no more. Poor little fellow was sick, so French took him to Paris to a Hospital where he died. He sure was a cute little pup.
Yes we travel rather fast 100 to 115 miles per hour, depending on our altitude. The higher the faster, due to lessened air resistance.
Have had lots of magazines lately, two Metro’s, a Red Book, Cosmo, 2 McClure’s and a Saturday Post, also many Cits. Thank you for sending them so regularly, I sure do enjoy them. The gum came O.K. Guess you’d better not send any more magazines for they probably won’t reach me. Please save them, then if I am stuck here I can let you know. Please keep up my subscription to the Cosmo.
I enjoyed the postals of the Fair very much. (Some crowd.)
That 1919 party at the Lake is sure coming off, according to present indications at least.
I’m glad the Christmas money came to Father O.K. I thot [sp] that would be the best way to handle the situation because since Aug. I haven’t had a chance to buy a thing that is decent. Even Nancy has no real good shops.
Your letters have all reached me too late to let me O.K. your suggestions but they are all just dandy and I can’t tell you how I appreciate all your trouble.
You probably haven’t seen anything in the papers about 104 because we haven’t tried to advertise but have just done our work in the best possible way under the conditions. We have been cited twice in orders and have an enviable reputation. The Group Commander told me not long ago that for the last few weeks of the scrap we were considered by the Chief of Air Service, 1st Army, to be the best and most constantly available squadron on the front.
Am trying to have some pins made of our squadron insignia, a flying Sphinx painted on each of our planes, for Sis and Ruth to wear, also Mother if she wants to.
So Melitta is in Lawton. That is some bum town.
I sure am sorry for Ambrose McGill. I can almost appreciate his feelings. Gee I’m glad I had sense and “guts” enough to enlist when I did. You are too, aren’t you, tho [sp] it was rather hard on you at first, I know.
I’m afraid I’ll never see Elmer Geittmann [sp?]. He is at Tours, by his address – that is way out of it. But you never can tell.
I’m glad Mrs. Douglass has had a chance to show what she can do, for she sure is a good one. I think it is mighty fine of Mrs. Pabst, who is so well able, to do so much for the boys. The people at home sure have backed us up in great style after they once got started.
As yet I haven’t been near a place where I was sure I could get a good photo. Most of the French ones are punk, make you look like a corpse, etc, but I want to stop in N.Y.C. long enough to have some real American ones made.
You must have had some peace celebration on Nov. 7th. I can’t understand it, for over here there weren’t any really wild rumors on that day.
I enjoyed the “Badger” letter. Thank you for sending it. Please write to the Badger Edition, or rather General Manager and ask him to save a copy for me, as I may not be home in time to get it.
I was disappointed to learn from your letter of Nov. 21st that you had not yet received my cable. I sent it just as soon as I could get someone to take it to a French P.O. – it went the 13th or 14th I think. But I suppose there were thousands sent.
Had a wonderful time in Nancy and the rest did me lots of good, for I have been working even harder the last month than before, tho it isn’t such strenuous and nervous work. I went over to Metz for a few hours one day.
Had lots of fun swimming at Nancy. They have an enormous pool into which there is a continuous stream of naturally hot sulphur [sp] water and it keeps the pool just comfortably warm. It is like swimming in salt water to a certain extent. The building, too, is heated by the hot water. Met quite a few friends and altogether enjoyed myself immensely but the three days (plus two more for travel) cost me almost $100.00 besides $55.00 for a new uniform which I needed badly. Still I don’t regret a cent for it was my first vacation in four months and my first real leave since I joined the Army.
Please excuse the pencil but my pen went dry and I didn’t have any decent ink handy.
Lots of love to all,
In this letter home, Mortimer clearly lists many of the objects issued to him while serving as an Aerial Observer. Interestingly, he also details their individual cost as well as some information on their usage. Unfortunately, at least from the standpoint of historic preservation, Mortimer was forced to return all or nearly all of these objects or face very prohibitive costs. Here we begin to understand why the Lawrence Collection does not contain more objects from Mortimer's service during World War I.
Well here we are, at another new field. We moved here on Friday, that is the officers and planes did. The rest of the squadron came on Saturday.
We are at a place called Belrain, 15 kilometers N.E. of Bar-le-Duc. We have the best flying field since we left Luxeuil. There are 3 squadrons here, 90, 99, & 104. The enlisted men all live at the field and the officers of 90 and 99 live out there. We of 104 are billetted in the village of Belrain, about one kilometer from the field. So far things aren’t really settled yet, but I expect we will be quite comfortable.
We, of course, know nothing of how long we will be here, but I sure hope it won’t be more than a month or so, for I want to go back to the States. However, that will all come in due course, for there can’t be much to keep up over here at the rate things are being settled.
Yesterday I received the copies of Colliers with the first four Letters from the Air. That fellow was with the French, either at schools or with a squadron when he wrote that dope and their censorship rules are practically nil. You may have noticed that none of those letters was written from Cazaux where he was under American control.
I also received the Citizens from Oct. 14 to 19.
By the way I have received official credit for the Boche I brought down on November 10th.
Have been pretty busy lately, getting things lined up, and we are not all set yet.
Am well and fit. Hope you are all O.K.
Love to all,
104th Aero Squadron,
Mortimer's latest letter home seeks to update his parents on his current whereabouts and overall status now that Armistice has gone into effect. However, as Mortimer points out, he--like thousands of other American soldiers--are largely unsure of their role in Europe now that the conflict is at an end. For more on the peace process and Armistice, and the American role in Europe, click here.