[Received October 30, 1917]

Christ Church College

Oxford, England

October 7, 1917

Dear Mother:

It’s been a long time since I have written, and I have been doing a lot and have a great deal to tell, but I am afraid that between my poor scholarship and the censor’s keen eye, you all will get a very meager idea of my doings.

First I will tell you that we are not going to Italy. When we left the ship our orders had been changed by authority of Gen. Pershing. We are under the very able care of the Royal Flying Corps (British) and as soon as they can make us proficient we will go to the front in France.

We are at Oxford living in the grand old dormitories of Christ Church College, just like a Rhodes scholar might. The entire town is mostly colleges. I believe there are 32 of them. A college consists of a main building or cathedral in connection with a group of dormitory buildings, library, dining hall, professors’ rooms, deans’ quarters, etc., which are arranged in a happy haphazard sort of a way forming in general, quadrangles, courts, gardens, and walks. The buildings are all very old and all the architecture looks like that of cathedrals. They are all greatly weathered and beautifully covered with ivy which has just begun to turn to its autumn colors. When we were first mustered here and assigned to quarters we were devilishly amused at the names. When the sergeant called for the men assigned to Jesus to form in a particular place we naturally laughed so much we did not realize what he was saying and when he saw no movement of the men he shouted several times “Will the men assigned to Jesus form here?” We are getting quite used to the Biblical terms now and if cheering at a boat race between the two major colleges could yell “come on Jesus, for Christ’s sake row” without feeling we were swearing a bit. (Jesus College and Christ College being the contestants).

We are all greatly tickled with the people here. They are so fascinating and different from our folks in the States, especially the way they talk and joke. The “Leftenant” in charge of Christ College cadets is a very clever fellow, probably a Scotsman, and aside from being very nice to us is awfully amusing.

We eat in a tremendous dining hall about the size of Memorial Church. It has a wonderful high peaked roof and beautiful stained glass windows. On the walls below the windows are hung a continuous row of immense portraits of dukes, bishops, cardinals, professors, kings and William Penn. Some of them were made way back before America was seen, and they are all very fine paintings. Even I think they are good. The officers eat at a long table across one end of the hall where the floor is raised about two feet, and the place as a whole is surely some dining room. It was built I believe in the 16th century. Some of the wall of the cathedral was built in the 7th century.

The kitchen is the most interesting place. It is an immense stone hall about 60 feet square, with a roof four stories up. There are three fire places, one in the center of each side. The opening is about 25 feet long. Only one is used for a fire now. The fire is made between the back fire brick wall and a vertical grate, and is about 3 feet high and 6 inches thick. All the meat is roasted on long spits in front of the fire and turned by a fan in the chimney. The roast mutton and beef cooked in this way is the best ever.

We have had opportunity to box around town—priced and looked at things of interest such as puttees, boots, uniforms, belts, etc., in the shops—visited the tea rooms, and bars, and gotten pretty well acclimated and acquainted. It was very funny to see liquor and tea served on the same tray by a charming little English maid. The bar maids here are not like American barkeeps. Don’t get alarmed. I have not been indulging as the above may sound.

The other afternoon a few of us walked down the Thames a way to a lock and then crossed back and returned by way of a little lane called the village of Iffley. The valley of the Thames is beautiful, but this little lane is the prettiest and quaintest spot I ever saw. The yards and walls and vines and flowers were beautiful. There was a cottage with a real thatched roof.

Yesterday, Fred Stillman and I took a row down the Thames in a double sculled gig. It had sliding seats, outriggers, and was almost like a racing boat. We had a bit of trouble steering about the turns but we surely did fly along and saw beautiful country, also had tea at a quaint old inn.

This afternoon Fred, Milnor and I took a bike ride up to Woodstock and visited the Castle of the Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim Park. It is a most beautiful palace. It has been raining and shining all today, as usual, and the clouds and the deep blue of the land made the coloring wonderful.

We start our regular work tomorrow. So far we have only had a bit of drill, inspection, general starting lectures, and such. Yesterday morning was the first time I have marched to music since I have been a soldier. As we marched onto the assembling field a bunch of infantry cadets were drilling, to the music of a bunch of Highland drummers and pipes. It surely was some music. We will attend lectures from 8 until 12:25 and from 4:30 until 6:45. The afternoon is supposed to be devoted to sports. I am going to try to run the mile. I went in swimming in the Thames the other afternoon with three natives. One Scotchman was surely a great character.

We see here the first results of the war. We came in very quietly, without any notice being taken by the populace. They have gotten over the rah-rah side of soldiering. The fellows being trained now are very young (19 years). All the others are at the front or have “gone west” or are in the hospital. There are lots of fellows who have been “buckered up” twice and are hobbling around doing whatever they are fit for. Everybody seems to be in mourning, and they all have a far-away look. They don’t do much laughing but everything seems to be taken care of. Food is cheap and although restricted and regulated, is good and plentiful.

Women and girls are doing everything. You should see some of the good dames that are enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps (R.F.C.) and scoot around here on motor cycles, and in machines. No autos are used except for army purposes,

The train ride over from Liverpool was very beautiful. I am in love with England and could talk about it all night, but must quit and go to bed.

Address me, c/o American Embassy, London, because I expect to be here only three weeks



General John J. Pershing (1860–1948) was Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, i.e. the man in charge of U.S. military involvement in World War I. Rebecca Hancock Cameron, in Chapter 5 of Training to Fly describes the difficulties Pershing faced coordinating different aspects of American pilot training, given its primitive state when America entered the war and the shortages and incompatibilities of equipment, programs, and facilities in the United States, Great Britain, Italy, and France.

The Royal Flying Corps had come into existence in early 1912 as a means of countering the air superiority of the French and Germans. As part of its rapid development over the next few years, a School of Military Aeronautics was established at Reading in November of 1915, “where officers joining the R.F.C. could be put through a course in engines, rigging, artillery cooperation, map reading, signalling, etc., before joining a reserve squadron for instruction in flying.”81 (The term “reserve squadron” was later often replaced with “training squadron.) Shortly thereafter the No. 2 School of Military Aeronautics was established at Oxford, “which began by training young officers, but after a little time was changed into a Cadet School, for the training of about a thousand cadets.”82 It was at this school that Parr and his fellow cadets had landed.

Not everyone in this approximately 150 man strong Italian detachment, also referred to as the “second Oxford detachment” (a first group of 53 men, initially bound for France, was also diverted to Oxford and had arrived there a month earlier), was initially relieved, as Parr was, to be staying in England instead going on to Italy.83 Arthur Richmond Taber, another aviation cadet who had come over on the Carmania, noted in particular that the detachment was sorry to lose “our Major, a perfect wonder . . . the idea of going to Italy had gone up in smoke. There was a near riot. . . .”84 Charles Heater, writing seventy years later, recalled: “We were surprised to have our train trip from Liverpool interrupted at Oxford where we were marched to Christ’s [sic] Church College. . . . We were assembled in the historic Wolsley [sic] dining hall and there were told that we were going to stay and get our flying training with the Royal Air Force. 150 spoiled brats finally had to be subdued by an American Major Biddle who offered the choice of our cooperation or quick trials for mutiny.”85 The October 3, 1917, entry in War Birds complains: “We aren’t going to Italy after all. . . . Our orders got all bawled up in Paris. . . . Somebody had made a mistake. All our mail is in Italy, all our money is in lira and our letters of credit are drawn on banks in Rome. . . .” Particularly irksome was that the British “insisted that Americans execute the same training course, from the beginning, as British pilots did” despite their having just completed ground school in the States.86

The “Leftenant in charge of Christ College cadets” to whom Parr refers was probably Geoffrey James Dwyer, of whom more below in Parr’s letter of November 19, 1917.87 He was U.S. born, but perhaps, having English parents and having spent part of his youth in England, spoke with an accent that Parr mistakenly identified as Scots.

When Parr compares the Christ Church College dining hall to Memorial Church, he is probably recalling Memorial Episcopal Church on Bolton Street, in Baltimore, near where the Hoopers lived and which they, Episcopalians, probably attended.

Joseph Frederick Stillman, Jr., graduated from Yale in 1915 and became a bond salesman at the firm of Blodget & Co. in New York City while also joining the New York National Guard. He was in Parr’s ground school class at Ohio State University and is among those who graduated August 25, 1917.88 Chicago born Joseph Kirkbride Milnor also trained with Parr and Stillman at Ohio State University and, like Stillman, was a bond salesman at Blodget & Co. when he registered for the draft in May.89