[Received June 13, 1918]


May 21, 1918

[Beauvois] France

Dear Mother and Father:

Yesterday I got my first mail in France, and it was a fine bunch. It has a very funny effect. It makes me want to be here when the scrap is over, which makes me cautious, and at the same time it makes me a bit wild. I got three from you all Nos. 56 (?) April 14, 57, April 17, and 58, April 21; also one from Mary B. April 16, and one from Mary Henderson; and the overseas Sun and all clippings. You can imagine what a party I had.

Mary B’s. crest noted. The Englishmen over here say that this war will establish some system in American society equivalent to the aristocracy of England and they consider it a curse.

The things I want to write about the censor will not like so my letter will be rather flat. Anyway I sleep so much to rest up for the possibility of the next show, and shake so much thinking about red and yellow gold fish with black crosses on them, and shake so much laughing at the humorists of this squadron that I do not have much time to write.

I have been on seven shows in Hunland. It surely is some life. Just the experience I have gained these past days has made me value it 100% more. I am having some times now that will be very valuable to look back on.

From 20 thousand feet the war is the most ridiculous performance you ever saw. You cannot see any human effort (except the gold fish and archie) and yet for hundreds of miles is this white scarred, pitted, and flooded piece of earth. Whole cities that are nothing but battered and heaped ruins, white and sandy and scarred, and a trail of smoke to leaward. Great forests that look like a burnt stubble swamp. And in all this sandy whiteness is the sheen of water in every rut. It’s all a mess and a disgrace to the human race but there is nothing to do but give it all the Hell we can now and repent when it is over.

I spoke of shaking at thoughts of the Hun scouts. Well it is not as bad as that. My first scrap was exciting and ran through my mind all that night, but now I take it as a game and am feeling that I can, with a bit of luck, take care of myself.

The Huns are pretty clever and wily. The first scrap my leader and I went down with our engines full on and things happened so quickly that I did not even get my sights on anybody. When you drop 5000 feet rather quickly your ears change the tune of the engine and when you pull out and return to natural flying speeds you are going so slowly I thought I had stopped still and was stalling. I held my nose and blew, the engine sounded like it was running so I started dodging about. In about two seconds the Huns had dived and spun down and my leader and the other mates that might have been following had disappeared in the mist. So I started a zigzag climbing course eastward straining my neck trying to see whatever might drop onto my tail before it started shooting. How we do have to watch our tails. I think I will be wearing about three sizes larger collars in a couple of months.

When I go out now I am kept so busy following the leader, watching my tail and studying the geography of the country, that I am blind to all the aerial details. When we come back from each patrol we all get in the squadron office and tell what we saw. Some of these chaps have an unhuman ability to see machines, know what kind they are, where they are going and when they may come back. It seems supernatural. They seem to get an intuition, back it up with a well seasoned guess, put the result down in their memory as a fact, and it always works out as correct. It surely is a great thing for we Americans that we can go out and get our real training with these experienced and knowing Englishmen. I am beginning to see a few things now. Whenever I see any busses or specks that I do not know are ours I treat them as Huns, and follow the leader. The Huns are not nearly so numerous in the air as we are and he never gets over our lines except singly at about 24000 feet or at night. The R.A.F. is sitting over Hun land at all altitudes all the time. These offensive patrols that I have been on go 20 miles over the lines. (But don’t think the war is nearly over, there is a lot of doing to be done yet).

I have gotten my bus pretty well fixed up now. The men looking after it are O.K. My guns and sights are working well and I ought to get some results.

It’s funny how your temperament changes on a patrol. When you are scouting about over the lines you are very interested and curious about every movement that goes on. You see all that mess below but you don’t see any movement or development of it. Occasionally you happen to see a slight spark from a big gun and you hear and see archie all around most all the time. But you hardly know there is a war on below, what you are interested in is these various specks in the sky. The archie makes a lot of noise, gives a jolt, and leaves a puff of white or black smoke about, when it bursts. It sounds like a deep mouthed hound, “woof!” and plays about the same part. You know how it feels when you walk into a strange farm and a big black dog comes dancing around and barking at your heels—well that is archie exactly.

Just so long as the various specks in the sky are specks they are merely very interesting, then when you get a bit close, and maneuvering for business the plot thickens, then you get to going full out, climbing turning or diving and you start to get mad, but you don’t really hate the Huns until you see the black crosses and everybody starts chack! clack! chacking! at each other. You think the “son of a ______ if he only would not dive or spin down so fast, if you could only get close and really get your sights on him,” or perhaps it’s “if this bus would only turn faster and I hope he’s missing me.” Then when the show is over you toddle home, inquire about the other fellows to see who’s in, give the rest time to come along and then get together and hear all about it. The old hands always see many times more than you thought was going on. Then you go to mess, and then after a sociable bickering fest take a nap or go to bed. It’s a great life.

Our major is a fine Scotsman from Helensborough on the Clyde. Four of the pilots are Americans in the Canadian Army (from New Orleans, California, Ill., etc.) It is a great bunch: One fellow, an Englishman who has lived 20 years in the U.S.A., had out his 1st papers. He used to fly back in 1909 and was one of the first pilots in the Aero Club U.S.A. He has done all kind of stunts, like parachute jump around New York, flying off of battleships, taking people on flights at Atlantic City, etc. He is the greatest talker and the funniest fellow you ever saw.

I have moved my bunk from the attic to a room in the first floor with the above character and as a result I am laughing nearly all the time.

We are having wonderful summer weather. We play ball and run about in the bright sun in our shirt sleeves. Then we put on fur suits and helmets, get in a heat starting up and then at about 18000 the zero stuff starts nipping your nose. My cross countryly [sic] ruined heart and lungs seem to like the rarified air. Sometimes I take to puffing just to be sure that I am getting enough, but I have had no bad effects. All it does is makes me sleepy when I get down.

I hope you (meaning Father) had success with the operation and are feeling fine now.

All the newspaper clippings are very interesting. I hope Schwab proves to be the man for the job and does not let anybody oust him out. The old N.Y. Ship seems to be pulling in good shape. Mary Henderson sent me a long article about it. The overseas Sun is fine. By the way you might send Mr George Henderson some of my letters (Friendship Hill Farm, Paoli, Pa.). I write to Mary but cannot go into much detail and do not write to them half as much as I ought to. They were very kind to me when I was at N.Y. Ship. They lost their only son George, 20 years old, just before I left U.S.A. I am glad you wrote to Mrs. Stillman. I ordered some pictures from a newspaper agent in London of our bunch at Oxford and was going to send one of each that has Fred in it to his sister. But although (perhaps because) I paid for them I have never gotten them and it has been 3 months now. I have not got her address, so if I get them I will send them to you and let you send them to Mrs. Stillman. It is strange but I never got a picture of Fred with my camera.

I am glad Margaret and Russell’s place is going to be so nice. This must be great weather for it. So Mary may hold forth in a specialist’s office. How much per (haps). [sic] I received your letter with the red cross button and card, many thanks. You all must be having quite a financial time with red cross, funds, and bonds. “That’s the stuff to give em.”

So you have a pie plant; well we are considering getting a cow. They say I will never get that sugar because there is a restriction against sending sugar in bulk and any bundle over 2 pounds is “in bulk.” One of the fellows here had forty 2 pound packages of it sent to him.

I am glad you had a visit from Charley Piggot. How did Baltimore grow? So Mary Hoffman is going to N.Y. and gather in the crops. I would not mind taking a few peaches with her myself. I have not heard from Ted Brown since I left London Colney. Tommy and Frank have been posted to squadrons out here, but I do not know which ones. Good bye for the present.



The reference to Mary B’s crest is obscure.

Archie was the standard slang for anti-aircraft fire.

The major was John Cannan Russell, who was born 1895, in Balmaghie, Kirkudbrightshire, Scotland, and grew up in Helensburgh.432 At the start of World War I, Russell joined the Royal Engineers, but transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in late 1915433 He took command of No. 32 Squadron on September 11, 1917.434 He was apparently well regarded by his men; Callender (letter of May 30, 1918) notes “the major is a fine sport, even if he is an Englishman” (either Russell had left traces of his Scottish origins behind or Scots and English were indistinguishable to a man from New Orleans), while Rogers makes a number of respectful references to his “C.O.” and the “Major.”

The man from New Orleans was Alvin Andrew Callender, who had graduated from Tulane with a degree in architecture in 1914.435 In June 1917 he went to Toronto to join the R.F.C. (having English citizenship through his British-born father may have smoothed the way).436 He ended up for a time in Texas, where the R.F.C. had arranged to conduct some of its pilot training, taking advantage of what was hoped to be better weather than in Canada.437 In January 1918 Callender departed for England where he trained at the Central Flying School at Upavon in Wiltshire. Arriving initially in Wimereux, France, just north of Boulogne, he was posted to No. 32 Squadron in mid-May, around the same time as Parr.438

The Californian was Bogart Rogers, a sophomore at Stanford in the summer of 1917, when, like Callender, he went to Canada to train with the R.F.C. His initial training was in Toronto; in November, like Callender, he left for Texas. By February he was in England, by mid-April in Ayr. After crossing from Folkestone to France and Berck, he was posted to No. 32 Squadron on May 2, 1918.439

The pilot from Illinois was Mathias Ellsworth DeZee, who had interrupted his studies at the University of Illinois to join the R.F.C. at Toronto in Canada at the end of July 1917. He was in a detachment of 115 R.F.C. officers who arrived in Liverpool on the S.S. Canada in early January 1918. (See records available at Ancestry.com.) His R.A.F. casualty form (among those recently digitized by the RAF Museum in London) indicates he joined No. 32 Squadron on May 18, 1918.

The Englishman was probably George Frederick Charles Caswell; see Parr’s letter of June 5, 1918.

Parr was presumably placing his hope in Charles M. Schwab. The first paragraph of a New York Times article from April 17, 1918, reads: “WASHINGTON, April 16.—Charles M. Schwab, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, today accepted the post of Director General of the Emergency Fleet Corporation. He will take up his duties on Thursday, and from that time will devote all of his energies, as an employe of the Government, to an effort to speed up the shipbuilding program.”440

George Henderson, Jr., a little younger than Parr, was a student at the University of Pennsylvania when the U.S. entered the war. He died August 26, 1917, apparently of complications of tuberculosis and diabetes.441

Ted Brown eventually went to Romorantin as a ferry pilot with the U.S. Army Air Service, but when Parr was writing this letter, he was probably still in England.442 Tommy Herbert was posted to No. 56 Squadron, which was in Valheureux from March through October of 1918; Frank Read to No. 60 Squadron, which was at Boffles from mid-April through mid-September; military records give the dates of their postings as May 8 and June 8, 1918 respectively.443 However, Alex Revell gives June 29, 1918, as the date of Herbert’s arrival (along with Paul Winslow) at 56.444 Revell quotes from Winslow’s diary: “At last, after three weeks here (Rang du Fliers No. 2 Pool, France) Tommy and I were posted to 60 Squadron. At eleven o’clock 60’s tender came and picked us up, bag and baggage. We stopped at Abbeville and then carried on to 60, arriving at 2.30, and were told that we did not belong there, but at 56, and were shipped off without any lunch. Poor Frank Read nearly cried when we left. . . .”445