State Historic Site

Letters Home - William Ambrose Anderson

Trail End

AT THE TIME he registered with the Selective Service in 1917, Iowa-born William Ambrose Anderson was serving as secretary to both the Sheridan Commercial Club (a precursor of the Chamber of Commerce) and the Loyalty League (a group of private citizens concerned with fundraising for the war effort). The Commercial Club furnished him with a salary; the Loyalty League gave him an opportunity to help with the war effort. But it wasn't enough.

Thirty-three year old Anderson was not drafted for military service. Instead, he entered the overseas service of the Y.M.C.A. in October 1918. By January 1919, he was in the mountains of France, serving as "Hike Master" for soldiers on leave at a resort in La Bourboule. It is from here that he sends the following letter.

After the war, Anderson returned to Sheridan where he worked as a newspaper editor - a career path he continued to follow after moving to southern California in the late 1920s. He passed away in Seal Beach, California, in 1972. ‚Äč

La Bourboule is situated almost directly south of Paris in the heart of the beautiful and picturesque Auvergne Mountains. Here and at Mt. Dore, another village four miles distant, are situated famous hot mineral baths which have historical associations dating back to the Roman occupation nearly 2,000 years ago. The two towns are modern summer resorts, composed chiefly of large hotels to which come the wealthy French people during the summer months to enjoy the baths and the scenic and historical attractions.

The region now embraces what has been designated as the Auvergne Leave Area. Frequent leaves from the monotony and hardship of the lives of the soldiers have been found necessary in order to keep up their morale. The French soldiers have, of course, been able to spend their leaves at home. The same has been true of the British soldiers. But, of course, it has not been practicable to send American soldiers home on leave. Accordingly, the government has arranged with the French government for the use of a number of regions as Leave Areas. The places selected are all in the most beautiful and interesting places in France. The men are permitted to go to these places on seven-day leaves. They are quartered at good hotels, the expenses being paid by the government. As far as possible, all military routine is relaxed.

You can see what a program of this kind means to men who have only recently come from the field of battle or from the drab, colorless monotony of camp life.

The Y.M.C.A. functions in connection with the Leave Areas program of the army by providing wholesome, interesting recreational facilities. Here and at Mont Dore the Association has rented the Casinos. These buildings are really French community houses. Here in pre-war days, the people who came to the resort went for the amusement, which included concerts, gambling and the cafe which has such a large place in the life of the French people. The buildings are admirably adapted to the needs of the Y.M.C.A. The building here includes a large theater, general assembly rooms, canteen quarters, and large library and writing rooms. The "Y" program includes orchestra concerts afternoon and evening, excellent vaudeville, moving pictures, indoor games, dancing and hiking.

I have been assigned to hike leading. Imagine yourself in the heart of a region almost as beautiful as our own Big Horns, surrounded by healthy, interesting young Americans, and you will appreciate how delightful I find my task. 

I am sending you a bit of heather which I gathered high up on the mountainside. From the spot where I stooped and picked it, I could see the French Alps one hundred fifty miles away, forty French villages, two mirror lakes, a medieval castle, and landscape of incomparable beauty.