FORESTS WERE FRANK Leslie Archer's life. Before the war, he worked as a clerk for the Shoshone National Forest supervisor in Cody, Wyoming. After the war, he was the supervisor of the Bighorn National Forest in Sheridan, and later worked as an assistant forest supervisor in Lander.
During the war, however, he had to focus on something else: supplies. He worked in the Supply Section of the Army Corps of Engineers during his time in France. Which meant that he was busy, busy, busy all the time.
Even though they were behind enemy lines and relatively safe, Archer and his fellow soldiers had little time to explore their environs. When they did, however, their limited knowledge of French language and customs made for some interesting experiences.
In this letter, published in The Sheridan Post in January 1918, the forty year old forester provides a glimpse into the "personal side" of life "Somewhere in France."
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Time seems to be at a premium here, especially among employees of the war department. The whole organization is running on high all the time. Everybody has to keep at it practically seven days in the week. ... It is a pretty hard grind, but only what could be expected and what should be in war time. Most of the fellows who come over know what they were going up against when they started and are not surprised. We did not come over for a picnic.
There is very little time for recreation or sight seeing except at night and then most of us are too tired to go much. Besides, "Somewhere," like many other cities, is not well lighted and it is hard to get anywhere with a meager knowledge of French. Though the people are all very kind and willing to help us out all they can when we can make ourselves understood.
I am especially delighted with the little tots here. Some of the real small boys and girls give us the French military salute when we pass them and seem quite put out if we happen to hurry by without noticing them and returning the salute. Others will take hold of our hands, walk along a little way, and then say goodbye and go on about their play.
I had hoped to acquire a considerable knowledge of French by this time, but have been so busy at the office and trying to get located that there seems little time to devote to it. However, with the few words and sentences I learned before leaving Cody and those I picked up on the way over, I am able to order ham and eggs and a few other necessities of life without causing a great deal of disturbance in the restaurants. ...
As soon as we landed [in France] we were taken to a rest camp where very good accommodations were provided, and early next morning … we were met by men from the office who piloted us to headquarters, and after we had reported for duty, to the hotel. At the hotel we found we could get room with bath, including breakfast for 13 francs. MacDonald and I decided to double up and were allotted a very nice large room quite elaborately furnished, with fire place and even a clock on the mantle but could not seem to locate the bath which was supposed to go with the apartment. We did discover a door, however, on which was inscribed on a copper plate the name of "Salle de Bain," and began to wonder who Miss Bain was and if we would have the pleasure of meeting her. Upon referring further to our French dictionary, however, we decided that the room with the name on it was our bath room.
After considerable discussion we decided to enter the place anyhow. We found a very elaborate bath room but no hot water. After considerable difficulty we got in touch with a person whom we took to be the chief janitor or porter, also a maid and told them by means of considerable gesticulation mingled with French and English that we had been three days and nights with our clothing on and desired hot water for our bath. After more exchange of sign and languages we were given to understand that there was no hot water available and would not be until Saturday, also that nothing in the heavens above nor the earth beneath or the waters which were under the earth could move any hotel keeper to provide hot water for his guests before that time. We were certainly in distress, but there seemed no help for it. I can stand a cold bath in a warm room or a hot bath in a cold room, but a cold bath in a cold room is a bit too much even for a fellow who spent the winter of 1916-17 in Wyoming.
In the morning we found that the breakfast included in the price of the room consisted of chocolate, bread and butter and a very small portion of omelet. We were too hungry to stand for that so we ordered some good old bacon and eggs, coffee, fruit, etc., which we found to be quite expensive. The French people don't make much of breakfast. The big meal of the day is apparently supper, and they like to take all the time there is to eat it. I doubt if they understand what the word hurry means.
We have had so much trouble getting breakfast in time to reach the office on time that we are now preparing a light breakfast in our room. We find we can cook it and eat while we are giving an order in the hotel or average restaurant. It may be they know how to make good coffee, but so far I have been unable to get such a thing. Nearly everybody drinks wine or beer with their meals. I don't care for beer at meals and the wine is fierce, so just drink water except in the morning when I frequently make a fair cup of coffee in my room.
I have been making a little study of the food situation, and find that a person can purchase most anything in the way of food here if he is willing to pay the price. There seems to be plenty of bread of good quality. It is rather dark, resembling graham bread, and I rather like it. I have not seen any white bread as yet. It is apparently prepared only in the one shape, viz: loaves anywhere from 2-1/2 feet to 3-1/2 long and from 3 to 5 inches thick. It is sold by weight and one can get a hunk off one of the above described loaves ... for 35 centimes.
There is apparently considerable meat here and it costs about the same as in the states. Extra good lamb chops, for instance, come at about 2 francs. Bacon is rather scarce and high. It is seldom served at the restaurants. We have not experienced any meatless days as yet. Eggs come at about one-half franc each, and are good and fresh. I have not as yet been served what seemed to be a strong egg. Good butter costs about 5 francs per pound. It is not served regularly at the restaurants and has to be ordered special generally.
At present I am in about as much danger as I would be running a jitney around Cody, and so far as I know will remain here indefinitely. Orders, however, change overnight, and a man is liable to have to move on any time.