Trail End

Letters Home - Robert H. Walsh

 (From In the World War)

 State Historic Site

BORN ON THE Isle of Wight to an Irish clergyman, Robert H. Walsh was nineteen years old when he emigrated from his native England to the western United States in 1884. By the time he and the Moncrieffe brothers purchased the First National Bank of Sheridan from John Kendrick, E. A. Whitney and A. S. Burrows in 1902, he had already made his mark as a man of enterprise.

When America entered the war in Europe in 1917, the bank president felt he had to do something. Too old to join the army, Walsh joined the American Red Cross instead. Along with his wife, the former Charlotte Silsbee, Walsh went to Europe to organize distribution hubs for American-made Red Cross materials. For her part, Charlotte served in the ARC "canteens" until ill health forced her to cut back.

Walsh's frequent letters to Sheridan urged citizens to support the work of the Red Cross and to donate to the Liberty Loan campaigns. His earliest missives, reproduced below, told the story of why such support was needed.   

From Dijon, France, 19 January 1918; printed in The Sheridan Enterprise, 18 February 1918

A week after my arrival in Paris I was ordered to this place to help organize it as a large distributing center for the French and American armies and hospitals. ... In the dim light of very early morning you would laugh to see me heading a large gang of the most disreputable looking workmen refugees, woundeds, the very old, the very young, all talking indescribably and strong with the "delicious" odor of garlic. ... Labor is very difficult to get of the kind I have described. Women are used where ever possible. ...

My wife went at once to canteen work on her arrival. She was sent to a post in the French war zone very close to an historic place of which we all have heard so much since the war began. The work was very hard - day and night shifts of eight hours each. When on the latter, the workers had to beat it frequently from the steaming canteen to bomb-proof caves until all was quiet again. A month of this and alas she became very seriously ill, but she is now getting much better and hopes to be at work again before long. 

​If you ask me what is needed most over here, I should say "everything, especially surgical dressings and the warm things to wear." If you could send some of our Sheridan coal, that would indeed be a blessing as never before have I been so entirely and always cold as during the last four weeks. 

War is just a piece of hard work, whether you be in the fighting ranks or a mere camp follower like myself.

Undated letter from "Somewhere in France;" printed in The Sheridan Post, 29 March 1918

I wish I could draw a pen picture that would even in a small degree call to your mind the suffering and the sacrifices of the people in France, of the refugees who have been driven out of their homes, leaving behind them all they had in the world, to live now on a meager charity. Don't imagine for a moment that these mean only the poorer classes; all are in the same fix, the rich and poor alike, [and] they bear it without a word of complaint. On all sides the wounded, some of them with dreadful injuries, poor mutilated bodies, with which to carry on life the best way they can til death ends their sufferings. The parents who have given their sons - to my knowledge as many as four to one family - the widows who have not only lost a husband but their means of support as well. These people have endured the horrors of war now for almost four years; still they fight on, still they give freely, not only of all that life holds most dear, but also of their money. 

Then let no one who has not yet suffered these woes speak of sacrifice, or difficulty in subscribing to Liberty Bonds. Let him rather go down on his knees and thank his God that so far he has been spared the trials that have befallen so many of his fellow men; let him be thankful that so far his sacrifice has only been one of lending money to his government, at good interest, and the best of security. ...

From "Somewhere in France," 26 March 1918; printed in The Sheridan Enterprise, 29 April 1918

As the time draws near for the second big [fundraising] drive for the American Red Cross, I wish very much that I might be at Sheridan to tell of the work over here, how the money is spent, of the good that is being done and of the extreme necessities that must be provided for by the American people as long as the war lasts. ...

The chief power of the A. R. C. lies in the comfort that it brings not only to our own soldiers and those of our Allies, but to the people at large, of those countries which have been ravaged by the war. I use the world "comfort" in the sense that when you give food, clothing [and] medical assistance to the hungry, the cold, and those who are sick and wounded, you give them as well a feeling of hope and renewed courage. You raise them from the depths of despair and hopelessness to which their physical miseries have reduced them. 

The A. R. C. ... greets the newly arrived soldier at his port of landing. It stretches all the way from there to the front trenches, giving him food and other comforts on his journeys, in his camps and wherever else he goes. When he is fighting or when he is wounded, sick or tired, it gives him, from its immense and varied supplies, all those things which are outside the usual equipment or not immediately available by an army in the field.

During air raids, Red Cross workers with ambulances or other means of help are always amongst the first to save life and property. They accept cheerfully the dangers of war in the performance of their duties. Women as well as men. And from what I have seen of these workers in France, you may rest assured that all are doing their best to maintain that high standard of human endeavor which is an American's by right.

But money is needed to carry on this work. More and more money until the end of the war. It is splendid encouragement to workers over here to know that the people in their home communities will pour out their wealth freely to carry on this work of mercy and relief. I could tell you stories that would draw money from a stone, but alas, I have neither the ability nor the time to write them. ...

[Big Horn resident] Oliver H. Wallop is working in a French hospital not very far from me. I have not seen him yet, but hope to do so soon. ... My wife is now quite well again, and working steadily in a hospital.