Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Armistice Day Tribute to my Grandfather, Pvt. Francis Allyn Newton

On September 3, 1918, my grandfather, Private Francis Allyn Newton, wrote a letter to his sister Elizabeth and his mother, Gertrude Ellen (Walter) Newton, from "Somewhere in France." The following is a transcription of that letter. The original letters which form a sort of diary of a WWI infantryman are in the possession of my uncle, David F. Newton. When I was in college in the early 1980s, I wrote my uncle and requested information on my grandfather's service in the war. He sent me a copy of the typed manuscript he had tried to publish, and a copy of the September 24, 1978 edition of Susquehanna, which included his article, "Glory at the End".

Dear Elizabeth:

Well, I guess you are next on the list. I'll have just about time to write this morning. It is quite a job to write so many letters. I have five more after this one that I should write, so you can see I have a task ahead of me. No, I don't like to write much better than I used to and it takes a long time for me to get started sometimes.

This is a bright, fair morning. I'm sitting in my shelter on a bed of wheat straw. The field is level and the grain has just been removed. The road runs along about fifty feet in front of the row of tents. There is a beet patch on the other side of the road and two large grain stacks to the left of that. A little farther to the left is a farm house and an English camp. Yes, there are lots of things to look at, but one gets used to the same kind of scenery.

The crops over here are just fine. Grain is much better than I ever saw in New York State. Potatoes are fair and the beans are quite good. Sugar beets thrive in this country, some of them near as large as a cabbage head. They grow a queer kind of peas over here. They look a great deal like milkweed when growing only they have a stouter stalk. They blossom up along the stalk which grows about 3-1/2 feet. The peas look much like garden peas only about four times larger. They leave them until they are ripe and tie them up in bundles. I don't know the name of them or their use, but they are here just the same. I suppose harvesting must be nearly over back in the "States" by now.

How is the garden getting on? Suppose you have plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. The only kind of vegetables we have are potatoes. I'd give a lot for a big juicy ear of sweet corn.

School begins today, doesn't it? Before long, you will be graduating from high school. What do you think you will do then; be a School Ma'am? Say, have you got any more patience than you used to have; or are you as spunky as ever.

Did you have a good time this vacation? I suppose it went pretty fast. Do you ever miss me, or can Ralph pester you enought without having any more brothers around. This is the bottom of the page so I'll have to close.

Your Brother, Allyn

P.S. Did you take regents in spelling this year? If you did, I don't think you passed. In your letter you said you (past) your exams. Cant you spell better than that?

Dearest Mother:

I am lying on my back and I have two holes through my right thumb so it is quite difficult to write, but I'll feel better when I get word off to you. You'll have to pardon my poor penmanship.

They punctured both of my tires and I was compelled to put up by the road side and abandon the attack. Two of the boche bullets went through my right leg and one through my left as well as about a dozen minor scratches and abrasions that don't bother me in the least.

But "Shanks Hourses" were disabled and as both ankles were hit and helpless it was impossible to go further. (My arm gets tired so I have to stop and rest it every minute or so.) Ot was about six o'clock on that bright Sunday morning when I got my issue as the "Austies" call it.

I could not walk or craw or move mysel to a safe place so I had to lay where I was. I happened to fall in a small shell hole which possibly saved me from getting hit with more bullets for they were spattering about for a long time. There were two or three other lads in my squad that were hit. I have not seen a man from H. Co. since I was carried in, tho I know there are dozens in the same shape as me; as all the outfits suffered heavy losses.

About 9 A.M. I got 1st Aid treatment and an hour afterward I was carried into the trench I spoke of before. I'm going a bit too fast for I forgot one small item. While laying out in the open my right ankle was hit by a piece of shell. It was red-hot and caused me considerable pain, but I just had to grin and bear it; tho it was hard work. I thought it had blown my foot off but it really is not very bad. Just a piece of flesh off the outside of my ankle. It is a rather tender place to get hit.

Oct. 6. Bet you can't guess where I am now. Why, I'm in dear Old England in an American Hospital. I came here after a day's train ride and another day on a Hospital ship. I had to stop writing and get dressed and I could not very well write on the train so I had to wair til today to finish this letter. I know you'll be anxious to hear from me.

It will probably be a long time before I get any letters from you, but I'm going to write to H. Co. and have the mail forwarded to the hospital.

I'll go on with my story. I laid out in that trench all day and that night or about 28 hours in all. It rained all night and was very cold. I had a slicker on and one spread over my legs which was all that prevented me from freezing. There were about six of us wounded in the trench. The stretcher bearers were awfully busy and the trench was straffed with machine-gun fire so it took a long time to get us out. We spent a miserable night. I think I would have died if I hadn't had some cigarettes to smoke to keep me quiet. I really think they are some benefit in a case like that and they really do not harm anyone in the outdoor life. I'm going to quite the when I leave the army sure.

They carried me to an Ambulance about a half mile away. Then a long hard ride to a 1st Aid station where I was given an injection for blood poisoning. Didn't stay there long; they took me by Ambulance to a Casualty clearance station. I stayed there about 30 hours when they loaded me on the hospital train and took me to Rouen to an Australian Hospital. I stayed there a day and one half when they put me on the train again and sent me on my way to England. There were a lot of Americans as well as Australians in the Aust. hospital. We had four day nurses and one night nurse. They are different from the American nurses: they are so Jolly. They always have a smile for you and something cheerful to say. We got excellent treatment there too and plenty of good things to eat and a good soft bed to sleep in.

In this hospital we are getting the best of treatment; even better than at the Australian hosp.  We have three or four Red Cross nurses to care for us and one Red (headed) Cross Nurse. They are not as jolly as the Australian sisters, neither are there any very beautiful ones but they are all good looking to us. Wish I had you or Helen to take care of me but I can't very well complain with what I have. . . . [to be continued]


  1. What wonderful letters...He was a great writer. He drew me in and I was able to see and sense a lot of the things that were around him...Did you say the book was published? I would love to read the book. Thank you for sharing! :-)

  2. My uncle compiled the letters with historical introductions before the chapters, but no publishers would accept it. I think if it were rewritten as a novel from my grandfather's perspective they might take it in today's market. This was actually part of one lengthy letter which continues for about another four pages...I will share the rest of this letter in my next post.