October 29, 1918 – Letter to Robert’s mother:
Here it is nearly “Dear Old Dull November.” Before I know it, the snow will be falling and I will still be in France. I have winter underwear + trench vest and gloves and heavy socks and overcoat so I am ready.
But I can hardly believe that the summer is so near gone. I saw a lot of real snow today and tomorrow I am going climbing to where it is. I am right at the foot of the Alps Mountains in the city of Grenoble. It is the first town that I have seen for some time that has not been shelled or bombed. What a difference there is between this town and Verdun, which I saw a while back. Just a pile of brick and mortar with some broken walls sticking up here and there. That is; part of it is that way. Here they don’t know what a gun sounds like.
There are some few Italian and Australian soldiers here and also some French. The Italians are not neat but eh Australians are all clothes. We Americans try to be neat but are too far from home to be really well dressed. No tailor-made clothes etc.
The Y.M.C.A. is sure a swell place. They have a canteen where they sell chocolate or coffee with bread + jam and pop + pie. Most of the Y men have their wives or daughters with them and they do all they can to make things pleasant for us. But I wish you were here to cut the pie and spread the jam on the bread. They are too dainty about it. They seem to think it is a pink(?) tea they are serving, instead of Yank soldiers.
The meals at the Hotel de Europe, where I stay are pretty good however. And I have a bed that is so soft that I can’t sleep because it is so comfortable. I know I could sleep better under it on the floor in my own blankets. This is the first bed I have slept in since I left the States. I may get used to it in a few days tho.
I got a Kodak and took some pictures today. Art Herbert and I got some French kids to act as guides. They speak a little English which they learned in school and like to show us about just to hear us talk so that they can learn it. I will send some of the pictures when they are developed.
I wrote dad so much yesterday that there is no news today.
Love to all
I love these letters so much, and never more so than when Robert’s letters clear up some of the questions raised by his diary entries. In this case, I wrote two weeks ago about some old photos I found in my collection of treasures from my dad’s side of the family. This letter not only describes people that match these photos, it even explains that Robert got a new camera and took photos.
As mentioned earlier, this photo was glued into an album and the text on the back is mostly illegible. But it clearly says “Art Herbert, two French [something]” and I have absolutely no doubt that this photo depicts the sightseeing tour Robert described in this letter.
It’s been a while since I’ve obsessed over the exact word Robert wrote, so here’s today’s mystery and its solution. Robert is writing about the “dainty” portions served at the Y.M.C.A. and says “they seem to think it is a [pink?] tea they are serving, instead of Yank soldiers.”
I didn’t think he wrote “pink,” because in context, he seemed to be describing a meal or occasion (”a tea party instead of a group of soldiers”), not a specific beverage “(serving us pink tea”).
Then I learned that “a Pink Tea” really was a thing and I now think this is exactly what Robert was referring to:
[G]atherings known as “pink teas” were an essential forum for women to organize and strategize about the pursuit of women’s rights. The tradition developed over a century ago when women throughout the British Empire – including Canada – used pink teas to engender solidarity among female suffragists.
The post from two days ago quoted one of the division histories about the excellent accommodations in Grenoble, and Robert’s description would seem to agree.
Finally, “Dear Old Dull November” is from a children’s poem that Robert must have read or recited in school. I haven’t identified the poet, but it appeared in several anthologies and English curricula. And yes, of course I’m going to quote it for you here, thanks to an 1891 book called Our Little Kings and Queens at Home and at School:
Oh! dear old dull November,
They don’t speak well of you,
They say your winds are chilling,
Your skies are seldom blue.
They tell how you go sighing
Along the leafless trees,
You have no warmth or brightness—
All kinds of things like these.
But dearie me! November,
They quite forgot to speak
About the wealth of color
On each round apple’s cheek.
How yellow is each pumpkin
That in the meadow lies,
Almost as good as sunshine,
And better still for pies.
Why, yes, dear old November,
You’ve lots of pleasant things;
All through the month we’re longing
To taste your turkey wings!
What if you’re dull a triﬂe
Or just a little gray,
If not for you we’d never have
Dear old Thanksgiving Day.
Where was Robert today? See the timeline.