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Painton’s Letters Home from WWI | 13 May 1918

Link - Posted by David on December 11, 2019 @ 6:00 am in

THIS month we’re featuring Frederick C. Painton’s letters he wrote home while serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in WWI. Portions of these letters were published in his hometown paper, The Elmira Star-Gazette of Elmira, New York. Before the war young Fred Painton had been doing various jobs at the Elmira Advertiser as well as being a part-time chauffeur. He was eager to get into the scrap, but was continually turned down because of a slight heart affliction and was not accepted in the draft without an argument. He was so eager to go that he prevailed upon the draft board to permit him to report ahead of his time. Painton left Elmira in December 1917 with the third contingent of the county draft for Camp Dix but was again rejected. He was eventually transferred to the aviation camp at Kelly Field as a chauffeur, and in a few weeks’ time was on his way to England in the transport service with an aviation section, where he landed at the end of January 1918 as part of the 229th Aero Supply Squadron. He was transferred to the 655 Aero Squadron in France shortly thereafter.


Elmira Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York • 13 May 1918

Sergeant Painton Learns Much Regarding Atrocities Accomplished as Result of German Invasion—German Posters Given Publicity.

Sergeant Frederick Painton, who was a member of one of the Chemung county draft contingents, and who is now in active service with the expeditionary forces in France, has written to friends in this city telling of the horrors inflicted upon the Belgians by the German hordes during the latter’s first rush toward Paris. He says:

“I suppose that you think that the letters are following themselves very fast, but honestly, there has been so much of interest that has happened that I must tell you about it. After my adventure with the Harley, I went to the Y.M.C.A. with the intention of seeing the movies. The show had started when I got there. The first reel was the world’s series photoed by the Universal. It was good. Then came the surprise. The Y. secretary introduced Countess De La Tours San Marie, who showed up the most wonderful collection of German posters that has ever been gathered together. A collection is being made for the British museum. Her’s is the only other one in existence, besides that one, and is to be presented to an American museum at the end of the war. These were posted in Belgium and invaded France at the beginning of the war. As she exhibited them to us she translated the meaning of each one and some of them were enough to make a man’s blood run cold, or hot.

“The first one was headed “Proclamation,” and signed by Von Der Golz, that inventor of exquisite torture. It was put out in the first advance of the Germans into Belgium at the time that the tiny but heroic Belgian army was contesting every foot of the ground given. The Belgians had been destroying railroad bridges, tearing up railroad tracks and barricading everything that would impede the advance of the Boche. That of course, was war, and countenanced by all articles of war. But it was not in the Huns code. Speed was necessary above all things so Von Der Golz, not being able to get at the plucky little Belgian army, tried different tactics. He immediately had printed thousands of posters stating that all villages within the immediate vicinity of railroads would be held to strict accountability for the preservation of the railroads and bridges. If the latter were, in any way damaged, all the inhabitants of the village would be shot. At the time such a proceeding was unheard of, so it was thought to be a scare, so the destruction still continued. Then without any pretext or excuse other than this infamous order, Belgian peasants were shot down in cold blood. Not hundreds, but thousands. There it was in black and white. No denial is possible.

“The next poster, when explained, proved to be the most senseless thing I that the Germans ever done. For some reason or other that was not mentioned, they suddenly became suspicions of French chickens. Not the chickens in the sense that we mean, but real hens with feathers. The proclamation said, in part, that ell the inhabitants within the jurisdiction of the German imperial government should immediately render to the local headquarters an accurate list of all chickens that they owned. This was to be kept up-to-date, and at any time one died, the remains should be brought in to headquarters to find the cause of death. All eggs from the hens should be surrendered to the Germans and if, upon examination, any were found to have been needlessly cracked, the owner of the hen should be severely punished. If at any time the German officials in charge, thought that a hen was not laying enough eggs, the owner of the former should immediately put the fowl to death. Sounds crazy, don’t it? It is. However, if any one reading this piece should know of a way whereby a hen can be made to lay more eggs than she wants to, that person can save many Belgians severe punishment.

In all the principal villages of Belgium, the most prominent citizens were sent to Germany as hostages for the good behavior of the town. Most of these will never return. You can take it from me, this dame had my goat for fair by this time. This stuff seemed to get home.

For the first few months that the Germans occupied the invaded country, they were half way reasonable in their demands. All they required was six pounds of wool per person from every one. Recently they confiscated everything of any value whatever. The populace is destitute.

There were lots of other posters, including the one put out by the German government announcing the capture of Paris. There was another one announcing the fact that poor Germany had been picked on by the British pigs and it was the Imperial command of the German Emperor, that Germans fight to the last that they may strafe England. It also mentioned they had with them the help of God, who had especially appointed him (Kais Bill) to wipe the British off the map.

Well, I must close. I gotta go to work.

      Your friend.

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