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Painton’s Letters Home from WWI | 3 January 1919

Link - Posted by David on December 26, 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 and then to the 496th and eventually attached to the staff of The Stars and Stripes just before the end of the war and stayed on with the occupying forces.

TREVES. Locals turn out to watch the allied occupying forces come through town.
1 December 1918


Elmira Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York • 3 January 1919

Boy Tries to Sell Helmet for Meat—Entire A.E.F. Envious of Those Who Make Up the American Army of Occupation—Does Not Expect to Be Home for Several Months.

“It is tiresome work, this making history for our kids to study.” is the apt way in which Sergeant Frederick Painton writes of his experiences, in one of the first letters received from Germany since the American Army of Occupation took up its march to the Rhine.

Sergeant Painton, who is now attached to the Staff of “The Stars and Stripes,” the official paper of the American Epeditionary Forces, writes from Treves, one of the tirst of the German cities occupied by the Americans, he writes that the German people appear glad to see the Americans and are quick to barter souvenirs for something to eat. Sergeant Painton writes:

“Treves, Germany,

“December 6, 1918.

“Dear Friend:

“When I walked out of the office a little over a year ago who could have said that a year later I would be in a German city, sleeping in a German Hotel, and not a prisoner? But such is the case, which proves that truth is stronger than fiction. At present I rest, covered from head to foot with the mud of two nations and the Duchy of Luxemburg. We drove all the way from Verdun, which we left early this morning.

You cannot imagine the mental sensation of being actually in Germany and seeing German soldiers walking down the street unguarded. And what irony of fate to order and eat a meal in a German hotel and pay for it with French money! In spite of all that has been written in the negative, there is not a doubt but what the lower classes are in a hard way for food, which I will prove by the following incident:

We entered Treves at S o’clock, French time, swearing like pirates. It was blacker than Hades, foggy, slippery, and to cap the climax we had two flat tires and an empty stomach. Wc stopped to try and find some place to cache the car for the night and while my companion was trying to find one a little German lad came up to me and offered to sell one of those Dutch picklehaubes, or spiked helmets, which the boys are so crazy to get as souvenirs. I asked him how much, and he said “Das Fleisch,” which means meat. He did not want money, as money will not buy meat in this country. In this hotel, however, we had plenty to eat for five marks and 30 pfennig.

German money is used entirely, which means learning a new money system and I am becoming a shark when it comes to rates of exchange. I talk in halting German, so halting, in fact, that it stands still most of the time. I have become so used to talking French that the little German I learned in school has completely left me. It is like a Ford, though, it may start again at any time.

I can’t say when I will be home. Being with the Army of Occupation means not within three or four months at any rate. I don’t mind though, this is a privilege and the whole A.E.F. is envious of us. As we came across the bridge over the Moselle, which is the frontier. I saw by the dim light a tall, grey-cloaked, spike-helmeted man walking down the road. As we came closer I also saw that he wore an up-turned mustache a la Kaiser. As the swirling fog eddied around him I was forcibly impressed with the likeness to the ex-Kaiser and also that we were victors. This was doubly brought home when he glanced over his shoulder and then slunk out of the road. Vanished hopes and bitter memories, indeed. Here was the incarnation of them.

In the city, however, the people are gay without being noisily so. Children laugh and imitate our salute as we walk down the street. The people are for the most part well dressed and have a relieved air about them.

I am enclosing a German identification tag which you may wish for a souvenir. In our Ford at present we have ten or twelve helmets, six guns, paper bandages, caps and the Lord only knows what else. But how to get it home, that’s the question.

German time is an hour later than French and it now registers 11 o’clock, so here is where I hit the hay. It is tiresome work this making history for our kids to study. I prefer to sleep just now.

Auf wiedersehn, as they say here!

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