Monday, January 29, 2018

The Great War: January 29, 1918

On January 29, 1918, the Columbia Republican published a letter written by Lieutenant J. Hildreth Forshew to his mother. The newspaper identifies Forshew as the son of Mr. and Mrs. John H. Forshew, and the nephew of Commodore Robert P. Forshew. It doesn't mention that John H. and Robert P. Forshew were the sons of noted Hudson photographer Frank Forshew, and Hildreth was Frank Forshew's grandson, but it likely alludes to it: "Lieutenant Forshew. whose family history is a part of Hudson's history, graduated from the Naval Academy in March, 1917, before he was 21 and in June he sailed for 'Somewhere in France,' convoying the first United States troops that went across; since that he has crossed several times and is over there at present. His letter is a combination of sunshine and shadow, well written and touching on much that the average letter does not get to which makes it doubly readable." 

For the same reasons the Columbia Republican published the letter a hundred years ago, Gossips shares it today.

Dear Mother,
As mail leaves for the States to-morrow I thought I would get off a few lines to let you know that I am having a peach of a time over here. Everybody treats you fine. I spent four days leave in Paris. It is not so gay up there as it used to be, but even at that, New York is more at war than cette belle ville. While I was in Paris I was around with two English officers, who were on four days leave from the front. Both were artillery officers and have been in every big battle since the war started, both had come from the first line trenches and were to return there after the four days. They were two of the finest chaps I believe I have ever met. They were only about 24 or 25 years old, and one a major and the other a captain. Seeing as how they had both been it ever since the war started, I consequently got the straight dope on the whole situation. We talked for hours and hours and it was most interesting to say the least.
People make fun of the way they talk, but before I left I got to love it and I really think I that I would rather be able to talk that way than any other. My French is getting real decent and I can now carry on a fair conversation. We had a party on board ship to-day, a lot of French officers and their wives and a lot of girls. I drew a little queen. We parlied back and forth all afternoon. I am going ashore to play some tennis with her to-morrow afternoon. I went ashore to-night to take a peek at where she lived, and, believe me, it is a young palace. I ought to have a better time than ever now. I have seen no scarcity of food since I have been over here. Everybody seems to have plenty of every thing. You can get anything you want to eat every day except Monday and Tuesday which are "No meat days." White bread is as scarce as dust in the middle of the ocean. Nothing but war bread is used over here, aside from those two things you wouldn't know that there was a war, that is in regards to food. You see nobody but old men and children; all the young men are at the front. When you see the vast numbers of men home for seven days leave, you begin to wonder in amazement at the numbers which must be in the trenches. About every seven days a party leaves the trenches on leave and a party returns where they stay for five months and then get seven more days, etc.   
Figure it out for yourself. You see soldiers on leave every where you go and it looks to me that there are more on leave in Paris than we had in our whole standing army. Nearly everybody over here have already had somebody in their family killed in the war. It is very sad, but they bear up under it very well. I believe that if the people in the United States really knew the conditions they would have been at war long ago. The French are wonderful at the sacrifices that they make and the cheerful way they do it. Their love for their country comes before all, and they would sacrifice everything for it. It is so different from the United States that it almost makes me ashamed. They welcome the Americans over here as brothers; it is really pitiful. 
One old man was standing alongside of me on the dock watching one of the transports tie up and with tears rolling down his cheeks told me that he had wished for the United States to come over and help and that it was the happiest moment of his life to see his wish come true. Everybody over here admits that before we entered the war everyone in France was feeling pretty much down and out, but now their spirits are way above par and they are saying "Amerique et Victoire."
While in Paris I went out to the American Hospital at Neuilly. A man named Peck from Seattle, Wash., took us thru and introduced us to a lot of American girls who are nurses there. This hospital is where they make new faces for men, who have had parts and in some instances nearly all of the face shot away. It is wonderful what they can do. New noses, chins, mouths, anything and everything. They take plaster casts and a picture of each man when he comes to them, and when he leaves. They come there in horrible condition, and some of the men claim that they are better looking when they leave than before they had been shot. A girl named Nation from New York has charge of the face ward, which is only a small part of the hospital. She pretty nearly fell on our necks when she saw us. Nobody would have objected, as she is mighty nice. One of the boys took her out to dinner on the only day she could get away, while we were there.
We tried to go up to the trenches, but we couldn't get permission. The War Department could not spare the men to take us. The trip across the pond was very good, but rather strenuous, between drills and calls to battle station and regular watches, we got very little sleep. We played with nothing and were ready to give anything. We saw a little h——. We got very little excitement with the exception of one night when things were very interesting for several hours, but as you know already, everything came out all o. k. There is really no danger and nothing for you to get worried about. It doesn't bother me.
I have been trying to get transferred to one of the destroyers over here, but I haven't had any success as yet. Those are the boys that are on their toes and seeing lots of service; they are doing a lot of good, too. The subs are scared to death of them.
Tell Uncle Rob that I met some of his aviators in Paris; they are all at the aviation camp and are learning to fly.
Lots of love to everyone.
Your loving son,

Although his family history was part of Hudson's history, John Hildreth Forshew, Jr., and his parents lived in Brooklyn. The U.S. Naval Academy yearbook for 1917, found at, paints a fascinating picture of the young Forshew, who it seems had the nickname "Connie." Click on the image to enlarge it and read the text about "the handsome youth from Flatbush," who during his years at the Naval Academy "has done battle with the Academic Department with great bravery."



  1. This was a great read, Carol. Thank you.

  2. Sort of disheartening to read something like this and compare it to the illiteracy of today. Not only does modern youth lack a command of the language, their whole attitude is quite different.