A young Jessie is at the top of this photo. They may have to sit still and not smile for the photos, but these were some wild and fun women, I'm sure! Jessie would have been about 20 years older by the time she wrote these letters. The solider is not Walter Hill, but Walter would have been outfitted like this and been similar in appearance.
Tonight I'm finishing up transposing another letter. I just LOVE this eyewitness account of the war! I imagine Walter getting the letter and wondering, "Hmm, who could this be from?" then laughing with pleasure when he realizes that his old teacher took the time to write him. It seems as though they are completely out of touch, but she must have found him through a local organization. Teachers use the phrase "my kids" to refer to their students in the same way that parents do because they share a very special bond with their students. Clearly, Walter Hill was one of Jessie's kids.
I've printed his words in gray and added some of my own thoughts in italicized blue. The wording is mostly his and some words were very difficult to decipher.
I received your letter and was very glad and also surprised to hear from you. You laughed at me about 2+2=3. Well, you want to do a little trading over here and you will find out that two + two equals as much as they can fool you into believing it is. I was awful glad to hear from you. I have to write to my friend nearly every day. She worries awful about us . . . and it is no use to worry as things will happen just the same no matter how much you worry.
Things happening just the same is all well and good to say when you are living a comfortable suburban lifestyle, but this is quite the statement to read from someone who is writing from the trenches.
This paragraph give you some insight into just what kind of teacher Jessie was. She took quite the forceful approach to classroom management. Tying kids up for whispering? She must have had a rough group!
I guessed who wrote that letter just as soon as I got down to that 2+2. Do you remember the time you tied me all up in strips of cloths for whispering? Do you remember the time that man fell down stairs over across from the school and came down and smashed in the brook? I sure remember that Mrs. Harringan. We used to have some good times at that school. If my memory does not fail me I think I remember some thing you forgot to mention. Aren't you the teacher that laid me across a double desk and gave me "What Paddy gave the Drum"? SHE SPANKED HIM! Those were the happiest days. I must have shame a speaker man at that Peace Conference with the enemy of the cabbage patch. No idea what he's talking about here. Remember the time I put Burdocks in the girls hair and got a chance to do the toe dance all around the room with the aid of the teacher holding on to my ear?
You are right on Uncle Sam would be proud of the boys that he has behind him. Of course I think more of the boys who volunteered but the other boys are a credit to their country. Some men were drafted while others signed up to serve. The best part of it all is the way the boys acted when they got orders to leave for France. We did not have the least idea where we were going. It would have done you good to see how willing and anxious they were to get started. You would think that they would worry about the submarines on the way over but it was just the opposite. Most of them were anxious to sight a sub so we could get a shot at it. The officers had a lot of trouble keeping them down and not to sing their heads off. We had setting up exercises every day and games, looking and a lot of singing. Picture this in your head. Isn't this fantastic? Soldiers, who are really just boys, singing and hoping to get a shot off at the enemy. They sound so young and optimistic. I imagine their harried, serious officers saying stuff like, "You there! Get off that railing! You there! Stop that racket!" It sure what a great sight. If you never have been across it would do you good to take the trip if you were not sea sick. I was sick and did not care for awhile if all the subs the Germans had got after us at once. Poor Walter, I can totally sympathize with him on this!
It was a fair sight along the western shore in the harbor. We left to see the longer ships and at night to see the lights on the buildings. It has been worth a lot to me. I have not suffered as yet. Of course, there have been things I would not have refused like a nice big piece of pie and a glass of good milk. But war is what Sherman said it was and then some. William Tecumseh Sherman, a Union general in the Civil War, said, "War is hell." I can't tell if he's being modest and kindly keeping the gruesome details away from his teacher or if he truly hasn't see battle yet. He sounds optimistic, but to say that war is hell and then some is quite strong. I also love that he worded this so as to refrain from using the word hell.
I remember the last time I saw you. If I am not mistaken I was with my friend. I would not be guilty of not speaking to my old school teacher. I may have changed in looks, but I guess there is just as much deviltry in me as ever. Oh Walter, you sound so much like someone I want to know! I bet there are a lot of my old classmates in service over here. You perhaps read in the papers about the way the Bosch have destroyed the forest trees in the land they have been forced to leave. They sure are a bum lot of soldiers to fight the way they do. Bosch, a slang term for rascal, is what the French called the Germans.
While I am writing this there's a lice little Bosch Machine right over our little shanty. We have a visit every night from the Bosch. They have a habit of coming over about 7:30 to 8:30 and in the morning just before daylight. They dropped a couple bombs over in the field not far away the other night. Boys in our company have done their turn in the trenches and are in for a pass for a few days. We expect to be sent down South near to a Watering Place. I'm not sure why the W and P are capitalized here. He could be referencing a Dickensian term for a bar. I will be glad when we go.
I will have to tell you of a sight that I saw in another town. There as a Bosch up in the air so high he looked like a little toy. One of the French machiners got after him and down he came head first. It was some sight. We went over and saw him after he landed. The machine was like kindling. I won't tell you about the fellows. If you know any fellows that are in the Aviation Service you can give them a lot of credit as they will use a lot of nerve in that job. There are so many things going through my mind after reading this. The naive curiosity. The interest in the crashed plane. The horror at the condition of the pilot's body. Below, I've included a recruitment poster for the Aviation Services. I am impressed by all those serving in the Air Force, but these brave men do deserve a lot of credit for their courage and bravery.
Be sure to write,
Mech. Walter Hill
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."