At School Near The Lines
The boys and girls in America have listened with great interest and
sympathy to the many stories of children in devastated France, left
fatherless, homeless, perhaps motherless, with no games or sport,
indeed with no desire to play games or sports of any kind. For them,
there seemed to be only the awful roar and thunder of the cannon, which
might at any moment send down a bursting shell upon their heads. The
y wore and the food they ate were theirs only as they were
given to them, and so often given by strangers.
In America the school children worked, earned, saved, and sent their
gifts to those thousands of destitute children, and with their gifts
sent letters of love and interest to their little French cousins across
Many of the letters were written in quiet, sunny schoolrooms, thousands
of miles from the noise of battle. But many a letter thus written
reached the hands of a child who sat huddled beside his teacher in a
damp, dark cellar that took the place of the pleasant little
schoolhouse he had known.
But in those cellars and hidden places, the children studied and
learned as best they might, in order some day to be strong, bright men
and women for their beloved France, when the days of battle should be
over and victory should have been won for them to keep.
The gladness of the children when they received the letters will
probably never be fully known. Perhaps it seemed to some of them like
that morning on which they marched away from the school building for
the last time. The shells had begun to burst near them, as they sat in
the morning session. Quickly they put aside their work, and listened
quietly while the master timed the interval between the bursting of the
shells. At his order, they had formed in line for marching, and at the
moment the third or fourth shell fell, they marched out of the school
away into a cellar seventy paces off. There, sheltered by the strong,
stout walls, they listened to the next shell bursting as it fell
straight down into the schoolhouse, where by a few moments' delay, they
would all have perished or been severely injured.
So, while they heard the cannon roaring, they were happy to know that
their friends in America thought of them and were helping them. No one
will ever realize just how much it meant to the French people to know
that America was their friend, or the great joy they felt when the
American soldiers marched in to take their places in the fight for
France and the freedom of the world.
Odette Gastinel, a thirteen-year-old girl of the LycÃ©e Victor Duruy,
one of the schoolrooms near the front, has written of the coming of the
Americans. Throughout the United States her little essay has been read,
and great men and women have marveled at its beauty of thought and
wording, and have called it a little masterpiece.
In the first paragraph, she tells of the great distance between the
millions of men (the Germans and the Allies) although separated only by
a narrow stream; and in the second, she speaks of the closeness of
sympathy between France and America,--though America lies three
thousand miles over the sea.
It was only a little river, almost a brook; it was called the
Yser. One could talk from one side to the other without raising
one's voice, and the birds could fly over it with one sweep of
their wings. And on the two banks there were millions of men,
the one turned toward the other, eye to eye. But the distance
which separated them was greater than the spaces between the
stars in the sky; it was the distance which separates right from
The ocean is so vast that the sea gulls do not dare to cross it.
During seven days and seven nights the great steamships of
America, going at full speed, drive through the deep waters
before the lighthouses of France come into view; but from one
side to the other, hearts are touching.
It is no wonder that the great American, General Pershing, stopped, in
all the tumult and business of war, to write to people in America:
Headquarters, Am. Ex. Forces.
In the veins of the fatherless
children of France courses
the blood of heroes. Theirs
is a heritage worth cherishing--a
heritage which appeals
to the deepest sentiments of
the soul. What France through
their fathers has done for
humanity, France through
them will do again.
Save the fatherless
children of France!
John J. Pershing.
April 12, 1918