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

clothes th
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

the seas.

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 Lycée 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