from ‘Harper’s Weekly’ April 1, 1916
'Godmothers to the Trenches'
by Henry G. Dodge

Letter Writing to Soldiers

two illustrations of the more humorous kind, showing godmothers as soldiers imagined them


Throughout France there are numerous committees, usually organized by the staffs of the various newspapers, who collect from the officers in the field the names of all the men in their respective commands who have no families or friends. The papers keep lists of these names on file, and the French women, young and old, from north and south and east and west are sending in their applications to become mar-raines, or godmothers, to these poor waifs. Practically every woman in France, who, since the beginning of the war, has lost a son or a husband or a lover, has adopted in this way another soldier upon whom to lavish the tenderness and the sentiment that is the birthright of every Frenchwoman.

She goes to the newspaper office, files her application, and is furnished with a name. Then she writes a letter to her new godson,—a letter full of cheer and good wishes,— a letter breathing the deep feeling of the Frenchwoman for all those who are fighting for their country and hers. She does not know where he is stationed. "Cinquième Armée, Secteur 27, 322me. Regiment d'lnfanterie," conveys nothing to her. But she does know that miles away in the north, back of some shell-riddled village, or crouching behind a sand-bag shelter on the snowy slopes of the Vosges, a certain unknown Pierre or Jules or Paul will be made happy.

The vaguemestre comes into the great straw-covered courtyard of the farm where the company is billeted, and the men, welcoming him with shouts, crowd around in a tumultuous boyish group. One by one the lucky ones receive their letters and slip away to read them.

"Pierre Martin," announces the postman, pausing over the unfamiliar name, as he goes through the sheaf of letters in his hand.

But there is no Pierre there to answer to his name. Today he has not come to join the group. Perhaps he has lost heart, and would rather not hope than go through the daily disappointment, and watch the faces of his luckier comrades.

A few minutes later his captain passes him, as he sits, a poor, desolate figure, apart from the rest, in a corner of the yard. Pierre springs up to salute.

'There is something for you in the post, my child," says the captain.

"For me, mon capitaine," stammers Pierre, dumfounded. "That is not possible. Someone teases me."

"But yes," replies the captain, putting his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Surely I have not two Pierre Martins in my company."

Pierre is off like a shot. The group of men is dispersed and the postman is coming toward him across the yard.

"Is there, by chance, anything for Martin, monsieur?" inquires Pierre, his eagerness showing in his eyes and the trembling of his lips as he tries to speak with the easy nonchalance of one who receives letters every day.

"Name of a pipe, there is something," replied the postman, grinning. "Have I not carried this a kilometer—this devil of a package of yours. Is it that one is sending you merchandise to open a shop?" He hands Pierre a letter and an incredibly bulky package covered with fascinating bulges and mysterious knobs, and wrapped with a brave show of knots and sealing wax. And across the face of it, in huge letters, "Pierre Martin"! No, there is no doubt of it. It is for him. Someone cares whether he is contented or not! He hurries away with his miraculous package and his letter, and in a remote corner of the yard, far from profane and curious eyes, he looks at them long, before, with trembling fingers, he tears open the envelope. And this is what Pierre reads:

"My Dear Godson: I send you a few gifts which I hope will give you pleasure. I pray that you may be as happy as I am in sending them. But, most of all, know that I am proud of you and that even though I am far away, I am watching you, and praying that le bon Dieu will spare you to fight for our beloved France to the very end. My prayers and my thoughts are always with you. Courage, my godson, and patience—" Pierre can read no more.

That night he writes to his marraine,—a constrained, formal little letter, studiously polite and correct—for every Frenchman knows how to write a letter,—but not expressing the hundredth part of what he feels. But his marraine will understand and will be able to read between the lines and see what she has done, for she knows Pierre's kind.

And then, weeks later, the regiment comes back again to rest in the little village, after another period in the trenches. The same eager, excited crowd is around the postman as he comes into headquarters to distribute the mail. Man after man of the smiling, jostling, good-natured group, is given his expected letter and hastens away to read it. "Pierre Martin," calls out the vaguemestre. But again Pierre is not there to receive his letter, and this time the laughing ceases and heads are uncovered as the men, silent, look towards their captain, who advances from the edge of the crowd where he has been watching. The postman salutes.

"I will take Pierre Martin's letter," says the captain quietly.

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