Charles H. French Collection
The Charles H. French collection deals with the period from October 1917 through March 1919. The letters comprising the collection were written by French to his parents, his sisters, and his maternal grandparents who were residing in rural Shawnee County, Kansas. These letters discussed French’s experiences serving in the army during World War I.
The first folder contains letters written from October 1917 through December 1917. French was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for training. These letters discussed his experiences such as guard duty, drills, and obtaining a ten thousand dollar life insurance policy.
The second folder contains letters written from January through April 1918. This was a period of time when French was simply waiting to be sent overseas. He continued to discuss the constant drilling to keep the troops in readiness for combat, the inability to get a furlough to visit his family, and the increasing anxiety over where and when French would be sent to serve.
The third folder contains letters from May through August 1918. The first three items were the last sent from Fort Sill. French then talked about the train ride to New York and how they would be marched in every town where they stopped, approximately every twelve hours along the route. After he left New York, French’s letters were subject to military censorship. French discussed his impressions of the steamship trip across the Atlantic, his arrival in the United Kingdom and ultimately France. Due to censorship, he was vague about his location or the military operations in which he was involved. The letter of July 30, 1918, was censored, presumably by an officer, when French began to speak about the Allies’ movements.
The fourth folder contains letters from September through December 1918. In these letters, French was still vague as to the nature of operations, but he discussed in general terms the big push the Allies were making. He also talked about impressions of France and its people and the armistice when it came in November 1918, and he speculated about when he would be sent home. After the armistice, French spoke more candidly about where he had previously been (in the Verdun sector) and gave his locations as he wrote letters.
The fifth folder contains letters during the last three months of French’s service in Europe, January through May 1919. French talked about his experiences as a military truck driver in France in the post-armistice months. He discussed the cold and rainy winter of 1919. In March 1919, French learned his unit was being sent home, and his letter of March 26 informed his family to expect him shortly and instructed them to stop writing to him.
The sixth folder contains several sample envelopes French used to mail his letters to his family. The folder also contains some information on French and his family, in manuscript form, presumably written by the donor, Mildred French.
This collection represents the impressions of a young Kansas man to his family while serving in the army in World War I on the battlefields of France. A large amount of the correspondence deals with family matters, but French’s views are a valuable aid to understanding the First World War from an individual’s perspective and one from a Kansas rural perspective looking at a world torn asunder by war.
Lela Barnes Intern, 1988
Folder Description Dates
102.1 Correspondence Oct. 1917 – Dec. 1917
102.2 Correspondence Jan. 1918 – April 1918
102.3 Correspondence May 1918 – Aug. 1918
102.4 Correspondence Sept. 1918 – Dec. 1918
102.5 Correspondence Jan. 1919 – Mar. 1919
102.6 Biographical Information, sample envelopes