War Letters of Kiffin Yates Rockwell

Journey through a Century of Memories

March 18, 1915

Share To the Vicomte du Peloux 1er Régiment Étranger, Bon B. 2ème Cie., 4ème Son., March 18, 1915. Dear Sir: I am changed to the 1er Étranger. I wrote my brother some time ago that I would like to change from the 2ème Étrg., if possible, to a regular French regiment. He found that impossible so had me transferred here. I can tell that this is a much better regiment and I am with five fine Ameri­cans, so am glad of the change. Have been here two days and am now in the trenches. I do not know where my brother is now. If you know, write him my address, please. Sincerely yours, K. Y. Rockwell...

March 11, 1915

SharePost Card 2ème Étranger, March 11, 1915. Received your letter the other day. I might as well stay where I am; get along pretty well, although local condi­tions are bad. The third section has been having trouble with the Mitrailleuse section, and we are practically under arrest now. That is, we can’t go out in the streets because it would mean a war. Phelizot died night before last as the result of foul play in a scrap between him and two Arabs of the M. section, which afterwards turned into a battle royal between the two sections. However, don’t mention this to anyone. Will write further particulars some other time. Received a nice package from the Vicomtesse du Peloux this morning. Good things to eat and a French grammar. Love, Kiffin...

March 7, 1915

ShareTo the Vicomtesse du Peloux 2ème Régiment Étranger, March 7, 1915. My dear Madame: I received your letter and appreciate it very much. The package has not yet arrived but suppose it will be waiting for me when I go back from the trenches this time. The time it takes for packages to come is very uncertain. I am looking forward to its arrival both for the grammar and for the “berries of life,” as the latter have grown to be a great item in the life here at the front—not that the government fails to give us plenty, but I’ll enjoy a change. When we went back from the trenches last time we were told that we would probably march fifteen kilometers to the rear and be reviewed by General Joffre. It pleased us very much and we busied ourselves cleaning up and getting every­thing règlementaire, but the review did not take place. We were rather disappointed, for we wished to see General Joffre, and then there was a current rumor that it meant a change of sectors for us. You see, I left camp Oct. 19th, and came to this sector and entered the trenches on Oct. 27th. The trench I am now in is about seven hundred meters from the first trench I was ever in. I have made every trip to the trenches with my company except one, which was due to my feet being in very bad condition from the march here. Our record for length of time in the trenches is twenty-four days out of thirty. However, now we do not have it...

February 28, 1915

ShareFeb. 28, 1915. Dear Paul: Received your letter yesterday, got the fifty francs; the package announced hasn’t arrived yet. Spent six days on petit poste in an open trench close enough to hear the Germans talking. On guard all night. In the daytime, would slip down through the communication trench about one hundred yards and sleep in a covered trench. There were only twelve of us there but nothing happened except a little sharpshooting. Seeger had a bullet through his capote but it didn’t break the skin. Zinn was evacuated yesterday. We had been trying to get him out for the last two or three months. He was a nice lad but a nuisance as a soldier. He was sick most of the time and would fall to sleep on guard and snore loud as hell. They gave him prison sentences and work but finally became convinced that he was really sick so now have sent him back. We have been busy cleaning up as we are going to be inspected by the General. It means a hike of fifteen kilometers to the rear and the exercising, then fifteen kilometers back here. Not pleasant to look forward to. We may go this afternoon. That’s all the news. Love, Kiffin....

February 16, 1915 – Dear Sir

ShareTo the Vicomte du Peloux 2ème Régiment Étranger, Bon C. 1ère Cie., 3ème Son., Feb. 16, 1915. Dear Sir: I received your letter four days ago, for which I thank you very much. I am well and getting along fine and have no right to com­plain of anything. I came back last night for repose, after four days at the front. They were uneventful, but a little uncomfortable, owing to the snow and rain. In regard to my wants—I have been very lucky throughout the winter in having plenty of all necessities. However, I should like for you to send me some of the little luxuries we cannot get here at the front. I should also appreciate it very much if you could send me an English and French gram­mar, as my small knowledge of the French language has proved quite a handicap to me at times. What I desire is a beginner’s grammar; in other words, one used by first-year students. I have very little spare time, but think I can find enough to do some studying. We all look forward to the coming of spring, when we hope to advance and bring France victory. Again thanking you and your wife for your interest in me, Sincerely yours, Kiffin Y. Rockwell....

February 16, 1915 – Dear Paul

Share2ème Régiment Étranger, Bon C. 1ère Cie., Feb. 16, 1915. Dear Paul: I would have written you earlier but I have been either too busy, too disgusted, or too uncomfortable. The last four days we have been at a reserve post, the first since you left, and they were four miserable days. It rained or snowed the whole time. We worked three hours in the morning, four in the afternoon, and three each night; and our trenches were leaking water from the top, and water was seeping in at the bottom. Nilson said that Hadley was still in the hospital. As you say, Nilson is a good lad, but he is a nuisance here and we do not expect him to last long. I have just found out that the vaguemestre here has for­warded quite a bunch of our mail to the depot at Orleans, also whatever packages had come for us. The Americans here now are Capdeville, Zinn, Dowd, Seeger, Trinkard, King, Phelizot and Chatkoff. Morlae is also here. He just came back, after studying a few weeks in a corporal’s school. He is now the sergeant in charge of this section and a bigger —— than ever. He takes every opportunity to insult the Americans in front of superior officers, so as to try and curry favor with them. He and I are always at swords’ points and I have told him that some day we will both be back in America. The first thing I shall do when we are back there is to beat hell out of him. None of us has any use for...

February 8, 1915

ShareFeb. 8, 1915. Dear Mamma: Little to write, just the same old life. Came back last night from four days at one of our most advanced positions here. The English in the Legion left for the English Army about a week ago. I could have gone but decided at the last minute that from a sentimental standpoint I would stick it out here even though it would be easier for me and my op­portunities greater in the English Army. I understand the relations between England and the U. S. are rather strained, but I hope there will be no trouble. Our company was a rather dilapidated bunch that went to the front last time. What with the English gone and our losses in the last three and a half months in killed, wounded, sick and those transferred, we had only about a third of a company and part of those were men who came after we reached the front. The Ninth Squad has been the best known all along, for many reasons. When we left camp we were eighteen strong. When we went up last time there were only six of us and without a corporal, one of us acting as chief of the squad. When we lost our old corporal we lost one of the greatest characters in the Legion. We often compared him to an eagle with the squad as his young. We later got a corporal who was the exact opposite in every respect. We thought of a sparrow instead of an eagle. He was a faker, lazy, a coward and a crook. He did not...

February 1, 1915

ShareFeb. 1, 1915. Dear Paul: Received your letter this morning, was certainly glad to hear from you, also to receive the twenty francs. There is a farm here that is stocked up with chocolate, cheese, etc., and all of us have been feeding up, so you can see the money was greatly appreciated. The English left this morning. I was given the option of going or staying, and it may have been I am foolish, but I stayed. I figured that I came over to join with France and had stuck it out five months, so might as well continue. If you can get me into a regular regiment, that will be fine. The reason I keep writing you not to come back here is because I know that you are not able to stand it, and then there is no romance or anything to the infantry. It is not a question of bravery, it is a question of being a good day laborer. So if you don’t want to leave the service, get into something that requires education and not brute strength. I personally am stronger than I have ever been in my life, but without one exception I am the only one. “Cap,” Krogh, and all the fellows we thought strong have gone backward and been sick a lot. Out of the eighteen men of the Ninth Squad, there are only six of us in it now: myself, “Cap,” Seeger, Dowd, Krogh and Nilson, who returned yes­terday but who we all know will not be able to stick more than three or four weeks, owing to his...

January 31, 1915

Share 2ème Régiment Étranger, Dear Mamma: I suppose you are a little worried about me, owing to recent happenings, but have spent eight days in a position where we couldn’t send any mail. They have put a strong censorship on all our mail and threaten dire punishment if we write too much. I am well and strong. We gave the Germans a nice birthday present all around where I was, but I didn’t fire my rifle, although I came awfully close to having to do so. Our artillery, however, did splendid work. I have never received your package. The parcels post was opened to the Allied countries the last of November and other fellows have received packages. Don’t understand what is wrong with our P. O. However, I am getting along fine but would like for you to send me a two dollar Ingersoll watch in some way or other, but don’t bother about other things. Don’t worry about my welfare, for the more I see the more I am convinced that I am coming through safe and whole. Winter will soon be over and I am glad of it, as the recent cold has made it a little hard. Am getting real fat from the outdoor life. Love, kiffin.  ...

January 21, 1915

ShareDear Paul: I have written you letters to both Montmirail and Château-Thierry, also forwarded a bunch of letters, because I felt you were more sure to receive them that way than by my keeping them, as our life is very uncertain these days. I have re­ceived a card from Nilson saying he was waiting to hear from you in order to forward mail. I think several of the letters I forwarded were important, so be sure to write for them at once. I wrote you, asking you to send me some money at once, as I think we are moving soon. I also wrote you that if you could get me transferred to a regular French regiment, to get busy at once. In regard to your coming back to this regiment, I will say for the last time, don’t be a fool. At least one third of the men who left Camp de Mailly have got­ten out of the Régiment , and elsewhere in the French service, and there are not five here but would change if they could. If you try hard and get sent back you will be no good inside a month; you will suffer a lot and finally reach the point where they will have to send you away. I know what I am talking about. I told the boys you were trying to come back and not a one of them but said that they thought you had more sense. Love, Kiffin....

January 19, 1915

ShareDear Paul: Received your letter from Château-Thierry yesterday, first I had heard for a long while. I wrote one letter and one card to Montmirail, telling what I had been doing and of Weideman’s death. I have just got back this morning from another four days in the village death-trap; had about five hours sleep during the four days, being on petit poste every night. Night before last I crouched by the wall for fourteen hours in the sleet and snow, with my gun loaded and the magazine open. There were four of us and a corporal, with orders that if we moved from the posts, no matter what happened, we would be courtmartialed. We got away all right, but this morning about fifteen minutes after the poste I was on was relieved by Bon D. they got shot up; don’t know how many were killed. I have been well ever since you left, perfect health, have gotten strong and hardy and stood it better than anyone, but the mental and physical strain we have been under this month is breaking us all down. It has been worse than if we had been having big battles. I have experienced more and done more work and guard than anyone else in the section and it is telling on me now. That terrible guard night before last was with the first section, only three men from the third section, because the first was short three men for the different posts. The others of the third had a rest. There are all kinds of rumors to-day. You have probably heard bad news...

January 15, 1915

ShareDear Paul: Haven’t heard from you for a long while but hope you are in Paris. Just got back from eight days in the place where Weideman was killed. We were not allowed to send any mail and they are putting a strong censorship on all our let­ters; have threatened to cut off all our correspondence if we are not careful about what we write. Have written you all along, and forwarded a lot of mail. I have not received any packages, except the ones sent around Xmas for the Am. Vol., therefore have been short this month. We have had little chance to spend money. The English leave to-morrow, but I will not go with them; will stick it out in the Legion. Love, kiffin  ...

January 11, 1915

ShareJan. 11, 1915. Dear Paul: Haven’t heard from you for a long while; will not mail this letter until to-morrow, in hopes of having your address. If I don’t hear, will send this, and forward other mail. Have been unable to write myself, owing to what I have been going through. There were six days and five nights that I practi­cally didn’t sleep. Four days and nights of it I was on petit poste at different sides of the town that our first trenches faced. The first night, I was on guard at a wall surrounding a château. We were right on the German trenches, and they were higher than we were, so had the advantage. At about ten-thirty o’clock, I was watching at a place along the wall where a shell had blown a hole through it. There was a door propped up by a ladder against it, leaving a small open­ing at the side out of which I watched, once in a while crawl­ing up the ladder to look over. The petit poste was about fifty yards along the wall from me, on the other side it was about two hundred yards to the next sentinel. Seeger was the communication sentinel. It was a case of three men watching a position, where there should have been twenty. At about ten-thirty, Seeger had just come up to me, when something fell at my feet and sputtered a little, then went out. I picked it up. It was a hand grenade. Seeger ran for Corporal Weideman; as they came rushing back up, Weideman yelled, “Garde à vous, Rockwell,” and...

January 7, 1915

ShareJan. 7, 1915. Dear Agnes: I have had practically no sleep for the last eighty hours, but I can’t sleep now so will write you and try to keep my mind occupied. I received your letter and the gold piece a few days after Xmas, in the trenches. I forwarded the letter to Paul but kept the money myself and thank you very much for it, and must say that you are very ingenious. I spent the holidays fairly quietly, came out of the trenches New Year’s Eve. New Year’s Day we were marched ten kilometers to the rear and given the first bath the army had given us for three months. The next day we were inoculated for typhoid. The next two days our arms were a little sore and we were more or less feverish; so we got two days’ rest— the first since being in the army. On the night of the 4th, almost midnight, we started to where I now am. This is a village that I should say probably had five thousand inhabitants before the war and it has been fought over quite a bit, the Germans having lost two thou­sand killed in a night attack on it in the early part of the war. There is now not a building that has not been demolished by shells. The march here was through swamps and it was dark and rainy, so it took us about three hours to get here. We marched quietly through the streets and my section was sent to the sector nearest the enemy, which was a beautiful château (probably belonging...

December 29, 1914

Share2ème Régiment Étranger, Bon C. 1ère Cie., Dec. 29, 1914. This is the third day back in the same trenches as we were in last. The line is a little more active. Last night our petit poste and a German patrol had a little scrap. They gave “Aux armes.” We stayed out for a few minutes, then started back in, when the moon came out. It made the trees in the distance look like a vast wave of men coming across the field. Two or three officers yelled “Aux armes,” with their voices full of alarm, and there was much excitement for a few minutes. We were commanded not to fire until they were close, and then the mistake was discovered. Later in the night shrapnel shells burst right over us, and the Germans turned loose their machine-guns on the whole line of trenches. The fire was high, and no one was injured. We have plenty of clothing and food, owing to packages arriving from Paris. Passed Rapier yesterday; he yelled “Hello! and live in hopes.” Kiffin....

December 26, 1914 Paul

ShareDec. 26, 1914. Dear Paul: Received your letter yesterday, also saw your article in the Daily Mail, which we all thought well written. This is the sixth day that we have been here in C——, supposedly for a rest, but every day we have gone out at eleven o’clock and dug trenches until four o’clock. Yesterday, they did the same, but about ten of us slipped off and spent the afternoon at a farmhouse, drinking coffee and rum. This morning we went to work at seven and quit at eleven. To-night, we go back to the trenches. I have had an awful cold for the past week and have felt perfectly rotten. Mail was so congested that few packages have arrived. Only two came for the Americans and we split the things up among ourselves (that is, among the ones who claim to be Americans). We have had plenty to eat, but I don’t think anything has been distributed that you would need or care for. There are socks, gloves, helmets, mufflers and all kinds of woollen goods for everyone. But they are only lice-traps, and really not needed, so I don’t bother to load myself down with any. I haven’t received any package from Hilda; if it comes I will send it on to you if possible; otherwise, eat it myself. Some man in Paris sent a package of two mufflers, two pairs of socks and two helmets for you and me, but nothing else. We are all loaded down with such things, so they are worthless, but I will write to-day and thank him. I have not...

December 26, 1914

ShareDec. 26, 1914. Dear Mamma: Just a few lines to let you know that I am well and thinking of you. This is the sixth day that we have been in a small village in the rear of the trenches. It was to be six days of rest, but each day, at 11 a.m., we have gone out with our guns and picks and shovels and dug trenches until 4 p.m. The same was to be done yesterday, Xmas, but about ten of us slipped off to a farmhouse and drank coffee and talked all day. This morning we went to work at seven and worked till eleven and then with the others until 4 p.m. To-night, we go back to the trenches. I suppose Paul has written you that he is out of it, but his condition is not serious. I haven’t heard, but am hoping he was sent to Paris. We had plenty of good things to eat for Xmas, some of them bought and some sent to us from Paris. About the best thing was a Virginia ham given us by an American doctor who is in the Legion. It had been sent to him. We had candy, nuts, jam, cheese, etc., and I even had an orange given me by an Englishman, from a package he received. The weather has been fine for the last few days, cold but clear. Much love, Kiffin....

December 10, 1914

ShareDec. 10, 1914. Dear Mamma: Have received letters from you as late as Nov. 20th. Am living in anticipation of the package, though I know my getting it is very uncertain. Do not go to much expense or trouble with packages, but if you find they come through, and you send any more, you might put in something like a little jam, peanut butter, etc.—also a few American cigarettes. It is more the idea than the quantity that would make them so good. We are beginning to get a few packages from Americans in Paris. This morning, a package came out of which I got a pair of socks, some tobacco and some chocolate. The American bunch has dwindled, only fifteen of us left. The others are either reformed or sick in hospitals or have gotten easier jobs—only one wounded. I have spent twenty-one out of the last twenty-four days in the trenches. At first I suffered some from cold, but the trenches are now fixed up for winter, and we can now have fire at night when the smoke won’t show. I am in fine physical condition. This takes my “Merry Xmas” and “Happy New Year” to you all. With all my love, Kiffin....