WWI Letters: “Aeroplanes Are Flying Around Over Here Like Birds”

This letter reprinted in A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia was actually written for publication! Private Russell T. Hupp penned the letter and sent it to the editor of The Valley newspaper. It gives details that folks back home would have found interesting, including observations on the agriculture in France and comparisons to the crops and farms in the Shenandoah Valley.

Similar to the previous weeks, we’ve included a few historical notes on World War I after the complete primary source to give a little background and historical depth to the letter.

The Letter

Somewhere in France

A.E.F., Sept. 17, 1918,

Headquarters Co., 318th Inf.

Dear Editor:

As I am not on any detail at the present time I thought I would write you a few lines this beautiful morning. I am well and feeling fine and the rest of the Shenandoah boys are as well as usual. Lester Tidler is still in our company. We are all here together. We have very much fun trying to talk the French language. It’s as much fun for them to hear us talk as it is for us to hear them talk. Some of the girls are very pretty over here, but they don’t come up to the old U.S. girls. I saw yesterday a U.S. locomotive, track, brakesman, firemen, and engineer. I haven’t seen but two American girls since I have been over here. They were two Y.M.C.A. girls.

The country over here is very beautiful. Most of it is very rich soil, so they don’t use any fertilizer at all. Their main crops are are wheat, flax, sugar beets, potatoes, but no corn – most too cool for it. They raise barley and rye in some places. They have the nicest quality of wheat and potatoes that I have most ever seen.

All the farmers live in little villages. Horses, cows, chickens, sheep, dogs and cats live under the same roof. The farmers lives in one end and the stock in the other. they also have some fine horses and cows.

The Stars and Stripes are waving in most every village I have seen. As we came through Paris I saw in one of the large buildings, 14 stories high, a pretty French girl waving a large U.S. flag. The Stars and Stripes made me feel like I was in Washington D.C.

Here’s one of our songs:

Keep your heads down, you dirty Huns,

Keep your heads down, you dirty Huns.

Late last night by the pale moon light

I saw you! I saw you!

You were mending broken wire,

When we opened rapid fire.

If you want to see your father in your father’s land,

Keep your head down, you dirty Hun.

Barbed wire was used to make attacks more difficult.

I haven’t received but two Valleys [newspapers] since I have been over here. I heard from home three or four times. I got a letter from cousin Phil Olinger yesterday, and I was very glad indeed to hear from him and how they were all getting along.

My voyage across the large pond was very, very great indeed. It took us something like 8 days to make the trip. First few days were very foggy. Sometimes I could see a steam boat which appeared as if it were about 10 or 15 miles off. We left the U.S. on the 22d of May.

Aeroplanes are flying around over here like birds. They are humming around over head all the time. The most I have ever seen at one time was 52.

Well, I guess I must close for this time. Hope this will find everybody well and enjoying best of life.

Pvt. Russell T. Hupp

Historical Notes

  • Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s Christian Association) was started in 1844 and had great influence by the World War I era. The religious and social organization fundraised and used over $155 million to aid American soldiers during the war. Over 25,000 staff members deployed with military units in different areas of the global conflict, boosting morale through programs, entertainment, and educational opportunities. Some of the volunteer staff were women, as Hupp wrote in his letter.
  • “Huns” was one of the both joking and derogatory nicknames the Allies had for the Central Powers’ soldiers. It envoked barbaric imagery that was often used to an extreme in propaganda.
  • World War I saw the introduction of the airplane to warfare. Check out this blog post about some of the first American combat pilots to learn more.

An American plane during World War I.

  • The United States joined World War I “late.” The conflict had started in 1914, and American did not declare war until the spring of 1917. Still, the idea that “the Yanks are coming” heartened the British, French and other Allied soldiers and civilians. Fresh troops to fed into the war machine of trenches and no man’s land in the final struggles to push back the German and Austrian lines. Despite their short involvement, American officers, soldiers, and politicians were recognized by the other Allies as key players in the final months and aftermath negotiations.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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