U.S. Soldiers In The Western Front Writing Letters: Archibald S. Alsop

An American soldier in the First World war was Archibald S. Alsop, a sergeant with the Yale Mobile Operating Unit in the American Expeditionary Force. In a preface to his father's letters his son brings attention to the heavy military censorship which applied during World War 1 necessitating the deletion of military combat details, but the son believes in spite of the censorship his father's letters provide a clear impression of one man's World war 1 experience.

Alsop's first letter home on arriving in Europe says “At last we are located, or seem to be: not as we had hoped to be, near the trenches, but in a base hospital well away from the front. So far away, in fact as to make it very improbable that we will not see any of the war at close range.” here again we have an American wishing to be near the front and bemoaning that his not there. Many American soldiers had the erroneous belief that as soon as they arrived on European soil they would be sent to the Western Front. Obviously, there had to be the organization of men and appropriate training and to sent raw soldiers straight to the Western Front would have been very foolish. However, here again we see the wishes of soldiers to see and engage in action. He describes too that “there is about 100,000 people here.” These people were mostly refugees from northern France and Belgium. The plight of refugees in Europe in the First World War is to a certain extent been ignored in the various books and articles written about in the war and it is interesting that a new arrival in Europe has picked up and wrote about their plight.

Alsop in an undated letter makes a telling comment, “Talking with soldiers (American) who have been to the front is very interesting, only wish I could give you some of their ideas, but they would never pass the censor.” Thus, with the harsh censorship at this time research into the actual conditions on the Western Front and any subsequent research of the actual conditions has been lost, at least in writing form. Obviously the authorities did not wish the real conditions in the Western Front and elsewhere to be communicated home as this would have undoubtedly alarmed the recipients and possible have deterred future recruits to the armed forces in every allied country but such comments would have been invaluable to later researchers and historians.

In a further undated letter Alsop refers, “The spirits have all picked up, now that action seems near.” Once again we see the wish to embark on and engage in action and the day to day tedium and frustration of the soldiers seems palpable. On 17 September 1918 Alsop records in a letter home, “A year ago since we landed at Lehavre, France................have just passed through one of our periods of work- preparing for this offensive. Then the actual work of taking care of the wounded. For two days and nights the doctors operating, others doing their part...The noise of the guns has changed from earlier trembling dull roar, to a faint, distant sound.” Despite the frustration things seem to be happening and the implication is that enemy forces are not so strong as before and in a letter undated he writes “ Many of us are anxious to get into territory occupied by the Germans.” Again the anticipation of action and moving forward.

By November 8, 1918 he can write, “We have been filled with hope of an armistice yet have prepared for maximum capacity here (the hospital).....surely the Germans will sign terms soon, every day now that fighting continues, when we know the inevitable result will be in our favor.” Clearly Alsop now has strong reasons to believe an armistice is imminent. On November,12 1918 he writes “At last the great war is over. Victory is with the allies; the cost in lives, material and money has been terrible.” A telegram is received by Alsop's aunt advising that he arrived in Boston on 22 January 1919.

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