The following letters of Norman Prince, although chiefly of an intimate and personal character, are here published as a part of the record of his experiences in the service of France and as further testimony to his tenderly affectionate nature and his constant thoughtfulness and solicitude for those he left at home.
Havre, Jan. le 29, 1915.
Dear Mamma, – I have just put foot ashore in France after a disagreeable crossing, end class. Here in Havre there are troops and troops always passing. French troops, chiefly of the reserve; thousands of English troops in khaki, Belgian troops without uniform. They all say, not at all in a boastful way, that they will be back home again by the end of the year.
Dear Mamma, I hope you are well and that papa has not taken too much at heart my leaving home at this time. I believe I can find a place to do some efficient and useful work for the cause to which am so deeply devoted.
My love to you all. I shall write often.
Affectionately your son,
Esc N. 124, Secteur 24, May 15, 1915.
Dear Governor, – Arrived en escadrille par la voie des airs to replace a disabled pilot until the Escadrille Américaine is formed.
I saw the battle lines and heard for the first time the never-ending boom of guns. This is war in dead earnest and right at hand. Will write more fully later.
V. B. 108-B. 103, May 20, 1915.
Dear Freddy, – I Arrived here at the Front last Tuesday piloting two Voisins appareils de bombardement. On the way we bombarded observation balloons, railway centers, poudrieres, aviation camps and other locations of Boche activity – but not towns or cities or other localities where the lives of helpless women and children might be endangered. We are in the section where all the French advances have lately been made. The vertical guns of the Boches are particularly annoying to us. They have got two out of six of the pilots of our Escadrille since our arrival. One got down within our own lines; the other fell within the lines of the Boches – whether he was killedor not we do not know.
(Eight miles from the German trenches.)
Been here a week and have become quite accustomed to being shot at. We go out every day and the salutations we get from the Boches are rapid and continuous when we are over their lines. The Boches here have more vertical guns to aim at us I more to the mile of front than anywhere else. There are hundreds of French aeroplanes grouped here because it is in the twenty miles north of Arras and south of the English where all the recent French advances have taken place. Attacks and counter attacks by day and night, and the bang of artillery in the near distance never ceases. We often go out at the same time as the infantry attack behind the artillery fire, the artillery of both sides banging away at the trenches, batteries and at us, – the avions in the air. It is a wonderful spectacle and something frightful as well – until we get used to it!
Paris, September 6, 1915.
My dear Grandmamma, – I am in Paris on a few days’ leave and just had luncheon with a friend who is leaving tonight for Rome and I have asked him to mail this letter to you on his arrival.
For the last four months I have been at the front – two months in the North near Arras during the attacks of May and June. After that we were stationed for a month near Nancy in the East. Now we have returned to the north again where there is increasing activity. I am happy and in the best of health. I sleep under canvas on a stretcher bed and eat in the shed of an old farm house nearby. I have nothing to complain of. I like it. There are ten American pilots with us in the French service and twelve others in training with their number constantly increasing. Some day soon we will all be united in one escadrille an Escadrille Américaine – that is my fondest ambition. I am devoting all my spare energies to organising it and all the American pilots here are giving me every encouragement and assistance in the work of preliminary organisation. As I have had so much to do in originating and pushing the plan along, perhaps I shall be second in command.
I would enjoy tremendously a letter. My address now is
Escadrille d’Avions Canon
3me Groupe de Bombardement
Secteur Postal 102.
I hope you are in Rome, not in Treviso, which must be dans la Zone des Armées.
Your affectionate grandson,
Cie Gle Transatlantique, A bord, January 4., 1916.
My dear Mamma, – Just a line before the pilot leaves us to tell you that Freddy and I appreciate your sorrow in having your two boys go to the war. However, the greater the sorrow, the greater the joy will be when they return!
Nothing was forgotten. Freddy and I have the same stateroom and I shall immediately start to make him fit. I tell him that in order to join the Flying Corps, one cannot weigh more than 75 kilos.
Your most affectionate son,
G. D. E. Div. Nieuport Secteur 92A, February 19, 1916.
Dear Governor, – Enclosed is a letter from Freddy. Notice that he says the discipline at Pau is very strict.
I am a schoolboy again. I am training to fly the very fastest appareil de chasse – quite a different instrument from the avion canon which weighs three times more than these small chasing appareils.
I am busy pushing matters, in regard to the formation of the Escadrille Américaine. There is a possibility that St.-Saveur, now a captain in the aviation, may command us. Although but a short time on the front he has done finely as a pilot. We are all disponible to go to the front and are only waiting for a captain, the personnel (chauffeurs, secretary, cook, etc.) our avions and the motor cars. Orders for our formation will be issued, I hope, next week. The weather has been very rainy and windy here for a week, which is to be expected, during the month of February. We are losing no time, however.
Those Lewis guns, if there is any way of getting hold of a dozen, would be much appreciated by us here. The more you can get for us the better, but I realise that it may be impossible even for you to get hold of any.
How are the horses? Don’t overdo the schooling!
I hope you and Mamma are enjoying Aiken. The main thing is to care for your health.
With love to Mamma, who, I trust, is not too anxious about Freddy and me.
Your affectionate son,
Esc. N. 124. Secteur 24, June 26, 1916.
Dear Mamma, – Oliver Wolcott, who has been cantoned near by with the American Ambulance, is going home to serve with the militia and is to take this letter with him.
No news of Freddy this past week. The training is so thorough at these aviation schools that he risks but little while there. Probably he won’t get to the front for another month.
Poor Victor Chapman. He had been missing for a week and we knew there was only a very remote chance that he was a prisoner. He was of tremendous assistance to me in getting together the Escadrille. His heart was in it to make ours as good as any on the front. Victor was as brave as a lion and sometimes he was almost too courageous, – attacking German machines whenever and wherever he saw them, regardless of the chances against him. I have written to Mr. Chapman – a rather difficult letter to write to a heart-broken father.
Victor was killed while attacking an aeroplane that was coming against Lufberry and me. Another unaccounted for German came up and brought Victor down while he was endeavoring to protect us. A glorious death – face à l’ennemi and for a great cause and to save a friend
Your affectionate son,
Escadrille N. 124, Secteur 24, June 29, 1916.
Dear Mamma, – Enclosed is a photograph of Victor Chapman and myself, taken two days before his death. It is a print of what is probably the last photograph taken of him. I have sent one to Mr. Chapman.
We are too busy and short of pilots at our Escadrille to think of taking a permission at present. Tout va bien. Bonnes nouvelles de Freddy.
Your affectionate son,
July 2, 1916.
Dear Mamma, – A few lines to tell you that tout va bien. This letter will be taken over and mailed in New York by an American Ambulance driver who dined with us last night.
Today I am de garde all the morning – that is to say, from dawn to noon. I must be by my avion ready to start as soon as any Boches are signaled. None have been so far this morning on worse luck!
Your affectionate son,
Esc. N. 124, Secteur 24, July 6, 1916.
Dear Governor, – Enclosed is a letter which speaks of Freddy. The Escadrille is running well. St.-Saveur lunched at our popole last week and wished to be remembered to you and Mamma: de R —- , who was on our team at Bagatille, was here for lunch to-day with R —- ; both wish to be remembered ; de P— came last week looking very fit and will write to you shortly.
The aviaphone for my helmet arrived in good shape and I have lent it to my captain, as I am riding at present a single-seated aeroplane.
Your affectionate son,
Deauville, Sept. 2, 1916.
Dear Mamma, – I am down here with friends, passing part of my permission. It is very pleasant and refreshing, the change. One soon gets enough of Paris in summer and in wartime. Here no one pays the slightest attention to the war. There are few militaires – mostly civiles from Paris and their amies. Good bathing, – golf in the afternoon – many goodlookers, making the plage rather good fun.
Freddy is nearly through at Pau. He is now at the acrobacy school learning to do stunts in the air. It is a part of the training of a chasse pilot. I gave him some pointers before he left and told him to do the least possible with the old machines which are quite out of date and clumsy.
Monday I return to Paris and Tuesday back to the Front, my eight days permission expiring on that day.
I was fortunate enough to run across a German the other day who didn’t see me approaching. If you read the communiqué aérien of the 23d or 24th you will find mention of my Boche, – “Un avion desempare est tombé dans la forêt de Spencourt”. Undoubtedly they will give me this time the Médaille Militaire, – the chicest decoration in France. The chief pleasure of having it will be the satisfaction of having earned it many times and that my receiving it may please the governor and you.
A bientôt, dear Mamma. Thanks for the socks and the handkerchiefs.
Escadrille Americaine, par Luxeuil-les-Bains, Haute-Saône, September 24., 1916.
Dear little Mamma, – I am so afraid you will worry more than ever when you hear of poor Kiffen Rockwell’s death. I know how anxious you must be with the two of us over here. Keep very busy, ride a lot, go out to dinners and get as many other distractions as possible so that you will not have too much time to think of us. As far as danger to us goes, we are trying to take as few chances as possibly consistent with playing the game.
Everybody tells me that Freddy is showing himself to be an excellent pilot. Unfortunately he has not yet fully decided to come with our Escadrille. He would prefer to go to another which is commanded by St.-Saveur. I dare say he might be happier if he did not come with us, but à point de vue of safety it seems to me he would be better off with us. I could be a lot of assistance to him, telling him all I have learned this spring hunting Germans, and he would have an excellent mechanic in Michel, who by the way, has been Rockwell’s mechanic while waiting for Freddy’s arrival; and further, he could have my machine to ride, which is the dernier cri in appareils de chasse, with two machine guns. He would otherwise get one as safe, but not so good for knocking down Boches. He would have only one gun.
Did I write you that I had knocked down another Boche two days before leaving the Verdun district? I enclose a clipping giving the communiqué officiel, with mention also of my Boche who fell at Dieppe.
Dear Mamma, I must stop writing now. We are going out to try to avenge Rockwell. Don’t worry . I am doing my duty as safely as I know how. With much love to you both,