This pamphlet from 1925, onto which are pressed poppies from the surrounding wheatfields, tells the story of what might be described as “a house of perpetual memory and service” built and maintained by American Methodists in Chateau Thierry in the first years after the war. It is difficult in a phrase or two to describe what such a house was, so the full description contained in the pamphlet is included here, together with attendent photographs.
Unlike the work toward healing and recovery performed by medical institutions, about which a great deal has been written over the years, comparable work by smaller, charitable organizations devoted to repairing damage to the social fabric of war-torn France, is much less known.
The idea behind such houses was to put into place local centers that would persist for years afterwards, serving not only practical physical needs, but working to restore psychological and spiritual deficits as well. Such houses as this were both a refuge and a place of healing from the lingering corrosion of war, and training ground of preparation for the trials that were to come.
The Vision is now a beautiful reality. It came first to Dr. Bysshe, soon after the Germans had left their fearful trail of death in the Valley of the Marne in 1914. He was standing in the pitiful little American graveyard at Belleau Woods. It was all so soon after the terrible battle and the hasty burial of those brave boys, that in itself it was like a newly-made grave, with nothing as yet to mark the spot.
“Those American Soldiers who gave their lives in France should have one of the finest monuments in the world” was the thought of this Superintendant of France Mission.
Already the French Government had asked the Methodists to aid with relief for the refugees who were returning to the devastated homes. Thirty-two villages were assigned to them.
It was while thinking of the aid which the Board of Foreign Missions in New York had offered for the devastated areas of France that the thought came of enlarging this temporary material assistance and making a more enduring monument which would a Memorial worthy of the soldiers whose graves are in France. The gift of the Methodist Episcopal Church to Chateau-Thierry should be more than a passing gift of material relief. It should be an enduring monument of happiness, built out of the desolation of war. It must be a loving service for those who are still living in the war-scarred villages of the Valley of the Marne.
The first year after the war gave abundant opportunity for relieving need in the thirty-two villages. It was decided after the first year that the emergency need for material help was no longer so great, and that our energy should be turned toward the development of a service in Chateau-Thierry which would be permanent, which would not only hold the affection of the villages but which could continue to minister to the needs of the growing youth of Chateau-Thierry and be an abiding Memorial to the American Soldier dead. The old Hotel de l’Elephant was purchased. It is within a stone’s throw of the famous Stone Bridge, which was destroyed, to prevent the Germans getting over the Marne, on the day after the arrival of the American Army. The building was a ruin at the time of its purchase. It had been used as a hotel since 1789, witnessing the scenes of the French Revolution. One of Napoleon’s cannon balls is still lodged in a building nearby, bearing the date “1814”. It witnessed the evacuation of the place in 1870, and suffered terribly from the two bombardments in 1914 and 1918.
Its ruin was such that it seemed hopeless to think of ever making it an attractive place for children’s work. Wit broken roof, rain-soaked walls, without a pane of glass, and the accumulation of the filth of years, it was impossible to occupy the building for months. Two German bodies were in the cellar when the Americans took over the building. Forty-six sticks of dynamite were found in it after we had lived in it five months.
From the shell-torn carcass of the “Elephant” was resurrected the beautiful “Methodist Memorial”. A local Physician, Dr. Prieur, said, “If the Methodists will render the best service to Chateau-Thierry, let them help children to take the places of those who were killed in the War. France lost one million five hundred thousand of her men, beside seven hundred thousand others who were wounded. The places of these must be filled”.
The program was definitely made to include the following activities:
1. A Trained Nurse for visiting in the homes of expectant mothers. A weekly clinic to be held in the building, under the supervision of local physicians for the babies and mothers.
2. A Creche (Day Nursery) for the daily care of babies, three months to two years of age, from destitute and devasted homes. The mothers of these must work to support their families. Already the babies show the effects of the daily bath, regular habits of sleep, with good nourishment. Every sanitary precaution is taken for the health of these precious future citizens of France.
3. Educational Classes. Popular classes in English are held four evenings in the week. Instruction is given in Shorthand, Typewriting, Millinery, Sewing, Drawing, Modeling, Domestic science and Gymnastics. A Casse de garde is held each afternoon after school hours. During the summer vacation months more than seventy children from three to twelve years of age attend the morning and afternoon classes. Material is furnished to the sewing classes with instruction for making the trousseaux of the future mothers of France.
4. An Installation of Wireless Telegraphy and Radio-Telephone, affords instruction for the youth and entertainment for the inhabitants of the Community.
5. A Free Circulating Library and Reading Room. Owing to the destruction of books during the war there is a keen appreciation of the magazines and journals. Nearly one thousand carefully selected and catalogued volumes are in circulation. Gifts from Dana Hall, Wellesley, have aided in founding a Children’s Library which is becoming more and more popular, and is especially attractive at the Story-telling Hour.
6. The Boy Scouts and Camp-fire Girls are organized. They have made their own tents and have camped on the battlefields. Marked improvement is seen in the conduct of these young-people whose morals suffered greatly during the war, when their fathers and older brothers were at the front and their mothers were in the fields and munition factories. Our Boy Scouts took second place at a National encampment, bringing home five 1st medals and the Gold Medal for second highest place in the Camp.
7. The Girls’ Social Club. Young women meet weekly for self improvement, with music, games and uplifting conferences.
8. War Museum. A valuable collection of souvenirs of the war has been made. German cannons and French mortars, together with parts of aeroplanes, including the motor of Quentin Roosevelt’s plane which fell at Chamery, are in the museum. Autographed photographs and letters have been received from nearly all of the commanding officers who were here in 1918. More than 8,000 persons visited the building in the summer of 1925.
9. The Rooms have been made attractive and home-like. these are open every evening in the week. English classes, music, games, coversation in English and French, afford an ideal opportunity for closer acquaintance and the making of abiding friendship between the American, English and French peoples. Such gatherings had not been known before. Conferences and soirees have been held with speakers or artists from Paris. Dramatic performances are staged and Concerts given.
There is no charge made for the services rendered in the Methodist Memorial. It has been the joy of Methodism to offer this in loving appreciation of the people of Chateau-Thierry, and in tender memory of the brave boys who sleep at Belleau Woods.
While the Board of Foreign Missions has founded and financed the Memorial, special gifts are necessary for maintaining the present program.
This is only one of the social activities of the France Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church in France, others being in Paris, Poissy, Charvieu, Lyon and Toulon. The Paris Office is at 89a Boulevard Haussmann.
Julian S. Wadsworth, Director.
3000-12-10-12 — Herbert Clarke, Printer, 338 Rue St-Honore, Paris.