Thursday, August 18, 2016

Treasure Chest Thursday: Jean La Forêt Receives a Letter after the War

This is a letter written on a lightweight bluish-yellowish 9" x 6" piece of paper.  The paper has a visible weave but no watermark.  It has a hard fold down the middle lengthwise and was also folded again, probably to fit into the envelope it was in when I received it and which appears to be the envelope in which it was mailed.  A letter was written on the paper based on the hard fold, so the pages of the letter are 4, 1, 2, 3 as the images appear here.  I will transcribe and translate the letter in numerical order, though.  The writing, in black ink, is clear and easy to read.  Jean wrote in pencil on the first page when he responded.

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[page 1]

Saint-Eugène, le 25 Juin 1919

Answ'd 7-17-19 [in pencil]

Mon Cher Ami,

L'Allemagne vaincue accepte les conditions de paix des alliés.  Cette nouvelle nous a été annoncée hier soir par une salve de nos corps de canons.  Aujourd'hui Alger est en fête, les écoles sont licenciées.  C'est la fin de la guerre.

Dans ce moment de joie ma première pensée va vers vous, vers ce brave Monsieur La Forêt qui m'avez toujours encouragé et soutenu dans les

[page 2]

mauvais jours.  Maintenant c'est la fin de ce long cauchemar.

Vive la France, vivent les alliés, vive l'Amérique qui a si puissemment contribué à la victoire.

Ne m'en voulez pas trop, mon cher ami, de mon silence si prolonge, je voulait attendre la paix avant de vous écrire — vous m'aviez écrit après l'armistice et cette paix a été si longue à venir.  Mais ne croyez pas, parce que je suis négligent et paresseux, que je me pense pas souvent à vous.  Détrompez-vous.  Comment pourrais-je oublier

[page 3]

les bons moments que nous avons passés ensemble?  Comment pourrais-je oublier toutes vos gentillesses et vos bontés pour moi et pour ma famille.  Avec ma femme, nous parlons souvent de vous, de Mme La Forêt et de Rosita, qui doit grandir à vue d'oeil.  Vous devez vous trouver heureux d'être en famille.

Les vacances sont fixées le juillet et le 11, nous prendrons le bateau — toujours la Marsa — pour la France.  Maintenant qu'il n'y a plus de sous-marins

[page 4]

on peut voyager sans crainte[.]  Voilà sans que nous n'avons été au pays, il nous tarde d'aller embrasser les vieux parents et d'aller respirer un peu l'air des Pyrénées.  Ma femma surtout en a bien besoin.

Que faites-vous dans votre bled?  Comment passez-vous votre temps?  Croyez-vous toujours être chargé d'une mission en Europe?  Aurais-je le plaisir de vous revoir un jour et de trinquer ensemble?  Qui sait?

M. Dominique Amygues, Ben Geretta et bien d'autres me chargent de vous dire bien des choses.  Présentez de la[?] part, de ma femme et de Marie-Louise les meilleures amitiés à Mme La Forêt; et vous recevez une cordiale poignée de main de votre ami


Embrassez bien fort Rosita pour nous.

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Saint Eugene, June 25, 1919

My Dear Friend,

Conquered Germany accepts the Allies' peace terms.  This news was announced to us last night by a salvo of gunshots from our unit.  Today Algiers is celebrating, the schools are closed.  It is the end of the war.

In this moment of joy my first thought was about you, about brave Mr. La Forêt who always encouraged me and supported me during the bad times.  Now it is the end of this long nightmare.

Long live France, long live the Allies, long live America, which has contributed so powerfully to the victory.

Do not blame me too much, my dear friend, for my prolonged silence, I wanted to wait for peace before writing to you — you wrote to me after the armistice, and this peace has been so long in coming.  But do not think, because I am negligent and lazy, that I do not often think of you.  Think again.  How could I forget the good times we had together?  How could I forget all your kindness and your generosity toward me and my family.  My wife and I speak often of you, of Mrs. La Forêt, and of Rosita, who must be growing up before your eyes.  You must be happy to be with family.

The holidays are set for July, and on the 11th we will leave on the ship — again the Marsa — for France.  Now that there are no more submarines we can travel without fear.  Since we have not been home, we look forward to kissing our elderly parents and to breathing the air of the Pyrenees.  My wife especially needs it.

What do you do in your little town?  How do you pass your time?  Do you think you will still have an assignment in Europe?  Will I have the pleasure of seeing you again and of raising a toast together?  Who knows?

Mr. Dominique Amygues, Ben Geretta, and many others asked me to pass on their good wishes.  All the best from me, my wife, and Marie-Louise to Mrs. La Forêt; and a warm handshake to you from your friend


Give Rosita a big kiss from us.

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I realize this is not on the level of the armistice, but I think it's pretty cool to have a letter celebrating Germany's acceptance of the peace terms.  It was an important historic event, after all.  And schools in Algiers closed for the day to celebrate!

The Saint-Eugène from which Mr. Ortety was writing is a neighborhood of Algiers and is now called Bologhine.

Whoever Mr. Ortety was, he appears to have been a good friend of Jean's while the latter was in Algiers.  Jean helped cheer him up.  The two families used to get together; both men's daughters are mentioned.  I notice he didn't use either wife's given name, but I guess that was just the conventions of the time.  Of course, I have no idea if Ortety was a given name or surname, though my guess is surname.  I notice that two of the friends had their full names given.  I tried searching for them on Google, but no results.

The French word that Ortety used for the little town where Jean lived was not a complimentary one.  Two of the translations are "boondocks" and "one-horse place."  Jean must have told him about Overland when he wrote after the armistice.

I tried looking for the Marsa that Ortety and family would have taken back to France.  Maybe it was the one on this page.

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The envelope is 4 3/4" x 3 1/4", and the exterior is made from the same type of paper as the letter.  The envelope is lined with a purple paper on the front and the envelope flap.  It has a 25 centime stamp from France (République Française) and three postmarks.  There are three notes written by Jean over the mailing address.

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Monsieur La Forêt
Overland, Mo.,
(St. Louis Co., Missouri).
U. S. of américa
P. O. B.ox 169

Notes written by Jean, from left to right:

Rec'd 7-16-19
Answ'd 7-17-19
Ortet (in very large letters), although the letter was signed Ortety


One postmark is over the stamp, and I cannot read it over the dark blue of the stamp.

Moving right, the second postmark has "1040 / 25 –6 / 19" in the center, indicating (probably) 10:40 a.m., June 25, 1919, which date matches that on the letter.  The bottom of the circular writing appears to be "R DE STRASBOURG", which likely means "rue de Strasbourg", the street in Algiers on which the post office was situated.  Several letters in the top of the circle are not clear, but the part to the right might say "ALGER", which is Algiers in French.

The third postmark has "5 PM / JUN 30 / 1919' in the center and "U. S. ARMY M. P. E. S. 702" around the circle.  MPES stands for "Military Postal Express Service", so the letter took four days to clear the U.S. Army, which apparently was processing mail for the French?  The number 702 appears to be the APO (Army Post Office).  A quick search online did not give a clear answer where that was, but it seems to have been in France.

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