Col. Fred Leviseur to Capt. S. Butler - France 1944
Fred Leviseur was a Lieutenant in the 301st Supply Train. He served in France during both World Wars. These letters are to a World War One comrade, Captain Sylvester Benjamin Butler, describing the area they both were housed during that war.
December 27, 1944
I just had Roger de la Rochefoucauld and his wife in to dinner at our mess. 26 years ago I saw him last - he was 3 - remember. Now he has a bad leg from an aviation accident, had 3 brothers in the Maquis. Is serious and keen, in the brokerage business, a sweet wife and 1 baby; not enough to eat or perhaps barely enough. We, or rather I reminised; his mother, Lucienne, isn't it? is at Lelande with her husband. The old marquise is dead (1928 I think); he knows nothing of Gillet - but he remembered my excellant marksmenship when we shot pheasants - do you?
4 June 1945
This is a report of a visit to Saint Amand-Montrond where I was stationed from August until 1 December 1918 with the 76th Division, Train Headquarters and Military Police. The Division was a National Army Division and most of the officers came from New England Section of the 1st Plattsburg Training Group and therefore included many officers who had been acquainted with one another. The notes below are strictly informal and I started to write them as a letter to Captain S. B. Butler, the Superintendant of Schools of Groton Connecticut, who was our Battalion Adjutant in 1918 and has since kept the history of the Battalion.
The town of St. Amand is on the banks of the Cher, about 120 miles south of Orleans. It is in the District of Berry which is rolling wooded country similar to Connecticut. Agriculturally it produces a wide variety of products and except for wines from the district surrounding the town and lumber, not much comes into the large cities. There is a biscuit factory, a shoe factory, and a factory that produces fishing tackle in the town, which is a Sous-Prefecture. As is well known to everybody, the Chateau Country is a country of large estates surrounded by small towns and farms. It was essentially feudal.
The high points of the visit were bringing into relief the Maquis activities in France and the fine patriotism of the Resistance Movement, clear of politics. The people who were so closely connected with the Resistance Movement were probably all conditioned and affected by the treatment of French prisoners of war, the deportation of political prisoners and young men to work in factories of Germany and the vicious circle of suspicions and fear which started soon after the Germans came.
To see a town where there was no organized fighting but where the Germans blew up four small buildings in the middle of town and a cafe whose proprietor was suspected of Maquis activities and in all 25 citizens of this place were put up against a wall and shot by Germans, is to understand a little of what the war meant to France.
I got up at six - a clear dull morning at that hour, with the high cloud over the chimneys promising a lovely day. A glass of tomato juice laced with cognac (blood and guts we call it) speeded up my preparations and toilet and I arrived at the Gare Austerlitz by Metro just on time for the train.
In my compartment was a railroad man with a peg-leg (lost his real one on the Oise in 1918 and was picked up by an American ambulance). We talked politics all the way thru Orleans and Bourges and Vierzen, Florent, Lunery; do you remember those names? La Celle Bruere? A man on the train just showed me some pictures of destruction by Germans in St. Amand - spite after some slight action against the Maquis who were most active there. The Germans that day put eight of them against the wall and shot them. The field and the poplars and the woods are the same. No Americans were here.
I am in Chateauneuf sur Cher with the lovely Chateau on a hill on the left of the train and next to the chateau the Gothic Chapel. You remember we played ball against the 301st Machine Gun Battalion there in 1918 - Oscar Haussman and John Coulson were on their team? The Cher is just below us. In ten minutes I'll be back in St. Amand. I've just had lunch. At the same table was a man who had been let out of Buchenwald by the Americans on 13 April. He's gained 15 kilos (36 lbs.) since then. He'd been with the Maquis. The green, Connecticut-like hills and fields of the Cher perhaps were part of the pull to take the six hour train ride down here from Paris.
Now we're into St. Amand. I drove up to the Hotel de la Poste in a carriage with seats on the side and iron tires, and saw the Market Square and la Place Carre and the Cafe de Theatre and the place on the corner that the Germans blew up. And the Hotel de la Poste is just the same; I have room 24 up a dark winding stair and facing the courtyard; it'll be noisy as hell in the morning. I put on my old overseas cap that I wore in 1918 and went across the street to where the Pinet tailor shop was, but they have gone away and probably have died and no one took any interest in my old caillot that was made in that shop; there was a French officer there who was more interested in his new assignment in Austria.
I'm writing this while I'm putting thru a call to Saulzais to talk to one of the de la Rochefoucaulds. By the way, my room has a feather bed and a wash-stand and a bidet, but the W.C. is down the hall. The feather bed looks good, but I forgot pajamas and soap. Hope there are no fleas.
I went down to the Cafe du Theatre where the patron used to be the waiter in '18, but he was out at the bank so I walked down the Rue National as far as the part where it widens out and the four rows of trees were (the gang used to meet their chickens there) and turned right onto Rue Ernest Maillard and walked down and talked to people I met till my memory came back. Maurice Protat - wasn't that the name of the little boy whose pa owned the house where we were billeted - well, he's a prisoner in Germany and his wife was out, but I'm going back. Now I've just come back up Ernest Maillard Street and turned left and there was an old, old woman in a white cap washing clothes at the river's edge and six ducklings feeding in the weeds with a mother hen watching them from across the river.
And now I've just had a glass of vin blanc in our old mess (Gillardet, is that name right, Butsy?). I've seen the tub that Pop and that old Regular Army Sergeant cooled their beer in while the entire afternoon they spent reminiscing about Cuba. How is Pop? And now I'm going back to the Cafe du Theatre and will write more.
Gosh darn it! I've got no camera and wish to hell you were here so you could see it too. The lady who owns this cafe now is expecting her grandson back from Germany after 13 months; he'll be in at 8 o'clock. I saw one family greet their son, husband and brother as I got off this morning. It is something to see. I shook hands with the old father and had a half tear in my eye too. Remember the Band Stand in the Square where Giller and Shetry fought? The patron of the Cafe du Theatre and I have been talking about '18 - neither of us remembers any names of people - he says there was an American captain who married a French girl in our division. There's a Russian refugee camp here - 2,500. Some trouble.
I met a woman schoolmarm who knew John Garvey and she suggested I go to the house of Leroy (Biscuit Leroy) who also knew him well when he was 1st Lieutenant in the 301st Military Police Battalion, and also knew Col. Arnold.
I also called on the Sous-Prefect and he was out. His wife was in and received me in her dressing gown. Her husband was but 3 months returned from prison camp. She said there was a secretary who know M. Gillet - the old Sous Prefect and worked for him while we were here. I am sorry not to have seen her.
In a cafe near the Cafe de la Poste I talked with a returned prisoner who had been in Bremen during practically the whole show. He had been away five years. He had a six year old daughter who did not know him and he had come back to find his wife laying up with another man and she will not let him have the child. During the early evening I met Mme. Protat, wife of Maurice who is still a prisoner.
Sunday 5 June.
This morning I had two shirred eggs, cherries and lousy coffee for breakfast. Walked up Montrond and saw the chateau (ruined) and the fine 19th century small chateau over in back of the woods where the fishing tackle manufacturer lives. I then went in a hired car to the chateau de Maillant where General Hodges had lived in 1918 and before whose reception Pop made his celebrated remark "Don't spit on my shoes and call me Pop." and where he was insulted because the old general helped him downstairs. The chateau is lovely but the grounds neglected and tho the rooms are beautiful there seemed not to be too many furnishings. A governess-sort of person took me thru (I'd not been thru in 1918) and I did not see the duke of Mortimar. The price was 10 francs and obviously had not been charged since the war; I don't suppose any trippers had been there, The garden was grown up with weeds.
I then went to M. Dupont and to M. Leroy (biscuits) who lives out by the canal, after Mme. Protat had shown me over the billet. Really had two lunches, one at the Duponts and another at the Cafe du Theatre (M. Rochex) and was embarrassed by the mix-up and finally walked down the hot street full of warm cream pie, cherry tart, red wine, pate de foie gras, roast veal and friend potatoes, white wine strawberries, coffee and cognac in the order named. It was very hot walking down to the station and I was lucky not to have a stroke or something. I finished eatting at 2:30; it is now 8:30 and I'm still not hungry. I must write to Garvey about the Leroys and how the boy who is a lousey sculptor was in trouble because he was a dash pro-German.
You don't mind reading this meandering stuff do you Buts? And don't forget - ever - that Paris isn't France but St. Amand is; just like Mystic is America, And our leaders will be in Washington or Paris and they will be OK as long as Mystic and St. Amand don't go to sleep.
Captain S. B. Butler letters. Copyright 1996-2000, The Butler family of Cromwell, CT.