by Lauren Pidgeon

On November 11th, 1918, the Axis powers surrendered and the Armistice was signed. Some of the American troops went into Paris to celebrate.

November 12th, 1918
Last night there was great celebrating in the cities over the signing of the armistice. They let quite a lot of boys go to the city last night there was a special train.

This image was taken in Paris on Armistice day. From the Imperial War Museum Archives

Then I came across a letter that Garey wrote to his father in which Garey wrote that he didn’t have to censor his letters anymore. This might explain why his letters were filled with descriptions of the weather or comments on family drama and less of the war. Even though Garey never went to the trenches during the war, he visited them a few months later and described his visit to his father.

November 24th, 1918
Camp de Meuceon, France

Dear Pa,
This morn they announced to us that we can write most anything we want… They say we finished our training ready from the front the week before the Armistice was signed.

This would be the kind of trench Garey might have seen a few months after the end of the war.

March 4, 1919

There is no picture that can ever show half or even quarter of what one can see with his eyes. No one that has not ever seen the things can realize just what things look like. There are shell holes large enough to put the whole of Wallace’s house in it and then have room left. There are dugouts that are 15 or 20 feet under ground with rooms for kitchens, bedrooms, and other rooms. ….All over the ground around the trenches are bushels of hand-made grenades and rifle shells, machine gun shells, all loaded. All kinds of ammunition all around. You will see to all kinds of duds that is shells that did not explode when they landed all around. There are alot of airplain bombs that did not explode.. There are alot of wire entanglements all over, you would not think that you could get your own guns into position but they have roads and paths that are camouflage so go where that the enemy cannot see them.

Garey’s family must have been quite thankful that Garey never got the chance to fight but Garey could have felt pretty left out. Imagine living with thousands of other soldiers, almost all of whom got the chance to fight on the front. There would have been countless stories and experiences that he couldn’t have related to. I’m sure most of these men were terrified of the trenches and some even suffered from shell-shock but they either didn’t talk about it amongst each other or Garey didn’t write about it.

The American Red Cross hands out candy to wounded soldiers in Paris. From Library of Congress

I recently read Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose and he emphasizes that soldiers who fight on the front for the first time sometimes feel almost immortal. They know it’s dangerous to fight on the front and that quite a few fellow soldiers will die, but they think to themselves “It won’t be me”. After seeing friends get killed or after they, themselves almost get killed, soldiers become much more cautious and maybe even a lot more frightened of war. Garey may have had this “immortal” mindset which, along with the fact that he never actually experienced the front, could explain why he never recounted the horrors of war like other soldiers did.

As soon as the war and celebrations ended, there was a feeling of uncertainty because no one knew when the troops would be allowed home.

November 24th, 1918
As far as knowing what we are going to do that is some thing we know nothing about from one hour to another. We are apt to get orders within an hour to move and we may stay here 2 months no one knows All though I think it will be nearer 2 weeks.

Unfortunately these guesses were way off and the troops were in France until June 1919- almost 9 months after the Armistice.