Christmas in a post-World War I U.S. camp in France
Posted On: 12/24/2016 - 9:18am, Posted By: Christine Engels, Archives Manager, Manuscripts Department
Being away from home during holidays can be difficult for anyone, but especially so for soldiers and their families during wartime. Cincinnatian Clarence E. Keidel was a faithful correspondent with his parents throughout his World War I service. Born in Cincinnati in 1894 to August and Clara Keidel, he enlisted in the Ohio National Guard on April 9, 1917 after the United States entered the war. Keidel was promoted to corporal in October of 1917 and then sergeant in May 1918. He joined the American Expeditionary Forces in the summer of 1918 in Battery E3, Field Artillery and was sent to France where he participated in the Battle of Metz and other skirmishes.
In this letter, Keidel describes how he and other U.S. soldiers spent Christmas at their camp in France. The war had ended in November and they were anxiously awaiting news on when they would be leaving France. His very descriptive letter tells how they spent the holiday and created their own Christmas celebrations. Keidel and another soldier went out into the woods to cut down a tree and then decorated it with anything they could find, much to the amusement of their fellow soldiers. He also describes the special breakfast and dinner they were served that day and includes a humorous anecdote about the men finding kegs of beer on Christmas Eve. Keidel claims the beer was so weak no one could possibly get intoxicated but the men happily behaved as if they were, staying up until 1 A.M. playing the piano. He also mentions attending a candlelit midnight mass at a very cold church where the parish priest had only just recently returned to town.
Keidel’s parents had sent him a newspaper clipping about a soldier in his camp whose letter home had been published by the local press. Several men in camp had the same clipping sent to them from family and friends and some of them posted it up on a billboard for all to see. Apparently the soldier did not warn his father against giving the letter to any newspapers, but even worse was that he greatly exaggerated the danger he was in and his own bravery. He was teased mercilessly by the rest of the men as were several other “celebrities” in camp whose letters of inflated heroism were published by newspapers.
As with many letters written home to worried parents there is no mention of any danger or deprivations in Keidel’s letter. Though sometimes soldiers, both then and now, honestly tell of their troubles, most do not want to worry their loved ones so they omit worrisome details. Perhaps Keidel’s Christmas was as idyllic as he describes since the war was over. Many organizations like the YMCA and Red Cross worked hard to keep the soldiers’ spirits up with food, cigarettes and news from home, something Keidel remarks on. In other letters in this collection he voices concern that his writing might be censored, so he and many other soldiers practiced self-censorship so family members would not get letters with redactions on them.
Keidel’s letter home is a nice reminder that even at the end of a horribly devastating war life goes on and people, in this case U.S. soldiers and the French citizens around them, turn to their traditions of holiday celebrations to find a new sense of normality to life. He ends his letter with hopeful rumors of returning home soon and wishes his parents a hearty Happy New Year.
After the war Keidel was a superintendent of a street railway and lived in Clifton. He and his wife Alma had one son, Paul, born in 1924. Clarence E. Keidel died on April 23, 1981.
You can see an inventory of this collection on the library’s webpage under Archives & Manuscripts.
Letter from Clarence E. Keidel, Woimbey Sur La Meuse, to Folks. December 27, 1918.