Friday, April 9, 2010

"No one will ever realize except those who have gone through with the hellish war what it has meant to the world." - The Letters of Nettie Mills

The Champaign County Historical Archives is proud to have the Nettie Dorothy (Irle) Mills Papers as one of its featured collections. The young Nettie Irle graduated from the Julia F. Burnham City Hospital School of Nursing in 1917, and then joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in August 1918, serving until the spring of 1919. Once enlisted, she found herself transported to New York City and from there to various hospitals in France during the final chapters of the First World War. Her letters exhibit a great sense of adventure and her keen powers of observation. They are also a testament to the affection she felt for her patients and her yearning for the events and people she left in Illinois. Here is one example:

November 16, 1918
Savenay, France

Dear Father and Mother,
Will take a few minutes to write you. Am rather cold, so please excuse poor writing. This is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The flowers are blooming just like it was the middle of the summer. It does not seem possible that thing[s] could look so prosperous as they do for the ground had a thin crust of ice on [it] this AM.

They have just put in a new crop of wheat and they tell me it will be harvested about the middle of March.

How is thing[s] at home[?] Did any of you people get the influenza? I hope not for I have seen enough of that stuff to last me forever.

I will try and tell you of the celebration we had of the wide world peace victory. They came in the ward about Mon. and told the boys. Now if you ever heard cheering from human throats those lads certainly cheered. Some of the poor fellows so sick they didn’t know whether they were dead or alive sat up in bed and cheered. No one will ever realize except those who have gone through with the hellish war what it has meant to the world.

There was a rumor spread around that we were going back to the Dear Old U.S.A. and take charge of a hospital in Washington D.C.. So you see how happy we all will be if this turn[s] out to be true. They have been told around here that all wounded boys were to be taken back to the U.S.A. first and this would be done in the next three months.

I haven’t received any mail as yet but hope to in the near future. Am anxious to hear how every thing is at home.

I go for a long walk every day so that I can get an idea of this beautiful country. M[y] daily average is about 10 kilo[meter]s a day. It does not seem possible that I have been gone 3 months – the time flies so rapidly when one is busy.

I certainly wish you could hear the stories of these boys – when they all get started going over the top they get so excited it is amusing to watch the expressions on their faces.

Every nite about 6 o’clock they get started and the stories they tell would make your hair stand on end.

Another amusing scene is to go down to the village on market day “which is every Wed.” and watch them sell their wares. They come from miles around. They all wear wooden shoes – I haven’t seen a pair of leather shoes since I have been here.

Well as my time is short I must close for this time. Wishing you a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year

I am as ever your loving
Daughter Nettie
The description for the collection can be found here.

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