Tuesday, October 11, 2011

J. Henry Scattergood's Letter Home from War-Torn France, March 1919

       J. Henry Scattergood (1877-1953) grew up in Powelton.  His family moved to 3515 Powelton Ave. in 1880 when he was a few years old and he lived there for more than 40 years.  The Scattergoods were a prominent Quaker family whose members were associated with numerous Quaker causes.   After several years in business, Henry became treasurer of Haverford College in 1916 and treasurer of Bryn Mawr College in 1927.  He also served as U. S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Herbert Hoover.

J. Henry Scattergood, c1919

       After WWI, he went to France as a member of the Society of Friends’ Committee of the National Red Cross to coordinate food aid.  When Herbert Hoover invited the American Friends Service Committee to take charge of feeding German child, Henry’s brother, Alfred G. Scattergood, became chief of that unit.
        Henry wrote the following letter to his wife on March 14, 1919 at a pivotal moment in European history.  The letter describes the scene immediately around him, the broader situation in France, Germany and Austria, American politics, the hope for a new “league of nations” and his fears for “another struggle of the future“ if the league was not designed with the proper intent.  It is an amazing, insightful document written by one of Powelton’s finest.  It is copied here in full as it was printed in the Evening Public Ledger in April, 1919.
        "I started a letter two days ago from Paris, but was interrupted by interviews, and then suddenly found I had to leave that evening for Neufchateau, in the east of France, to see some United States army officers about materials which we need in the Verdun area. So yesterday was spent on trains and at Neufchateau and today again on trains on my way to Charmont (our new headquarters in the Verdun area). I have an hour before the connecting train leaves for Bar le Duc. Hundreds of ‘Yanks’ are all around us – typical scene. There is a constant string in one door to the canteen and out another, each fellow getting his can full of hot coffee and a sandwich. He pays a trifle if he has the money, otherwise it is given.
        "Besides cold corned beef and hard bread it is all they often get on a journey from one place to another.
        "Last evening at Neufchateau, while I was getting supper at the A. R. C. [American Red Cross] station canteen, I watched a girl I felt sure I knew hand out coffee and sandwiches. She proved to be Ruth Gibbons, of Haverford Meeting, and she had just fed 1700 boys in forty-five minutes – two trainloads. One feels for these fellows, and all of them sick and tired of the army and all anxious to get home and back to their usual work.
        "Many towns like this one, and most of those in northeast France, are full of Americans. This applies to the sectors taken over by the United States from the French. In every little village they are stationed; with too little to do now, and tired of the French and the French of them.
        "Today I have seen Russians, who were prisoners in Germany, brought by the French and Americans to work here for their keep, I suppose. A French soldier told me they are still really the same as prisoners. I can't just place their legal status, but as some one is feeding them they probably are willing to stay rather than go to Russia or Germany with all the uncertainties in those countries.
        "What strange situations the war has made. The individual work habit has been lost by hundreds of thousands of men. They have been fed for so long now in many cases one, two or three years of compulsory service before the war and then four and a half years of war itself – that they have come to depend upon state employment, and have lost the habit of individual work.
        "This is especially true of Germany and Austria. In the former, the present government has had to make a general appeal to the citizens to work, saying that on work depends the whole welfare of the state. Think of what it means to have the work-loving German nation of the past reduced to this. Those unemployed, I understand, are being paid for the moment by the state eight marks a day. They would rather take this and not hunt work than find work and get more.
        "In Austria, reports from Switzerland say, the conditions are even worse, and chaos and the break-up of the state and civilization are threatened. Soldiers form committees and get food themselves because of quasi-governmental powers and don't care if others suffer. It is a case of every one for himself, and a scramble with no real general coherence or state authority.
        "This god that the central empires have worshiped – the state – has crumbled to pieces and they feel lost.
        "The desperate straits of starvation and unemployment and demoralization have, of course, hastened the process of proletariat unrest which breeds Bolshevist philosophy, and those returning from the Berne conference state that the Moderates from Germany, whom they saw there expressed the view that the revolution in Germany and Austria is just beginning, not ending.
        "The Allied powers have been late in realizing the facts to which they have been blind because of feelings arising from the war. England awoke first through its members of the inter-Allied food commission and gave the warning three weeks ago. Its leading member even resigned because of lack of support for his view at the time. Now even the French appear to see the danger of delay. Mr. Lansing, two nights ago in a speech in Paris, repeated the warning of the instant need of feeding Germany, or there would be no Germany to feed.
        "But none of the United States $100,000,000 for the Hoover Food Commission can be used because of restrictions passed by our ‘enlightened’ Congress, prohibiting help being given to the central powers. And yet they wonder at the growth of Bolshevism. But not so with those who see on this side the strain and stress of conditions caused by the war.
        "The more one watches the frenzied struggle with the present problems of national interests, of internal finances and budgets, of demobilization and the re-starting of industry, etc., the more one realizes that the war has made more problems than it settled. I am having an eye to the national budgets now in the making, and I look for interesting realizations to dawn therefrom upon the consciousness of some of the nations that have withstood thus far any new developments in the international and social orders.
        "How lamentable it seems at this juncture for Senator Lodge and others to be ‘throwing monkey wrenches into the gears.’ It is taken in Europe as meaning that America is much divided. But it is encouraging to find that the league-of-nations idea has made such headway in France that Senator Lodge's views are generally given very little space in the French newspapers now, and that enlightened European opinion sees the new opportunity more and more.
        "The great struggle is still ahead, however, to make the league of nations a real league and not merely a camouflage alliance of one group assuming counter-interests against another group. This last conception would, of course, have in it the seeds of another struggle of the future.
        "Yet people ‘taking counsel of their fears,’ both in the United States and in Europe seem prone to seek immediate safety in the latter kind of a league, or rather alliance, and have difficulty in seeing through into a greater conception of trust in the deeper moral forces underlying all humanity in which rests the real security for all."
(Reprinted from the Evening Public Ledger, April 4, 1919.  P. 20)

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