One hundred years ago, my great-grandfather Glenn Kaiser wrote a Christmas letter home to his mother. He had just received his Christmas box that his mother sent. Below is a transcription of that Christmas letter.
(Click here to read the full letter.)
On Active Service with the American Expeditionary Force
Dec. 25, 1918
As I would like to be in DeKalb long enough to find out where you got the pen you sent me. It came in a Parkers self filling box, but the pen is a Swan Safety pen, and the directions are for a Parkers pen, so that is what you wanted to buy, but you didn’t get it, or I didn’t, so there you are. I wanted a Parkers but I can get one when I get back there. There is no filler on this pen so it is no good just now, but I will fill it some way. I do not want you to feel bad over this at all. The pen I got was marked $3, so if that is what you paid for it, just let it go until I come home. It will be soon I hope, but let me know where you got it? I will save the
box and pen so they can see for themselves. That is the way all of the soldiers get it. They do not know that we are here, or have been fighting for all of them. Well that is all about the pen.
Well Mother, outside of the pen the box hit the spot all right. The candy was just like I ate when I was home and the cake, Say Ma, that made me homesick and the gum sure does do good. They do not know what gum is over here, and the best thing about this box was that it came on Xmas day. All the boys have not gotten theirs, just about half of them, so you can see I am lucky. We are still about 20 miles from the Rhine. It don’t look like we were going to get home any too soon, but we can tell a thing about it. When order came to move, it came at night and before soon we are up and going, so that’s the Army for you, but it is not like it was two
months ago when we was up at the Front. So, if we are here six months, we can’t kid. We know we will be there someday, and that is more then we knew then, but you know as well as I do I would sooner be home. The old saying is a Amex solder is kidding all the time; if he didn’t kid he would be no soldier. There was a German soldier that came back today. They thought he was killed but he was not. That was a good Xmas given for his family. I would have liked to come home on Xmas. That would have been fine for me and you all. Just so I got there in time for dinner. I sure do think a lot of times of home and the good things I had and then I didn’t think they were any good. I thought I had the poorest bed
in the town but now I think there is no bed like that one and I sure will know how to like some things like that. I have laid in mud and slept all over. When I get home, don’t say anything if you see me sleeping on the floor because I can sleep anywhere if there is no shooting or any airplanes bombing. Those two things will keep me from sleeping and you know that the kids [used to] wake me up if they looked at the house.
Well Mother, this is all for this time, and hope you are feeling fine and thank you for the box and hope I am soon home. I got the paper but no letter for two or three weeks. Well keep on writing just as if I was not coming home at all.
Hdq. Co. 127 Inf.
What’s the big deal about the pen?
What a bittersweet Christmas for Glenn! The war was over, but he was still not home, and to top it all off, he did not have a reliable pen to write with. This letter was not the first time that he mentioned the pen that his mother sent him. She had purchased a Parker’s pen, and without checking the contents, mailed the pen to Glenn. However, when the pen box eventually reached Glenn on the German Front Lines, he discovered that the pen inside the box was actually different brand. This small mistake did not seem like a big deal to me, but the more he agonized over the pen, I realized that this was actually quite a big deal for him. He likely did not have a good pen to write with, and because ink was in short supply, other soldiers were likely reluctant to share their ink pens. Although the two pens seem to have been about the same price, Glenn did not like his Swan pen, and if he wrote this letter with his new pen, it does not seem to write smoothly. He likely didn’t know how to refill it, either, without the instructions. His pen was his only way of communicating with his family (remember, no phones or internet 100 years ago!), so this small thing was actually a big problem for him. I can now understand his frustration. I wonder if the merchant was knowingly selling Swan pens in another pen’s box, or if it was an honest mistake. I also wonder if that merchant got an earful by the time that Glenn got back that spring, or if the matter had been forgotten by then! I hope that Glenn was able to secure a better pen for the rest of his time in the Army, and that he was able to write home as much as he wanted.
“Outside of the pen,” Glenn’s Christmas presents were quite a treat! Candy, gum, and Mother’s homemade cake! His Christmas must have been bittersweet. I imagine that he would have been grateful during his future Christmases, when he slept in a warm bed with quiet nights, had a hot home-cooked dinner, and could spend time with family.
This concludes my blog series about my great-grandfather Glenn Kaiser and his service in the Army during WWI. If you’d like to read more about Glenn, or read his other letters, you can see more here:
- Letters from the Great War, 1917-1919 (collection of WWI letters)
- Letters from a Kaiser in the Great War (blog post)
- A Kaiser at the War’s End: 100 years ago (blog post)
- A Kaiser in the Great War (blog post)
One thought on “Christmas on the German Front — 100 years ago”
This is the most animated Glenn has sounded in his letters. That Christmas package really meant a lot to him! As for the pen fiasco, I’d say that the Swan pen probably sounded better in theory than it actually worked in practice. And I’ll bet it leaked.
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