A Gold Star Mother’s Trip to France: Mrs. Nora G. (Hamblett) Weld of Canaan NH

Photograph of Mrs. Nora G. Weld taken prior to her trip, from a Canaan NH Newspaper. Photograph courtesy of the Canaan NH Historical Society. Used here with permission.

When the United States Government issued an invitation to each mother and widow of a deceased soldier, whose remains rested in the American Cemeteries in France, to visit that place, I accepted the invitation. It had been my wish that at some future time I would be able to visit the grave of my son who was killed on September 24th, 1918 at St. Mihiel.

On September 26th [6th], 1930, I was one of the two hundred and thirty-seven ladies of Party S to arrive in New York City at the Hotel Western, where we were received by U.S. Officials who issued our credentials and passports.

On the morning of September 27th [7th], we were placed in busses and taken through the tube under the Hudson River to Pier No. 4, Hoboken, New Jersey; from which we were to sail on the S.S. America. As a farewell gift, the City of New York presented each lady with a small silk American Flag. The boat left the Pier at 12 A.M. , and, as we glided out of the harbor, the crowds were cheering, whistles were blowing, and the U.S. Band played the “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Till We Meet again.” All the ladies of Party S were leaning over the rail, waving their American Flags. We were a very happy party; all going for the same purpose.

There was a friendship and respect towards one another that I cannot describe or explain. We were not allowed to get homesick or lonely. There was a Hostess to arrange for entertainments, and a desk steward for sports. We went to Bible Class from 9 to 10 A.M. which we enjoyed very much, especially the singing. Then, we either walked the deck, played bridge, or read. There was a twelve piece orchestra on the Boat. We enjoyed both the concerts and the dinner music. A dance was held every night in the Social Hall, and Moving Pictures were presented on Deck. I remember the Sports: Shuffle Board and Tennis, Potato Races, Nail Driving, and Cookie and Pie Eating Contests. Some of the Western ladies in our group were quite good at Driving Nails. We just laughed to see how much they enjoyed the Sports. A lady from my State won 1st Prize in the Cookie-Eating Contest.

U.S.S. America [Amerika] circa 1910-1915. Bain News ServiceLibrary of Congress Photographs and Prints Division.

The Captain of the U.S.S. America conducted services on Sunday. He also invited us to visit him in his quarters on the Boat. He showed us the different parts of the Ship, and explained various things to us. It was all very interesting. As most of the Party had never been on an ocean liner before, it was quite an experience to have the opportunity to go from the lowest part of the Boat, through the Engine Rooms, the Cook Rooms, to see the chefs prepare the different foods, to the very top where were situated the Wireless and Pilot quarters. The night before we were to land the Captain gave a farewell Ball and Dinner in our honour. The dining room was beautifully decorated; there were fancy caps and pretty favors for everyone. The Stewards in their blue trousers and white coats together with the lovely lights and colors made a charming appearance. It was a truly beautiful sight. The next morning we were to land. We had been ten days in crossing, having been delayed by a severe storm. The Boat being forced to depart from its regular course.

As we left the Boat to go on the tender that was to take us to the Pier at Cherbourg, I think we all felt sorry to leave the S.S. America. There were quite a few tourists who were going on further to Hamburg. They cheered and wished us “Bon Voyage.” At Cherbourg we took a train for Paris. Arriving at Paris, we were divided into groups; each group going to different Cemetaries were taken to different Hotels. My group, which consisted of forty-two members, was taken to the Hotel Carlton on the Champs d’Elysees Avenue. We were to visit the Cemetery at St. Mihiel. The Hotel was particularly nice. A lady from Brighton Colo. was my room-mate, and we enjoyed every comfort and convenience. Our room afforded us private baths and twin beds with really beautiful furnishings of pure linen, hand embroidered, with silk fluff of down. The dining room and reception rooms were equally elaborate. A White coated waiter was ever attentive, looking after and supply our wants. But we never knew what he implied when he spoke to us. I forgot to mention before that we arrived in Paris on Friday, September 5th. On Saturday, September 16th [6th], there were services at the Arc De Triomphe Cemetery, the placing of wreaths on the Unknown Soldier’s grave, besides a reception and tea at the Laurent Restaurant, 41 Gabrielle Avenue. There we met the French officials who welcomed us to France, and Captain Ellis, an United States officer who had charge of the Gold Star Pilgrimage.

September 7th, Our party left in the large busses for St. Mihiel Cemetery, there being twenty-one ladies in each buss. Furthermore, we had two nurses, our Captain, and a guide to look after the Party. As we rode over the country our guide would bring the busses to a stop and point out the different places of interest in the war area. We viewed machine-gun nests, barbwire entanglements, and a large building that was used for a barracks, and had been shelled and partly destroyed. All along the route we would pass large monuments, commemorating the memory of different events in the World War. We stayed at de Met Bar Le Duc, 17 Bld. Rochelle.

September 8th: Arrived at St. Mihiel Cemetery at 10-30 A.M. We have traveled a long distance to reach the Cemetery where our sons lay. It is a beautiful spot. I do not think that there was a member of our group who did not feel that it was a fitting resting place for our dear ones. In the cemetery, there are 4151 soldiers, 3 women nurses, and 150 Unknown. There is a white Marble inscription reads as follows: “Here rests in honored glory an unknown soldier, unknown but to God.” I am enclosing with the pictures of St. Mihiel’s Cemetery our group photos, taken at the rest room at the Cemetery where we were received by a hostess and served American coffee. It had been a sad day, But we had at least seen where our boys lay, and we felt a satisfaction we hadn’t known before going to the Cemetery. We stayed in Nancy at night, and went back to the Cemetery each day until Wednesday, September 10th. We visited the Mont sec. in Metz. This spot was where the Germans had their barracks; it being captured in the battle of St. Mihiel. In Nancy, we stayed at the Grand Hotel; once the home of the Duke of Lorraine. Our guide told my room-mate and myself that the suite we occupied was exactly the same as that used by Marie Antoinette when she visited there. The rich and beautiful furnishings were beyond any imagination.

Photograph of Verne Weld provided originally by his sister, Grace, to the local American Legion Post #55. Credits to Weld-Webster American Legion Post #55, used here with permission. Buried St. Mihiel American Cemetery, France.

Thursday September 11th: We made our departure from Nancy by way of Toul, and we passed several large buildings which our Captain said were used for American Hospitals during the war, now having been converted into French barracks. The woods and forests and flowers in France are all very beautiful and lovely. The red poppy grows wild, and it can be seen in blossom beside the road, in the fields under cultivation; in fact, wherever you go you will find the little red poppy. Our guide presented each lady in our party with a package of poppy seed to bring back to America. We drove through the town of Doramy, visited the home of Joan of Arc, and saw the large monument which has been erected in her memory. All along the route we stopped at various hotels at 10.30 A.M., 1 P.M. and 3.30 P.M. for lunch. We traveled about a 130 kilometres a day. Thursday we stayed at the Grand Hotel.

Friday September 12th: Left Proyes at 8.30 A.M. and went on to Fontainbleu. We had lunch at the Hotel Legris, 36 Rue du Paro, and, at 2.30 P.M. we arrived at the Chateau, the home of Napoleon Bonaparte during his reign. For a period of about three hours, the guides escorted us through the Palace, telling us the history of each room. The Chateau dates back to the fourteenth century. We saw the Coronation jewels, and, also one of the largest diamonds in the world. There are nearly four thousand rooms in Fontainbleu; one wing being rented to an American Art School. Arrived at the Hotel Carlton, Paris, at 6.30 P.M. We had had a very busy week and had gone through a large part of France. We were all tired and were more than glad to get back to Paris. But what a thrilling experience. From Sunday morning until Friday night we had been traveling through the beautiful scenery of the peasant villages back to Paris, city of wealth and luxury.

Saturday, September 13th: Int he morning we went shopping on the Rue de Rivoli and Lafayette Gallenes. At 12.30 P.M. we went sigh(t) seeing to the (Sacra Cost) Sacred Hearth Cathedral. The stained glass windows, reflecting the wealth and magnificence of the church, was unusually fine and beautiful. From the high location of this Cathedral, you get a splendid view of Paris. On our way back we visited Eiffel Tower.

Sunday, September 14th: Attended the American Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, the only American church in Paris. Afterwards we visited the Battle Memorial Cloister, built in memory of the American Dead of the Great War. Each Division was carved separately in the wall. The 206th Division lost 102 Officers, 2615 Men. This is the inscription on the Wall: “To The Memory of Our Dead: Those Americans of the Great War of 1914-1918 came over-seas with their comrades Two million strong and gave their lives fighting beside their Allies for country, for humanity, for God. These cloister memorials are dedicated in gratitude and praise. They loved not themselves unto death. Let light perpetual shine forever.”

Here I wish to say that we lost one of our Gold Star Mothers. She died at her son’s grave in Verdun. Her remains were sent to this Cathedral to await transportation home with our Party.

The Louvre, Paris France circa 1890-1905. Library of Congress Photographs and Prints Division.

At 2.30 P.M. we went to the Louvre Museum and we remained there until 5.30 P.M. From 9 to 11 P.M. we went on a continuous sightseeing trip throughout Paris. The electric light display is very lovely and impressive. Paris is a beautiful and charming city by day, but far more so by night.

Monday, September 15th: Departing on a sightseeing trip through Paris, we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral, going through the treasury consisting of Gold, Silver, Diamonds and other stones used in the Church Scared Outfit. We saw, at this Church, some more beautifully stained glass windows. At 2 P.M. we left for Napoleon’s Tomb and other points of interest in Paris.

Tuesday, September 16th: The morning was spent in shopping. At 2.15 P.M. we left for Versailles to visit the Chateau, once the home of Marie Antoinette. The Chateau is very beautiful, especially the grounds with their many scenic effects. You really have to see this Palace to appreciate its beauty and splendor. There are many gorgeous tapestries, beautiful paintings [paintings] and statuaries. Our guide informed us that Rockefeller had given one million dollars to cover the expense incurred in putting a new roof over all of this building at Versailles. This is where Marie Antoinette was taken to prison, later to be beheaded.

Wednesday, September 17th: Our day was free to do as we pleased. We went shopping, and, instead of taking the bus, we walked to the shopping district. In the afternoon we packed our baggage, for we were leaving for Cherbourg on the next day.

Postcard of the ship, S.S. President Harding, the transportation of Mrs. Nora G. Weld and others during her Gold Star Pilgrimage. Courtesy of the Canaan NH Historical Society, used here with permission.

Thursday, September 18th: We departed from Le Gare Des Invalides for Cherbourg and the United States. We were all very tired after having traveled so much. We will never forget that wonderful trip. The rest of our party was with us again as we took the train at Paris. At Cherbourg we sailed on the President Harding for home. It was more than nice to see the rest of our group again. However, our voyage home was not as pleasant as when we came over, and, owing to the rough and stormy weather, many of our party because dreadfully seasick. But, with efficient doctors and nurses, we had the very best of care, and, in a few days, we were enjoying our party again. We had so much to talk about. Arriving in New York, Friday September 26th, we were taken in busses to the Hotel Pennsylvania. We had had a marvelous trip and, as we were to be separated — each one going to their homes — we were quite sad to think that we must part. We all hoped that some day we might meet again.

Saturday, September 27th: I finally arrived at my home. In conclusion, I can only say that I hope every mother and widow will accept the invitation to visit the Cemeteries in France. I shall never forget the courtesy and kindness that was shown Party S by the U.S. Officials and the SS Lines.

Mrs. Nora G. Weld
Mother of Corp. Verne H. Weld,
who was killed in action at
St. Mihiel, Sept. 24, 1918.

Editor’s Note:  The diary above is a transcription of the original writing of Mrs. Nora G. Weld,  a Gold Star Mother of New Hampshire, who participated in the U.S. Government program called the “Gold Star Pilgrimage.”  These diary pages were provided to me by the Canaan NH Historical Society, and is reprinted here with their permission.  Please contact them should you wish to re-use any portion of this story.

—Additional Reading—

100 Years Ago: Gold Star Mothers of New Hampshire

[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].

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7 Responses to A Gold Star Mother’s Trip to France: Mrs. Nora G. (Hamblett) Weld of Canaan NH

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  3. Amy says:

    It seemed a bit jarring to read about the partying and shopping and touring on a trip to visit her son’s gravesite. But when I went back and realized it was twelve years later, it seemed a little easier to understand the mixture of grief and happiness. But that poor mother who died at her son’s grave—that is heartbreaking.

  4. We’re so fortunate to have a first-hand account of this event, although I was surprised to learn at the end that the account was from a diary. It read as though written for an audience. I had the sense that the parties and sight-seeing tours were a way for France to show their gratitude for the Americans who had given their lives for the cause.

  5. Michael says:

    What a fascinating read. I was glad to know a program like the Gold Star Pilgrimage existed. You just know how important it was for them to see their sons’ graves if they were willing to travel around the world in that era of ocean liner travel. And how heartbreaking to read of the mother who died at her son’s grave. Thank you for sharing, Janice.

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