athenejen: iAthena (Default)
Title: A selection of letters found in the estate of Mrs. Bettina Anastacia Willard Kirchner upon her death.
Fandom: Betsy-Tacy series - Maud Hart Lovelace
Pairing: Betsy Ray/Joe Willard
Rating: G
Words: 1635
Disclaimer: Not mine, alas.
Warnings: Set during WWI; implied death of a minor original character.
Summary: A sampling of letters sent back and forth across the Atlantic between Mrs. Betsy Ray Willard of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and her husband, Lt. Joseph Willard of the 339th Machine Gun Battalion, 88th Division, as he fought on the Western Front during the Great War.
Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] dashakay in the Yuletide 2009 fic exchange, first posted here. Many, many thanks to G and F for their excellent (and fast!) beta work. Two of the lines are quotes from Elizabeth Barrett (I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach) and Robert Browning (I love your verses with all my heart). Feedback and constructive criticism is, as always, welcome and cherished!

=====

Betsy Ray Willard
909 Hazel Street
Minneapolis, Minn.
August 6th, 1918

Dearest Joe,

I'm sitting on the porch of 909, and it seems impossible that this next time I see you will be our last until peace comes again. Sometimes I ache for 1914, when I wandered freely through Europe, absolutely convinced that we were too civilized for war—but then I remember that I wouldn't have you there, and so would be condemning myself to misery. I do have you, and even when you're an ocean away from me, you are mine, and I am yours.

Your loving wife,
Betsy

=====

Lt. Joseph WIllard
339th Machine Gun Battalion
American Expeditionary Forces
Semur, Cote D'Or, France
September 12th, 1918

My dear, darling wife,

Honey, I miss you. In an effort to stay in the here and now (instead of drifting back to Minneapolis and you, as my mind seems wont to do these days) I believe I will tell you all about the stalwart Doughboys I'm with out here. Most of us Cloverleafs are from Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa, or Illinois, and nearly all of the officers trained at Fort Snelling are here, too. Tell Tib that Hobbie's doing great, and whenever I run into Jack, he's as upbeat as you can be out here. We're still at the training area, not yet in the trenches, but we've heard plenty about what it's like out there. If it's not machine gun fire, it's mustard gas; if it's not mustard gas, it's trench foot and disease. It's my battalion's job to take out the first of those, and I can only hope that we do it well once we get in there.

The men have been training with the French Hotchkiss machine guns, but we're hoping to get some 1917 Brownings. The Hotchkiss does just fine, but it would be great to have some more American engineering out here, and John Browning did a fine job on the M1917—it's lighter than the Hotchkiss, but doesn't need as many crew-men as the Vickers. I know you don't care much about weaponry, but let me tell you, these guns might just be what's keeping us alive out here. If we let the Germans have them without making some ourselves, the Allies would have lost long ago.

One of my fellow lieutenants is a city boy from Des Moines who joined up straight out of Iowa State. His girl still has another year there; to hear him tell it she is the sweetest, prettiest, most graceful girl in all of Iowa, and every once in a while, apropos of nothing, he exclaims, "I should have asked her to marry me!" I, of course, have told him all about you, and if we both get out of this alive, he says he'll come see us, hopefully bring her along. And I will get out of this alive, don't you worry. I would say that the reason I need to survive is to write about all of this, but you and I both know that all I want right now—besides a quick victory for the Allied Forces—is to see you again. I love you. I hope the Publicity Bureau is fundraising up a storm, and that the Rays and the Kerrs and the rest are all keeping their spirits up.

I love your verses with all my heart, and I miss you,
Joe

=====

Betsy Ray Willard
909 Hazel Street
Minneapolis, Minn.
September 22nd, 1918

Darling,

Tib's lucky she's so cute and dainty, no one would ever think of lynching her. Today some man came into the store where Tib works and berated her for talking to one of the other clerks in German, shouting that this is America, not Germany. Have you ever heard anything so rude? Tib said that she simply turned to him and replied that she was just as American as he was, then went back to her conversation. When he started shouting again, she said "I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, right here in the United States of America. My husband and my brother are on their way to the Front right now, and my grandfather came here in 1848 because he hated Kaisers then, and he's stayed because he still hates them now. I've been sewing Red Cross bandages til my fingers bleed and baking bread and cakes without even a bit of wheat in them for months. How are you contributing to the war effort?" He gaped at her for a few seconds, and then left. If anyone can take care of herself, it's Tib! But I still worry. I hope the war is over soon, so people can stop hating each other, and so you can come home to me.

I miss you, dear husband. I miss you. All the Rays miss you. Anna's refused to make any cocoanut cake until you come back, and Dad says that he's saving up some stories to tell you. The Hawthornes have taken to coming round for Sunday night lunch, too, along with Tib and Carney, the Cliffs and the Kerrs. Sometimes what's left of the Violent Study Club stops by, as well. Win the war soon, my love. We all need you and the rest of the 88th back home. As long as the Allies prevail and you come home safe, all the Victory Bread and War Cake will be worth it.

All my love,
Your Betsy

=====

Lt. Joseph Willard,
339th Machine Gun Battalion
American Expeditionary Forces
Haute-Alsace, France
October 9th, 1918

Betsy,

Can you ask Jean to find a Mrs. Ed Lindgren and keep a kind eye on her for me? She's in Jamestown. I mean to go out to North Dakota as soon as I can once the war's over—I hope you'll come with me, honey—but until then I would feel better knowing that someone's checking in on her every now and again. He was a good man.

Love always,
Joe

=====

Betsy Ray Willard
909 Hazel Street
Minneapolis, Minn.
October 30th, 1918

Dear Joe,

Work at the Hawthorne Publicity Bureau continues apace. I'm having trouble with "Candlelight"—I got halfway through the ball scene and am not at all happy with it. I just can't seem to get it to move fast enough. I'll enclose what I've got in case you have any ideas.

Julia's home for a few weeks; she's brought a song called "Hello Central! Give Me No Man's Land" but none of us have the heart to sing it, so Julia sings it alone with tears running down her cheeks. It's beautiful, but I would rather have you home. None of us have the heart to sing "Tipperary," either. Most of the news of the war has been good, surely this means that the Allies are near victory?

Aunt Ruth wrote the other day and invited us out to California for a visit once the war is over. I think we should go, don't you? We can visit my grandmother and Uncle Keith's vineyard, too.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach,
Betsy

=====

Lt. Joseph Willard
339th Machine Gun Battalion
American Expeditionary Forces
Lagney, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France
November 11, 1918

Dearest Betsy,

I'm sure that by the time you get this, you will have already heard that the fighting is over, the Germans have surrendered. Of course we're all ready to go home, but there are so many of us, it will still be a while before we make it home. We were lucky—I've seen Hobbie, Cab, Jack, Clay, Sam, and several more from Fort Snelling besides. But the most interesting news: Markham's out here, too; he was with the 77th at Argonne. When he saw me, he said, "I'm surprised, I'm glad to see you." And darned if I didn't feel the same way. Did you know he made it on Broadway? I guess he's got a part waiting for him in the next show at Henry Miller's Theatre, La La Lucille, if he makes it back in time. I told him he should come back to Minnesota for a visit. He was noncommittal, but somehow it seems like we should be able to make peace now that we're no longer at war. I hope Markham agrees.

Hope everything at 909 is A-1!

Love,
Joe

=====

Betsy Ray Willard
909 Hazel Street
Minneapolis, Minn.
December 21st, 1918

Dear, dear, dear husband,

I can't wait for you to come home. But however long you are obliged to stay in France for the time being, you ought to at least get in some sight-seeing! It wouldn't surprise me if Paris suits you—it was there, after all, that Mrs. Main-Whittaker gave me the excuse I needed to write you! I can wire you some money, we have enough saved up, what with me living at 909 for the past couple of years. I suppose you won't be able to go to Germany, which is too bad because I would love to know how Oberammergau fared in the war. I do hope the Passion Play lives on. Still, France has lots to see, and I adored London, if you can get there. You would love Paternoster Row!

Our tenants are moving out at the end of the month, and Mamma and I will start putting things in order right away. When you come back, Canoe Place will be all ready to welcome you.

I look forward to hearing what you think of Europe when it's not at war.

And, of course, have a wonderful Christmas—Joyeux Noel! I'm sure France will be very festive, but we will miss you terribly around here.

Love,
Betsy

=====

14TH MARCH 1919
SAINT-NAZAIRE, FRANCE

BETSY. PLEASE MEET U.S.S. MERCURY, ARRIVING NEW YORK MARCH 28. LOVE. JOE.
location: Lucien's Library
Music:: The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr
Mood:: 'productive' productive

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