Celebrating the Franco-American Alliance Tour - Day 5

Written by: Donna L. Crisp, National Vice Chair, Commemorative Events, World War One Centennial/Treaty of Versailles
October 13, 2017

Thursday was a time to honor our heroes.  This day, as well as the entire week, has been an act of service and will leave a thumb print on our souls.  We have walked the battlefields and cemeteries where our men and women sacrificed their lives for liberty. We explored the Franco-American Museum at Chateau de Blerancourt viewing a powerful exhibit on WWI and American  volunteers.  The combat action sketches and paintings drew us into the suffering of military and civilians from the front lines of combat. The graphic art, poems, and sculpture clearly made us aware of the incredible  suffering that took place. The museum was used as the headquarters for Anne Morgan’s humanitarian relief to France.   

We proceeded to Somme American Cemetery and Memorial, 14 acres of hallowed ground near the community of Bony in northern France.  The area saw heavy fighting and contains the graves of 1,844 of the United States Military from World War I, as well as 333 unknown heroes.  When you look at the American sons and daughters buried, your heart is heavy.   DAR Daughters rendered honors to the grave of Helen Fairchild, RN, an extraordinary nurse and hero from WWI. Together we shared Helen’s thoughts she wrote to her mother from letters saved by her DAR member niece, Nelle Fairchild Rote. 

Nurse Helen Fairchild was born in 1885 in Milton, Pennsylvania and volunteered as one of the first to go overseas for duty in World War I. By July 31, 1917 she had volunteered for front-line duty for the Third Battle of Ypres and moved further forward to Casualty Clearing Station No. 4.  Casualty clearing stations were a most stressful job coupled with flying shrapnel and night bombings.

Helen wrote in August 1917, “ Dear Mother, I am with an operating team about 100 miles from our base Hospital, closer to the fighting lines. I’ll sure have a lot to tell about this experience when I get home….We all live in tenets and wade through mud to and from the operating room where we stand in mud higher than our ankles….”

On January 24th, 1918 the War Department sent Mr. Ambrose Fairchild the following “ It is with regret that I have to Inform you of the death of your daughter, Miss Helen Fairchild, RN, on January 18, 1918, while on duty with Base Hospital #10, American Expeditionary Forces, France.”  According to General John J. Pershing, her massive stomach ulcer was made worse by exposure to Mustard Gas and other gasses used by the enemy.  “The word was she gave her gas mask to a soldier.  She was given a military funeral…attended by an entire garrison of English, Canadian, French and American officers, nurses and troops.” 

Helen Fairchild is gone but not forgotten.   She is the finest example of an American Women and Hero.  We thanked her for her service and placed flowers on her grave.

We continued to the town of Tilloloy where President General Dillon was greeted by Mayor Comyn and members of the town council. She laid a wreath at the Memorial Fountain commemorating the 100th anniversary of WWI as did Mayor Comyn.  The DAR water fountain was donated in 1921 and served as the town’s water supply after the war. It symbolizes the friendship and strong partnership that exists between our countries.  Following the wreath laying, the delegation and guests toured the town church, built in the 16th century and nearly destroyed in World War II.

A reception offered by the town council in honor of the NSDAR was hosted by Mademoiselle d’Andigne at her home, the Chateau of Tilloloy.  Mademoiselle d’Andigne offered us an amazing peek into life in a chateau.  Her home contained the most interesting and extensive family portraits and genealogical trees we had ever seen.  What a joy!

We headed back to Paris at 8:00 p.m.  Reflecting on the day, rendering honors to our American heroes is a powerful personal and DAR experience.  Special thanks to the Rochambeau Chapter for their assistance in making this day so meaningful and to Nelle Fairchild Rote for sharing her aunt’s letters and photos. 

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