Red Cross workers offering beverages to soldiers outside a canteen
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A member of the American Red Cross in France during World War I, Massachusetts-born Margaret Hall worked at a canteen at a railroad junction in the town of Châlons-sur-Marne (today Châlons-en-Champagne). On her return home she compiled a typescript narrative from the letters and diary passages that she wrote while overseas. Her words offer a first-hand account of life on the Western Front in the last months of the war. She also copiously illustrated the text with her own photographs, which depict soldiers, canteen workers, and the extensive destruction in the “Battle Country” that she toured after the war ended.
“New England forthrightness and understatement”
MHS Worthington C. Ford Editor of Publications Ondine Le Blanc on Margaret Hall's photograph of a Red Cross canteen at Châlons-sur-Marne
One thing that always appealed to me about Margaret Hall is her style, particularly the very New England forthrightness and understatement. Here is an example from the text of the memoir, where she is describing a German air raid on the city of Châlons-sur-Marne, where she was stationed at a Red Cross canteen:
"I went home and was sitting on my bed later, writing a letter, when I heard the front door rattle violently, a boom, boom, boom, and M.H. found herself on her feet with her hair standing on end. The old woman downstairs, who had come back from the “caves,” thinking the excitement of the night over, screeched up to me to come down quickly, got me into her room, shut the door, and wailed and moaned and kept crying out, “Oh, I’m so frightened, why did I ever come home from the ‘caves’!” First she dashed to one side of the room and then to the other, and all the time outside there was the terrific explosion of shrapnel and bombs. You feel a little helpless at such a time."