Letters from France, 1918

clay county histories


Maurice Masterson (front) in France, 1918

Markus Krueger | Program Director  HCSCC

Maurice Masterson was a young soldier from Barnesville who volunteered for World War I. Below are fragments from his letters home, preserved in the archives of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and highlighted in the Hjemkomst Center exhibit War, Flu and Fear: Clay County and World War I.

May 1, 1918

Dear Mother, 

“As per usual” there’s nothing much to say. That is there are a million things I want to tell you, things I’m just bursting to spill to someone, but there’s no way to get them out of my system. 

Someday if this war ever ends I’ll regale you with a thousand tales. And you’ll want to hear them too for they’ll be stories all of human nature, of human nature seen as only war can make it show itself. If I could but clearly portray the ordeals, the tragedy, the pathos of war as well as its humor I could give to some, at least, a great condemnation of militarism. 

But that is impossible – there is no mind great enough to cover the subject. All I can do is retain the impressions the war has made upon me as an individual. You will know their effects when you see me without any telling. Only one thing will I say – war soils everything it touches save the men who fight the war. For them if they pass thru it, they have tasted of life from the sparkling surface to the bitterest dregs.

September 19, 1918

Dear Father,

As we pulled out of the district and I gazed out upon that vista of total destruction the thought that came over me was this. “Is Christianity a failure? No, but masonry and architecture are all shot to hell!” Pretty much the truth, too, for only once besides have I seen such complete

havoc wrought by shell fire. 

And I might truthfully apply the same statement to my own case. I’ve never yet been gassed or wounded, tho I have had “spare parts,” otherwise shell fragments, bounce off my frame. My nerves however, are a thing of the past, literally all “shot to hell.” A rest will put me back soon, but we can’t think of rest as long as fair weather holds out. Too many Huns to hunt and the hunting too good.

As a soldier of the first line I know the terrible cost of this came to every soldier of the line. We are willing to pay the price as far as good need arises. Beyond that, for the war of conquest as the mere glorification of arms, we have not one drop of blood we are willing to shed.

October 10, 1918

Dear Mother, 

I was sent to the hospital with a sniff of mustard gas and a touch of shell shock. I got very little gas and the shell shock was nothing but the effect of this news on my nerves, brot to a head by being under heavy fire for some time. I quickly recovered and returned to the outfit a few days ago.

Now dear mother you’ve been very brave all thru this and I don’t want you to worry too much. The end is in sight and we’ll be together almost before you know it. 

On November 1, 1918, Maurice Masterson was killed by an artillery shell as he slept. The war ended 10 days later on November 11. Thank you to those who served. 

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