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Thanksgiving in France

Even though World War I ended the previous November, mail service from Europe in early 1919 remained slow. The mail from troops still had to go through censors, and mail was not the highest priority for transportation. It often took weeks for a letter to get from the writer to the reader. Americans were still getting letters written back in November when, as one soldier wrote, there was much to be thankful for. He imagined the festivities in America celebrating the end of the war and said, “Joy there could not have surpassed it here.”

One of those soldiers dreaming of home was Carl Gauthier of Williston. His family finally received a letter he wrote on November 29th. At the time it was common for families to give letters to the local newspaper. The newspaper would print the letter in its entirety so everyone in the neighborhood would know the news. On this date in 1919, the Williston Graphic printed Gauthier’s letter telling how he spent Thanksgiving.

His unit didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving afternoon. After rollcall, Gauthier and a friend decided to go the Remount Depot located four miles away. They both knew people there and wanted to spend the holiday with the family and friends they had in France. They found the brother of Gauthier’s friend, and together they attended a church service.

After church, the two brothers went off on their own. Gauthier went to the YMCA. An officer who had once commanded his unit was speaking. Gauthier wrote, “It surely seemed natural to hear his voice again….His men surely think everything of him.” Gauthier had to refuse Major Jackson’s invitation to dinner even though turkey was on the menu. Gauthier had to get back to his unit. “The joke was on me,” he wrote. “I didn’t have any dinner at all, but a swell walk back in the pouring rain.” But he did have donuts “so that made up for it.”

Gauthier was typical of the American soldiers who were anxious to come home once the war ended. For his part, even though he was still in France and didn’t know when he would be home again, he still found something to be thankful for. “If I can keep in good health,” he wrote, “I’ll be thankful for that.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Williston Graphic. “Gauthier’s Thanksgiving Abroad.” Williston ND. 1/8/1919. Page 1.

Gazette 665. “Thanksgiving Through the Decades.” https://gazette665.com/2017/11/17/thanksgiving-1918-a-world-war-i-soldier-dreams-of-home/   Accessed 12/2/2019.

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