Gabrielle Griswold Private Collection.
Gabrielle Griswold Private Collection.
With love, respect and gratitude to my AMAZING friend Gabrielle Griswold and her late mother along with every single brave Yankee who served “Over There” in Europe, in France when France–our parents and grands-parents–needed them and America the most!
So proud to have Gabrielle on board our MDFDE to keep us all inspired with her vivid memories, her first-hand account of the “American Aid to France,” Drew Pearson’s people-to-people “Friendship Train” marking its 70th Anniversary this year, and the unrelated “Marshall Plan,” a Humanitarian program our proud island of PUERTO RICO, a U.S. Territory since… 1898, located only 2,506 kilometers (1,557 miles) away fom Washington D.C., desperately needs RIGHT NOW!
Over There – James Cagney
From the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy” James Cagney and Frances Langford portray George M. Cohan and Nora Bays. James Cagney War time short
© The Official French-American Project entirely conceived by Ms. Elisabeth JENSSEN to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Friendship Train and the Merci Train (2017- 2019). All rights reserved.
Chair, Elisabeth Jenssen Co-Chair, Tyler Abell
Honorary President: The Comte Gilbert de Pusy La Fayette
MARK YOUR CALENDAR DELAWARE!
Stories from the Wardrobe: A Conversation
October 31, 2017
181 S. College Ave
Newark, DE 19717
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Contact Email: email@example.com
Contact Name: Ashley Rye
About this Event
Margaret Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies, and Gabrielle Griswold will discuss the wartime experiences of Gabrielle’s mother, whose YMCA uniform is on view in the Fashion on All Fronts exhibition.
This event will take place in the Class of 1941 Lecture Room in Morris Library.
MEMORIES OF THE FRIENDSHIP TRAIN IN FRANCE
By Gabrielle Griswold © 2011
We are all creatures of the historical period into which we were born, and the trajectory of our individual lives, our perceptions and our self-awareness, are often historically determined to a far greater degree than we realize.
I was born in late-May 1926, eight years after the end of the First World War, three years before the onset of the Great Depression, and twelve years before the Second World War began in Europe. In my youth, the major historical influences were the legacy of World War I, the Great Depression, and, most formatively, World War II.
For my relatively affluent family, the Depression was not the complete disaster it was for so many others. World War I was in the past, but I did learn something about it from my parents, particularly from my mother who had been one of a relatively small number of American women to serve overseas during that war. Under the auspices of an American-based organization called The Lighthouse she had gone over first at the age of 25 during the summer of 1916, even before the U.S. entered the war, to provide music therapy for French soldiers blinded in battle. She went over again in 1917 with a women’s division of the YMCA, then officially considered part of the American Expeditionary Forces. In that capacity, she and her colleagues wore uniforms and insignia, slept on cots in tents, and were stationed behind the lines, where they dispensed hot coffee, soup, snacks, cigarettes and writing paper to men being rotated back from the front. After the war, my mother returned from France and married my father, who had served the war effort as executive officer of the Dayton, Ohio, office of the Bureau of Aircraft Production.
While World War I was my parents’ war, World War II was mine and my generation’s. Impacting all of my teenage years, it began in Europe when I was thirteen and ended in the Pacific when I was nineteen.
For most Americans, World War II did not become of national concern until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. For me, because of my background, it had started some two years earlier. At that time, I was in my first school year at the French Lycée in New York, which I had entered in September 1938 after spending the year of 1937 in France with my beloved French godmother. My first Lycée year was the last year of peace for the world at large, but full-scale war was not far off. Hitler had already annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, Kristallnacht had occurred, and the Nazi threat to democracy worldwide was becoming apparent as Germany accelerated its massive military build-up.
When I first entered the Lycée during that fall of 1938, our student body was composed of French, English and American youngsters. By the following school year, after the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, we began to see the arrival of students from other European countries, whose families had fled the Nazi menace. We had refugees from Poland, Italy, Greece, Belgium, The Netherlands and other European countries, as well as from France and England. Some of our professors and several of our older male students who answered the call to fight would die in combat. Many students like myself regularly devoted some of our free time to volunteering or fundraising for wartime relief organizations such as Bundles for Britain, British War Relief, and the Allied Relief Fund. Thus, even before the U.S. entered World War II, we at the Lycée were highly conscious of it, well before our contemporaries in American high schools had given it a thought.
I attended the French Lycée for three-and-a-half years. On 27 and 28 November 1941, my family moved out of Manhattan to Long Island. Nine days later, on Sunday December 7th, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On December 8th, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, and Britain also declared war on Japan. On December 11th, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. Only then did this nation officially join the Allies in their fight in Europe, thereby expanding the conflict to a global war. From the outset, our country would be fighting on two fronts. After that, the war came closer to every American family, of which those with loved ones in the armed forces were most directly, and often tragically, affected.
And now, if I have now chosen to record the following, it is because I realize that I may well be the only person still alive who can tell this particular story.
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Less than a month after I turned twenty-one, having finished with high school and college, I boarded the S/S America in mid-June 1947 and sailed for France. By then two years had passed since the end of World War II, and most of Europe lay in ruins. Many of us who had survived the conflict safely in the United States felt an obligation to do something helpful for our less fortunate neighbors abroad. Like my mother during WWI, I too felt impelled to contribute my bit to the larger world.
At the time, many private postwar relief organizations were sending personnel and whatever material aid they could muster to devastated nations overseas. As I had done volunteer work in New York for one such organization named American Aid to France, I went abroad armed with letters of recommendation to its Paris office, virtually assured of a job when I got there. Thus I left the U.S. with the intention of living and working in France for approximately one year.
Based in New York, American Aid to France, Inc. (originally American Relief for France) raised money in the U.S. to fund its operations in France, and collected food, clothing and medical supplies for shipment to its Paris headquarters, whence they were distributed to AAtF medico-social centers in seven of France’s most devastated cities, namely Calais, Dunkerque, Le Havre, Corcieux, Coutances, Forbach and Lorient, all areas that had sustained much wartime carnage and destruction.
AAtF headquarters, where I fetched up, were located in Paris in what was then called Pershing Hall, the American Legion building at 49 rue Pierre Charron (which today houses the jewelry firm of Cartier), just off the Champs-Elysées a short distance down from the Arc de Triomphe. There, AAtF personnel oversaw the storage in city warehouses of supplies shipped to us by the New York office, their delivery to our centers in the field, and all other aspects of our work in France.
In turn, our centers distributed these supplies to local populations in their respective areas, operated dispensaries and infirmaries, and worked closely with local doctors, dentists and other health care professionals in the communities they served to deliver needed medical services and support. In addition, the centers attempted to provide social and recreational opportunities for French citizens debilitated and disheartened by the war, who for so long had known little but hardship. According to whatever goods and services might help meet each community’s most pressing needs, center personnel provided transportation, set up libraries or reading rooms, held sewing classes, cooking classes, woodworking shops, sports programs, youth programs, kindergartens, open houses, film screenings, games, dances, and more. Like our Paris office, our centers were staffed by both American and French personnel. Regrettably, I never did get out into the field to visit any of them.
Only two years after war’s end, this was a sad, lean time in Europe, and it was obvious that many people were in want. In France, food rationing was still in effect, gasoline and other fuels were in short supply, apartments were unheated (and they were cold!). Traffic on even the Champs-Elysées was sparse, featuring a strange admixture of vehicles, some perfectly normal cars, some three-wheeled vehicles, some improvised contraptions that seemed little better than go-carts or motorized wooden boxes, and of course bicycles. One saw beggars in the street, at the door of our office building and elsewhere, and we had people coming into our office to plead for help. I relished my first-ever real adult job because it was obvious that we were doing useful and needed work.
To this job, I brought both bilingual and secretarial skills, which I employed in the triple capacity of receptionist, keeper of the office’s central files, and part-time secretary as needed. Our director was Robert H. Blake, his assistant-director was Florence Gilliam. Other than that, the headquarters staff included an administrative assistant, a couple of secretaries, our director of shipping Louis Clamaron, our public relations man Herb Conway, a father and son team named Blandin who supervised work in the warehouses, plus several others. When I first arrived on the job, Mlle. Colin, the elderly woman whom I would be replacing, was due to retire but remained at her post long enough to familiarize me with the organization’s files and teach me what I needed to know about receiving visitors, official or unofficial, expected or unexpected. I was, by ten years or more, the youngest member of our Paris office.
This was the usual routine right up until the fall of 1947, when the unusual happened. At that time, nationally syndicated newspaper-and-radio journalist Drew Pearson contacted American Aid to France to see if our organization would head up distributions of the food that he was collecting in America by means of his Friendship Train.
Sometime on or about 11 October 1947 in his Baltimore Sun column ‘Washington Merry-Go-Round,’ Pearson had proposed starting a freight train of eight empty boxcars on America’s West Coast and sending it across country to New York, stopping at multiple stations along the way, adding additional cars as it progressed eastward and filling them at each stop with voluntary donations of food contributed by individuals, businesses and organizations, for shipment overseas as a Christmas present to the people of France and Italy. This initiative was to be a spontaneous grassroots gesture of sympathy and friendship from the American people, and Americans responded generously. In the U.S., a national committee had been formed, and, at individual state and local levels, smaller committees had enthusiastically organized participation within their own communities. All along the Train’s designated route, and even beyond, everyone wanted to share in this heartfelt initiative.
As the Friendship Train started out from Los Angeles on 7 November, the expectation was that, by the time it reached New York, it might have made some forty stops and accumulated as many as eighty boxcars full of provisions. But the final results far exceeded those estimates. Eleven days later, as it rolled into New York on 18 November, the Train had grown to include nearly three hundred boxcars, filled with merchandise worth $40,000,000. (In different accounts, these figures may vary but many more boxcars had indeed been added, the number of stops had multiplied, and the main-liner route had been supplemented by two more railroad lines.) On arrival in New York on November 19th, the Train received a City Hall welcome and a ticker-tape parade on Broadway.
For us in Paris, it was thrilling to think that American citizens had responded so whole-heartedly to Pearson’s Friendship Train appeal. Not only had free-will donations of food poured in from families, farms, schools, churches, businesses, corporations, veterans’ groups and other organizations, but other entities had contributed in other ways. Railroad companies had agreed to move the trains free of charge, porters’ unions had allowed the loading of trucks at no cost, American telephone companies had set up special switchboards to handle Friendship Train calls, musicians’ unions had provided free music at some stops while high school bands played at others. Schoolchildren had held fund-raisers; city mayors and state governors had publicly promoted the Train; and ordinary citizens turned out for it in droves. When, on 21 November, it came time to ship the merchandise across the ocean to France, United States Lines volunteered free transportation aboard the cargo ship S/S American Leader.
As a result, by late-fall 1947 AAtF’s pace had considerably quickened. With our organization selected by Pearson as his first choice for overseeing distributions in France and Blake designated as head of the Friendship Train Steering Committee that would administer them, more and more work was now coming into our Paris office. We were all working frantically against a looming deadline, as Pearson wanted at least some of the collected merchandise to have been distributed by Christmas and the New Year. To help handle this load, I became Blake’s full-time Friendship Train secretary.
Initially Pearson had supposed that the freight train cars loaded with merchandise collected in America would board ship in New York, debark at Le Havre, and continue on a ceremonial southbound journey by rail through France from Paris to Marseille, distributing portions of the merchandise at each stage of the journey. However, when it turned out that the gauge of French rails differed from that of American rails, it was realized that all the collected merchandise would have to be unloaded in New York, reloaded onto ships and dispatched across the Atlantic in several stages to France, where it would again be reloaded onto trains, and thence delivered and distributed. I remember this issue being discussed at one of our earliest Steering Committee meetings.
* * * * * * * * * *
Meanwhile at this same time, in Washington D.C. Congress was still debating the implementation of General George C. Marshall’s vision of economic aid to devastated European countries, as proposed in his Harvard University commencement address of 5 June 1947. That aid, when it came, would be officially-sponsored government-to-government aid, subject to certain conditions. Meanwhile, the Friendship Train, which would precede by six months the Marshall Plan’s June 1948 start-up in Europe, was a warm-hearted, entirely voluntary hands-across-the-sea gift outright from one people to another, with no strings attached. Despite erroneous assertions sometimes found today on the Internet and elsewhere to the effect that the Friendship Train had some connection with the Marshall Plan, in fact it was totally unrelated. It was no part of that program, not even an introduction to it, nor yet some sort of trial run for it. It was completely separate, totally different in nature, and it antedated the Marshall Plan’s implementation by a good half-year. I know this for a certainty because I was there, and because I was part of both initiatives, each in its turn.
To recapitulate: General Marshall first proposed the idea of U.S. government aid to Europe at Harvard in June of 1947, but the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948 was not passed until ten months later, by which time the Friendship Train had already happened. It would not be until sometime in late-June 1948 that the European Recovery Program (commonly called the ‘Marshall Plan’) would actually start setting up in Europe, implemented by the Economic Cooperation Administration. That was exactly when I left American Aid to France and began working at E.C.A. headquarters in Paris, at precisely the moment when it was beginning to launch its European operations.
Interestingly, each program was essentially linked to one man: to Drew Pearson in the case of the Friendship Train, and to General Marshall in the case of the European Recovery Program. A journalist of Quaker origins, Pearson knew enough about conditions in postwar Europe to understand that material help and a ray of hope was needed there. Soldier-statesman Marshall, then Secretary of State, having gone abroad in early 1947, knew how dire conditions in Europe were. Each man responded to the crisis in a different way, Marshall ably assisted by State Department luminaries George F. Kennan and William L. Clayton among others, Pearson by ordinary American citizens with heart.
Later, the Christian Science Monitor would call The Friendship Train “One of the greatest projects ever born of American journalism,” while for his leadership in troublous times, Marshall would receive the 1953 Nobel Peace Prize.
* * * * * * * * * *
Beginning in late-November, early-December 1947, Blake’s office at AAtF became the venue where the Steering Committee (and other Friendship Train committees) met almost daily, attended by representatives of American and French organizations recruited for the purpose of determining what distributions would be made, to whom, by whom, where, and in what quantities. These other organizations included the French Red Cross, Entr’Aide Française, the French Ministry of Public Health, the International YMCA, the U.S. Embassy in Paris, plus (Pearson having specified that he wanted American input from Protestant, Catholic and Jewish agencies) the Protestant Church World Service, the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and the American Joint Distribution Committee. Drew Pearson himself attended at least one of these meetings; at other times he might or might not send a personal representative. For the rest, with AAtF the leading organization involved, he left most of the oversight for the French end of the undertaking in Blake’s capable hands.
By no means was I personally involved in every aspect of the French Friendship Train planning at our office (and I may even have been unaware at the time that an Italian Friendship Train was also being organized). Other AAtF secretaries besides me handled some of the Friendship Train correspondence that flew back and forth between our Paris and New York offices, between AAtF and Pearson, between our own and other organizations, as preparations gathered momentum. We even had special stationery printed, headed ‘American Friendship Train Committee-Comité du Train d’Amitié Américaine’ (of which I still retain a few pages). Miss Gilliam, Blake’s assistant director, was also involved, although she rarely attended committee meetings. My work was primarily with Blake, and whenever he held meetings I was always present in his office to record the minutes. I still have carbon copies of some of them, and a photo of that time shows me seated beside him at his desk, taking notes in shorthand.
Meanwhile, welcoming ceremonies were being planned for Le Havre where the S/S American Leader would dock, the Gare St. Lazare where the Train would arrive in Paris, the Champs-Elysées and the Hôtel de Ville where truckloads of merchandise would take part in official processions.
In addition, the French train’s itinerary had to be scheduled and organized, with five cities chosen as stops during its initial progress through France in counterpart to the American train’s cross-country journey. This French trip, from Paris to Marseille, was intended as a first, promotional ride, primarily designed to disseminate awareness among the French population of the Train’s purpose, and alerting them to the fact that many of them would be beneficiaries of the merchandise it carried. Some token distributions would actually be made from the train along this route. Later shipments would bring to France the remainder of the American train’s merchandise, which would be warehoused and then distributed to as many recipients as possible from separate trains in other parts of the country. Since there was not sufficient merchandise to benefit everyone in France, recipients had to be carefully chosen. One of the Steering Committee’s early decisions had been to target the young and the elderly through distributions to schools, orphanages, children’s canteens and old people’s homes.
The first load of Friendship Train merchandise was due to arrive at Le Havre aboard the American Leader on 16 December 1947, and in Paris by train and truck on December 20th. Along with other French and American dignitaries, Blake went to Le Havre on the 17th for the first celebration welcoming the Train’s arrival on French soil. He then returned to Paris for its reception at the Gare St. Lazare on the morning of the 20th. That morning, I too was in attendance, packed in among those at the station to greet the Train as it steamed into town. Pearson and his wife were of course present, as were American ambassador Jefferson Caffrey, editor of the international Herald Tribune Geoffrey Parsons, and a large number of other notables. There was, I recall, a huge crush of people at the station, and a photograph shows me squeezed in between Blake and Pearson, looking solemn and rather squashed.
Blake attended, but I did not, the afternoon ceremonies held also on the 20th, at the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, where fifty truckloads of Friendship Train merchandise rolled by to the acclamations of an immense crowd. There, the président du conseil Pierre de Gaulle (the general’s brother) and members of the Conseil Municipal added their official welcome and thanks to those expressed by other officials earlier, then hosted a magnificent reception inside City Hall. With five pages of minutes to transcribe and type up from that morning’s committee meeting (which Pearson had attended), I was unable to leave the office, even though I too had received an invitation to witness those events.
Then, on the evening of Sunday, December 21st, it came time for the French train’s ceremonial trip through France to set out. Aboard the train would ride Pearson and his wife, Blake, Parsons, plus assorted other dignitaries and representatives of the French and American charitable organizations involved. By a wonderful eleventh-hour fluke of chance, I also would be aboard! The American young man from the Protestant organization who was supposed to join the traveling group was, at the last minute, unable to go. So Blake arranged for me go as the Protestant representative! Knowing how hard I had worked and the long hours I’d put in, he wanted to reward me with a once-in-a-lifetime historic ride. Needless to say, I was overjoyed.
The train the French government had placed at our disposal was a specially composed SNCF train, combining a dining-car, parlor car and wagon-lits (sleeping cars) with freight cars containing the Friendship Train merchandise that would be unloaded at each station along our route. In between the ‘living’ cars and the freight cars, a flatbed car was provided on which we were all expected to make an appearance during the ceremonies that would welcome us at every station where we stopped. Our itinerary would take us to Dijon, Lyon, Valence, Avignon and finally Marseille. For this trip on French soil, the train’s name had been literally translated to Train de l’Amitié.
* * * * * * * * *
It was a trip I shall never forget. For three days, we rode the Friendship Train, stopping at two cities each day, until the third day when we ended our journey at Marseille. Everywhere we stopped, hundreds of people thronged the station platforms to greet us. I have never known to whom to credit my trove of Friendship Train pictures, which may have been taken by an International Herald Tribune photographer (or by a ‘Mr. Taylor,’ volunteered at one point by the Joint Distribution Committee). In any case, they bear ample testimony to the large crowds that turned out at every stop.
In this picture, I make my bow to the welcoming crowds. Blake stands to the left to introduce me, Drew Pearson is on the right. Gabrielle Griswold Private Collection.
Each day aboard the Train began with breakfast in the dining-car, during which Blake and I reviewed the short speeches he would make in that day’s towns. When the train stopped in mid-morning at the first city, we all emerged from inside the train onto the flatbed car. There, Pearson, Blake, welcoming French officials, responding Americans and others addressed the crowd, after which the rest of us in the train’s contingent were individually introduced, stepping forward to take our individual bows-to cheers, applause and much flag-waving from the assembled French people on the station platform below.
These public outdoor ceremonies were then followed by another official welcome elsewhere, either inside the train station or at some more formal vin d’honneur or town hall reception, all liberally punctuated with additional speeches and champagne toasts. While we were being fêted, that town’s token boxcar was detached from the train, its contents to be distributed later. (To the best of my understanding, the goods unloaded from the Train at this time were token distributions only, heralds of more extensive deliveries to follow.) When the ceremonies were over, the Train resumed its progress, to repeat the program that afternoon in the next city.
On December 22nd, we arrived at Dijon in the morning and at Lyon in the afternoon. On the 23rd, Valence was our first stop, Avignon the second. Overnight stops were at Lyon and Avignon after evening ceremonies in each city.
The grandest event to which we were treated was at Lyon, where the mayor and members of the municipal council entertained us and a vast company of guests at a lavish banquet, served at what seemed like a mile-long table, in a beautiful, historic hall-the French no doubt having pooled all their ration books, coupons and special allotments to honor us. The food was spectacular, the wine flowed freely, and the whole ambiance was elegant and dazzling, almost like a royal affair. Evening ran into night, speeches were made, glasses raised to Franco-American amity, after which we all made our way back to the train, replete, replenished-and rather weary.
By the time we reached Marseille, it was mid-morning of December 24th, Christmas Eve, and I was exhausted from the excitement, the long hours, the early risings, the consumption of rich food and alcohol-to which at the age of twenty-one, I was definitely not accustomed!
After that morning’s vin d’honneur at the town hall, we remained in Marseille for some while, probably going on to luncheon somewhere afterwards. In late-afternoon some of us departed via what chanced to be my first-ever airplane flight, chartered especially for our party courtesy of Air France. That night, we were back in Paris.
For the next month thereafter, Blake and I attended several food distributions at schools and orphanages in the metropolitan area, kept up with the paperwork, and prepared to oversee the bulk of the distributions throughout France when and as the rest of the merchandise would arrive from the U.S.
* * * * * * * * * *
Then all too soon came the shock that left us all aghast.
On Friday, January 30, 1948, we learned that the Entr’Aide Française warehouse, where the Friendship Train merchandise was stored, had been the object of arson during the early hours of the morning. Everything in it had gone up in flames. The French press reported that fires had been simultaneously lit in three different places, and that the Paris police had determined they were criminally set. No one doubted that this was the work of Communist saboteurs, then extremely active in France and bent upon undermining American influences in every possible way.
Few Americans realize today, as relatively few did then, how serious a threat Communism posed in Europe after the war, especially in France and Italy. In fact, one reason why Pearson had designated those two countries as Friendship Train beneficiaries was precisely to counter its influence there. Communism had gained credibility in Europe during the war partly because it opposed Fascism, and partly because a considerable number of Communists had been Resistance fighters in their respective countries. When the war ended they emerged in force to promote their take-over Communist agenda-in line with Soviet policies later developed full-scale during the Cold War. Inevitably, the Party line fiercely opposed any American goodwill initiatives, and notably any widespread publicity relating thereto.
This photo taken in the station at Valence gives a sample view of the crowds that greeted us at every stop. Gabrielle Griswold Private Collection.
Tragically, nothing was saved from the monster fire. Everything in the warehouse was annihilated. Except for the token distributions we had already made from the Train on its tour, plus a few others made locally on our return, some thousands of French children and senior citizens would be deprived of the food that American sympathizers had sent them. Was this ever reported in the American press? I have no idea.
In my Friendship Train album, a 29 December 1947 clipping from Le Figaro briefly describes a small ceremony that had taken place the day before the fire at the warehouse, where “1500 tons” of merchandise destined for the département of the Seine were stored. There, apparently, the prefect of the Seine and other notables had been welcomed by the president of Entr’Aide, and there Blake himself had opened the warehouse gates in a symbolic gesture to admit the Entr’Aide trucks which would soon be transporting that merchandise. Looking at that short article today, I cannot help but wonder if it, or another like it in some other newspaper, is what tipped off the saboteurs who would set fire to that selfsame warehouse the following day.
The same article also states that, between 20 December 1947 and 20 January 1948, thirty-one towns had already received close to “2000 tons” of Friendship Train merchandise, and that, in the département of Seine, 232,000 people had already been beneficiaries. What its author could not know at the time of writing was how many others would never benefit from the supplies annihilated by the fire.
Another Paris newspaper, dated 30 January 1948, says that “more than half of the Friendship Train merchandise, specifically 2000 tons destined for the département of Seine,” had been reduced to ashes, adding that up to that point “only 85 tons had been distributed.” (Obviously I cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of the newspaper articles, of which in any case I retain only a few. They reported what they assumed at the time to be accurate, but I have no way of verifying their figures. Nor can I speak to the precise difference between French “tonnes” and American “tons,” although I do know they are different.)
* * * * * * * * * *
At our AAtF Paris office, even as distributions in other parts of France continued, some of us spent the next several months working at the heartbreaking task of evaluating losses, AAtF’s own as well as the Friendship Train’s, as our organization also had merchandise stored in that warehouse. Soon after the fire, I moved downstairs to the office of Louis Clamaron, our shipping director, to help him deal with the job so unexpectedly thrust upon us. Thereafter I was no longer closely in touch with what happened upstairs with regard to later Friendship Train distributions.
At several stops, French children were among those who climbed aboard the flat-bed car with us to express their thanks for Friendship Train merchandise. Gabrielle Griswold Private Collection.
Poor Clamaron: not only did he still have his regular job of overseeing AAtF shipments from New York to Paris and our seven centers, he now had all the additional minutiae of Friendship Train losses to deal with, including the compilation of lists of those losses and estimates of their value. Among my Friendship Train memorabilia, I have carbon copies of those lists, signed at the bottom with Clamaron’s name and my own. One such list, thirty-eight pages long, dated 7 June 1948, puts AAtF’s losses at 102,950,864 French francs’ worth. Another list under the same date cites 404,445,450 French francs as the value of Friendship Train merchandise lost in the fire. What those totals equated to in American dollars, I do not know as I have not attempted to ascertain their equivalencies in dollars then or now.
Fortunately, the losses Clamaron and I recorded did not represent the entirety of merchandise collected for France in the United States, as later Friendship Train shipments arrived and were successfully delivered. I have no idea what proportion of the total was incinerated, nor how much survived elsewhere, to be distributed afterwards. Ours was a dreary, nose-to-the-grindstone, tunnel-vision sort of task, which was concluded only a short while before I ended my time with American Aid to France.
* * * * * * * * * *
Meanwhile in the United States during the preceding year, the U.S. government’s program of economic aid to Europe had been taking shape, which in time would help rebuild and unify Europe, contain Communism, and establish America as an international super-power. This four-year program, known officially as the European Recovery Program and more familiarly as ‘the Marshall Plan,’ would be implemented by an autonomous, un-bureaucratic agency, operating independently of the State Department, called the Economic Cooperation Administration (E.C.A.). Administered in Washington by Paul G. Hoffman and in Europe by Averell Harriman, E.C.A. would help seventeen western European nations recover from the war, disbursing in the process some $13 billion dollars (about $100 billion in today’s terms) in economic aid and technical assistance. As a corollary, it would also replace the work of private post-war relief organizations like American Aid to France.
This being so, Blake called me into his office one afternoon and told me that, prior to terminating its activities altogether, our organization would soon begin downsizing its Paris and regional operations, beginning with American personnel who were paid in dollars. He suggested that, in anticipation of AAtF lay-offs, I might like to take a position with the Marshall Plan, which just then was setting up its European headquarters in Paris. If I saw fit to choose this option, he would recommend me to Ambrose Chambers (a former AAtF board member), who was already in town as special assistant to E.C.A. ambassador-at-large Averell Harriman.
Thus it was that, on 18 June 1948, I became a member of Harriman’s advance team. At that time we were still just a small crew, and E.C.A. headquarters was temporarily housed in the American Embassy Annex, next door to the embassy itself, on the Avenue Gabriel just off the Place de la Concorde. Later that summer or by early fall of 1948, we would move out of the Annex and across the place to the beautiful historic Hôtel de Talleyrand at 2 rue St. Florentin, then newly acquired by the American government. In this new job with the Marshall Plan, I started as secretary to Brose Chambers, and in due course would also find myself working directly for Harriman.
How much longer after my departure American Aid to France continued to operate in either France or the U.S., I do not now recall. At some point, Blake himself left AAtF to join the Guaranty Trust Company, also located on the Place de la Concorde. In due course, he and several other AAtF members, plus other Americans associated with the Friendship Train, would receive the Médaille de la Reconnaissance Française from a grateful French government, bestowed on them at the Elysée palace by French president Vincent Auriol.
As for me, I would continue working in Paris for the Marshall Plan. When its work was done in the early 1950s, its offices were replaced by those of the American Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in the same rue St. Florentin building, where I would become secretary to two successive American ambassadors to N.A.T.O, first The Honorable John Chambers Hughes and then The Honorable George Walbridge Perkins.
Finally, in late-fall of 1955, after nearly nine years abroad, I returned to the U.S. to marry an American attorney I had met in Paris.
By then, far from having spent abroad the single year I’d originally planned, I had been away from home for virtually the entire decade of my twenties, from age twenty-one to twenty-nine, during what was not only the time of my youth but also a period unique in history. When those of us who had worked for programs such as these returned to America, it was with the sure and certain knowledge that, in however small a capacity, we had done useful, productive work by contributing our time and effort to the cause of peace after a long and brutal war.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Meanwhile, the story of the Friendship Train should not end with me. I was there, I was part of it, and I still retain photographs, newspaper clippings and other mementoes of that momentous time. When I arrived in Paris during the summer of 1947, I was twenty-one years old. When I left AAtF, I was twenty-two. By the time I left Paris to be married in the U.S., I was twenty-nine. At the time of this writing, I am eighty-five, with my mental faculties intact and my memories still vivid. But somehow, somewhere, other than in me, the knowledge should be preserved of a magnificent gesture that sprang spontaneously from the heart of one nation for the benefit of another. Along with the Marshall Plan, the G.I. Bill of Rights, the Berlin Air Lift, and perhaps a few other model programs initiated by the United States in those bygone days, the Friendship Train was evidence of a spirit and a people whose generosity was recognized around the world. While, sadly, that no longer seems so evident today, tribute should nonetheless be paid to those thousands of ordinary citizens who gave expression to it then.
Kennett Square, Pa. – 2011
Related MDFDE posts WWI:
Related MDFDE posts WWII: https://www.francaisdeletranger.org/en/2017/10/11/mdfdeusa-wwii-here-is-to-you-drew-pearson-mdfdefriendshipmercitrain70/
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