Chaplain Taylor’s Letters from War
Letters from Chaplain Malcom Slicer Taylor
by Chaplain (Major) Daryl Densford
Love, dolls, ministry, eggs and mother. Just a few of the topics Chaplain Taylor discussed with his wife in letters from France just days after the end of World War One.
Chaplain Malcom S. Taylor was a First Lieutenant, serving at the II Corps Headquarters (along with three other chaplains) in France. I do not know much about Chaplain Taylor except from a few documents and the few postal covers and letters to his wife that I have found. From those letters I discovered that he was from Berryville, Virginia (or at least his wife was there during his deployment) and was in France when the war ended, departing Hoboken, NJ for France on the Agamemnon on 16 October 1918, returning on the La Touraine from Le Havre, departing on 9 February 1919 and arriving just 10 days later in New York, NY. However, when he wrote these letters, he wasn’t expecting to be home until May 15, though “without anything at all definite to go on”. While he doesn’t use his wife’s name in his letters, the ship manifest from his voyage to France gives here name as Agnes.
In his letters I see a man who loved his wife and children very much, talking about day-to-day family business (including a pay raise he was expecting) as well as gifts for the children and his love for all of them. His letters also reveal a chaplain who was concerned with effectively ministering to his Soldiers as well as being a blessing to the innocent victims of war.
Below are transcriptions of Chaplain Taylor’s letters to his wife in November and December 1918, followed by pictures of some of the postal covers that he also mailed letters to her in from France. Notice that the first letter was written just 13 days after the war ended, on November 24, 1918!
……………………………….II Corps Headquarters
……………………………….Amer. E. F.
……………………………….Sunday, Nov. 24, 1918
Good evening, my sweetheart!
You are in church, morning service, I expect; Grace Church to-day? – I wonder! No mail from the States yet; but I got a “nibble” this morning, -a circular letter from BP. Perry, of the War Commission, in Paris; so perhaps to-morrow I’ll get a real haul. I can’t understand why I haven’t received some of the several letters which must certainly have arrived on this side by this time.
All day I have been working hard on the problem of how best to do a Chaplain’s work. The boys are a good lot, on the whole, as far as morals are concerned, but when it comes to religion, they are simply not there. After much prayerful thought, tho’, I have worked out a scheme of daily appointments with the men, individually, for private conference, which seems to me to be feasible. At any rate, I’m going to work it up when we are “done moved”. We are booked to move, the Corps Hq., that is, this Thursday, Thanksgiving Day; we’re going, as I think I told you, back within 20 miles of Le Haus, the city where Rollins is located and near which is Chateau d’Aux, – the Chaplains’ School. The question is, where do we go from there, -and when? – I am guessing I’ll be home by May 15, without anything at all definite to go on.
We three had an interesting time last night deciding what we would have for the first dinner at home. –I decided on some fried chicken, a little real old Virginia ham, some lima beans, sweet potatoes, some of your chocolate cake and peach ice-cream; but if I get home May 15, this may have to be changed; so I guess Ill leave it to you, after all.
We have a request in for a car for to-morrow morning to take us about 40 miles east, well into a portion of the country which has been as badly devastated as any portion of France. It’s an all day trip and, if they really let us have the car, will be a fine one.
I must close now, as I want to write and enclose in this a little Christmas message. Please give it to Mr. McCormick and ask him to have it read at the Christmas service, or on the nearest possible Sunday to Christmas.
How I am longing to hear from you, my own darling! I am thinking of you all the time, and am happier than I can begin to express in the realization of our love. God is indeed answering our prayer. Our one-life-in-Him is a blessed reality and a boundless comfort; Isn’t it?
Tell the children Daddy is loving them and thinking of them all the time, and is expecting them to take good care of you by obeying “quickly and quietly”. – I shall try to get Christmas letters to them this week, but it would be useless to trust any presents for them to the mails.
God keep you, my precious one!
………………………………..Your own lover-husband,
………………………………..Malcom S. Taylor.
Chaplain MS Taylor
II Corps Headquarters
Amer. E. F.
The next letter that I have from Chaplain Taylor to his wife was written about a month later, on December 20, 1918, though based on his explicit love for her I suppose there were many letters written, and mailed, between these two. This letter is twice as long as the first, but has many interesting details about life and love.
……………………………December 20, 1918
Your letter of Nov. 30 came to-day, my own darling, and what with the brilliant sunshine and everything going smoothly, and two letters from mother, it has been a banner day.
Don’t you dare depreciate my perfect wife’s perfect letters! If my letters mean 1/10 as much to you as yours do to me I am well satisfied with myself as a long-distance inspirer! Yours are fine, in every way, dearest one, and a far greater help than I would have thought ever yours could be.
What about the photographs? They haven’t arrived yet. I certainly hope they haven’t gone to look for my trunk. I have no doubt you, personally, could locate it in short order, but I don’t think your picture could.
That was good time from Berryville to the 2nd Corps HQ., 20 days. I’m very agreeably surprised that you were able to get any pkg. off to me, and you may be sure anything it contains will be more than appreciated! Tell Miss Jane that I am looking froward eagerly to that chocolate! I have eaten 2 or 3 pounds of it since I’ve been over; we have plenty of sugar at our mess, -brown always and white nearly always,- but somehow we all seem to crave chocolate, and I am hoarding my last piece because the Y.M.C.A. hasn’t any nor has the Sales Commissary. At present, I am substituting figs. Perhaps its just as well. Too much chocolate is hard on the liver.
(I have been very well ever since I left the States, as I’ve said, but for the first 3 weeks I had to help out my liver once in awhile. That organ seems now to have resigned itself to the scandalously large meals I eat, and has risen to the occasion very well. I don’t know what I weigh, for I never see any scales, but I certainly have taken on a few pounds).
Your remarks about a reading bath are very interesting and-may I add- inviting. I’m so glad everything is comfortably fixed in that respect. Our people are certainly the finest in the world!
I suppose we shall never know which hen laid that first egg of which other wrote me; nor whether it was a pullet or one of the old hens. -I was glad to get word of Bingo. Now ask the chickens to write; or, at least, send a message by you.
PRIVATE …. You aren’t forgetting to pay Miss Jane ($10.00 a month, I think it was), and William, are you, dearie.
You will be interested to learn that beginning Oct. 1, I get an additional $6. a month Compensation of Quarters, being married. (If they only knew how very much married I am it would probably be $100.00!) I hope to send you my entire check the first of the month. It will be about $100.00.
If the $100.00 I gave the Y.M.C.A. to send you, from their N.Y. office, on Nov. 8, hasn’t arrived by the time this letter does, be sure to let me know so that I may start a tracer.
Also, while we’re talking finances, are you receiving your allotment ($125.00) regularly from Washington? You haven’t mentioned it. And how do you stand, financially, -in a general way; -how much in bank? -If we can save, it will come in handy to help pay my War Risk Insurance premium of $91.00 a year, after I return. If feasible, I think it would be a good thing to convert all or part of that W.R.I. $10,000 into a short term endowment policy. A 10-yr. one might be a good way of paying for the children’s education. I’ll take that up with Herb. when I return.
I had a great time yesterday! I took the French school-mistress, Sgt. Weil (the Jew who is to be our “Pere Nöel” at the children’s Christmas tree), a chauffeur and we all went 14 miles over to the town of Manness, to shop for the tree. -We had our old Dodge truck, and put Nelle in the back on a chair, so that she would be safe from the prying eyes of the M.P.s (military police), there being some old war-time, front line regulation against carrying civilians in army transportation.
It was a beautiful, clear, snappy day and we had a fine ride. We arrived about 11 am. and I turned Nelle loose in a big toy store, to buy presents for 82 children. Then we bought Xmas. tree decorations. Then we bought butter (F5, = $1.00 -a lb!) and yeast for our mess. Then the 4 of us went to a cafe, where we had a splendidly cooked dinner for F14 (There being no American troops there, the prices have not been put up). We had cold jellied sausage meat of some kind, -delicious, -roast beef with french fried potatoes, another kind of bumpy beef, with a delicious gravy and carrots, bread, cheese (Camembert) and coffee. -All for 65₵ a piece! -The Chaplain paid, of course.
Then we went on a search for a piano. We found a little old second hand one which I bought for F130 ($26.), since the old lady would not rent it. It has one bad key, but I think we can fix that. I hope so, for the boys have been crazy for one, and this one will do very well, if only they do not try to play it with their feet. -We brought it back with us and it was quite a funny load! An Oklahoma farmer driving the car, with a Chaplain for [?}, and in back a piano a Jewish Santa Claus, a French Nelle sitting up in a little straight-back chair, a spare tire, one hip boot, a can of gasoline, a big box of toys, another of tinsel etc. and several pkgs. of Nelle’s., the contents of which she did not divulge. No the M.P.s didn’t see her, going or coming.
(Horrible thought! Supposing this should chance to be that 100th letter, which they say the censors pick out of the officers’ mail!)
Oh, did I tell you that I heard my first formal confession last Monday night? -Cpl. Stone, of the Adgt. Gen’ls. Office, -a communicant of St. Mary the virgin, N.Y. -Then I went in to [?] table at 7 a.m. Wednesday and gave him his Communion. It was his birth-day, and he was very appreciative.
This morning (Friday) I went over to my “mission”, -the 106th Field Ambulance Co., at Prevelles, about 4 miles from here, in a side car and completed my educational survey. It was beautiful weather, and I wished for you to see it with me, dearest, especially a piece of white birch woods, with the strong sunlight on them and a brilliant blue sky back of them.
Hereafter, think of me as holding services there Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. (that will be about 10 a.m., with you). The service will be around the billiard table in the large room of the [?] (“saloon”). When I hold my Communion service there, I suppose it will be on the billiard table! Quite a come down from the Roman Catholic “High” Altar, on which I held it last Sunday! -C’est la guerre!
I had planned to write mother to-night, also, but its bed-time, almost, so I’ll write here to-morrow.
Oh, how good it is to be only twenty days by mail away from you, my precious one! And how I love you, my perfect love!
Give my love to all my dear people, tell the little honey-pot and her two fine big sisters how much their Daddy loves them (if you can!) and feel, -as I know you do, O Rest-of-me, -how absolutely happy I am in our love and our Oneness, -my gift from God, my Blessing!
———————all and always,
————————-Malcom S. Taylor
P.S. -PRIVATE- I bought two little French dolls, -nothing at all elaborate, but only two, to carry home with me. Shall I get another doll, for Dorothea, or can you suggest something she would prefer. Is she getting too old for dolls? -be sure to answer.
Here are a few postal covers that contained letters from Chaplain Taylor, in France, to his wife in Virginia: