Nora Saltonstall for nearly a year had been a Red Cross volunteer on the Western Front when she got a chance to visit with her brother Leverett Saltonstall, a lieutenant with the 301st Field Artillery Regiment in the 76th Division of the U.S. Army.
They were young Boston Brahmins, part of the Lost Generation that flocked to Europe during World War I out of a sense of patriotism and adventure. Nora and Leverett were two of the four children of Richard and Eleanor Brooks Saltonstall.
After the war, Nora Saltonstall took a trip to the West Coast with friends. She contracted typhoid fever in Portland, Ore., and died on Aug. 2, 1919 at the age of 24. Leverett would be elected Massachusetts governor and U.S. senator.
On Sept. 15, 1918, Nora Saltonstall wrote a letter to Leverett’s wife Alice from the Hotel de Bordeaux in Bordeaux France:
I don’t know whether it will make you too jealous when I tell you that I have just been seeing Leverett. He looks very well, tremendously tall for some reason, & I should say that his clothes were of the most perfect cut. In other words I was quite proud to be his sister. It is so long since I have seen a lot of Americans, particularly ones whom I know, that it seemed to me like a class day or boat race.
Leverett got here yesterday at about 2:30 o’clock, too late for a proper lunch, so swallowing our Unitarian pride we went to the Y.M.C.A. where we were served fried eggs & white bread & butter, not bad a bit. From [there] we started on a shopping tour & Leverett did all the talking: he loves to speak French & declaims in a loud & impressive voice, uses many gestures & usually manages to make himself understood. It is wicked to see how all the poor boys get cheated — they spend their money like water & all the natives must be multi-millionaires. We dined at a nice quiet hotel with Bill Claflin, Harcourt Amory, Jim Trumbull & Richard Russell — the two former ordered the dinner — it was six courses & delicious — we all sank down into our chairs & allowed ourselves to enjoy it — no thought of hurry or worry but just good food to satisfy our stomachs. From there we went to rather a poor musical show, but luckily we got there so late that we really did not have much time to get bored.
This A.M. Leverett & I sat & chatted until about 11 A.M. when we motored to the camp. I wish I had had a longer chance to see him & as a matter of fact I chose rather a bad Sunday because he had to be back on duty in the afternoon. He told me a little about their life which I imagine is very much the same as what they did at home.
All the boys seem interested & [brave?] — they most of them are a trifle homesick but that is natural; luckily they are too busy to think about much Else beyond their work. I saw Dunbar & Jimmy Lowell in the hospital — neither seriously sick but down with the local epidemic of Spanish flu which Everyone has over here. They seemed pretty well, Dunbar about the same as Ever, agreeable & smiling. I think he was very glad to see me but Leverett of course was Embarrassed at having me there & rushed me off as hastily as possible. He made me laugh to myself because he wondered whether I ought to go into the hospital on account of convalescents walking about in pyjamas. I hate to admit that I am not affected by any costume or lack of such that any man can wear. The French hospitals get you accustomed to that & the poor convalescents have to wear pyjamas because no one will give them anything else. Jimmy looked a bit thin in the face but a several days old beard might have had something to do with his unfavorable condition. I would have loved to see him longer but I don’t really think that camps are just the place for girls. This one in particular is very difficult to get to, & only by Enormous bribes can you induce an auto to take you. Jimmy has been instructing at this camp for some time — he seemed a bit out of luck & wants to get away. Probably his family is glad to have him in such a safe place.
We lunched at general staff mess, invited by Pood Russell — the food was not swell but perfectly hot & Eatable — nothing wonderful I should say but apparently it varies — the boys none of them look starved so it must be plenty nourishing.
This letter is not nearly as interesting as I meant it to be — I don’t know when I will see Leverett again but probably not for several months.
With thanks to “Out Here at the Front”: The World War I Letters of Nora Saltonstall, edited by Judith S. Graham.