Part 7: Advanced Flight Training, Issoudun, France, August 1918
The American training complex at Issoudun, France, was the most important American flying school in France. The town of Issoudun was located approximately one hundred and fifty miles south of Paris, well away from the battle zones, which were northeast of Paris. It was a large complex, consisting of twelve separate flying fields. The main fields (fields 1 through 3) were located near the village of Ronzay, about five miles northwest of Issoudun. The other nine fields were located around the main fields in an approximately clockwise pattern. As the student moved through the various phases of training, he would be assigned to different camps for messing and sleeping.
Students advanced from one field to the next according to their proficiency in flying and the types of aircraft to which they expected to be assigned after completion of the school. Flight instruction was given was given in a variety of French aircraft, mostly older Nieuport designs that were no longer useful in combat. Those students who had not received any preliminary flight training would typically require six to eight weeks to complete the program, depending on personal proficiency and weather conditions at the field. Having been trained in the United States an observation pilot, Harold expected to be assigned to an observation aero squadron after he completed the school.
Because he had received extensive flight training in the United States, Harold moved through the training program relatively quickly. He began his ground school classes on the 17th of August and completed them by the 20th. He started flying on the 23rd of August. At one point in his training he thought he might be diverted into flying SPADs or Nieuport aircraft, and thus into pursuit aviation, but that window of opportunity closed as quickly as it had opened, and he found himself flying two-place aircraft of the type used in observation squadrons. His flying program was finished by the 30th of August, and he visited the nearby town of Chateauroux while he waited for the orders that would assign him to an operational squadron. Those orders arrived on 1 September.
Map of Flying Fields at Issoudun
August 18, 1918
Not such a long stay at St. Maixent as I had expected. We were ordered out so suddenly that I did not have time to write again from there. After another long train ride, long in time only, we finally reached here last night, and we were so tired that we went directly to bed. This morning we had a real hot bath, and that, with the good night’s rest, has certainly put me in fine shape. Only think of it, this was the first real, honest-to-goodness bath I have been able to get since I left the States! France is not wanting in many things; but they don’t seem to have modern plumbing equipment over here.
Our quarters are very good and the bunks are comfortable. I do not believe I shall ever need the cot I brought over with me. I shall hang on to it, however, for we do not know what the future may have in store for us. We eat at the Red Cross canteen, and they do serve a good mess. One little realizes the work they do or how much it is appreciated until he comes in contact with it. The girls who are helping are greatly to be admired, for their work is hard and their hours are long, and they are always cheerful. That is the way everyone in France is.
This part of France is not nearly so beautiful as St. Maixent. It is more thickly settled and there are not the hills and creeks and chateaux. It is really quite warm here, but not uncomfortably so. There has been no rain since I arrived and as they say it rains 265 days out of the year, it is about time to expect some.
August 17, 1918
We arrived here yesterday after a two days train trip. The traveling accommodations this time were really good and we were quite comfortable.
Sunday, August 25. I had to stop writing to go to an unexpected machine gun class, just the same as we did in the States. It seems that we shall never be through with such things. However, they do us no harm and I am rather glad that we are getting it over again for I do want to know my gun.
Here is one of the places where we are to get our flying training. It will not be much, but just enough to acquaint us with the machines we are to use. From here we shall go to some other school and pick up our observers and train with them. I think it will be interesting work.
I disliked to leave St. Maixent as we had arranged for French lessons and I am very anxious to get on with that. It is a great help but I do not see any chance of getting any of it here.
Yesterday I ran into some boys I went to ground school with and who were sent direct from that school to France for their air training. I now know that I was lucky to stay in the States as we got much more flying and I think better training—in fact we are ahead of them now.
This is a wonderfully constructed Camp and a very large one. Here one sees what the Red Cross and the YMCA mean to one. The Red Cross runs a big cafeteria for the officers and another one for the enlisted men. They are in charge of the Officers Club and they are certainly well run. The mess is the best on the Field and it is there we all eat whenever we can. The girls who help are greatly to be admired for their work is not easy and their hours are rather long.
The fifteenth of next month is Father’s birthday and I do wish I could be home with you. However, this letter should reach you about that time. I do wish you all the happiness in the world and hope to be with you all again soon.
I am feeling fine; in fact I have not felt as I do now in a long time. You see, it is just nice and cool here and hot weather never did agree with me. This morning, I had the first real hot bath since I left New York. They say many things are scarce here, but most of all I miss the baths. No mail as yet. Will write soon again.
Love to all, Harold
One of the flying fields at Issoudun, France
August 20, 1918
Have not had a flight yet, but am still going to classes. As soon as we finish this course, we are going to another school. I think we are to fly machines equipped with Liberty motors. As I was writing yesterday, a man from our college fraternity came up behind me and hit me an awful wallop. He was Billy’s roommate. He has been at the front for two or three months and is on a leave. He would not hear of my writing any more as he had so many questions to ask. Later he told me some of his interesting experiences at the front. We talked until midnight and how I did hate to get up this morning when the bell rang! There are three other boys from the fraternity house here in this camp, but I have not been able to locate them as yet.
August 21, 1918
One of our wells here has gone dry, at least partially so, and as a consequence water is quite scarce. It is a wonderful feeling to get up in the morning, all set for a nice cool wash and a comfortable shave. It is anything but a grand and glorious feeling. We are even getting an imitation [of coffee] served to us at mess. I finished my [ground] classes here today and expect to go to flying very soon. Last night we went swimming. Fifteen of us got a truck and went to a river about eleven miles from camp. The water was not any too clear, but it did feel good, for it was quite cool. There was a bridge to dive from, and we had a mighty good time—as good as possible over here.
August 22, 1918
I got my first mail today just before dinner, and I am so happy over it. Today they picked twenty of us from the Fort Worth men for scout work, and from now on, we are to fly the little Nieuports and SPADs. They are very fast and tricky, but the boys say that when you get used to them, you can do almost anything with them. I feel that I am very lucky to be one of the twenty picked from seventy pilots. We start flying at 5:30 tomorrow morning.
August 23, 1918
I had my first hop today in the little ones, with an instructor, and I hope he stays with me for some time. Let me say here that there is an awful difference between them and the big tubs I have been used to [flying]. I went to classes all the afternoon and it was so warm that we got pretty well tired out.
August 23, 1918
It always seems that I run into the hot weather wherever I go. They have had their first really warm weather of the year during the past week. It has not really been bad and in comparison to Fort Worth, it is quite cool.
I think I told you that we were to fly Liberty-motored large planes, and so I thought until yesterday when the good news came out that twenty of us were to fly scouts and I was one of the lucky twenty. They picked us on our previous records, both in gunnery and flying. We consider ourselves very fortunate to be given these little ships to fly, and even if we don’t make good on them, we can go back to the large ones again.
Today I took my first hop over here. It was just like sitting in some giant leaf, the plane seemed so light and tiny after those in the States. We are with an instructor at first, and go right through a course just as though we had never flown before. I am mighty glad of it, too, for there is an awful difference [between French and American aircraft]. If I make good, I shall be a pursuit or scout pilot, and I shall fly a SPAD.
Only one letter so far, and that was from Adele [Volk], dated July 24. I know that some of my mail has been held up somewhere. I do hope that letters from home reach me soon; you cannot imagine how I miss your letters. I am sure the worst is over and that they will now be coming pretty regularly. As is usually the case, I suggest something and then don’t live up to it. I said I would number my letters and then proceeded to forget to do it.
This is the greatest place to meet old friends I have ever seen. I have met some old Lawrenceville boys and also Mr. Cady. We met him, you will remember, on our trip around the world in 1913; he was the little Starkweather kid’s tutor. He is here, flying, and likes it very much. I also ran into some of my bunch from ground school and some of the Dayton boys too. Let me tell you, it did seem good to see them all again.
This is a great country in which to save your money; at least it has been so far, for we have not been near enough to a big city to visit one. I am glad of it too. Here is a statement of my finances at present: cash on hand 1,000 francs, and I have part of July’s and all of my August pay coming, besides 500 francs in the bank in Paris and also my travel money, which I have not yet received. I am having this month’s voucher deposited direct to my credit in the bank in Paris. It seems rather strange for me to be ahead at the end of the month.
I have had one honest to goodness bath here and I shall try to get another tomorrow, if the bath house is open. Water is not any too plentiful and a good bath is quite a luxury. We have even been having a light, watery beer served at mess, but now the well is all right and we are back on water again. We have plenty of meat, potatoes, vegetables, bread, and chocolate; but butter and sugar are rather scarce. I have not used any of mine yet and still have twelve pounds in store. The coffee is not very good, so I do not have much use for sugar.
Reading matter is rather scarce over here. I wish you would send me some of the current magazines, and an occasional Sunday paper. In my last letter, I spoke of Father’s birthday, but lest that may not reach you, I again wish him all the happiness possible and I do so wish I could be with you all.
With greatest love to all, Harold
An American-built D-4 Two-Place Aircraft at Issoudun
August 24, 1918
Five letters from home today and I am very happy. Have been going since 4:30 this morning and I am all in.
August 26, 1918
We flew all day yesterday and up until dark. Today I had machine gun practice out on the field, and just this minute got in. The lights go out in a short time, and they have forbidden us to use candles. I am really quite crazy about this work with the little ones [smaller aircraft], and I am going to try hard to stay on it, although there is a rumor that we shall have to go back on the larger bombing ships. I know that I shall not make the change of my own accord. Have run into more people here that I knew in ground school and college. They are not any farther along than I am, and only one that I have met has had more time in the air than I have.
August 30, 1918
We have been yanked off scout work and put back on the old work because we have had so much time and because, as I think, we may see action soon. It was quite a disappointment at first, but these last few days, just crammed full of flying the big Libertys, have helped to soothe matters. I am now back at the main camp, awaiting orders, and no one knows how long [before] they will be on their way.
August 28, 1918
We have surely been busy lately and I was just beginning to think I would be flying a scout before long, when, out of a clear sky, the bolt hit me. All of us with over eighty hours of flying time were sent to Libertys again and now we are at this subfield trying them out. It is not nearly as bad as it might be for they certainly are wonderful ships and just as fast as the scouts. However, they are large and will not maneuver as fast. We are all quite disappointed but we may have a chance at the others later, after we have been on these for a while.
Why is it that I receive no mail from you? Adele’s letters have reached me and I have had a couple from Albertine but none from home and I do so long for them. They mean so much to me over here.
August 30th. Was called out to fly and was ready for bed when it was over. Then yesterday was a full day of flying. Now my course is over and I am back at the main field awaiting orders. We don’t know where we are to go but we shall be seeing action before long, very likely before this letter reaches you. I hope so, and all the rest of us feel the same way about it. We can’t get up there too soon, so long as we have good ships and that, we are sure to have.
Your letters dated July 28 arrived today and, believe me, they made me happy. As I have said before, we so long for them and the post office is the most important place on the post when the mail comes in. If one gets mail, he comes out smiling; if he doesn’t, well, he just naturally comes out either not saying anything or he is telling someone who has some, what a lucky stiff he is.
All the things that are happening at the Lake [Van Ettan Lake] do sound so good and I would love to be there, but not until this is over and the Huns are beaten. Then I shall be Oh, so glad to come home and, believe me, it won’t take long for me to come when they once give the word. The fishing trips, the “Vanetta” and all, do make me homesick. I hope you all have the most wonderful summer and for goodness sake, try not to worry for everything is going to turn out all right and it will not be long before I am back home again.
Yesterday afternoon I had a most wonderful ride. I was up for four hours with nothing special to do but jazz around and get the feel of the big ship. The first thing I did was to climb up and it took but a very few minutes before I was among the clouds. I looked at the altimeter and it registered 12,000 feet. I went on up above the clouds and what a beautiful sight it was. The sun shining on the tops of the clouds made them look like so many snow drifts. They were in little bunches so that the ground was in sight all the while. I flew around all over this section of the country and it made a very beautiful ride. The air was clear and I could see for miles. Several quite good sized cities and oh, so many of the typical French villages. It was very cold up there (17,000 feet) but the pilot is well protected in this ship and so long as I kept my hands and face inside, I was very comfortable. I did not really need gloves. I was only cold once and that was when I came down. This was when I side-slipped and the wind would hit me from the side. On the whole trip the old Liberty motor never missed once, but it took close to 100 gallons of gas to keep it from spitting.
Loads of love to you all, Harold
August 31, 1918
Three of us are over here for the weekend, just to get away from regular camp routine and incidentally, if not mostly, for the purpose of a real hot bath, for they are very scarce over here. This is quite a good-sized little place, but the main attraction is about the same as at St. Maixent from all appearances: cafes everywhere. We are setting out now in search of a moving-picture show. Someone told us that there was one here.
 This individual is not further identified.
 The “Liberty-motored planes” were U.S.-built De Havilland DH-4s, two-place aircraft.
 Cady may be Loris V. Cady. Cady was a pilot in the 141st Aero Squadron from October 24, 1918, until the Armistice. Loris Cady served with the American Ambulance Service before joining the Air Service.
 The “Vanetta” was the name of the boat the Louds used to move from the shore to their island on Van Ettan Lake, located five miles west of the town of Oscoda, Michigan.