*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian
In the previous blog I told you about local historian Kenneth McCutchan (1913-2002) and his journals and scrapbook documenting his WWII service abroad. That blog focused on his military service overseas; now we’re going to see how McCutchan used his time abroad to see more of the world.
From May 20, 1943 through the first week of January 1944, McCutchan was in Tunisia. On June 9, 1943 he got an all-day pass and hitched a ride into Tunis, the capital, and the ancient city of Carthage. Hannibal, who crossed the Alps on elephants to threaten the Roman empire circa 218 B.C., was from Carthage. The Roman empire proved mightier and decimated the city in 146 B.C. McCutchan says that the ruins at Carthage were worth the trip alone, with the most beautiful being those of the Temple, with its marble and granite columns and mosaic floors.
By August the regiment had moved on to Tabarka. McCutchan’s August 26th journal entry says, “Had the day off and went to Tabarka…visited the old Roman fort and ruins dating to the 6th century. Strolled through the old French cemetery, and visited the old Roman ruins….” In MSS 004-2402 below, on the right can be seen an Arab cavalry unit bivouacking there.
Mid-January 1944 found McCutchan on the island of Corsica, seemingly little affected by war. One day they were unexpectedly given 6 hour passes into Ajaccio, the capital, complete with transportation. Napoleon Bonaparte was born there. “In the center of the Place du Diamant, facing the bay, stands this  statue of Napoleon with his four brothers. They say that the sculptor died of a broken heart because he had intended this monument to be his masterpiece, but when it was unveiled, the citizens of Ajaccio laughed. Even today they refer to it as ‘l’encrier,’ the inkstand.”
On January 15, 1944: “Today I have seen some of the most beautiful scenery one can imagine. It reminds me of what I would expect the Swiss Alps to look like. … Tonight we are bivouacking just at the edge of the snow line in a forest of giant pine trees, so dense that sunlight hardly penetrates. Mountain streams are bubbling and tumbling over boulders….” In his scrapbook he says, “These streams, fed by springs of melting snow, leapt and skipped over the rocky forest floor, filling the solitude with a water music that was a fitting accompaniment to the wind’s singing in the trees…forests below clung to the slopes like green cloaks that had slipped from the mountains’ shoulders. Tiny red-roofed villages appeared toy-like in the valley far below, and smoke-blue heaps of more mountains were piled against the distant horizons.” On June 4, McCutchan and a fellow soldier decided to try to climb Monte d’Oro, Corsica’s second highest peak. Good progress was made at first, following the mountain stream. “By the end of the second hour we reached a large glacier which had been hollowed out by a stream until a cave of ice had formed with huge icicles hanging from the ceiling….Soon after, we struck a spot that was almost impossible to scale bare-handed.” They wisely retreated.
In August they moved to southern France, arriving in Marseille on September 2, where he found that despite much damage, many parts of Marseille retained its historic beauty. His visit to the Palais Longchamp is a good representation of the sights he enjoyed. His scrapbook says, “The Palais Longchamp is a series of great buildings in the style of the Italian Renaissance erected about 1869. The Museum of Fine Arts on the left and the Museum of Natural History on the right are joined to the central building by semi-circular colonnades. A grand fountain ornamented with statuary feeds a pool in the front of the palace.”
On March 30, 1945 they moved into Germany. On April 5 he received word that his 2-week furlough to Great Britain had been approved, and so began his first opportunity to truly play the tourist. On April 8, he arrived in Paris and made the most of every minute, enjoying Notre Dame, the Arc d’Triomphe, and the quintessential Parisian attraction, the Eiffel Tower. (seen respectively below)
From Paris he went to Edinburgh and toured Edinburgh Castle and other city sites, and spent a day in Sir Walter Scott country. Edinburgh Castle, pictured left, was “perched on a high formidable rock in the very center of the city. One of the most interesting rooms at the castle was the great banquet hall where all coronation banquets for centuries have been held. The guide explained that one of the most colorful ceremonies of the coronation banquets was the challenging, in which a knight in full armor rode a horse into the dining hall and challenged the guests in the name of the newly crowned king. The great hall is lined with suits of mail and weapons of all eras, as well as portraits of all the kings and queens of Scotland and England for centuries.” Pictured here is the drawbridge entrance.
On Sunday he took a bus tour through the countryside with lunch on the grounds of Abbotsford on the River Tweed. “Abbotsford is the country estate of Sir Walter Scott, built to his own plans after he had acquired the property in 1811. He called it his dream house. … His rooms are exactly as he left them, lined with books and collector’s objects.”
Then to London for 3 more busy days: Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum (“very weird because some of the figures are so real that you are not sure who is alive and who isn’t), St. Paul’s Cathedral (just the outside since it was very crowded for the memorial service for the recently deceased Franklin D. Roosevelt), Parliament, Westminster Abbey, London Bridge, Tower of London, Kew Gardens, and Buckingham Palace (for the changing of the guard). This is Big Ben and Parliament as viewed from Westminster Bridge.
His furlough ended, McCutchan arrived back at company headquarters the afternoon of April 24. The next few months were spent in Mannheim and Bremen, Germany. While in Mannheim, McCutchan had the opportunity to see Heidelberg, about 15-20 miles away. The scrapbook says that Heidelberg is a famous university town, “a seat of learning, and since it was of no military importance, it is one of the few German cities that weather with but little damage. It was never bombed from the air, and only a few of the bridges were demolished deliberately. This is the bridge gate on the left bank” [of the Neckar River.]
June 11, 1945’s journal entry: “An interesting memorandum came out today announcing that the University of Paris is soon to take 750 U.S. Army students for eight weeks courses in languages and studies in French culture. … I have been hoping for an opportunity like that. … It would be wonderful to live in Paris for a while.” July 3 brought an official letter from Bremen Post Command about this course of study, but McCutchan, uncertain his Colonel would approve his application, asked directly and was told yes. July 10: “Sgt. Iula and I have been selected for the course at the Sorbonne. Our travel orders will be out tomorrow.” He was in Paris the next day, eager to embark on this new adventure. He was early since classes didn’t start until the 16th, but was able to enjoy the Bastille Day celebrations. This was the first Bastille Day celebration since Paris and France were liberated, so crowds were really exuberant. Under this photograph in his scrapbook, McCutchan notes, “Sidewalks for miles along the route of the parade were jammed with people from soon after dawn. They stood on chairs, on step ladders, sat on one another’s shoulders, hung from windows. Those who were unable to see a thing cheered and screamed just as loudly as all the others when the parade came by.”
Students in the Latin Quarter of Paris customarily studied outdoors on very warm days. They often went as a group to the nearby Luxembourg Gardens and sat under the huge chestnut trees. Here are some of his classmates with their teacher, Mademoiselle Louise Durand. Mlle. Durand worked with the underground during the German occupation, “caring for allied fliers whose planes were shot down over France. She and her group smuggled the fliers into Paris, fed and housed them and supplied them with civilian clothes until arrangements could be made to have them taken back to England. Mlle. Durand, who had studied in England before the war, maintained secret short-wave radio communication with her friends there, and through them made the arrangements to have the men picked up by reconnaissance planes that would make quick landings for that purpose in secluded spots in the country. In order to protect herself in case she was arrested by the Germans, she carried various kinds of false identification.”
Field trips were part of the curriculum. One day he and a friend went to Montmartre, the artist colony of Paris and climbed to the top of the highest tower. “All Paris was at our feet. We could see the Seine winding through the city, and the Eiffel Tower stood up like a bony finger pointing toward heaven through the mists that lingered over the river.”
Another day the class went to Versailles. It “is so large that it is said that at no one spot can one get a view of the entire building. The façade on the garden side is 2,413 ft. During the reign of Louis XIV the court, including nobles and servants, numbered nearly 10,000 persons.” Marie Antoinette built an entire idyllic rural village, the Hamlet, with a mill, mill pond, cow barn, and buttery. She built a house for herself there, too, when “she felt the need to ‘get away from it all’ and bake bread and make butter with her own hands. When she had the Hamlet constructed in 1783, people began to accuse her of ruining France with her caprices. Much unsavory gossip also rose against her because she refused to admit people of the court to her pastoral retreat.”
Another day Mlle. Durand took her class to see Fountainbleau. “The palace is built on the location of a hunting lodge that King Louis VII had built in the heart of a forest. Legend says that here was a spring of fine clear water (La Fontaine Belle-eau) where the king stopped to quench his thirst after the chase. …The horse-shoe staircase at the main entrance is particularly interesting. It was from these steps that Napoleon said good-bye to his officers before he went into exile.”
McCutchan enjoyed his time in Paris. “I tried to see Paris in all attitudes. Then, too, I was there to celebrate VJ Day, the end of the war. I loved Paris, but all good things must end sometime, so on September 7th we finished our school term. The first tinge of autumn was beginning to appear. Chestnuts were starting to fall in the Jardin du Luxembourg and the leaves were turning a rusty color. September 9th I flew back to Bremen, Germany and rejoined the 335th Engineers.”
From the previous blog you know the ending of this story, with McCutchan back at home in Indiana. He made the most of 959 days overseas and as a historian, left a wonderful record for us to enjoy. You can always stop by UASC on the 3rd floor of the Rice Library to look at these in more detail. Be sure to call first: 812-228-5046.