Christmas in Europe

Rear Admiral Cary T. Grayson, MD, Woodrow Wilson’s physician and friend, accompanied President and Mrs. Wilson to France in December, 1918, prior to the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference. Ever mindful of the history unfolding around him, Grayson kept a diary of his experiences at Wilson’s side. From Grayson’s diary entries, we know that the President had promised to pay a visit to General John J. Pershing at Pershing’s headquarters in Chaumont. The Wilson’s decided to honor this promise over the Christmas holiday, combining it with a review of troops representing the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.). The President asked General Pershing to arrange it so that he and Mrs. Wilson could have Christmas dinner with the doughboys themselves.

The Wilsons, along with Dr. Grayson, left Paris by train late on Christmas Eve and arrived at Chaumont shortly after dawn on Christmas Day. After an official welcome in the city hall, the entourage was brought by motor cars to a field where the President addressed the gathered units on a cold morning, and then reviewed the troops and tanks that paraded past. The group motored to Montigny-le-Roi, the headquarters of the 26th Division, a National Guard unit made up entirely of New England troops.

The President was surprised to discover that instead of dining with the ordinary soldiers as he had requested, he and Mrs. Wilson were guests of the officers of the 26th Division, who printed and hand-colored this memento.

 

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While the printed menu included chicken and turkey, Cary Grayson’s diary recorded that turkey had been impossible to obtain, so the meal consisted of “chicken with celery and other food more or less American in character.” Grayson specifically praised the pumpkin pie, “the typical New England kind, sweetened with molasses.”

 

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Dr. Grayson not only kept the menu for posterity, but had the presence of mind to get the signatures of Woodrow Wilson, John J. Pershing, Edith Bolling Wilson, and James W. McAndrew, who was Chief of Staff of the A.E.F at the time.

 

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Written by WWPL volunteer Danna Faulds

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