Four Question for Corine Reis
Waldo Peirce Goes to War is a remarkable new WWI Tumblr Blog
By Cheryl Farrell
Staff Writer, United States World War One Centennial Commission
Frenchwoman Corine Reis has an incredible passion for the American volunteers who came and served in France before America joined the war. She maintains several pages, including this very detailed Tumblr blog. The introduction to Corine’s Tumblr page dedicated to American artist Waldo Peirce goes like this:
"November 1915, World War 1 is savagely ripping Europe apart. Waldo Peirce, fresh Harvard graduate, impossibly handsome and talented artist, decides to leave his privileged life to join the American Field Service in France. He finds himself catapulted to the front of the bloodiest war zone ever, rescuing and transporting the wounded to safety, through treacherous battle grounds, in primitive ambulances. His heroism and bravery won him the French Croix de Guerre awarded by the French government to war heroes. The carnage and devastation he saw did not destroy his beautiful mind, because through it all, he kept on painting. "I must paint paint" as he wrote from the front to his mom in 1916 "I'm a painter from the top of my head to the soles of my feet --I know it-- I get a nervous thrill just to take my palette in my hands..." And it's how Waldo never lost his way. 100 years later, almost to the day, here are photographs with short captions of the war he saw."
Corine took some time to answer a few question about her blog for us.
Question: Can you explain for our readers your relationship to Waldo Peirce and why you decided to tell his World War One story through photos? Did you meet Waldo?
Waldo Peirce was my American husband’s uncle. I heard about him from my Mom-in-law, Rachael. Rachael and Waldo were very good friends and she shared with me wonderful stories about him. Their beautiful friendship is actually documented in various photo albums at the Smithsonian Institution and Colby College. Unfortunately, I could not have met Waldo because of the age difference, but it certainly would have been great fun.
Question: What are your primary sources for information about Waldo Peirce and how did you develop the significant collection of images for your Tumblr site? Do you have a background or education in history?
Waldo and his colleagues of the American Field Service took lots of photos in France. Throughout the years, these photos were duplicated in private collections and various American and French websites and archives departments. As I am French, I am able to find in the French archives incredible photos that are not yet widely published in America. The French photographic archives are particularly complex to navigate for even a native French speaker, so I can only imagine how difficult it might be for an English speaker. The fascinating aspect of this research is to see how the French photos corroborate the American stories (in diaries, letters, books, etc.)
About the texts: as Waldo did not write much about his war experience, I had to dig in his colleagues’ diaries, letters, and books. It was important to do so as I really wanted to present these young American volunteers, and then the American soldiers, in the human context of this war, mostly leaving aside its military and technical aspect. So, between the photos and texts, I developed quite a collection of go-to WW1 diaries, letters, and books.
Finally, I follow a chronological order in my blog. Another rich aspect of this research is that for each day of this war, there is almost always a diary, a letter, or a photo. How cool is that? I am pretty well covered until the armistice!
My academic background is language studies and economics. But I grew up in a house full of history books, as both my parents are history buffs. I also learned about American history from both my very well-educated Mom-in-law and husband.
Question: You have said you didn’t learn much about the American Expeditionary Force during World War One while you were in school in France. How was the war’s history taught to you in school? Has your research during this Centennial into Waldo Peirce’s experiences during the war changed your perspectives about the war and its impact on France today?
In school, we did not study in great depth either of the World Wars. It was rather a Manichean, superficial view of them. Our teachers certainly did not elaborate enough on the American involvements, and used the only educational tools available in the '70s-80s which were old history textbooks. Fortunately, I was raised by parents and grand-parents who loved America and did not forget its heroism in Europe.
Also, since they lived through those times, they recounted incredible tales to their children.
Studying this war had an immense impact on my understanding of the world and humanity in general. I only had a vague idea that in France, where I so blissfully grew up, there were, twice, such destruction and immense pain. The enormous work and motivation it took to rebuild and start over, twice, are absolutely admirable, almost miraculous. I gained even more respect for my country, along with an immense love for America.
Question: Do you plan to continue to follow Waldo’s life after the War’s 100th Centennial is over at the end of this year? Will you publish your collected works in another form in the future?
I plan to follow the chronology of the war up until the Armistice. It might be difficult to publish on paper the work I have done on this blog, as it draws mostly from a collection of various books, diaries, and letters which do not belong to me. I am not sure how it would work.
I plan to create a WW2 blog in which I will publish candid photos and unknown stories, from soldiers and civilians, following this same chronological format, focusing also on the human experience of WW2. While I am still in the US, I will try to gather as many WW2 stories and photos as possible on this side of the pond.
Then, once in France, I will do the same there. Et voila! I’ll do my best to launch my blog in September 2019. At that time, I think that I will leave my dear 'Good Ole Waldo' alone for a while, as this WW2 blog will be lots of work!
So many beautiful photos, so many incredible stories, so little time!
Cheryl Farrell is a volunteer with the U.S. World War One Centennial Commission.
See the entire Waldo Peirce Goes to War Blog here:
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