In our historical fiction WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE, many of Cécile’s letters could not be incorporated, including the letters in which she introduces her young cousin, Francis Veillot, to Ruth. Francis’s letters written to Ruth were also not included, but his short life is remembered through his correspondence.
We learn of Francis in Cécile’s September 27, 1919 letter to Ruth:
My cousin is a young soldier, 18 years old, who is in Algeria and whose address follows: Monsieur Francis Veillot, 103eme Compagnie 2eme Tirailleurs (Algeria) Mostaganem. He desires to correspond in English with a Girl Scout of your age, or older, but not younger than you. I give you much trouble, but I kiss you one, two, three…thousand time. Well I stop here. Much love from your affectionate friend, Cécile
Why would Francis be serving in Algeria? A little history lesson is needed on the ending of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the creating of the British and French mandated territories (1916 Sykes-Picot agreement):
It is World War I which changes the region out of recognition, ending the Ottoman centuries and bringing into existence the modern territories of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine (the region now including Israel), Jordan and Iraq. When Germany seeks an armistice, in early November 1918, the war ends. Delegates to the peace conference gather in Paris two months later. Their task is a complex one – working out the precise terms that will be imposed if a treaty is to be signed with each of the defeated nations. The treaty with the Ottoman empire is the last to be agreed, not being signed until August 1920 at Sèvres. Its terms are harsh. The empire is to be entirely dismantled, with all the Middle Eastern provinces previously under Turkish control now made the responsibility of France and Britain as mandated territories. The division between the two European nations has already been agreed between them, foreseeing this possible outcome if Turkey is defeated. In 1916 the Sykes-Picot agreement has been signed. Its details have been negotiated by François Picot for France and Mark Sykes for Britain. Their proposed borders, drawn in a fairly arbitrary fashion, are adopted when the League of Nations in 1920 allots to France the mandate for Syria and Lebanon and to Britain the mandate for Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. Read more:
So, as a young 18-year-old French soldier, Francis is sent to the French mandate to enforce French rule. From Cécile’s March 26, 1920, letter, we learn that Francis has been writing to Isabelle and Edna, girls Ruth has connected him with, as well as with Ruth, whose letters Francis prefers, according to Cécile:
Francis wrote me Monday, he tells me that he corresponds with two girls you give address Isabelle and Edna. He tells me he prefers your letters and says you are nicest girl. I told him of course you are nicest girl you are my good chum! Francis is a good young man, I know you will like him as I love my favorite cousin. Your letters help him as he fight for France in far places.
Much love from your affectionate friend, Cécile
We see from Francis’s letter to Ruth, dated May 6, 1920, that he is in Algeria and about to relocate with his regiment to Turkey. He enclosed a drawing of women and men’s Moorish costumes and promises to write her from Turkey:
Dear little Ruth,
What pleasure! This morning your pretty letter to me arrived. Dear little one, thank you very much for it and I thank you also for the magazine. I have made a little some progress in English and I am very glad to write to you a letter good and not full of mistakes. Dear friend American, news for you: I’m going with my regiment to Asia, in Turkey, also, dearest you shall not receive letters of me the month of June or July, the voyage is take ten days and we will be moving every day for many weeks. When we are moving I have much work to do as communications.
Yes, you shall receive my photo, I know not when but be sure you shall receive it. And yours? I’m very glad to think to see your picture and I put in this envelope a branch of olive tree for you and I give to it much message of love and friendship to my dear little friend. Cécile say you are wonderful friend and yes, I think so too!
From Turkey you shall receive much letter from me. How say you? Dearest? Well! All for you dear one. I have drawn for you the Moorish costume of women’s dress at home and in town, including a Moorish man’s costume and the jewelry of the women. Very pretty.
But I think it is time close my letter, out is very dark it is nine o’clock, and I wish to get this sent to you before we go. Please write me French a little au revoir is very well. Where have you learn that, Cécile perhaps?
I have not address in this time to my coming to Turkey. I will get your letters if you send to my present address. Do you understand? Sincerely, Francis
On May 12, 1920, Cécile writes of Francis’s relocation to Cécile , and how her cousin is getting to see so many countries:
Francis wrote me some days ago from Bone, he says he has received a letter from you. He is telephonist corporal and he is now probably in Syria. Frances and me, we correspond half English and half French. I will be very fun for you to see our letter for they are as Lulu say, “baby language.” It is interesting each letter I receive from Francis comes from another country. Where is Francis now I ask myself? How much he must be glad to visit unknown countries he is very fond of journeys. And you darling, are you? Don’t you think youth are fond of travels? What I think in French and write in English is to give you with my heart the best kisses I can give; I can make it in all languages. Au revoir Cherie! Cécile
Ruth receives from Francis a post card from Constantinople dated June 11, 1920, promising another letter soon.
Although additional letters more than likely were sent back and forth between Ruth and Francis, the last one saved in Ruth’s collection is from Francis, dated November 16, 1921, from his post in Beirut, Syria. He expresses excitement in returning to France in eighteen days and kissing the French ground when he steps on it. We can only imagine his homesickness and loneliness as a young soldier, now nineteen, who has been away from family and friends for over a year. He includes pictures of himself in Arab clothing and in his uniform.
Dear Little Friend,
Much days ago I have received your good little letter and I must thank you for it and for the cards, how much pretty! Dear Ruffis! I’m very sorry because I can’t speak better English with a charming little friend as you, but also, for why do you not learn French language? I sent some pictures who I think will do pleasure to you.
These are the face of your friend in different clothes of the Arabs. The woman is me and it is funny, a little! But do not laugh too much.
It is only 18 days and I will come to France all right!! I will see my little house and my Maman and brothers and friends. I would like to see Lulu and Cécile but I’m not sure. When I step on French ground, surely I will kiss it. A good handshake of your traveler, Francis
Two days before Francis was to leave Beirut, he and his comrades were killed by an ambush. His death reflects the turmoil in leading to the Great Syrian Revolution in 1925. Ruth learns about Francis’s death in Cécile’s letter dated January 3, 1922, in which Cécile laments “how many of boys must die. They die for their country or countries they don’t know.” Through Francis’s death, Cécile comes to accept that “no root of bitterness” should grow, but instead forgiveness and living “as God wants us to live.”
My dearest Ruth,
I send you not Christmas greetings. For our family and the family of Francis I have the worst of news for my dear Ruth. Francis is not arrive home for his leave. Two days he was to leave Beirut and come to France his comrades was involved in fighting or ambush. Dear Francis is dead. His body has arrived home on the ship that is arranged for his return to the arms of his Maman. We have buried him in Quimper, Brittany near his home. His Maman, my auntie, and his brothers visit his cemetaire.
How many of boys must die. They die for their country or countries they don’t know. I have tried not to feel bitter feelings but they flow like water. My Maman’s dear sister has given too much for France. I loved Francis. She tells me this from the Bible, “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.” She tells me no bitterness but that I should forgive and live as God wants us to live.
So dear friend, I know you are good friend to Francis and your letters give him much pleasure. I wish I didn’t have to tell you such news. I not want to cause you pain, not my dear Ruth, oh no.
A strong kiss for you my dearest friend, Cécile
A few months before Cécile’s own death, she writes to Ruth about planting a tree in memory of Francis. From her letter, we surmise Ruth has written Cécile of her family’s healing from Jesse’s death and planting a tree in his memory. Cécile draws the parallel of their losses, and this letter contains some of Cécile’s most beautiful writing, her simile of trees being like a family:
My dear Ruth,
I write today the joyous occasion of the reunion of your family. That you could tell only me your truth—to tell as friends do; I love you more than ever. You are a dear dear friend. I was thinking long ago when you moved to Oakland was a surprise and I did not know how big was the problem. I am admiring your heart. I say I know your heart. It is so big I hear the sound of it in France!
You say your family planted a tree for the remembrance of Jessie. Do you not know; when we buried Francis we plant a tree too! And when my auntie husband die in the war; before she can move him back to Quimper she could not visit his cemetaire and this was hard for her so she planted a tree for him. You see our hearts are the same.
I think like you that trees are like a family. Their branches are each like a
member in the family. A tree needs branches, like a family needs all the people in a family. But sometimes a tree breaks a branch; a family loses someone they love. But do not to be angry; no bitterroot should grow and hurt the tree. We must graft God’s branch to the tree and it will grow stronger.
So, my dear, be strong as the tree is strong. God knows your heart and he forgives you. I will not speak of this to anyone as you have asked. I love you dear Ruth more than ever.
Many kisses to my dear friend from your friend, Cécile
Upon Cécile’s death, Lulu shares Cécile’s words to her dear friend:
Cécile asked me to tell her dear Ruth this, “A branch has been broken so you may be closer to God.” This she said…I am not sure you understand her meaning but I promised her to tell you those words.
Francis and Cécile both died so young, yet through their letters to Ruth, they live on as “God’s branches,” now grafted to our trees.