Chapter 15

Off to Europe With the Richmond Blues


      The proposed trip to Europe by the Virginia and Connecticut commands, made at dinner in Richmond in May 1924 bore fruit in May 1926. Largely through the endeavors of Major John L. Gilson, the assistance of Col. John Tilson, leader of the House, and Senator Claude Swanson of Virginia, a bill was put through Congress which gave the expedition the official sanction of the United States and secured recognition abroad which otherwise might not have been accorded. Through the State Department, too, permission was secured from French and Belgium authorities for the visitors to parade in those countries in uniform and under arms.

      On April 30th 100 members of the Company and its band entrained for New York, where, with members of the First Company and the Putnam Phalanx, they embarked on the CHICAGO. At Newport News the Richmond Infantry Blues came aboard. The four commands formed a happy and completely united regiment, composed of the descendants and successors of men who had fought against one another in the 1860's, all now embarked on a mission of international good will.

      The voyage proved a pleasant one. On the high seas, May 10, the Blues celebrated their anniversary with feasting, music, and speeches, assisted by their comrades from the North. Concerts by the Second Company's Band added much to the pleasure of the trip. Late at night on May 11th the CHICAGO reached Havre and the following morning a group of French officials came aboard. Proceeding on a special train to Belgium, with a stop at Amiens for luncheon and a ride through towns made famous by the World War, the regiment reached Brussels in the evening, where, at the railroad station they were greeted by Belgium military leaders, the United States Ambassador, and the military attache.

      The following day the visitors marched to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where ceremonies, including the laying of a wreath, were held, and in the afternoon attended a reception given by Ambassador and Mrs. Phillips. On May 14th they had the honor of being reviewed by King Albert, who later talked informally with the officers and expressed much interest in the history of the commands represented. the remainder of the time in Belgium was utilized by the men in visiting places of historic interest.

      Leaving Brussels on the 16th, the regiment arrived in Paris that afternoon where a crowd of some 3,000 awaited it in spite of the inclement weather. The next day the regiment assembled in the Tuileries Gardens from which, after a parade, it passed into the Champs-Elysees where the Fifth French Infantry Regiment escorted it to the Arch de Triumphe. the crowd was so dense that a special service of police and Guarde Municipale was necessary. With perfect precision the various units formed around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and officers and men presented arms, the band played the "Marseillaise" and the "Star Spangled Banner." In the silence that followed, a huge wreath of red and white roses and blue cornflowers was carried to the head of the Tomb, and placed beside the flickering eternal "Flame of Remembrance." From the ranks of the Foot Guards stepped Chaplain Strickland of New Haven, who solemnly saluted the Unknown Soldier. Then, removing his helmet, he knelt at the foot of the Tomb, and in clear tones offered a prayer of Puritan simplicity that all present should ever remain faithful to the traditions and friendships that inspired such valor and sacrifice.

      Following the ceremonies, the regiment was received at the Union Interalliee by Marshall Foch and other French and American dignitaries. Some 100 guests, leading members of the American colony in Paris, and representatives of military and patriotic organizations, were present. In the late afternoon a reception was tendered the Americans by Ambassador Herrick and members of the Embassy. The next two days were spent in sightseeing and in pilgrimages to Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, and Rheims, and on the 18th there were ceremonies at the grave of Lafayette, under the direction of Edward de Nevue, president in France of the Sons of the American Revolution, during which the First Company, presented a bronze wreath and plaque to be attached to the stone covering the grave, special permission of the French Senate having been procured some months before.

      The climax of the events in Paris was reached on May 20th when the regiment had the unusual honor of being entertained in a body by President Gaston Doumergue within the historic palace of the Faubourg Saint-Honore. After the formal presentations the President extended a cordial welcome and recalled the common effort of France and the United States in the cause of liberty. He charged the visitors to carry home assurances of France's good will and a personal message of admiration and friendship to President Calvin Coolidge. After inspecting the units, M. Doumergue reviewed the regiment from the steps leading to the broad lawn of the Elysee.

      After this reception the officers were the guests of Colonel Francis Drake at a reception and buffet supper at his mansion in the Rue Marburg. Here they had the pleasure of meeting many Americans, prominent socially and financially, who were sojourning in France, and the occasion proved one of the most delightful of the entire trip.

      The following morning the officers were tendered an informal reception by M. Paul Painleve, Minister of War, and his associates, at the Ministry. Several officers of the French General Staff called to pay their respects. On the morning of May 21st, with a great crowd to see it off, the regiment entrained for Havre. The voyage home was uneventful. Each night one of the commands held a dinner for its members, at which the ship's captain and the commanders of the other organizations were present. The CHICAGO docked on the morning of June 1st, and Governor Trumbull, who had seen the Connecticut men off a month before, came on deck to welcome them back.

      On June 13th, about 100 of the Company and the band entrained for Philadelphia, where the following day, they acted as escort to Governor Trumbull at the Flag Day exercises and dedication of the Connecticut Building at the Sequi-Centennial Exposition.

      Cooperation with towns of the state was given on November 11, 1927, when the Company went to Meriden and took part in an Armistice Day parade held in connection with the dedication of a monument erected to the heroes of World War I; at New Britain, September 22, 1928, when a War Memorial was dedicated; and at West Haven, November 11, 1928 where a similar event occurred. The following day, a delegation of 50 went to New London and assisted in still another dedication.

      On April 7, 1928, a delegation of 50 members, accompanied by the drum corps, left for Atlanta, Ga., to take part in the ceremonies incident to the unveiling of the figure of General Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain, April 9th.

Chapter 16