ACTIVE IN WAR SERVICE
New Yorker Wins French Cross for Untiring Efforts in Red Cross Canteen Service
PARIS, July 28. — The services that the average New Yorker, over the military age, rendered at the front in France, have been recognized by the French army in the award, announced today, of the Croix de Guerre to Sterling S. Beardsley, a New York cotton broker. Beardsley served for nine months with the American Red Cross as a canteen worker in the fighting zone. Marshal Petain was the signer of his citation.
Captain Beardsley gained the nickname of “The Average New Yorker,” in the press dispatches. The idea conveyed was that Beardsley’s situation in life at the time America entered the was was about the average of thousands of New York business men. He was a broker, over forty-two, had been twice refused by the army, had a wife and two children. He bought liberty bonds, contributed to the welfare organizations and joined in various “win the war” activities.
But somehow this work did not suffice him and so he obtained a commission with the Red Cross. He sailed for France in January, 1918. Two months later he was in the midst of the biggest offensive the German armies had ever attempted — the Somme drive of March, 1918.
*CLICK the Red Cross passport letter for larger image.
Beardsley had never made a cup of chocolate or performed any kitchen labor in his life. But the night he reached the front on top of a rolling soup kitchen he started to scour pots and pans. He explained that he “just figured out” that the yought to be clean.
That night the enemy airmen came over where his soup kitchen was set up and he had to sleep in a damp rat-infested wine cellar. Next day he set to work to make coffee, cocoa and soup by the gallon. Two weeks later when he took his clothes off for the first time since his arrival he realized that he had become a first class soup chief.
He stayed at his soup kitchen in Compiegne for two months. Then he had orders to move to the Marne. He set up his kitchen in Chateau-Thierry. Forced out of there, he went on to another town where he found a hospital full of wounded with insufficient medical staff. He scrubbed floors and aided the doctors at operations and served soup and coffee from his canteen “on the side.”
Journal Six O’Clock, Lincoln, Nebraska, Monday, July 28, 1919
PARIS, June 13. Mrs. Belmont Tiffany, of New York; Sterling Beardsley of New York and Palm Beach, and James Oliver and Mooney Wheeler of Pittsburg, worked then days and ten nights at a Red Cross canteen with practically no sleep caring for retreating French and British soldiers and the mass of civilian refugees who streamed through Compiegne during the early days of the German offensive.
Beardsley, whose duty it is to organize Red Cross units in the field and get them started in full operating order, had just arrived in the neighborhood of Compiegne on the eve of the enemy’s drive. He was organizing a canteen at a certain place north of Compiegne. Oliver and Wheeler were with him to take over the outfit after he had established it.
Mrs. Belmont Tiffany was visiting that section of the front and inspecting Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. units when Hindenburg’s blow fell.
Had to Change Location.
In the first stride forward the Germans occupied the place where Beardsley had intended to open his canteen, and a large supply of stores, as well as several motor trucks and automobiles fell into the enemy’s hands. Beardsley, Oliver and Wheeler got away in an automobile, donated to the Red Cross by Mrs. B.D. Spillman of Warrenton, Va., and it was that car that they used for the ensuing two weeks in bringing up their supplies and in distributing them. It was the only piece of rolling stock that the Red Cross had in that region, as the roads were so choked with troops and guns it was impossible to get other machines up from Paris or elsewhere.
Mrs. Belmont Tiffany had been at the front and narrowly escaped being hit in a German bombardment with long range guns. She was taken back to Compiegne by the French staff officer accompanying her on her trip, and there she met Bear[d]sley, who was organizing his base supply station there as a canteen. Mrs. Tiffany volunteered to help him during the rush and her services were eagerly accepted, as Oliver and Wheeler were then only others on the job.
Canteen Sign Hung Out.
A counter was improvised, long stables were set up with boards on boxes, and benches were made, and then the Red Cross canteen sign was placed outside. Hot coffee and sandwiches made from French and American bread and potted meats were served all day and all night, as troops on the march were continually traversing the town and refugees from the territory over which the enemy was advancing were streaming back.
Mrs. Tiffany wielded a hammer and a saw as well as Beardsley in their amateur carpentering to make their storehouse into a canteen. Then when it was ready for business she presided at coffee and sandwich making and in pouring the steaming hot beverage from big pitchers.
Meantime, Beardsley stocked up the automobile with cigarettes, chocolate and tinned goods and toured in various directions out of Compiegne, distributing these articles to the weary soldiers.
Beardsley covered the districts near to the town in the day-time, and then ran up nearer to the front, in the Noyon-Lassigny region, at night. He was practically always under fire from the enemy’s six-inch guns, as the Germans were continually sprinkling roads and villages far behind the lines with shrapnel and high explosives.
On one occasion Mrs. Tiffany was riding with Beardsley as they were carrying coffee as well as sandwiches, and she had to hold the big tub steady as the little automobile skidded around shell holes in the road.
They stopped directly behind a French battery of seventy-five which was emplaced in hastily dug gunpits, directly at the edge of the road. They served the gunlayers and officers with coffee and sandwiches and distributed cigarettes and chocolate, which the French gratefully received. The battery, they were told, had been falling back for eight days, stopping two or three times in every twenty-four hours to shell the advancing Germans. They had not lost a gun, but had suffered heavily in casualties among the gun crews.
Gets Shell as Souvenir.
Mrs. Tiffany stooped and picked up the brass shell case of one of the projectiles which the battery had fired, but the French lieutenant in charge bade her throw it away. Then he snapped out an order and his crew rammed home a shell in the breach of one of the pieces. The lieutenant beckoned Mrs. Tiffany to approach the cannon. Then he showed her a lever and motioned her to move it.
She did, and the wonderful little gun barked viciously; the barrel leaped back in its oil bath recoil absorber, and a three-inch shrapnel projectile went screaming northward four thousand yards among the enemy. The lieutenant picked up the smoking, oily metal case of the projectile just fired, which had been automatically ejected from the breech. He scratched the date, the place, the number of the battery and his name in the brass with his diamond ring and handed it to Mrs. Tiffany as a souvenir.
“I suppose we will be called up on the carpet eventually because we distributed some supplies which were intended only for Americans to French and British soldiers and to women and children — poor French refugees from the country where the fighting was going on,” said Beardsley. “These troops certainly appreciated something to smoke and something to eat when I handed over the chocolate and sandwiches. Frequently they were not permitted to halt at all. Then we would stand at the side of the road and their officers would let them deploy into single file so we could hand everyone of them something.
Cared For Women and Children.
“The poor women and their tiny children coming back were not forgotten either. We gave them some milk chocolate which we happened to have and also evaporated cream and condensed milk for the infants. Some of the poor people were almost starving, as they did not have time to save a thing in many cases. Others, however, seemed to have salvaged everything they owned except the actual real estate. They had huge bundles of bedding containing clocks and pictures and similar articles, and they drove along with them their sheep, goats, cows, pigs and chickens. Of course, they were all attended by innumerable dogs.
“At Compiegne they were placed on board trains for transport to the east and south of France. They insisted that their livestock go right along with them, and I was in many compartment giving out food and supplies in which mothers, babies and aged husbands and fathers were sitting and sleeping among their goats, pigs and chickens. The railroad authorities managed to persuade most of the people to part with their cows, but one woman insisted on taking an animal into the baggage car and riding with it.
“Trains used for bringing up troops to that district were filled with these refugees for the back haul instead of being sent back empty.”
San Antonio Light (San Antonio, Texas) Jun 13, 1918
Sterling Beardsley Before the War
HUMAN STEAM ROLLER.
That Is the Sobriquet Given a New York Broker.
New York, June 22. — Just because the members of the New York Cotton exchange have christened Sterling S. Beardsley, of the firm of E.F. Hutton & Co., with the ponderous title of “The Human Steam Roller,” there is no reason to doubt the confidential assertions that the stage lost a popular “matinee hero” when this gentleman declared for a life in the brokerage ring. For even in the present, while lending his aid to the efforts to boost cotton toward the eleven cent mark, Mr. Beardsley harbors Thespian ambitions, and along with one Mr. Shakespeare, holds firmly to the belief that “the play’s the thing.”
Today, in point of physical displacement, Mr. Beardsley holds the record of being about the biggest member of the Cotton exchange. In his Harvard days, likewise, he had a weighty influence in affairs of the student body. It is recorded, also, that he made one of his greatest hits in that period by appearing as Fatima in a certain amateur theatrical performance sponsored by the Hasty Pudding club.
The Daily Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin) Jun 22, 1909
*For more posts about canteen workers, click on the WWI category or the “Canteen Workers” tag.