Through War Torn Europe: An official trip after WWI told in the words of James Gordon Steese
Number Fifteen
American Commission to Negotiate  Peace, Paris,
Friday, August 22nd, 1919.
Will wonders never cease! After almost 500 miles of motoring through southern and southeastern England, I flew over from London to Paris today in a British DeHaviland two-seater. It is 226 miles by the route we took, or exactly the distance from Washington to New York. The dials kept pretty steadily at 3000 feet and 125 miles per hour air speed. Our actual speed was more or less, depending upon how the wind happened to be blowing. When we landed the British Air Cadet, who was my pilot, asked the time. When I replied "one hour and forty-nine minutes", he shook his head, murmured "Five minutes late!" and made an entry in his diary.

We crossed the Channel on a long slant in 22 minutes with both shores constantly visible. It was cold and wet when we started, but the sun soon came out and the weather was just about perfect over the channel. When we started I demurred at not being strapped in, but was assured the trip would be smooth; there would be no occasion for any loops or side slips, and, if we fell into the Channel, I would want to be able to kick free readily. Then a life belt and a tank of compressed air were strapped on me and I was shown how to operate the tank cock. They reassured me that if I were prompt, I could not drown. The air became quite choppy during, the last forty or fifty miles into Paris. Once I was thrown almost out of my seat, but my knees caught on the cowl and after that I sprained both hands holding on.

Three of us motored out from London to the Airdrome. The other two came over in the closed cabin of a Handley-Pages. As I was taking off my helmet, they also landed and we all motored into Paris together again. Breakfast in London together, a trip over in different machines, and then lunch in Paris together, is what I call some service.

Wednesday was quite a wet day in England, the first real rain since we left Chateau Thierry. However, we made through to Dover after visiting the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Brighton, Hastings, and a few aviation fields. As the Admiralty had telegraphed the probable time of my arrival, we were very courteously received and shown all around the Navy Yard and Docks. Portsmouth is the British Naval Base and one of the most strongly fortified south coast ports. Portsmouth is not much of a town, but Southsea, adjoining, is quite a resort, so the whole Island was full of people.

As the rain let up in the afternoon and I had an excellent map, I abandoned the main highway east of Brighton and struck off straight across country for fifty miles through the most delightful series of country lanes imaginable. The roads, though narrow and winding, were excellent; in fact, we never saw a foot of bad road either in England or Scotland. The English build good roads right through all villages and towns, which is quite an improvement over our system.

 Yesterday was a most interesting day, Canterbury, Sheerness, Chatham, and back to London for tea. I am very much divided between Canterbury and Winchester. The former has a little church dating to 58 or 62. One old house had a wonderful old door hanging all askew with ornate iron strap hinges and an elaborate pattern of big headed wrought iron nails. I wish I could have brought it along home with me.

We reached Canterbury before nine o'clock, the hour the cathedral is opened to tourists. A sign on the main door advised us that in house No. 4 could be found a guide who, for a small fee, would take us in between 7:30 A.M. and the regular opening time. We found the same sign on the door of house No. 4. The guide's wife, however, opened the door, when we knocked, and said he was busy with a service of some kind, pumping the organ, or lighting the candles, or something of the sort, and could not take us through. We asked about the sign and whether there was anyway we could be shown through. She became rather petulant then and explained at great length how he had to attend this service, adding an interminable string of non-importent items, and finally added triumphantly: "Now, you could hardly expect him to be in two places at the same time, now, could you?", thereby putting us entirely in the wrong and making us feel somehow that we had been rather stupid. Having had previous experience with the impenetrability of the average English middle class mind, we then gave up and waited till 9:00 o'clock. We bad thought we were complying with instructions, were putting her in the way of earning an extra fee, and in any case were only asking for reasonable information.

Sheerness used to be an important Naval Base for the lower Thames fleet. There are still important activities there, and, as at Portsmouth, we were very courteously treated. Several of the Naval Officers were especially agreeable and delayed us quite a while to see their Club, but we claimed a luncheon engagement at Chatham, or we would never have gotten away. One of our naval craft was in drydock, but we missed her officers.

After dinner at one of the Clubs with our Military Attache, we went to the Winter Garden where I saw an English adaptation of "The Girl Behind the Gun" called "Kissing Time". It was even funnier than the American production,  I had seen when it first opened in Washington, but the songs were not so well rendered. The man who had Donald Brian's part was a mutt when it came to dancing. Monday night I had been to the Hippodrome to see a review in which Leon Erol had a part. He was completely overshadowed by the English comedian. He had warned us a few days before that he had not much of a part, but as it did not affect his pay check he guessed he could stand London for awhile. The girl whom we had met proved to be the juvenile lead.

I have just been presented with a copy of the Peace Treaty, which I shall hope to find time to read some time. It is a quarto volume of 216 pages with maps, no one over here seems to take the Paris negotiations very seriously, or to believe that future national aspirations will be much governed by that is finally agreed upon.

I am hoping to sail for the States by September 10th, but can make no definite plans till I come back from Italy. St. Mihiel, Metz, and Luxembourg then await my attention. I was very sorry not to get a glimpse of Ireland, but it was simply out of the question. There is, of course, no solution for the Irish question. It is simply a case of two thirds of the Irish against  the other third and all against the English. But one can discuss the matter more authoritatively after having been on the ground or can make his opinions have at least as much strategic weight as the other fellow's.

I am off for Switzerland and Italy on the Simplon-Orient Express tomorrow. I expect to be back in Paris again for a fourth visit in about ten days. I spent all afternoon chasing around for passport, money, photograph, orders, ticket, berth, stored baggage, etc. I had to visit each place twice as every one always sends you somewhere else. Then they promise most of the things for tomorrow. Fortunately I had a car for the afternoon. A ticket to the Swiss frontier cost only 15 francs, but a berth to Man will cost 110 as soon as I get my passport. The fare across Switzerland will be the number of Swiss francs, forty I believe, that equals 54 French francs. The train goes on to Trieste. I can not find out what my connection is at Milan.

End Notes and Bibliography