Henry Weston Farnsworth

Henry Weston Farnsworth, of Boston, a Harvard graduate, had travelled widely and was a newspaper correspondent in Mexico when the World War began. He enlisted in the Legion on January 1, 1915. Though his close friend, Victor Chapman, left later for aviation, Farnsworth preferred to remain in the Legion and lost his life in the Champagne sector.

~~ Alice S. Weeks, Greater Love Hath No Man (Boston: Bruce, Humprhies, Inc., 1939).

Farnsworth, Henry Weston, A.B. '12. Enlisted private Foreign Legion, French Army, January 5, 1915; killed in action September 28, 1915 near Navarin Farm, France. Engagement: Champagne.

~~ Frederick S. Mead, A.B. (ed), Harvard's Military Record in the World War, 1921, page 363.

Special to the New York Times

BOSTON, Jan. 16 (1916) -- Henry W. Farnsworth, a Harvard graduate, and a member of an old Beacon Street family, was 25 years old and had been out of college but a few years. When the war started he had just begun work in the office of his father, a wool merchant of Federal Street. Before relatives could object he had packed his trunk and was on the way to Europe.

Farnsworth wanted to be right in the midst of the fighting and refused to become a war correspondent, preferring to join the Foreign Legion. His company, according to letters he wrote home, was in many desperate engagements in Northern France. When sent to the hospital on several occasions he showed great eagerness to get back to the trenches.

One young American volunteer in the Foreign Legion was killed in the battle for the Fortin de Navarin at the end of September, 1915. He was Henry Weston Farnsworth, of Dedham, Massachusetts, a graduate of Groton and of Harvard, of the class of 1912. His tastes were bookish, musical and artistic. Burton, Dostoievski, Tolstoi, Gogol, Ibsen and Balzac were favorites with him, although his studies in literature covered a much wider field---the English classics as well as the modern continental writers. After he was graduated he spent the summer in Europe; visiting Vienna, Budapesth, Constantinople, Odessa, Moscow, and St. Petersburg, revelling in the historical associations, the art collections and the music of these cities, and making odd friends here and there, as was his wont, and studying the people. His curiosity was insatiable, particularly as regards the Oriental peoples and the Russians.

When the European War broke out Farnsworth was in the city of Mexico, whither he had gone when the United States Government sent troops to Vera Cruz. In the meantime he had had some experience as a newspaper correspondent and reporter for the Providence Journal and had published a book, "The Log of a Would-be War Correspondent," describing his experiences and observations in the Balkan War in the autumn of 1912, the fascination of which he could not resist. Returning home from Mexico, he sailed for England in October, 1914, with no intention of taking active part in the war, but with the desire to become an onlooker, in the hope that he might write something about the great conflict that would be worth while. The air of London and Paris was full of military projects, and he was tempted in various directions. Finally, after a period of hesitation and uncertainty, he entered the Foreign Legion early in January.
From the "Letters of Henry Weston Farnsworth of the Foreign Legion" to the members of his family, which have been privately printed by his father, William Farnsworth, it is possible to follow him during the nine succeeding months. He was under no illusions about the Germans. "Mad with envy," he writes, "is how they strike me. At the expression 'English Channel' they froth at the mouth." And his admiration for their Gallic adversaries was deep. "Nothing," he says, "can over-express the quiet fortitude of the French people."

Farnsworth, who, as we have seen, had a decided taste for odd characters, found his associates in his company of the Legion interesting studies. Under the date of January 9, 1915, he wrote:

     In the first place there is no tough element at all. Many of the men are educated, and the very lowest is of the high class workman type. In my room, for instance, there are "Le Petit Père" Uhlin, an old Alsatian, who has already served fourteen years in the Legion in China and Morocco; the Corporal Lebrun, a Socialist well known in his own district; Engler, a Swiss cotton-broker from Havre; Donald Campbell, a newspaper man and short story writer, who will not serve in the English army because his family left England in 1745, with the exception of his father, who was a captain in the Royal Irish Fusileers; Sukuna, a Fijian student at Oxford, black as ink; Hath, a Dane, over six feet, whom Campbell aptly calls "The Blonde Beast'' (vide "Zarathustra"); Von somebody, another Dane, very small and young; Bastados, a Swiss carpenter, born and bred in the Alps who sings---when given half a litre of canteen wine---far better than most comic opera stars and who at times does the Ranz des Vaches so that even Petit Père Uhlin claps; the brigadier Mussorgsky, cousin descendant of the composer, a little Russian; two or three Polish Jews, nondescript Belgians, Greeks, Roumanians, etc. I already have enough to write a long (ten thousand word) article, and at the end of the campaign can write a book truly interesting.

The more he saw of it the more picturesque and fascinating Farnsworth found the new life into which he had plunged. He liked the men and the spirit that prevailed in the Legion:

     I am thoroughly at home by this time and good friends with everyone in the company, even including a Belgian whom I was forced to lick thoroughly. The two great Legion marching songs, Car nous sommes tous les frères" and the old, the finest marching song in the world,

              Soldats de la Légion
              La Légion étrangere,
              N'ayant pas de patrie,
              La France est notre mère

are quite true at bottom, at least in the 15th company.

In course of time Farnsworth's regiment was moved to the front in northern France, and early in March he was writing from the trenches. The sector was quiet and little of importance happened except an occasional bombardment or some desultory rifle firing. He was often on night patrol in No Man's Land:

     There is a certain fascination in all this, dull though it may seem. The patrol is selected in the afternoon. At sunset we meet to make the plans and tell each man his duty; then at dark our pockets are filled with cartridges, a drawn bayonet in the belt, and our magazines loaded to the brim. We go along the boyau to the petit poste from which it is decided to leave. All along the line the sentinels wish us good luck and a safe return. In the petit poste we clamp on the bayonets, blow noses, clear throats, and prepare for three hours of utter silence. At a word from the chief we form in line in the prearranged order. The sentries wish us luck for the last time, and the chief jumps up on the edge of the trenches and begins to work his way quickly through the barbed wire. Once outside he disappears in the beet weeds and one after another we follow.

Then begins the crawl to the appointed spot. We go slowly with frequent halts. Every sound must be analyzed. On the occasion of the would-be ambush, I admit I went to sleep after awhile in the warm fresh clover where we lay. It was the Adjutant himself who woke me up with a slight hiss, but as he chose me again next night, he does not seem to have thought it a serious matter.

Then, too, once home we do not mount guard all the rest of the night, and are allowed to sleep in the morning, also there are small but pleasing discussions of the affair, and above all the hope of some night suddenly leaping out of the darkness hand to hand with the Germans.

In one of these night expeditions Farnsworth and his companions succeeded in sticking some French newspapers announcing Italy's declaration of war on the barbed wire in front of the German trenches. Pleased with their enterprise, their captain gave seven of them twenty francs for a fête. "What an unforgettable supper ! " cries the young Légionnaire:

     There was the sergeant, Zampanedes, a Greek of classic type, who won his spurs at Zanina and his stripes in the Bulgarian campaign. Since, he has been a medical student in Paris; that to please his family, for his heart runs in different channels, and he studies music and draws in his spare time.... We first fell into sympathy over the Acropolis, and cemented a true friendship over Turkish war songs and Byzantine chants, which he sings with a mournful romanticism that I never heard before.

Then there was Nicolet, the Company Clarion, serving his twelfth year in the Legion, an incredible little Swiss, tougher than the drums of the fore and aft and wise as Nestor in the futile ruses of the regiment.

The Corporal, Mortens, a legionary wounded during the winter and cited for bravery in the order of the army. He was a commercial traveller in his native grand duchy of Luxemburg, but decided some five years ago to leave his debts and troubles behind him and become a Petit Zéphyr de la Légion Etrangère.

Sudic, a butcher from the same grand duchy, a man of iron physically and morally, but mentally unimportant.
Covaliero, a Greek of Smyrna, who might have spread his silks and laces at the feet of a feudal princess and charmed her with his shining eyes and wild gestures into buying beyond her means. He also has been cited for reckless gallantry.

Sukuna and myself brought up the list. We were all in good spirits and flattered, and I, being in funds, put in f. 10 and Sukuna the same. Some of us drank as deep as Socrates, and we ate a mammoth salad under the stars. Nicolet and Mortens talked of the battalion in the Sahara, and Zampanedes sang his Eastern songs, and even Sukuna was moved to Tongan chants. Like Eneas on Polyphemus's isle, I feel that some years hence, well out of tune with all my surroundings, I shall be longing for the long warm summer days in northern France, when we slept like birds under the stars, among congenial friends, when no man ever thought of the morrow, and you changed horizons with each new conversation.

The letter from which the foregoing is a selection was written by Farnsworth to his mother on June 4, 1915. A month later the news from home that a friend of his was going to a training-camp in the United States where he expected to march five or six miles a day prompted him to give this vivid picture of an episode in the life of the Légionnaires:

     The other day we were waked at 2 a.m. and at 3 sent off in a pouring rain for some indefinite place across the mountains for a divisional review. We went off slowly through the wet darkness, but about dawn the sun came out and, as is usual with the Legion, everybody cheered up, and at 7 a.m. we arrived at the parade ground after fifteen kilometres in very good spirits. Two regiments of Zouaves from Africa were already drawn up. We formed up beside them, and then came the two tirailleurs regiments, their colors with them, then the second Etrangère, two thousand strong, and finally a squadron of Chasseurs d'Afrique.

We all stacked arms and lay about on the grass till 8.30. Suddenly the Zouave bugles crashed out sounding the "Garde à vous," and in two minutes the division was lined up, every man stiff as a board---and all the time the bugles ringing angrily from up the line, and the short staccato trumpets of the chasseurs answering from the other extremity.

The ringing stopped suddenly and the voices of the colonels crying "Baïonnettes aux canons" sounded thin and long drawn out and were drowned by the flashing rattle of the bayonets going on---a moment of perfect silence, and then the slow, courtly-sounding of the "Général! Général! qui passe!" broken by the occasional crash as regiment after regiment presented arms. Slowly the General rode down the lines, the two Brigadiers and a Division General in his suite.

Then came the défilé. The Zouaves led off, their bugles playing "As-tu vu la casquette, la casquette." "Then the tirailleurs, playing some march of their own, slow and fine, the bugles answering the scream of the Arab reed flutes as though Loeffler had led them. Then the Legion, the second Etrangère swinging in beside us at the double, and all the bugles crashed out with the Legion marching song, " Tiens voilà du boudin pour les Belges," etc. On and on went the bugles playing that light, slangy tune, some of the verses of which would make Rabelais shudder, and the minor variations of which bring up pictures of the Legion marching in thin ranks in foreign, blazing lands, and the drums of which, tapping slowly, sound like the feet of the regiment scrunching through desert sand. It was all very glorious to see and hear, and to wind up the chasseurs went by at the gallop going off to their quarters.

To wind up the day the Colonel took us home straight over the mountain---fourteen kilometres over mountain-goat tracks. [Note: Making about eighteen miles going and returning.] When we got in at 3.30 P. M., having had nothing to eat but a bit of bread, three sardines and a finger of cheese, few of the men were really exhausted. It was then I got your letter about the training camp.

In August Farnsworth's regiment was in Alsace. In September, however, it was on the march and took part in the bloody battle in Champagne toward the end of the month. His last letter was dated September 16, 1915. He was killed in the charge that his battalion made on the 28th, before the Fortin de Navarin. The Farnsworth Room in the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard, a large room for the leisurely reading of such standard books as Henry Farnsworth loved, was handsomely supplied with books, pictures and furniture by Mr. and Mrs. William Farnsworth, in memory of their son.

~~ Edwin W. Morse, The Vanguard of American Volunteers (NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918).


Henry Weston Farnsworth,
(Boston: Privately Printed, 1916).
Henry Weston Farnsworth,
The Log of a Would-be War Correspondent
(NY: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1913).