Home Massachusetts Nora Saltonstall Writes From the Western Front, 1918

Nora Saltonstall Writes From the Western Front, 1918


It was 1918 in war-torn France, and wealthy young Nora Saltonstall had to be there. She wrote to her father to tell him she needed to stay to be part of her generation — the Lost Generation.

Nora Saltonstall in her Red Cross uniform

Nora Saltonstall in her Red Cross uniform

Eleanor “Nora” Saltonstall came from a well-to-do Boston Brahmin family that traced its lineage to the Mayflower. She was the second of the four children of Richard and Eleanor Brooks Saltonstall. Her brother Leverett, who also served in World War I, would be elected governor of Massachusetts and then U.S. senator. Her family would have preferred Nora to stay home.

Nora Saltonstall travelled to Paris in October 1917 to work with the Bureau of Refugees and Relief, a part of the American Red Cross.  In November she transferred to an American Red Cross dispensary in Paris; then to a Red Cross hospital unit attached to the French army.  Nora served as the unit’s secretary and housekeeper in charge of supplies and accounts. In the spring of 1918, she volunteered as the mobile unit’s chauffeur along the western front in France when the Germans launched their offensive.  For that, Nora Saltonstall earned the Croix de Guerre.


Nora Saltonstall Writes

On April 3, 1918, she wrote a letter home from the western front:

Dear Family,

Another very hasty scrawl. We have commenced work with a rush & as I seem to have no headquarters & not an instant to myself I have not had time to write — In the last ten days I have slept in 6 different places or else have not slept at all, I have transported refugees, carried wounded, scrubbed, cooked, made back to top fires, done canteen work, & done everything under unusual conditions. It has been extremely thrilling & I am sure I am not likely to forget it all. You need not worry about danger — we are all equally safe in this world & we might as well be doing one thing as another. I am careful not to take risks and am not foolhardy. I am too fond of my own skin for any foolishness.
Love – Nora

Ambulances on their way to Villers

After the war, Nora Saltonstall took a trip to the West Coast with friends. She contracted typhoid fever in Portland, Ore., and died on Aug. 2, 1919 at the age of 24.

Of wartime France, she wrote:

This is certainly a very interesting life — I would not miss all the Experiences that we are having now for anything.

With thanks to “Out Here at the Front”: The World War I Letters of Nora Saltonstall.

This story last updated in 2022.


Kelly Spalding Spring April 4, 2014 - 8:25 am

Amazing. Is the Claire Saltonstall bike route part of the same family? I think it is Claire.

Nora Saltonstall: 'Urge Everyone You Know To Take Up Nursing' | New England Historical Society July 25, 2014 - 6:06 pm

[…] nine months on the western front during World War I, Nora Saltonstall was fed up with housekeeping and glad to take the less responsible – but more […]

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