Under the title "I Was There," a series of sketches made on the Western front during 1917-1919 by Private C. Leroy Baldridge of the American Expeditionary Forces, is now published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, together with an introduction by the artist, and appropriate verses by Hilmar R. Baukhage, also of the A. E. F.
As Mr. Baldridge explains, most of these drawings were made "during a year's service as camion driver with the French army . . . and on special duty with the 'Stars and Stripes', the official A. E. F. newspaper,," in which many of them found their first publication. "Most of them were drawn at odd moments during the French push of 1917 near Malmaison, at loading parks and along the roadside while on truck convoy, and while on special permission to draw and paint with the French army . . . The rest were drawn on American fronts from the Argonne to Belgium."
These fragments, hastily executed in pencil, brush, pen, or water-color, present the most graphic pictorial record of the Yankee in France that we remember to have seen. It is of slight importance that, in such drawings as "Home" and "Her Boy Too", we can trace plainly the Style of Poulbot: or that the wash drawings entitled, "The Gardener's Cottage", "Toul Sector Days", and "The Town of Cuffles", remind us forcibly of Bruce Bairnsfather. The fact is that, missing alike the delicate expressiveness of the French draughtsman and the whimsicality of the Britisher, Mr. Baldridge strikes a note of sureness, of Yankee ruggedness and good humor, which neither the former nor the latter could have achieved. His drawing is at once broad and sure; his characterization is, excellent. In "The Territorial", in Veterans of the Marne", and in "The Family With Whom I Lived in Soissons", it is the vivid rendering of types,--be they Yanks, Zouaves, Moroccans, Poilus or peasants,--which gives the book charm and significance. It is a high-hearted book, both verse and pictures making the best of a bad business.
Mr. Baldridge has fulfilled his modest purpose, and has given us no more, no less than what he hoped to give: in his own words, "a record of doughboy types, of the people he lived with in France, with whom he suffered, and by whose side he fought."