This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945.
July 24, 1945
Hello Mr. Reber:
I am spending an exceptionally pleasant time here at the United States Riviera Recreational Area. It comprises the eastern part of France’s southern coast between the scene of the Southern France invasion last year and the border of Italy.
We left Nurnberg by truck on the morning of Wednesday, July 18 and arrived in the beautiful city of Luxembourg late that afternoon. We stayed there until Friday evening, July 20 and left by train for Southern France. We passed through the cities of Metz, Nancy, Dijon and Toulon – all famous war grounds last summer. After riding all day Saturday and Saturday night we arrived in Nice at approximately eight o’clock Sunday morning. We were assigned to the Hotel Busby – one of the 42 luxury hotels in Nice for lean, war-weary, deserving American G.I.’s – where I am writing at the present.
Various shoulder patches of all the American units in Europe – including the Big Red One – can be seen here all day long. Thousands are at this very moment enjoying a seven-day furlough here at this world famous pre-war summer resort. When we leave others will take our places.
Here we are furnished with clean clothes, fresh sheets on real beds, china and silver on the tables, first class French service, chamber music with lunch, swing with supper, concerts, movies, cakes, and beer. We can sun bathe, play tennis, hire bicycles flown in from England and Italy, boat-ride, fish in the deep waters of the Mediterranean, and go sightseeing. Then there is swimming on the pebbly beach which is enjoyed not only by soldiers, but by American Wacs, nurses, and many friendly French girls. In addition, there are speedboat riding, golf, and tennis, roller skating, horseback riding, picnicking, free laundry, dry cleaning, pressing, and sewing; also religious services all G.I.’s.
Gazing at Nice’s beautiful beach from any point such as the American Red Cross Casino Club, or to stroll slowly along the pebbly beach where G.I.’s sun bathe, or to picnic on the shores of the Mediterranean with beer and sandwiches fresh from a Red Cross club, or to admire a three year old French child running the beach in a pair of big G.I. boats, or to relax and take a sun tan in civvies, or to take a pedal-operated boat on a cruise int eh direction of Italy or Corsica, or sip a drink at one of the famous night clubs and G.I. cafes, all brings forth a decided change in one’s life after seeing nothing but a badly-battered Germany.
The Riviera has scenery probably as picturesque as a Hollywood set, a mild climate, and an abundance of facilities for rest and recreation. It has for centuries been the leading vacationland and playground area of the continent.
Before the war bayed across the face of Europe people came here from all parts of the world, including thousands each year from America which included numerous celebrities from Hollywood.
Nice and the rest of the Riviera are protected by high mountains, and as a result temperatures are higher, while the nights are cooled by the ocean breezes. Before the war, many carnivals, parades, racing, and musical fetes took place here.
Famous Monte Carlo is located here and my hotel is no more than 15 miles from it. Sightseeing tours are run there all day long.
The only reminder of war is a group of demolished pillboxes built by the Germans to cut off our invasion.
Nice is known as the capital of the Riviera, although Cannes, Grasse – France’s biggest perfume manufacturing city, and Antibes are also major cities of the Riviera.
Nice was founded in 350 B.C. by the Greeks. Its early days were prosperous and as the tiny town grew into an important trading station the white sails of the trading ships began to cut the blue waters of its arbor port. The harbor became so important that in the 18th century its possession saw it bouncing between the French and Spanish until the Treaty of Turin returned it to the French once more.
In 1940, refugees flooded the city to escape the Nazis only to find that Italy had declared war and that Nice lay in the Italian zone of occupation. With the Allied occupation of North Africa, the Germans greatly strengthened the defenses of Nice, and once again the people knew fear and oppression.
The American forces arrived in Nice on the 28th of August, 1944. Once again its people were free and began to rediscover happiness.
In the section of this city which is known as “Old Nice” one will find the streets so narrow that neighbors can lean out of their windows and shake hands from one house to another.
Also located here is the church where Martin Luther preached in 1514 before leaving the Catholic Church.
The favorite places for visitors is the Promenade des Anglais, one of the most beautiful in France, which curves along the waterfront for four and a half miles with a beautiful view of the sea and the surrounding hills.
This is where I’m spending a pleasant seven day furlough – at the United States Riviera Recreation Area where already over 200,000 Americans have enjoyed the seashore since its activation.
Irvin R. Schwartz