Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Gabrielle Allard de la Presle Frances Raszewska (1891 – 1993) – American

Gabrielle was born on 5th October 1891 in Tremont, Bronx when it was still countryside and where her paternal grandparents, Alexander Raszewski and Emilie, nee Allard de la Presle, had an estate.  Gabrielle’s father was Gustave Raszewski and her mother was Ellen Raszewsa, nee Gale.  Gustave was the French-born son of a Polish artist and war hero and Ellen was the first daughter of an English-Irish-Scottish family to be born in America.   Gabrielle’s names reflected her French, English and Polish backgrounds.  

In her own words, Gabrielle had ‘a comfortable, harmonious home’ and family life.  Following a downturn in the family’s fortune, Gustave worked as an interpreter at Ellis Island, New York, where immigrants to the U.S.A. arrived by boat.
After primary school, Gabrielle attended Mt. Saint Ursula Academy in Bedford Park and Hunter College High School, from which she graduated in 1912 with a BA.

After the sudden and unexpected death of Gustave in 1909, Gabrielle and her mother moved to an apartment in Washington Heights, New York.  And in 1912 she began teaching at a primary school as a substitute teacher.   In 1913, Gabrielle was appointed full-time teacher at a primary school and began studying for a Masters degree at Columba University School of Philosophy.
In 1916, when the war in Europe did not show signs of ending, Gabrielle volunteered during the summer vacation from her teaching job to go to France for two months to work with the Winifred Holt charity set up to help blind people ‘Lighthouse’.  The French counterpart of ‘Lighthouse’ was called ‘Le Phare’.  Gabrielle explained how she managed to obtain a passport:

“I got a passport without any trouble.  Of course that wouldn’t be possible in time of war now, but then it was the United States’ first experience with a European war and the State Department just wasn’t prepared for preventing its nationals from going into a war zone. I was simply asked, ‘Do you have to go?’ I said ‘Yes,’ got my passport, and soon was headed for France.”
Gabrielle travelled to France on board the French Line ship S.S. ‘Chicago’ which also carried mail to Europe.   During the First World War, the liners of the French Line were adapted as Troop ships and Hospital Ships.

Gabrielle travelled with members of the American Ambulance Corps who went to help wounded soldiers in the various theatres of the First World War.   The ship zig-zagged across the dangerous waters of the Atlantic Ocean, trying to avoid the German submarines, torpedoes and mines.  They must surely have been thinking about the loss of The ‘Lusitania’ which had been torpedoed while crossing the Atlantic with huge loss of life the previous year.
The ship reached Bordeaux on 14th July 1916 – Bastille Day and a holiday in France. The ‘Phare’ volunteers travelled to Paris where Gabrielle stayed at the Pension Vendôme in Avenue Victor Hugo.   Their work consisted of counselling and helping French soldiers who had been blinded during the fighting.
Gabrielle wrote:  “Some of them reacted bravely to their new and terrible handicap; others found it impossible to accept and were really despondent. For recreation we took them out to drive around Paris. Automobiles were still a relatively new recreation, and a drive in an automobile was a first experience for some of them.

            “I had a special protégé named Balustair, who wanted to learn to play the mandolin. I gave him lessons, and he seemed to derive a good deal of comfort from the music, though he was bitter about his blindness . . .

            “Our work at the Phare was really a feeble attempt to be helpful, but to me personally it made my first trip to France worthwhile as well as memorable.  I wanted to stay—but I couldn’t. I had a teaching job waiting for me back in the U.S., and I had to be there by early September.”
That September, Gabrielle returned to America aboard the ‘Rochambeau’. She was appointed a member of the English Department at Bryant High School, Long Island City.  But, understandably, she was restless and letters from people she had met in Paris and on board ‘Chicago’ on her way to France, reminded Gabrielle that there was still a war on and work to be done in France.

To be continued…

Source:  Information and photographs supplied by Gabrielle’s daughter, Gabrielle Griswold from her Mother’s memoirs.

Gabrielle Griswold, daughter of Gabrielle Raszewska went to work in Paris for American Aid for France after the Second World War in 1947.   She then worked for Averell Harriman helping to set up The Marshall Plan Headquarters, then for U.S. Ambassadors at the American Mission to NATO.  Returning to America, after marriage and raising two children, Gabrielle worked as a journalist until her retirement.

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