Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Stop At Suzanne's: And Lower Flights
reviewed by Courtland Jindra

A Stop At Suzanne's: And Lower Flights
by Greayer Clover
George H. Doran Company 1919

Lt Greayer Clover
When I started researching World War I memorials in Los Angeles, I quickly became aware of Greayer Clover. A war memorial that was put up by an American Legion Post named after him first brought the name to my attention (unfortunately the post is now defunct). It did not take long to become aware of other memorials. He's listed on stained glass in a memorial library roll of honor to alumni of L.A. High School lost in the war, two parks are named after him, as is a road in Santa Monica, and the old name for the adjacent airport was Clover Field. By a quirk of fate even the 2008 science fiction monster film Cloverfield owes its name to 2nd Lt. Clover — as producer J.J. Abrams's office was on the adjoining thoroughfare and decided to just use that as the title during production.

So who was this man and why was he so recognized? A Stop at Suzanne's: and Lower Flights is a memorial volume to Greayer "Grubby" Clover — who died in an accident on 30 August 1918 as, I assume, he was readying himself for the Saint Mihiel battle two weeks away. He had just won his wings shortly before and was on a cross-country flight to the French base at Romorantin when he lost control on his landing attempt. Grubby's father, Samuel, had been an L.A.-based newspaperman who apparently waited to move to Virginia until his children were done with high school to run a paper there. Probably because of his father, Greayer was able to publish several articles about his wartime service in newspapers and magazines. After he was killed, the family gathered all they could on Grubby and packaged it together as a tome for posterity.

The volume is separated into three main sections. After a short introduction by Samuel Clover that gives an overview on his son's life and death, the book begins with all the articles Greayer published from France. A small middle section includes letters and other tributes received from Greayer's friends, college administrators (Clover began at Stanford before transferring to Yale, representatives from both sent their condolences), and others. It ends with letters he sent home from Europe.

(Courtesy of Clergeau Fund 
(AD Loir-et-Cher) - Rights filed.)
Apparently Grubby Greayer was a promising talent. The first article included is the titular one. "Suzanne's" was a small restaurant (Greayer made sure to tell us it wasn't the real name) that aviators would stop at as they were taking their final flight test to get their wings. Suzanne was the daughter of the owner. When her betrothed, an early French aviator, died early on in the war, the family did all it could to welcome any aviator who stopped there. Because of this, the course for the final exam "was made to go by there so the newly minted flyers could stop and share in the hospitality." This was a beautiful little story than I am in no way doing justice to. It was worth reading the book just for that.

However, there is much more to like. After "Suzanne's," Greayer's last published story, we move to his first and proceed chronologically. Greayer volunteered to drive ambulances shortly after the U.S. declared war, but then when he got to France he realized he could get into action faster if he drove ordnance and supplies to the front, so he enlisted for six months in the camion service. He has many stories of close calls, feeling proud of his work (early on), as well as jaunts taking unapproved trips. When Grubby's service in the field is up he offers his services to the flying corps. After much frustration at being passed over he was accepted and we read about the ups and downs of flying school.

Lt. Greayer Grave
St. Mihiel Cemetery
The memorial section of the book is truly heartbreaking, as you can see what Clover meant to so many people (at least one of whom did not survive the war either). In it we find out that he was paying the tuition of a young Belgian refugee and had given the family much of his blankets and warm weather clothing. A letter that the boy, André Vandendaele, sent a few weeks before Greayer's death thanking his benefactor is included as Mrs. Clover's touching letter to the boy. That was truly the part of the book where I felt like crying for this good young lad who tragically lost his life. Here is a snippet of this note where you can see the mother's anguish and yet hope that maybe through this boy, Greayer can live on and his death will have a higher purpose:

You and your family stood to him for the outrages practiced upon your country he wanted to save, to restore, to free Belgium from the iron monster that now occupies her soil. That is what all America wants, and it is what we have sent our precious sons to do for you. I want every opportunity that you can get to fit you to serve your king, when he comes home again, and to take a useful part in the building up of a new world that shall have more kindness and more justice.

I wonder what happened to this boy, and I also wonder if the Clovers ever visited him as the mother said she wanted to do in the letter.

Order Now
The final "Letters to home" section is probably the weakest because much of it is repeated from other sections. Quite a few of the things Greayer wrote about in prose form he mentions as asides in these notes, plus a lot of typical family type stuff. It's still fairly moving, especially as one gets closer and closer to August of 1918 as his excitement over really flying is captured. But we know what is coming and our dread is made worse by his youthful exuberance.

By the end of the book I was left with great sadness. You can read about the statistics, and even in books on combat it is tragic when men you have grown to like die, but this work is truly a memorial. One really gets to know this world traveler — from Los Angeles to Stanford, to Yale, to France; serving in the camion "Bastard" section; and then experiencing the glorious freedom of flight. Today he lies in Saint Mihiel American Cemetery. If I ever visit France, I want to say hello and wish him well.

Courtland Jindra


  1. Based on his accounts, I was able to track down the town Suzanne's father's store was (Pontlevoy) as well as their last name (Benoist) and a host of other things. I would love to find information on the register that all the pilots signed...if I make it to France that will be a project. It would be has the impression nearly all allied flyers stopped there at one point or another.

  2. I really enjoyed the human and personal touch of this entry. Your use of the first person helped a lot. There must be so many others like Greayer whom we know nothing about since they were not talented writers like him.

    1. I hope this book will be rediscovered. It's a fascinating little slice of history that I bet very few have read.