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

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Remembering a Poet Veteran: Capt. Francis Wolle, 356th Infantry, 89th Division, AEF

Great War Veteran Francis Wolle

By Paul Albright

As a university instructor in English, Lt. Francis Wolle frequently inserted poetry into his letters to his parents. Moving toward the western front in July 1918, the 29-year-old volunteer wrote: “Here in France across the ocean/Far away from home and love/We will fight with deep devotion/To the God who rules above…”

Hearing distant thunder or the rumble of artillery, he wrote to his mother: “Oh, dearest mother, good-night now/And think of me still in your dreams/For the stronger you yearn, the more sure I’ll return/When the sunlight of victory gleams.”

After leading patrols into no-man’s-land, scrambling through barbed wire barriers to escape enemy fire, and participating in the capture of several German soldiers, the young officer wrote his parents: “And while bullets whiz by or shells bark/We think of you there, where we wish that we were/And our hearts smile, tho prospects seem dark.”

Wolle (pronounced “Wally”) was promoted to captain in October 1918 and reassigned from the 356th Infantry to the intelligence (G2) unit of the 4th Army Corps. He poetically said farewell to the 356th with: “Goodbye, my friends, adieu/Good luck to every one!/I’ll always think of you/Till the last battle’s won;/And wish you happy days/When we have won the war/Back home with loved one’s praise/On our own native shore.”

One month later, the Armistice was signed and lights reappeared in the French village where Capt. Wolle was stationed: “For as I look out of the window I can see lights from the chateau windows across the way; and that means peace. Yes, light in France means peace! How significant that is!” Nine days after the Armistice, Wolle rejoiced in verse: “Hurrah! The killing’s quit!/The Allies growing stronger/Have justly seen to it!”

As his parents relocated in 1918 and 1919 from New York to Pennsylvania and then to Michigan, Wolle often reminisced about his adopted home in Boulder, Colorado. Leading a post-Armistice surveillance party into Germany via Luxembourg, Wolle wrote: “There’s a pretty little Duchy with its pretty little fields/And pretty woods and pretty little towns;/But more glorious is that land where the lofty mountains stand/Whose peaks wear the year their snow-white crowns.”

Four days after Christmas 1918, Wolle visited his former unit in the 356th Infantry, which had engaged in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. “It was like a terrible funeral service” as he learned of the death and wounding of many of his former comrades. “My Army heart is still in the three-fifty-six/With the men and the officers there./Against all adversity their brave spirit sticks/O, God, guard their welfare!”

But there were pleasant moments, too. Wolle’s surveillance squad mingled with French troops and German citizens in the Lorraine area. In one verse he described a post-war dance party that included the names of two privates in the squad (Pvt. Edwin L. Rose and Pvt. 1st Class David Herrmann): “That night while some made raids for wood/And two others found girls whom they understood/And a few played cards till the wee small hours/Three of our throng sought the dancing bowers/And who but Rose a bower should grace!/He soulfully sighs, while the whirling pace swirls round:/And the sergeant and Hermann dance/With the German girls who now waltz for France!”

Wolle was transferred to Paris to study French literature at the Sorbonne as part of the postwar AEF American University. While in Paris he received word that he had been promoted to assistant professor at the University of Colorado. 

Reverend Wolle's Ordination

He remained at the university in Boulder, Colorado, for 44 years as a professor of English and drama and track coach. In retirement, Wolle became a deacon in the Episcopal Church and in April 1973, was ordained a priest at the age of 84, reportedly the oldest man to receive ordination in the Episcopal Church. 

Francis Wolle—AEF veteran, poet, professor, and priest—died on 1 October 1979, at the age of 90. 


Collector’s Club Philatelist, November-December, 2018.

Francis Wolle papers and collection, 1917-1979, Special Collections and Archives, University of Colorado-Boulder.


  1. That was a terrific read. Glad he lived to 90. Thanks!

  2. Yes, that was a great read. What a wonderful life he led. And he taught where I taught for three years--at the University of Colorado. I wonder where he served as a priest.

    1. I am not certain, but I suspect he was a deacon and later a priest at St. Adian's Episcopal Church in Boulder. Since you were at CU, you may recall the church at the corner of Folsom and Colorado Ave. just across the street from Folsom (football) stadium. But I plan to ask an archivist to check the Wolle papers to confirm my speculation. I would do it myself but Norlin Library is closed to all but students, staff, and faculty because of COVID.