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

Monday, January 9, 2023

Doughboy Poet Private Alfonso (Gibbs) Hofmann

Private Hofmann in France

Alfonso (Gibbs) Hofmann (1896–1974) was the great uncle of World War One historian Stephen Harris (Rock of the Marne, Duffy's War, Harlem's Hellfighters, and The Silk Stocking Regiment), who brought his relative's atypical wartime poem to our attention.  Alfonso  was born in the late 1896 in Mexico, where his father, a metallurgist from Hungary, ran some of the bigger silver mines out in the Wild West. When the family moved to Kansas City, he followed his brother, Arnold Hofmann (Stephen's grandfather) on to the editorial staff of the Kansas City Star. Arnold was married to Vea Van Buren, the sister of magazine illustrator and comic strip artist Raeburn Van Buren, also a former member of the Star's editorial staff, and who during the war was art editor of Gas Attack, the magazine of the 27th New York Empire Division.

Alfonso learned the newspaper trade well, as did his brother. In 1917, Alfonso enlisted as a private in the 1st Missouri Ambulance Company as a medic. He was deployed to France with the 137th Ambulance Company and was severely gassed and suffered shrapnel wounds in action during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He would later receive the Purple Heart for his wounds. He was treated first in a field hospital, then a hospital in Paris. He wrote this poem about his French nurse while he was recuperating. It was later published in Liberty magazine.

When She Goes By

After the war, he landed a reporting job on a brand-new newspaper in New York City, the New York Daily News. Alfonso changed his first name to Gibbs, in honor of the British journalist and author, Philip Gibbs. He later worked for the Bell Syndicate, which ran newspaper features similar to the AP and UPI. During WWII, he managed the information bureau for the U.S. Embassy in London. He wrote numerous short stories and poems during his life, many published. He died on New Year's Day, 1974.

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